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A short story by

Matt Burns

The back of Pandora’s vulture periodically skids on the ground and sends a shower of sparks behind her as she reaches the waste room. It’s filled with neosteel crates plastered with hazardous material labels and piled next to a massive blast door leading out of the facility.

The sight of Pandora’s bloody face and the C-7 pistol raised in her hand is enough for a lone worker in a hazmat suit to key open the door.

Outside, Pandora guns the hoverbike parallel to the facility, toward the low-lying factories. She hears a whining alarm coming from the Simonson complex that she thinks must have been tripped by the waste room worker. A few moments later, groups of security guards and vultures begin streaming through the front gates of the facility.

As Pandora nears the factories, she catches something out of the corner of her eye and brings the hoverbike to an abrupt stop. Sage’s vehicle sits behind the embankment on the road to the Simonson facility in the path of the approaching guards and vultures, right where he said he would be waiting.

Move! Pandora waves her arms at the van, but there’s no response. Get the fekk out of there. She throttles the vulture toward Sage’s vehicle but then stops. The guards will make it to him before she can. Maybe, though, she can get close enough to get his attention. Maybe…

The remote console hangs heavy on her belt. It seems to pull her away from Sage and toward the factories. He’d want me to get out, Pandora convinces herself. He’d want me to protect the data.

As the Simonson security personnel ascend the hill opposite Sage, Pandora forces herself to turn away and speed into the factory area. He’ll make it. Pandora repeats the words in her head even after the first shots ring out from the direction of the hill.

Pandora ditches the vulture in an alley between two factories and stumbles through the area on foot, propping herself up against buildings. The unbearable pain returns in full force, but she welcomes it. It drowns out the guilt she feels for leaving Sage behind.

She keeps moving until her knees give out. Everything becomes a blur. Shouts from the alleys. The clank of CMC armor. A four-wheeled vehicle pulls up beside her. Three armed figures emerge, moving toward her fast. They grab at her and drag her into the vehicle.

Outside she hears gunfire. Pop. Pop. Pop. It’s drawn out like a vid playing back at half speed. The sounds become slower and slower until the last pop stretches out into infinity and she loses consciousness.

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