By Gerri Leen
Lieutenant Sirella Nacleth breathes in green dust and tries not to cough. Her feet feel too heavy to move, but she forces herself to walk on, ignoring the heat that blasts down and around her, heat carried by winds that do nothing to cool the air from the sun above. This planet is a harrowing furnace, and she is bound here for the rest of her life—or until her people find her.
Or until her enemy’s people do. She glances back and sees that the Vermayan has finished filling in the deep grave he put his crewmates’ bodies in. She’s assuming the Vermayan is a he. It’s hard to tell from where she stands, and she doesn’t intend to get very close if she can help it.
If their ships hadn’t crashed almost on top of each other, she might not have seen him for days, if at all. But their ships did land nearly twisted together, and the bodies of the crews are strewn all over. She has to get closer to him than she likes just to retrieve her dead.
She’s the only one on her ship who survived the crash. Her left arm is broken, and her right ankle wrenched. Her back feels strained and her head hurts. But she’s alive. She’s alive and burying her dead, shoveling one handed and pulling her crewmates behind her as she limps from body to hole, body to hole.
The Vermayan is way ahead of her. There are no rust-colored bodies strewn over the plain anymore, while so many of her own dead still lie waiting for her to reach them. The green sand blows over the bodies as the blazing wind lifts stinging grit and flings it at her, making her eyes hurt and her lips crack. She will help her friends; she will give them rest. But not soon. She’s only one person. And she’s tired. So tired.
The Vermayan has sat down. He’s watching her as she limps toward the next body, which is halfway between where she’s dug her hole and where he’s resting. Glancing at his rank, she sees he’s the Vermayan equivalent of lieutenant. He’s taken his weapon out of its holster and is playing with it—no, he’s checking it. She laughs bitterly. If it’s built as poorly as hers, it will be clogged with the fine green grit of this damned world. And since his ship didn’t perform any better than hers, why should his gun?
“It won’t work,” she says, unsure why she bothers. He won’t understand her and talking will only make the dryness in her throat worse.
He gets up, closes the weapon, and aims at the ground. The gun sort of clicks as he pulls the trigger, but it doesn’t fire.
“Nothing like fine Vermayan craftsmanship,” she says, laughing as he drops the weapon on the ground. Obviously, the Vermayans went with the lowest bidder, too. She’s sorry she laughed when her throat begins to itch. Soon she’s coughing, and she imagines her lungs are filling up with green dust.
He stares at her, and she stares back at him as soon as she gets the coughing under control, wondering if she should challenge him to a hand-to-hand duel. They are enemies: the Revirian Confederation is at war with the Vermayan Union. Surely they should fight? (Continue Reading…)