This story originally appeared in New Myths.
The ancient cyborg soldier had patrolled for a millennium. It came right at him. 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 lucky 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. Just a little longer.
The sweet-spot, he thought. He lined up and concentrated on the vulnerable jugular cables, lying 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 almost too late.
Squeezing the trigger brought the crack of powder, an ugly puff of dust from under the muzzle and a discernable 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 half-crouch.
He rolled up out of the sand, the cool shadows masking 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. Clutching the gun, Rane broke into a dead run from the back of his hide under the brush.
The brutal heat on his face was a shock, as were the aching lungs and the dry tack of a man’s mouth when the temperature was fifty-plus in the shade.
Now the thing would see his cool silhouette, no longer masked by the rug and an inch of sand. He was out in the open, running full tilt, zig-zagging 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-litre of water in his bag.
A line of brush a hundred fifty metres 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, its long train dragging. Under the cycads and cactus-trees, deadly with their barbs but offering cool in their midst, he turned right, staying just inside the edge, listening intently.
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 metres from his point of entry, he turned left and plunged into the thicket. Avoiding open areas, he began zig-zagging 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, with a sturdy stump beside him and many spreading branches. He was lucky to find a metre-high ledge of red sandstone behind it. It would protect his rear.
Rane carefully parted the sand, for the under-layer was cooler still, and he so he spread it evenly over his widespread rug, always behind the shooting position so he could pull it up and then roll over.
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 bottle 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 him, 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 metres.
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 might be following its line of sight.
The bumble-drones came back. He watched over the sights through the small tunnel he had created with the rug. They were still a couple of kilometres off to the southwest.
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 around here.
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.
Deep down inside, he 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 it.
The head, with its sleek occipitals and pugnacious jaws, would make quite a trophy over his fireplace.