Navajo Moon-Bird

© 2001, 2003 by
Fran Van Cleave

Day was melting into night as Pandora pulled into the parking lot at Hubbell's Trading Post. Toward Flagstaff, the western sky was all copper and iron-red, like the earth with the sun coming through it. Due south, over Apache-land, thunderheads smoldered, beautiful but ominous. She hoped it wouldn't rain the night of the contest. Trekking around the Navajo Nation Fair in drenched buckskins was not her idea of fun.

The parking lot gleamed with bumper-stickered Greensafe RVs "Sterilization: It Works For Your Dog, Why Not For You?" and soda-can cars bristling with body armor, GPS antennas, and pastel paint jobs. The snow-birds were migrating early this year.

She maneuvered the '98 Chevy pickup into a tight space and slithered out the passenger-side door. It wasn't worth the trouble to park the old heap across the road.

Her sneakers thumped along the wooden boardwalk; she swung the door to Hubble's open and walked inside, the air-conditioner immediately plastering her T-shirt to her body. It felt great.

Sure enough, the nineteenth-century trading post was swarming with tourists in crimson "victory" shirts and beribboned bush hats. Every one of these folks seemed to be lugging an item emblazoned with Kokopelli.

What was this fascination with the Hopi fertility god? Did they think his little flute was just the cutest thing?

Digging Mom's list from the pocket of her shorts, she headed for the back, where they kept food staples and household items. Things you could get a little cheaper at Basha's, or a whole lot cheaper at Wal-Mart, if you wanted to drive twenty-six miles into Window Rock or fifty miles to Gallup.

"Let's see, red cotton thread, number twenty-six, white cotton, number...."

Making a left at the wedding pots, she collided with Cameron Roanhorse.

He retreated a pace and started to apologize, then his eyebrows shot up. "Pandora Yazzie?"

"You know any other Pandoras?" Seeing how the coral-colored loose-weave shirt and thin gold watch complimented his mocha-brown skin, she felt hopelessly grubby. He'd always dressed well, but now he looked as if he'd stepped out of the pages of a magazine.

"Hey, look who's grown up!" His grin was a streak of light in his face. "The last time I saw you, you were still in pigtails, but now -- whew! What boxes of trouble have you been opening, hmm?"

"Oh, nothing worth mentioning." Actually zero, but she didn't want to sound like a geek.

"Sure." His grin widened, beaming down at her upturned face like the sun itself. Musky aftershave permeated the air between them -- something he'd picked up at NAU, she guessed. He shaved even less than most Navajo males -- nothing beyond the adolescent milli-moustache invaded the sanctity of his upper lip. "Did you hear about the end-of-summer party I'm having a week from tonight?"

"Yeah, who hasn't?" Another fib.

"You want to come?"

"What, with you?" Pandora felt her knees weakening ... or maybe it was her brain. Cam had the kind of chiseled features that inspired countless bad verse on dateless Saturday nights, all devoted to the proposition that the gods practiced sculpture on Monument Valley and then made a human male. (As an agnostic, she considered it strictly poetic license.) Plus, his dad was a big wheel on the Tribal Council -- he'd barely lost the presidential election. "I can't. I mean, it's impossible."

"Why?"

"Well," she floundered, hardly able to believe that he'd not only asked her out, but persisted in it, "that night's the Miss Navajo contest. I, um, happen to be a contestant."

Around the beginning of summer, she'd suddenly quit being an ugly little owlet, oversized eyes in a stick body, and became ... well, something people enjoyed looking at. She still wasn't used to it.

Cam tilted her chin up with a finger. "I can believe it. Ditch those glasses, and you'll definitely win."

An extrovert would've said something light and self-deprecating, and they both would've laughed. But she was at that stage of social ineptitude where serious answers and bald truth are vitally important.

She stepped backwards, bumping against the shelf. "Olivia Jackson should win. She's the stronger candidate."

He shrugged and turned away. "I say you'll win. But maybe you shouldn't come to my little desert party. We're having a few beers -- your parents won't approve."

"They might." And the Moon could fall out of the sky tomorrow. "But with you in your first year of pre-law, you could get in so much trouble...."

"Do you really think my Dad would let the tribal police waste their time on my little party?" Cam turned back to her, amused. "He's after hard-core bootleggers, the ones who haul it up by the truckload from...."

"Kid, is he bothering you?"

Pandora's head jerked like a startled deer. An Anglo stood less than two yards away, looking at her as if expecting an answer.

His eyes were the deep gray of hematite, his skin burnt dark as Cam's. Actually his face reminded her of sandstone, layers of pale tan graduating to brown: the trim beard a shade darker than the face, both darker than the short military-cut that stuck out from beneath a crisp white head-bandage. The plainness of his face was exaggerated by his sky-blue baseball cap, which sported a flaming silver rocket encircled with "Selene, Inc. -- Moonward, ho!" -- in sixteen-point Copperplate.

Had he just got out of Sage Hospital? It was only a mile from here, up 264.

Cam squared his shoulders. "We're having a private conversation." Scorn dripped from every syllable. "Do you mind?"

Gray Eyes ignored him. "That how you read it?" He was scarcely taller than she, but lean and compact. Thin white lines fanned from his eyes and mouth. She'd thought him twenty-five at first; he might've been thirty.

"Precisely," she replied frostily. Kid, indeed! Did he think she was some helpless sub-adult in need of rescue? If he started a fight with Cam, she'd call the police!

The Anglo nodded, more amiably than she expected. "Sorry to bother you. Let me at that coffee, and I'll be out of your way."

"Help yourself," Pandora said. It took her a second to realize that she was still pressed up against the coffee shelf. "Sorry," she said, side-stepping.

"You don't have to apologize to that arrogant pig," Cam said in Navajo.

Gray Eyes helped himself to a five-pound bag of Rivera tortillas, the biggest jar of Folger's, and a pint of Tabasco, then strolled up to the cash register with a stride that was easy but energetic -- you didn't see too much of that around the Four Corners area, especially not since the war. You could practically see the heat boiling off him and reforming into his own personal bombshells, which he could then expend on seemingly immovable objects.

"Who is he?" Pandora whispered.

Cam snorted. "A crazy biligaana. He and Jack Yazzie paid the Tribal Council umpty-thousand pesos to fly a wrecked bomber to the Moon from Window Rock airport. I'd be worried if I thought the damn thing would ever get off the ground."

The idea was tsih. Pandora found such craziness intriguing. The news stories she'd read on-line said they were determined to build a city on the Moon.

"It will if Jack's flying it," she said. "He could fly a grizzly bear to the Moon and back." This fellow must be either a former Air Force buddy, or the backer with all the money. The stranger's rough-and-tumble look argued against the latter interpretation.

"...Yazzie's all balls and no brain. Why do you keep looking at that Anglo? You like his ass or what?"

"What?" She glanced at Cam. Was he actually jealous? "Don't be silly."

"Say you'll think about coming to the party with me," he said. "After the contest?"

The stranger finished paying for his stuff and strode out the door. As he exited, he caught her eye and winked. Annoying -- as if he'd had the last word, a cynical one.

"I'll think about it," she said.

Cam's dazzling smile made her feel more glamorous than Changing Woman. "Good girl. How 'bout I call you in a couple of days?"

"Sure," she said, though she wasn't sure what was good about it. Mom and Dad would have a fit if they knew she was thinking about sneaking out to the desert for a beer party with a college boy. She'd have to slip out the window, and she'd never done that before -- it didn't seem like her. Or was it? Was it only because no one had ever asked her?

"Great!" Cam brushed his fingertips against her wrist. The tingle went all the way to the roots of her hair.

She smiled back like a cigar-store Indian, wondering how she could possibly hide this from Mom and Dad.

"What's with you, Dora?" Olivia demanded. "You never want to go riding. Now you do, and it's not even good weather for it. We should've gone this morning."

Pandora glanced upward. With one lone turkey buzzard riding the thermals, the turquoise sky seemed a million times bigger and hotter and emptier than the desert around them. The sun burned through her Wrangler's like a branding iron.

"I had to hem dresses this morning. And I will bet money that Mom ripped out my seams after I left."

They were several miles south-east of Olivia's hogan, which was north-west of St. Michaels, halfway to Cross Canyon. Actually it was her grandmother's hogan -- she took Olivia in after her father went back to Chicago and her mother died from tuberculosis and a broken heart. People say a skin-walker killed her. Hardly anybody on the Rez believes in accidents.

Olivia shook her head, making her silver earrings tremble. She had a fantastically exotic face: huge coal-black eyes, cheekbones like a snowplow, perfect Nubian-bronze skin. "She's never going to give up trying to make you into Susie Chee Homemaker."

"It was my idea. I felt guilty about how hard she's been working. I also feel guilty about competing against you."

"Well, don't."

"I can't help it. You cook and sew better than I do, you make your own jewelry, you speak Navajo better...."

"And I'm half-black," Olivia smiled. "An Afrajo. And I look it."

It made Pandora mad all over again, thinking about some of the letters she'd seen in The Nava-Hopi Observer. "You look Navajo, too. Even if you weren't gorgeous, you still deserve to win."

"Thank you. Don't you dare drop out, or I'm really going to be sore at you."

"I'm not." Pandora patted her horse's neck. The mare's ears rotated like radio antennae, scanning for a signal to return to her corral with its tiny patch of shade. She was sweating in rivulets.

"Good."

"Cam Roanhorse asked me to go to a desert party."

Olivia sucked in her breath. "What'd you say?"

"That I'd think about it."

Olivia gave her her patented flinty-eyed glance. "You listen to me, girlfriend. You got the whirlwind in your brain if you go out in the desert with him. He wants one thing, and one thing only."

"Don't be so negative, Livvy. I think he's desperate for someone intelligent, someone who can speak to him on his own level."

"Intellectual companionship?" Olivia snorted. "Gimme a break. Girls have sex to get love. Boys pretend love to get sex. Put that together and what does it spell? Broken heart. And for what? A pretty boy who's not as smart as you are. Who needs it?"

Who needs this simplistic analysis? Luckily, Pandora caught herself before speaking -- that was what'd happened to Olivia's mother. It couldn't happen to her.

Olivia stared at the horizon, which trembled as if viewed through a flame. "You've got to see the world, Dora. Fly as high as you can! Just remember, eagle dreams take strength."

"And money. NAU isn't cheap."

"You could get an academic scholarship."

"There's lots smarter girls out there trying to dodge the draft." Pandora shaded her eyes with a hand. She wouldn't take a pregnancy deferment for a case of immaculate conception -- after baby-sitting four brothers all her life, she preferred field-stripping machine guns to changing another diaper. But she wanted that college deferment. "Hey, there's the airport! Since Jack's your clan grandson, you suppose you could...."

"... introduce you?" Olivia finished. "There's another one who won't be sitting by the campfire telling old tales about the Blue Flint Boys while he waits on you."

"I want to see the rocket. I'm not a complete war-hero groupie, you know."

"I know." Grinning, Olivia touched her moccasined heels to her buckskin gelding. "We can always say we were just riding by."

They halted the horses on the south side of the airport.

At least fifty people were swarming around something parked in front of the west-side hangars. Its sun-bright windshield hurt Pandora's eyes, in contrast to the rest of it, which was constructed of some anonymous-looking gray-black metal that blended right into the asphalt runway. By comparison, the little aluminum Cessnas looked like Christmas ornaments.

Like everyone else, she'd read plenty of news articles about the B-7 Black Ghost -- launch from California, up into space, and thirty-five minutes later bomb the crap out of the PLA -- but few people outside the Air Force had ever seen one. Classified, you know, and now all of a sudden it wasn't.

She pulled off her neckerchief and blotted her sweaty forehead. She could hear banging and hammering and the whine of an electric saw, like a mosquito dive-bombing her ears.

The mare uttered a disgusted snort and dropped her head, questing for grass amid the creosote.

"They look busy," Olivia observed.

"Yeah." They were doing complicated, probably dangerous work. They wouldn't appreciate an interruption from a couple of nosy Native American brats.

Just then a boy came out of the nearest hangar. He did a double-take and trotted toward them. He looked to be around fourteen; his short, bristle-brush black hair and round face marked him clearly as Navajo.

"Isn't that Melvin Begay?" Olivia said.

"Uh-huh." The only person at Ganado High who was a bigger nerd than Pandora. Mel had been beaten up a lot for being "too smart." Pandora had been in the same boat herself, but after she explained things to the biggest bully in terms he could understand, the gang left in search of more pliant victims. But she was taller than Mel, and it was a lucky punch.

Mel halted a little ways from the fence, hands on his chubby hips, clouds of caliche dust settling on his Keds. "Yah-aht-eeh." But he was frowning at them through his thick glasses.

"Yah-deh," Olivia and Pandora replied.

"What's up?"

"We want to see the bomber up close," Pandora said brightly.

His forehead furrowed. "They're pretty busy."

"Too busy to see job applicants?" Pandora said. She didn't know where that came from -- it just popped out. Sometimes her mouth moved faster than her brain.

