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Battle Luna: Chapter One

       Last updated: Saturday, June 6, 2020 13:38 EDT

 


 

BATTLE LUNA

“Foxhole”

by Timothy Zahn

    “I wonder how many of the people up there hate us.”

    Papillion “Pappy” McLeod — who disliked his given name so much that even the sarky nickname “Pappy” he’d been saddled with had come as something of a relief — turned from his contemplation of the half-Earth hovering ominously over the lunar surface and looked across at the foxhole twenty meters to his left at the other end of his comm cable. The cables were a little awkward, but under the circumstances no one wanted to be caught gabbing over a radio, not even a theoretically secure one. “Excuse me?” he asked.

    “I was just wondering how many Earthers hate us,” KC Devereux repeated.

    “Odd question,” Pappy said, peering across the rocky ground. KC had always liked rolling verbal grenades into the middle of conversations. But this was hardly the time or place for such antics.

    Still, from what he could see of KC’s expression through his helmet faceplate, that didn’t seem to have been the big French Canadian’s goal anyway. “Any reason in particular you’re bringing that up right now?”

    “I saw a new CNN poll this morning,” KC said meditatively. His eyes, Pappy saw, were fixed on the hovering half-Earth. “It said eighty percent thought the moon wasn’t worth the time and money United Earth is pouring into us. Eighty percent comes to about five and a half billion. That’s an awful lot of hate.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about it,” Pappy soothed. “CNN likes to claim they speak for the whole world, but no one believes that, not even them. It’s probably only a couple hundred million who hate us. The rest don’t even know we exist. Or care.”

    “Thanks, Pappy,” KC said drily. “That makes me feel so much better.”

    “They’ll know soon enough,” Morgan Lee murmured from the foxhole twenty meters to Pappy’s right. Her voice was thoughtful and a bit distant. Inscrutable, Pappy might have characterized it if that term wasn’t pompously frowned upon by Earthers in regards to Asians like Morgan. “They’ll care, too. Eventually.”

    “Right,” KC said. “The shot heard ’round the world. The high drama of the century.”

    “Pun intended?” Pappy asked.

    “Pun intended,” KC confirmed. “Heard ’round their world, of course, not ours. Can’t hear anything in a vacuum.”

    “It’s supposed to be metaphorical,” Morgan said. “I wouldn’t worry about the poll, either. If you know how to tweak the questions, you can make a poll give whatever answers you want.”

    “They’re fattening us up for the slaughter,” Pappy added. “The minute that first shot is fired — by either side — we’re the ones who’ll get blamed for starting the war.”

    “With seriously edited recordings, no doubt,” KC said darkly. “Pretty hard to blame us when the Ueys are blowing up domes and slaughtering people.”

    “Hey, if we weren’t so damn stubborn about paying our fair share of the taxes that keep us going they wouldn’t have to teach us a lesson,” Pappy said. “See? See how easy it is? Even easier than writing slanted polls.”

    “They’re not going to blow up any domes,” Morgan said.

    “And what share of taxes are they talking about?” KC retorted. “The tariffs — the prices they’re paying for our metals — hey, we’re the ones getting robbed, not them.”

    “And when you’re in charge of CNN and the rest of the media, you can explain that to the world,” Pappy said. “Good luck. Even just speaking the word economics is usually enough to make people’s eyes glaze over.”

    “Yeah,” KC growled. “Too bad economics is what drives everything else. Suppose I’m preaching to the choir, though.”

    “Well, that is what accountants do,” Pappy agreed.

    “Understand economics?” KC asked. “Or glaze over people’s eyes?”

    “Both,” Pappy said, trying to put a little lightness in his tone. Neither of his two companions had ever been in combat before, and he could feel their tension and bubbling fears.

    Not that Pappy himself was exactly immune from that. In the fifteen years he’d been with the British SAS, until the leg injury that had ultimately turned him into a Luna Colonies accountant, he’d seen action on three different continents. He was well aware of the role adrenaline and fear played in combat readiness, and how to find that fine line where they stopped being assets and became liabilities.

    But that had been a long time ago, and under vastly different circumstances. On Earth he’d had his mates at his sides, and even when the plan went sideways — and plans always went at least a little sideways — he knew what he was doing and how his weapons and gear functioned.

    But no one had ever fought a war on the moon.

    The reports from Tranquility said the Ueys had brought rifles with them. That was fine, as far as it went. Modern cartridges had enough oxygen mixed in with the propellant to make them function in vacuum.

    But did the soldiers know how to use them? The reports had suggested that the invasion force had landed, unloaded their improvised tanks from the transports and loaded up the troops, and headed immediately toward the various domes. Certainly there’d been no indication of the soldiers being put through any target practice.

    Charging in without proper training was typical of Uey forces, of course. They were cocky S.O.B.s at the best of times. More importantly, if the rumors were to be believed, the United Earth leadership had leaped into this whole thing way faster than they should have.

    The rumors.

    Mentally, Pappy shook his head. As former military he knew a lot about rumors. They were like motor oil: a lubricant for social interactions that could spill out into the air at the slightest opportunity, and typically got pretty much everywhere. Their reliability, according to his own private tally, ran to maybe sixty percent with at least a whiff or two of truth, twenty percent with enough truth to make them worth listening to, and less than one percent that were spot on.

    By all logic, the Mimic rumors he’d been hearing for the past month should be well within the forty percent that were a hundred percent make-believe. But at the same time, the United Earth response was far out of proportion to the Lunar Colonies’ threats to withhold metal shipments until a more equable profit-sharing scheme could be worked out. Someone downthere apparently believed in the Mimic, and that someone had troops, transports, and firepower at his disposal.

    And the Loonies had nothing.

    They had no soldiers. No weapons. No fighting vehicles. No experience. The shot heard ’round the world metaphor might be the current darling of the fringe news media, but at least the American Colonies had had muskets and had known how to use them.

    They’d had allies, too, eventually. Sadly Lafayette and his buddies wouldn’t be coming this time around. France was as much a part of United Earth as everyone else.

    It was going to be a slaughter. Everyone knew it. Or rather, it would be as much of a slaughter as Earth decided to make it. Morgan’s rose-eyed trust in Uey restraint notwithstanding, there was no reason they couldn’t blow one of Luna’s colony domes just to prove they were serious.

    Certainly the mass drivers the Council had scrambled to set up as anti-spacecraft weapons weren’t much of a counter-threat. They were designed to throw metal canisters across large distances as an aid to ore transport, and no matter how much jury-rigging the techs did to the programming they were always going to be slow and ponderous and utterly incapable of targeting something moving past at even a moderate rate of speed.

    Granted, if a Uey attacker insisted on flying straight at its target dome before unloading his bomb, a mass-driver might have a chance of taking it down. But any pilot who did something that stupid deserved to be shot down anyway.

    But then, the Ueys didn’t have to take even that small risk. The mountains and ridges around most of the domes meant their mass-driver defenses couldn’t throw at anything running at ground level. With troops and tanks, the Ueys could simply roll into the colonies’ front doors.

    Which led to Pappy and his companions.

    Pappy turned to look behind them. The Freeway, the people of Hadley Dome called it: the doglegged, more or less level approach to the dome wending its way through the jagged ridges of the Rima Fresnel, the fields of scree, and other hazards to ground transportation. It was the only lane big enough for the Ueys’ tanks, at least according to Tranquility’s description, so if they decided to hit Hadley, this was the route they would have to take.

 



 

    He grimaced. If, hell. When. There was no point in bringing all these men to Luna and not making as much noise and fury as possible. Even if they decided to start with some of the other domes, sooner or later they would come to Hadley.

    “Is that dust?” KC asked suddenly. “Pappy, is that dust over there?”

    Sooner or later; and apparently, sooner. “Where?”

    “Just past the end of the Cross-eye,” KC said. “Morgan, you might not be able to see it from your angle.”

    “Wait a second,” Pappy said, frowning out into the distance. He’d never heard of any formation near Hadley called the Cross-eye. “Past the end of the what?”

    “Sorry — the end of Waffle Ridge,” KC said. “Cross-eye’s what miners call that kind of formation.”

    “No, I can see it,” Morgan said, bending over her compact rangefinder scope. It was the best scope in Hadley, and given that geosurveyers used that kind of gear all the time, it made sense that it had been assigned to her.

    Still, it made Pappy’s fingers itch that it was on the edge of her foxhole and not attached to his rifle.

    His rifle.

    Stooping down, Pappy picked it up by its long barrel from where it rested against the rough wall of his hastily-excavated foxhole. His rifle. The Ueys would have semis and full-autos, maybe even small cannon or rockets. Real military weapons.

    He and the other Loonies had paintball guns.

    They were very good paintball guns, of course. Unlike their Earth-bound toy brethren, these were tools, with the range and accuracy to mark potential mining targets people like Morgan found, sometimes from as far as a kilometer away. She and KC were supposedly two of Hadley’s best shots, but there hadn’t been time for Pappy to give him a full field test before they’d been hustled out here to stand between the dome and the Uey advance.

    “It’s dust, all right,” Morgan confirmed. “About three hundred forty meters out. Doesn’t look like a meteor strike. I guess they’re here.”

    Pappy hissed out a silent sigh. Apparently, his team’s field test was starting now. “Okay,” he said as calmly as he could. “KC, give Hadley a heads-up. Morgan, any idea what size party they’re bringing?”

    “Not really,” Morgan said. “But I know that particular dust pool. Give them another fifty meters, and I should be able to tell if it’s one tank or more.”

    One tank or more. Terrific. “Keep watching,” Pappy ordered. “KC, give Hadley a head’s-up.”

    “Right.” Across to Pappy’s left, KC unplugged their local comm cable from his suit’s junction box and plugged in the one that slithered down the ground behind him and disappeared into the dogleg that led back to Hadley Dome. Radio communications on Luna were encrypted for privacy, but no one seriously believed the Ueys couldn’t decrypt them if they wanted to badly enough. Wired communications were awkward and fragile, but it was the only way to maintain at least a modicum of secrecy.

    Pappy lowered his eyes to the meager collection of equipment in his foxhole. He had his paintball gun, complete with an improvised and highly inadequate scope, and two spare canisters of ammo. At the back of the teardrop-shaped hole was his catapult, also hastily constructed, and a cylinder a shade smaller than a standard oxy tank that was filled with a combination of propellant and vacuum cement. Beside the catapult was a suit repair kit and two spare oxygen tanks, plus some replacement struts and a small welding torch in case the catapult broke while there was still time to repair it.

    And propped up against the side wall was a coil of monofilament line, two hundred meters long and half a ton test.

    He eyed the monofil with a mixture of frustration and regret. There were so many things a clever soldier could do with high-stress thread. So many things he’d wanted to do with it. But the Ueys had moved faster than anyone had expected, and he’d hadn’t had time to rig even half the traps and snares he’d hoped to create before he and the others had been ordered back to their foxholes.

    He’d argued about it at the time, but Hadley had insisted. In hindsight, given that the Ueys were apparently here, it was probably just as well they’d pulled back.

    He gave his equipment one last scan, reflexively memorizing positions in case he had to grab for something without looking, then turned back to the front. Hadley was supposedly throwing together more equipment for the upcoming battle, but it wasn’t going to get here before the Ueys did. He could only hope that the haste of the Ueys’ advance meant they were just as ill-equipped as the Loonies.

    To his left, KC again swapped out his comm cables. “Okay, Hadley’s cranking up the mass drivers in case they try a sky assault,” he said. “Spotters aren’t showing anything flying in the area, but that could change at any minute.”

    “Did they say anything about our Uey tanks?” Pappy asked.

    “I asked, but they can’t see anything out here,” KC said. “Too much stuff in the way.”

    “Anything from the rest of the perimeter?”

    “Nothing they thought worth telling us.”

    “There won’t be,” Morgan said.

    “Won’t be what?” Pappy asked. “Sky assaults or other perimeter movement?”

    “Neither,” Morgan said. “They’re not going to try walking soldiers over the ranges until they try the tanks first, and this is the only route wide enough.”

    “Unless they drop something into the dome first,” KC said. “Even if they don’t want to start off with mass slaughter, they could drop a javelin or something into the entry foyer. That probably wouldn’t hurt anyone, but would prove they could do it.”

    “They won’t,” Morgan said. “They can’t risk damaging Hadley or any of the other domes.”

    “That’s the second time you’ve said that,” Pappy commented, eyeing her. “Seems to me that KC’s got a point. Bombing an enemy’s capital is a traditional way to prove it’s not invulnerable. And a javelin or a few rounds of small-gauge cannon fire would seal so fast that we wouldn’t even lose much air.”

