Diana tried not to fidget as she stood lookout by the wall of a crumbling adobe church. In the dark of the new moon, she could make out shadows where her friend Sachi was stationed on the other side of the road. She would’ve liked to have used her flashlight to send a signal, but didn’t want to risk giving away her position, in case a stranger was nearby.
She leaned against the wall, listening to the faint sounds of music and laughter from up the road. What they were attempting tonight could get them all in trouble. If Javier hadn’t incurred the hatred of the townspeople in the brief time their unit had been camped nearby, they would’ve had no hope of getting away with it. If he hadn’t been so hateful overall, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
A veil of clouds passed over the stars and a mouse rustled among the trash at Diana’s feet. Two men left the bar and came down her road singing about their amorcita. She backed deeper into the recesses of the church wall and waited for them to pass. Then she resumed her station, occasionally kicking a pebble or tracing an arc in the dust with the toe of her boot.
Finally she heard it—the sound of angry voices and threats. She couldn’t see what was happening, but other than Javier's, none of the voices sounded like the young men of her unit. That was a good sign. They had obviously succeeded in getting Javier to provoke someone.
Silence. Then a lone shadow moving along the road, silhouetted against the glow from the cantina’s electric lights.
Diana looked around. This was the moment. If there were people around or anything to indicate this was a bad time to do it, now was the time to signal—
She jumped at the crack of the first rifle shot and again at the second. Will and Boeing rarely missed, but to Diana’s shock, Javier was running down the road, heading toward her lookout station. He was limping as if he’d been hit, but was still moving fast. Dammit, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this!
He veered off the road, heading for the open desert. Diana gave chase and they fled across the barren landscape until he stumbled into a clump of Russian thistle. Entangled, he fell onto his wounded leg with a scream.
Diana trained her gun on him. She couldn’t see his face in the darkness and heard only his labored breathing and pleading words.
“Let me go. Tell them you couldn’t see me in the dark.”
She sucked in her breath. She had never killed like this, point-blank, in cold blood. Javier was hostile, divisive, and a danger to their group, but he had never done anything to her personally.
He whimpered as he tried to disentangle himself from the thorns. “Help me get away. I won’t forget it.”
Footsteps behind her. Frantic scrabbling in the dust and weeds in front of her. More footsteps, running to catch up. Diana took aim at where she knew Javier’s chest must be and pulled the trigger.
She was gulping air in great heavy gasps when Will caught up to her.
“Did you get him? Turn on your flashlight.”
She did, but looked away.
“Nice job.” He pulled out his knife and bent over the body. “Just to be sure.”
Diana hoped her light was steady because if she watched, she would surely be sick.
More footsteps as others from their group approached and clustered around, giving Diana the opportunity to move out of the circle of their lights.
“Can’t believe I fucking missed,” Boeing said.
“I told you we should’ve blown him up.”
“Shut up, Coyote.”
Aguilero shone his light in an arc, frowning in disgust. “We’ve got a lot of tracks to try and hide. Some of us have to get back for watch before Harley finds out.”
During the quick conference that followed, Will joined Diana in the shadows. “What’s the matter? We’ve killed people before.”
“But I knew him.”
“He was a jerk.”
“But he was still one of us. It was wrong.”
“Too late now, and there’s no point worrying about what’s done.”
By now Dell and Sachi were scraping in the dirt while Boeing and Aguilero cut switches to dust over their tracks. Will and Diana helped dig and when they were done they dragged the body to the edge of the shallow hole. Before shoving it in and covering it with earth, Dell dabbed her fingers in Javier's blood and streaked some down each of her cheeks. “For getting my girlfriend killed on the Terralinda raid,” she said. She spat into the grave.
Sachi followed suit. “For injuring my favorite horse, and for all those things you said about me.”
Aguilero, Boeing and Will followed, voicing their resentments as they marked themselves. When it was Diana’s turn, she hesitated. Will helped, painting blood on her wrists and the backs of her hands when she shied away from having him mark her face.
Knowing she should voice a resentment, she searched her memory. Although she could recall nothing pleasant, there was nothing she could really hate about Javier, either. “Just because.”
She stepped back from the grave and Aguilero handed her a switch. “Be sure to cover your tracks.”
“Yes." Instead of looking at the ground she looked at the sky. The wispy clouds had moved on and the velvet night was alive with stars.
Will edged closer and whispered in her ear. “What do you see up there?”
There were thousands of little worlds up there, glittering with empty promises.
“Nothing,” she said.