"Kill them all."

"No. We'd never get away with it." In frustration, she pushes her hand against his nylon vest, his robot skin. Her fingers radiate out, as though she could spread the material open and reveal the body inside. They are both locked up so tight in their armour, she can't even get a finger in to feel his spark.

"What can they do? They can kill us. So?"

"No, worse. Destroy us. Make us destroy each other."

"No, it's impossible. I'd remember. I couldn't hurt you. I'd never."

"I know what you mean, but... It's just a feeling. It's mystical crap. It's... They have machines. We have feelings. They win." Instinctively, she looks through the ragged wound in the wall of the mine, searching the yellow sky for transport, or worse.

"We have guns."

"They have long range remotes attached to these helmets, SkullSmash, Jugulasers..."

He opens the hatch in the chin of his helmet, revealing wires that trace their way up his neck into his skull like rainbow arteries. He grabs something she cannot see -

"What are.. ? F- Christ! Don't!"

- and yanks. Sparks fall on his vest. The face on his helmet goes blank.

"No! You fucking idiot!" She crashes into him fists first, trying to rip her way into the armour, unable to touch him and now, unable even to read his face.

His arms close around her and she gasps. He's still there. She takes a step back and he stumbles.

"Can you see?"

He shakes his head no, and makes a choking gesture.

"And your air... Oh, you fucking idiot." She moves behind him, using her hands to hold him steady and signal where she is. Although they are on different sides, their armour is the same, and his helmet release is like her own. Electronic. Opened with a thumbprint that doesn't belong to the person inside. It is not like hers in that it is unilluminated. She can feel his deliberate breaths. He can't have enough air for more than a few minutes, even conserving it this way.

There's no way to open the release without breaking something. Trouble is, the something that needs breaking is armour meant to withstand blows, bullets, falls, cannon fire...

Practically, there's no reason for the Meat to be this close to each other. The armour is mostly used to protect them from the accidents that are a daily occurance in cheap, poorly maintained transport. When they are on the ground, they stay back 200 yards. (Any closer jeopardizes the Employer's insurance.) But the Meat take care of themselves, and some carry a Carbon3, a diamond bladed knife purported to be for camping that's only really useful for cutting through soft armour. Meat carrying a Carbon3 often have a sideline business as bounty hunters, retrieving civil criminals of various descriptions who've tried to disappear into the ranks of mercenaries.

She reaches into a custom pocket, an unladylike gesture she'd die at the thought of him seeing were the I/O systems in his armour not disabled. From between her legs, she produces her knife. It cuts easily through the nylon stuff that protects the real business, and then she has to press much harder. Were her hands not contained in reinforced gloves, she'd surely fuck up. She can feel the sweat on her fingers squishing around in the suit's lining. She's surprised it's this difficult. She's never actually used the knife. The threat has always been enough.

He is holding absolutely still, not breathing even. She doesn't know if it's in fear or out of concern for his oxygen supply.

Rather than try to pierce the suit, she is sawing at it. Like cutting into a piece of furniture, it seems to be layer after layer, each more resistant to the blade. But, no. There it is. Blood blooms across the wooly lining of his suit where she's cut him. And she hears him gasp as air rushes into his dark helmet.

"Sorry," she whispers. She is pulling the opening in the suit back from his skin, sliding the knife further along its latitude, away from the wound she's given him. His skin is revealed to her, naked, pale, streaked with canned sweat. She touches the cool face of her helmet to it, wishing she could feel it on her lips.

"No," she hears his muffled voice, "Do my hands first." He sounds younger and kinder without the benefit of the suit's booming amplification system.

She doesn't want to, she wants to see his face, but she goes to work on the right hand. This area is thicker than the shoulders. Again she cuts him. This cut, across the back of his wrist, bleeds much more exuberantly. But once she's through, it's easy to slice along the rest of the circumference.

He touches her armour with his naked hand, holding her waist with the gloved one. "Come out of there."

She runs her gloved fingers over his skin, marvelling at the juxtaposition. The faint blue of blood under his skin. The life that must be throbbing through the rest of his suit.

"How did you know which wires to pull?"

"Which... In my helmet?"

It troubles her to look at his faceless mask, so she stares at his hand. "Yeah. Are you a technician?"

"No. Never even went to school. I just guessed."

She laughs. It's a shocking sound that stops suddenly. She is struck by two bleak thoughts at once. What if he'd guessed wrong? and I could die getting my helmet off.

