Don’t turn away!”
paced in front of their assembly. This face was maroon with anger. His jaw
thrust forward as he snarled.
front low was Mirna’s squad, now missing a member, like a mouth missing
stood at attention, small chest heaving. Her blood pounded in her temples.
She could taste its copper on her tongue. There was a ragged hole in her
lip. Her small body ached in an off key chorus of bruises and scrapes from
the combat drill. Certainly her heart would explode soon and she would be
on the deck, along side the body of Cadet Aidan.
she dared not move, dared not avert her eyes from the small still body on
the floor. Microts before he was one of them, moving and alive. Aiden was
the agri-recruit, rotund with ruddy cheeks and hair that was Tech-stock
yellow. The one that told fantastic stories in hushed whispers to the
other cadets at Downtime. Now he was …
Rahban snarled. Full of disappointment and anger, his meaty voice echoed
through the hangar and makeshift training field. “Cadet Aiden is dead.
You are not! Remember this! This can be you! This will be you!”
of the others began to cry. It was not a natural sound. It was a muffled
mewl, harbored deep in the throat. She had done it herself, but not for
cycles now. Only babies cried… babies that missed their mothers and were
raised soft on a planetside merc-colony. They were conscripts and
inductees. They were not bred Peacekeepers like Mirna.
was a flourish of pride that always came with that thought. But now she
felt nothing. Inside was as blank as the stare on Aiden’s dead gaze.
driller continued, “Never forget. Never show weakness. What is Decca?”
erupted in the recitation: “Decca twenty. Lurge eight. Death through
weakness. Glory through strength!“
Cadet Aiden obey Decca?”
that is why Cadet Aiden is dead!”
inhaled sharply, waking. The grip of the memory was hard to leave.
where I am. Not good. Lost too much blood.
top of that. Him!
thrust her shoulders back, sitting up against the wall. Her head whipped
around, seeking his shape in the semi dark. Before the sun outside sank
below the horizon, there had been enough light. Now the room was a milky
flickering blur. The only illumination was cast by the fires in the ruins
squinted, shifting forward despite the pain in her ruined leg. The
shattered bone in her thigh ground together, sending a spectacle of pain
along her spine. She swallowed the groan.
his voice carried to her in a whisper. “I’m right here, G.I. Jane.”
frowned. Obviously he was mocking her. But the term meant nothing. Another
reason to not trust him despite his entreaty to lend aid. Her hands
splayed out against the dirt. Panic threatened until she seized upon the
cold hard lines of the pulse gun. Its dread weight was a comfort.
He hadn’t moved. How long was I out?
There was a cool dread that came with that. She shook her head, shrugging
I’m not your enemy.” There was a shift in the shadows. The crunch of
gravel. She leveled the pulse gun’s aim at the thick blackness where his
chest should be.
where you are.” She hissed. “I will fire.”
sounds of movement stopped. He was loud and lacked stealth. This was no
deserter. Even a marginally trained tech would have taken the advantage of
her injury, relieved her of the weapon.
I get it. But you’ve got to stop pointing the pulse gun at me. Believe
me I’m not what you should be worried about. It’s getting out of
flatter yourself. You’re not a threat to me.” Mirna spat. “I told
you. Retrieval is on the way. I’ve already called for it.”
hold your breath.”
does that mean?” She scowled at the darkness.
mean. Before fate so humorlessly decided to make us hidey-hole partners,
the Scarrans disrupted comms. Your message didn’t get out. This place is
eyes narrowed. She shifted once more. There was no such thing as even
marginal comfort. “You’re lying.”
not lying.” An adamant grinding of gravel brought him a few steps
closer. She raised the pulse gun. He paused. “Hell… Stephen King
couldn’t cook anything up better than this. Try your comms and find out
don’t know who that is. But they will come… they have to.” Her voice
trailed off into a tremulous cough. She grimaced at the weakness in it.
They had to. But still she knew he spoke the truth. If there were one
thing she knew, it was that Scarran attacks were predictable in their
staging. The first target to be taken out would be planet wide
microts of their arrival, the Scarrans had triggered massive explosions,
intended to destroy the infrastructure and keep the occupants from fleeing
into the outlying ports. But in this instance it worked too well. Around
them rested the remains of one of the largest structures of the government
moved again. His sounds brought him further away. For once she could see
him clearly in the light that trickled down from the hole in the ceiling
of the chamber. His dark hair was coated with the same thick dust that
drifted in the air. He was clad in a black duster and the mismatched
pieces of various uniforms.
craned his neck up, trying to peer into the space above in the low
ceiling. It was far too small to squeeze through.
are you doing?” She asked.
for a way out.”
useless. You should conserve your energy.”
The dance contest?” He said sarcastically.
She huffed, lowering the pulse gun to her lap. There was no energy left to
argue. She felt the grayness invade her vision. Mirna ran her free hand
over her face, trying to drive it away. A resonant buzz had begun to
invade her hearing. She shut her eyes.
distantly did she realize that the sounds of his search had stopped. His
voice was suddenly closer.
sat up. Blacked out again? She grabbed for the gun. He was faster.
