Broken dust shield rolled back, red oozed from the gash in the Angels pearly crew cut, rolled down his temple, over his hard carved cheek to drip off his chin. The drops froze before they struck my shield and went tink as they bounced off. Breathing a rusty plume, he said, "Trust me, Sir. Youll be all right. Just let go."
I snorted a laugh, dangling from his grip while I strained with the toe of my right boot to reach the crumbling ledge of the abutment, even though it was plainly out of reach. The bottom of the Vallis wound through its monstrous curves like a serene snake beneath us. The shattered heating filaments of the aqueduct laid scattered across the floor of the canyon, sparkling in Mars ochre haze.
The Angel had been hit. He hadnt enough strength left to pull me up and he wasnt going to be able to hold me much longer. There was no place else to go but down. For a moment, I stopped struggling and hung there from his grip, looked down, looked at the concrete and girder work that ran back into the cliff side, then looked up into the cowl of his helmet at his weather beaten face. Red dirt and blood brindled his cheeks. I snickered. The Angel smiled. We had been in enough tight spots to know there was no way out of this one.
"Angel, how much longer can you hold out?"
"My nanites have sutured the amputations of both legs and stopped the hemorrhaging there. However, the shrapnel wound to my abdominal aorta is severe. It was transected. I have redirected my invivo colony to repair the wound, but my nanitic volume is not sufficient to complete microsuturing in time. Circulatory failure is imminent. I have approximately seven minutes."
I hated to loose him. He had been a good drone, a good partner and, yes, a good friend. Thats not as pathetic as it sounds. "Set up a mnemonic transfer."
He squinted faintly, "Why?"
"Ill take you with me."
He smiled. "No, Sir."
"What, No, Sir? Thats an order, Drone. Ill requisition you another body." That is, after I locate one for me. I wasnt about to ride this chunk of meat into the gorge. Ill evac over the satellite signal with the Angel piggy backed and transmit our patterns into the rescue bouy buffer. Once were loaded, we can just sit tight until a friendly beam strobes through and pulls us out. After a few weeks of harmless oblivion the Angel and me will wake up in fresh flesh, ready to back here and kick some Terran asses.
The Angel shook his head slowly, still smiling. Softly, he insisted, "No, Sir. No more refreshes. Ive been doing this sort of work all my life. I was bred to do it, so Ive been glad to do it, but Im done."
"And youre damned good. Youve got a lot of good years left. All you need is a fresh body."
"No, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Id like to finish things here. Now."
"But why? You can go on forever. We both can."
"Yes, Sir. But, the truth is, I dont want to. I dont care if the next requisition a criminal or a saint. I wont refresh again. Live enough times and some day you might understand."
"Dammit, Angel. Im giving you a direct order! You can not disobey!"
His smile grew. Oddly reverent, it raised my hackles. Something like kindness filled his pale eyes, then he said, "Good bye, Sir."
The Angel let go of me.
Son of a bitch!
It took me a split second to orient myself, roll out of the tumble, hang out my arms and legs, spread eagling to make as much resistance as possible and stabilize my fall. I had to volt out immediately. Even on Mars, a fall from this height would kill me. Comming, my receivers crackled while I scanned for the bounce off the satellite. Precious nanoseconds ticked off in my right eye, while my left, tried to monitor the approach of the orange floor of the gorge. Wheres the signal? I cast again. I should have linked with it instantly.
Just then the crackle broke off. Someones com beckoned. Fighting panic, hoping for a rescue, I opened my receivers.
(Im sorry, Sir.)
(Angel! Get the Hell off my frequency! Im trying to evac.)
(I cant let you do that. Dont you see? Its futile. Fighting and dying.)
(Fighting for our planet, Angel! Dont forget that. We belong here more than the Terrans.)
(They made us.)
(But we belong here. We can breathe this air. This is our planet. So, we lost this battle. We took out the aqueduct, Angel, and well keeping taking them out until we win the-)
(The battles are won, the battles are lost, but the war is never over. We fight. We die. They fight. They die. We all believe in what were fighting for or we dont, but we still fight. It has nothing to do with the cause. Were sheep, Sir, going to slaughter. One of us has got to stop the cycle. Its all about will. About understanding. About wisdom.)
This was hopeless. (Angel! I need that satellite! Break off!)
(Im sorry, Sir. But I cant. Youll just ) his signal weakened.
