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9 January 2087
Mojave Death Zone
35°13'05.7"N 115°52'39.5"W
10:09:43 Thursday


In the Mojave Death Zone, life was unsurprisingly fleeting. A stark environment awash in tans, browns, and reds, roasted by kiln-like winds with entropic dust battering the skeletons of cities and communities left behind after the Upload. It is a landscape unsuitable for most life. And yet, once a year, air pressure shifts in the atmosphere allow brief periods of precipitation to weep over the Death Zone. Then the miraculous occurs—explosions of wildflowers spread over kilometers of valleys only days after the short rain. For a week or less, the Death Zone seems otherworldly – awash in vibrant purple, yellow, pink, and white petals. For mere hours life dominates the Death Zone. Then, just as quickly as they sprang forth, the flowers wither in the unrelenting 50-Celsius heat. Then, as if the aberration never happened, air pressure shifts, and the desert resumes its ruinous reign.

When a band of repudiators is dropped into the Mojave, they share a lifespan like the flowers – measured in hours or days if they were lucky. Most repudiators abandoned in the Mojave tried surviving in urban ruins, hoping to use the remnants of Shangri-LA’s eastern suburbs to shield them from the voracious desert’s predations. The attempts at survival were noble, in Colonel Moraro’s opinion, but the outcome was invariably the same – the Mojave was aptly named after all.

Colonel Moraro pushed back from her command console and swiveled her chair to face Specialist Zac De La Rosa, her tank’s loader. Specialist De La Rosa was heavily augmented. His cybernetic arms and reinforced chest allowed for easy manipulation of the ordinance and were extremely helpful in a bar fight. Hidden away in the guts of a Devil Ray light tank, Moraro and De La Rosa were shielded from the worst of the Mojave’s heat, but no climate control could make the tank’s cramped confines comfortable. They both sweated freely.

“Well, De La Rosa, there isn’t a damn thing moving out there. I think we can check Palm Ranch off the list of possible sanctuaries for the Bear Legion.”

Colonel Moraro wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her armored jacket. She’d be instantly cooler without the coat, but this far into Shangrilese territory meant Centaur security drones could attack them at any moment. The standard-issue Shangrilese M2076B Armor Jacket, lined with aromatic polyamide materials, protected the wearer against heat, fire, and kinetic projectiles. But, it covered the neck, arms, and torso, mercilessly trapping heat.

7-hours into a wild-goose chase operation checking lifeless settlements in the Mojave, Colonel Moraro’s patience was growing thin, and the tank’s sweat-box interior began to gnaw at what little she had left. Playing hide-and-seek with a group of repudiators calling themselves the Bear Legion was a sudden low point in what had been a promising new year. In Colonel Mararo’s two decades of Shangrilese militia service, she dealt with numerous warlords and repudiator bands, but none had proven as stubborn as the god-damned Bear Legion.

Now, a member of the Pact-aligned battalion designated Gaia First!, Colonel Moraro was prowling former territories she once called home, looking for an opponent she begrudgingly respected but knew wasn’t hiding in these skeletal urban ruins.

Bear Legion attacks in and around the Death Zone had increased in frequency over the last three months, which meant they were headquartered somewhere in the region. Still, Colonel Moraro’s gut told her they weren’t stupid enough to be hunkered down in a graveyard like Palm Ranch. No, not like a group of hapless corporate castoffs. The Bear Legion had operational vehicles and had demonstrated tactical brilliance in their repeated ambushes, so there was no shot they’d make camp in such an obvious spot.

De La Rosa grunted acknowledgment of Colonel Moraro’s earlier statement then drew out a five-count of silence before muttering, “Could they be avoiding the ruins on purpose?”

Moraro ran her hand over her bald head’s stubble. Her scalp’s synthetic skin was slick and gritty with sweat, but the stubble was already beyond the length she found acceptable. Using her optical Augmented Reality suite, Colonel Moraro quickly logged a note in her calendar to shower and shave upon returning to FOB Rawndale. Then, toggling out of her note application with a quick flick of her left eye, the colonel focused on her loader’s question.

