9 January 2087
Mojave Death Zone,
In the Mojave Death Zone life was unsurprisingly fleeting. A stark environment awash in tans, browns, 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 fleeting 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 brief rain. For a week or less the Death Zone seems other worldly – 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 unrelenting heat which reaches 50 Celsius on average days. As if the aberration never happened, air pressure shifts, and the desert resumes its ruinous reign.
When a band of repudiators are dropped into the Mojave, they shared a lifespan like the flowers – measured in hours or if they were lucky, days. 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 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 amount of 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 said wiping her forehead with the sleeve of her armored jacket.
She’d be instantly cooler without the jacket, but this far into Shangrilese territory meant they could be attacked by Centaur security drones at any moment. Lined with aromatic polyamide materials, the standard-issue Shangrilese M2076B Armor Jacket protected against heat, fire, and kinetic projectiles but covered the neck, arms and torso trapping a lot of heat. Still, Colonel Moraro reasoned, better uncomfortable than dead.
7-hours into a wild-goose chase operation checking lifeless settlements in the Mojave and Colonel Moraro’s patience was growing thin. A group of repudiators calling themselves the Bear Legion were proving more stubborn than any warlord or repudiator band Colonel Moraro had previously dealt with in her two decades of Shangrilese Militia service. Now, a member of the Pact-aligned Gaia First!, Colonel Moraro was prowling former territories she once called home looking for an opponent she respected but knew wasn’t hiding in 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, but Colonel Moraro’s gut told her they weren’t stupid enough to be hunkered down in a graveyard like Palm Ranch.
De La Rosa grunted acknowledgement of Colonel Moraro’s 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. 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 cast offs and these guys are anything but run-of-the-mill repudiators – at least if half the shit I’ve heard 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 normal speaking volume for anyone else.
“Have you seen their latest post? It’s craaaazy, that Half-Machine guy rips an M77 off a UN 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 enemy combatants for their repeated attacks on UN 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 suppling 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 an UN 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 UN 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 UN surgeons before turning on his former employers and waging an almost year-long war against UN assets. As a reluctant adopter of bioware and cybernetic alterations herself, Moraro remained low-key anxious about the long-term affects her implants might have on her system. Though in comparison to Half-Machine her augmentation was minimal, 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, as well as 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. Colonel Moraro rarely mentions 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 UN psychologists declared him one step above a slobbering beast unable to ascertain reality from delusion. For many reasons Colonel Moraro was skeptical of the UN’s medical opinion being thrown around corporate news channels, but the biggest was hope. She hoped they were lying so his fate wouldn’t become hers.
Half-Machine was a threat to the UN, 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 with a singular goal of disrupting UN 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 UN. So, she supposed something was off with Half-Machine though, she questioned if that was any sort of indictment other than a life lived. She remained unconvinced by the UN’s analysis of their shared enemy and 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 ultimately 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, then he was either the real deal or a master at inducing trauma bonding 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 a self-sufficiency to Half-Machine’s operations which Colonel Moraro admired, and though she did not understand his rage against the UN, 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 all along they wouldn’t find their target. The Legion weren’t stupid enough to hunker down 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 would consider the day a success.
9 January 2087
Mojave Death Zone,
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 from 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. Climate control stations provided real time adjustments to the weather and allowed for 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 zones of Shangri-LA popular tourism and retirement destinations.
Dumont Hills - 2084
That visit with her parents included one of many difficult 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. 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 salts 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 AR interface. It was tied into her tank’s computer and assisted with optical aiming through the periscope. The powerful Aithre ocular sensor provided the colonel with a direct data-feed to the entire battle space.
“Scan 93% complete and showing blue with no contacts. Dumont Hills is going to be a bust as well,” Colonel Moraro said out loud trying to break her own 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. Unfortunately, the drones were set to passive scanning to avoid alerting Shangrilese security forces, so it dragged things out a bit. As her display eventually ticked up to 95% completion, the colonel toggled her AR menus, bringing up 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 a MK 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 EM 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 forward 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 EM 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 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 an 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. Such weaponry had left gaping holes in the urban center’s 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 at a steady 25 meters from the ground.
As the tank neared the designated intersection warning klaxons alerted of a target lock. A moment later the Devil Ray violently shook from multiple high intensity impacts on the bottom hull. 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 backwards behind a mound of rubble. With her opponent momentarily sidelined, Colonel Moraro spared a quick glance 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!”
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.”
Anti-gravity fans fully engaged the Devil Ray tilted forward angling the large cannon down as the trapezoidal hull quickly rose 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. It’s 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 EM burst salvo to its impact point – center mass of the torso. The subsequent explosion of electromagnetic feedback crackled and arced sparks along the Centaur’s lithe frame. Then, a colossal impact and a change in cabin pressure. The colonel’s world went dark.
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 were 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 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 which 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 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 which 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!”
Silence dragged on interminably long and she screamed his name again. Then, a painful groan followed by a series of 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 acknowledgements filtering in from her platoon the colonel began activating the Devil Ray’s emergency medical protocols through her command console but with her leg skewered she could do little but transmit Specialist De La Rosa and her conditions ahead to Rawndale’s medical staff. Normally 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. Steadying herself by listening to the tank’s engines and rushing wind rippling through the breached cabin, Colonel Moraro began to feel capable again. Within a minute 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. Face down on the other side of her command console the colonel pulled herself slowly 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.
With her left arm she ripped the kit open in a shower of plastic-wrapped supplies. 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 have 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 shimmers purple as 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 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 groin to his upper chest. His face and hands were pallid from blood loss, and yet he faintly breathed. With an injector in each hand Colonel Moraro plunged the devices into Specialist De La Rosa’s torso. A few heart beats passed before 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.