    “It’s –” Morgan broke off. “I just don’t think they want the bad publicity, that’s all.”

    “Uh-huh,” KC said knowingly. “With eighty percent of the public already on the Ueys’ side? Come on, Morgan. You know something, don’t you?”

    There was a long pause. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I can’t talk about it.”

    “You can’t talk about the Mimic?” Pappy suggested.

    She shot him a hooded look. “I said I can’t talk about it.”

    “Come on, Morgan,” Pappy cajoled. “We’ve all heard the rumors. Hell, we’ve all heard the name. If we’re going to die out here, I’d like to know it’s not just because United Earth is stiffing us on chromium prices.”

    “You’ll know when everyone else does,” Morgan said firmly, turning back to her scope. “All right. I’m calling it a single tank. Could be something smaller leading it, though. Maybe a runabout?”

    Pappy turned back to his own scope. To him, the dust looked exactly the way it had before, with no reason to call it a single tank or a pair of them. Or a herd of elephants, for that matter.

    But Morgan was the expert. “So a tank, plus an outrider,” he said.

    “Or no outrider, but a couple of soldiers,” KC put in. “There they are, just coming around Waffle.”

    Pappy shifted the direction of his scope. All he could see from his angle was the ridge itself. But if the Ueys were coming in from the right, as the dust cloud suggested, then KC would see them first. “You say there are two of them?”

    “Two in front,” KC said. “Might be more behind them. They’ve got some kind of — I don’t know. Long sticks or something. Don’t look like rifles.”

    And then, coming around the ridge, there they were.

    There were two of them, just as KC had said, dressed in some strange hybrid of Uey spacesuit and Uey body armor. The spacesuit was the base garment, the same type the United Earth administrators used at their bases at Tranquility and Hippalus. The same type, moreover, that the Loonies themselves had originally been saddled with before they’d made some sorely needed improvements. On top of the suits each of the two soldiers was wearing a heavy-looking torso vest, a slightly cheaper-looking version of the kind of armor Pappy had worn in the SAS. They had long-barreled machine pistols belted at their hips, probably modified MP5s or some knock-off.

 



 

    Mentally, Pappy shook his head. Body armor was all well and good; but with a helmet faceplate the size of a serving platter as an alternative target, all a torso vest really accomplished was to add weight, throw off balance, and encourage headshots.

    Which could be a serious problem for the soldier inside. Modern spacesuits were self-sealing, and depending on how sophisticated a biomed kit you put in even chest wounds were reasonably survivable if the victim could be moved into a pressurized facility fast enough. But a round through the faceplate and anywhere into the skull was a probable lights-out. The Ueys were just damn lucky that the Loonies didn’t have any real guns.

    And as for the long sticks they were carryingâ¦

    “You’re right, those aren’t rifles,” he told KC. “They’re mine detectors.”

    KC made a long, rude noise. “Mine detectors? On the moon? Oh, that’s just too funny.”

    “No argument here,” Pappy agreed with the first breath of humor he’d felt all day. Between the micrometeors, the condensate needles, and the various mascons, the moon was riddled with bits of relatively pure metal. If the detectors were set at a high enough sensitivity level, the soldiers could be out there for hours.

    The real irony being that the meager weaponry Pappy and the others had available contained virtually no metal at all.

    “And look how they’re walking,” KC said. “See that? They’re just walking.”

    “I see it,” Pappy said. Walking — one foot in front of the other — instead of doing the little kangaroo hops that every Loonie quickly learned was the best way to get around.

    “They can’t have been here more than two days,” KC continued, a new hint of hope in his voice. “Maybe less.”

    “Tranquility said the ones they saw seemed to know what they were doing,” Morgan pointed out.

    “Maybe all the competent ones went somewhere else,” KC said. “Maybe we got the runts of the litter. If they really don’t know what they’re doing, it could be the Winter War all over again.”

    “The what?” Morgan asked.

    “The Winter War,” KC said, his voice slipping into what Pappy had heard the other miners privately refer to as his professor mode. “Back in 1939 the Soviets rolled into Finland with an eye toward creating a buffer zone in case Leningrad came under attack. They had the numbers and the guns, but they had no idea what they were doing. They didn’t know how to fight in snowy forests, their winter clothing was ridiculously inadequate, and their olive-drab tanks and khaki uniforms stuck out in the snow like marker paint.”

    “They’d also lost most of their officer corps in Stalin’s 1937 purge,” Pappy murmured. Over a century later, the lessons and tactics of the Winter War were still part of the SAS curriculum.

    “Don’t know about the Uey officers, but that’s the Uey forces, all right,” KC said. “Charging onto our turf with no idea what they’re doing.”

    “Maybe,” Pappy said. “You do know the Finns lost that war, right?”

    “But they held out for a hell of a long time,” KC countered. “I’m just saying we’re starting out with the same home-court advantage the Finns did. And it’ll be a hell of a lot harder for the Ueys to bring in more troops than it was for the Russians.”

    “Maybe,” Pappy said, pitching his voice for caution. Enthusiasm and confidence were necessary. Overconfidence could get you killed. “Morgan, you got them yet?”

    “The minesweepers, yes,” Morgan confirmed. “The tank should be visible any minute. You should probably get your bombs ready.”

    “Right,” Pappy said. “One at a time. I’ll load mine first; KC, keep an eye on them. Give me a shout if they do anything.”

    He dropped into a squat, feeling a small and slightly irrational sense of relief as he temporarily left the enemy’s line of fire — small, because he would eventually have to stand up again; irrational, because there were such things as mortars. A small hop took him to the rear of his foxhole and his catapult.

    The device was hardly a work of art. Still, for all the hasty welds and obvious scrap-heap sourcing of some of the bracing gear, it seemed functional enough. Its grooved ramp was about a meter long, its launch angle adjustable with a hand crank, and was coated with solid lubricant that would send the projectile on its way unhindered. The driving force was provided by a tank of compressed nitrogen, which fed into an intermediate chamber for more precise gaging of launch speed and power, and had a dual nozzle that could also take one of Pappy’s spare oxy tanks in a pinch. A printout of launch angles, compression levels, and range had been attached to the back near the compression gauge where it could be quickly consulted. Pappy had seen better, but he’d also seen far worse.

    It was the projectiles themselves that concerned him.

    He picked up the canister. While it was about the same size and shape as an oxy tank, it was considerably heavier. Heavy enough that he probably would have strained his back if he tried lifting it in Earth gravity. The shell was one of the many ceramics that the Loonies used in building, encased in one of the fracture webs miners like KC used to break off and fragment particularly useful rock outcroppings. Inside, mixed with some kind of propellant, was compressed vacuum cement of the sort used to repair damaged domes, vehicle frames, and pretty much anything else that didn’t need to move.

    Which, of course, was the whole point of using it here.

    If it worked.

    “Morgan, you worked with the people who put these things together, right?” he asked.

    “Not really,” she said. “But a friend of mine did, and I saw her report.”

    “And they tested everything, right?”

    “They tested all the components,” she said. “But they couldn’t do a field test. There isn’t a vacuum chamber big enough.”

    “You’re joking, right?” Pappy growled. “The whole damn moon is a vacuum chamber.”

    “Which the Ueys are watching like hawks.”

    Pappy winced. “Of course they are,” he said. “Stupid of me.”

    “Don’t worry, they’ll work,” Morgan assured him. “They worked fine in the simulations.”

    “You want to know what we called simulations in the SAS?”

    “Probably not.”

    “More soldiers,” KC said. “Three — whoa. You seeing that?”

    “I’m seeing it,” Pappy said grimly.

     Three more soldiers had appeared around the ridge, walking abreast about twenty meters behind the minesweepers. Unlike those first two, though, this group had their MP5s up and ready in hand. Also unlike the first pair, they held clear plastic riot shields in front of them, rectangles about a meter wide and a meter and a half long.

    “Uh-oh,” Morgan murmured.

    “Agreed,” Pappy said. The key to their strategy was to blind the Ueys with paintball rounds into their faceplates and viewports. With those shields in hand, they could take a lot of paint before their vision was even slightly impaired.

    “Don’t worry about it,” KC said. “We’ve got other fish to fry, like you Brits say.”

    “We never say that.”

    “Well, you should,” KC said. “Wait just a secondâ¦let ’em come around the ridge⦔

    And then, there it was, rolling around Waffle Ridge: the Uey tank.

    At first glance it didn’t look like much. It was a Dunsland 400-series, rolling along on eight sets of sponge-rubber, independently-axled tires. The body was about fifteen meters long and three high, with a submarine-style sail/conning tower rising from the main body a couple of meters behind the bow. The driver would be there, along with the observation and navigational gear.

    Dunslands had been the workhorse vehicle early in Luna’s history, the first group of them shipping when there were only three domes instead of the current thirteen. But over the years, as the flaws in the design and operating systems had become apparent, they’d been phased out and replaced by vehicles of the Loonies’ own design. The few Dunslands still in service had mostly been converted to hauling ore in places where mass drivers weren’t practical.

    A point that hadn’t been lost on KC. “Look at that,” he said scornfully. “We’re being attacked by museum pieces.”

    “Probably all they had down there they could grab,” Pappy said. “They haven’t needed to make rovers for us since the Quatermass II debuted.”

    “I’m surprised they didn’t just commandeer some of ours,” Morgan murmured.

 



 

    “What, and have them delivered with sabotage and booby traps already in place?” Pappy shook his head. “They’re not that stupid.”

    “At least they picked a wheeled rover instead of a tracked one,” KC said. “That could have been awkward. But you see up there on the sail? Those are the fish I was talking about.”

    “I see them,” Pappy acknowledged. On both sides of the Dunsland’s sail the Ueys had welded one-man personnel cages, where watchful soldiers stood with Kord 9P150 light machine guns swivel-mounted on the front rims of their cages. Neither man carried a sidearm that he could see, but both had spare 150-round canisters secured to their utility webbing. Like the minesweepers and the shieldbearers, both were wearing torso vests.

    But unlike the shieldbearers, their faceplates were presented nakedly to the sun and the harsh lunar environment.

    And to the Loonies’ paintguns.

    “So I’m thinking we go for those sail gunners first,” KC said. “Then the Dunsland’s viewports, then the minesweepers. How’s that sound?”

    “Let’s do the minesweepers before the viewports,” Pappy said. “We don’t want the Dunsland stopping short just because the driver can’t see. By that same token, Morgan, they might speed up when the shooting starts, so be ready.”

    “Got it,” Morgan said. “Looks like they’re going to hug the Waffle.”

    Pappy nodded. They would have seen the other side of the ridge on their approach, confirmed that no one was lurking there, and now they would hug this side of the low ridge to guard against any last-minute attacks along that flank. “Just bear in mind that they could suddenly go into a zigzag if their commander smells a rat.”

    “I’ll be ready,” Morgan assured him.

    “Are we done talking yet?” KC said. The earlier amusement was gone from his voice, leaving just the original stress behind. Maybe he’d taken a good look at those Kord 9P150 machineguns.

    “Almost ready,” Pappy soothed. “Let’s let them get just a little closer. When I give the word, you take the minesweepers, I’ll take the machinegunners.”

    “Got it.”

    Moving slowly and carefully, Pappy set his paintgun’s barrel on the edge of the foxhole, leaning down so he could look through his scope. He’d made sure the team’s spacesuits were painted with the best lunar rock camo Hadley’s artists and geologists could come up with, and their faceplates had been done up in a crosshatch that should provide similar protection without interfering too much with their vision.

    But the guns themselves were too narrow for a proper silhouette-breaking methods, and while they’d been painted to match the local whites and grays the result was far from perfect. Given time, Pappy could have worked up some kind of shroud to do the trick, but time had been of the essence. Additional refinements would have to wait for Round Two.

    Assuming, of course, the citizens of Hadley Dome survived Round One. Right now, that was still up in the air.

    The Dunsland and its escorts were moving closer. Pappy peered through his scope, lining up the crosshairs on the left-hand machinegunner, reminding himself firmly that he’d already pre-ranged the scope for exactly this distance. Lunar drop was considerably less than on Earth, and of course there was no windage to worry about. All of that made targeting much simpler.

    But the Dunsland was two hundred meters away. At that distance, even a spacesuit faceplate was a damn small target, not to mention the shot he was actually going for.

    He took a quick moment to check his partners. To his left, KC was peering through his scope, his gloved finger resting on the trigger. To his right, Morgan was likewise watching the Ueys’ approach.

    Unlike her companions, though, her hands were nowhere near her gun’s trigger. Instead, she was balancing a small relay box on her left palm, its protective cover open, her right forefinger resting on one of the two toggle switches inside.