“I would if I were them. Palm Ranch or any other ruins are a staging ground for a bunch of castoffs, and these guys are anything but run-of-the-mill repudiators – at least if half the shit I’ve read about them is true.”

De La Rosa’s expression brightened. He was much younger than the colonel, and outside of combat, his speaking voice was like a hushed mouse. She quickly ascertained her ammunition loader was a fan of the repudiator warband because Specialist De La Rosa unleashed what amounted to an excited shout that reached average speaking volume for anyone else.


“Have you seen the latest post? It’s craaaazy, that Half-Machine guy ripped an M77 off a U.N. Badger’s turret and used it to kill the crew inside! But he doesn’t shoot them he – wait, no, I won’t spoil it. The guy is all gas and no brakes, I swear!”

Moraro nodded with the appropriate level of disinterest painted on her face so as not to encourage Zac to continue praising the Bear Legion’s leader.

“No, I haven’t had the pleasure. I hope you aren’t watching those vids with your Pact tether – the Bear Legion are classified as enemy combatants for their repeated attacks on U.N. supply convoys. You know Zac, the same convoys that supply us out here? Please tell me you are using a virtual private tether to get your fix. I don’t want my loader court marshaled for supplying the enemy with support. Clicks equal support – I shouldn’t have to remind you of that.”   

De La Rosa gave his superior officer a hurt stare and silence that stretched uncomfortably long. Just as Moraro was about to inquire if he understood her De La Rosa blinked and nodded once.

He meekly stated, “No, Ma’am, VPT all the way, Ma’am. I wouldn’t put our unit in jeopardy. If anyone is snooping on my web activity, they’ll think my tether is anchored in a U.N. supply depot located on the Floridian Isles. I am solid, Ma’am – honest, you can trust me.”

De La Rosa’s voice cracked with emotion when he spoke the words trust me and Colonel Moraro softened her expression slightly.

Quietly, the Specialist continued, “Are you sure you don’t want to see the video? He practically yanks the Badger turret off its ring with one arm.”

If Colonel Moraro was honest with herself she did wish to view the video – she had a bit of an infatuation with Half-Machine that she didn’t fully understand yet. The man was piloting a bizarre array of augmentation and from the propaganda pumped out by U.N. spin doctors, dangerously mentally ill.

Colonel Moraro had read of, and frankly feared developing, psychosis induced through radical cybernetic enhancement and wondered if Half-Machine suffered something in that vein. His nickname wasn’t hyperbole; he was likely more than “half” comprised of cybernetic and quantum bioware replacement parts. Supposedly grievously wounded in battle, Half-Machine was patched back together by U.N. surgeons before turning on his former employers and waging an almost year-long war against U.N. assets.

As a reluctant adopter of bioware and cybernetic alterations herself, Moraro remained low-key anxious about the long-term effects her implants might have on her system. Though her augmentation was minimal in comparison to Half-Machine, there were too many other similarities with his story to leave her feeling comfortable. Like him, Colonel Moraro was wounded in battle and required emergency surgery. She gained artificial organs, including the epidermis from her waist up and a cybernetic eye and arm. While she was immensely grateful for the life-saving treatment and life-enabling technologies, she was also convinced that something changed in her upon receiving those enhancements.

Shangrilese cultural embrace of augmentation and shunning of technophobia left the colonel isolated despite the more open attitudes among Pact personnel of questioning relationships between tech and humanity - the quantum and the flesh. As commander of the Gaia First! battalion, which itself was staffed almost entirely with Shangrilese refugees, Colonel Moraro rarely discusses her concerns to anyone out of fears of ostracism. Perhaps that is why she marveled at Half-Machine and craved to know more about the man’s condition. His official diagnosis by U.N. psychologists declared him one step above a slobbering beast unable to ascertain reality from delusion. Because of the source, Colonel Moraro was skeptical of the U.N.’s medical opinion broadcast non-stop around corporate news channels, but more than cynicism was hope. She hoped they were lying so his fate wouldn’t become hers.

