It was a gray day—overcast but bright, and the brightness amplified by a patchwork of melting snow. Cold puddles formed in the mud like tidepools along the shore of some vast alkaline ocean, still and lifeless. Karsaca remained vigilant, her finger at the ready, and tried not to think about the dryness of her eyes as she looked down the scope, the rawness like table salt behind her eyelid. She blinked, and she breathed, but otherwise remained still.
Five hundred meters away, at her scope’s focal point, was a weapon. A handheld weapon, like her own. But unlike her own, it was a relic of the Eidolons. The technology of that mysterious and long-dead species was as sought-after as it was treacherous. Their biochemistry, it was believed, had been very similar to our own, but not identical. That, combined with the penchant their artifacts had of neurochemically binding with their operators, led to an exceptionally high mortality rate for anyone reckless enough to attempt to wield them. But there seemed an endless supply of people desperate enough to try.
The weapon was bait.
It lay among the wreckage of the long-destroyed cosmodrome south of old Dushanbe. Every few days some damn fool thinking he was King Arthur would come along and take the Eidolon weapon for a triumphant moment before falling over catatonic and breaking down over the next few hours into dust to be swept away by the wind, or else dissolved into the snowmelt. Karsaca, when she was on duty, only had to watch.
Her real purpose was to watch for anyone who successfully held the thing for more than a few seconds, and to tranquilize them for capture and study. She’d been assigned to this post for over a year; no winners. And yet, here came another contender.
Just a kid, this one. A boy with the peach fuzz to indicate it was time to start shaving. Turn around, she thought. But she knew he wouldn’t. Like all the others, he moved carefully, slowly, until he was within about thirty meters of the weapon, and then he made a mad dash. He grabbed it. Held it firm, unshakable in his conviction. And then…turned? Yes, turned, and pointed, and fired—right at Karsaca. She was too surprised, too dumbstruck to be hurt or frightened as she cartwheeled through the air from the blast force. She realized she was on her back, her rifle still in hand, and she sprang to cover and swept the carrion of rocket boosters with her rifle, but the kid was nowhere to be seen.
Gone. And the Eidolon weapon with him.