Mel sighed. "Really, Pandora, I hardly think yours are the appropriate skills for this situation. You might turn the wrong knob and blow the place up."

Pandora gave him a dirty look. "Worried about competition, aren't you?"

"Not at all. Take-off's next Saturday at sunrise. Come back then."

Olivia turned her melting smile on him. "Is there someplace we can water the horses? A bucket and a hose will do."

"Sure thing, Olivia. Say, that's really a pretty skirt!"

"Thanks."

He did something with a gadget on his belt, then unhooked the gate. "There's a bucket by the hangar, and plenty of running water. Just don't get in anybody's way."

"Hagoshee," Olivia acknowledged, glancing at Pandora as if to say: That's how you handle men.

"Aoo," Mel beamed, swinging the gate wide.

Pandora heeled the mare and she trotted through the gate, tossing her head. Mel was lucky she didn't ride right over him.

Inside, they dismounted and led the horses toward the hangar, the horses' hooves ringing a contrapuntal melody on the asphault.

Pandora couldn't take her eyes off the rocket-ship. It grew bigger with every step.

It had the jutting nose of a fighter -- an eagle's beak with the tip filed down. The wings were regular deltas with the leading edge pushed in halfway back, the tips bent up ninety degrees. Maybe sixty feet long by forty wide, and even with all the dents and dings, and that incredibly dull military paint job sucking up light instead of reflecting it, it was magnificent.

As they passed the curving overhang of its belly, through the yawning bomb-bay she saw a woman bent over a piece of machinery, her long, blonde hair pulled back in a pony-tail. Outside, men went this way and that with tools and buckets of paint; several were painting the dents and dings with metallic white. Everywhere was the feeling of purposefulness and energy Pandora had sensed from the Anglo in Hubbell's.

About a third of the men were Navajo, a few Apache; she recognized maybe half. She and Olivia received a number of surprised looks, which they grandly ignored.

They reached the hangar, and Olivia had just started filling the bucket when Pandora heard a man's voice say, "What the hell are those two jin-jas doing here?"

Jin-ja was vet's slang for women, "jin" being the Chinese word for gold.

Jack O'Brian Yazzie was heading right for them, followed by a half-dozen Navajo boys. Pandora had seen him only a couple of times before he volunteered for the Pan-Asia War -- he'd grown up herding sheep at the bottom of Canyon de Chelly -- but NetNews had made his face as familiar as her own.

Picture eyes the blue of the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the Painted Desert. Add a go-to-hell glint in a fine-boned Navajo face, a broken Irish nose, homely as a potato, and straight black hair seething over a high forehead.

"Who let them in without notifying Security?"

Mel hung his head. "I'm sorry, Jack. I did. They needed to water their horses."

The gelding slurped water greedily. Olivia pulled the bucket away to keep him from making himself sick, gazing at the irate war hero through her long black eyelashes. "Grandson, don't you recognize me?"

Jack looked baffled for an instant, then clapped a hand to his forehead and groaned. "I'll be damned! Grandma Livvy! How'd you grow up so fast?"

"Couldn't help it. I was eleven when you left." Olivia hugged him. "This is my friend, Pandora Yazzie."

"Nice to meet you, Pandora." He shook her hand. In spite of the chocolate-brown freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose and a crooked grin that said he could be charming, he looked way older than twenty-three.

Wars will do that to you, Pandora supposed. She lied and said it was nice to meet him, too. She thought him arrogant and hot-tempered.

"Jack!" somebody yelled from inside the hangar. "What's the deal with these gaskets? Do we trash 'em or not?"

"Well, girls, it's been fun, but I gotta get back to work. Have Mel let you out." Followed by his fan club, Jack disappeared inside the hangar, his voice echoing off the steel walls. "If you morons think I'm gonna fly this bird with those piece-of-shit gaskets, you are out of your fucking minds!"

Romantic war heroes, she decided, are best left to poets. With good editors.

Pandora filled the bucket with water and held it for the mare. Olivia gave her a speaking look. She wouldn't talk with Mel hanging around making sheep's eyes at her.

Somebody jumped down the ladder from the bomb-bay. It was Gray Eyes from Hubbell's. His white T-shirt and jeans were as filthy with dust as the bandage on his head, and he had a pair of welder's goggles pushed up on his forehead. "Mel, have you seen my vise-grips?"

Mel blushed. "Uh-huh." He vanished into the hangar.

The man grinned cheerfully. "Yah-aht-eeh, ladies." He shook hands, not in that exuberant way that Anglos often do, but more formally. "Dan Mallory, at your service."

His diction was crisp, his baritone voice like the rumbling of a distant waterfall -- Pandora hadn't noticed it last night -- which contrasted oddly with the calluses on his hands. She liked it that he didn't stare at either of them. It couldn't be every day he saw a gorgeous Afrajo girl come riding up, her kinky hair tied back in a Navajo roll.

Pandora introduced them, including Olivia's relationship to Jack. Mallory didn't blink at her name, but she marked the appearance of a tiny frown line in the suntanned skin between those unruly dark eyebrows. Did he remember her? Or was it only Jack and Olivia's clan relationship, which Anglos found impossibly confusing?

"Here's your vise-grips, Dan." Mel's eyes darted sideways at Pandora as he emerged from the hangar. He clearly regretted inviting them in. Maybe because now that he finally had some friends, he didn't want to share.

"Thanks."

Olivia dimpled. "Pandora wants a job. She knows everything about computers."

"Not true," Pandora said modestly. "Nobody knows everything."

"We're A-OK with the computers," Mallory said, lighting a cigarette. "What we really need is a cook. But I don't suppose a smart young lady like yourself would want a dirty job like that." He exhaled smoke. "Anyhow, you probably can't cook."

Pandora stared at him. "What do you mean by that?"

"Generally speaking, women inclined toward technical work can't cook. Leslie's like that, can't boil water without burning it, even at this altitude. And that goes double for lookers."

The nerve of this creep!

"It so happens," Pandora said stiffly, "that I am an excellent cook."

This was embellishing the truth, but Olivia didn't give her away. But what did Pandora care? She didn't want to cook for him.

The idea was silly, anyway. Dad would never let her work here. The very idea of her hanging out with strange Anglo men would be vetoed by Mom faster than a desert party with Cam Roanhorse. Cam's dad was influential enough to win her over eventually.

Mallory gazed up at the ship, the cigarette hanging from the corner of his wide mouth. "I don't know why I bothered to bring it up. This camp is no place for a woman."

"There's a woman inside the ship right now," Pandora observed.

"Leslie, yeah. But she's not like most women -- more like a man. On steroids."

She folded my arms and glared. "Any place men go, women should go, too."

"A sentiment I am usually happy to agree with. However, other countries are rushing to settle the Moon first. Depending on how unscrupulous they are, things could get uncomfortable around here." He studied her unchanged expression through a nimbus of cigarette smoke, then said in perfect Navajo, "What do you think of taking a spaceship to the Moon? Is space not the realm of the gods?"

Of course Navajo has no word for "spaceship;" he used chi'deh n'ahaheh, which meant flying machine.

He'd understood everything Cam said -- no wonder he'd winked!

Pandora recovered from her shock in a few seconds and replied haughtily, "If the gods really didn't want people to go there, nobody would ever survive the trip. If you can fly to the Moon in this, nizhoni."

His teeth showed white against his beard. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"

Olivia beamed. "This is so thrilling. You guys are gonna put Window Rock on the map. Can I have a job, too?"

Mallory dropped his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it. "We'll only be here 'till next Saturday. That's not much time."

"That's okay. We cook good, you pay good. We don't cook anything, you pay us nothing."

"Deal."

The first thing Mallory did after showing them the kitchen trailer and where to document their hours was introduce them to the head geek, a big-nosed blond software specialist named Henry Ten Eyck. He gave Pandora their e-mail address and said she could help with the computers if a problem came up.

It wouldn't, of course. All the software and hardware had already been installed, the systems debugged by people much smarter than Pandora Yazzie. Pandora recognized the offer as your basic carrot, intended to keep her hopes up so she wouldn't run out of the kitchen in a day or two, screaming like a maniac.

Since they were currently bug-free, Henry did the cooking, though lately he'd taken to ordering mass quantities from Taco Bell and Blimpie. It had taken hours for the last two orders to show up, and as the men grew hungrier, the work on the ship slowed down. This had disturbed Jack greatly and inspired one of his infamous tirades.

After inventorying supplies in the kitchen trailer, Pandora and Olivia decided to make Navajo tacos and coffee for supper.

"Coffee?" said Henry. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep if I have coffee for supper."

Pandora was surprised to hear a man admit to a physical inability."I thought you wanted us to get more work out of these guys?"

Olivia laughed at Henry's expression."Don't worry, we'll make decaffeinated tea for you."

Mike "Tinkerbelle" Pulaski, a cheerful behemoth with white-blond hair who probably didn't weigh quite as much as Shiprock, took it upon himself to explain the importance of meeting next Saturday's deadline.

"Once every twenty-eight days, the Earth and the Moon are in the perfect position for a Moon launch. Any ship that leaves then will have such an easy path to the Moon, it'll take only a minimum amount of fuel. That means you can carry more cargo. Since we have to carry the max, that means that if we don't make this month's launch window, we'll have to wait 'till next month. The better fed these guys are, the faster they'll work, and the more likely it is that we'll be ready on time. You girls can really make a difference."

Pandora sprinkled cumin on the hamburger and lowered the heat. "Why do you have to carry so much cargo?"

"The colony needs everything it can get. Didn't Jack tell you this is for the first settlement on the Moon? That he's one of the colonists?"

"No, but I've read about it. I also read that the backer sent a whole ship full of stuff already, and it's waiting for them on the Moon."

Pulaski looked at her, his swollen left eye sporting more colors than an Arizona sunset. Which of these men was mean enough to hit someone his size? Dan or Jack?

"They launched a heavy-lift booster with forty metric tons of supplies, that's true," he said. "But most of that's air and water, the lunar habitat, and mining tools. Four people will need lots more than that, plus regular deliveries of food 'til they can get a farm going."

Olivia gave her palm-sized piece of bread dough a final pat and tossed it in the fryer. "They should take fry bread with them. Breakfast of champions!"

Sniffing appreciatively, Henry watched the dough expand in the hot oil. "They won't have much time to cook for the next decade or so."

Pandora was still thinking about the rocket. "They'll have to bring all their fuel for the return trip, won't they? Or will they send another booster with it?"

"Launch pad time is pretty hard to come by right now," Pulaski replied. "That's one of the reasons we're here. Our guys'll bring all their return fuel with them -- they just can't lift it off the ground. We've got another pilot flying an Air Force stratotanker out of the airport in Gallup. He'll rendezvous with our guys at 43,000 feet and refuel 'em."

She imagined a gas pump sitting atop a cloud. "How will he do that?"

He grinned, delighted by her interest. "Boom system. The two pilots have to cooperate, but they can transfer 1,200 gallons a minute."

She pictured the two planes stuck together like a couple of mating hummingbirds, and burst out laughing.

Olivia laughed until tears came to her eyes, and she almost burned the fry bread.

Henry carefully explained that this was the only way a spaceplane burning jet fuel and hydrogen peroxide -- the least expensive and most environmentally benign rocket fuel -- could fly to the Moon and back. Otherwise the fuel tanks would be so big and heavy, it'd never make it into orbit, let alone carry cargo.

When he put it that way, the aerial refueling seemed a cleverness worthy of Coyote. Pandora wished she could see it. Could she slip out to Cam's party, come home and then skip off to the airport? Suppose she zeroed Cam's party and went to the launch instead?

Her parents would say: "It might blow up." She'd point out that only one Black Ghost had exploded on take-off during the entire Pan-Asia War, and they'd argue about it, and she still wouldn't get to go.

Pandora would just have to think of another way.

Nanabah Whiterock, Olivia's grandmother, was returning to the hogan with her sheep when Pandora and Olivia showed up an hour before sunset. The sheep baaed like crazy while the dog ran industriously back and forth, heading them for the corral.

Mexican pinto beans simmering over the fire mixed with sweet arid perfume of mesquite to form a delightful aroma. Pandora was glad she'd eaten a couple of Navajo tacos, so she wouldn't be drooling over Olivia and Nanabah's humble dinner.

An engine roared, and a rust-red Dodge came flying over a nearby hill. At first Pandora thought the truck had backfired, but then she saw the rifle barrel sticking out of the window. Someone had fired a shot at them!

Olivia dashed into the hogan and came running back out with the shotgun. The Dodge tore off in a hailstorm of pebbles.

"Who was that?" Pandora could think of at least eight people who drove trucks like that one, but none of them would shoot other people's sheep.

"I don't know," Olivia said grimly. "But I bet they thought they could get some free mutton from a couple of defenseless women."

The sheep were running every whichway, baaing in high, frantic voices. That much noise meant they probably weren't hurt. The dog started after them, made a low, querulous whine and collapsed.

The three women rushed over to the dog. He lay on his side in the dust, bright blood dyeing his yellow fur. His tail thumped a couple of times, feebly.

