Ensign Zara Slater took off her helmet and wiped the sweat. Three days she’d been in her stinking battle armor but it didn’t look like she was going to get relief anytime soon.
“What do you see?” Corporal Masi Waters checked his weapons belt, counting the number of HE bombs, gas grenades, and smoke bombs he had left.
She slid down the rock they were sheltering behind to sit beside him. “Bomb craters everywhere. You could hide a battalion out there and we’d never see them.”
The corporal checked the charge on his laser rifle. “You got anything left to eat?”
She coughed. The smoke rising from the blasted landscape was scraping her throat raw. So much for fresh air. “No. I split the last food bar I had with you yesterday.” Zara sipped from the nipple coming up out of the collar of her armor. The suit captured her sweat, distilled it and stored it around her body until she drank. It tasted flat and warm but it at least wet her dry mouth.
“We have to get back to the cruiser. The Captain sent us out to recon, at least one of us needs to get back with the info.”
“What for?” Masi rubbed an eye. Neither of them had slept in twenty-four hours.
“Because that’s what we do.” On board the ship there would be no talk of “what for” but out here, separated from the rest of their command, things didn’t look all that good. “We’re fighting for our rights, you know that. To keep people safe.”
He snorted. “Safe? Tell that to the people who used to live here. We bombed the crap out of this planet because someone told someone else who then issued orders to wipe the place out because the Mords were supposed to be here.”
“Well,” she said, the tired seeping up through her bones. “They are here. In numbers.”
“Fine.” He jammed his helmet back on his head and seated it. “Let’s get on with it then.”
She sighed and put her helmet on. As soon as she sealed it, the displays reconnected and a series of status updates appeared on the inside of her visor. Ambient temperature, wind direction, humidity, appeared in the upper right corner of the screen. She clicked the infrared and red hot spots showed in the area all around her and the corporal. Mord soldiers, a lot of them. Another click and she pulled satellite information for the area. Her battle cruiser was five clicks in front of them. Symbology on the map told her where the Mord concentrations were. There didn’t seem to be any way through to the ship.
“Sending you the overhead.” Zara clicked once more.
“Got it.” After a moment, “Crap. How the hell are we going to get through?”
“I was hoping you’d see something I missed.” She studied the map. “If we go left, there seems to be an open area, no heat signatures. That would put us a klick closer and maybe something will open up by the time we get there.”
She could hear a sigh over the comms. “Yeah, why not.”
Zara crept out from behind the rock and moved with as much stealth as possible. The battle armor was coated with stealth materials but that didn’t stop a pair of eyes from seeing her. They were both breathing hard when they dropped behind the broken wall of some building still smoking.
“Is it worth it?”
“What,” Zara answered.
“This info. If they don’t know the Mords are here they don’t deserve to be in command.”
She was too tired for this. “It’s all I’ve got.”
Another look at the map and she thought she saw a way through. She shared the updated map. To the east, it looks like the Mord are maneuvering.”
“I don’t see anything on the map that looks like our forces. Maybe they’re getting ready to attack the cruiser.”
Zara wished she could call them but the Mord would pick up the transmission and use it to find them. “They must see this, too.”
“Where are all the other recon teams? We could hook up, strength in numbers and all that.”
“Unknown. Let’s move. We’ll follow the Mord. That will at least get us closer to the cruiser.”
After a klick Zara was exhausted. After two, she was pulling on her reserves. At three klicks they were both stumbling like drunks. “Rest,” she gasped.
“One more klick,” Masi groaned. “Can’t we call them to come get us?”
“Not yet. We’re still too far out.” She sipped more water. Jets screamed overhead leaving white contrails in the blue sky. If they were scanning, she and Masi were already dead. “Gotta move.”
He groaned but rolled to his feet.
They were less than half a klick from the cruiser when the Mord began their attack. The ship was surrounded. They dove into a ruined basement for cover. “What can we do?” Masi sighted his laser rifle on a passing squad.
Zara pulled the barrel down. “Don’t. You’ll kill four or five and we’ll be found.” She heard him mutter under his breath but he put the rifle down.
They watched as their ship was pounded from all sides. It was full dark and the glow of fire from the ship lit the night sky in front of them.
“Hold still,” they heard behind them.
Masi twitched. Zara put a hand on his arm, holding her rifle out to her side straight armed. “Take it easy.” She dropped her weapon and raised her hands. Beside her, after a moment, Masi did the same.
“Take two steps back and turn around. Slow.”
“Kneel down, fingers clasped behind your head.”
They did that too.
“You are now prisoners of war. Prepare yourselves for the camps.”
Zara sighed. No one ever came out of those alive.
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