By Walter Jon Williams
Ex-fighter pilot Cowboy, ''hardwired'' through cranium sockets on to his deadly digital undefined, groups up with Sarah, an both cyborized gun-for-hire, to make a final stab at independence from the rapacious Orbitals.
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A war would mean work for Sarah; but she doesn’t want it either. She knows that the only important war is already over, and that both she and Michael have already lost it, that any fighting here in the American Concessions is over the scraps the Orbitals had left behind, not thinking them worth the bother. The Hetman rises to his feet. His hands make nervous movements. Sarah rises with him. “I will go arrange for the gun,” he says. A long worm of ash falls from the end of the cigarette, leaving a fingerprint of gray dust on his vest.
The two look at each other for a moment, then at Cowboy. “You don’t have to pay us,” the boy says quietly. “We wouldn’t—we’re from the East, you know. We know what you’re doing. ” “Yeah. Well. Just consider the money a goodwill gesture,” Cowboy says, and turns away to place some remote sensors outside and close the barn doors. Time for a rest. Back in the panzer the cabin smells of sweat and adrenaline. Cowboy takes off the g-suit and removes the electrodes, then gives himself a sponge bath from one of his jerricans.
Michael the Hetman stares out the window, his face bleached by the sun. “For me,” he says. “There is a job…” He screws up his face and shrugs. “There is maybe something wrong with it. I can’t tell. Everything seems right, but the feeling is wrong. ” Sarah looks up at him, wondering if this is another oblique warning like the one from Cunningham. As if Michael is maybe finding her too hot to shelter anymore, taking too much pressure from the people he does business with. Wants to move her out where she will be a target.