Carrion Dawn An Original Story by Gulliver and DotCom "But his humor was that wry, desiccated kind soldiers whisper, all their jokes subsurface, their laughter amounting to little more than a tic in the corner of the mouth, told as they wait together in their outpost, slowly realizing that help’s not going to reach them in time and come nightfall, no matter what they’ve done or what they try to say, slaughter will overrun them all. Carrion dawn for vultures." --- Four months before the start of the Sectid War, Mahlia's parents died in a transporter crash heading back to Earth from a weekend on the moon. It'd been their twenty-fifth anniversary gift to each other. Because that's what you got the person with whom you'd spent over thirty years of your life, had three children with, and vowed, mid-espionage career, to love and to hold forever and ever, amen: a big, floating rock. She guessed she couldn't blame them. That had been almost twenty years ago now. Trips to the moon were common. Weekend trips, not to much. The eight-hour shuttle rides had been new and shiny and riddled with wiring issues. Like spontaneous combustion upon reentry of Earth's then-restabilizing atmosphere. Now? Half of Earth's population had resettled on Mars. Shuttle rides to the moon from Earth went for a couple hundred creds a pop. They were new-fashioned 'stay-cations', for families whose wallets couldn't afford a cruise out to Jupiter. Taking a shuttle out eight hours and back was safer than walking your dog across the street on some podunk Mars suburb. Lucky for the newbies. Shitty timing for former NUN pilots, Aime and Gadin Chaudry. As it turned out, they'd gotten lucky and retired/died just in time. Back on Earth, six-year-old Mahlia Kajri Chaudry, and brothers Taj and Ashwin, then twelve and four years old respectively, were swiftly tucked away into the system, labeled 'war orphans' before the war had even officially started. Their status as new-age army brats meant they got to stay together. Their parents' combined penchants kept them floating above the foster system for the first few months, until all extra funds were being shunted toward war efforts, and the fact that both Aime and Gadin had been super spies for the New UN meant nothing. Taj, Mali, and Ash lived together in a London orphanage for two months after the war started. Until Ash noticed his younger siblings were essentially starving, and elected to start looking for work on his own. That was the first time Mal had run away. The second time was after eight months trapped in a work camp. Mali was hardly seven years old, working alongside her five-year-old brother, even then, painfully shy, and with none of the spirited backtalk that had earned his older sister so many tongue-lashings (and worse) before their parents had died. Every day, Taj, three weeks into his thirteen years, would climb out of the sleeping bag he'd stolen for himself, teeth still chattering from the morning dew coating his hair, and start out to comb the streets for contraband with men twice his age and three times his size. He would come back starving, half frozen, usually with a black eye or two, and Ash would cry, and Mali would rage, until Taj made some stupid joke about how he'd beat up one of those bigger, older men to steal something for them. And he'd hold out a crust of warm bread, smiling, and Mali could never be angry when she saw that smile, so she ate, and never realized how often Taj went without. Then, one night, Taj didn't come back. One of those men came in his place, looking for where the bread had gone, looking, he claimed for the two children whose eyes could spot bullets in a gutter quicker than anyone else's. That was the night Mali had learned her trade. Ash fought back. Quiet, sensitive little Ash who'd never raised a finger against even a flea. Later, much later, Taj told her he might have never found them, found her, if he hadn't heard Mali screaming. It was twelve hours later, and the pool of blood they found Ash in looked almost black by the cold, gray light of morning. Taj never forgave himself for that. Neither did Mali. But twenty years later, the war still raging on, red-hot hatred cooled to a slow deep loathing, Mali was still honing her craft. She went by Molly now, because even black market traders and war profiteers still liked little girls. And while Molly, at twenty-five, was anything but, hadn't been in two decades, she was a good actor. And a good liar. She lied all the way to the cell when they finally caught her. "I never sold anything our side didn't already know," she said coldly. With her hands cuffed behind her back, there wasn't much she could do between the two huge officers who'd found her early that morning, waist deep in a general from the other side. One of the cops behind her laughed. "Our side. You say it like you believe that." "No more than I believe you jackasses got my brother killed." Taj had died in the war two years ago. Molly had been selling secrets with her body ever since. She'd been good at it. Until someone turned her in. "He got himself killed," said the other officer, and stopped in front of a cell. She couldn't see much through the window slide in the heavy steel door. A couple figures. None of them moving. All of them men. She smiled. Perfect. "We heard you like company," said the first officer, unlocking the door and shoving her through. "Let us know when you finish with these guys." "F*ck you," she spat. And the door slammed shut behind her.