The first dirty neon tendrils of sunlight lashed the backs of clouds that had grown plump and forgetful in the night. Claude shielded his eyes against the harsh dawn and the hot breeze it brought with it. He and Cheyenne had a clear view of the camp below, the soldiers already set about their morning tasks but still not yet alert.
Claude ran his fingers through his tangled mango-colored hair and smacked his chapped lips. “There’s too many of them. Let’s get out of here before we get caught.”
Cheyenne tightened her mouth but didn’t say a word. Her attention was on the camp. She zigzagged across it with her binoculars like a doctor with a stethoscope, adjusting, pausing, observing, and moving on again. She lay prone in the tall grass leaning on her elbows. Claude studied the intricate geometry of the tattoos on her forearm up to where they disappeared beneath her rolled up sleeves.
“There’s our guy,” she said, breaking his revere. She set down the binoculars and pointed to the south side of the camp. “Officer heading towards the tree line alone. Probably taking his morning shit—saves us the trouble of scaring the shit out of him.” She pulled a Mark XXXVII 44 from the rear waistband on her pants and popped up into a crouch. “Time to catch ourselves an Earthborn.”
Claude’s heart pounded. This was never going to work; they were the ones who were going to end up captured, or worse. He tugged at Cheyenne’s jacket. “Hold on—”
He was suddenly blind while a searing pain radiated over his face. She’d cold-cocked him with her gun and he whimpered uncontrollably. “You broke my nose!” His throat was sticky and he tasted mucus.
“No,” she said, her voice rising, “you broke it when you chose to live your life on the sidelines. This is a war, and we’re losing. Grow a pair.”
She hurried down the backside of the hill and disappeared into the trees. Claude stayed where he was, his knees pulled to his chest, waiting for his eyes to stop tearing. He didn’t hear them over his sniffling.
“Down on the ground! Do it now!”
The tears kept flowing as they patted him down and bound his wrists. From the woods he heard a gunshot, then three more in rapid succession. He didn’t even consider that Cheyenne may have been the victor.
This had been a mistake.