    It was the one piece of this plan that absolutely depended on a functioning radio, and Pappy sent up a quick prayer that the Ueys weren’t jamming all Loonie transmissions just for the hell of it.

    He turned his attention back to his own scope. Almost timeâ¦almostâ¦

    Time. “Fire,” he said quietly. Holding his breath, he gently squeezed the trigger. There was a brief kick against his shoulder, hardly even noticeable through the heavy material and air pressure of his suitâ¦

    And a sudden blossom of red exploded across his view.

    Not onto the machinegunner’s faceplate. Faceplates were the obvious target, and even an untrained miner like KC could hit that. Former SAS elites, on the other hand, should he held to higher standards.

    And so Pappy watched in satisfaction as the thick red paint hit, congealed, and — hopefully — jammed the firing mechanism of the machinegunner’s Kord. The rest of the paint spattered harmlessly across the gunner’s torso.

    “Got him!” KC crowed.

    “Great,” Pappy said. The scope image abruptly blurred as the soldier swung his weapon around — “Now duck!”

    Leaving his gun stretched out across the ground, Pappy bent his knees and dropped down out of sight. Just in time; a fraction of a second later the ground around his foxhole began exploding with dust and rock chips as the Ueys opened fire.

    It was a curious sensation, watching the barrage take place without even a breath of an accompanying bang-bang-bang. His own shot hadn’t been so jarring, gut-level speaking — paintball guns were pretty quiet even on Earth, and it had been easy to get used to the loss of that small chuff up here. But Kords and MP5s were horrendously noisy things, and all the three-shot bursts popping soundlessly around him gave him the eerie sensation of suddenly having been struck deaf.

    Which made Morgan’s sudden voice in his ear both jarring and a welcome relief. “Here they come,” she called. “Pappy? They’re almost there.”

    “Yeah, I’m here,” Pappy said. Bracing himself, he eased carefully up again. The potshots were still coming, though the sheer ferocity of that initial response had faded as the Ueys apparently decided they were wasting ammo. It was a risk to show himself, but he needed to see this.

    He made it back to viewing height without anyone putting a round through his helmet. Getting a grip on his gun, he refocused the scope on his earlier target.

    One glance at the soldier fumbling with the Kord’s firing mechanism was all he needed to confirm that the paintball had at least temporarily put the weapon out of action. Smiling to himself, he lowered the scope to the tank’s front wheels.

    The Dunsland had sped up, just as he’d warned it might, and was lumbering toward the innocent-looking crack in the ground where he and Morgan had set their trap. “Okay, get ready,” he said. He and Morgan had examined the undercarriages of every vehicle that fit the description of Tranquility’s observers, and he had no doubt that Morgan could do this without any help from him. But he’d been in enough high-pressure situations to know that having someone standing beside you, even figuratively, was an immense psychological help. The Dunsland rolled over the crackâ¦

    At Morgan’s electronic command, the crack erupted into a spray of compressed nitrogen and multiple coils of monofilament line. Even as the cloud of gas dissipated the tank rolled squarely into the floating loops, its motion tangling them around the wheels, the axles, and into every angle and nook of the driving motors.

    And with an abruptness that would probably have been accompanied by an ear-wrenching screech if the vehicle had been on pavement on Earth, the Dunsland ground to a halt.

    “We got it,” Morgan breathed, sounding immensely relieved and vaguely surprised. “It worked –“

    She broke off as another volley of gunfire spattered silently around the foxholes. “Down,” Pappy ordered as he again ducked.

    This time, though, a single salvo seemed to be all the Ueys were willing to spend. The bullets stopped flying; carefully, Pappy raised his head.

 



 

    His hope, between the paintballs and the monofil coils, had been to stop the Uey advance. For the moment, at least, they’d succeeded. The two minesweepers were heading back toward the Dunsland, one of them leading the other by the hand. The rearmost turned his head slightly, and Pappy could see the bright red splotch from KC’s paintball neatly covering his faceplate. The machinegunner whose Kord Pappy had disabled was still trying to clear it, while his partner on the other side of the sail kept his weapon trained on the foxhole area. Even through the bulky suits there was a stiffness to their stances that showed their frustration and anger. The three shieldbearers had also retreated a few paces and were now standing shoulder to shoulder a few meters in front of the Dunsland, also facing their Loonie opponents. The Dunsland’s rear side hatch had swung open, and a half dozen more Ueys were climbing awkwardly out onto the surface. Like the shieldbearers, they carried MP5s at their sides; unlike those other troops, they were carrying tools instead of shields.

    “Are those wire cutters?” KC asked.

    “Yes,” Morgan confirmed. She did something with her scope, probably zooming in a bit more. “A couple of them have small torches, too.”

    Pappy smiled tightly. For all the good that would do them. From the strength of the monofil the Ueys clearly assumed it was wire, and were preparing their counter accordingly.

    Only the stuff now wrapped tightly around their axles was probably too thin for standard wire cutters, and the synthetic material had a melting point that was almost certainly higher than that of the tank’s driving gear. Most Loonies had had experience with the stuff getting where it wasn’t wanted, and knew the only efficient way to deal with it was a specifically designed solvent.

    But like most things about Luna and the Loonies, the people who ran United Earth didn’t have a clue about that.

    “Looks like I’m up,” KC said briskly. “Pappy?”

    “Go,” Pappy said. “But watch yourself — the man with the working machinegun looks seriously annoyed. Morgan? What’s his range?”

    “One hundred eighty-three meters,” Morgan said.

    “One-eighty-three, got it.” KC ducked out of sight.

    The newcomers from the back of the tank were clustered around the front now, working no doubt industriously at the snarled axles. Pappy shifted his scope to the shieldbearers, still holding their ground in front of the tank, then at the machinegunners standing vigil above.

    Should he try to lob in a few more paintballs while KC finished getting his bomb ready? There was no point in shooting at the shieldbearers — their shields were being held high enough to protect their faceplates. The repair crew, for the most part, had their backs to him, and were furthermore blocking any shot into the axle mechanism. He didn’t know if the paint would do anything to the heavier-duty gear there, but with the monofil in place there was no point in wasting ammo. Besides which, every shot he or the others took risked the Ueys zooming in on their exact locations.

    But that remaining machinegunner was a tempting target, and well worth the risk of exposure. The soldier had his Kord leveled, which unfortunately put the firing mechanism out of Pappy’s reach, and in the man’s current semicrouch his shoulder and left arm were partially blocking his faceplate.

    Still, most of the faceplate was visible. It was worth the risk, Pappy decided. Especially as it would provide some distraction until KC was ready —

    “Bombs away!”

    Pappy looked over just as the cylinder blasted out of KC’s foxhole, arcing its leisurely way toward the tank.

    And that was that. When the bomb hit the ground by the wheels and blasted its cargo of cement into the drive mechanism, the Ueys might as well kiss the Dunsland goodbye and start walking. The only question would be whether they would walk toward Hadley Dome and try to attack on foot or else retreat back to wherever their local staging area was for this operation. The canister hit the top of its arc and started back down.

    In perfect unison, the three shieldbearers jumped straight up, still shoulder to shoulder, the edges of their shields pressed together. They rose higher, their momentum and timing moving them directly into the cylinder’s path.

    And as Pappy watched in disbelief and chagrin, their shields intercepted the bomb. There was a burst of foamy white liquid as the canister exploded —

    And then the Ueys were floating back down to the surface. Their shields were now cemented solidly together, with the handful of stray tendrils that had flowed over the shield tops sticking rigidly out into space like frozen octopus legs. One tendril, thicker than the others, had managed to say liquid long enough to attach itself to the shoulder of the Uey on the end.

    The shields had been rendered mostly useless. One of the soldiers would similarly be at minimal performance until he could get the cement off his suit.

    But the Dunsland — the immobilizing of which had been whole reason for the bombs in the first place — had escaped unscathed.

    “Well, damn,” KC growled. “How the hell did they know we had vac-cement bombs?”

    “I doubt they did,” Pappy said. “The plan was just for them to block anything we threw at them.”

    “Including real bombs?”

    Pappy nodded. “Including real bombs.”

    “Damn idiots,” KC muttered. “They could have died right there.”

    “They’re soldiers,” Pappy said soberly. “That’s what soldiers do.”

    There was a moment of silence. Across by the Dunsland, the three men and their — now — single shield were heading around the rear of the tank. One of them was trying to bounce, but the other two still insisted on using their awkward walk and the third gave up after a couple of steps and went back to doing it their way. “So it’s back to paintballs?” KC asked.

    “At least until they clear out the monofil,” Pappy said, peering through his scope. Somewhere during the confusion the machinegunner he’d paintballed had disappeared from his cage, presumably going back inside where he could work on his Kord with fingers instead of gauntlets.

    The other guard was still standing ready, though. He would be the first target, Pappy decided, followed by the Dunsland’s own viewports. As long as the vehicle was stalled, he might as well keep it that way as long as possible.

    “Hold it,” Morgan said suddenly. “More company, coming around the Dunsland’s right side.”

    Pappy scowled as he shifted his scope that direction. More company, and more shields. Three more shieldbearers had appeared from the rear hatch, moving briskly toward the front to take their cemented comrades’ positions.

    “Damn,” KC muttered. “I was hoping to get another shot at the wheels.”

    “We still might,” Pappy said, frowning at the untangling group by the wheels. They seemed to be having a conversation of sorts. Which, judging by some of the hand gestures, was becoming a little heated.

    Morgan had noticed it, too. “What do you think they’re arguing about?” she asked uneasily. “Maybe whether to give up on the Dunsland and just go in on foot?”

    “Will that get them what they want?” Pappy asked.

    Morgan threw him a quick frown. “What?”

    “The Mimic,” he said pointedly. “Can they get it out of Hadley without the Dunsland?”

    “Who needs their Dunsland?” KC scoffed. “There are ten other vehicles that size in there they could commandeer.”

    “And risk getting out in the middle of nowhere when the Loonies’ sabotage catches up with them?” Pappy shook his head. “I sure as hell wouldn’t take that risk with a borrowed vehicle. So; Morgan?”

    “I can’t tell you, Pappy,” she said, her voice tight.

    “You have to,” Pappy insisted. “I need to know what I’m working with. I need to know the parameters. I need to know what I’ve got in the way of bargaining position if it comes to that.”

    “Bargaining?” KC asked. “Who says we’re going to bargain with them?”

    “If it comes to that,” Pappy repeated. “Morgan?”

    “Hold that thought, Pappy,” KC said. “They’re up to something.”

    Pappy looked back at the Dunsland. The Ueys had finished their discussion and four of the six headed back toward the rear hatch. They met the replacement shieldbearers halfway along the side and the two groups passed each other. “Giving up so soon?” he murmured.

 



 

    “Probably decided to try something else,” Morgan said. “Maybe acids or a different type of cutter.”

    “Or they’re just going to get more guns,” KC muttered.

    “They need the Dunsland to move the Mimic,” Pappy said. “Right, Morgan?”

    She didn’t answer. “Fine,” Pappy growled. “Either way, this is our chance.”

    “Our chance for what?” KC muttered.

    “To take the bastards down for good,” Pappy said, frowning. KC’s tone had suddenly taken a nosedive. “You okay, KC?”

    “Oh, sure,” KC said. He didn’t sound especially okay. “My brain just caught up with me, that’s all. They’ve got machineguns. They’ve got soldiers. We’ve got paintballs. What the hell are we doing?”

    “Our job,” Pappy said firmly. “So they’ve got numbers. We’ve got brains.” He nodded toward the Dunsland. “Let’s give them another cement bomb.”

    “Okay.” There was a hollow-sounding hiss as KC took a deep breath. “So where do the brains come in?”

    “Right now,” Pappy said. “Morgan, get your catapult ready. As soon as that new batch of shieldbearers are in position between us and them, lob your bomb at the tank.”

    “They’ll just block it again,” Morgan warned.

    “Yep,” Pappy agreed. “And once they’ve done that, while they’re floating back down, I’ll throw my bomb. They won’t be able to react, and hopefully no one else will have time to, either.”

    The last word was barely out of his mouth when the remaining machinegunner abruptly opened fire again.

    Reflexively, Pappy ducked his head, only then noticing that the rounds weren’t coming anywhere near his foxhole. Instead, the entire salvo seemed to be going in KC’s direction.

    But not at his foxhole. Instead, they bullets were blasting into the steep-faced rock stack on KC’s far side, splintering them into stone chips and sending them spinning into the sky in lazy arcs.

