Taklamakan

The battle was over. Aisha crawled out of the wreckage, her ribs stinging, and leaned against the wall. There were no clouds in the sky. It was cold. The smoke had cleared, and as far as she could see there was no movement – only wreckages and rubble. The battle was over.

Wind blew over her, and her belly was colder than she expected. She felt her shirt, and her fingers came away red. Aisha let out a bark of laughter and looked at the sky.

Is this what you wanted, you bitch? she thought. Me dying down here, while you lie back in your chair and eat grapes?

That wasn’t fair, she knew. She could have refused the call, if she’d really wanted to. She looked down at the blood on her fingers, watched it trickling down to the seal burned into her right palm. If she’d known it would end like this – on some anonymous plain, on some backwater world, in some minor skirmish – would she have ran?

The wind blew over her again, and this time she shuddered. It was cold, and it carried the smell of burning flesh. She heard a very light pic as a drop of blood fell onto her shoe. She snarled, stood up straight, and started walking. No way was she going to wait for death.

Aisha glanced back, at what was left of her warframe. A sense of guilt washed over her: she’d danced so many dances within that machine. She’d been one with it’s body, it’d been one with her soul. It wasn’t right to leave it…

‘But you’re dead, now,’ she said. She shook her head. It was just so much scrap metal, now. She looked at the mountain range on the horizon, and continued walking.

‘But this is great news, Eesh!’ her sister had said, in awe of the seal. ‘You can make a difference – you can do something big!’

Aisha tried to snort, but it came out as a sob. She wiped the tears away, inadvertently leaving a red line across her face. Something big, she thought, as she passed another tangled wreck – one of theirs, or one of the enemy. A thousand, at least, had died in this battle. A thousand battles must have taken place on this world, and this world was one amongst thousands. Something big.

‘Help me,’ crackled a voice, as the light of the sun was turning red. ‘Please, I don’t want to die.’

Her strength was leaking out of her, but Aisha made her way to the voice as quickly as she could.

‘I’m here,’ she said, to a pile of three warframes.

‘Help,’ came the reply – a woman’s voice, and quieter this time. Aisha grabbed hold of some metal pipe and pulled and pulled, but it didn’t budge. Never mind something big, she was too weak to manage even this – she’d killed so many, and accomplished nothing, and now that she was trying to save one person her strength had left her.

‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, sinking to her knees.

‘Eee… Eesh…’

Aisha’s head snapped up. It was impossible. She’d been the only one called out of their whole province.

‘Sawda?’

There was no reply.

It was impossible. Even if her sister had received the call, the chance that she would be sent to the same world, would fight in the same battle as Aisha was astronomically small. It was impossible.

‘I’m here,’ croaked Aisha. She cleared her throat and tried again, louder than before: ‘I’m here, Sawda.’

There was no reply. Aisha forced herself to her feet and looked at the seal on her hand: the spark and the star. Give me strength, she thought; forget about something big – just give me the strength for this!

She grabbed hold of the pipe again and pulled.

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