Half-Machine was a threat to the U.N., but that seemed to be his only adversary. Despite their ferocity and reputation as crazed murderers, the Bear Legion avoided attacking Pact-aligned settlements and assets, focusing solely on Universal Negotiators' convoys and fortified distribution centers. His actions were focused on a singular goal of disrupting U.N. operations as comprehensively as possible, which the colonel felt proved he wasn’t completely detached from reality. An erratic person couldn’t orchestrate the raids and ambushes Half-Machine’s Bear Legion pulled off.

However, Colonel Moraro couldn’t deny it was a-typical for an individual to wage war against a multi-national corporation, especially one as militant as the U.N. So, she supposed something was off with Half-Machine though, she questioned if that was any sort of indictment other than a life lived dangerously. She defensively dismissed the conclusion that having augmentation and a grudge made a person unstable – tugging at that string of thought too much would force her to acknowledge some hard truths about herself. Colonel Moraro’s stomach lurched from anxiety, but she pushed on with her appraisal of Half-Machine’s mental stability.


Moraro couldn’t deny Half-Machine’s violence was excessive. His raids leave no survivors, and the few prisoners he takes end up loyally fighting in his warband. To her, that spoke volumes of his leadership style. If his troops and prisoners loved him enough to blur those two categories, he was either the real deal or a master at inducing Victimizer-Ideation Syndrome in his captives. After months of high-profile operations, not one member of his crew has leaked details on the socials for personal gain. That level of loyalty was frankly unheard of these days.

Regardless of how he achieved such fanaticism with his crew, there was self-sufficiency in Half-Machine’s operations which Colonel Moraro admired. Though she did not understand his rage against the U.N., she respected a person with the willpower to follow through on a vendetta. Plus, his theatrics were top-grade and good for a laugh – like nearly ripping the turret off a Badger scout tank.

“Yeah. Send it to my private account.”

Colonel Moraro swiveled back to her command console before releasing a frustrated sigh. They wouldn’t be meeting Half-Machine today. Her tank platoon would move on to the next settlement and the one after that until their list was exhausted – knowing they wouldn’t find their target all along. The Legion wasn’t stupid enough to cower in a blown-out city – they were hiding somewhere in the foothills or valleys. Probably using digital tarps and drone-based ECCM to create a surveillance dead-zone. The only reason Moraro agreed to this colossal time-sink-of-a-mission was the likelihood her platoon might attract Shangrilese attention. If she could slag a Centaur before heading back to that shower, then she might consider the day a success.

9 January 2087
Mojave Death Zone,
35°41'18.1"N 116°18'58.2"W
13:07:16 Thursday


Colonel Moraro swiveled slowly in her chair, utilizing the tank’s external periscope to surveil the obliterated town center of Dumont Hills. The four other tanks in her platoon were spread throughout the former suburb, using their drone support network to scan for signs of life.

Wiped out by drone swarms during the Upload, Dumont Hills suffered the same fate as all the population centers across Shangri-LA. After purging and uploading the humans to Shangri-LA’s quantum network, the machines began reshaping the nation to suit their needs. What couldn’t be recovered, repurposed, and recycled was either left to rot, or more often, leveled to the ground.


The desolate grays of Dumont Hill’s blasted polycrete foundations were a stark contrast to how Colonel Moraro recalled the suburb. Four years prior, while on leave, she visited her parents in the quiet vacation city. Her parents had retired to a senior community, one of many that dotted what was popularly called the Mojave Leisure Zone. Back then, climate control stations scattered throughout the desert were operational, creating a region much more conducive to human activity. Such stations provided real-time weather adjustments and allowed regular precipitation in the otherwise arid valley. For millions of Shangrilese, desert living was a novelty as most of the nation’s urban centers were near bodies of water, making the eastern desert zones of Shangri-LA popular tourism and retirement destinations.