Nanabah bent down and examined the wound. "Don't think his shoulder's broken. The bullet go right through him, pretty high. We save him, maybe."

Olivia ran to fetch water, a blanket, and bandages. Pandora hopped back on the mare and rounded up the sheep. By the time she'd chased the last one in the corral and barred the gate, which was so rickety it looked as if it'd fall over in the next breeze, Olivia had carried the dog to the shade of the speading mesquite tree.

He yelped only once, when Olivia put him down.

Nanabah sat cross-legged as she washed his wound, a little old woman wearing a squash-blossom necklace dating from the time of Cortez with a lime-green polyester blouse and Ganado-red skirt, her pipestem arms freighted with the products of Zuni silversmiths. The toes of her Nikes stuck out from beneath her skirt-ruffles like round blue mushrooms.

"Yah-aht-eeh, sh'ma," Pandora greeted her respectfully.

"Yah-aht-eeh, grand-daughter. Turquoise Girl tells me you went to see the machines that fly."

"Yes, grandmother, that's right." Pandora seated herself near the loom, its partially woven rug depicting a Yei-be-chei, a god that to Anglos resembles a Hopi kachina.

Olivia brought the dog a bowl of water, and he licked her hand. He didn't have a name; the Navajo weren't sentimental about their animals. They couldn't afford to be. But from the sadness in her friend's eyes, Pandora thought she would miss more than his sheepherding ability if he died.

"And you yourself saw this new machine?" Nanabah persisted. "The one that flies to the Moon?"

"I saw it. It is like other flying machines as the eagle to a cactus wren."

Grandmother's brown eyes were bright as brook pebbles in her leathery face. "Hai. It was bound to happen. I have seen much change over my lifetime, things that would never have been believed when I was a girl."

Pandora tried to imagine what it must've been like to've been born in 1910 (or thereabouts, nobody kept track of birthdays then). There'd been changes, all right. Initiated by Anglos.

What had the Navajo changed? When Nanabah was her age, people thought it disrespectful to weave images of Yei-be-cheis. Now people did it all the time with pre-dyed yarn from Hubbell's. Some progress.

"... people of change," Nanabah muttered.

"The whites?"

"The Diné ... we have change in our blood." The old woman cackled at the expression on Pandora's face. Nanabah knew her opinions; they'd had enough discussions about it. "Only think on it, child. Five centuries ago we left Grandma's Land" -- old-time term for Canada -- "and fought the Hopi and the Pueblo for this land. We settled here, but not in boxed-up cities like theirs; we roamed still. Then the Spanish came, and from them we got our horses and began herding sheep. From the whites we picked up cattle and flour and sugar ... and much worse things. It's gone downhill ever since."

"This is the first I've heard you tell that story," Olivia said.

Nanabah shrugged. "I got it from an Apache."

Pandora watched her spread a packet of Bacitracin on the dog's wound. "Aren't modern medicine, books, and the Net worth the bad things?"

Smiling, Grandmother pinched her cheek. Nanabah loved stories about the Net like she loved stories about gods coming to visit people and foretell the future. "Change must balance. We must walk in beauty between the old ways and the new."

Next morning Pandora found her Dad wide awake, sitting on the sofa in his old purple bathrobe and slippers, watching TV, reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. This despite returning at dawn from the peyote meeting. How does he do it?

Dad frowned down at his paper. "It says here that the Chinese shot down Jack Yazzie five times, twice with a satellite."

"Jack's a hero!" Tash piped up. "Daddy, can we play mushroom-cloud?"

"No, son, I don't want you playing that game."

"Jack was captured by the PLA the last time," Pandora said. "He escaped."

Dad rattled the paper. "If he had any brains, he'd consider it a warning. Space is the realm of the gods; men are not supposed to go there. He's lucky he wasn't killed."

She groaned inwardly. No wonder the Tribal Council outlawed peyote! If the stupid U.S. government hadn't stepped in and told them to stop interfering with freedom of religion, I wouldn't have to listen to this crazy talk.

Mom cracked eggs into the frying pan. "Pandora, what're you doing up so early today?"

"Well, since we start back to school tomorrow, I thought I'd get the laundry done early, then have the rest of the day to myself."

Mom eyed her as if the maternal radar was already pinging with the news that Pandora was up to something. "I need your help making fresh tortillas this afternoon. And you should try on your outfit again, so I can make any last-minute changes."

"I'll be back in time, I promise."

Mom stirred the eggs. She looked like those old pictures of Sophia Loren in her thirties. She had a mole on her cheek, and her wavy black hair was brown where the sun bleached it. "There's enough material left to make another skirt -- an every-day one."

Hope springs eternal.

"You've already made too many," Pandora said. "You work all day and sew all night. You don't need to do any more."

"So you'll make the every-day skirt?"

Me and my big mouth. "Um, I'd better go before the washing machines are all taken." Grabbing the laundry basket, Pandora zipped out through the living room, jingling the truck keys as she jumped over Tash's rocking horse.

"Don't be long, little one," Dad said from the sofa. "I've got to pick up a load of firewood this afternoon. I'll need the truck."

"Okay."

Dad turned around. "Drive carefully. No speeding."

"I never speed, Dad."

"You are in one big hurry for someone who never speeds. Don't you have a hug for your old Shizhe'e?"

"Yeah." Pandora dashed back and hugged him, breathing in the sharp sweetness of cedar and sage from the medicine bag around his neck. On the TV, the Discovery Channel logo segued into President Bluehouse's face.

"That weasel," Dad said as he flipped the channel. He had one of the three typical Navaho faces: high cheekbones, round cheeks, slightly tilted dark eyes that always look like he's smiling, even when he's sad. "What's this world coming to when they elect a Christian as Tribal President?"

Pandora had heard he was agnostic, but didn't dare mention it. She dragged the laundry basket out onto the front steps, only to be stampeded by Gil, Rob, and Lionel.

"Dad!" Gil shouted as he ran inside. "Mr. Tsosie says me and Rob are the best barrel-racing team he's ever seen!"

"For your age," Lionel corrected. The youngest of the three, he was taller and wider than both of them. "I'm the best bull-rider. Dad, can't we get our own horses for the rodeo?"

Her brothers: fifteen, fourteen, and thirteen, respectively, and if it didn't have four legs, they weren't interested. They wore belt buckles as big as their heads and chewed Copenhagen behind Dad's back.

"We don't have anyplace to keep them, son. There's no barns in this housing project. But maybe we can ask the Tribal Council to...."

Pandora slammed the door, threw the laundry in the back of the Chevy, jumped in, started it and backed out, squeaking past the dented front fender of the neighbor's Dodge with a millimeter to spare.

Calf-roping and barrel-racing! Ask the Tribal Council to let us have a horse-barn!

She felt like screaming, this is 2012, not 1812! What do we gain by doing the fly-in-amber routine? Our own custom-designed future? Snowballs stand a better chance of growing permafrost hairdos in Lake Havasu City.

The only other person at Tse Bonito Laundromat was old Alice Yellowhair, who always sat through the dryer cycle so no one would steal her laundry. She promised to keep an eye on Pandora's.

Jamming half a roll of copper war-dollars in the washers' coin slots, Pandora hurried back out to the truck. It was one of those chill high-desert dawns, with the sky a million miles of blue and the wind flinging arrows of sand. Today was going to be another scorcher.

A five-minute drive brought her to the turn-off at the blue airport sign. Just after the bridge, she saw a shiny new red-and-silver SUV pull into the desert. The driver looked a little like Jimmy Blackgoat, but she couldn't imagine that jobless troublemaker affording a vehicle like that one.

At the airport, she parked in front, and the gate-guard let her in.

The spaceplane's shadow stretched across the tarmac, crisp as a new hundred-dollar bill. Perhaps because of the sun behind it, it looked even more formidable than yesterday. A half-dozen men were already hard at work painting the fuselage white.

She ran up to the ship, ducking under a wing. An aluminum ladder led up to the open bomb-bay, topped by a pair of khaki-clad legs that were obviously Mallory's.

"Good morning, Mr. Mallory!" Pandora said brightly. "Have you picked a new name for the ship yet?"

He half-turned, glancing downward, and she saw that he was holding a welding torch. The flame vanished, and he flipped up his polarized glasses. "What?"

Pandora turned red. "I was just wondering if you have a new name for the ship. Black Ghost is a lousy bad-luck name, you know. Fine for the Air Force, but not for the first Moon colony ship."

"True, but it's not up to me to name her. That's Stockton's call -- one of the priviledges of financing this operation."

"He should call it 'Eagle's Dream.'"

"Well, you tell him that when he gets here. Meantime, when's breakfast? A man could starve to death up here."

"Pretty soon." She dashed into the kitchen trailer, dumped all the remaining bacon on the griddle and started two pots of coffee. One thing they had plenty of was flour, so she decided to make pancakes.

She'd just spatulaed off the bacon and poured the first flapjacks when a commotion sounded outside. She threw open the door and saw a dusty Jetstream trailer driving up, a yellow storage truck in tow.

The trailer braked to a stop and a man leaped out, followed by a woman in a neon-green T-shirt and a tow-headed boy about Mel's age. The man was short and balding, with a dark complexion and merry brown eyes. In a baggy dark suit and suspenders, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up halfway to the elbow, all he needed was a green eyeshade to look like Horace Greeley.

Go up, young woman....

"This is it!" the man exclaimed happily, throwing his arm around the woman and the kid. "Look at her, would you -- isn't she fantastic?"

The boy gazed up at the ship, his eyes round as dollars.

"I'd rather it were a little bigger," the woman said. She was pale and plump, with short black hair in a glossy pageboy. Her T-shirt said Moon Goddess.

"It's not how big it is, it's how good the design is. Hey, Professor! Get your lazy ass down here! You, too, Jack!"

Mallory jumped out of the spaceplane's belly, followed an instant later by Jack. The two rushed up and shook his hand. "Rick, you old bastard!" "I thought you'd be here yesterday!"

"The engine overheated in Colorado. How's the 'Sheep-herding Hardin of Canyon de Chelly'?"

Jack looked pained. "Not you too!"

"Just giving you a hard time, man. You're looking great. How's the head, Professor?"

Pandora's eyes widened. Was this Richard Stockton, the backer? He sure didn't match her idea of a millionaire businessman. He was too friendly ... too ordinary to be so rich. Was Bill Gates friendly and ordinary? Ha!

"Fine," Mallory replied. "Nothing to worry about." He smiled at the woman. "Ginny, you're prettier than ever. How was the trip?"

"Beautiful, you liar. It's wonderful to get out of the office and see country again. I may just O.D. on fresh air."

"Uncle Dan, what happened to your head?" asked the boy.

"It got too big for his helmet," Jack deadpanned. "We had to cram it on."

Stockton was frowning. "You'll be okay to lift off? Seriously, guys. You're sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Thank you, God!" Stockton clutched his chest like he was having a heart attack. "I had visions of schlepping back to Ariane, and getting bumped by another commsat!"

"The whole world is waiting those Lucy reruns," the woman said dryly.

Mallory shrugged. "Well, we did shoot down a lot of commsats -- or knocked 'em down with orbital debris. Why shouldn't their companies be scrambling to replace them?"

"It's a waste of time seeing the other guy's point of view, Professor," Stockton grumbled. "Pretty soon you'll be telling me the Chinese have a perfect right to beat us to the Moon."

"They do. Just so long as they do it on the up and up."

"Ginny, it's great to see you again," Jack said, shaking the woman's hand. "You, too, Jay." He ruffled the kid's hair. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No," the boy said. "Nothing since burgers last night in Albuquerque."

This reminded Pandora about the pancakes, and she dashed back in time to flip them before they burned.

They all crowded inside the trailer then -- Jack, Mallory, Rick, Ginny, and the boy, plus Melvin, several Navajo men, and Leslie, who looked quite unlike a guy in a men's T-shirt, khaki bush shorts, and hiking boots. Fact is, she looked like a real outdoors babe.

Pandora felt overwhelmed. All these people, and only one griddle and two frying pans! She wished Olivia were here. Poor Dog was probably dying on her.

Ginny came up and introduced herself. "You look like someone elected you chief cook and bottle washer. Can I give you a hand?"

Before two minutes had passed, Ginny had the frying pans and the griddle filled with flapjacks, and Pandora, Mel, and Jay were sitting at the table in front of heaping plates.

Pandora felt guilty about eating when she was supposed to be cooking, but it was obvious from the way the men were jabbering that food was not their number one concern.

"Will we be ready to launch on schedule?" Stockton asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

"You bet," Jack said. "Fact is, we're ahead of schedule."

Dan held out his coffee cup. "We'll be in Angus Bay singing Forty-Nine Tons before you know what hit you. So don't sweat your H2 and O2, it ain't going nowhere."

Pandora's ears pricked up. Where could their stuff on the Moon go? Who could possibly take it? The Chinese?

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Stockton said grimly.

"Rick, are you going to stand there all day holding that coffee pot?" Dan said plaintively. "Because if you are, I'm stealing Leslie's."

"Better not," Leslie warned. "You might lose a finger."

