Ticket

There were no trees on earth but despite this the Martian men took to the metal forest as easily as the native Martian woodlands. They battled the native Earthers in crumbling buildings and industrial towers, dead electrical lines strapped between sprawling cities. On Earth, this urban warfare was measured in inches.

Orion had slept in steel trees for a month now, though sleep wasn’t really the right word for the state of drowsy stillness he felt while resting in his net. Smoky earth days slipped into florescent nights and it was hard to make a clear distinction between them, loss of sleep blurring time. The stimulant pills made his heart thump against his breastbone, but it had stopped clearing the clouds from his mind, and even that nervous anticipation of violence, that fear, was beginning to fade against exhaustion.

Orion’s five companions were weeks dead, and he hadn’t the time to mourn them. Earthers used whatever weapons were available, black market rifles, stolen ray guns; they even unearthed toxins to pour in the path of the Martian forces. Earth was the cradle, earth was the battleground.

Orion climbed the high oilrig, one of the thousands that dotted the small cities, built to drill hopelessly through dry earth. Fixing his net between the iron bars of the rig, he lay and listened, putting his weapon on standby to save battery power. Orion debated taking a stimulant pill but he had only a four left, and wouldn’t get more till he reached the drop point, which could take weeks. Better to save them for the bad nights.

Orion set his motion alarm and tried to doze off, his last stimulant pill still rocking his heart. He imagined his heart must be bruised by now from bumping so hard against his breastbone. As he closed his eyes, his alarm sounded in his inner ear. Orion grabbed his ray gun and switched on his night vision, searching for a heat signature. Nothing. And then- a blur – a heat source climbing towards him. Orion powered up his raygun, shaking it, even though he knew that did nothing. The signature was eight feet from his position. He had three seconds till shot. One. Two. He pulled the trigger. There was a thud, as the heat signature reached the ground. The fear was back. Orion was awake the rest of the night, but there was nothing for those long hours. No more heat, no more movement.

In the morning, Orion climbed down and landed on top of last night’s excitement. The face was turned, and the smooth skin was splattered with blood. It was a child, still gripping a submission ticket, one of the many Martian forces had scattered over Earther settlements. The kid had come to surrender, and Orion has shot him in the face. Blood and bits of bone were matted in his hair. Orion took another stimulant to get through the day, no attention to conservation anymore. His heart pounded hard against its bone cage.

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