Military sci-fi opening*

*Language warning: Profanity

Drip. Drip. Drip. That, and the occasional rustle of faded plastic wrappers skittering across the metal grating covering the sub-floor had been Ben’s only companions for days.

Well, not quite.

Vera hung at his side. All four kilos of the select-fire bullpup’s reassuring weight were like a part of him. Her single cat’s-eye-green gaze — the day/night illuminated reflex sight — glowed reassuringly in the harsh glare of the overheads. The strips of emergency lighting running along the seams joining deck and bulkhead were like arteries, pulsing with an eerie life that wasn’t.

Another juncture. Another turn, this time into a slightly different corridor than the last thousand or so. This one had a more abundant collection of trash, fewer working light strips, and —bonus!— an assortment of fallen support beams to navigate through. Above, the decking had given way to reveal — surprise, surprise — another level of abandoned pre-fab colony cum maze.

His stomach grumbled, threatening to crawl up his throat and go off and forage on its own if he didn’t feed it yesterday. He ignored it. He’d quit talking to it or any of the aching, protesting body parts whose sole purpose was to remind him that he should’ve quit when he’d had the chance, that he’d been a fucking idiot for signing up for yet another tour, that he should leave this kind of shit to younger men. Too old to rock-n-roll, too young to die.

A parched throat nudged him to keep moving, not unlike a pissed-off drill sergeant yelling his displeasure at Ben’s failure to find some fucking water. Drip. Drip. Dri—

A blur of motion, brown and gray and low to the ground, streaked across the corner of his vision. Vera spoke in her staccato voice.

A litany of cussing, one that would make even the most foul-mouthed of his men blush, erupted from his mouth, as the failing muscles in his arms let Vera ride the recoil up and up and up.

Thank God for small favors. And physics.

The blur changed direction, zagged, and dove behind a fallen beam.

Heart pounding in his throat, dizzy with relief, Ben whispered “Shhh, shhh, shhh,” as he shoved Vera behind him and knelt, hand out, trying to make himself as small as possible as he faced the terror-filled eyes of a child.

Copyright 2017 by Monalisa Foster

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