Illustration by Abby Brown
He could hardly believe his eyes. The kid did it. General Phinneas Bragg Boneblade, deposed by a downshipped kid from Greenknoll. Chest flat in hot sand, he watched the kid drag his shoes up the dunes. Any minute, Bragg's unit would awaken from their trance.
"Octavian," came a deep voice in his ear. "Report."
"Blackstar lives to fight another day. Bragg... not so fortunate. The kid cut his damn Augment out," mused Octavian, a dangerous edge of pride in his voice. He had, after all, been watching Quincy for some time.
"If Bragg dies, Blackstar wins. That might be an extra dash of hope we can't afford," came back the deep voice in his ear.
"You want me to... heal him?" said Octavian. His eyes jumped from Quincy's dune crawl to Bragg, sprawled out in a red stain on the sand. "What will the headlines say?"
"Drogen arrives just in time. Bragg's betrayal unveiled," narrated the voice. Octavian whistled quietly to the metal sky while he got up. He waited until Quincy had vanished to start for the bleeding giant.
"That's cruel, even for us," said Octavian. The voice that came back to him wasn't without empathy, or regret. Still, it said,
"When hungry wolves corner you, you throw them a bone. Not having second thoughts now, are you Octavian?"
"You mean like the man I'm about to frame?" Octavian chuckled, while he slid down the sand on his heels. "If I was, you think I'd say?" His only answer was the desert wind. A crowd of rugged Nether Ranks followed Octavian with their eyes, in his dark vest, all the way to the side of their General. They were the first eyes outside the Venter elite to see his face in years, though it hardly mattered. When the Guardian lockdown ended, they wouldn't remember a thing.
"What... are you..." Bragg wheezed through a scarlet mouthful, when Octavian knelt in the soaked sand beside him. From his pocket, he pulled a thin pair of rectangular glasses. He slid them up his nose. Sparks jumped across Octavian's skin and spiraled up into the glasses. They showed him exactly what he needed to see: Bragg's mangled insides.
"I'm an operator in a discreet Venter task force called the Milenean," Octavian told him outright. With the profuse pulse of blood, Bragg wouldn't remember a thing either. Octavian pulled his shirt up to find the wound. A wicked hole had gored a window right to his organs.
"What are... you... doing?"
"For the record," said Octavian, pulling off one of his gloves. He took a moment to straighten his tie before he brought his bare hand close to Bragg's wound. "Something I very much disagree with." Bragg attributed what he saw next to blood loss.
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