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 Motivated by the odium of self-aggrandizing butt-hurt under the guise compassion for the surplus population, perceived slight of the day, those who were productive, hatred for anyone not in agreement with her views and hunger, Duhlia Abzoog wormed through the remnants of structures that were a fusion of the impermanent with the permanent- starships had actually been used as missiles in suicide attacks against the old cities. She was pleased that the enemy’s centers of commerce had suffered damage but was less pleased, very much less pleased, with the impact craters, “more like dents…they hardly merit the word crater” muttered Abzoog. Cautiously, silently, she stole her way around, under and through the debris until she happened upon an obstacle that offered neither cover nor concealment, obliged few hazardous impediments save for the use which it was intended and presented no way to cross unnoticed in the immediate future.

***

Before her lie a street that was no less than pristine. It was bordered by shops… “Many open for business”… and a well-kept sidewalk on which strode pedestrians. Over the surface of the road hovered and wheeled various conveyances, both manned and robotic, all with eyes and sensors, all capable of spotting her and raising alarm. Abzoog settled down to wait for the cloak of night. While surveilling, it did not escape her that the people on foot, their service animals and their servants all appeared well fed, well dressed and in good humor. “And still they are in a fucking hurry!” thought Abzoog, that was something that really, really pissed her off about Free-Traders, and she reminisced “why only get one thing done when you can do six then move on and do something else?” … that was something a Free-Trader said to her a few years ago when she worked for one and was moving between tasks… he excitedly held up a new book and showed it to her, it was about science, he smiled at her then ran off to complete who knows how many responsibilities so he could settle in for study… “Those creatures actually like to read! Why didn’t he just wait until they made a movie about it?”… Taking leave he looked over his shoulder and called out “please do hurry, we have a lot to get done.” Abzoog recalled practically falling unconscious with rage and gave chase intent upon doing him great bodily harm. Pausing in her remembrances Abzoog removed the glove from her left hand and looked at the place were parts of two of her three fingers were missing. During her assault he hadn’t even allowed her the dignity of a proper beating, he just grabbed the hand she held her weapon in placed it against the jamb of an open door and slammed the door shut.

***

Abzoog shook her head to clear it of that unpleasantness and returned to the task at hand   observing that the conveyances moving over the thoroughfare were clean, in good repair or new, all of the shops on the street appeared damaged and most looked open for business. She knew she was in the enemy camp and desperately wanted to believe that she’d chanced into her own lines but no amount of self-deception could force her to that conclusion- the GPS in her helmets’ head-up display, lensatic compass in her pocket and a fair sense of direction were in accord regarding her location. There were also the tell-tale characteristics of her kind’s missing presence that were a dead giveaway and that she was nowhere near home- littered streets, the absence of anti-merit posters stuck to everything (in some cases holding shit together), gaunt citizens, empty shops, knuckle draggers, heavily armed patrols on every corner, the grey pall of unmaintained buildings, legitimate decay and loud speakers in loop telling everyone than total victory was but a battle away.

***

The party bosses aren’t going to like this” Thought Abzoog. Realistically she had two options- report it or do not report it- either way, complete the mission or commit dereliction of duty, “there would be consequences”.  Worst case scenario- if she reported it she would wind up at a duty station more hazardous than the one she was on now for having been exposed to Free-Traders. Best case scenario she’d be sent to a reeducation camp for having been exposed to them “or I might just get killed”. She chose to do it, if she lived through either they might make her a hero of the cause. As an advance scout she knew she would need to provide proof, the party bosses would refuse to believe that the Free-Traders were suffering less, “much less” than was her side. If she were to succeed consideration of her every action would be front and foremost before interacting with the bosses. “If I transmit real time vid there was a damned good chance my signals would be intercepted and as sure both suns will rise in the morning if I do but if I do and I am not killed outright I’ll be subject to a shit storm of micromanagement from a bunch of REMF’s sitting at computer screens who’d never spent the night waste deep in freezing mud, blood and guts only to have the piss shocked out of them by their own poor quality rail gun…better that I record and present the intel in person”. Reasoned Abzoog.

