The air thumped with the wail of a massive sea creature trapped in a fisherman’s net.
Claire was running.
Her breathing accelerated with each footfall against the mud trail as it climbed and climbed toward tree line. The rain-coated weapon in her hands slipped as it leeched warmth from bare fingers. Her shoulders ached from the weight. She ducked beneath a low branch. A slap tore her cheek. She spun behind the trunk, eyes darting across the night, searching for the black body.
The thumping was low.
She lifted her rifle. Breathed in.
The giant puppet machine hung in the sky.
Her weapon spit twice.
The machine’s white eyes turned slowly to face her.
She twisted to run. Her foot slipped and slipped and sli—
Corporal Claire Ferreti cracked one eye open. She was panting. Her damp body lay entangled in a cotton blanket with blue stripes.
She really should drink less. In alcohol-fueled dreams, she always missed.
The television was on, flickering satellite pictures of the morning weather. She didn’t have a television in her bedroom. Her brain fog lifted slightly. She saw hot, humid, scroll past. For a fleeting moment she thought about being a meteorologist. Then she could miss and still keep her job. No one liked a sniper who missed.
She sighed, wishing for a better word: sharpshooter, marksman, rifleman, rifle-person.
The fog lifted more. She realized this wasn’t her apartment. She was at Billy’s place.
No sound. He must have muted it for her. She liked that about her General, whose Cornell lecture on the future of national security had inspired her to drop out of college to enlist. And specialize. One of only two men under thirty-five with a star, he wouldn’t rest until he had two—though she teased that he only had one of something else, and that was plenty.
But could he be out jogging after a party? Too fanatic.
With effort she rotated her open eye. Blurry blue numbers glowed 6:28. Her lid dropped shut. She shifted. Her stomach gurgled. An ache blossomed in her shoulder from the last weapons test.
Fun party. Well, not at first. Billy had departed with a serious-looking going-bald guy from the President’s office. That left her unguarded, subject to attack by a pudgy man wearing thick glasses and an expensive gray suit with a hint of herringbone camouflaged into the fabric. His pickup line was unique: Was that General Williams you came in with? I represent an Israeli armor manufacturer. There’s a rumor the General has procurement needs. Would you introduce us?
She told Mr. Procurement the General was looking at suppliers for next generation tanks. She figured someone was always working on a new tank. She hadn’t introduced them though, messing in Billy’s affairs was a relationship no-no.
After Billy returned they shared good food and close dancing, and she drank triple her limit: six smooth Kamikaze specials, whose secret ingredient the bartender refused to reveal. Then Billy had driven home with one hand on the wheel, the other under her dress.
She smiled and rolled onto her back, dragging the arm that had been dangling to the floor up until it covered her bare breasts. She took a deep breath, longing to return to the land of deep slumber, but fluid was demanding an exit.
She opened both eyes. The room wobbled before coming to rest.
In slow motion she pushed back the thin blanket that protected her from District of Columbia air conditioning, rotated, and aimed both feet at the floor until achieving a seated position on the edge of the king bed. With one finger she tapped the remote lying beside the blue numbers. The television told her about a new green car.
“I prefer red,” she said.
Automobiles flying across desert sand attracted her eyes. She took another deep breath and raised herself to a standing position. Barefoot and pink-pantied she moved her left foot toward the bathroom.