Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The mist-shrouded marsh is spotted with steaming pools of purple liquid, which, unlike the mud, won’t grip you like glue. It’ll either wash the blue-black slime from your boots, or you’ll disappear into it, never to be seen again. Some say the pools are the traps of an unknown ambush predator. Others use terms like ‘sinkhole’ and ‘bottomless’.

Through the hushed gloom, two figures move. The one in the lead strides slowly, letting powered armour take the strain while sensors probe the marshland ahead. The one behind moves with exaggerated sneaking movements, like some pantomime villain.
“‘Romeo, Romeo-’”
The lead figure spins and points the arm without a mounted blaster at the other figure.
“Cut it out, Shakespeare.”
“The name’s Bond. Julius Bond.”
“You keep saying that. I presume there’s some antiquated pun value I’m fortunate enough to be ignorant of?”
Julius relaxes from his one-foot-raised comedic freeze and sighs theatrically.
“You’re ignorant of our noble heritage, Captain Cadava. Cultural icons are how the future is shaped.”
Romeo chuckles.
“That explains why each mission improves the ratings of whichever political leader got the most leverage at the previous strategy meeting, rather than achieving any objective that might end the fighting.” He waves his arm about: “I used to call this place home. Now the province I grew up in is nothing but radioactive dirt, and the rest of the planet isn’t much better.”
“You lived around here?”
“Born next to the River Adissa. Lived there until I had to join up. I hunted through marshes like this when they were small enough to have their own names.”
“Galley rumour says you’re a conscript?”
“Close. I’m a signee. My choices were life imprisonment or service in the Consolidated Forces.”
Julius stops next to Romeo.
“That’s the murderer’s gamble, Captain. What did you do?”
“I fell in lust. It ended badly.”
“‘Badly’ is never speaking to your ex, maybe even getting beaten up by her relatives. I’m pretty sure killing doesn’t feature.”
Romeo looks up at the sky.
“Her name was Ivlietta. Real case of lust at first sight. Her cousin objected, my best friend challenged, then died when the cousin cheated. He got off because the official witness lied.
“After spending a night with her, I got wounded killing the cousin: he ambushed me as I left her parent’s house. She blackmailed the family doctor into treating me. The nurse betrayed us.
“I killed a close friend of hers when he tried to be hero and stop us escaping. That tore it all down. She called the law, but still cried like a baby as they led me away. Got the nurse blackballed, too.”
Julius spreads his hands.
“Sorry I asked. Returning must be difficult.”
Romeo shakes his head and points towards their target.
“The Escalusian forces on this planet are led by a local: General Laurence Mantua. He used to be a priest.”
Julius slots a blaster into his arm mount and moves round to check Romeo’s missile rack.
“By any chance did he also used to be a registered witness who invigilated duels?”
Romeo chuckles, then steps behind Julius to check his missile rack.
“Good guess.”
Julius laughs.
“Then I have to ask: ‘wherefore art thou, Romeo?’”
“About to rain hell down upon that lying friar, Julius.”
“‘But, soft, what light through yonder window breaks?’”
“That’ll be two flights of Sirius DK614 missiles.”
“Then let us go ‘wisely and slow’.”
Romeo barks a short laugh before replying: “Indeed. ‘They stumble that run fast.’”

Through the hushed gloom, two figures move with quiet purpose, violent delights in mind.