Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The bullet blistered past the right side of Stryker’s helmet, so close that for a good minute or so he was deaf in that ear before the pain gave way to a dull ringing.

“Stupid bastard,” he muttered under his breath.

The sniper he’d been tracking for the past few weeks was across the street, in another row of vacated low rises. Hiding in the rubble, clambering across broken rooftops and crawling through battered buildings, they were playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The Sergeant, hugging the floor, crawled the length of the room and squeezed through a broken partition into an adjacent building.

It was his crew that cleared the way when they colonized this planet, before the locals decided to defy the company and separate. He’d fought hard for this rock, and he’d be damned if some dumb-ass villager with a rifle was going to stop him from keeping it under company control.

Stryker flattened himself against the back wall in the darkness, irising his goggles out full to capture every available lumen. Plucking a fist size chunk of rubble from the floor he tossed it sideways through the hole he’d just crawled through. There was the barest of whispers as a bullet split the air, but in the muffled muzzle flash he could make out the faint silhouette of the body coiled in the darkness behind it.

Very slowly he raised his weapon, pausing only to freeze and adjust the image in his heads up before squeezing off three rounds in a tight rising line.



Without hesitation, Stryker crawled until he found a hole in the floor he could squeeze through, dropping silently into the room below. He ran, hurdling an empty window frame and raced across the vacant street. Slipping through a crumbling doorway he stopped. Above him, close by, he should find his wounded opponent.

It took an eternity to find a route to the second floor, and longer still to pick his way through the wreckage to the room in which the sniper had taken refuge. Stryker had shouldered his rifle in favour of a large bore handheld, the longer weapon unwieldy in close quarters. He could hear laboured breathing from outside the room, and though his weapon was at the ready, nothing could have prepared him for the child lying bleeding inside.

Only one of his shots had found its target, tearing a bloody hole in her torso. The rifle that had been so deadly accurate lay forgotten at an angle across her legs, the weapon nearly half as long as she would be tall. Her bare feet were calloused and bloody, her body lean and muscular but visibly undernourished. He couldn’t fathom how she’d managed to heft the weapon, much less kill a dozen of his unit with it.

Large tear filled eyes met his in the gloom.

He lowered his weapon, struggling over whether to try to save her, or put her out of her misery here. The lives she’d taken wouldn’t make it easy for her if she survived the trip back.

He was still undecided when he heard a round chambering beside his still ringing right ear.

“This is our rock,” the second woman stood just out of reach, face invisible beyond the gaping maw of the barrel leveled at his head, “you stupid bastard.”

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