War Within the War

After six days, the recycled, re-purified, re-sterilized urine was beginning to taste like what it actually was, but Louisa remained patient and unmoving. Cold but not shivering. Tired but not sleeping. Alert and ready. She was a professional, if a grave robber could be such a thing; and if not, she was at least experienced.


The war had raged for a century already, and most people assumed it was a permanent feature of the universe now, everlasting. The bulk of the devastation ran up and down the long neck of Cygnus between Sadr and Albireo. She wondered why anyone bothered to settle there any more. They built domed cities in the craters left by orbital bombardment and made stations from vented star cruisers patched together like it were fashionable, a passing fad no different than reclaimed barnwood. But to this system they were yet to come. It wasn’t safe until the wreckage had been picked clean. With luck, by her.

But salvaging, as she thought of it, had become something of a cottage industry. There was competition. A war within the war. Of course, the whole enterprise was unregulated, unsanctioned, and probably classified as a high crime against humanity—a small irony given the legislated slaughter that swept over these fleets a week ago.

In any case, Louisa rigged her tiny shuttle to put out a signature like a ruptured escape pod, and she drifted into the fray before the shooting was even over. And then she waited. There were other salvagers out there, she was sure, and she only had to wait them out.

She could have been a decorated sniper if she’d only enlisted. But here she could be the boots on the ground and be the general. The best—and the worst—of both worlds, but you couldn’t do this job if you weren’t an optimist.

Something glinted in the starlight. Something that hadn’t glinted before, not once in the last six days since the fighting ended. She activated a minimal enhanced optics system using an ocular command. Sure enough, a lone-wolf scavenger was crawling across the scorched hull of the Basilisk Crest a few klicks away, across a gulf of void. Her quench rifle was already in hand. She could have used smart ammunition or auto-adaptive targeting, but they might be picked up by a decent defensive suite. She preferred the control of taking her own shot, life and death, both hers and his, decided by her own steady hands, her own ability.

She pulled the trigger.

She was in a good position—lucky, yes, but a luck that only followed preparation—and the recoil inertia kept her in shadow. It was a hell of a lead, but she was no first-timer. She hit her mark. Another casualty of the war within the war.

And to the victor go the spoils. Let the harvest begin.

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