Im sure he was dying. I started to break away, but I wasted just enough time arguing that I couldnt initiate a satellite link now and transmit my mnemonic signature to it in time. The ground was coming up too fast. There was only one place to go. I seized the Angels signal, lying through my gritted receivers, (Dont let me go like this, Angel.) I had no intention of dying. Ill turn the drone off, open an autosignal to the satellite, to then slam his body into stasis and wait for the satellite to pick me up. Ill wake up in the buffer, thats all. (If its going to happen .)
(Of course, Sir. Come ahead.)
I exploded into his neural net. Its an dirty feeling to squeeze inside the head of dying man, even if he is just a drone. As I filled out his consciousness, I became aware of the Angels presence and the pain. We both sprawled on the ragged edge of the aqueduct, rusty ground freeze-burning our bellies through our plates as we watched, with failing eyes, my body strike the shoulders of the cliffs, then bounce rock to rock with deceptive grace. The momentum choreographed by Mars lazy gravity. When my body hit bottom, it bounced high a couple times, throwing up rusty plumes. I turned my attention inward to the Angels invivo monitor. It kept a running tally of his falling blood pressure and heart rate. We only had a few minutes left. Judging by our light headedness, consciousness would go sooner.
(Im sorry, but I have to survive.)
His amusement rippled through us both. (Its not going to matter. Look.)
My attention shifted toward our dimming vision. Between traveling patches of fluggy dizziness, we blinked clear. The Angel turned his head to show me some figures lowgrav skipping toward the abutment.
They wore armored EVs, carried weapons and wore air tanks on their backs. Obviously not our guys. A Terran patrol.
Their scanning frequencies brushed around the Angels open receiver. It gave me an idea. I rather have a whole, healthy body, even if it only breathed oxygen. And the intelligence would be nice to take back to our people. Well, once more into the breach. (Farewell, Angel)
I jumped flesh again.
The grunt that I volted into never knew what hit him. Maybe my incoming was too much of a shock for him. He blew out like a candle. He did the Big Evac. Jumped into the Null Receiver. Anyway, it didnt make my landing any softer. Its not as easy as drone jumping. Their neurons are designed for generic refits. When the kid dropped his body, his body dropped, too. I went with it. The whole red world whirled away down the drain. For a second, I thought I had jumped into the Big Null, too.
I came around finally, opening fresh eyes to the clean, white ceiling of a Terran MASH. I was instantly aware of my breath. I always wondered if breathing O-2 felt any different. Well, it didnt, except for the nagging anxiety that every breath filling my lungs with artificially produced air and that it was entirely possible for me to suffocate on my own planet now. Somewhere nearby, gigantic O-2 generators chugged away. The constant anxiety for an oxygen environment must be what makes Terrans so completely neurotic.
Swimming through the razor burn of the last occupants memories, my consciousness settled into its new residence. Some of the kid I just killed would always linger in the background, nagging my thoughts, mixing with them a little, but eventually the chemical signatures of his memories would disintegrate and would fade like old nightmares do, only popping up every now and again in reflex or maybe for the sake of penance. The flip side was that those residuals would help hide me from the enemy. The grunts memories made good camouflage.
"Easy, Private," somebody said, touching my shoulder. I dropped my gaze from the ceiling and noticed the nurse at my cot side. He looked beside him. "Captain, hes awake."
I followed the nurses gaze. The platoon commander was in the cot next to me. He sat up and looked me over with steel colored eyes. For an instant, I thought I saw something there. I thought I saw The Angel. Well, it was wishful thinking. Waking up this deep behind enemy lines, it was only natural. Without a drone, I felt more than a little naked.
"Did we get those last two Cooties, Captain?"
He nodded, "We got em, Private." He glanced at the nurse which told me something was up. He told me, "You dropped for no reason, Private. You remember what happened?"
"Yes Sir. One of those Cooties tried to jump me through my com unit. I caught him half way in and cut my receivers."
"How much of him got in, Son?"
"Im not sure. I stopped him, thats for certain but," it was better not to tell too big a lie, "I feel a little off."
The nurse said, "His neural print was altered, Captain."
The Captain frowned and told me, "Sorry, Private, but youre out of the game until were sure you werent compromised."
"Lieutenant, put a guard on him. Once hes released, I want him quarantined for seventy-two hours. Take prints every four hours."
Buying a little confidence, I nodded at the Captains cot. "Sir?"
"Sir, are you all right?"
He huffed. A sly smile slid across his leathery face. He glanced down at his legs.
I noticed the right one was bandaged from knee to ankle.
