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A short story by

Micky Neilson

Just another glorious day in the Corps.

Despite the sweltering heat on Gamma Dorian, Isaac White stayed cool.

No matter what, Isaac White always stayed cool. Not just because he wore a temperature-controlled hardskin. No, he stayed cool because in his line of work, if you didn't stay cool, you could kiss your sweet ass goodbye.

Someday, maybe some chump would build a bomb capable of rattling Isaac's cage, but that day was damn sure not today. Those panbrained, fekk-head Kel-Morians hadn't even done a respectable job of hiding the detonator. Isaac could think of at least fifteen spots along the underside of the massive bridge that would have provided better concealment. But no, the idiots had placed the device just under the lip of a baseplate, practically in plain view.

Descending the dry gulch's southern embankment had taken all of 30 seconds, and now Isaac found himself lying on his side, getting his first glance at the detonation system. The setup wasn't just simple: it was archaic. An electronic time-delay device set to ignite several charges placed at intervals beneath the girders. The KMs had held the bridge and the territory surrounding it until a few days ago. They could have blown the bridge as they retreated, but instead they had opted to make a play at taking out the bridge and some Confed forces with it. And they didn't think the Confederacy would check the bridge before crossing it? Stupid. Just plain stupid.

This stupidity was exactly why the Confederacy was sure to win the Guild Wars. The wars may have been dragging on for three years now, but there'd never been a doubt in Isaac's mind that the home team would pull out the big "W" in the end.

"What in the crap is takin' so long, niner?"

One of the transpo boys had stepped out of his truck and was shouting. The other folks awaiting the all clear, sitting in vehicles in a queue that stretched a mile down the blacktop, were getting restless.

Isaac waved a hand. Disarming the bomb would be a breeze. This was what Isaac did. What he was born to do. "Stealing thunder" was what the other ordnance disposal agents called it. And he was the best of the best.

One snip, and then back to the barracks for some quality time with Kandis. Or Lexa. Or Dorinda...

Isaac held out the wire cutters, positioned them on the proper wire, and cut.

Seconds later he'd removed the device. Isaac stepped away from the support and gave the thumbs up to Sergeant Ruxby, who was standing in his combat hardskin at the top of the embankment opposite the queue.

The loose dirt made ascending a slow process. Above Isaac the rumble of the trucks and other waiting vehicles grew louder. The bridge groaned as the first of the transports eased onto the span.

Isaac was halfway up the embankment when a series of electronic notes sounded from within the device he held. What the fekk was that?

Then, from somewhere on the bridge:


Isaac's brain scrambled to make sense of what was happening, identifying and eliminating possible causes until he landed on one that turned his blood cold: a digital relay. But that would mean the bomb was a decoy, a trap...

... and he had fallen for it.


The sound was coming from the middle of the bridge. The hardskin's servos boosted Isaac's movement as he raced up the embankment, waving his hands and yelling into the squad frequency, but he was moving too fast, and his boot slipped on the loose dirt.


Sergeant Ruxby's face registered understanding. He shouted orders, and the vehicles on the bridge came to a stop.

As the dirt beneath Isaac gave way, he slid farther down the embankment, ending up on the bed of the gulch as the high-pitched signals grew slightly longer in duration and shorter in between.



Isaac's instinct for self-preservation kicked in. He put distance between himself and the bridge, running along the floor of the wash, servos boosting his momentum.


He dove, pressing his body as tightly to the packed earth as he could, hoping the suit would take the worst of the explosion, hoping the concussion wouldn't rip his heart loose inside his chest. He waited, but nothing happened.

Then the ground shuddered. A thundering boom blew out the suit's external audio sensors. A wall of dirt raced past as the shock wave rolled over him.

Debris rained down. Isaac pushed himself onto his side. An arm encased in CMC armor struck the ground less than a foot away and bounced out of sight.

Isaac rolled to his back, then sat up, staring at the decimation of the bridge, a horrific scene of smoke and twisted metal, of blood and body parts and screams.

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