"Settle down, woman," Stockton said as he filled Dan's cup. "We got the spacesuit gloves already made. Don't go changing the specs on us."

"Right," Dan said, blowing on his coffee. "Mustn't have dissension among the crew. 'Ware those human factors!"

Crew members? Leslie was one of the crew members?

Dan grinned at Leslie, who laughed and blew a kiss at him.

Pandora's stomach ached, and she told herself sternly that she simply must quit drinking so much coffee. So Leslie's going to the Moon with three men. She must be quite ... talented. Quit being such a cat, Pandora! I'm not -- what's wrong with saying she's talented?

"... haven't signed a contract yet," Leslie was saying, pointing at Stockton with her unfiltered Mexican cigarette -- illegal in the U.S., but still sold on the Rez. Henry said she got black-listed for her political views during the Buckingham hearings last year. What those views were, Henry didn't say.

"They will," Stockton declared. "Just wait 'till the first month their costs come in four times over spec. They'll be tripping over themselves to buy metal from us."

Pandora wondered who 'they' were. She'd seen news articles about the Japanese planning to put up a system of solar-powered satellites. Could he mean the Japanese?

Mel looked at Jay. "Are you going to the Moon?"

"Yup." The blond boy attacked his pancakes. "Not right away, though. Dad says I have to finish college first."

"But your Dad's going next Saturday, isn't he?"

Jay smiled and nodded, but the whites of his eyes were pink. He seemed to be fighting back tears.

Pandora didn't mean to be rude, but she could hardly believe it. "You won't see your Dad again until after you graduate from college?"

Another nod. Jay was really chowing down on those pancakes.

"Wow." But of course, you couldn't wrest a living from the Moon without a high-tech education. Calling Stockton gung-ho about this Moon colony idea must be the understatement of the year! How did Jay's mother feel about her husband going off to the Moon with two other men and Leslie?

"I'm going to the Moon after college, too," Mel announed shyly. "My Dad thinks I'm crazy."

"Most grown-ups do." Jay swallowed hard, then blew his nose on his napkin. "But we're the future."

Mel nodded vigorously. "Want someone to show you around the Rez while you're here?"

Jay brightened. "You'd do that?"

"Sure."

Pandora's stomach still hurt, even though she was pleasantly full with breakfast, but she jumped up and helped Ginny with the pancakes. The poor woman obviously needed all the help she could get.

They had just finished dishing out the last of them when Fred Buck, an Apache she knew slightly (he'd married one of her third cousins), stuck his head in the door. "Boss, we got trouble!"

Jack scowled. "What kind?"

Fred pushed a distracted hand through his rumpled black hair. "Cato found a charm by the back gate. Right out in plain sight, you know? But nobody saw who left it there."

"What kind of charm?"

"Evil Way."

"Shit!" Jack tore outside.

Leslie's pancakes were practically levitating in syrup. How in the world did the woman manage to stay so thin?"Let him handle it, Dan."

"Fine by me." Dan sat down. "Pass the syrup, would you?"

Pandora excused herself and went outside.

Jack and Manny Lujan, the crew boss, stood in front of a crowd of about twenty-five people, Manny holding something that looked like a diamond-patterned rag. No -- a rattlesnake skin wrapped around a paint can.

Her face heated. She knew exactly what would be in the can, but some perverse instinct made her push her way through the crowd and look.

Sure enough, the can was brimming with dust. It was a standard curse, signifying that the person or persons whose footprints had lain in this dust would lose his way to evil, suffer bad luck, and die.

"... want a ceremony to get rid of the bad luck, fine," Lujan was saying. Tall and dark-eyed, he wore denim overalls with no shirt and a sun-faded Selene cap. "We'll have one! But we don't quit work to chase down a medicine man. We do that, we blow this month's launch window and break a million dollar contract. You can bet Mr. Stockton won't do business with us again. And the Japanese? No way they'd trust us as a secondary supplier. You can just kiss our jobs good-bye."

"What happens to our jobs if your rocket crashes?" asked a heavy-set man.

Jack sighed. "Hey, it's a spaceplane, not a rocket. We eject from the plane, just like any other plane; we buy another with the insurance. Only it won't happen. The ship's safer than a helicopter, and I don't hear you squawking about one of those falling on your head."

The men in the crowd looked sideways at one another. They were afraid for themselves, not just their jobs.

"Bad luck can come to anyone," Rico Naswoodie said. "No matter how good your machine is."

Jack shrugged. "That's life. If it worries you, Rico, draw your pay and go."

"I'm staying," Pandora said loudly. "I'm not afraid."

Boy, that got their heads swiveling! No one wanted to be thought more fearful than a woman.

Fred coughed. "Uh, my brother-in-law's a medicine man. I could call him and ask if he'd do a ceremony. He might even throw in a Blessing Way for nothing."

Way to go, Fred. The only way Dad's friends would do a Blessing Way for these guys was at gun-point.

Jack's eyes shone like Bisbee Blue turquoise. "My man Fred! You call your brother-in-law; everybody else, let's get back to work."

The men dispersed, all smiles. Lujan threw a tattooed arm around Fred's shoulder. "Bueno, cabrón. That was good thinking."

Pandora thought she deserved a little credit, too. Not that she'd get any!

She wished the medicine man would do the ceremony off the premises. But that was as ridiculous as wishing for it to rain up.

It also occurred to her that since she'd made that little speech about staying, it wouldn't look good if she left for the rest of the day. Particularly since Olivia hadn't shown up yet. Somebody had to fix lunch, and dinner after that.

So after Pandora finished stuffing her laundry in the dryers, and chatting to Alice Yellowhair, she came back and started lunch.

After all, she didn't need any personal validation from Dan Mallory or Jack Yazzie to live up to the terms of her agreement. The colonization of the Moon was bigger than any of them. Future generations depended on their actions here today.

And suppose a giant asteroid hit the earth after the colony got going? The entire future of Humankind might depend on what she did here today!

So should she fix rice and beans, or bean burritos?

She finally threw together a potful of rice and beans with the last half-pound of cheddar. She was just nuking the remainder of the tortillas Mallory got at Hubbell's when Olivia came riding up, a fat sheep trotting behind her horse.

"Yah-aaht-eeh! I brought a little something for dinner."

"Great! How's Dog?"

"Not so good." Olivia dismounted, her striped jasper bracelets jingling.

"How 'bout we take him to the animal hospital in Tse Bonito?"

"Animal hospitals want money."

"Jack'll advance you something on your wages. Especially when he sees that sheep. Anyhow, you don't have to pay the vet when you bring him in -- just when you pick him up."

"Oh. I guess it won't hurt to try."

Pandora called the crew to lunch, and promptly hit up Jack for money.

"What do you need it for?" Jack wanted to know.

"Her dog's sick," Pandora said. "And she's fixing mutton stew for supper."

All the Navajo stared at Jack, who sighed and flipped open his wallet. "Here's three twenties. Now scram."

Olivia smiled her thanks, and handed the sheep's lead rope to Henry. "Hang onto her for a little while, okay?"

"Aw, hell," Mallory said, pulling out his wallet. "That's not enough for a sick animal. Not on a weekend." He extracted two twenties and handed them over.

"Gee, can I have some money for my cat?" Pulaski said. "I think she's pregnant."

"Shut up, Tink."

"What am I going to do with this sheep?" Henry asked. "And the horse?"

"Keep 'em in the shade," Olivia said. "I'll be back in about an hour."

"But...."

Pandora and Olivia were already running for the parking lot. They jumped in the truck and tore over to Olivia's hogan.

"I think Mallory likes you," Olivia said.

"You're crazy."

"I can just see the two of you together. Like hummingbirds in flight!"

"Very funny!"

Dog was still alive when they got there, but he looked worse than yesterday. His tail twitched when he saw Olivia, but he was too weak to raise his head. His nose was hot, his eyes glassy.

They lifted his limp body into the back of the truck, and Pandora drove as slowly as possible over the dirt road, but the potholes jounced him despite her best efforts. She didn't get home with the laundry until almost four o'clock.

Mom had that look on her face. "Pandora, what on earth makes you think this is enough time to finish tortillas? You should've been back hours ago!"

"Sorry, Mom."

"You're going to have to learn to cook someday, young lady! Believe it or not, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. What's this gunk on the bottom of the laundry basket? It looks like dried blood!"

"Uh...."

The rest of the day was given over to domestic chores, of which the less said about, the better.

After dinner that night, Pandora hauled out the garbage.

Three-quarters full, the Moon shone like a pearl, the shadowy seas all the bluer in contrast. She could see why the old astronomers mistook them for water. Here, moonlight turned the night sky navy-blue, and came within a feather's-breadth of making the housing project look beautiful -- beehive boxes, propane tanks and all.

A pack of coyotes started yapping before she was halfway down the driveway. They sounded close, like maybe right down the wash, but they had to compete with the screaming of those bratty Cisneros kids, playing some dumb war game right out in the middle of the street. And the rumble of distant gunshots ... well, it was Sunday night. Pandora tuned them all out.

Grandmother's right about our people being wanderers. That most of us were now living in one place was the biggest change we'd ever made. But maybe settling down wasn't right for us. Maybe it pushed us permanently out of balance. That could be why we have so many problems with drunkenness and violence.

If we follow our wandering blood out among the stars.... We'd find our own country again, on the Moon, Mars, and beyond, wherever we have the strength and the courage to roam.

Pandora threw the garbage in the Dumpster at the end of the block, scaring three cats out of one life apiece, then stood staring up at the Moon.

If she wanted something bad enough, could she make it happen? Or would she spend her whole life chasing blue water and finding only dry dust?

Pandora supposed that most people were excited about starting their senior year in high school, but by noon she just wanted it over with.

She liked Ms. McCutcheon, her homeroom teacher; several kids she looked forward to seeing. But Alvin Blacksheep and Xochitl Aguilar, the two boys she'd talked computers and science with last year, had suddenly developed an acute case of the tongue-ties. And Marlinda Kootsvema acted very cool, as if she'd just remembered she was Hopi and didn't pal around with Navajos.

Pandora couldn't be angry with her -- she'd chunked on another twenty pounds, plus her face had broken out. The contrast with Pandora's new looks must've hurt. Maybe it was just PMS, but her basketball buddy Kathy Todacheenie didn't seem too thrilled to see her, either.

With Olivia getting her G.E.D. at home, Pandora figured she'd spend the rest of the year hanging out with Melvin. In the meantime, she had to work on her contestant speech.

Olivia was doing the missing-dad-responsibility thing. It was a good subject for her. She'd lucked out with Grandmother, but lots of other kids weren't so lucky.

Pandora had picked education. Problem was, she didn't really know how to fix the schools, other than getting more books and kicking out the trouble-makers. She could think of a few teachers who should've been zeroed during the Kennedy administration, but she couldn't say that. The science classes were too dumbed-down, but Mr. Mathison was afraid to make them harder. If he flunked anyone, the parents would scream bloody murder.

She felt guilty competing against Olivia. She could get an academic scholarship if she applied herself. Olivia probably couldn't. Was it right for Pandora to take away the only prize she could win, just because she was afraid she wasn't that smart?

But maybe Pandora wasn't as well-read as she thought. Her favorite used-bookstore in Flagstaff wasn't exactly the Library of Congress. She might win nothing more than a "greetings" letter from Selective Service.

Pandora thought of writing a speech about the nomadic tradition, and how our destiny lies among the stars. But it sounded hopelessly idealistic. Just because Jack was going didn't mean everyone else could.

She headed right for the airport after school, which meant she was sweating buckets by the time she turned her bicycle into the airport driveway. She had until 5:30 to get home. Lucky thing hogans don't have telephones.

Zim Sullivan, a former Marine sergeant and Selene, Inc.'s top security man, stood by the front gate, revolver on his hip -- not one of those weird-looking smart guns, but a real one. He recognized Pandora and waved her inside.

Strangely enough, there weren't very many people working on the spaceplane. The place looked almost deserted.

They couldn't have all been scared off by the curse, because the Anglos were missing, too.

What better time to get a peek at the inside of the spaceplane?

Pandora strolled casually over to the ladder leading up to the bomb bay. There was no one inside. Heart thudding against her ribs, she started up the rungs.

"Hey, Pandora! You're not supposed to go in there!" Melvin's voice.

Pandora's first thought was to blow off the little twerp. But Mel was like a horsefly, not easily shaken. Glancing to her left, she saw Melvin and Jay standing in front of the hangar, a soccer ball at their feet. "Why not, pray tell?"

"Because Dan said for everyone to stay out before he went to the meeting," Mel said. "He said that especially means you."

Scowling, Pandora jumped down from the ladder. "What meeting?" These guys weren't the meeting type -- certainly not with so much work remaining to be done.

Mel's forehead corrugated. "Didn't you hear about Zielinski?"

"Who?"

"The pilot of the KC-135Q, the supertanker that's going to refuel us."

"Oh." That Zielinski. "No, what happened?"

Mel smiled beatifically, relishing his role as the Fount of All Knowledge. "He caught some guy sneaking around the supertanker at two o'clock this morning. The creep took off so fast he dropped his backpack going over the fence. And you'll never guess what was inside of it!"