The Terran Captain said, "The price of over confidence. I walked up to that Cootie wardogs hacked up drone with my pulser cocked up. Dont you know, that bastard spun around on his belly and slashed open the leg of my suit with a bowie knife. Took out my left hamstring. Never expected one of those things to go low tech like that. I went down firing. Splattered what was left of that damned thing and blew it clean off the end of the abutment."
It was impossible not to show some rage, but I had to camouflage it somehow, so I said, "Son of a bitch." I meant it for the Terran Captain.
The Captain snorted a laugh and shook his head. "No bitch gave birth to that thing, Private."
"No, Captain. I suppose not." Before I leave, Im going to slit that bastards throat. The Angel might have gone a little nuts at the end and tried to take me with him, but I dont blame him. He was dying and he was in pain. That does crazy shit to a man; drone or wardog. It doesnt matter. He didnt deserve to have his guts spattered all over the abutment. He deserved better.
When I was released from the infirmary, two MPs escorted me to an eight square pop-up and locked me in. I guess they figured three Terran days was all they needed to figure out whether I was a Terran or a Cootie. They couldve kept me in that pop-up for three Terran years, it wouldnt have made a difference. My mnemes had completely integrated the kids mnemes. The Terran quack could take all the scans he wanted. All the spikes and dips on their EEGs would match up line for line from now on.
At least I got an eye full on the way over. It stimulated the kids memories. The Terrans had bubbled up a small base on the north edge of the Vallis, probably just a few kilos from the aqueduct the Angel and me just blew. Inside the geoplas, there were pop-ups for every thing from mess and storage to barracks and equipment. This was a big operation. Those MPs walked me passed the housing for the shield generator, close enough for me to hear the turbines humming away in there. I realized that the webbing overhead wasnt ordinary support work for the bubble, but had to be one of those reflector nets that our Intelligence reported. It meant our hover recons would never see this camp from the air. As we turned down a path between rows of detention pop-ups, I caught a glimpse the rock fields that lay just beyond the bubble.
I saw silky black space wings with heavy laser mounts under their noses. Not a hundred, or even hundreds, but a thousand at least. Perfect rows of them that went on and on and on. Every one of them tarped with the same webbing that covered the bubble. The kid remembered that the Terrans were building toward a major offensive. The idea was to obliterate as many Cootie rebels as possible and break the back of the Resistance once and for all. That hit me like a punch. I might have been the only wardog who knew about it.
My gut started a slow, sickening slide as we stepped to the door of the pop-up.
As the MPs opened my cell door, one of them grinned, "Home sweet home."
My muscles spasmed; a stalled reflex to turn and attack. I almost went for them right there, but it just wasnt the right moment. A better one would come. I stepped in. The door thunked shut behind me. I sat down on my cot, noticed evening rations on the little drop down shelf beside me and realized that three days might be too long to wait. Three days might be all the Terrans need to overrun our positions. We had been blowing up aqueducts and agrobubbles for two years. All the time gaining numbers, strength and organization; putting an ugly dent in the Terran claim to Mars. I suppose we poked the bear a little too hard. But, the truth is we were going to have to poke it even harder before this was through. A lot harder.
Unfortunately, as much as I dredged my hosts memories, the kid simply didnt know when the offensive was going to happen. He just filled me up with anxious anticipation. Or, maybe that was mine.
We were made to live on this world, to breathe the frosty, rust flavored air.
We. Hmph. I noticed my hands. Young, uncalloused. A new recruit. A glad recruit. Well, my soul is still Marsian. Thats all that matters. For now Im one of them; sitting in this bubble like a guppy in a fish bowl, gulping lung fulls of this rarefied syrup they call air, feeling puny and cold. If I didnt hate Terrans so much, I might feel sorry for them. Theyre so desperate. Theyre so scared of this planet and how easy it can kill them. I think thats what makes them so scared of us. Were part of Mars. Were part of those powdery, boulder strewn plains and that yellow sky. Were it. Were the planet come to life to kick their pink O-2 sucking asses all the way back to Earth where they fuckin belong.
I shook off the kids blood lust as well as mine, then noticed supper again.
It was some kind of beans in a runny red sauce. My mouth watered, so it must have been something the kid liked. What the Hell, his buds are mine now. I picked up a fork and dug in. With Plan A whacked, Ill have to figure out a Plan B after evening rations.