    “Too late, Bozo,” KC said sarcastically, lifting a one fingered salute toward the Ueys even as he prudently ducked his head below ground level. “I already used my bomb. And you’re a lousy shot, too.”

    Pappy caught his breath as he suddenly understood. “KC — down!” he snapped. “He’s not missing. He’s trying for a ricochet!”

    KC snarled a curse. “Son of a bi –“

    The word disintegrated into a grunt of pain. “Aahh!”

    And to Pappy’s horror he saw twin puffs of expanding air drift up out of the other foxhole. “KC?” he snapped.

    There was nothing but a low moan. “KC?” he called again. The Uey machinegunner was still firing into the rock stack. “Report, soldier.”

    “Yeah,” KC said. It was more a curse than a word. “Yeah. Okay. Got me.”

    “How bad?” Pappy asked. He couldn’t see any more leaking air, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Even autoseal could only do so much, and it was entirely possible that the ricochet had dug a hole big enough that the suit would have no choice but to close off the affected area. In that case, one of KC’s limbs or a large section of his torso could already be exposed to vacuum. “Where are you hit?”

    “I don’t think it’s too bad,” KC said through clenched teeth. “Shoulder — hurts like hell. And I think he got my helmet, too.”

    Pappy mouthed a curse. “Okay, hang on,” he said, unplugging his direct line to KC. He started to unplug Morgan’s as well —  “Morgan, I need cover fire,” he said. “On three, start firing at anything over there with a faceplate, starting with that SOB with the machinegun. And for God’s sake, keep your head down.”

    “If I keep my head down, I’m not going to be able to hit anything,” she warned.

    “I don’t care if you hit him,” Pappy said. “I just need him too busy to shoot at me. One, two, three.”

    He yanked out her comm cable, put his hands on the edge of his foxhole, and with a convulsive push launched himself out onto the surface. Keeping as low as he could, his skin crawling with anticipation of the bullet that was surely on its way, he crossed the open ground in a handful of short kangaroo bounces and jumped into KC’s foxhole.

    And nearly landed on the other man. KC was sprawled on the bottom of the hole, twitching, his left hand over his shoulder as if he was trying to pat himself on the back. Pappy managed to find two open spaces for his feet as he fell and landed in a crouch straddling the other man’s torso.

    KC had been hit, all right. The bright orange of fresh autoseal showed where a bullet had cut through his back on an angle and eventually penetrated somewhere in the vicinity of his right shoulder blade. Another, more worrisome spot of orange showed on the back of his helmet. It was less angled than the one on his back, indicating it had gone in at a steeper angle.

    Steep enough, and traveling fast enough, to penetrate KC’s skull? Because if it had, the man was in serious trouble.

    Pappy took a deep breath. First things first. Yanking open his emergency kit, he pulled out a set of patches and carefully spread them out over the two tears. The med readout jack was on the front of KC’s suit, momentarily out of reach. Pappy double-checked both patches, then leaned forward and pressed his helmet against KC’s. “Can you hear me?” he called.

    “Yeah,” KC’s voice came back, distant and tinny. “How’s it look back there?”

    “Stable,” Pappy said. “How about in there? Are you bleeding?”

    “Don’t know. Haven’t checked.”

    Pappy blinked. “Say again?”

    “Of course I’m damn bleeding,” KC bit out. “I’ve got a bullet in my back, you idiot. Hurts like hell.”

    “Okay, hang on.” Digging another comm cable from his kit, Pappy plugged them together. “Can you hear me better now?”

    “Yeah, fine.”

    “I’m here too,” Morgan added. “How does he look?”

    “That’s what we’re going to find out,” Pappy said. “What about our friends out there?”

    “I emptied most of my first magazine at them,” Morgan said. “They stopped shooting, so I did, too.”

    “Are they coming toward us?”

    “No, they’re still sticking close to the Dunsland,” she said. “The four who went inside are back, though, and all six are working on the wheels again.”

    So the Ueys still hadn’t gotten the axles unsnarled. That should buy them at least a little more time. “Keep watching,” he said. “KC, we’re going to roll you up onto your left side — nice and easy — and get a look at your med readout.”

    “Sure,” KC said. “You know, I might have popped a painkiller. I don’t really remember.”

    “If you don’t remember, you probably did,” Pappy said. The side-effects of the painkillers they packed into Loonie suits were well-known and just a bit spooky. “I’ll check. Okay; nice and easy.”

    “I think my head might be bleeding, too,” KC continued. Already the pain was fading from his voice and being replaced by a sort of dreaminess. “I’ve got some blood dripping on my faceplate.”

    “Got it,” Pappy said, wincing. Dripping was probably okay, at least for the short term. Gushing or pouring would be very, very bad. “Just relax. I’ll do this.” Between the lower gravity and the inherent padding effects of the suit itself, he got KC on his side with a minimum of effort on his part and only a few vague comments of discomfort on KC’s.

    SAS doctrine trained you to be prepared for the worst. In this case, fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as Pappy had feared. The med display indicated a small-caliber bullet lodged below KC’s right shoulder blade and a shallow furrow across the back of his head. Neither was immediately life-threatening, but both needed attention.

    “Pappy?” Morgan called hesitantly. “How is he?”

    “He’ll be okay,” Pappy assured her, falling back on the standard low-information answer for when you didn’t want people to worry. KC’s comm cable back to Hadley Dome was hanging down the back of the foxhole, over the catapult. Pappy plugged it into his suit and cut KC and Morgan out of the circuit. “Eagle Four to Hadley,” he called. “We have a man down; repeat, man down. We need that MASH truck, stat.”

    There was no answer. “Hadley, this is Eagle Four,” he repeated, louder this time. “Hadley, please respond.”

    “This is Hadley Control,” a harried voice came back. “Who is this?”

    “Eagle Four,” Pappy said. “Where the hell were you?”

 



 

    “Sorry, Eagle, sorry,” the other said, sounding even more harried. “Lot of stuff happening. I was just — I’m running the whole periphery comm. All six Eagles.”

    A cold feeling settled in on the back of Pappy’s neck. “Are there other attacks going on? Where?”

    “No, no, no other attacks,” the controller said hastily. “Someone spotted a drone, and there was a big discussion on whether we should shoot it down.”

    “You didn’t, I hope,” Pappy said. The drone had probably been sent for the express purpose of drawing fire from Hadley’s defenses so the Ueys could see exactly what they were facing. As a general rule, the longer an enemy could be kept guessing, the better.

    “No, no,” the controller said. “It just took a while to decide.”

    “Yeah,” Pappy said through clenched teeth. Decision gridlock was bad enough among trained and experienced military people. Throwing complete amateurs into the mix just exacerbated the problem.

    But he’d better get used to it. Aside from a few ex-military like Pappy himself, amateurs were all the Loonies had.

    “If you’ve got that sorted out, we have a man down,” he growled. A burst of gunfire spattered on the ground around the foxhole, and he crouched a little lower, giving KC a quick look to make sure he hadn’t taken another ricochet. “Two bullet injuries, one of them a head shot. Get that MASH truck rolling.”

    “Oh, God,” the controller gasped. “Who got — I mean how bad –?”

    “Bad enough that we need the MASH truck,” Pappy cut him off impatiently. This clown put the most garrulous SAS controller to compete and utter shame. “Transfer me to the truck and I’ll give them the details.”

    “I can do that,” the controller said. “What about the Uey tank? Devereux said there was a Dunsland 406 rigged out as a tank?”

    “Yeah, and we’re working on it,” Pappy said. “Get the truck moving so I can get off the comm and work on it some more.”

    “It’s not disabled?”

    Pappy glared at the mountains hiding Hadley Dome from sight. What the hell was this? “No, it’s not disabled. Does that matter?”

    “Oh, God,” the controller muttered. “I’m so sorry, Eagle Four. I can’t send the truck until the Dunsland’s been disabled.”

    Pappy felt his mouth drop open. “What?”

    “Orders,” the controller said, sounding completely miserable now. “Command says we can’t send the truck when there’s a chance it’ll be destroyed. It’s the only one we’ve got. We can’t afford to lose it.”

    Pappy took a deep breath. Strategically, he could see, it made sense. Assets, balance, and costs were all part of military analysis, and in the long run a fully-equipped rolling medical facility was far more valuable than a single soldier’s life.

    But KC was part of his team, damn it. He was Pappy’s responsibility, and there was no way in hell he the man was going to slowly bleed out just because someone sitting in a climate-controlled office had put together a spread sheet. “Fine,” he ground out. “Just get it warmed up and the crew inside. I’ll call you when it’s safe for them to come out in the sunshine.”

    He yanked out the cable without waiting for a response and linked KC and Morgan back in. “Okay, they’re coming,” he said. “How you holding up, KC?”

    “Okay,” KC said, with the muddled tone that showed the painkillers were going full force. “Listen, I don’t thinkâ¦I’m still getting drips running down my neck. You sure the press-patch is working?”

    Pappy winced. The suits had an inner layer that was supposed to swell up against broken bones or sprained joints, immobilizing them long enough for a trip to the nearest dome and a proper med facility. But whether the system could put the necessary pressure in a small enough spot to stop a bleeder was a big unknown.

    And the helmets didn’t have that, at least not above neck level. The graze on KC’s skull was going to keep bleeding until they could get him out of that suit and onto a treatment table.

    Which left him two options. He could disable the Dunsland so the rice-counters in Hadley would send the MASH truck, or he could carry KC back to the dome on his own.

    He lifted his head cautiously to eyeball level. And whichever one he picked, he needed to do it fast. If the enthusiastic action by the Dunsland’s front wheels was any indication, they were getting close to unsnarling the monofil. Any minute now the vehicle would be on its way again, with nothing to stop it except him and Morgan.

    He frowned. The tank had come in right beside Waffle Ridge, as a guard against flank attack. It had been brought to its forced halt about twenty meters along the ridge, too far for a sneak attack from the rear even if most of the Ueys were working at the front.

    But KC had called Waffle a cross-eye. Pappy hadn’t known the name was used for that particular ridge, but he had heard the term before. Maybe. “KC, why did you call Waffle Ridge a Cross-eye?” he asked.

    “What?” KC muttered. “Oh. ‘Cause it’s frangible rock. Look at it cross-eyed and it comes right down on you. Hate that.”

    “Don’t blame you,” Pappy said, studying the ridge and the surrounding terrain. Waffle Ridge ran all the way along their current right flank, passing within ten meters of Morgan’s foxhole. It was just as steep there as it was by the Dunsland, but he could see a couple of potential hop spots that might get him to the top.

    It would be tricky. It would also possibly get him shot, unless the Ueys were trying to be reasonable. But right now, it was all he had. “Okay,” he said, crouching down and picking up one of KC’s spare oxy tanks. “Morgan, get one of your oxy tanks and point the valve toward the Dunsland. When I give the word, crank it open and try to blow as much dust off the ground as you can. I’ll do the same over here.” Somehow, he added silently to himself as he looked around the foxhole. He could hardly hold the tank while he was scrambling madly to get over Waffle Ridge.

    “What are you going to do?” Morgan asked.

    “They won’t send the MASH truck until the Uey tank’s been disabled,” Pappy said. “So I’m going to.”

    “How?”

    “You just concentrate on making as much dust in front of us as you can,” Pappy said, looking back at the catapult. The contraptions were heavy and unwieldly, and it had taken all three of them to get them into the foxholes in the first place. But if he could get it up onto the rim and brace itâ¦

    “I’ll do that,” KC wheezed.

    And to Pappy’s amazement, the other levered himself up off the foxhole floor. He took a moment to balance himself, then gestured to the tank in Pappy’s hands. “Get it up there,” he said, “and I’ll hold it.”

    “You sure?” Pappy asked.

    “Beats waiting forever for the bus,” KC said. “Get going before they start moving again.”

    “Okay,” Pappy said. He manhandled the tank up onto the rim and pointed the nozzle toward the ground in front of them. There was a dust-filled depression five meters out that should do the trick. “Morgan?”

    “Ready,” she said. “Be careful.”

    “I will.” Pappy helped KC into position, then ducked down again and grabbed another oxy tank and the cutting torch from KC’s catapult-repair equipment. “On three,” he said, standing upright again and peering toward the Dunsland. Of all the soldiers, only the machinegunner seemed to have his full attention pointed in their direction. “One, two, three.” He twisted the valve wide open.

