Author : Dan Whitley

Magnets’ shot rang true and hammered the Fed tank right in the mantlet. Once the smoke cleared, we could see she’d clocked the damn thing so hard that its front-left hover-tread had failed, digging itself into the dirt under the weight. Pellet-shaped electromagnets and coolant fluid evacuated from the dead left gun barrel. But the right barrel remained intact, standing tall in defiance of our revolution and our freedom, where it would remain until, eons from now, the corrosion of time came to reclaim it.

“Hey, Walsh,” Bauer asked behind me, “How big is a Fed thumper’s crew?”

“Three or four; sometimes the driver and the commander wear the same hat, if you catch my drift.”

“So who’s cleaning this one out?” Deacon asked.

“Well, you did the last one, I think. And Magnets is exempt, naturally. You wanna make use of that grenade you never got to throw, Farmer?”

“To be honest,” Bauer said, “not especially. But I will if you say so.”

“I think we should just leave it,” Kirikov chirped up. “Nothing survives that type of punishment.”

A muffled pounding sound rang behind us in mockery. Two raps on the hatch, followed by a sound like a sack of honest-to-goodness potatoes falling in a heap. Our squad froze. No one wanted to do what had to come next.

I drudged over to the tank husk as its other hover-treads shut off. The whole machine swayed like a boat on calm seas as the failed tread, still drawing power, did its best to continue to function. I leaned on the turret and steadied myself, yanking the hatch open and throwing my rifle and my face over the edge.

Mercy betrayed my aging, too old for war anymore. I stared hard over the rifle sights, right into the wincing, boyish face of a Fed tanker and a large-bore pistol. The handgun, I wagered in those long moments, must’ve been a hand-me-down, an heirloom from a relative that served, as it looked too big to fire flechettes like most Fed weaponry. I looked past the pistol’s angry mouth back to the Fed.

“Look, if you’re gonna shoot me, then fucking shoot me.” The Fed’s voice: hoarse, pained, blunt – and female. “Otherwise, pull me out of this heap.”

I stared another long moment, swore under my breath, slung my rifle, and reached into the tank.

“Walsh, what in the everloving fuck are you doing!” Deacon seethed at me.

I glared back over the edge of the hatch. “Are you gonna give me a fucking hand or are you gonna stand there like a goddamn ape?” I had the Fed by the arm and gave her the yank she needed to help herself from the wreckage. She had kindly holstered the pistol and promptly attached that hand to her ribcage. She sat on the failed tread, now still.

“Cracked ribs?”

“Feels like it,” the Fed replied.

I dug some painkillers out of my pack. She ate them dry and said, “So how do I… I wanna defect; how does that work?”

We all shrugged. “You just do, I guess,” Kirikov said.

“What’s your name?”

“You guys first,” the Fed insisted.

“Chatterbox” Adam Walsh. Edgar “Eggs” Deacon. Margaret “Magnets” Kirikov. “Farmer” Jimmy Bauer.

“Hannah Thompson,” she said. She straightened her cap. “Captain.”

And that was that. One of us.

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