Long passed lights out, I watched the compound through the little, grilled window of my pop-up. Guards strolled across my line of view several times each hour, at random intervals and they were well aware that I was awake and watching them. Even though I stood back from the window, they glanced over at me as they passed. There must have been some kind of sensor in their headsets, or maybe on the pop-up itself. I could have just body vaulted again, but it was too risky here. They were watching me. As soon as the kids body dropped dead, they would know a Cootie was in camp. No. I had to stay camouflaged little longer. Once I get back to my own company, theyll scan me, recognize my mnemonic pattern and refit me. Itll be good to breathe yellow air again. Theres something nasty and whorish about breathing O-2. Until then, all Ive got is this kids body and knowledge in his head. Hopefully, itll be all I need.
I stepped close to the grill as the guard came by. My new brain knew him. "Hey, Billy."
He stopped and looked over. "Jon?"
"I think you better get the Captain."
"Why?" He kept his distance.
"The Cootie that jumped my com definitely left some of himself behind before we splattered him. I think its intelligence data."
"From a drone, Jon?"
"Wasnt the drone that jumped me, Billy. It was the wardog. He jumped his own drone before he dropped him into the gorge."
"How come you didnt say anything about that before now?"
"Because it was all jumbled up in my head. Ive been sorting it out. I think I better talk to the Captain, Billy. The Cooties know about the offensive."
He cursed softly, turned away and opened a com frequency. I knew because my receivers crackled faintly, although I couldnt pick up the transmission. Of course, he sent on a secure channel.
My only worry was that the Captain would come to me, instead of having me brought to him. I hoped for the arrogance of rank would overwhelm prudent judgment. After a minute or so, two more MPs stepped up to Billy. These guys I only knew by sight. They glanced my way, then they came toward my pop-up.
One looked in through the grill. "Stand back from the door, on the X. Face to the wall. Hands on your head. Fingers interlaced."
I assumed the position.
The door opened. I didnt have to see them to know that two pulser rifles were trained on my skull. The skin there instinctively cringed, making my hair stand up.
"Turn around and take eight steps out of the cell."
I obliged, stepping into chilly night air. Firearms tracked my progress. The sky was clear and full of stars. I didnt ask them where they were taking me. They wouldnt have answered. Beside, it was obvious. Sometimes, the only weapon a soldier needs is his enemys arrogance.
Even without my old implants I could sense the thousands and thousands of bodies gathering under the enormous network of the bubble. The anticipation of carnage lingered like high humidity; damp and close to the skin. For a troubling moment, I couldnt distinguish it from fear, but then maybe thats all it was. Theirs and mine.
We left Billy behind at the detention area which was a small relief. My stolen memories would have plagued me with guilt if I killed one of the kids favorite drinking buddies. As for the MPs . I moved along quietly, noting the landmarks, having already picked the spot I would strike. In an unfamiliar body, I wasnt purely certain of its agility or reflexes, although the kid seemed fit enough. At least, he had been through reduced G boot camp. So, I waited until we turned down the walkway that ran behind the generator housing, where the shadows on the building were heaviest. Then, I .
Sagged toward the wall, raising an arm to catch myself on the corragate. I gave out a little groan, already knowing that one of my escort would move in to assist me while the other held his weapon on me.
I never liked using a mans compassion against him, but this is war, right? I straightened, pretending weak legs, "Its that Cootie, I think. I dont know." I gave my head a shake. "Feel strange." He gripped my elbow, I glimpsed his weapon sag, muzzle down, then I glanced at his partner. He saw me look at the weapon. He saw what was my eyes. He was pretty smart. He just wasnt fast enough. Twisting back, I got an arm behind the MP who bent in help me. I shoved him toward the prongs of the taser just as it went off. He was hit and thrown back to me, his paralyzed gun arm flinging up. I grabbed at the trigger, squeezing off a charge, only caring that it peppered the air with bolts. As much as I hated to bring the whole camp down on my neck with the crackle of more discharge, I wanted the other MP to stop shooting at me long enough for me to make a run for it. I needed those precious seconds out of his cross hairs.
It worked. He rolled. I ran. scooping up the convulsing soldiers weapon as I went. I ducked behind the generator, then zagged into the maze of equipment pop-ups. I knew I could make it as far as the airlock on the north side of the bubble. I needed a suit, but I would worry about that when I got there. The kids knowledge of the base helped. Yet, I heard Terran soldiers rolling out of their barracks. I heard them swarming into the maze after me. The terror of that moment on the edge of the aqueduct hit me again. This was worse than staring down into that gorge. This was worse than certain death. When those bastards catch me . Visions of the torture techniques that kid had learned flowed through me, paralyzing my psyche. It was almost like that kid was still alive inside my head, trying to terrorize me, to slow me down until the others could catch up to me. Fuck. I am going to die the worst way possible. I almost hared out. Fuck. Maybe the Angel was right. War isnt worth this. Nothing is worth this. Legs aching-draining with fear, I dug deep, beneath all that. A monster named Survival pumped my legs. I let him take over. I went numb. I ran like Hell. I ran from Hell.