***

After repositioning she spied two males in powered black and yellow banded exo-lifts hurriedly loading large amounts of cargo through a cavern from within the ruins of a building. Needing a better view she slowly lifted the visor of her helmet and raised her scoped weapon to her eye and pointed it in the direction of the cavern then hissed “record from scope” she adjusted the focus so that both might see what lie in the depths of the hollow. At the back of the tunnel stood a huge round stainless steel door that she guessed used to be a bank vault “fucking Free-Traders had lots of banks”. When the door opened she saw more males in exo-lifts bringing crates to the entry and passing them off to the men on the outside. The interior was well lit, but she was unable to identify the contents of the crates being moved about so hurriedly. The openness of the street and pedestrian traffic prevented the proximity she required for confirmation, she needed to get closer but as there was no way for her to cross the street undetected at the moment so she decided to wait for the cover of darkness.

***

With the onset of nightfall and thinning crowds Abzoog scuttled across the street and into the abysmal wound that was the bosom of her war and hid there. Secreted and safe she was on the side of the street she was desirous of- that rubble too felt like home- straight lines, smooth arcs and intact transparent planar materials gave offense. She preferred mangled, broken, fragmented and soiled, they were a break from the past and there was kind of revolutionary poetry in it; she was in her element and was all the more dangerous. In her search for a more advantageous position from which to gather intelligence Abzoog observed something that both horrified and fascinated her, these were not the remnants of a structure destroyed in bombardment but a building constructed to appear that way. “More Free-Trader deceptions” thought Abzoog. The huge door opened and closed, opened and closed, each time it did from it wafted the sweet and sharp bouquet of produce- “fruits and vegetables!... and chile peppers?” She moved only when the door opened and the males in exo-lift were at her front of and a breeze rushed past her. The gust was in sharp contrast to the smells of home where dust, decay, ruin, things burned, promises of inclusion and victory stank up the atmosphere. A loud crack followed by laughter and the curses of exasperation startled Abzoog. She squinted and focused, two exo-lift operators had bumped the corners of the crates they were carrying and broke them spilling some of their contents. It happened very fast and just as quickly two males didn’t collect the spilled items they simply shoveled them out of the way against a far wall, then returned to their loading; Abzoog was shocked. “Did they have so much they could afford to write off spillage?” when the war started to go bad for her side this became the rumor of the day, it was one of the unspeakables. The party bosses always countered with the death penalty for dissention and an haughty oft repeated retort which was “If we can’t grow this shit, how could they possibly?” It played well to the arrogance/ignorance of her species and kept them from self-reflection as they considered their intentions to be loftier than positive results. “Free-Traders were the inferior species…errybuddy knowed dat.” Mumbled Abzoog reassuring herself as she stuck to the shadows, corners and out of the line of sight of those moving what seemed like mountains of sustenance. Around a corner, between crates and into the shadows, she’d done it, she had stolen her way into a Free-Trader distribution center.  The scent was overwhelming, her mouth watered, her stomach growled. When the males in the exo-lifts returned to the door to gather more cargo she loped across the bay grabbed what produce from the floor as she could and stole away behind some stacked crates.

***

Half way through what she thought to be a piece of fruit Abzoog looked up and read the manifest on the crate in front of her. They were munitions that her side used! The crate next to it contained rations favored by her side and it used her language! “WTF?” Suddenly alarms went off and lights began to flash, she heard the whirr of electrics and stomps of exo-cranes moving at a faster than usual pace “They are moving this way!” Before she could reach for her weapon she found herself surrounded. In a blink of the eye the crates she was hiding behind were moved and a soldier approached her.

“Congratulations, you have accomplished two firsts.”

“And those would be what?”

“You are the first to make it across the street and the first to gain entry.” “How did you know I was here?”

“We could smell you. Don’t looked so shocked, it has never been a mean rumor, your species does lend itself to a distinct odor, now stand up. Leave the weapon.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“These munitions, they aren’t yours?”

“No they are not, they are yours.”

“You mean you are suppling both sides?”

“Yes, you didn’t think your side could supply itself did you?” Abzoog looked away.

“Why?”

“Short version of the story, before your species became a political expediency for the surplus population of my species they were becoming extinct. Political exploitation and dependency propelled an increase in the population of your species that was unsustainable and detrimental to the advancement of civilization; also that part where your side proclaimed that the extermination of my species is of the upmost import helped a lot. The bottom line is if we are going to do this why not make it profitable.”

“So why not just continue?”

“Your side has long run out of resources.” The soldier motioned for her to stand, their six fingered hands had always creeped Abzoog out; he raised his weapon.

 

 

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