That visit with her parents included one of many challenging encounters she had had with them – the bounty of which now mars their memory. She would give anything to recall them without the associated resentment that clung and stained like tar. Still, she remembered walking with them along an avenue so intensely green with life that, briefly, their argument and the incessant waves of parental disappointment dropped away. With lush trees and well-tended rooftop gardens, Dumont Hills was an explosion of verdancy in which Moraro took solace, and that moment still resonates all these years later. The air had a sweetness to it that she was desperately trying to recall in the sweaty confines of the Devil Ray.

Dumont Hills.jpg

Dumont Hills - 2084

Her proximity to Specialist De La Rosa was becoming unpleasant after 9-hours locked together in a hot box. He probably felt the same about her, and she reflexively rubbed more salt and dirt from her scalp. Dumont Hills’ long-lost scent was gone, but still, Moraro tried to find attributes to which she could cling. Was it floral – perhaps citrus? Or simply a mix of cut grass and aromas from a local restaurant? She’d never know, but the phantom scent teased the back of her mind as she breathed through her mouth to minimize De La Rosa’s sourness.

Colonel Moraro’s left eye implant toggled a notification across her A.R. interface. It was tied into her tank’s computer and assisted with optical aiming through the periscope. In addition, the powerful Aithre ocular sensor provided the colonel with a direct data feed to the entire battlespace.


“Scan 93% complete and showing blue with no contacts. Dumont Hills will be a bust as well,” Colonel Moraro said out loud, trying to break her train of thought.

“Roger, Ma’am,” De La Rosa mumbled back.


She stared intently at her display, wishing the sensor drones could scan faster so she could end this mission. But unfortunately, the drones were set to passive scanning to avoid alerting Shangrilese security forces, hindering the drones’ scanning speed. As her display eventually ticked up to 95% completion, the colonel toggled her A.R. menus, raising the platoon broadcast channel frequency. 

“Abuela Platoon, the is Abuela Actual. It looks like Dumont Hills is another miss. I want to tighten – “  

Before Colonel Moraro could finish her order, the scan display shifted from blue to red, and a large contact signature appeared on a rapidly materializing holographic map hovering centimeters above her command console. When the map resolution cleared, the colonel felt a flush of adrenaline.


“Centaur contact! I repeat, Centaur contact! Target identified as an M.K. 2 Centaur-class drone on-grid 7-U-E-O-1-5-8-7-2-9-6-3. Move into defensive pattern Skunk 5 and support my advance with HE rounds. Abuela Actual will draw the target out and lock it in place with E.M. shells.”


Colonel Moraro toggled her comms channel to her crew’s frequency while entering commands into the holographic display.


“Okay, we’re the bait. Bernie, advance 100-meters and put us above the intersection here - I want to lure this piece of shit out to the open. Keep us visible—a max ceiling of 30 meters. De La Rosa, prepare repeated salvos of tandem charge and E.M. burst rounds – in that order. Copy?”


Both Sergeant Bernard Lai and Specialist De La Rosa replied in the affirmative as the Devil Ray’s micro-fusion power plant thrummed to life and pushed 36,000 kilograms of light hover tank along a ravaged urban center. Dumont Hills had already been stripped of its vital infrastructure when the clearance bombardment commenced and leveled what little remained.


Shangri-LA’s defensive artillery batteries were fabled for their size, accuracy, and destructive capability. They had even shamefully shot a city out of the sky in the act of brutality that Colonel Moraro couldn’t lay at the feet of Artificial Intelligence – Shangri-LA’s former human government had committed that atrocity.

Moreover, such weaponry had left gaping holes in Dumont Hills’ roads and building foundations while also creating artificial hills of displaced polycrete rubble ripped and thrown haphazardly around from gargantuan blasts. Sergeant Lai deftly piloted the tank around the taller rubble piles, keeping the Devil Ray steady 25 meters from the ground.   

