26 April 2013
HANG A LANTERN ON IT
By Curtis C. Chen
"I can't feel my legs," Trager said.
"Is every word out of your mouth a goddamn cliché?" Jamie held down the field communicator's power button until both her thumbs were numb. The screen lit up a second later. "What the hell does 'OPSEC' mean?"
"Operational Security," Trager said. "Need access code."
"What's the code?"
"Can't tell you." Trager's left arm twitched, then fell back into the dirt. "I'll do it."
"You're about to pass out," Jamie said. "Tell me the code."
"Can't. You're civilian."
An energy beam sliced past the bunker, making the ground sizzle. Jamie grabbed Trager's helmet and turned the other woman's head until their eyes met.
"Tell me the fucking code, please," Jamie said.
Trager grinned. "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you."
Jamie bit her lip. Trager's pupils were huge. Whatever painkillers and other drugs the battle armor was pumping into her system, they were working fast.
"I need the code to activate this beacon or we're both dead." Jamie pressed the communicator screen up against Trager's visor.
Trager pursed her lips. "Quid pro quo, Clarice."
"And now she's speaking in tongues."
Trager raised her right hand and unbuckled her chestplate. The seal opened with a hiss, followed by the urgent beeping of alarms.
"Whoa!" Jamie said. "Stop! That armor's keeping you alive—"
"I'll give you the code," Trager said. "But you need to do something for me."
"Sure, anything, just put your armor back on!"
Trager reached under her chestplate and yanked hard, snapping the chain around her neck. She held out her fist.
"No," Jamie said. "You're not dead. I'm not taking your goddamn dogtags."
"Not my tags," Trager said. "The other thing."
Jamie looked down at Trager's open palm. Strung beside her dogtags was a smooth obsidian ring, bulging on one side but with no gemstones or markings.
"Your ring?" Jamie said.
"Not mine," Trager said. "Found it."
Jamie picked up the ring. "Okay. I'll get it back to HQ—"
"No!" Trager clamped her hand on Jamie's shoulder. "Not the military. Give it to my brother."
Trager slumped forward. Jamie caught her.
"His name is," Trager slurred. "What's his name?"
"I'll find him," Jamie said, shoving Trager's chestplate back into place. The armor resealed itself and stopped beeping. "Don't worry. Now what's the code?"
Trager recited a string of digits. Jamie started typing them into the communicator. It was hard to work the keypad while holding the ring, so she slipped the black circle onto her finger.
"Don't do that," Trager said.
The ring bit into Jamie's skin, like a pinprick, then grew warm. It rotated itself around her finger until the bulge faced upward. Multi-colored dots danced beneath the surface.
"Holyshitwhatthefuck!" Jamie said.
"Told you not to do that," Trager said.
"You could have warned me earlier!" Jamie tugged at the ring, but it wouldn't move. Flickers of light appeared at the edges of her vision, then coalesced into clusters of unfamiliar shapes. "What is this thing doing to me?"
"Funny story," Trager said, and passed out.
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