The door to the kitchen trailer popped open and Ginny came outside. "Pandora, may I ask you a stupid question?"

"Oh, sure."

"Do you have InterNet grocery shopping here?"

Pandora didn't laugh. "No. Everybody does their own."

"I was afraid of that. Would you point me to a grocery store?"

"Better I show you, rather than let you wander off by yourself."

"Are you sure? I don't want you to go to any trouble."

"It's no trouble. We'll have to take your car."

Off they went to Window Rock, Jay in tow. And wherever Jay went, Mel went. Pandora managed to keep silent until Ginny pulled out of the parking lot, and then she couldn't stand the suspense anymore. "So what happened to Zielinski?"

Ginny gave her a sideways look. "He's fine, thank goodness. Do we go left here?"

"Right. I mean, yes, we turn left. What was in the trespasser's backpack?"

"A bomb!" Mel piped up from the back seat.

"Oh, my God!" Pandora's stomach did a back-flip. "Did they catch him?"

Ginny's plump mouth formed a grim line. "Unfortunately, no."

"Nick wounded him," Jay added. "They found blood on the ground there later. But Nick's got a bad leg since being shot down over Shanghai, so he couldn't follow him over the fence."

"By the time security finally showed up," Mel finished, "the creep had already jumped in a truck and...." He mimed a zooming vehicle with his hands. "...cut out like a bat outta hell!"

Pandora wondered when he'd show up here. "Did Nick get the license plate?"

Jay nodded. "It was stolen off a junked car."

"Oh."

Ginny sighed. "Nick said he looked Chinese."

Pandora's eyebrows went up. "So the People's Republic is trying to sabotage this project? Is that because they want to get to the Moon first and steal all of Selene, Inc.'s supplies?"

"That's one theory." Ginny shook her head. "I just can't see mainland Chinese sneaking into this part of the country right now. More likely it's domestic terrorists."

"Like Earth State," Mel said helpfully.

The ultimate anti-technology crackpots, Earth State had a history of bombing anything more high-tech than an electric can opener. Everyone on the Net was familiar with their 250K all-caps spam-rants. Six months ago they'd dropped off the Net, which may or may not have had something to do with the mysterious bombing of a launch facility in Houston.

"I thought they'd been arrested for the Houston thing," Pandora said slowly.

"Uh-huh. They paid the $250,000 bail and disappeared."

"That isn't much, considering they only have to put up one-tenth. I wish we could link this thing in Gallup to whoever left the Evil Way charm."

Mel snorted. "Lots of Navajo want to live in the past, but they don't go around bombing people. It's hardly traditional behavior."

Pandora smiled sweetly."I realize that. That's why I said we can't link the two." She explained about seeing Jimmy Blackgoat on the way into the airport.

Ginny seemed even more doubtful than Mel. "None of that adds up. And we still don't know who...." Her voice drifted off.

"Who what?"

"Nothing. Getting back to that Chinese suspect -- if I were Chinese-American, I'd be more concerned with getting my life back to normal than terrorizing a little company like Selene, Inc. Wouldn't you?"

"Sure." Pandora thought she'd be so glad to get out of an internment camp, she'd kiss the ground. Pictures of those places gave her the shudders.

"But terrorists are by definition, fanatics. Or this could be some other group we know nothing about."

Jay leaned over the front seat. "I bet anything it's the PRC. They've got a personal grudge against pilots like Jack and Dan."

"There's Basha's," Mel said, pointing with his chin. "South side of the street."

Pandora could not imagine how Ginny managed to deal so calmly with the notion that terrorists were out to destroy her husband's company, or the alternative: that if Selene, Inc. succeeded, he would be on the Moon indefinitely with Leslie. But Ginny was humming a little tune as she sliced beef chuck into cubes. You'd swear there was nothing on her mind beyond making enough chili con carne for forty or fifty people.

And what had she been about to say, back in the car?

"Pandora, how did these boys manage to rope you into doing all the cooking?"

"Actually, I asked them for a job. And I'm not doing it all."

"Do you like to cook?"

Pandora blotted onion tears from her eye with the sleeve of her T-shirt. "Not really. I was hoping ... I don't know. I thought it'd be cool to install software, maybe write a program.... But it'd be silly to do all that out here, wouldn't it? You can't exactly run down to the local Radio Shack for replacement parts."

"Right. That was all done months ago in New York. Henry rounded up a regular army of geeks -- it took them two or three weeks to do the guidance computer, and a few more for the beta testing."

"Yeah." Pandora poured a bowlful of chopped onion into the sizzling-hot cast-iron skillet. "What were you about to say in the car?"

The older woman sighed. "I didn't want to talk about it in front of Jay. But...."

"It's about Mallory, isn't it?"

Ginny glanced at her sharply. "My word, you're quick."

"Well, whatever happened to him is a big secret, so who else could it be?" Pandora plopped a fat green and black jalapeno pepper on the cutting board and sliced it in half. "Did he catch a terrorist -- is that how he got that clout on the head?"

"We're not sure. He and Tink were unloading one of the vans when apparently Dan surprised someone inside. Whoever he was knocked Dan out cold and ran."

"Did Tink catch him?"

"No, he was about thirty yards away when it happened. He dropped whatever he was carrying and ran to help Dan. Unfortunately, he wasn't looking where he was going, and ran straight into a ladder hanging off the end of a truck. By the time he got back on his feet, the perpetrator was gone."

"But surely Dan must've given a good description of him?"

"He doesn't remember anything. I hear that's not uncommon with a concussion."

Pandora stared at her, big-eyed."That's awful!"

"Well, it could've been a lot worse." Ginny dumped the beef cubes onto the hot griddle. They sizzled like rain on a campfire, exuding a heavenly aroma. "But they've stepped up security, and the launch is only four and a half days away."

Four and a half days. After that, would she ever see Dan Mallory again? Would he even remember her past next week?

"Those peppers are pretty ferocious," Ginny observed. "Want some help chopping them?"

"Oh, no," Pandora said hastily, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "I'm almost done. You go ahead and start on the cornbread if you want."

"OK."

Blinking hard, Pandora gazed out the window. Really, it was ridiculous for her to be getting so wound up about Dan Mallory. She barely knew the man, and he wasn't her type at all. She would follow her own personal star, regardless of whether a man happened to see it or not. And that meant Cam Roanhorse, too.

"Are kids on the Reservation space-crazy, too?"

Pandora picked up the cutting board, and began scraping diced peppers in with the onions. "Some of us."

"When I was fifteen, I found this wonderful book at a used-bookstore." Ginny's eyes were distant as she stirred buttermilk into the cornbread batter. " 'The Menace From Earth.' Have you read it?"

"Only about four times."

"It's all Heinlein's fault. He ruined us for Earth."

"But won't you miss...." Pandora stopped, her face scarlet.

"My husband?" Ginny smiled. "Oh, no, not at all!"

"Sorry, I ... you're kidding, aren't you?"

"Yes. Everyone, including my hairdresser, asks me that. Of course I'll miss him! I'll be joining him in Luna City as soon as Jay turns eighteen. After four and a half years, it'll be like getting married all over again. Rick promised me a Moonrock diamond for my next engagement ring."

"Oh, that's so romantic!" Pandora clapped her hands together. "You should call the ship 'Eagle's Dream.'" **

"For the vehicle they used in the first Moon landing?"

"'The Eagle has landed'? No, I was thinking that the eagle must dream of flying higher than the sky. What greater challenge could there be?"

Ginny's green eyes were bright. "You're got the passion, hon. Don't let it go. Don't ever settle for second best."

"I won't."

"It's about time for you to get home, isn't it?"

Pandora glanced at her watch. It read 5:25."Oh, no! I forgot all about the time. Mom'll kill me if I'm not home at 5:30."

Ginny slid the cornbread in the oven."Well, we can fix that. C'mon, I'll drop you off."

Mom seemed a little suspicious when Pandora arrived home at exactly 5:30 without being out of breath. Pandora told her that she'd walked the bike on the last part -- which she had, all the way from the corner. She still felt guilty, and atoned for it by spending the rest of the evening working on "the everyday skirt" and her speech. Both her words and her stitches snarled like fishing line in reeds.

Tuesday it was cloudy by the time she arrived at the airport. If the sun had been shining, the spaceplane would've knocked her eyes out.

It was still dark on the lower surfaces, since it was pointless to paint over the major part of the thermal protection system, even with heavy-duty rocket paint. But the rest was pure white, the color of sacred clay. Giving the wings a racier look were six small solid boosters about twelve feet long. Called 'snap-on solids,' these engines would give the spaceplane the additional thrust needed to reach the Moon.

Backs gleaming like oiled oak, Robert Dancing Feather and Cato Kinlicheenie stood on ladders just ahead of the front landing gear. It looked like they were painting something on the fuselage.

It said "Eagle's Dream" in letters as blue as the sea, an armspan high.

Pandora grinned like a maniac.

As she dashed over to the ship, she saw maybe two dozen Navajos sitting in a circle in front of the back gate, all holding long black feathers. In the center were Fred and a skinny middle-aged man in a cowboy hat. A thin sing-song chanting drifted across the tarmac.

Fred and his medicine man brother-in-law. They'd probably be out there for days.

Timidly, Pandora touched the paint on the nearest wing. It was quite dry. She scrambled atop the wing and walked over to where Cato and Robert were painting. The sound of her footsteps on the metal echoed like the ghosts of Chaco Canyon. She told herself to cut the melodrama.

"It looks wonderful, you guys!"

Cato grinned. "Yeah, I heard it was your idea."

She noticed suddenly that the cockpit canopy was open, standing on its nose hinge in a clean arch above the ship. From inside the cockpit came the tinny sound of a radio playing Garth Brooks' latest jazz tune. Though she stood on her tiptoes, she couldn't see anyone inside.

Where was everyone? Surely not at another meeting.

Pandora stepped off the wing into the open cockpit, jumped down inside, took a deep breath and looked around. It was more crowded than a boys' bedroom, and smelled like kerosene and old socks. The instrument panel was crowded with the usual dials and gauges and radio, and the computer board looked at least ten times more sophisticated than the ones new cars had for email.

There were dents and scrapes everywhere, black scorch marks on the hatch, and weld marks around the new acceleration couches. Steel racks in the ceiling by the new airlock looked as if they might be designed to hold spacesuits. They were empty now.

A small black radio lay on the floor next to the welding torch, serenading her from a cushion of oily rags.

Pandora sat down in the front acceleration couch, which gave agreeably under her weight. She lay back and looked up at the sky, past the edge of the canopy. The clouds appeared to be absolutely still at first. Then suddenly she saw them move, blowing westward across the sky with incredible speed.

The fingers of her right hand touched the pilot's controls. Almost, she could believe that the sky held perfectly still, and that she and Eagle's Dream were moving, flung up into the vastness like a giant's thunderbolt. Soon the clouds would part, and the Moon would appear before her like a great silvery-blue concho, the stars around her as thick as corn pollen in June.

The spaceplane trembled beneath her, and Pandora was out of the couch like a shot. Had she ignited it somehow?

Mallory jumped down inside the cockpit next to her. "Hello, kid."

"Oh, hi." She smiled weakly. "Your bandage is gone."

"Yeah, I'm ready to go ten rounds with a tornado." He smiled, but there were knife-edged lines of weariness and strain around his eyes and mouth. "What're you doing here? You aren't planning on stowing away, are you?"

"Certainly not. I've read The Cold Equations.'"

"Have you, now?" He seemed amused. "It's still not safe for you to be poking around the ship by yourself."

"But I've never seen one up close! And you're too busy to give me a guided tour."

He gave her a hard look. "That's exactly right." But instead of ordering her off the ship, he said, "OK, the vortex version. This is our new crew cabin. We added two more couches, then walled off the bomb compartment and installed an airlock. Henry upgraded the guidance computer, and voila, instant Moon ship." Mallory looked around proudly.

"And where the bombs were before, that's where you'll put the cargo?"

"Right. The airlock lets you out into the cargo space, and from there you can open the cargo bay to go outside the ship."

Pandora took a deep breath. Her chest felt as if it had an iron band clamped around it. "It looks awfully small for four people to be spending three days in." Especially when one of those people is Leslie.

He shrugged. "Staterooms were probably not much bigger on the Mayflower, and that trip took six months."

Three days was no time at all, really. She thought she would never understand Anglos. They'd jumped on this country in a heartbeat. How could they stand to have so much wealth now and do so little with it?

"A whole new frontier, full of brand-new opportunities...." And nobody taking anyone else's land away from them. Pandora smiled up at him. "Someday, all the mining will be done in space, and the Earth will be one big park. I think this is the most wonderful thing you Anglos have ever done."

"Anglos?"

She didn't understand why he was frowning. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Anglo means 'British.' My ancestors left Ireland during the Potato Famine, after the British hanged my great-great-grandfather for fishing in his own stream."

"I'm sorry." Pandora looked down, mortified. She'd had no idea those two tribes hated each other like that. Those British were as bad as the Hopi in the old days.

