Author: Alzo David-West

The void around was velvet.

Soldier 304TZ was carrying a thermion cannon. He trod through silent, rocky darkness. Shimmers of probe light from a chemical drone appeared above him. He looked up. His eyes narrowed. The sides of his face were cauterized. He exhaled and turned on his cannon. The drone was approaching. He aimed. The drone was nearing.

A miasma rose in an upwind, covering him. He inhaled deeply, hurled himself to the craggy ground, and rolled into a cleft. The drone passed over.

He read the meter attached to his broken O2 mask. There was no chlorine gas. He was lucky. He exhaled, and he inhaled again. The wind carried the odor of burning flesh-metal. He waited for ten minutes, to make sure no more drones were advancing, as they did at intervals. None came. He picked himself up from the cleft, and he walked in the direction of the odor. The walk took a while. He did not count how long.

A luminescence appeared before him, and there was the murmuring of smoldering. He found the source, and he stared. He looked at the bodies, but he did not want to feel anything. They were only bodies after all. He salvaged two singed masks, a cannon charger, and a fractured helmet, and he checked for rations. There were none. He wondered which came first, starvation or the drones. His heart and mind were hardened, yet he sat on a broad stone despite himself.

Wailing strains pierced the shadowy air. He stood up quickly, set his cannon to full power, and started running. He did not know why he had wasted time. He was breathing heavily. Blazing flashes glowed around him. Burning vapors flooded the crags. He fired upward into the chemical storm. Deep night threw its shroud.

A small planet circled a small sun.