Skidding to a stop along the last wall of a big pop-up before the lock, I panted as silently as I could and pressed my weapon close to my chest. Heart hammering in my ears, I looked into smoky iris of the airlock not twenty meters from where I stood. It looked empty. According to my new brain, they werent ordinarily guarded, but operated on a palm print locking system. With the panic, I didnt think anyone had thought to void my print, but they would any second. I looked up into the flood lights on the webbing of the bubble. There could have been snipers posted up there. I shook off my paranoia. They couldnt possibly have had time to climb up there. I gulped a breath, clearing my head a moment, then leaned out to look around the corner, praying there was no one in sight, praying there werent snipers in the webbing even though I knew there couldnt be. Every thing looked clear-
Sudden pain creased the back of my neck; a blow like a thunderclap and the world spun. I barely felt the headlock, but I felt the body slam. My lungs collapsed instantly, I sprawled on my back in the red dirt, wheezing and paralyzed as a big figure dropped on me and jammed something with a cold edge up under my throat. He didnt kill me right away. He let me catch my breath first.
It was the Terran Captain. He held the Angels old bowie knife to my throat.
"Shhhhh." He said, then glanced around us. I kept my eyes on him. My skin pimpled cold at the sound of Terran soldiers scuffling around only a few hundred yards away. The Captain looked down at me at last. His pale eyes narrowed. I glanced toward the taser. I dropped it when he grabbed me. He noticed, huffed and kicked it away. Then he eased back, lowering the knife. He got up. I noticed he was wearing the bottom half of an EV suite. He offered me a hand.
I didnt take it, but I got to my feet, neck aching, chest hurting and ears listening to the voices of the Terran soldiers as they rustled through the pop-ups. They sounded as if they were moving away.
The Captain told me, "Ive commed them that this area is secure. Theyre moving down the perimeter to search for you." He pointed with the Angels knife toward the airlock. "I can get you to the gorge. After that, youre on your own."
I nodded at his leg; the one the Angel cut "On that?"
"Got a tims box on it. Dont feel a thing."
"Youre helping me escape? Why?"
He blinked. Something familiar lit in his steel colored eyes. "Why do you think?"
Was I really seeing it? Was that The Angel in his face? Did my drone really volt into the Terran Captain? I didnt know and I wasnt going to stand there and play twenty questions with a entire company of angry Terran infantry looking for me.
"This way." He turned and limped toward the airlock. I followed him, thinking about the grin he wore when he described how he splattered my drone off the abutment. I started to think about revenge.
We climbed into EV suits inside the lock, strapped on tanks, then left the bubble and headed out over the rock fields. Once we were out of view of the bubble, the Terran Captain pulled up and turned to me. Gaze burning too bright in the bowl of his helmet, he said, "You dont recognize me, do you?"
I eyed him.
"Its me. Your drone. The Angel."
I squinted not quite believing him, though I wanted to. This could easily be some kind of trick.
"I volted into the Captain when I hamstrung him. When he went down, no one suspected a thing. My body had already gone over the abutment. He-I was bleeding all over the place. When he passed out from my incoming, his troops thought it was just from the pain."
I clung to doubt, but something familiar melted into his expression. Maybe.
He said, "I can prove it." The Terran smiled as he reached into the thigh pocket of his suit and pulled out a slip of paper. It tumbled open, unribboning all the way to the ground, stirring iron oxide dust devils. It was a brain scan. He held it out to me.
"They scanned you?"
"I scanned myself so I could prove what Im saying. Look at it."
I dropped my eyes. I knew the Angels spikes and dips by heart. How many times had we jumped bodies? How many times did we sit in the buffer of some satellite, our mnemonic signatures idling in the hum of the maintenatrix until a rescue beam strobed in and pulled us out? Dozens? Hundreds?
That was the Angels scan on the scroll. A queer sort of weight sank through me. I guess it was relief. I wondered though, how much was really him. He wanted to die on the edge of that jagged aqueduct. He tried to take me with him. "You had a sudden change of heart."
