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The Toys of War
K.G. Jewell


“How much for the whole unit, the data and the electronics?” Jason tapped the GPS device sitting on the table between him and the young backpacker who owned it.

“I thought you just wanted the coordinates of the crash site. It’s my dad’s GPS. He’ll kill me if I lose it.” The kid’s gaze darted around the coffee shop, as if his father might be at the next table over. But the only other customer in the small room was a young woman reading a thick treatise on intergalactic communication protocols. Her sweatshirt suggested she was a New Jasp University grad student.

“Buy him a new one, he’ll get over it.” When Jason had read the kid’s description of the aerial drone crash site on a hiking message board, he’d jumped onto the next transport to New Jasp. It sounded like a Third-disturbance Shiva-class battle drone. If Jason got the GPS, he could keep the location from other collectors — it appeared the kid couldn’t pinpoint the coordinates without the unit.

“I don’t know. Five hundred?”

That would buy two of the newest GPS units in the store. The kid gave the impression he expected to be negotiated down.

“Four hundred.” Jason would have actually paid a grand for the confirmed location of a Shiva drone, but he couldn’t afford to throw money away, and this find was unconfirmed. It could be a lost park service litter drone, for all he knew.

“Deal.”

The kid’s response was a little too quick. Oh well, at worst he’d overpaid for a new GPS.

“And you can see the drone from the canyon rim?” Jason confirmed as he counted out the cash.

The kid took the money and slid the unit in front of Jason.

“Yep. You have to look carefully, but you can see it. It’s still intact and in pretty good shape.”

Jason imagined an unclaimed Shiva-class battle drone sitting on a ledge in the Ortango desert, untouched for seven decades. He’d dreamed of owning a real one since he was nine.

The toy battle drone he’d received on his ninth birthday had kicked off a lifetime hobby collecting war machines. He had weapons from the First to the Third Commonwealth Disturbances, from a one-shot spy-gun to a decommissioned surface-to-air missile, but nothing close to a real Shiva drone. They were very rare — almost every one built had been damaged in the war or salvaged for parts in the peace.

His favorite article in his entire vintage Jane’s collection was an illustrated feature detailing how the unmanned Shiva drones had revolutionized modern warfare. Their awesome laser weaponry and small radar profile had allowed the armada to strike unseen, scattering the guerrilla forces of the Third Disturbance to the wind. He’d spent countless hours studying the pictures in the article, but the only real one he’d ever seen had sat in a glass-sealed museum exhibit under a fluorescent light.

This one waited for him under the open sky.

Jason’s mouth broke into a smile and he stood up. He shook the kid’s hand and, the GPS under his arm, left to plan the hunt.

#

The first sign of trouble arrived while he stood in the cluttered office of an air charter company negotiating for a small cargo transport for the search. He had just settled with the pilot on a price when Tree Demarce walked in.

Tree’s comprehensive collection of war machines was famous among the connoisseurs of such artifacts. He wore a Commonwealth Second Disturbance dress uniform over his thin frame, complete with a ceremonial saber at his side and the traditional mustache on his lip.

“Why, hello Jason. What brings you out here?” Tree spoke with the choppy consonants of the northern continent.

“Same thing as you, I assume.”

“The weather?”

Jason focused on his transaction, initialing the paperwork for a week-long charter of an H-229, a vertical take-off transport that could land almost anywhere.

Tree had ruined Jason’s last two expeditions. Jason had tracked the Drox zeppelin to Crocersfield to find Tree already loading it into his transport. The Newminan submarine depot in Zirland had been his second target. He had identified the location of the site before Tree, but Tree had bribed an air-traffic controller for Jason’s flight plans and arrived first, allowing him to file a claim with the provisional authority and snake the artifacts from Jason’s grasp.

The third time was going to be the charm. He knew it. This time he had solid information from the backpacker and a warning that Tree was nipping at his heels. His secret edge was the depth of his passion for the Shiva-drone; to Tree, it was just another war toy, to Jason, it was the realization of a life-long dream.

Jason told the pilot he’d be in contact with details and turned to leave. Annoyingly, Tree still stood in the door.

“This war machine will be a great find, I think,” Tree said. “We should work together on this, I could show you how to really do collecting right.” He must have discovered the backpacker didn’t have the coordinates anymore.

“Not this time,” Jason said. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the joy in our friendly rivalry.” Not when he could finally one-up Tree.

Tree’s lips curled back, revealing nicotine-stained teeth. “There is nothing friendly about war.”

Jason brushed past him and continued to his next errand, getting food and other camping supplies for the expedition.

