We want to live forever. Get us off this rock.
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I didn’t respond. “We’ve got to get medical help for you.”

“They can’t see us. You fried this place down.”

“There must be a way out.”

“There… there is.”

“Tell me. I’ll take you there.”

He struggled for thought. “Yeah. I’ll take you there,” he echoed, his eyes still closed. “Get the homer off my belt. Little gray box. Follow the signal. I’ll keep talking. Got to keep talking. Stay awake. Just long enough. Ignore me.”

I took the device. I wrapped him in the blanket, hefted him in my arms, and slung him over my back. I picked up the gun and checked the homer. The signal led through already-cleared jungle. I ran–slower than normal, compromising speed with stability.

“Motherfucking bastard,” muttered Parris next to my ear. “Never saw it. Goddamn.” I stopped, deciding whether to vault a fallen tree or go around it. He kept talking. “You saved my life. God. It’s not your fault what you are. You’re a good man. Person. Thing. Whatever.”

I jumped–landing carefully so I wouldn’t jar him. All of this meant something. It had to. My murders, Parris’s injuries–it happened for a reason. Didn’t it? I reviewed my black box, looking for answers.

“Got a boy. He’s, what, seven now. Never see him. Met his mom in the military. Sniper. God, I was fucking good. Top-ranked before the stupid discharge. Military–now they do things right. They’d have nuked this place.”

I wished they had. I avoided a pair of monkeys and a capybara. I didn’t dare get closer.

“I’d get in this killing mode. Shoot without thinking. God, it was a zone. I couldn’t leave it. Everything was real then. Just life and death and one mistake ends it. I don’t know how you do it.”

I skirted an overgrown patch. I could shred it, but didn’t want to risk Parris. I considered what he’d said. “It’s not more real. It’s just unfair.”

“Shit, you’re noble. You want this to mean something. None of it does. Nothing. No one gets another chance. You blow it, you die.”

“It’s part of some pattern–”

“Why? Why the fuck should it be?”

I didn’t have an answer. Parris continued, “There’s no plan. No reason. People are shit. The world is shit. We’ve got dreams and hopes and most of them never happen. Insubordination. Ha! Here I go again. Fuck, my suit’s leaking.”

Something warm dripped on my naked shoulder. Was it true? If there was no reason, it didn’t matter what I did. I could kill anything I liked.

“Listen. Nothing matters. You’re born, do shit, and die. That’s it. Afterlife’s for liars and daydreamers. You hear me? There’s nothing but now. Right now. Seeing things as they happen. God, I thought I was dead here. Maybe I will be.”

If he was right that nothing mattered, then I had no hope. But I could do one thing to make my time worthwhile. I could save Parris. “I won’t let you die,” I told him.

Parris fell silent. I touched his face, but he still breathed. As I rounded a clump of trees, he whispered, “This project was shit from the start.”

The homer brought us to a dead stump buried in weeds. “Stop here,” said Parris. “Put me down. Hand me the gun.”

I did. He said, “This is the checkpoint. Listen–emergency exit’s five meters from here. Under that bent tree.”

I bent to carry him, and he shook his head. “No. Leave me here. I’ll slow you down. Take the homer for ID.”


“Go. You’re fast. Take the vents. You’ll be out before they realize it’s not me.”

I looked at him. He was smiling through his pain, embracing the gun. “No,” I said, kneeling in the mud. “I’m not leaving. Go. You need help.”

“Suit’ll keep me another two hours at least. Long enough for them to link in and find me. I’ll tranq anything that moves. Droids are gone anyway. I’ll be fine. Go.”

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