Five or six of us left, Mehdi thought, his forehead beaded with sweat. He blinked perspiration out of his
eyes. He wasnâ€Ÿt even sure of the count, anymore. He had ducked for cover when the boy had taken a shot at the four
soldiers running at him. The ensuing eruption had sent bits of fla ming house flying in every d irection.
â€œSlowly now,â€ Mehdi said, and coughed as hot smoke stung the inside of his throat. He waited a few
mo ments for the smo ke to clea r, and then moved forward with his soldiers behind him.
â€œMaybe we should go,â€ Sherri said. She was right behind him. He could feel her breath against the side of
his neck. She put her hand on his shoulder. â€œWeâ€Ÿre overmatched here. We need to regroup, we need toâ€"â€
He yanked a laser blade out of h is right fat igue pocket, freed the blade, and turned and shoved it into
Sherriâ€Ÿs neck, again and again and again. She went to the floor and he continued to stab at her until her head was
nearly decapitated. Satisfied, he shoved the laser blade back into his pocket, and looked at the re main ing soldiers.
â€œDoes anyone else feel weâ€Ÿre overmatched?â€ The soldiers shook their heads. â€œGood.â€
He did a quic k count. Four soldiers, p lus himself. That should be enough to end this if they were care ful.
He led his men slowly toward the giant hole in the front of the house. Most of the smoke had cleared by this point,
and from the inside he was able to see a number of burning corpses out on the street. It looked like a co llect ion of
purposely set campfires.
Mehdi peered into the night, looking for the kid with the Pulse -Ray shotgun. For a mo ment it seemed as if
the kid had disappeared, and then he suddenly spotted him. The kid was on his knees, his back turned to Mehdi and
the rest of the group.
It has to be a set-up, Mehdi thought for a split-second, and then thought that it wouldnâ€Ÿt have made sense.
He and his men were standing in the door way of the house. All the little boy wouldâ€Ÿve had to do was turn around,
with the Pu lse-Ray shotgun aimed as it had been, the butt jammed aga inst his shoulder, and fire at the re main ing five
soldiers. The boy mustâ€Ÿve known they were there. No way a boy like this didnâ€Ÿt.
Mehdi put his hand up to signal the re main ing soldiers not to fire.
â€œEveryone remain cautious,â€ he said, and like Mehdi, the rest of the soldiers kept their weapons aimed.
Mehdi stepped out of the house, the rema ining soldiers flanking him. Outside smelled like s moked meat. The
thought that the stench Mehdi was smelling was of the burning flesh of his fello w soldiers made the smell somehow
worse. The crackle of the fires engulfing the corpses of his men and women was distinct, but did nothing to drown
out the sound of the kids whimpers. Mehdi took another step forward, and the bottom of his shoe, crunching a
pebble on the ground, made the kidâ€Ÿs head perk up. Mehdi put his hand up again, to make sure that his men didnâ€Ÿt
fire. The kid looked over his shoulder at the men. The g low fro m the surrounding fla mes gave light to his unlined
face, highlighted the tremble of h is bottom lip, and the sparkle of the tears that has swelled in his eyes. One thing
that had changed was the red glow that had been there. Now the nine year old boyâ€Ÿs eyes looked like every other set
of nine-year old eyes. The kidâ€Ÿs eyes touched on one soldier, then a second, then Mehdi. Then he pleaded,
â€œYeah,â€ Mehdi said quietly. â€œWhat happened?â€
He pointed the weapon directly between the kidâ€Ÿs eyes and before he managed to pull the trigger the kidâ€Ÿs
eyes flashed red again, and he snatched the firearm clean from Mehdiâ€Ÿs hands, cocked it back over his shoulder, and
slammed it into Mehdiâ€Ÿs nose, breaking it.
I donâ€™t understand it, Mehdi thought wildly. I donâ€™t fucking understand it.
Mehdi fell back fro m the impact of the gun, and as he lay on the ground, surrounding by fires and staring
up at a star-studded sky, he heard s omething near to him break, a gasp, a grunt, then another snap. He knew another
of his men we re dead.
â€œHeellp mâ€"â€ another soldier gruntedâ€"Mehdi knew it was a man na med Andyâ€"and the words were cut
off, and reduced to the fading sound of gurgles. Another man deceased. A third man shrieked, and the voice was
temporarily cut off, and what followed was a half-shriek, half gurgleâ€"a sound Mehdi had never heard beforeâ€"then
Mehdiâ€Ÿs sweaty face was splashed in warm blood. It leaked into his eyes, its bitterness found his cotton-dry tongue,
and he wiped at it, spit it out, then rolled onto his stomach to see what the boy was doing now. The boy had his fist
shoved down the throat of the last soldier that had travelled this way with Mehdi. The soldierâ€Ÿs eyes were wide, his
mouth monstrously stretched and unhinged, as the boy strangled him by pressing his fist into the back of his throat.
Three seconds later the soldier was dead, and as the boy was pulling his hand from the soldierâ€Ÿs mouth, Mehdi
yanked out his laser blade, freed it, and took one last desperate leap at the boy, his arm cocked back, his hand
squeezing the hilt of the knife. He connected, shoving all seven inches of its laser bordered steel into the back of the
boyâ€Ÿs skull. A jolt ran through Mehdi, knocking him onto his back once again, and the laser blade flew out of his