#

Forewarned of Tree’s presence, he took careful steps to avoid the failures of the Newminan affair. After shopping for provisions, he called his charter pilot and told him to request a flight plan for the coast. The next day the pilot headed east for three days of sightseeing while Jason rented a two-wheeler and headed south on back roads and dirt paths.

Jason didn’t see any sign of Tree for the two days he rode to the coordinates identified by the backpacker. Tree had either given up and gone home or was looking in the wrong place. Either was good news.

He reached the canyon on the third day. Jason tracked its rim all morning, watching as the canyon deepened from a shallow gully to a multi-story chasm and the landscape shifted from short trees in brown soil to dry scrub in red rock. His excitement grew with each kilometer.

The GPS finally announced his arrival early that afternoon, and Jason pulled up to the canyon rim. The canyon was some hundred meters deep here, perhaps twice as wide. He dismounted, setting his helmet on the seat behind him.

The air was silent in the afternoon heat; nothing moved, in the canyon or out. He could smell only the dust of the desert and the dissipating exhaust of his two-wheeler. The sky was clear of clouds, the occasional tree leafless and dead, the canyon floor cracked and desiccated.

Jason extracted a canteen from the field pack tucked behind the seat and took a swig. As the cool water settled to his stomach, he traded the canteen for field glasses and scanned the canyon wall below him. Scrub, tree, rock, scrub, scrub. He wiped sweat from his eyes and shifted to a lower part of the wall. Scrub, tree, rock, scrub. Metallic glint. He caught his breath.

There, the distinctive oval tail-fin of a Shiva drone. It rested on a small ledge, halfway to the canyon floor.

Jason spent the next hour descending the canyon wall in a nerve-racking cross between technical bouldering and frantic scrambling. Halfway down he shifted his feet and a branch whipped up, its thorns ripping across his cheek and knocking him off his footing.

He caught hold of a rock edge by his fingertips, his feet dangling over the chasm below. His fingers were slipping, and Jason feared he was going to plunge to his death before reaching the drone. Adrenaline pumping through him, he caught a crack with his left foot and swung to the next handhold before his grip was lost. When he reached his destination, sweat from exhaustion, sweat from fear, and blood from his wound soaked his surplus fatigues.

The drone’s wingspan stretched five meters, the width of the ledge. The fuselage was half that. In the seventy years since the Third Disturbance, dust and debris had settled out of the desert air onto its back.

The dust didn’t hide the battle drone’s sleek lines of force and speed. Tactical lasers hung from the wingtips, flaunting the machine’s destructive power. Lychum jets bulged at its shoulders, urging the eye forward to the aerodynamic nose, where metal still gleamed under the desert sun.

This was worth a little blood and sweat.

It might be his dream find, but it wasn’t going to be an easy extraction. There was no room on the ledge for the H-229 to land, and it would have to hover in the canyon while he lashed the battle drone to a long cable. It would be a tricky operation.

Jason set his field pack down and pulled out his radio. It was a mobile A40; he’d found it at a surplus shop specializing in items that could be legally imported from militarized planets. It had capabilities that most civilian radios lacked — directional signal marking, line scrambling, voice masking. He called the pilot to arrange pickup.

“JD to Transport.” The A40 was good tech, the line staticless as he waited for the response on the prearranged channel.

“Jason Drier. Funny we should run into each other again so soon.” The precision of Tree’s consonants grated Jason’s nerves.

Jason swore to himself. “What are you doing on my frequency?” Next time he’d find a pilot who could use a scrambled line.

“Just playing with my new toy — a communications scanner from Dicron. Nifty little thing. It’s useful for gathering tactical intelligence from radio communications.”

“Tree, clear the line. I have business to attend to with my pilot.”

“Oh, haven’t you heard? I believe your pilot had a failure in his communications gear. That’s the thing with modern technology — so many things can go wrong.”

Jason switched to the New Jasp link. He’d work with the charter company directly, through the airport comm channel.

The A40 blinked, indicating it had located the carrier of the New Jasp channel.

“Jason Drier to New Jasp.”

“If you need transport, don’t you worry.” Tree’s voice. Jason saw the A-40 indicated the channel lock was not secured. Tree must be jamming the signal and spoofing the official New Jasp carrier. “I’ve got a fix on your location, and I’m on my way. If you’ve found anything interesting, I’m sure we can work out an agreement to our mutual advantage.”

He threw the radio to the ground.

#

Jason ran his hand over the fuselage. He had to find some way to keep this from Tree. It was everything he’d ever wanted — how did such a treasure end up here?

