Four Graves

The sun was just coming up over the foothills between the distant angular forms of the archologies. It tinged the sand and snow orange and pink. Marsha stood atop the smoking hull of the downed mech, listening to the screams from within. The bent cylinder of a hydraulic actuator prevented the escape hatch from opening more than a few centimeters. The cockpit was burning.

Marsha held no ill will toward these corporate mercenaries, but felt them no special favor either. Until this morning their paths had never crossed. They had no reason to be enemies, and could have even made quick friends.

Instead, they showed up here in the quiet hours with their hulking machines, spewing exhaust and thirsting for death. Well, at least the latter she could satisfy for them. There was more death to come.

And for what? The Corps? Which one and what the payment, be it credits or clemency or something more immaterial still, was of little relevance to her now. Her home was rubble, and now she had less than ever to worry about losing.

Marsha spat and yanked away the cylinder. She stayed clear of the black fluid it spewed out and crouched behind a pulse cannon twice her own size. The mercs burst from the hatch one after another, one crawling and hacking, the next rolling and retching, their uniforms tattered and scorched. Marsha leveled her rifle.

She took her time, breathing with control as she put them down cleanly. One. Two. Three.

At last only one remained. He was smaller than the others, and younger—perhaps even younger than Marsha. He’d been last out of the hatch after his comrades muscled past him. His eyes were white orbs of fear buried in his soot smeared face. One pant leg went wet.

Marsha spat again. Fresh death always lingered in the mouth. “You’re gonna dig four graves,” she said.

“Please,” he said. “I had no choice—”

“You’re gonna dig four graves,” Marsha repeated, “and then we’re gonna talk. So while you’re diggin’, I want you to think about what you want to talk about. Shovel’s that way.” She nodded.

She wasn’t gonna kill the kid. But she couldn’t let him go either. She hoped he was a slow digger, because Marsha had no idea where to go from here.

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