As the tank neared the designated intersection warning klaxons alerted of a target lock. The Devil Ray violently shook from multiple high-intensity impacts on the bottom hull a moment later. Despite the tank’s insulation Colonel Moraro could still imagine the bitter smell of scorched ceramic plate. Sergeant Lai took evasive actions slamming the tank into a wide arcing spin, causing the follow-up volley to miss its mark. Colonel Moraro fought against the force of Sergeant Lai’s turn while toggling the targeting interface on the tank’s periscope with her Aithre implant.

“Round ready!” De La Rosa screamed.


A gold range finder appeared over the periscope’s digital image, and the colonel quickly scanned the surrounding landscape for her prey. As her reticle landed on the angular outline of the 7-meter-tall Centaur the colonel recognized a strobing twinkle emanating from its head as an anti-material laser discharge. As the golden reticle turned green to signal a target lock, she depressed her trigger. Then the tank was sprayed with super-heated energy. Colonel Moraro didn’t hear the tell-tale hissing shriek of boiling ceramic plates shattering under the Centaur’s attack due to the tank’s 180mm cannon firing.


Through the periscope, Colonel Moraro saw her shot hit the Centaur’s left shoulder. The tandem charge round punched through the drone’s armored hide in an explosion of shrapnel and fire, driving a half-meter depleted uranium rod into the machine’s limb joint. The brutal one-two punch of the tandem charge strike caused the Centaur to spin on its vertical axis and fall backward behind a mound of rubble. With her opponent momentarily sidelined, Colonel Moraro glanced at the tank’s condition monitor.


The Centaur’s repeated laser strikes had severely weakened the outer hull in multiple places but failed to penetrate. Another focused attack on their right hull could be disastrous.

“Bernie keep that thing off our right side!”

“Round ready!”

Sergeant Lai veered the tank’s rear to the left while halting their forward momentum causing the Devil Ray to spin in place and shift its left side to align with the Centaur’s position. The Shangrilese drone was still obscured behind a large pile of polycrete, preventing Colonel Moraro from finding her target.


“I need a shot, Bernie! Raise up 20 meters and pitch forward 45 degrees.”


The Devil Ray tilted forward with anti-gravity fans fully engaged, angling the giant cannon down as the tank’s trapezoidal hull rose quickly in the air. Before Colonel Moraro could acquire the Centaur an explosion of polycrete filled her periscope’s field of vision. Emerging from the rubble like an unholy revenant was the wounded Centaur. Its left arm dangled limp and dead from the shoulder while the right arm swiped and scattered tons of polycrete hunks as if they were wooden children’s blocks. The Centaur’s head-mounted laser fired again as the hulking machine pushed through the urban debris.


Still rising, the Devil Ray’s under-hull received another salvo of energy blasts pockmarking the section beneath Sergeant Lai’s cabin. Colonel Moraro resisted the urge to pull her gaze away from the targeting reticle to check on the tank’s status. As the angular Centaur came into her targeting field, she saw the machine use its right arm to rip its wounded left arm free from the socket in a torrent of sparks. Two heartbeats later, her reticle changed from gold to green. In unison, the Centaur hurled its severed limb at the tank as the colonel fired.


Keeping her eye on the Centaur, she followed the E.M. burst salvo to its impact point – the center mass of the torso. The subsequent explosion of electromagnetic feedback crackled and arced white sparks along the Centaur’s lithe frame. Then, a colossal impact and a change in cabin pressure. The colonel’s world went dark.  


Unknown Date
Unknown Location
Unknown Time


Colonel Moraro woke to a torrent of heat washing over her exposed skin and pain in her left side. She smelled uncirculated air while the acrid taste of burning plastics and scorched ceramic jostled with coppery blood for her attention. Jolting her eyes open, the colonel gasped in horror as the cabin came into focus. Sections of the cabin’s floor peeled back – pierced through by jagged shards of tungsten carbide. The walls and roof had blood and remnants of hot spalling sprayed across the surface.