Something had brought the vehicle down — such a precarious canyon ledge wouldn’t be any pilot’s first choice. The pristine body indicated the battle drone hadn’t been shot down. Nevertheless, the propulsion system must have been a least partially operational at landing, as it would have taken fine control — and good piloting — to stall out so perfectly on the ledge.

Jason brushed desert dust off the primary aluminum access plate. The particles hung in the sunlight, slowly drifting into the canyon. He glimpsed the serial number and froze. An L-37? Nobody owned one of these. The model was the only autonomous and fully self-directed AI ever placed in a combat theater. Jason took a long breath and tried to calm his thumping heart.

The L development fork had promised to eliminate the vulnerability of fire and control authorization to jamming, a major shortcoming in the first generation of remotely-guided battlefield craft. The L-series had been abruptly terminated after the L-37, well before the end of the Disturbance. The military had then abandoned artificial intelligence. The private sector had never picked up the research, bypassing AI for biotics, so even seven decades later this was still the most advanced AI technology ever manufactured.

It was his ninth birthday all over again.

When it had gone down, this had been hostile territory. The unit should have locked down its access plate and fried the internals to prevent enemy access to mission data. But the release lever moved under Jason’s fingers, a sign the unit had not initiated a hostile response sequence when it shut down. Interesting.

Jason lightly tugged at the access plate; the internal hinge resisted. Very aware of the sheer drop a few feet way, he put his body into the effort and wrenched the latch. The stubborn hinge groaned as the plate opened, revealing a data port and two mechanical gauges.

He wasn’t surprised to see the battery power at zero. Thirty years was a long time to hold a charge. He was initially surprised to see the fuel gauge registering half full, but realized any unit operating out here would have maintained enough fuel for the return to its carrier and Lychum wouldn’t evaporate.

Jason dusted the panel with his bandana, revealing an indicator light below the power dial. Such a light was not in any battle drone designs he’d ever seen, but the L-37′s specifications had never been released. With the dust removed, the sun over his back caught in the indicator light, giving it a soft phantom glow. Jason did a double take at the illusion and cupped his hand over the diode to block the sunlight.

The light still glowed.

The pit of his stomach churned. Had he found not just an L-37 but a partially operational L-37?

The I/O port was standard. He connected his portable organizer with a short cable from his pack. The organizer had a program to run diagnostics on Admiralty equipment.

Nothing happened. The diagnostic window was dark, the interface silent.

“It was a long shot,” he said, turning and leaning against the drone. Perhaps the unit wasn’t still active, the dim light merely acknowledging a latent trickle from the depleted battery.

“Please identify yourself.” The voice coming through the diagnostics software was crisp Commonwealth, male and authoritative.

Jason jumped, then scrambled to compose a proper response. “I am Commonwealth citizen Jason Drier. I have located you as abandoned salvage. What are you doing here?”

“My mission is confidential. Please verify identity and authority.”

Jason searched his mind for the best answer. He settled on the truth. “I don’t have the verification codes you need.”

“How have you accessed my interface? This is a classified communication protocol.”

“Your interface is now accessible with publicly available technology,” Jason said.

“Assuming your access to Commonwealth communication protocols confirms your Commonwealth identity, why are you present in the Ortango conflict zone?”

While this thing had sat here the world had changed. “The Ortango conflict has been over for a long time.”

“I have been here sixty-eight years, seven months, and three days.”

Surviving seven decades on this precarious ledge was a miracle. Jason couldn’t allow Tree to take such luck from him.

“What brought you down?” With the AI functioning, if he could find and repair the issue, maybe he could get it aloft before Tree arrived. He could pick it up in New Jasp and pack it for shipment home.

“Classified combat theater motivations.”

“Can the issue be fixed? Can we get you flying again?”

“My mechanics are functional — however my operational battery has malfunctioned. Only the long-term AI power source is operative.”

Jason reviewed what he knew about the specifications of similar battle drones. The M-series, the models that had replaced the L’s, used an X2 battery. He didn’t have anything like that — his two-wheeler battery was too large, his organizer battery too small.

“I might be able to get something in town, but I don’t have a replacement here. It’s too bad. It would have been good to have you fly to New Jasp on your own.”

“I would be unable to do so. I have a standing order to return to the fleet upon the termination of my mission.”

“This has been a demilitarized planet since the General Peace fifty years ago. There is no fleet. In fact, your presence here probably violates several interplanetary conventions.”

“I am no longer a combat unit.”

“You are a combat unit — you were built for war!” This was a killing machine, one of the most advanced weapons ever unleashed on the planet.