Mallory chucked her under the chin. "Hey, it's not your fault. Nobody's got the right name. You folks call yourselves 'Navajo' when it's an insult in Tewa. Progress these days consists of putting everyone in the wrong box, instead of getting rid of the boxes."

They had edged past the second set of couches to get a better look at the airlock, and now his T-shirted torso was only inches away. He had a kind of rumpled sexiness, the kind of thing that gym-bodied movie actors paid millions for and still didn't have. He smelled of engine oil and sweat, the clean sweat of someone who washed every day. Infinitely more attractive than aftershave.

"Did you know there's a moon named Pandora?"

Pandora's heart beat faster. "Maybe I'll go there someday. Where is it?"

He smiled. "Orbiting Saturn. Tiny thing -- you'd need a good telescope to find it."

Her jaw dropped. Not that the smile made him handsome -- oh, no! His features were plain as tempered steel, plain as logic trees and spaceplanes and pure unalloyed masculinity. That had its own beauty, profoundly outclassing the juvenile prettiness called "handsome." And the glint in those gray eyes exuded more heat than a Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engine.

Her face burned, and she stammered,"Where'd you learn to speak Navajo so well?"

"Growing up in the Painted Desert. Dad was in National Park Service. Forgot most of it 'til I met Jack at Edwards." Mallory suddenly seemed to realize that he was wasting time, for he bent down and grabbed the welding torch. "I'd better get this mess spiffed up for the FAA inspection. Now scoot."

When Pandora arrived at the airport on Wednesday, she saw a long line of men carrying crates and boxes to the spaceplane. Dan, Leslie, Jack, Rick, Henry, and Zim stood out in front talking to Fred Buck and a skinny old man in an old-fashioned tall-crowned black hat. The old man was Kawoozie Jim from Greasewood.

Despite being in his nineties, Kawoozie Jim was still reputed to be able to track a shadow across a black rock. Fred often guided hunters in the White Mountains, and was a skilled tracker himself.

"... expect you fellows back so early," Mallory was saying. "What'd you find?"

"There was a campsite, all right," Fred said. "South of here, behind them two hills. Four guys there for two-three days, cleared out not too long ago -- couple hours, maybe."

Jack swore. "I bet they crawled up those hills every night and glassed us."

"Plenty of sign showin' they was up there," Fred affirmed."They done a job of cleanin' up after themselves. Took me two hours to find this." He held out his finger and thumb, exhibiting a tiny disc of oxidized silver -- it might've been an earring, or part of a broken necklace.

On it was the split-circle swirl with the two dots -- the yin-yang symbol.

Recognition flared in Rick's eyes. "The PRC! I knew it! If those bastards think they can sabotage this launch, they've got another think coming!"

"That doesn't prove it's the Chinese," Dan pointed out. "Plenty of other people wore that symbol once."

"Before the war," Henry said. "Not after."

Stockton glowered. "What the hell, Dan! Why are you always sticking up for the damn Chinese?"

"I'm not. I just don't believe in jumping to conclusions with insufficient evidence. We have no idea how long that thing's been there."

"No tourist go out there," Kawoozie Jim growled. "Find this, too." He extended his hand, gnarled as a cholla skeleton. In it was a miniature dark-green bead.

It could be distinguished from a weed seed only in that it had a perfect hole in the middle. It looked like an Apache bead, except Pandora had never seen one that color. "How'd you find that?" Mel asked, pushing past Dan to stare at the bead. Good old Melvin -- he was never far from the middle of things.

Kawoozie smiled, so slowly she thought he'd creak. "Easy. I look for hole."

"That's an Apache bead," Jack said. "Are you trying to say the bad guys are Apaches?"

Fred shook his head. "No, it just looks Apache. I don't know whose it is."

Henry made a face. "OK, so we look for a terrorist wearing made-in-China knockoffs of Apache jewelry. Is anyone else having a hard time picturing this?"

Everyone nodded.

"Guys, any idea where they went?" Rick asked.

"Back t' 264." Kawoozie dug out a chaw of tobacco and folded it in his mouth.

Jack lit a brown cigarette on a match, threw the match on the ground and stomped on it. "If they went back to the highway, they went into town. If they're in town, somebody's seen them. All we have to do is ask. Then we find 'em and beat the crap out of 'em."

"They'll be masquerading as tourists." Dan pushed his hat back, ran a hand through his hair, put the hat back on again. "Beat up the wrong tourists, and Bluehorse will chuck us biligaana out of here. You too, Jack."

Jack exhaled smoke. "I know, I know. You're right. I'm just going a little nuts here."

"Why don't we just call the police?" Henry said. "Let them handle it."

Leslie rolled her eyes. "The police here are running themselves ragged chasing gangbangers and bootleggers. We'll have to catch these guys ourselves."

"The FBI, then."

"I tried that already," Rick said. "They said they were very busy right now, and they'd try to get someone out here in sixty days or so."

"Are you kidding me? We just finished fighting a war with these people!"

"This is the Rez," Pandora said. "The Fibbies don't care what happens here so long as nobody takes a shot at the BIA."

Leslie glanced at Jack and cocked an eyebrow suggestively.

"Don't go giving her any ideas," Mallory said with a severe look at Pandora.

"Spoilsport," said Leslie.

Mallory sighed and clapped Fred on the shoulder. "You guys did a great job."

Fred grinned. "No problemo. We go out again tomorrow, see what we find."

Kawoozie spat a brown stream of tobacco juice. "Too windy tomorrow."

Everyone looked at the sky. There were plenty of clouds, but the air was as still as death.

"We can talk about this more at dinner," Rick said. "Meantime, we're behind schedule, so let's get back to work. Zim, please drive Kawoozie back to Greasewood."

"Yes, sir."

Everybody dispersed then, including Pandora. Or at least, she started to.

"Hey, Pandora," Mel said. "Can I ask you something?"

She stopped dead. "You want to ask me something? What makes you think I have the answer?"

The eyes behind the thick glasses were pleading. "Do you think Olivia likes me?"

Pandora opened her mouth, stopped, then kick-started her brain. "I don't know, Mel. She's never said. You're a little young for her, though."

"I'm aware of that. But by the time we're in our twenties, a couple of years won't matter. The social dynamics are completely different."

"True." A good thing he was looking so far ahead, because a case of social ineptitude like his didn't vanish overnight.

"If you need any help fixing dinner, I could maybe...."

"Hello, there!" A lean youngish man in a tan suit stood behind the gate. He wore fashionably round glasses and carried a black briefcase. "I'm from the FAA. I'm here to do the airworthiness inspection. Could you let me in, please?"

Pandora returned his smile. "Sure. Hang on a second and I'll get Rick."

Mel sighed. "You don't have to bother Rick just to let the inspector in," he said, opening the gate.

"Thank you, young man. I know how busy you all must be -- I'll try not to take up too much of anyone's time."

Mel nodded as if he'd been scheduling inspections all his life. "There's the ship."

"Pretty impressive. Would you mind escorting me over there, or should I get...." He consulted a paper from his briefcase. "... Mr. Mallory or Mr. Yazzie?"

"I'll take you," Mel said. "We can grab one of them when you're done."

"Excellent. I'm hoping to get it all done this afternoon. I'd love to get in some sightseeing before I head back to Phoenix tomorrow."

The two headed for 'Eagle's Dream,' Mel yakking up a storm. Pandora considered telling Dan that the inspector was here. But there wasn't anything he could do at the last instant to get the ship ready. The ship must be ready, or they wouldn't be loading the cargo. Anyway, she didn't know where he'd gone, and Mom wanted her home by five.

As Pandora neared the kitchen trailer, she heard the medicine man out by the back gate, still singing in his high, cracked voice. There were four other men with him today, sitting, holding feathers, and passing the cup around.

What would the FAA guy think of that? She didn't want to know.

Pandora found Olivia in the kitchen trailer, up to her elbows in dinner preparations.

Olivia looked up, her dark eyes aglow. "Guess what, Dora! Ginny thinks I have what it takes to be a geologist!"

"Really?"

"Oh, I know it'll be a lot tougher than my rock-hunting. I'll have to study like crazy. But she says that anyone who comes up with the kinds of samples I do has a passion for it." Olivia flushed. "Did you know she's a geologist, Dora? She can work anywhere, even on the Moon!"

"I didn't know that." Pandora wondered why she didn't share Olivia's excitement. Could she possibly be jealous of her best friend?

Of course not! But why hadn't Ginny suggested a course of study to Pandora? Did she think she'd already decided? Or....

OK, so maybe she was a little jealous. Not only of Olivia, but Leslie, too. Get over it! Mallory might think you're hot, but he won't give up his blonde engineering babe for little Pandora. How does Ginny encouraging Olivia take anything away from you?

Pandora smiled mechanically. "That's wonderful, Livvy. I hope everything works out, just the way you want. How's Dog?"

Olivia's face fell. "The bullet punctured a lung. The vet had him on IV antibiotics yesterday, and said he might not make it."

"What about today?"

"I thought I'd wait a little while before calling."

Pandora grabbed the phone. "I'll call. I'm sure he's doing better."

The door to the kitchen trailer opened, admitting Mallory, Stockton, Ginny, Jay, and Mel, who looked glumly at her and drew his finger across his throat.

"Yah-aat-eeh," Mallory said. "Pandora, you and Olivia have done a lot of hard work in the short time you've been here."

Pandora put the phone down. "What's going on? Are you kicking us out?"

His face was expressionless. "You could put it that way."

Ginny scowled at him."Dan, you are the soul of sensitivity!"

"There's no point in soft-soaping a straight question."

Stockton stepped forward. "Let me ask you kids something. Do your parents know you're here?"

Pandora thought of lying about it, but suddenly knew she couldn't. "No."

"Olivia?"

Olivia gulped. "My grandmother knows I'm here."

"Well, I doubt she knows about the bomb in Gallup, or our nosy neighbors. Mel's parents certainly don't. None of you kids should be here ... not without their informed consent." Stockton held out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I hate to give up three good workers, but that's the way it's got to be."

Ginny gave them a hug and a kiss. "I'm so sorry, girls. I really am."

Pandora's chest felt as if she'd been stepped on by a Brahma bull. "Ginny, are you and Jay leaving, too?"

Ginny shook her head. "We discussed getting an apartment in town, but decided it's safer if we stay here. Everyone's standing watches at night in shifts until the launch."

"Armed watches," Mel said with an envious sigh.

Jay thumped him on the shoulder. "We're still buddies. We're going to the Moon together."

"Right!" Mel agreed heartily.

Stockton's brown eyes were no longer merry. The shadows under them, and the glance he gave his wife, told Pandora volumes.

She looked at Mallory. "I want to stay. It's my decision. I'm not a child."

His gray eyes were thoughtful. "Agreed. But you're legally underage. Let's go to the hangar and I'll write you out a check." He opened the door. "C'mon, everyone."

Mel was sniffling; Olivia dusted masa flour off her hands and swept out the door wearing that stone-faced look she always got when she was trying not to cry.

Pandora's heart filled with bitterness. A check! She didn't want a check, she wanted her dream back.

A floor-fan droned inside the hangar, swirling the dust from point a to point b and back again. It was cooling off outside, but here it remained suffocatingly hot.

Mallory's desk was in a back corner. He wrote rapidly, but when he tore off the checks he stood holding them, as if he'd forgotten their purpose. "The crew voted unanimously to name the ship 'Eagle's Dream.'"

Pandora nodded."I'm coming to the launch."

Mallory's eyes narrowed. "You're as stubborn as Leslie."

"Something wrong with that?"

"Just watch us on TV."

Pandora stuck the check in her pocket without looking at it and walked away. Olivia fell into step beside her, putting her arm around Pandora's waist.

"Don't feel bad, Dora. At least we were part of it for a while. That's more than most people can say."

Pandora was looking up at 'Eagle's Dream.' How beautiful she was in the late afternoon sunlight! How apart from the petty concerns of men! To think that there were people in this world who wanted nothing more than to destroy her, and the freedom she embodied. Why did people have to be so hateful?

A tear formed in the corner of her eye; she blinked it away.

"I'm coming back to see the launch, too," Mel said fiercely. "They can't keep us out of the desert."

"Me, too," Olivia said. "Anyway, I don't have a TV."

As they approached the gate, they saw two expensive-looking cars pull up in front. One bore the logo of the local TV news station. Out of the second one stepped two well-dressed men. Cam and his dad!

Councilman Roanhorse wore a butter-colored trenchcoat and carried a briefcase under his arm. He was a good-looking man -- a dignified white-haired version of his son.

Jack stood in front of the gate with his arms folded. Pandora couldn't see his face, but she just bet he was scowling. Three people jumped out of the news car, two of them carrying TV cameras.

"I'm gonna go get my horse," Olivia muttered.

Mel cast a longing look at all the excitement. "I'll come with you."

Pandora was afraid Cam had seen her, but the two stopped on the other side of the gate from Jack. She heard rapid footsteps behind her, and turned to see Mallory, Stockton, and Ginny approaching, with Henry, Tink, and Leslie bringing up the rear. The six of them bracketed Jack, Pandora slipping in behind them.

