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A short story by

Micky Neilson

Isaac awoke. His HUD readout informed him that his vitals were all within normal range, but a few of the suit's systems were compromised, and one or two were completely inactive.

Sousa's voice squawked over the comm, "Hang tight, Sarge: we're workin' on gettin' the elevator functional."

Surrounding Isaac was something that resembled a giant metal spider gone belly up. It was an elevator, or at least it had been until the explosion had blown Isaac into it.

There were protracted groans of metal, then a lurch, more protest from the hoist and cable... and then finally some upward movement. Less than a minute later he was at the top of the shaft, staring at the visor of Sousa's CMC armor.

"Great to have you back, Sarge!"

Sousa helped Isaac maneuver back into the now-empty tunnel. Isaac eyed his HUD and realized he had been out for almost forty minutes. "Where is everyone?"

"Cleared out a half hour ago. Commander Rindge had me stay and work on gettin' you extracted. Techs were monitoring your vitals from the Tahoe. Commander didn't seem too worried."

"'Course he didn't," Isaac answered gruffly.

They made their way to the next sublevel, past access ports to the massive laser drill silos, then through a maze of passages, and ultimately up to one of the many hubs. Sousa chattered busily the entire time, giving a detailed account of how the remaining pirates had been eliminated and how the KMs had suffered heavy losses, including the entirety of their medical personnel.

Inside the hub, Isaac raised his faceplate. The two men had stepped into what was normally a cafeteria but now served as a triage center for wounded and dying miners. Isaac slowed down as he passed a table where a Kel-Morian lay; two other miners were busily trying to stuff his insides back into his mutilated torso.

Isaac didn't want to look. Why should he care whether some Gutter-sucking KM lived or died?

He stopped anyway.

The man had a death grip on the sleeve of the miner nearest him. "You get a message... to my wife and kid on Moria. You tell 'em I love 'em... tell 'em I'm sorry...."

Isaac turned to leave, stopped, took one more look, and pressed on. Similar scenes were being played out at various points all through the cavernous room. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air, and way too much of it coated the green tile floor.

Isaac's eyes landed on a nearby wall monitor and a series of numbers.


He glanced at another monitor on the far wall and saw the last number change.


It was a countdown. And in Isaac's experience, that was almost never a good thing.

"What's with the timer?" Isaac asked Sousa, who now had his own visor raised.

"Started about fifteen minutes ago.... Bunch of the KMs have been holed up in the ops center, tryin' to figure it out. CO told us to stay out of it. We gotta be on the surface level for extraction in five minutes."

Isaac stopped, eyeballing the countdown on the monitors. He wanted to know more. Although he couldn't say exactly why, he needed to know more. "You go. I'll catch up."

"Roger that, Sarge!" Sousa strode purposefully through the exit while Isaac headed back the way they had come in. Near the cafeteria entrance, he turned to see the table where the Kel-Morian had pleaded for a message to be relayed to his family. The two assisting miners were now pulling a coat over the man's face. One arm hung limply off the side of the table.

Isaac heard the man's words again.

You tell 'em I love 'em... tell 'em I'm sorry.

He grunted softly and kept walking.

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