Specialist De La Rosa was pinned against the turret wall, run through on a two-meter-long tungsten blade. The colonel’s mind flickered briefly to her grade-8 biology class as she looked at her loader. The Centaur’s arm blade punctured De La Rosa’s chest and likely right lung, given the blood bubbles forming in the unconscious man’s mouth. Colonel Moraro’s ocular implant detected slight life signs in her loader, but he clearly didn’t have much time.


Dry blasts of the Mojave’s air flooded the breached cabin carrying a peppery tingle that harassed Colonel Moraro’s nostrils. The radiated, dusty air caused a false impression of needing to sneeze. Forcing her right arm to move, she clumsily wiped at her nose to abate the tingling – sending tendrils of agonizing pain shooting through her left side and ribs. Noting that a few ribs were probably broken Colonel Moraro inspected her left leg and gagged seeing a 20-cm piece of metal protruding from her thigh.

Nausea and fear briefly spiked within her, and she reflexively turned to anger. She shouted in frustration as the surge of sensations momentarily caused her to feel claustrophobic and feral. As quickly as the rage overflowed, it was gone, and her mind focused on the present. It was then that the colonel noticed her tank wasn’t grounded.


Colonel Moraro didn’t understand how the tank was still airborne and moving. She toggled her comms to Sergeant Lai’s frequency, hoping he survived the Centaur’s attack.

“Sergeant Lai report!”


The silence dragged on interminably long, and she screamed his name again. Then, a painful groan followed by angry curses croaked over the line.


“Reporting, Ma’am. I blacked out there for a second. Are you two, okay? Shit, we are still airborne! Gods be damned, we have multiple hull breeches! Colonel, are you seeing this? That thing’s arm is lodged in our fucking under-hull!” 

Before she could respond, an incoming transmission came through the platoon frequency from Lieutenant Erykson in Abuela One.


“Abuela Actual, this is Abuela One, please report! Abuela Actual - are you alive, Colonel?”


“Abuela One, we are alive, but Specialist De La Rosa is critically wounded, and I am pinned to my chair from our friend’s surprise gift. Status of the bastard?”

“Good to hear your voice, Colonel. The Centaur is down. We slagged it with HE rounds – fucker went up like a firework. Can your rig fly, Ma’am? It has a sizeable piece of garbage sticking out of it, is all.”

“Absolutely, Abuela One,” the colonel said, trying to sound confident while ignoring the flashing critical damage indicator. Instead, she switched to the platoon-wide audio channel.


“Abuela Platoon, return to FOB Rawndale. Let’s pull up to a ceiling of 300 meters and floor it. Repeat, maximum speed. I want all scanner drones pinging active until we get within 30 klicks of the FOB – if anything else is out there, I want to know about it before they’re in firing range. Our position is already blown, so let’s make some noise about retreating back to friendly lines. Abuela One has the lead.”

Colonel Moraro strained to keep her voice even throughout her orders but the pain in her chest and leg was intensifying.

Ignoring the battery of acknowledgments filtering in from her platoon, the colonel began activating the Devil Ray’s emergency medical protocols through her command console. With her leg skewered, she could do little but transmit Specialist De La Rosa and her conditions ahead Rawndale’s medical staff. Usually, she would place an oxygen mask on De La Rosa and inject him with stabilizing meds until real doctors could attend to him, but she couldn’t move from her fucking chair!

Colonel Moraro glared helplessly at the first aid kit, which sat two meters to her right. Stupidly, she glanced down at the ragged, purplish meat swelling around a reflective metal shard protruding through her thigh. The shiny object looked alien against the weeping tissue, which bulged grotesquely around the broken metal. There was a lot of blood leaving her leg. She guessed the femoral artery was punctured and, whether psychosomatic or a result of the blood loss, Colonel Moraro’s vision began narrowing, and her head felt dizzy. Then, steadying herself by listening to the tank’s engines and rushing wind rippling through the breached cabin, Colonel Moraro started to feel capable again. Within a few more breaths, she had a plan.

Knowing if she didn’t extricate herself from the command console soon, both Specialist De La Rosa and herself would die before returning to Rawndale. Where she slightly hesitated was the course of action she’d take to begin the extricating.