"I suppose so." He chuckled. Very un-Angel like. The Angel was a solemn sort of man even stoic in a paternal sort of way. All drones are. Theyre programmed that way. I decided that part of him was still the Terran Captain. It broke my heart a little. Even if I could have taken him with me when I escaped, he probably couldnt be salvaged. His mnemonic signature had been contaminated. The Angel folded up the scan hard copy as he told me, "You know when I jumped, it really wasnt because I wanted to, Wardog. I wanted to die. But programming took over. I always thought that my obedience, my loyalty was a matter of duty, but it turned out to be a reflex. I couldnt resist the urge to follow you, to continue with you. So here I am."
I watched him. "But youve changed."
He chuckled, nodding. "Integrating Captain Halsey altered my signature."
"Did he null, Angel?"
The Angel eyed our dingy dawn. After too long a hesitation, he said, "I think so."
My spine crawled. This was worse than I thought. The Angel wasnt sure. He was worse than contaminated. He had been corrupted.
"I still have his memories. I know everything he knew." The Angel nodded in the direction of the bubble. "You saw the fleet?"
" The space wings? Yeah." I nodded slowly, swallowing, not sure how much I could trust him any more. Considering I used to trust him with my life, it was a scary, scary feeling.
"The Terrans arent going to give up Mars, Wardog."
I squinted at him. "They arent part of it. They dont belong to it like we do."
He chuckled, teeth flashing in the dark. "If you looked at yourself lately? Neither do we any more. Were part of the ruling class now, or we can be. Dont you wonder what thatd be like?"
"I dont have to wonder. A few hours in this body is all I can stand of it already. "
He eyed me as his smile faded. For a moment, the Terran Captain looked out those gray eyes. His gaze thickened with hatred. His fist tightened on the hilt of the bowie. Then, the Terran Captain was gone. The Angel emerged again. He said, "You know I cant go back."
I nodded. "Of course." I was perfectly willing to let him stay here, to live out his life in the Terran Captains body. He had been a good drone. Trusting him less by the second, I eased passed him. "I better move along. Theyll make a sweep this area eventually."
Eyeing me, the Angel said, "They will."
"Good bye, Angel."
He nodded vaguely. Just as I started to turn away, he said, "Its interesting, isnt it?"
I faced him again. Several meters away, the distance reassured me. Shadow wrapped, his frame hulked in the mustard tinged sunrise. "What is?"
"Being Terran. Aside from what we breathe. Were not all that different. Not really." His smile lingered as he looked down at his boots. "I think I like it."
I laughed. "Well, you better. Because youre stuck with it."
I couldnt quite make out his expression behind the dust shield, but the intensity of his silence was plain enough. It gave me an ugly feeling, then he said, "So are you."
He raised the gun I had taken from the MP and shot me in the chest.
The force of the voltage knocked me back in unto into a cluster of rocks. He started walking toward me, pulling the trigger again and again, frying me in that EV suit.
After, barely hanging onto consciousness, wadded in the smell my burned, dead flesh, the Angel leaned into my pain.
"Come ahead." He opened his com to me.
I sputtered, "No." I rather die right here in this kids body first.
He knelt over me, picked up my head and said, "Ill help you."
My com receiver opened on its own. The son of a bitch tried to suck me clean out of that kids head. Clinging to the transmitter, I heard myself gurgling, "No." I fought him, trying to slam off my receivers, but they wouldnt shut off. The taser charges wrecked them. As the whole world whirled away up the drain. I got mad. I let go of my host body and went spinning away with it. If the Angel wants me, then hes going to get me. And, Im going to get him!
When I came to, I was lying in the rocks. The smell of charred flesh lingered. I wasnt quite sure where I was until I sat up, smeared a layer of orange talc from my dust shield and saw the kids body laying a meter or so off to my right. The chest of his suit was thoroughly scorched and still smoking slightly. The ghostly tendrils curled and blew away on the rising dawn wind. I leaned over and wiped off his shield. Sleepy surprise slitted his dead eyes.
I got to my feet. There was no time to waste. I had to get moving. I had regrets, but they were well worth the price. Its a crime to waste such a good soldier and a good friend, but only one of us can command these synapses. I turned out to be stronger and the only one willing to make the sacrifice. There were so many lives at stake.
Better to end this with just a few thousand deaths and let one flag be planted, then balance the terror and bring on the slaughter of millions for untold years to come. If there must be war, then let it be a swift excision with as little blood shed as possible. Mars is red enough. I started the long walk back, leg aching while a littler war waged inside my head.
Wardog fought me every step, all the way back to the bubble.
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