His hands seized both her wrists.
chill! I’m not going to hurt you.”
her strength, she tried to twist away. She turned her arm, pushing against
his thumb, but he was faster. He released one wrist long enough to swipe
the gun away. Mirna lunged forward, unable to gather the momentum to rise.
Her attack fell short. She rolled sideways, injured leg colliding with an
outcropping of rock. The pain was exquisite. Stunned and gasping, she lay
on her side, his boots denches from her face.
He stooped over her. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
recoiled, moving to the shelter of the wall. He looked at the pulse gun
thoughtfully before tucking it behind his back beneath the duster.
want to help you.”
slouched against the wall. Chin tucked against her chest as she glared up
at his dim shape.
said nothing, only stared.
bad off. At least let me—“ He reached for the makeshift dressing on
her leg that was now saturated with blood. She flinched. His hands drew
up, palms flat. “Ok. No touch. I got it.”
loud frustrated sigh, he settled back on his haunches and rested his
forearms on his knees. He ran a hand over his face.
name is John.” He said slowly, as if he were addressing a child.
regarded him and then returned to staring at the blackness. “Mirna
Desavet. Corporal. Municipal Control. Arachnid regiment. Delan—“
Rank. Serial number. That’s just great.” He muttered, straightening.
Once more he ventured off into the dark. He paused in the circle of light
cast from above, odd look of realization on his face.
a sec.” He pointed a finger at his sternum. “Do you know who I am?”
looked at him. “No. And I don’t care to.”
strange self-effacing smile spread on his mouth. He erupted in rich
sardonic laughter. The sound of it rang against the pitted walls. “Oh.
up! They’ll hear you.” She glowered.
ill-timed mirth continued. “Oh. Oh. I’m sorry.” He gasped between
bouts of laughing and doubled over with his hands on his knees. “I end
up trapped with the only Peacekeeper in the galaxy that doesn’t
it! Stop laughing!” Mirna felt her ears begin to burn.
just… just have to be just this side of my life right now to know how
funny that is.”
reached for the first thing she could find. Her hand seized a rock the
size of her first and threw it at him. It struck him squarely in the
shoulder with a satisfying thud.
He cradled his arm and glared at her.
you shut up?”
the efforts in the spinward section of the city…”
The meaty gurgling voice slithered from above. Scarrans! The creature’s
footfalls thudded across the roof of the chamber triggering tiny
avalanches of dust and pebbles.
second voice joined the first: “My lord… the prisoner said that
Crichton’s ship is not at the port. It is likely he is no longer
He is here. I can… nearly smell him.”
lord… that is what you smell… there is a dying one nearby… blood
pause. “Hmmm… female too. And something else…”
finger touched her heart. Eyes wide, she looked at John to see the same
realization replace his petrified expression. She held her breath. Mirna
slapped both hands down on the wound, trying to cover the blood-soaked
dressing. How can you hide from that creature? How can you cover smell
from a Scarran?
the beast. We must find Crichton. He is the reason we are here… not the
sound of their retreating steps was one of the most gratifying sounds in
her seventeen cycles of existence. Mirna released the pent up air in a low
sigh of relief.
She cursed beneath her breath.
Tell me about it.” John drew closer, hands wrapping around her forearm.
“Can you walk?”
No!” She ripped free of his grasp and fixed him with an incredulous
stare. Who was this absurd creature?
isn’t safe. They’ll come back.” He reached for her once more. This
time, he grabbed the collar of her utilities.
the frell off me!” It was less painful to allow him to pull her to her
feet. She shoved him away, and retreated to a weary slouch against the
gimme the tough chick act. Those are Scarrans.” He jerked a thumb over
his shoulder. John leaned closer, his face hovering close to hers. “I
know what they do to prisoners… especially females.”
looked away, unable to bear his stare. He knew her fear and she hated him
for it. Hated him for using her own weakness to manipulate her. There was
no choice. Slowly, she looked back up at him. She nodded once, sharply.
are you going to do?”
gave no answer.
her side to resurface beneath the shaft of light. Swiftly he produced the
pulse gun from the folds of his coat. With a somber studiousness he
altered the settings. She realized what he was doing: setting the weapons
to overload. He wedged the gun into the mouth of the opening and quickly
darted back to the corner.
form descended protectively against her before she could protest. The
coarse fabric of his coat brushed against her face. His breath came in hot
gasps across her neck. Her hands grasped the cold leather of his vest and
balled into fist. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited.
was wrong. Nothing happened.
she uncoiled from their awkward embrace. Mirna glanced beneath his arm to
the entrance. She could see the blinking red eye of the pulse gun’s
happening.” She said. “You’ve done this before?”
plenty.” John turned. He shrugged as he regarded the entrance. “Well.
The first time it was sorta… an accident.”
accident?” She took a faltering step forward, still leaning heavily
against the wall.
relax.” He waved at her over his shoulder and took a cautious step
toward the failed device. “I’m sure it’s just—“
The ensuing explosion was a screaming white ball of flame. Mirna ducked against the wall just as something heavy and oddly pliant came hurtling from the dark. As it struck her with a wounded grunt, she realized it was John.