Year 2546

Domninant Predator

Domninant Predator

The Dark Continental Republic



I hated the heat of the desert.



The mask on my face was confining, filling with the condensation of each breath I dragged into my lungs and forced back out in shallow gasps. The goggles over my eyes should have protected me from the yellow and grey cloud of Chemsense the Dark Continental Republic Army had unleashed on our battalion, but I could feel my eyes watering, the liquid gathering in pools that threatened to make my skin too damp to maintain the protective seal.



I was on my knees and I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped walking. I wasn’t far enough away yet. The shouts of the DCR soldiers —and the sonicpops of their weapons as they picked off States soldiers— were muffled but still too close. My body tilted, and I planted my hands into the sand without thought. I collapsed into the dune when my right shoulder ground together, bone against bone, tendons ripping. I thought those DCR goons had only managed to dislocate it, but this pain was worse than that—a grinding impact of racking, vision-blackening pain that didn’t ebb even when I flopped onto my back and let my arm lie unmoving in the scorching sand.



My mantra, pounded into me through years of training, repeated in my head as I consciously stilled my body.



One breath.



Inhale.



Hesitation is my enemy.



Solitude my ally.



Death the only real victory.



Exhale.



A ferocious hot wind whipped around and over me, driving sand into my open wounds, like a million simultaneous pricks of a pin. If the wind kept up like this it was going to drive away the lingering cloud of Chemsense. And I needed the thick, toxic cover if I was going to make it over the dune and out of sight of the DCR forces.



If I was going to survive, I had to keep moving.



My body was drenched in sweat— mine and the ripe remnants of the soldiers I’d fought hand to hand. My ribs on the right side were crushed and with each breath I wondered if this would be the inhalation that sent a spear of bone into the soft, vulnerable flesh of my lung, collapsing it and killing me before backup could arrive.



I ripped the transport chip out of the hidden pocket where it was sewed into my tattered uniform. My thumb hovered over the button as my mind warred with the instinct just to press it. But I couldn’t simply transport out of this clusterfuck. The transition would be too much of a shock to my mangled body.



If I was going to succeed, I had to keep moving.



The thought was all that propelled me. There was no desire to survive left in me. No want of more from life. It was my orders, my mission, that forced me to sit up, shift to my knees and stumble to my feet.



My right arm hung loosely at my side. My firing arm. Without it I could never be a sniper again. And that should have been the least of my concerns, but I couldn’t silence the part of me that contended that death would be preferential over never shooting my rifle again.



I staggered, then caught myself before falling again. The pain of my disconnected shoulder was almost too much to bear—a jolt of red, angry agony that sliced across my vision with each step forward. Silver droplets swam in my peripheral eyesight, a sign that my already throbbing head was on the verge of erupting.



I trudged through the unending sand of the DCR desert because I had no other choice. To stop was to fail. And I didn’t fail. The sand felt thicker than the detritus of an American Federation riverbed. My feet sank deeper than into the suck of a United Union bog. I moved slower than the day I’d taken my first tentative steps off the hospital bed in the States when I was five years old and my legs had nearly been taken by the sonic explosion that had destroyed the only home I would ever know.



And I knew this desert was worse than all of those places because I was dying.



I was closer to death than I’d been in the People’s Republic of Singapore the night Armise took a blade to my throat.



Armise.



The name rushed through me like endorphins, heating my already boiling blood. I barely had enough brain cells left active and firing to stand, let alone move, but my hate for Armise fed me like a vial of surge emptied into my bloodstream.



That I’d fucked him more times in the last year than I wanted to count didn’t matter.



That there had been a part of me anticipating he would be on the ground in the DCR when I arrived was like a psychotic practical joke.



He’d had the infochip I was seeking the entire time.



It had been inches from my fingers when I drove into him last night. But he had waited until my soldiers and me were trapped in a standoff with DCR forces—sonicrifle to sonicrifle—to let me in on that vital piece of intel.



I wouldn’t let him so easily get under my skin again.



I might not have eliminated him, but I’d obtained the infochip I’d been sent to extract. And I’d taken Armise’s finger in the process. I choked on the laughter that bubbled up in my throat. Too bad the missing digit wasn’t on his firing hand.



If nothing else, I would survive to kill him.



Whatever this was between Armise and me ended here. Now.



But even in my haze I was aware of how irresolute that promise sounded.



I kept moving.



Until I wasn’t anymore.



Blackness overtook me in an uncontrollable instant.

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