Thursday, October 2, 2014

Interlude 5: Hard Lessons

Mara huddled behind the sand dune under her camouflage poncho, hugging her stolen rifle under herself, waiting for the signal. The cold ate through her fur, coming up at her from the hard sand, a bone-deep ache that never left during the long winter nights. She sucked at the tube in her airmask, swallowing the sugary fluid to replace burned-off calories.

The stars above were gorgeous, a dazzling cosmic display. From here, she realized, she could just see Earth, hovering close to the horizon, just above Elysium Mons.

A click in her ear. She brought her gaze back to Mars and saw the crawlers approaching, a pair of headlights in the distance. She waited, let them both pass her, waited for the signal, her heart hammering in anticipation as they kept moving, twenty meters past them, forty.

Two clicks, and she was up and running, poncho left behind, rifle at her shoulder, Yat and Dee beside her, breathing hard in her mask. They blocked the road behind the crawlers while Ermon's group cut them off ahead. Gunfire burst in pops from in front, warning shots over the cabs. The crawlers come to a shuddering stop, and the cab of the rear one popped open, someone stepping out, a shape blocking the reflected glare from the headlights. Mara shouted through her mask, fired a warning shot just over the shadow's head, and the silhouette turned and fire flashed from it. She fell to the ground and pulled the rifle's trigger, fingers clutching autonomously, not even aiming, sparks flying as bullets bounced randomly off the crawler, and she saw the shape drop.

Someone screamed, and she turned to see Dee huddled over Yat. Dee risked her light – Yat's chest was a great bloody hole – Mara turned back to the convoy, started crawling towards it – fingers clicking out the rifle's magazine and sliding a new one in – a buzz in her ear, Ermon, “What's happening back there”

She was close enough now to see the blood pooling black under the stars by the crawler cab, the shape become a man, sprawled out unmoving, fur thick with blood. She clicked the button for the com on her wrist. “Yat's dead. I killed the guy who shot him. No other resistance this side.” Then she tore the airmask off and threw up, the vomit freezing in seconds on the cold ground.

An hour later they were heading back to camp, their backpacks loaded with looted supplies, moving fast to make it across the border and to cover before the MuniDef came hunting for them.

- - - - - - - -

The next night, as they waited in their campsite in the ruins beneath Elysium Mons, she took a chisel and hammer from the toolchest. Outside, the MuniDef were no doubt hunting, their tracers criss-crossing the cold desert sands. They might fear to cross the border, but they'd scour their side the more thoroughly to make up for it. Down here, though, all was silent and dark, the only light from her headband as she found a blank section of wall and carefully carved: YAT, 09/16/5022.

She knew there would be many more names before they finished.

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