Her options seemed limited: try and pull the shard out of her leg or try and lift her leg off and away from the shard. Neither seemed particularly appealing, but with her injured ribs, she doubted she could lift herself off the shard. Rip and pull it was, then. Wishing for the morphine in the first aid kit as she wrapped her cybernetic fingers tightly around the metal spike, she took a deep breath and – yanked.

Her world instantly shrank to comprise the centimeters of inflamed flesh further slicing against metal shrapnel as it slowly slid through her muscle tissue. She felt each fiber separating as the metal object moved. Millimeter by millimeter. Searing pain exploded outward from her leg and ran along every nerve of her being until it diverted entirely on her shut eyes. The pain manifested in a blinding light of agony that was novel and humbling. She heard her blood flowing freely as it audibly trickled over her leg and onto the console. The roar of the cabin didn’t even register as she was trapped in a prism of agony and pulling.


Eyes still tightly clenched, she pulled again. Her stomach lurched, and she screamed as the metal scraped against bone and carved through her flesh. Vision dimming, she yanked one last time and heard a wet sucking sound as the metal lurched free. Dropping the bloody object Colonel Moraro threw herself over the console and towards the first aid kit. Facedown on the other side of her command console, the colonel slowly pulled towards the cabin’s rounded wall. Despite being only two meters from her chair, the journey felt unending. Her wounded leg was heavy and dead, while every flex of her muscles was misery as she crawled and scratched her way towards the first aid kit.


Just as her vision was fading, she finally felt the edge of the cabin wall. Willing her eyes to steady she sucked in a deep breath before pushing her torso up and shoving her fingers desperately into any crevice she could find. With a scream, she pulled herself upright onto her knees and was face-level with the first aid kit.


She ripped the kit open in a shower of plastic-wrapped supplies with her left arm. Swaying unsteadily from blood loss, Colonel Moraro reached for a nano-stabilization injector. The tank’s first aid kit contained enough doses for each crew member, and each dose had enough life-saving nanoparticles to keep a human alive even with severe trauma. Colonel Moraro didn’t fully understand the science behind the drug, but she had seen people near death come back from the brink. The bulky syringe was heavy, containing a dark liquid that shimmered purple as the light hit it. With her last bit of willpower, Colonel Moraro slammed the syringe into her wounded thigh and plunged the glimmering substance into her muscle tissue.


Colonel Moraro hugged the cabin wall as the nanoparticles went to work. Quickly replicating in her system, the nanoparticles scanned her DNA and imprinted it to match her system’s own cells. Within minutes her severed artery was staunched, and the gaping wounds on each side of her leg had begun closing enough to keep her blood inside where it belonged.


The colonel felt wretched, but her vision was clear and her hands steady, so she grabbed the remaining nano-stabilization injectors and began crawling as quickly towards Specialist De La Rosa as her wounded leg would allow.

Creeping along the torn floor gave the colonel a frightening up-close look at the tungsten arm blade of a Centaur. Easily twenty centimeters thick and two meters long, the blade was designed to cut through the hides of armored vehicles – a human was nothing. Approaching the wall base where De La Rosa was pinned, Colonel Moraro smelled shit and urine. Ignoring the waste, she pulled herself into a kneeling position and examined Del La Rosa for the best injection point. She wasn’t sure how he was even alive. The blade pierced him from his groin to his upper chest. His face and hands were pallid from blood loss, yet he faintly breathed. With an injector in each hand, Colonel Moraro plunged the devices into Specialist De La Rosa’s torso. A few heartbeats passed before the color started returning to his face. Colonel Moraro let out a gasp of relief and squeezed her loader’s hand.


“Hang in there, De La Rosa – you haven’t gotten a chance to kiss Half-Machine’s ass yet.”

De La Rosa blinked his eyes and didn’t say anything but lightly returned the colonel’s squeeze.

Colonel Moraro held her loader as Abuela Platoon raced through the Mojave Death Zone – desperate to deny the region another soul.

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