"...temporary injunction against launching that rocket over there." Councilman Roanhorse brandished a piece of paper, which fluttered noisily in the wind. "Due to your willful endangerment of human and animal life in the flight path of this airport, you are ordered to appear and show cause against the issuance of a permanent injunction...."

Jack reached over the fence and snatched the paper from him. "This spaceplane poses no more danger on its flight path than any other existing plane!"

"Then why don't you fly it out of Sky Harbor in Phoenix?" Cam demanded.

"You know damn well why. Congress voted to build these spaceplanes during the war. Now they want votes from the environmentalists, so they reclassify the B-7 so she can't fly out of a regular airport. Never mind that it was the bombing they objected to! The ship's safe for the environment and handles like a regular plane -- that's been proven over and over again."

"And the U.S. government does not allow recently declassified hardware to be launched outside the borders of the United States," Mallory added. "Otherwise we'd be in Mexico, and so would these jobs."

Councilman Roanhorse struck a pose. "No one is more concerned than I for the future of my constituents! That is why I have consistently opposed this insane project!"

Rick studied the paper. "The court date is Monday afternoon -- two days after the launch. Is that the usual way you do things around here?"

"It is," Cam thundered, "when the court perceives a threat to the lives and safety of its citizens!"

"Funny how the court didn't perceive this when the tribe took our money two months ago. We haven't had a single problem since we've been here."

"Let me see that." Jack snatched the paper back. "Hey! This judge retired before I joined the Air Force!"

Wow, talk about a Pandora's box!

Pandora would've slipped away right then, but the cameras had zoomed in for a close-up, and she couldn't leave without chancing Mom and Dad seeing her on the six o'clock news. Unfortunately, Tink chose that moment to lumber away in disgust.

Cam stood staring at her as if frozen to the spot, his eyes filled with betrayal.

When Pandora took out the trash after dinner that night, she saw a cloaked figure standing by the wash. For one wild second she thought it was a skinwalker, come to warn her against going to the launch.

"Pandora! It's me -- Cam."

"Oh!" Her heart slowed. "Hi."

He approached her, his face dramatically shadowed by moonlight. It was weird how fluid his features seemed now, how soft and androgynous. "You're seeing that biligaana, aren't you? That Mallory." The last word hissed out of him.

Pandora's mouth fell open. "Are you out of your mind?"

"I wish I were. What other explanation is there?"

"I'm not giving you one. It's none of your business why I was at the airport!" How dare he assume that a man was her only motivation!

"Dear little Pandora," he sighed, putting his arms around her. "There is a grain of truth in what you say. It makes me crazy to see a beautiful girl like you hanging around with the enemies of our people."

"He's not...."

"Raping our land, polluting our air...." His mouth came down on hers. If he hadn't used an eye-watering amount of breath freshener and said so many stupid things, she might've ... no, she was sure she wouldn't like it then, either.

She twisted her face away. "That's our airport, in case you haven't noticed. The noble savage is dead, Cam!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Even Jack knows more about being Navajo than you."

"That Uncle Tom-Tom! Are you trying to tell me you're seeing him?"

"No, you moron!" She jerked away, but he grabbed her again and kissed her throat like a starving vampire. When he wouldn't let go, she bent his little finger backwards, he yelled, and suddenly Dad was dragging her away from him and shouting, "Pandora, you get back in this house now. You're grounded, young lady!"

Thursday dawned cloudy, gray, and windy.

Pedaling her bike upwind, Pandora was thoroughly bushed by the time she got to the airport. Mel and Olivia were standing outside the gate, peering inside at the spaceplane. The whole crew was clustered around it, probably doing the final preflight check prior to the engine test.

The spaceplane shuddered in the wind like a kite caught in a tree. The keening of air blowing across all those metal surfaces set Pandora's teeth on edge.

"Hey, girlfriend," Olivia said, smiling. A rose-print kerchief fluttered about her head.

"Hey, yourself," Pandora replied, wincing as a gust of sand stung her knees. Today wasn't a good day for shorts, but there was no way she could've ridden all the way over here in long pants. "I can't stay more than a few minutes. I'm grounded."

"So are we," Mel said. "Literally speaking."

A short, fat man in a pearl-gray business suit emerged from the parking lot and headed toward them. As red-faced as he was, he probably was an Anglo.

"I wonder who that is?" Pandora said.

"Who cares?" Mel turned his eyes back to the ship.

The fat man walked right up to the gate and tried to open it. When that didn't work, he looked around for a bell, and then he looked at them. "Excuse me," he said."I'm here on important business for the FAA. Can one of you let me in?"

"You made a trip up here for nothing," Mel told him. "Mr. Horning did the certification yesterday."

The fat man cocked his head, gazing at Mel with protuberant blue eyes like a gecko's. "I don't know anybody named Horning, and I'm the only one who does certifications for this area."

A sudden, horrible suspicion flew through Pandora's brain. "Mel, you don't suppose...."

The boy looked frightened. "Sir, if you'll hold on just a moment, we have to call Security."

Pandora waved wildly at Zim Sullivan, who was watching Jack run across the wing to the cockpit. "Sarge! Come here quick! It's important!"

The wind was blowing so loudly she didn't know if he heard her. It was a relief to see the blocky figure turn and hurry toward them."Hello, Miss Pandora. Didn't think I'd be seeing you for a while."

Before she could reply, the fat man said,"I'm Joshua Bright from the FAA. Mr. Stockton is expecting me."

Sullivan nodded. "May I see some ID, please?"

Pandora watched the man pull a couple of cards from his wallet. Not only did he have an official-looking FAA card, he also had one of the new "counterfeit-proof" IDENTs, the ID cards with the unrewritable chips containing everything from retina print to dental records. Nobody used them on the Rez, but the war had made everyone else so security-conscious, you had to have one to travel between states.

Of course, nothing was really counterfeit-proof. A good hacker could get around this, too.

She stared at the spaceplane. Dan and Jack were both in the cockpit. She told herself it was the fat man who was the imposter, not the one from yesterday!

The sergeant took his thumbprint on the portable reader, then swiped the card. "You're you." He opened the gate.

Mel looked as if he'd been hit between the eyes with a two by four; Pandora felt as if she were suffocating. "Sarge, stop the test!"

"What? Why?"

"We let a man in yesterday ... he said he was from the FAA. But he wasn't!"

"I told you that," Bright said impatiently.

Zim looked alert. "When?"

"Right after you left to take Kawoozie home."

"I took him to the spaceplane," Mel whispered. "He sent me to get a flashlight, and then Dan said we had to go, and I never did get back there...."

"Jesus!" Sullivan flipped on his walkie-talkie. "Rick, this is Zim. Code red! Stop the engine test now. Get Jack and Dan out of the cockpit, and clear everyone away from the ship. We have a possible bomb."

Well, they cleared everyone out of the airport, including the medicine man. Everyone, that is, except Leslie and Tinkerbelle, who'd been on the Army bomb squad.

Pandora wanted to stay and assure herself that everything was all right, that there really wasn't a bomb. But she couldn't make herself believe it. She would gladly have thrown herself on it if she knew where it was. She slunk home after she and Mel gave a description to Lt. Whitehorse.

Mel was lower than a rattlesnake's belly. He couldn't even look at Jack, or Olivia, or anybody. Pandora longed to tell Mallory how she'd wanted to go find him. But she found herself staring at his strong sunbrowned hands, the wheat-gold hair furring his skin. Those hands might've been scattered into a million pieces. She got on her bike and left. Halfway down the airport access road, she got off her bike and threw up.

Mom yelled at her for coming home late. Pandora endured it stoically. But when she couldn't eat her dinner, and Dad fretted about her being sick, it was beyond endurance.

She went to her room and turned on the radio, but the only stations she could get were from Winslow and Albuquerque. No news about the airport in Window Rock.

If the bomb detonated, wouldn't she hear it?

Mom made her come out and try on her outfit and practice her speech until she was sick of it. How could the Miss Navajo contest possibly be here already? It was tomorrow.

Finally Mom released her, and she went to bed and collapsed. She lay with the covers pulled up to her chin, staring sleeplessly up at the ceiling. Moonlight painted a sliver of wall silvery-blue.

Tap, tap, tap.

Pandora looked up at the window, and her heart leaped. Olivia!

Pandora jumped up out of bed and threw the window open. "What happened?"

"The bomb was hidden in the cargo space. It was set to explode right after take-off."

"Oh, God! Did they get it out OK?"

"Yeah." Olivia shook her head wonderingly. "Leslie deactivated it with a couple of candy bar wrappers. Tink helped, but -- imagine a woman doing something like that!"

"My hat's off to her," Pandora said numbly. Mallory was alive because of Leslie. She had saved them all, as well as the Moon colony. Pandora was grateful, and would never think anything catty about her again.

"Jack went ballistic about her doing it. He kept saying she could've been killed. But the only alternative was to wait three or four hours minimum for the FBI bomb squad to drive over from Albuquerque, and it might've exploded by then."

"Drive? Why couldn't they take a helicopter?"

"They said all the choppers were out."

Pandora snorted. "At least they're consistent."

Presently Olivia got on her horse and rode home. Pandora remained at the window, the night air chilling her through her pajamas, wishing she had a souvenir. Something to remind her of 'Eagle's Dream' and her crew.

But she already had one.

She could still look at the Moon.

Friday night found her at Window Rock's Navajo Nation Fair, dressed to the eyeballs in a red velveteen blouse, white skirts, fringed sash, belt knife, coral and turquoise jewelry, rawhide moccasins with silver buttons, and a fringed buckskin jacket. And enough Avon to paint a war party.

The rednecks were at the rodeo, Mom and Dad with Pandora, whose mission was to walk around smiling, pretending to enjoy herself, and in general looking like the next Miss Navajo.

There must've been four thousand fairgoers -- she saw at least that many trucks parked alongside 264 as they walked in.

She hugged the jacket close. The not-quite-dusky evening was noon-bright with strings of colored lights and flashing ads for rides, drinks, popcorn, Navajo tacos and mutton sandwiches. The smell of popcorn and roast mutton made her stomach growl. She reminded herself sternly of her lipstick.

Little kids rode Shetland ponies, bigger ones the roller-coaster, the Ferris wheel, and the Kamikaze. War whoops turned to delighted screams whenever the Kamikaze flipped upside-down.

Mom and Dad were unusually quiet. Pandora knew they were disappointed with her, but what she could say? It was a relief to spot Olivia and Nanabah.

"I'd like to walk with them," Pandora said.

Mom nodded. "Have them come over here."

Olivia shrieked when she saw Pandora. "You look fabulous!"

"You look more!" Pandora exclaimed.

She was all Diné: flashing dark eyes and polished silver, slim figure perfectly graced by ruffled violet velveteen. Her **amethyst earrings were the perfect

"I should be home fixing the corral," Olivia said. "Those darned sheep keep knocking the fence down."

"Will you stop worrying about those stupid sheep?"

Mom and Dad exchanged greetings with Nanabah and complimented Olivia on her dress. Nanabah graciously returned the compliments, her language so flowery that Pandora barely caught the gist. By the time they started walking again, it was almost sunset.

At the Japanese Tattoo Parlor, Olivia whispered, "Let's get tattoos. That dragon looks so traditional."

"What dragon? That's a Japanese horned toad!"

"Here comes President Bluehouse," Nanabah said.

Dad snorted. "Photo-op time."

President Bluehouse headed right for them. "This looks like two of our candidates and their parents. I'm Will Bluehouse. Good to meet you." He shook hands with Nanabah and Pandora's parents, then the two girls. In a sport shirt patterned with blue and white triangles, black jeans and a blue windbreaker, he looked neat but comfortable.

Dad was wrong; there were no cameras. Pandora liked Bluehouse -- he was young, smart, and progressive without being anybody's puppet. Good to know he wasn't a shameless old hack, as least as far as Miss Navajo was concerned.

"I'm sure you'll succeed at whatever you do," he said, smiling at them.

"Thank you," Pandora said. "And thanks for bringing the Moon project here. That's exactly the kind of jobs project we need."

He looked startled. "Great -- glad you think so. Will I see you at take-off?"

"I doubt it."

Pandora thought for sure that Dad would say something after Bluehouse left, but he didn't. They'd come upon the outdoor stage, with the table for the judges off to one side. It was 8:30 -- half an hour 'til competition.

"Where'd Grandmother go?" Pandora asked.

"The Porta-John," Olivia replied.

Pandora had a sudden urge to locate one herself. "I'll go find her."

"Better hurry," Mom said.

But Pandora didn't see Nanabah anywhere around the nearest row. At her age, she might be in there a long time. Pandora found an empty one and endeavored to avoid suffocation.

Returning, she cut through VIP parking.

"...what will happen out there at dawn tomorrow," she heard a man's rough voice say in Navajo.

"I told you to stop following me." The second voice, deep and resonant, sounded familiar. Both men were on the other side of a maroon and silver SUV.

