The Price of Independence - Day 25

Altman cried out; the pistol, still held in Deman’s grip, had gone off. Tremaine lay crumpled on the floor by the rear entrance, unmoving. He saw the blood drain from Kaylene’s face, her hand wrapped around Deman’s wrist where she’d tried to take the pistol from him.

Deman didn’t hesitate; with a savage growl he kicked up with his legs, tossing Kaylene behind him. He raised the pistol at Altman. With an inarticulate roar of his own, Altman tackled his friend, one hand wrapping around Deman’s burned throat, the other grabbing for the pistol.

The rolled on the floor, wrestling for the weapon, neither able to gain completely control. Deman was much stronger and fitter, but his burns were severe and hampered is mobility, which Altman took full advantage of.

Kaylene picked herself up off the ground unsteadily; she’d landed on her head after Deman threw her off. Whirling back to the conflict, she piled on, grabbing Deman’s arm and twisting. Between her and Altman, his strength was broken, and the struggle ended abruptly with one more, very final —BANG—.

Altman and Kaylene, faces pale, sat up and back. The pistol had discharged one last time, the projectile catching Deman low in the chest but angled up. His disfigured face stared blankly upward, wearing an expression of enraged surprise, but also of confusion.

It was some time before Altman could move. Kaylene rose and rushed to check on Tremaine; her tear-stained face told the young scientist everything he needed to know about his uncle’s condition.

She slowly walked over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder. “What … What was that?” Her voice was small. The whole encounter had lasted just minutes, and Deman had been too inarticulate to even say what had happened. His eyes moving over his dead friend’s face, Altman read the story in the burns.

“He must have returned to the deposit after overhearing my conversation with my uncle,” he said, voice flat, numb. “He must have been there for hours, in close contact with the electrite. These are radiation burns.”

He rolled up his friend’s sleeve. “Heaviest where the body was unprotected, though regular clothing would have offered almost no protection anyway.”

As he rolled the sleeve back down, a lump in Deman’s jacket pocket caught his attention. He pulled out a lump of electrite ore.