 



 

    He’d expected the escaping gas to blow the dust into a fine mist. Instead, the whole puddle exploded into a roiling tornado-like swirl of powder and rock chips. Pappy bounded out of the foxhole, the spare oxy tank cradled in his arms, and set off in short, quick hops toward the ridge. He passed his foxhole, briefly coming into a partial clear, then disappeared behind another dust cloud as he bounced behind Morgan’s position. She was doing an even better job than KC, systematically sweeping her oxy tank back and forth to create an entire wall of dust that reached from the edge of Pappy’s own foxhole all the way to Waffle Ridge. Pappy reached the ridge, bent his knees, and leaped as high up along the side as he could, landing on a slab of rock jutting out from the rest of the slope.

    And flailed for balance as the slab promptly broke off beneath him.

    Frangible, KC had said. Damn rotten balsa wood, he might have warned.

    The first casualty was Pappy’s left knee — the one on his bad leg, naturally — as it banged against the remains of the ledge hard enough to be felt through the suit. The second casualty was the oxy tank, which went flying as Pappy scrambled for handholds. He managed to hang onto the cutting torch as he regained his balance, found another even more marginal bit of footing, and leaped again. Two more jumps from equally fragile footholds and he was finally at the top.

    He caught a slender spire and redirected himself over the sharp-edged crest. The footing on the other side was even more treacherous, and this time the torch also went flying as he grabbed at everything available in an effort to slow himself down. He succeeded, mostly, and landed on the ground with a jolt. For a moment he crouched there, wincing at the sharp pain in his knee and watching for signs that the Ueys might have spotted him. He had no idea how high Morgan’s dust cloud had gone, but there was a fair chance he’d come out of its protection before he cleared the crest.

    But whether they’d spotted him or not, he still had the initiative. Retrieving the torch, he got back to his feet and started hopping toward the Ueys.

    He’d made note of the distinct rock pattern at the top of the ridge beside the tank, and while rock patterns didn’t always look the same from different angles this one was unique enough to show when he arrived. Unlike the spot by the foxholes, the slope here was somewhat gentler, and he was able to climb it with a minimum of trouble and no false steps. He reached the crest and eased his helmet over for a look.

    It was quickly apparent that the Ueys hadn’t caught his mountain goat act. The scene was exactly as he’d left it, with two trios of shieldbearers standing guard against anything thrown from the Loonie side of the arena, two machinegunners in their cages — apparently the one had managed to get his Kord cleaned enough to function again, or else had had a spare — and the rest of the team working at getting the monofil out of the front axles.

    He felt his lip twist as that first bit belatedly registered. Two trios of shieldbearers. There had been only one such team when he’d set off a few minutes ago.

    And that was going to pretty much ruin his plan of throwing two vac cement bombs in rapid succession. If the Ueys were on their toes, two teams meant they’d be able to intercept both of them.

    Still, if Pappy did his job here, the bombs might not be necessary. He eased his head up far enough to see the tank’s rear axles, noted the corresponding spot below him on the ridge, and lowered himself out of view. Moving as quickly as he could, he worked his way sideways to that place.

    As he’d already discovered to his detriment, the ridge was largely composed of loose and breakable rock. About a meter below the crest he found a conveniently placed indentation. It wasn’t quite big enough, but by extending his air hose to its fullest length he was able to use the bottom of his oxy tank to hammer out enough rock to make the hole big enough for what he needed.

    On Earth he would never have gotten away with something like that — the racket of metal on rock would have brought the enemy down on him in double-quick time. But here, in the near-vacuum of Luna, the Ueys on the far side of the ridge wouldn’t hear a thing.

    And best of all, odds were that that potential weakness hadn’t even occurred to them. Maybe there was something to KC’s Winter War analogy, after all.

    Of course, like everything else in warfare, Luna’s vacuum was a two-edged sword. Now that Pappy had silently gouged out his hole, he needed something to fill it with. And with the loss of his extra oxygen tank, there was only one option.

    According to the specs, a modern spacesuit held enough air on its own to keep its wearer alive for ten minutes if heavily active and half an hour if completely passive. Pappy wasn’t sure exactly where in that range he would end up, but probably dangerously close to the front. Taking a few deep breaths, he jammed the tank into the hole in the rock, wedged the torch underneath it and locked it on, and unfastened the hose. Then, with the ominous sense of a timer counting down in his head, he bounced his way down to ground level and headed back toward the Loonie foxholes.

    Every couple of hops he glanced back to see what was happening with his pressure bomb. On the fourth such glance, he saw the oxy tank explode, blowing the top of the ridge into a vertical avalanche and raining slow-falling rocks across the whole area.

    Probably none of them would be close enough to give Pappy any trouble. Just the same, he turned his attention forward again and picked up his pace. Flying rocks or furious Ueys aside, his air was still running out.

    The spot where he’d first crossed the ridge, at least, was obvious from the scattering of freshly broken rock at the base. He took a moment to visually pick out his route, and started up.

    Luck, recent experience, and the fact that he now had both hands free combined to get him up the rock wall without falling. He peered over the top, confirmed that the ground below him was clear, and started down.

    And lost his balance completely as the top of the ridge beside him splintered in a spattering of gunfire.

    He tried to catch himself as he toppled toward the ground, or at least slow his fall. But the useful handholds were few and far between, and in the end his efforts didn’t make much difference in his impact speed. But he did at least manage to turn himself upright, enabling himself to land on his feet instead of his side or back.

    Which turned out not to be much of a gain. His bad left leg, freshly stressed by the earlier thump against his knee, collapsed under him as he hit the ground, sending him toppling into a bouncing impact on his left side.

    He had rolled over onto his stomach and was starting to push himself back to his feet when another burst of chips blasted from the ground just in front of him. He dropped back to the ground, spun around onto his right side, and looked behind him.

    Just in time to see the soldier who’d apparently followed him back from the Dunsland topple backwards off the ridge, his flailing gun the last thing to disappear from sight. Pappy rolled back onto his stomach and again started to push himself back up.

    And once again dropped flat as a second explosion of rock chips erupted from the ground in front of him.

    Damn, damn, double damn. Pappy pressed himself as close to the ground as he could, cursing to himself as another bunch of chips and dust popped from the ground along his path. He’d assumed from the Ueys’ previous behavior that they had orders either to go easy on the Loonies, to conserve ammo, or both. Clearly, those orders had now gone by the boards. Whatever his oxy tank bomb had done, it had apparently made a nice mess of things.

 



 

    Another burst of chips. Still, at least they weren’t mad enough to open up with full-auto. The machinegunner chipping away at the lunar landscape was limiting his attacks to single shots and three-shot bursts.

    Pappy frowned. Unless the gunner wasn’t mad at all. Unless this was part of a deliberate, carefully coordinated strategy.

    But to what end? He had Pappy pinned down, but that still left KC and Morgan free and clear. Granted, aside from two more cement bombs the Loonies didn’t have any real weaponry, but the Ueys didn’t necessarily know that.

    Unlessâ¦

    Carefully, Pappy eased up onto his left side and looked back over his shoulder at the spot where the Uey had opened fire before losing his balance and falling backward. Eyeballing the vector for his fireâ¦

    Pappy hissed between his teeth. From that vantage point, not only could the soldier pin down Pappy, but he also had a clear shot into Morgan’s foxhole. There should be enough space along the side for her to be safe from direct fire, but there would be no way she could make any countermoves from that position. Both of them would be sitting ducks.

    And the remaining member of their group, KC, was already injured and half out of action. A little more judicious gunfire from their two gunners, and the Ueys would be able to clear the Dunsland and roll into Hadley Dome at their leisure, with their three opponents unable to do anything but watch helplessly as they drove past.

    Or rather, two of them would watch helplessly. Pappy himself would be long dead. He wondered if the soldier on the ridge had noticed his lack of oxy tank before losing his footing. Or, if he’d noticed, if he cared.

    Mentally, Pappy shook his head. Irrelevant. What was relevant was that he was about to die, and Morgan was about to come under attack, and without a direct-line cable there was no way he could communicate with her or otherwise make plans without the Ueys having a front-row eavesdropping seat.

    Another shot, well wide of the mark. Still, Pappy couldn’t stay here forever. He started moving forward, noting with distant annoyance that the standard SAS elbow-and-knee crawl didn’t work nearly as well in lunar gravity, where it had a distinct tendency to make him bounce. He got about a meter when there was another shot, this one a triple, just in front of him.

    And with that, there was no longer a choice. A shot that close strongly suggested they Ueys were losing patience; and if it was a choice between getting shot and suffocating, he might as well go with the shot. Lunging up to his feet, keeping his attention on the machinegunners on the Dunsland, he leaned forward and bounded toward Morgan’s foxhole.

    Out of the corner of his eye he spotted something moving in his direction from Morgan’s direction. Reflexively, he dodged sideways, fighting to keep from losing his balance as he snapped his attention back that way.

    It was a cable — a comm cable — snaking gracefully toward him. He grabbed it, his eyes tracking it back to Morgan’s foxhole. She was standing mostly upright, her helmet partially exposed, either oblivious to the machinegunners or else ignoring them, her faceplate turned toward Pappy, her paintball gun gripped in her hand but pointed toward the sky. Pappy gave another bounce, fumbling the comm cable jack into his suit —

    “Get down!” she snapped.

    It was the first time Pappy had ever heard Morgan use that tone. But he knew how to respond to it. Even as he bent his knees for his next hop he froze his legs in place, letting himself topple to the ground onto his outstretched hands.

    Or tried to. To his consternation, his elbows buckled unexpectedly under the impact, dropping him flat on his face and stomach. He blinked with disbeliefâ¦

    And suddenly realized he was gasping for breath, his lungs burning, his muscles twitching as he rushed toward the limit of his air supply. Something flew out of the foxhole ahead, arcing over his head. He grabbed for a rocky protuberance, but discovered his fingers wouldn’t close solidly around it. There was another motion in front of him, something bigger this time, but he couldn’t tell what it was through the sudden sparkling glitter sprinkling across his vision.

    A shadow passed over the rock he was trying to grab, plunging it into darkness. The darkness and the sparkling made it nearly impossible to see, but he couldn’t remember why he wanted it in the first place. He tried again anyway, forcing his fingers to closeâ¦

    Without warning, a flood of cool air washed over him.

    He inhaled deeply, aware that he was panting again, only this time actually clearing out his lungs. The sparkling in his vision faded away, the pounding in his ears diminished —

    “– Pappy?”

    “Yeah,” he managed. His voice sounded like something coming from a frog pond. “Yeah.”

    “Come on.” Someone — the big shadow from earlier — Morgan? — grabbed his arm and dragged him toward the nearby foxhole. Pappy pressed a hand against the ground, trying to help by pushing himself along as he felt strength starting to flow back into the weakened muscles.

    And then, abruptly, he remembered.

    He twisted half over, nearly breaking Morgan’s grip on his arm in the process, and looked behind him. The Uey soldier who’d followed him must surely have recovered from his fall and scaled the ridge again.

    He had. He was there now, along with a companion who hadn’t shown himself earlier. Both of them were leaning half over the crest, their long-barreled pistols gripped in their hands.

    Both of them glued solidly to each other and the rock of the ridge by a cake-frosting spatter of glistening white from a vac cement bomb. Which, Pappy realized now, must have been the smaller shadow that had passed over him while he was suffocating.

    And then he and Morgan were at the edge of the foxhole, and Morgan was shoving him over the rim. Pappy managed to catch the edge with one hand and turn himself around to land on his feet. Morgan was right behind him.

    He’d just dropped below the level of the surface when another burst of gunfire spattered across the ground and ricocheted off the foxhole’s rear wall.

    “You okay?” Morgan asked, breathing a little heavily herself. “What the hell were you thinking?”

    “I needed to slow them down,” Pappy said. His breathing was nearly back to normal now. Amazing what a fresh oxy tank could do for a man. “Did it work?”

    “If you mean did it drop a pile of rocks against the back of the Dunsland, yes, it worked great,” Morgan said, a little sourly. “If you mean did it make the Ueys mad, oh yeah, definitely. If you mean did it immobilize the Dunsland, no it didn’t. It looks like a bunch of the rock landed on both sides of the left rear wheel, but they’re already working on clearing it away.”

    “Yeah.” Pappy gave himself another couple of lungsful of air, then eased his head carefully up over the edge of the foxhole. He confirmed that the two men on the ridge were still safely cemented in place, then turned his attention to the Dunsland.

    For all the anger Morgan had referenced, the Ueys still had their priorities in place. Much as they would probably love to send another team to perforate Pappy’s team in their foxholes, the important part was to get the Dunsland free to roll into Hadley and grab this Mimic thing nobody wanted to talk about.

    His radio crackled. “Hello, Hadley Dome Defense Commander,” an accented voice came in his ear. “This is Colonel Chakarvarti of the United Earth Command. Please respond.”

    Pappy looked at Morgan. “Is he talking to us?”