"No, ok, I know what you're thinking, but don't. Don't hesitate."

"Are you serious? You're crazy! You could have... Oh my god. And now... "

"Faith. Faith in fate. The worst it can do is death."


He folds her hands around his exposed one. "Do you feel this?" She nods yes. "That's real. What you feel is real. And if you touch me and if you love me and you feel that I don't fuck up here, I won't."

"I..." His gentle hand moves to the chin of her helmet. "Oh my god, I don't know..."

"Deep breath."

She sucks in, feels the powered air vent in her stomach hum one last time. And she wishes like hell she could see his eyes. He opens the hatch and his fingers slide around a handful of wires. He pulls.

She feels the suit go dead around her, but she feels. The thing has not attacked her or electrocuted her. No going back from here. She is vaguely aware of him taking her knife from her hand, its slicing motion across the back of her shoulder, the pressure increasing. The knife is so sharp that she doesn't even feel him nick her, just feels the wet of her blood and the air rushing back into her lungs.

They are two blank faces working the knife over each other, like priests in some primitve ritual. They turn like spoons and she slices the back of his suit the rest of the way, touching his good shoulder as she moves to his front. Fluids drip from the slit throats of the wires that comprised the suit's support system. He takes the knife from her hand and opens her suit across the front. Both hinged, they can lift off the helmets.

She thought their lips would smash together like thirsty magnets, but it's not like that. When he's revealed to her, she freezes. Blushes, even. The kiss is the obvious thing, but she doesn't know where to begin. He's hers. There's all the time in the world to lay her lips down.

The wave of desire that overtakes her then is so powerful, she wants to laugh, fall down, implode, immolate. Her eyes don't leave his, but she begins fighting against the suit, contorting her shoulders, trying to push the thick material down.

With a shaking hand, she takes back her knife, pushes it against the new neckline of her armour, presses down. The cutting is hard at this angle, but she presses until the front is slit to the widest part of her hips, and she steps out of it.

All she really wanted was her hand. She touches his lips. He leaves little kisses on her fingertips. And then her lips follow and the world holds its breath as their mouths fold themselves together.

He pulls back from her. "Now do me," he whispers thickly, cocking his head backwards.

Shaking, she moves behind him and begins to cut along the spine of his decapitated suit. She nearly cuts him several times, but the suit falls open. Before she can move, he has his arms free. He is at the same time turning to face her and kicking the suit off his legs. His arms are around her, his slick skin pressed to her skin, his tongue entering her mouth. Their hands paint tracks through their sweat and where their bodies press together, they stick, unwilling to be separated again.

The sun through the hole in the wall singes the edges of their bodies, highlighting the places where flesh has responded to flesh. Sweat soaked grey undergarments are the only veil between them now, and these slide willingly across slippery planes, accomodating trembling foreign fingers probing for hidden skin.

Some teenage urge is mutually recalled and they are kicking grey cotton into the corners. Against one of the half-hearted round doorways, they lean into each other. He slides in like fucking her is his only destiny. The sun slides down the damp skin of his back. Looking out the hole blown in the wall, she can't tell if she's blinded by the sunset or the feeling of the universe snapping into place.

They come at the same time and in the daze of her pleasure, she thinks the black shape in the sky is a burn on her retinas. It's not.

The window of the Rustler, like a giant's eye, lowers to the level of the hole in the wall and approaches. They are in shadow, just.

"Hey," she whispers, squeezing his shoulder. "They're here."

He turns to look as the hum of the machine's stealthy engine comes close enough to hear. He rolls them around the corner, behind the curve of the doorway.

"What now?"

"Run? They can't track us now."

"But the mine is won. They'll come in to clear it out, and there's nothing around. We're trapped. We're AWOL. We're trapped, and then we're dead." His eyes don't deny any of it.

The engine noise is close now. Close enough the pilot could see the butchered armour lying on the other side of the hole. Now he will be alerting one Employer or the other, letting them know that the disappeared signal belonged to a now empty suit, the Meat inside missing. Can he see the balled underwear? Will he put the pieces together?

She wonders if this kind of thing happens all the time.

And then there's an explosion. Light creeps around the corner to find them as flames shoot into the mine to slide across the floor like the fingers of a suicide who had second thoughts. Then the Rustler and the flames are gone.

He presses his sweaty cheek to hers. "Mystical crap," he whispers past her ear.

"We've got a few more hours."

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