The ancient cyborg soldier had patrolled for a millennium. It came right at Rane. Its chin was
up and the visual sensors were fixed on a point way beyond him.
Rane used open sights to avoid flash from the setting sun and optical-detection systems
the ‘borgs were known to be equipped with. He was a lucky man to see this. ‘Borgs were getting
scarce in these parts. The fliers were almost extinct. He had a hunch this one could still have
contact judging by the rotating antenna on its backpack.
Chest pounding, he forced himself to exhale fully, to wait, to breathe in, and again.
Taking a smaller breath, he relaxed.
There was the sweet-spot. Rane set his sights. He lined up and zeroed in on the vulnerable
neck cables, exposed just under the side of the jaw. He waited until it was within the one-
hundred-fifty metre mark, penetration range for the old fifty-cal’s armor-piercing rounds. He was
convinced the thing would walk right past him if left alone.
In which case why in the hell was he here?
It would soon be too late.
Squeezing the trigger brought the crack of powder, an ugly puff of dust from under the
muzzle and a discernible twitch from the ‘borg.
It wavered there, frozen in the heat haze and the dull background, its own highlights muted
by dust and time.
Its knees buckled and the head swiveled to gaze directly at him. It remained standing in a
He rolled up out of the sand, where the cool shadows masked his lower body temperature,
silently cursing the sting of sweat in his eyes. The rug over him was rolled quickly and tied
securely over his shoulder. Rane broke into a dead run from the back of his hide under the brush.
The sensation of brutal heat on his face was a familiar one, as were aching lungs and the dry
tack of a man’s mouth when the temperature was fifty-plus in the shade.
Now the sensors could see his cool silhouette, no longer masked by the rug and an inch of
hot sand. He was out in the open, running full tilt, zigzagging constantly.
The shot never came.
There wasn’t a peep out of the thing and his breath rattled in his throat as he thought of the
half-liter of water in his bag.
A line of brush a hundred fifty meters from his shooting position was bare seconds away.
The shot never came.
As soon as he hit the shadows again, he pulled off the rug. Shaking it out, he wrapped it
around himself. It was no guarantee. Under the cycads and cactus-trees, deadly with their barbs
but offering relative cool in their midst, he turned right, staying just inside the edge, listening
Bumble-drones could be here in minutes. They hunted by infrared just like the ‘borgs.
Going as quickly as he could, but staying out of bright open areas, he stopped and listened.
When he got three hundred meters from his point of entry, he turned left and plunged into the
thicket. Avoiding open areas, he began zigzagging in earnest again.
Looking at his watch, his heart lurched. Almost ten minutes had elapsed.
Seeking the deepest shadows, he used the rug to obscure his tracks, and backed himself into a
corner that had only one approach, under the thick branches of the local flora. There was a sturdy
stump beside him and many spreading branches. He was lucky to find a meter-high ledge of red
sandstone behind it. It would protect his rear.
Rane scraped a quick trench in the sand. The lower layers were cooler still. He spread sand from the nearby shadows evenly over his widespread cloak. Always staying behind the shooting position, he got down on his back. He pulled the rug into place and carefully rolled over underneath it, facing the threat.
He snagged his bag of water from out of his side pouch and had a drink.
He put it back from conscientious habit. The one thing he could not leave behind was the water-bag and its integral filtration pump.
There was a distant buzzing sound.
He tracked it with fearful ears over his left shoulder somewhere.
They had found the site. There were two of them. They went around and around over there.
The buzzing got closer to his position, much louder now. The two motors running close
together went into a kind of harmony and then they were going in the opposite direction.
His heart and his muscles calmed. The noise rose and sounded higher in pitch. He caught a
brief glimpse of a pair of familiar teardrop shapes going past, down low on the horizon, going
from left to right at a range of about six hundred meters.
The streamlined but wingless pods kept low to the ground, their sensors looking for heat
anomalies, although they could pick up obvious tracks.
Why did they go in that direction? As he recalled, the ‘borg had been fixated on that vector,
and then on his shooting position. They must be following its line of sight.
The bumble-drones came back. He watched over the v-notch on the fore-sights through
the small tunnel he had created with the rug. They were still a couple of kilometers off to the
Risking some small movement, he took out the water bag and had another sip. Putting it
away, he considered his position.
There were nine or ten hours of daylight left and then his heat signature would give him
away, but only within the range of their sensors, and only if they came back.
He took a deep breath, gave his head a little shake, and allowed a kind of calm to ebb and
flow. After a time, his eyelids grew heavy.
Rane was pretty sure he had gotten away with it.
In a month or so, he could come back during the dual-moon period, and make a proper job of
The head, with its sleek occipitals and pugnacious jaws, would make quite a trophy over his