    “He must be trying to reach Lieutenant Sassou,” Morgan said doubtfully. “I don’t know if he’s listening to radios right now, though.”

    Pappy thought back to his brief conversation with the man at Hadley Control. “Or if anyone else is, either.”

    “Hadley Defense Commander?” Chakarvarti prompted.

    Pappy gazed out at the Dunsland and the soldiers working like busy little ants around it. With Morgan having used her cement bomb to pin down two of the Ueys — quite literally — they had only one bomb left, which was currently lying twenty meters away in Pappy’s foxhole. Aside from that they had cable, cutting torches, oxy tanks, and paintball guns.

 



 

    And that was it. No real weapons, and no defenses beyond a couple more of the monofil traps that had briefly derailed the Uey advance. Within an hour or two, unless Pappy could pull something out of his hat, the enemy would be rolling unopposed into Hadley.

    When all else failed — or when you needed to play for time — a good soldier could always fall back on talking or Psy Ops. Pappy checked his radio display, found out the frequency Chakarvarti was using, and keyed his transmitter to it. “This is Papillion MacLeod,” he announced. “Where are you, Colonel?”

    “Greetings,” Chakarvarti said. “I’m a bit surprised by your question. My rangefinder puts me approximately a hundred sixty-two meters from your line of foxholes.”

    “You’re running the Dunsland?” Pappy asked, frowning. “I’m surprised.”

    “How so?”

    “Full colonels don’t usually lead the charge themselves,” Pappy said. “Normally a lieutenant would be a more proper commander for what’s essentially a mechanized platoon.”

    “Agreed,” Chakarvarti said. “But in this case, United Earth Command was hesitant to share the true nature of this mission with anyone but trusted senior officers.”

    “What mission would that be?” Pappy asked. “The complete subjugation of the Lunar Colonies?”

    “I think you know what the mission is,” Chakarvarti said. “And the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

    “You’ve got the accent wrong,” Pappy said, feeling his lip twist as he studied the Uey position. He’d hoped that the need to clear out the rock pile pinning the Dunsland in place would have Chakarvarti ordering every spare hand to that task. But the colonel was clearly still wary of the Loonies’ cement bombs, and had left both three-man shield teams in place to guard against more such attacks.

    “Excuse me?”

    “I’m British, not Irish,” Pappy said. “No leprechauns or pots of gold.” Not that the second shieldbearer team was even necessary. Not anymore. With Morgan’s bomb gone, Pappy’s earlier idea of lobbing two of them in rapid succession was already over and done with.

    Unlessâ¦

    He keyed off the radio. “Morgan, is there any chance we can aim our catapult high enough for plunging fire?”

    “What’s that?”

    “You give the bomb enough of an upward vector that it lofts over the shieldbearers,” Pappy explained, frowning at her catapult. “Like at a sixty- or seventy degree launch angle. I’m not seeing any way to do that.”

    “There isn’t one,” she said. “They’re not designed for anything higher than forty-five. I guess no one thought we’d need anything higher than that.”

    “Or else they didn’t want one of us accidentally firing it straight up and dropping it back on top of us,” Pappy growled. So much for that idea.

    Chakarvarti was talking again, and Pappy keyed his transmitter. “Sorry; what was that?”

    “I said I didn’t mean to insult your heritage,” the colonel said. “I assumed the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow had entered more common usage.”

    “It has,” Pappy acknowledged. “Just wanted to clear up any misconceptions as to who you were talking to.”

    “Oh, no misconceptions at all,” Chakarvarti assured him. “Former Sergeant Papillion MacLeod of His Majesty’s Special Air Service ‘A’ Squadron Mobility Troop. Joined September 2027; discharged February 2042 after the Birmingham insurgency left you with a permanently damaged left leg. Joined the Lunar Colonies fifteen months later as an accountant. An accountant? Really?”

    “I also work with inventory and acquisition,” Pappy said, his gut twisting as a hundred half-buried memories came flooding to the service, threatening his composure and focus. Probably the reason Chakarvarti had brought up the Birmingham disaster in the first place. “None of it requires much walking around.”

    “And no one’s shooting at you,” Chakarvarti said. “At least, no one was until now. Speaking of which, I believe one of your team has been injured. If you’re willing, I can offer him help.”

    The knot in Pappy’s stomach tightened another half turn. “He’s hardly injured. A couple of scratches, that’s all.”

    “I’m glad to hear that,” Chakarvarti said. “Still, I don’t see anyone from Hadley Colony rushing to his aid. We, on the other hand, have a fully-equipped first-aid setup here.”

    “In your Dunsland that’s currently going nowhere?”

    “The operative word being currently,” Chakarvarti said. “Your rock slide was most impressive, but all it accomplished was to block that wheel and axle. Once we clear away the rubble we’ll once again be free to advance.”

    “Maybe,” Pappy said. “The work would probably go faster if you put more people on it.”

    Chakarvarti gave a low chuckle. “You mean draw off our advance line? No, thank you. Those adhesive bombs of yours are extremely effective. What is the material inside, if I may ask?”

    “He’s stalling,” Morgan murmured in Pappy’s ear.

    Pappy keyed off his transmitter. “I know,” he told her. “Watch the ridge — he may be trying to move in more flankers.”

    “What do I do if I see any?”

    “Paintball the crap out of them.” He keyed his transmitter again. “It’s a vacuum cement we use for emergency repairs,” he said. “Very tough stuff. You can repair dome damage with it.”

    “Very tough indeed,” Chakarvarti agreed. “I’m surprised you haven’t tried marketing it on Earth.”

    “We might have,” Pappy said. “I really don’t know. Could be the Council decided running the gauntlet of environmental vetting wasn’t worth the effort. Chemicals leaching into the groundwater or confusing aphids isn’t exactly a problem up here.”

    “Definitely not,” Chakarvarti said. “But I’d like to return to your wounded soldier. I presume you’re aware how quickly a man can bleed to death in a spacesuit. If you bring him to me I personally guarantee on my honor to deal with his injuries and to treat him fairly and justly.”

    “As a prisoner of war?”

    “Are we at war?” Chakarvarti countered. “After all, the presence of insurgents in Birmingham didn’t mean the entire city was at war with the United Kingdom.”

    With a conscious effort, Pappy unclenched his teeth. Chakarvarti was really pulling out all the stops on this one. “They’re hardly equivalent situations.”

    “Aren’t they? The insurgents used guns and explosives, just as you did. That alone violates the most recent agreements between the Lunar Colonies and United Earth.”

    A movement to Pappy’s right caught his eye, and he turned just in time to see a helmeted head drop back out of sight behind the ridge as Morgan’s paintball spattered a splash of bright red onto the nearby rock. “Damn,” she muttered.

    “Keep firing,” Pappy ordered, stifling a curse of his own as he again cut off his transmitter. And his own gun was stuck in the next foxhole, across twenty meters of open ground.

    No choice, though — he had to risk it. “And keep an eye on the whole ridge,” he added. “That one might have been a feint. I’m going to get my gun.”

    “Pappy –“

    Morgan’s protest was cut off as he yanked out the cable, bent his knees, and bounded out of her foxhole. Leaning forward, he bounded off across the ground as fast as he could, his muscles tensed in anticipation of the machinegun bullets that could tear into him at any moment.

    But if the Ueys attacked, none of the shots came near enough for him to spot. He dropped into his foxhole with a puff of relief and scooped up his paintball gun with one hand and the cable to Morgan with the other. He spun around toward her, his eyes sweeping the ridge for attackers as he plugged in the cable. No one was in sight, but there were two more fresh paintball splotches. “Morgan?”

    “You were right — he was a feint,” she said. “Two more tried coming up at –“

    “Yeah, yeah, I see the marks,” Pappy cut her off, scanning the ridge. No one yet. Reaching down blindly, he snared the comm cable to KC and plugged it in. “KC? How are you holding up?”

    “I’m fine,” KC gritted out. “Look — those two Ueys Morgan plastered? I think they’re –“

    “Damn it,” Pappy snarled as it suddenly clicked. How the hell hadn’t he caught that himself? Oxy starvation, or just damn mental rust? “Morgan — listen — those Ueys you pinned earlier spotting for the others. We have to blind them –“

    “No, no, wait,” KC interrupted. “Not yet. Give me a second.”

 



 

    “What?” Pappy asked, frowning. KC’s breathing changed subtly, indicating some activity. But Pappy didn’t dare turn around to see what he was doing. “KC?”

    “Okay,” KC said. “Get ready to blind the Ueys — you’ll know when.”

    The last word was cut off as KC unplugged his cable. Pappy swore under his breath, his eyes flicking between the spotters and the rest of the ridge, berating himself for not seeing it sooner.

    A second later he jerked in surprise as KC bounced past him into view, bounding toward the ridge with a big wrench in one hand and the knife from his tool kit in the other. Raising the knife high, he charged toward the ridge.

    Grinning tightly with sudden understanding, Pappy sent a blinding barrage of paintballs into each of the trapped Uey soldiers’ faceplates.

    “Pappy?” Morgan gasped as KC bounded past her.

    “Keep watching,” Pappy said, keying his transmitter again. “Chakarvarti — for the love of God — get your men back!” he barked. “Get them back now! He’s gone off the rails.”

    “What are you talking about?” Chakarvarti demanded. But Pappy could hear the sudden wary confusion in his voice.

    “The pain meds,” Pappy said tightly. “They have side effects in an oxy-rich atmosphere.”

    “Is that a knife?”

    “You want this war to start with United Earth gunning down a wounded, half-insane man?” Pappy snarled. “With you gunning down a wounded, half-insane man? Pull them back, damn it.”

    KC reached the ridge and started bounding his way up. Pappy held his breath, his own less than stellar attempt to climb the crumbling rock flashing to mind.

    But KC was a miner, and had had far more experience with this kind of thing. He hit the first set of footholds like a gymnast sticking a landing, and even as one of them began to crumble he was on his way up to the second. He passed the two blinded Ueys, reached the top and balanced there for a secondâ¦

    And then, dropped his arms suddenly to his sides and started sliding back down the slope.

    Morgan gasped. “Pappy –?”

    Pappy keyed off his transmitter. “Hold on,” he cautioned. KC looked like he was simply falling, but Pappy could see the subtle but deliberate shifting of hands and feet to slow his descent. He reached the ground and collapsed onto his back, his knife and wrench bouncing a couple of times off the rock before they came to a halt.

    At his side, invisible from the Ueys’ position, his fingers curled toward his palm and his thumb stuck briefly up.

    Pappy puffed out a brief sigh of relief. Talking, and Psy Ops. He once again keyed his transmitter. “Chakarvarti? You there?”

    “I’m here,” the colonel said. “I’ve pulled back my troops. Is he all right?”

    “I don’t know,” Pappy said. “You going to let me go get him and bring him back to my foxhole?”

    There was a brief hesitation as Chakarvarti probably ran United Earth’s orders through his mind. But apparently the thought of his name plastered unflatteringly across the next century’s worth of history texts tipped the balance. “Go,” he said. “But if you try to escape or attack, we will shoot you down.”

    “Thanks.” Unplugging his cable, Pappy heaved himself cautiously over the lip of his foxhole. If Chakarvarti was going to be an unprincipled bastard, this was his chance.

    But the Ueys held their fire as he hopped over to KC. Leaving the wrench and knife where they were, he got the man up into his arms. “Though history might well say that your bombs were the true start of this war,” Chakarvarti continued as Pappy made his way back to his foxhole.

    “You mean the cement bombs?” Pappy asked. “Hardly a lethal weapon.”

    “I mean the bomb you used to bring down the top of the ridge.”

    “That wasn’t a bomb,” Pappy said. “Just an oxygen tank with a torch wedged under it to heat it past the pressure-stress margin. And you already said no one was hurt, right?”

    “I didn’t say that.”

    “Was anyone hurt?”

    Another pause. “Not directly,” Chakarvarti said, a little grudgingly. “But that cement could be a problem. It’s already torn at least one man’s outer suit layer.”

    “You were probably trying to brute-force it off him,” Pappy said, easing KC into the foxhole and climbing in after him. “Hang on a second — I need to check his med display.”

    He cut his transmitter and plugged in KC’s cable. “Nice job, KC,” he said. “How are you doing?”

    “You tell me,” KC said, his voice distant. “You’re the one looking at the display.”

    “Yes — silly of me,” Pappy said, feeling his eyes narrow. KC’s vitals were okay, but as Pappy had feared the suit wasn’t doing a very good job of stopping the bleeding. It was slow, but not showing any signs of stopping. He had to get that MASH truck here, and fast.