"Blow them all into clouds, flying machine, president, and all. Perhaps you move up then, eh?"

Flying machine? Did he mean the spaceplane? Pandora stopped dead. Thankfully her moccasins made no sound on the gravel.

"... drunk. I don't know what you're talking about." The SUV's door slammed.

"Oh, yes. I think you give me much money, then I don't tell nobody."

"I've paid you plenty already ... how much do you want?"

Councilman Roanhorse! Pandora listened to him and the other man argue about money. She couldn't picture Roanhorse allied with terrorists ... on second thought, yes she could. He was that ambitious.

And who'd be a shoe-in for Tribal President if Bluehouse died in the stands?

Pandora scurried around to the far side of a blue Dodge. It gave her enough cover to slip behind a Ford, and from there walk nonchalantly out of VIP parking.

Her heart beat faster than hummingbird wings. Who could she tell? Mom and Dad? They'd believed her in the past, but since the episode with Cam ... no. She couldn't blame them, but this required immediate action. Who was the blackmailer?

Call the airport and tell Jack. He'll take action. Mallory would, too, but she quailed at the thought of talking to him.

"Pandora, you're number seven," Mom said.

"What?"

"You're the seventh contestant. Better get backstage ... Olivia's there already."

"Right," Pandora said blankly.

"Don't worry, little one," Dad said. "You'll do fine."

"Backstage" was your basic canvas tent, the local atmosphere supersaturated with hairspray and estrogen. The other eight contestants were all dressed and made up, and were sitting around looking bored. One was listening to a basketball game on a portable radio.

Pandora borrowed Melinda Goodluck's cellular and dialed the airport. It had a dial tone but didn't ring, so she tried again -- no luck. "Your phone's screwy."

Melinda shrugged. "It's probably the fair."

The fair power shortage. Practically every year it shut down half Window Rock.

"Shit." Pandora glanced around for Olivia and Nanabah. She dragged them into a corner and told them what she'd heard. "Without proof, will President Bluehouse believe me?"

"Tell him anyway," Olivia said. "Make him believe you."

"I saw Councilman Roanhorse," Nanabah said. "He with Jimmy Blackgoat."

Olivia's eyes rounded. "That no-good criminal?"

"Aoo. He'll do anything for money, that one."

Pandora remembered now where she'd seen that SUV -- coming out of the desert Sunday. Perhaps Roanhorse loaned it to Blackgoat , the logical source for an Evil Way charm. Had Jimmy been the 'Chinese' Zielinski spotted?

"Bluehouse is a skeptic about things involving magic," Pandora said. "He won't believe anything this garbled. I think there's another bomb."

"Maybe Jimmy was talking about the old one," Olivia said dubiously.

"And maybe he wasn't. Somebody's got to warn the crew. If you loan me your horse, I can be there in five minutes."

"I'll come with you. You can take Nanabah's horse."

"That won't be necessary. I'll only be gone ten or fifteen minutes, tops."

"Girlfriend, if you think I'm going to let you drop out of this contest now, you're crazy. I'm coming with you, just to make sure you come back."

"I'm not dropping out, Livvy. And I need you to tell them I'll be right back if by some wild chance I'm a few minutes late."

"I don't like it. It's getting dark, and it looks like rain...."

"You ride in the dark sometimes!"

Olivia finally conceded that a shortcut through the desert made it less than a mile to the airport, and that the other girls would take at least fifteen minutes apiece with their speeches and parading around.

Two minutes later, Pandora trotted the mare into the scrubby field south-east of the fair.

No cactus grew here, no prairie dogs dug treacherous holes. Here were creosote bushes, stunted pines, and snakeweed, painted white-pink-gold by the lights of the fair. Pandora urged the mare to a gallop. Well-rested and eager for a run, the mare flew across the field, the clean autumn wind whipping her rider's cheeks.

Pandora was surprised not to see any lights from Basha's or Hogan Tso a half-mile to her left. They were dark, and so was the Notah Begay Golf Course ahead. Then she remembered the power outage. But the airport had a generator ... why didn't her call go through?

She heard the whistling of brush, the squeak of the saddle, and the pounding of hooves on earth. Several coyotes yapped suddenly nearby, scaring her silly. Most Navajos would've bolted for home right then.

The golf course was deserted; the pampered grass perfect for a night gallop. That lasted maybe two hundred yards, then they hit desert and had to slow down. The last thing Pandora wanted was for the mare to trip and hurt herself, or throw her into a barrel cactus.

A few airport lights gleamed ahead. Pandora skirted the west fence, heading for the south entrance.

She was a hundred and fifty yards away when something dark and shiny reared up from behind a clump of sotol.

The mare reared, whinnying in fright. Terror gripped Pandora's heart, the night terror of demons and skin-walkers, of the coyotes' warning she'd failed to heed, and she clung to the mare with all her strength.

Windshield-glimmer in the moonlight. A black truck, driving with its lights off.

Pandora kicked the mare, but it took forever for her heel to touch the animal's flank. She galloped into darkness, the darkness of a black hole.

A voice from the bottom of the Grand Canyon said, "Yah-aht-eeh, Pandora. About time you gave me the pleasure of your company."

Her head throbbed like peyote drums. She seemed to be lying on the earth somewhere, but she wouldn't bet on it. More likely a planet the size of Jupiter. Gravity fought her eyelids to a standstill, then somebody called for a second round. It might've been her. An eon later, said eyelids opened, showing a familiar face distorted by moonlight. "Cam?"

"How nice, you remembered! Isn't that nice, Forest?"

The man he addressed gave him a dirty look. "I told you not to use my name." Naked except for a breech-clout, he sat in the lotus position, silvery hair haloing his head. He looked like a grumpy elf. Pandora wanted to laugh, but it would've made her head hurt worse.

"Oh, well, I forgot." Cam giggled.

It gradually penetrated her brain that he was drunk, that her hands were tied behind her back, that she had failed to warn the crew. And there was a decidedly non-elf-sized shotgun on the ground beside Mr. Lotus Position. Probably in the loaded position.

"Well, m'dear, it's a good thing for you that my bootlegger friends recognized you. They might've left you right where you were."

Fine with me. The horse wouldn't have thrown me if they hadn't been driving in the desert without lights.

"He isn't going to like this," Forest said. "When he returns...."

"He doesn't have to know about it." Cam leaned against the open door of a gray truck and chugged a beer, a pair of tall hills silhouetted behind him. No, not a truck -- a Halfling. Half high-tech car, half truck, half electric, half gasohol. It wasn't his, that was certain.

A chill percolated through Pandora. She didn't think he was planning to drive her back to the fair. And what was the story with Forest and his nameless friend -- why did they fear being identified? Were they bootleggers? No, Cam just said that the bootleggers brought her here.

Forest smiled coldly. "I'm not drinking doped liquor, and neither is he. You know our witness policy."

Witness policy? Suddenly it all came together: the yin-yang symbol, the green bead, Forest's odd appearance, the Halfling, the level of fanaticism implied by the phony FAA inspector with the bomb. Earth State.

Shit! They'd dump her dead body in the desert for the buzzards.

Pandora twisted her shoulders as if trying to get comfortable, pressing the back of her hand against the knife in her sash. Still there!

"She's hot for me," Cam drawled. "See how she's wigglin' around?"

Forest sniffed. "I don't advise rutting. They'll be back in less than ten minutes."

Pandora pulled the knife out and turned it upside-down, then began sawing the rope securing her wrists. The numbness invading her fingers made it hard work, and the blade felt as dull as dishwater.

Cam loomed over her. "It might take a little longer than Fearless Leader thinks before the whole crew passes out. By then...."

He squatted down and grabbed her, staggering as he slung her over his shoulder. Pandora jerked on the sawed rope and felt it rip in half, then jammed her elbow as hard as she could into the back of his neck.

"Ow! You bitch!" He dropped her and grabbed his neck -- a good thing for him, since she still had the knife. The instant her feet hit the ground, she shoved him into the stunned Forest, who was trying to simultaneously aim the shotgun and untangle himself from the lotus position.

She jumped into the Halfling, slammed the door and locked it, banging her shoulder painfully on a long metallic shape protruding from the passenger seat. She blinked in disbelief. It was a Thorn, a shoulder-mounted weapon that was the successor to the Stinger missile!

Somebody hammered on the window.

Her hand found the keys in the ignition. Thank you, God!

Pandora was scared they had another set, but too busy to worry about it. The engine caught with a roar like a prehistoric beast. She jammed it into gear, hit the lights, and floored it.

Tearing across the rocky ground, she bounced around inside the cab like a Mexican jumping bean. She didn't know where she was -- maybe behind those two small mountains south of the airport -- but she could see that the dashboard console had e-mail capability.

She booted up, praying that somebody on the crew was doing e-mail tonight. If they had power ... if they weren't all unconscious from spiked beer ... wouldn't they all want to celebrate after the hard work they'd done?

A boom rattled her teeth and the rear and front right windows exploded. Cold wind swept through the vehicle, smelling of gunpowder and rain.

"You have mail," the dashboard chirped.

The Halfling bounded down a slope; she yelled, "Send mail! Send mail!"

The shotgun boomed again, harmlessly. She spun the wheel, narrowly avoiding an arroyo; the vehicle bucked and fishtailed. Scattered lights gleamed maybe a half-mile ahead -- the airport, she hoped.

"Ready to send mail," the dashboard reported primly.

She shouted into the microphone: "To selene.org. Have stolen Earth State vehicle and am headed for the field with them in hot pursuit. Armed and dangerous! Will be there any second! Pandora. Send now."

The e-mail warbled into the ether.

The Halfling leveled out; she floored it again, just as lightning veined the sky. She saw running figures in the rear-view mirror, surrounded by dozens of ... sheep?

A black ravine loomed ahead. Pandora hit the brakes desperately, felt the wheels skid, and then launched into space--

Pandora got to see the take-off, despite being knocked unconscious twice in one night. The ER doctor congratulated her for having an extremely hard head. Dad said that was true in more ways than one -- he and Mom were so relieved she was still alive, they hardly yelled at her at all.

When Pandora didn't return, Olivia and Nanabah found President Bluehouse and told him everything. He sent two men to investigate, and found the crew and the airport staff already up in arms. Apparently Tink had started celebrating early -- whatever the bootleggers put in the beer made him crazy enough to fire Jack's suspicions, especially when he found the generator out of gas. Melvin and Henry got her email right after the airport staff took the police up in one of their helicopters. Mallory radioed the message to them, which helped them catch all three of the terrorists, four boot-leggers, and Cam Roanhorse. (They also rounded up Olivia's sheep.)

Dawn brought four thousand people to the airport. President Bluehouse made a speech praising Pandora and Olivia for helping the police capture this notorious band of terrorists. Pandora blushed, and Olivia insisted that Mel stand up with them, not only for getting the email, but for identifying the phony FAA inspector among the suspects.

"What were you doing at the airport last night?" Pandora whispered.

Mel looked innocent. "Going to Jack and Leslie's wedding."

"Wedding? Jack and Leslie? Are you kidding me?"

"'Course not. They were going to have Rick marry them on the Moon, but the bomb scare made them decide to move it up. You and Olivia would've been invited if you hadn't been in the contest."

"But I thought Leslie was dating Dan!"

"You did? Why?"

Pandora couldn't think of why, but the crowd kept applauding and yelling "speech, speech," so she stepped forward to make her Miss Navajo speech. That is, she started to, but before she even got to the part about how she was going to space, Mallory and Jack came up and kissed her, right in front of everyone!

Mallory growled, "You crazy little fool, why'd you risk yourself like that? I thought you were dead when they pulled you out of that ravine!"

Pandora caught her breath. He kissed me! "Why do you risk yourself for something you believe in?"

The reporters took zillions of pictures: the crew in front of Eagle's Dream, Olivia in her Miss Navajo crown with smiling Jack in his p-suit, and of course Jack, Leslie, Dan and Rick waving as they boarded the spaceplane.

Lujan shouted, "There she goes!"

Flame leaped from the belly jet, red as fire opal, then blue-white. The engine-roar pounded her ears, deeper than an electric bass drum, shaking her bones like a hawk snatching a dove at the end of a mile-high dive.

Eagle's Dream lifted up off the runway, so slowly Pandora feared it would crash to the ground at any second. She felt as if she were underwater, unable to breathe.

About fifty feet up, the rear engine lit, then the snap-on solids. The spaceplane shot into the sky at an acute angle. One second it was hovering, the next, whoosh -- a shrinking dot on the other side of Apache County.

Everyone was jumping up and down and shouting. Mel and Jay shrieked themselves hoarse; Ginny and Olivia hugged Pandora, who blotted her eyes on her sleeve and looked at Mom and Dad.

The dawn continued to glow in their faces as they sat gazing up at the sky. "Man," Dad said, awestruck. "Nizhoni!"

Mom rested her head on his shoulder. "You know something, honey? They're like the Heavenly Twins."

Navajo has no word for friendship between a man and woman. Well, maybe it's a little more than friendship between Pandora and Mallory. They've been exchanging a lot of e-mail.

 

THE END

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