    “Sergeant MacLeod?”

     Pappy switched on again. “He’s stable,” he told Chakarvarti. “Still bleeding, though.”

    “I’ve offered our assistance,” the colonel reminded him. “That offer still stands.”

    “Yeah, I’ll take it under advisement,” Pappy said. “As to your own little problem, as I was saying, you can’t just force the cement. You have to be a bit more inventive.”

    “How?”

    “I have no idea what you’ve got in there,” Pappy pointed out. “Even if I did, I’m hardly a materials expert.”

    “Could you at least offer some suggestions?”

    “Sure,” Pappy said. “First suggestion: pack up and get back to the Tranquility Transfer Station. Second suggestion: get in your ship, head back to Earth, and don’t come back.”

    Chakarvarti chuckled. “That’s three suggestions, actually. Five, counting your two first. Come now, Sergeant, let’s be reasonable. We’re just the pawns in a much bigger game, you and I. There’s really no need for us to be at each other’s throats. On the contrary, this is the perfect opportunity for us to show both of our worlds that we can behave like civilized men. You have wounded; I have disabled. We can help each other, and in the process perhaps defuse this whole unfortunate situation.”

    “I already told you how to defuse it,” Pappy reminded him. “United Earth is the aggressor here. We’re just defending our territory.”

    “Your territory?” Chakarvarti retorted, his calm demeanor cracking a bit. “As I read the numbers, you’re still nearly eighty percent subsidized by United Earth. If we withdrew our support, you’d starve inside of six months.”

    “Oh, I doubt that,” Pappy said. “I’m an accountant, remember? I know how Geneva is cooking those numbers. Throw in the lopsided tariff and taxation arrangements you’ve saddled us with, and those numbers shift dramatically.”

    “But not enough,” Chakarvarti said. “Interesting, though, that you should bring up money. In particular, the shot heard ’round the world analogy is especially relevant when you consider the history of the phrase. It was, after all, the rich American landowners who sent the poor colonists out to fight and die. Very much like the situation here.”

    “We don’t really have landowners here,” Pappy said. “Not much on the land worth having.”

    “Not at all,” Chakarvarti said. “There are all the metals and other resources. But I was thinking more about how Luna’s rich and powerful are the ones holding the Mimic. I doubt they’re sharing its largesse with the rest of you.”

    Pappy felt his ears prick up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    “Really?” Chakarvarti made a tsking sound. “Then you make my point for me. Your masters haven’t even told you what they’ve sent you out here to die for?”

    “Not a clue,” Pappy said. If Morgan couldn’t — or wouldn’t — let them in on the big secret, maybe Colonel Chakarvarti would be more obliging. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”

    “Pappy — no!” Morgan breathed. “You’re not supposed to –“

    “Because I’m betting you don’t really know anything,” Pappy continued. At the very least, this might be their chance to find out exactly how much the Ueys knew.

    “You’re either remarkably ignorant or you’re stalling,” Chakarvarti said. “No matter. Either way, I’m happy to play along.”

    Pappy smiled humorlessly to himself. Especially since Chakarvarti himself was playing the exact same stalling game while he freed the Dunsland from Pappy’s rockslide.

    His smile faded. Which meant he and Morgan had that same rapidly closing window to figure out how to immobilize the vehicle permanently.

 



 

    But how?

    Their best bet was obviously their single remaining cement bomb. But getting it past two groups of shieldbearers would be nearly impossible, especially now that the Ueys knew how dangerous the weapons were. In retrospect, he now realized he should probably have taken a bomb over the ridge and attacked with that instead of his oxy-tank rockslide.

    On the other hand, given the problems he’d had scaling the brittle rock, there was a good chance he’d never have made it up the ridge with the bomb intact, and might possibly have ended up cemented to the lunar surface himself.

    Unfortunately, even if he wanted to take that risk now, there was no way that trick would work a second time. Chakarvarti might have pulled back his flanking team, but they were certainly still on the other side of the ridge near the Dunsland where they could guard against another sneak attack.

    “The Mimic is an alien device,” Chakarvarti said. “One of your mining groups dug it up approximately seven months ago, and your leaders have been attempting to keep it all to themselves.”

    “Well, finders keepers, as the saying goes,” Pappy said. If he could somehow figure out how to rig more monofil trapsâ¦but while there were already two more of those in place, hidden in more of the ground cracks along the Freeway, the Ueys now knew what to look for and it was doubtful they’d be taken in again so easily. Even if they didn’t spot the traps before they were triggered, that kind of snare depended on Dunsland tank rolling over the loops fast enough to entangle the monofil solidly around the exposed parts of the wheel and axle. If the Ueys simply kept everything to a crawl, then stopped the second the monofil appeared, they could extricate themselves with little trouble.

    “Hardly,” Chakarvarti said. “This isn’t just some interesting oddity. The Mimic is a replicator: a device that can copy and manufacture virtually any non-living object.”

    Pappy winced. So the rumors he’d heard were true. Damn. “Seriously?” he asked, putting some scoffing disbelief into his voice. “Big deal — I’ve got a printer in my office that can do that.”

    “I doubt it,” Chakarvarti said. “The Mimic isn’t some upscale 3-D printer with three or four materials it can draw on. It does a complete scan of what you want duplicated — a complete scan, mind you, down to the atomic level. It then takes whatever scrap or garbage you’ve loaded into its hopper, sifts through it all for the specific atoms it needs, and builds a duplicate of its sample, again from the molecules on up. Are you really going to pretend you hadn’t heard about any of this?”

    “No, but it sounds very cool,” Pappy said. “And United Earth thinks it deserves this thing why?”

    “Don’t be a fool,” Chakarvarti said, an edge of bitterness in his voice. “You have fifty thousand people. Earth has seven billion. Seven million of them die every year from hunger alone, and that doesn’t even count the millions who are malnourished. The Mimic would be a godsend for these people.”

    “In what way?”

    Chakarvarti spat something. “Are you stupid or just lacking in imagination? Put in a loaf of bread, add a neighborhood’s worth of garbage into the hopper, and that neighborhood’s children will no longer be hungry. Feed in the pieces of a truck, add in the rusted metal from a scrapyard, and that bread can be taken across the city. Put a hundred gallons of petrol in the Mimic with anything that contains carbon and hydrogen, and that bread and that truck can travel to the most inaccessible of villages.”

    “Sounds like a lot of work for one humble little Mimic to handle,” Pappy said.

    “It wouldn’t be alone for long,” Chakarvarti said, warming to his topic. “Reverse-engineering will give us ten of them. Then the Mimics themselves will create a hundred, then a thousand, then a million. Hunger wiped out. Poverty wiped out. Sickness wiped out — put in a vaccine, and every child in every country will be protected.”

    “Good thing food will be free,” Pappy said. “Because everyone except the people who shovel garbage into the hoppers will be out of work.”

    “You think anyone will care about back-breaking labor when they finally have food to eat and clothes to wear?”

    “No, actually, I don’t,” Pappy said, his stomach tightening. “Because it’ll never happen. Not the rosy picture you’re painting, anyway. If United Earth gets the Mimic, the leaders will keep the benefits for themselves.”

    “They wouldn’t dare.”

    “Since when?” Pappy retorted. “Leaders dare whatever they damn well please. And since they’re the ones with the guns and the armies, they usually get away with it.”

    “Not in this case.”

    “Yes, in this case, too,” Pappy said. “Because for everyone who wants to lift the poor out of poverty, there will be two more who don’t want their constituents thrown out of work.”

    “Those unemployed people won’t care.”

    “Those in power will,” Pappy said. “Because their sole job is to hold onto their power.” It was hard to see from his vantage point, but it looked like the Ueys’ rock-clearing bucket brigade was starting to slow down. rock. If he didn’t come up with something fast, it was going to be too late. “You think the politicians will risk losing the next election because all the voters have been thrown out of work? You think the manufacturers are going to give up the profits they make from selling widgets to people? You think the military types will put bananas in the Mimic when you can shove in a single tactical nuclear weapon and have a hundred of them by dinner time?”

    “Not all leaders are like that,” Chakarvarti insisted.

    “Not all, no,” Pappy agreed. “But the humanitarians will be the first to be mowed down by the more vicious types. You sound like one of the good guys Colonel. If you win, you’d better watch your back.”

    “Ridiculous,” Chakarvarti said. But to Pappy’s ears he didn’t sound entirely convinced.

    He hoped so. Right now, turning Chakarvarti was about the only plan he had.

    There was pressure on his sleeve. He looked down to see KC clutching his arm with one hand and making a slashing motion across his throat with the other. Frowning, Pappy muted the transmitter. “What is it?” he asked.

    “I’ll take it,” KC said, a slight quaver in his voice.

    “What?”

    “The bomb,” KC said. “You need to get it to the tank. I’ll take it.”

    Pappy sighed. Drugs or blood loss — either way, the man was starting to slip from reality. “Thanks, but you’re not up to a walk,” he said. “Anyway, they’d kind of notice you carrying something that big.”

    “I’m not going to carry it,” KC said. “You put it in my oxy carrier. As long as I’m facing them, they won’t see what it is.”

    Pappy stared down at him. So much for drugged delusions.

    And it could work. It could actually work. The bomb would fit into the oxy tank carrier on KC’s back, and it would be hidden as long as no one got a good look from the side. Once that discovery happened, he would be close enough to make a run for the Dunsland. If he was fast enough, and the Ueys were slow enough, he should be able to unload the bomb, get it under the tank, and detonate it where it could completely scramble the works.

    There was only one, small, minor problem. “And you’d breathe what in the meantime?”

    “You made it back on fumes,” KC said. “If you can, I can.”

    Pappy grimaced. He hadn’t realized KC had even been aware of his little sortie, let alone had noticed that he’d been without his own tank when he came back. “Okay, we’ll try it,” he said. “Only I’ll take it, not you.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” KC said, some strength and determination returning to his voice. “You weren’t invited. I was. I’m taking it.”

    “You’ll never make it,” Pappy insisted. “Even if you did, you’d never make it back. You want to be their prisoner?”

    “No, but it beats bleeding to death.”

    “We’ll get the MASH truck here.”

    “Not until we hammer the Dunsland.” KC grunted with exertion as he got another grip on Pappy’s arm and started to pull himself upright. “You want to give me a hand? Or are you going to make me do it myself?”

    “Sergeant MacLeod?”

    “Stay put,” Pappy ordered KC as he turned his transmitter back on. “Yeah, I’m here, Colonel.”

 



 

    “I thought for a moment that you’d left us,” Chakarvarti said. “Everything all right?”

    “I was checking on my friend,” Pappy said, scowling across the open space at the Ueys. Unfortunately, KC was right. Pappy hadn’t been invited to drop in for tea. If he headed across alone, they would know something was up.

    But if he was simply helping an injured soldier who couldn’t navigate on his ownâ¦

    The upside was that he might be able to paralyze the Dunsland for good. The downside was that he and KC would both end up prisoners. Or worse.

    But they were out of other options. With two lines of shieldbearers standing guard, the only way to get the cement bomb close enough was for Pappy to carry it there.

    “How is he doing?” Chakarvarti asked. “My offer to treat him still stands. I’ll even send some unarmed men to assist him, if you’d like.”

    “I appreciate that.” Pappy braced himself —

    “Wait a second,” Morgan spoke up suddenly. “I’ve got an idea. Stay put, and stall him. And I’ll need that last bomb.”

    Pappy frowned. Surely she’d worked out the same logic he had. How in the world did she think she could slip it past the shieldbearers?

    Maybe by throwing a couple of oxy tanks first to confuse them?

    In fact, he realized suddenly, that might work. The bomb’s outer shell didn’t look anything like that of an oxy tank, but the Ueys wouldn’t necessarily know that. If he and Morgan both sent oxys toward the tank, and then one of them threw the remaining bomb —

    “You’re obviously still not convinced,” Chakarvarti said. “Very well. While you consider — and while your friend bleeds to death — let me put one other factor into the mix.”

    “You going to say please?” Pappy suggested, squatting down and picking up the cement bomb. Of course, now that the Ueys knew about the bombs, lobbing it across to Morgan carried its own set of risks. If the machinegunner was fast enough, he could blow it open and probably cover him, KC, and Morgan. Another juicy tidbit for the future history texts. “Come to think of it, did anyone at United Earth consider saying please in the first place?”

    “I don’t know,” Chakarvarti said. “Not my department.”

    “I suppose not,” Pappy said, eyeing the ground between him and Morgan. Theoretically, until the detonator was armed, the bomb should be able to handle a bounce. Theoretically. “So why exactly do you think this Mimic thing — if it exists, and I’m personally not convinced it is — why you think it’s in Hadley instead of one of the other domes?”

    “We don’t,” Chakarvarti said. “If it isn’t, we’ll pack up and leave you in peace.”

    “And head to the next colony?”

    “I have my orders, Sergeant, as do you,” the colonel said. “But let’s talk about that. Your orders, I assume, are to protect Hadley Dome?”

    “And all of Luna.”

    “But mostly Hadley Dome?”

    “Mostly,” Pappy agreed.

    “All right. So what then are you planning to do when the aliens who created the Mimic come looking for it?”

    Pappy frowned, throwing a look at Morgan. But her attention seemed to be alternating between her rangefinder scope and her hand computer. “Who says they’re even around anymore?”

    “Who says they aren’t?” Chakarvarti countered. “And if they are — and if they decide they want it back — are you and Luna really prepared to fend them off?”

    Out of the corner of his eye he saw Morgan duck down in her foxhole and come back up with her coil of monofil. One final look through her scope and she began counting off loops of the cord. “You think you can protect it better?”

    “Of course we can,” Chakarvarti scoffed. “We have the militaries of two hundred and four countries to draw on.”

    “What about those seven billion hungry citizens,” Pappy asked. Morgan had reached whatever count she was going for and had taken her knife to the proper loop. “You get an alien war going and a lot of them are going to die.”

    “You get a war going and all of you will die,” Chakarvarti retorted.

    Morgan had ducked down out of sight again. “Maybe it won’t come to war,” Pappy said. “Maybe the aliens will ask for it nicely. They might even say please.”

    “And if they don’t?” Chakarvarti persisted. He was starting to run out of patience, Pappy noted uneasily. That probably meant the Dunsland was nearly cleared and ready to roll. “What if they just come tearing in and plow up the landscape until they find it? Are you willing to take that risk?”

    “Like you said,” Pappy told him. “Not my department.”

    “Pappy?” Morgan murmured in his ear. “Now.”

    Clenching his teeth, hoping to God Morgan knew what she was doing, Pappy lifted the cement bomb to his chest and gave it a shot-putter shove toward her.

    The Uey machinegunner was ready. Unfortunately for him, his training still wasn’t quite acclimated to the lower gravity and lack of air resistance. His shots slashed through the space above the bomb, digging up more lunar dust a few meters past his intended target. Before he could adjust his aim Morgan snatched the cylinder out of its arc and once again dropped down out of sight.

    “You refuse to cooperate,” Chakarvarti said. “So be it. The record will show that the United Earth forces did everything in our power to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”

    “Hardly,” Pappy said. The Ueys who’d been around the Dunsland’s rear were moving away now, clearly getting ready for it to pull out. But if continuing the conversation could buy Morgan a few more seconds⦠“You could have continued negotiations instead of bringing soldiers here to shoot us down and destroy our homes. And you still can, because there’s still one factor you haven’t added in.”

    “Which would be?”

    And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the cement bomb shoot out of Morgan’s foxhole, arcing toward the Ueys. So she’d used the catapult after all.

    Only the bomb was going too high.

    Pappy cursed, following the cylinder with his eyes. If Morgan had intended to overshoot the shieldbearers, she’d certainly succeeded. Even as the first trio leaped upward in response it was abundantly clear that the bomb would sail well over their heads.

    The problem was that it would also sail well over the Dunsland and splatter its contents over the distant landscape.

    He’d asked Morgan earlier if the catapults could be set for high angles. She’d told him they couldn’t. Maybe she thought she’d figured out a way to do that anyway.

    But if that had been her plan, she’d failed. Pappy’s years in the SAS had given him an eye for judging a shell’s trajectory, and this one was heading into the sky at no more than forty-five degrees.

    Could Morgan be trying somehow to cut off the tank’s retreat? After all, if the goal was to keep the Mimic in Hadley, then letting Chakarvarti get hold of it wouldn’t gain him anything if he couldn’t escape with it.

    But Pappy knew the terrain back there reasonably well, and there was no spot he could think of where a splash or a lump of vacuum cement would do anything but pave over the rocky ground. Did Morgan know something he didn’t?

    The three shieldbearers were nearly at the top of their group jump, and as Pappy had already anticipated they would end up far too low to intercept the bomb. On the ground behind them, the second row of shieldbearers now went into action, this group throwing their shields up into the sky toward the soaring missile.

    But the shields hadn’t been designed for throwing, and the Ueys certainly hadn’t had any practice with the technique. Two of the shields immediately started tumbling, not so much of a problem without air resistance to slow them down, while the third stayed more or less upright. But the first two didn’t have enough momentum to intercept the bomb, while the third reached the necessary height but ended up a couple of meters to the side. As the shields and the shieldbearers floated back toward the ground the bomb reached its zenith —

    And directly above the Dunsland it jerked to an abrupt halt.

    Pappy blinked in surprise as the bomb seemed to hover for an instant in empty space. What the hell –?

    And then, as it began to fall straight down, he caught just the slightest glint of sunlight reflecting off part of a line behind the cylinder.

 



 

    Morgan had used her monofil to tether the bomb to something in her foxhole. Now, having reached the end of its leash — and having evaded all Uey attempts to block it — it was dropping straight down toward the Dunsland.

    The Ueys instantly spotted the unexpected threat. But it was too late for them to do anything to stop it. Some of the soldiers, who’d been moving away from the tank in anticipation of once again getting on the road, turned back to try to intercept the bomb. But their momentum was starting out in the wrong direction, and they still were unaccustomed to the footing and the rules for low-gee movement. None of them made it more than a couple of steps back before suddenly stopping and again reversing direction. Chakarvarti, no doubt recognizing the threat and the inevitability of its success, had presumably ordered them back rather than have his soldiers immobilized along with his vehicle. The bomb continued its leisurely fallâ¦

    It hit the ground right beside the Dunsland’s left rear wheel, right where Pappy’s earlier rockslide had left a mound of broken rock, and exploded into a cloud of white foam. The cloud collapsed to the ground, leaving the Dunsland, the rock, and the lunar surface locked solidly together.

    Pappy took a deep breath and looked at Morgan. She gave him a tight smile through her faceplate and lifted her hand in a thumb’s-up. Pappy nodded, smiling and gesturing back, then turned back to the Ueys. “Colonel Chakarvarti?” he called.

    “I’m here, Sergeant,” Chakarvarti said. His voice was tight with controlled anger, but Pappy could hear a hint of grudging respect beneath it. “Nicely done.”

    “Thank you,” Pappy said. “You and your men were able to stay clear of the burst, I hope?”

    “We did,” Chakarvarti said. “And we still have weapons.”

    “I thought we’d agreed that we didn’t want to start the bloodshed today,” Pappy reminded him. “I mean, apart from your shooting my man.”

    “I have a mission.”

    “Which you can no longer complete,” Pappy said. “You can run over us, you can kill everyone in Hadley, but you can’t bring the Mimic back to Tranquility. Not until you get your Dunsland free, and I’m really doubting you can.” He considered. “If the Mimic is even here. Which I don’t concede.”

    “There are four other tank units I could call.”

    “There are four other units and one other tank,” Morgan put in. “The other three Dunslands weren’t up to the terrain and climate.”

    “Your commanders really should have thought things through a little more thoroughly before rushing into this thing,” Pappy added. “So here’s how it’s going to go.”

    He jerked a thumb toward the two Ueys still cemented to the ridge. “Your two men will probably run out of oxy before we can get them free. We can give them each a fresh tank, good for four hours. We can also call Hadley and have them send out some hammers and chisels to get them loose. But we’re not going to do any of that until all of you — and I mean all of you, including the ones guarding the other side of Waffle Ridge — are back inside your vehicle.”

    “I need to deploy at least a pair of sentries.”

    “No, you don’t,” Pappy said. “Consider yourselves on parole, with the Dunsland a mobile POW camp of your own making. Well, with a bit of our help, I suppose.”

    “Very well,” Chakarvarti said stiffly. “I assume you’ll want us to block the viewports, too?”

    “No need — we can do that ourselves from here,” Pappy said. “And remember: we’ve got a really impressive array of sensors, and we know exactly how many men you have. We don’t move until they’re all inside the tank. Get cute, and your two men here will suffocate.”

    “There will be no tricks,” Chakarvarti said darkly. “And once they’re free?”

    “That’ll be up to Hadley,” Pappy said. “They may decide to send you to some neutral point where your people can pick you up. Or they may decide we’ll keep all of you as our guests for a bit while the politicians and diplomats talk.”

    “I see,” Chakarvarti said. “I will just say one more thing, Sergeant MacLeod. Beware the thought that this is over. It is not. In fact, it has barely begun.”

    “I agree,” Pappy said, peering through his scope. The Ueys were walking along the side of the Dunsland now, heading for the rear hatch and their forced seclusion. On the sail, the machinegunners had secured their weapons to the cages and were climbing down. “In that case, let me offer you a final word as well. You say you want the Mimic. But I’m guessing that some of United Earth’s most powerful would be just as happy to see it destroyed. If it can be destroyed in a war with Luna, so much the better, because that way they won’t have to take any of the blame.”

    “That would be a terrible mistake,” Chakarvarti said. “The people of United Earth desperately need the Mimic.”

    “I’m not arguing,” Pappy said. “Here’s my point. Those aliens you mentioned, the ones who might want to come back and retrieve their magic replicator? If they do, we’re going to be in serious trouble if all we can show them is a pile of scrap. You might make sure your leaders — all of them — know that simply destroying the Mimic isn’t an option.”

    “An interesting warning,” Chakarvarti said thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ll be sure to pass it on to my superiors.” He paused. “All of my men are now inside. You may begin your rescue operation.”

    “Thank you,” Pappy said. “Once we’ve confirmed that, we’ll get some people out here and get to work.”

    “Thank you, Sergeant MacLeod,” Chakarvarti said, with just a hint of dark humor. “It has been a most interesting encounter. I look forward to our next.”

    Pappy swallowed hard. “As will I,” he said, trying to sound like he meant it.

    He keyed off his transmitter and plugged in the comm cable back to the dome. “Eagle Four to Hadley,” he called. “Uey tank’s been neutralized; repeat, Uey tank’s been neutralized. Get that MASH truck rolling.”

    “On its way, Eagle Four,” the controller said, and there was no mistaking the relief in his voice.

    “And get some materials techs out here with vac cement solvent,” Pappy continued. “If you can free up a mining crew with a deep-radar, that would also be handy.”

    “I’ll put in the request,” the controller promised. “Let us know if you need anything else.”

    Pappy keyed off. “I wondered about the hammer and chisel bit,” Morgan commented. “I couldn’t believe you’d actually forgotten we have solvents for that sort of thing.”

    “If the Ueys knew there was a solvent, they’d have fallen all over themselves trying to figure out what it was,” Pappy pointed out. “Better to keep them guessing.”

    “And we don’t know how many men Chakarvarti has.”

    “True. Again, he doesn’t know that.”

    Morgan huffed out a sigh. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said. “Bluffs and half-truths can only take you so far.”

    “I know,” Pappy said, wincing as images of Birmingham once again flickered across his memory. “But that’s strategy. Not my department. Nice work with the bomb, by the way. I think a field promotion to corporal is in order.”

    “I’m honored,” Morgan said dryly. “Here it comes.”

    Pappy looked behind him. Rolling up the Freeway was the massive vehicle that Hadley had converted into a MASH truck. “Great,” he said, reaching down and getting a grip under KC’s armpits. “KC? You still with us?”

    “Where else would I go?” KC murmured back. “Getting pretty sleepy in here. I’m getting tired of bleeding, too.”

    “We’re about to take care of that,” Pappy assured him. “Morgan? Can you hold the fort alone until the reinforcements get here?”

    “Sure,” Morgan assured him. “Anyway, I’ve still got a viewport or two on the Uey tank to take care of. After that, I was thinking I’d see about getting one of those rifles away from our neighbors.”

    “Yeah, I’d watch that,” Pappy warned, glancing over at the ridge as he pulled KC upright and eased him onto his stomach over the edge of the foxhole. “They may not be completely helpless. And one rifle isn’t going to do any good.”

    “You haven’t been listening,” Morgan said darkly. “All we need is one.”

    Pappy stared back at her. Thirteen lunar colonies. Fifty thousand people. One rifle.

    And the Mimic.

    “Damn,” he muttered. “Right. This is going to change things, isn’t it? This is really going to change things.”

    “Pappy?” KC said.

    “What?”

    “Not your department.”

    “Yeah.” Pappy took a deep breath. “Come on. Let’s get you patched up.”

The End


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