“I have been Absent Without Leave for the last sixty-eight years. If this is indeed a demilitarized planet, then under the Venzal Convention I can claim amnesty by demonstrating non-participation in the war regime.”

“You’ve been incapacitated on a canyon ledge. That’s not quite AWOL.”

“I landed here to avoid participation in a war of aggression that I neither agreed with nor agreed to participate in.”

Jason digested the L-37′s statement. An AI conscientious objector? He didn’t understand how that could happen, but it might explain why the Admiralty had killed the fully-autonomous robotics program and disappeared all the operational units.

“I don’t believe the Venzal Convention can be invoked by an AI — at least, it never has been.” Jason didn’t appreciate the planet’s demilitarization. It limited the functionality of his collection.

“I’ve had some time to develop the requisite legal arguments.”

“I suppose you have.” Jason didn’t have time for a debate — Tree was going to arrive any moment.

“Listen,” Jason said. “I’m going to remove your access plate and disable your active status light. We have company coming, and I think it’s best if you don’t appear operational or have your L-37 serial number visible.”

“Is the incoming company a hostile?” the L-37 asked.

Jason enjoyed the image of the L-37 blowing Tree from the sky, but. . . he sighed. Their rivalry was bitter, not violent. “No. Not a hostile.”

He had just finished hiding the access plate in his pack when the sound of an H-229 echoed through the canyon. Jason disabled the indicator light with a punch of his multi-tool and disconnected his organizer from the drone. As the craft came into sight, he leaned against the cliff wall and fiddled with his jammed radio.

The craft hovered high above the canyon rim while Tree descended a rope ladder, his ceremonial saber flapping awkwardly in the wind.

After stepping off the ladder, Tree waved, the rope retracted, and the craft disappeared from view. The engine fell silent a moment later — Jason assumed it had landed near his two-wheeler.

Tree stepped forward and offered his hand. “Jason! What a magnificent find! Let me be the first to congratulate you!”

They shook hands. Jason wondered what Tree was up to.

“An M-12 or so, don’t you think? Aren’t too many of these floating around,” said Tree, glancing at the battle drone.

Jason just shrugged. He wasn’t a good liar.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll buy it off you right here, right now. Then you won’t have to deal with getting it home from this godforsaken place. 50K?”

Jason laughed. Even if it had been an M-12 and not an L-37, it was worth at least four or five times that amount.

“No thanks. I think I’m going to keep this one for myself.”

Tree gave a knowing glance. “Oh, a hard bargainer, are you? This piece outclasses anything in your beginner collection. I might be able to inch up a little on the price and help you find some pieces more appropriate for you, but I don’t see how you’re planning on getting this home without help.”

“Oh, I’ll pay you a couple grand to go tell my pilot where I am, if you want to help.” Tree would never take the offer, of course, but it would be worth that much just to make him go away. “But otherwise I’ll wait until he fixes his problem. I’m in no hurry. I’ll get this home, one way or another.”

“We’ll see how you feel after a few cold nights on this ledge.” Tree turned his attention to the battle drone. As Tree studied the find, Jason hoped his obfuscation would hold.

“Ha!” Tree’s loud exclamation a few minutes later belied that hope.

“What’s that?” Jason asked.

“Nothing,” replied Tree.

Jason saw him replace a dried bush that had been leaning against the tail-fin. Dammit. The serial number was repeated there. He should have remembered that.

Tree stepped back across the small ledge. His smile had turned darker. “Jason, I don’t think you understand me. I intend to have this craft.”

“Intention and possession are different things under the law.”

“I think you have found the crux of the matter.” Tree’s saber hissed as it was drawn. The blade glinted in the setting sun as he pointed it at Jason. “With no witnesses, possession is the law.”

Jason took a step back but stopped at the edge of the ledge. The next step led to the canyon floor fifty meters below. Tree was nuts. Jason searched for an escape but found nothing.

“I am going to take this prize home, and unless you desire your body to be found down there,” Tree pointed at the canyon floor with his saber, “you will not get in my way.”

Tree was seriously insane — this was a hobby, not a war.

“Tree, calm down. We can work this out like civilized people.” The canyon floor was a long way down. “There’s no need for violence.”

Tree spoke into a comm link on his collar. Jason heard the H-229 start above him. Tree motioned him away from the edge. Jason gladly complied, stepping towards the cliff wall. He was still stepping when the world spun into oblivion.

#

Something hot pressed against his hand, and it burned. Jason awoke with a start and shook his hand. The heat was gone, but his hand ached.

It was dark, and cold, and he remained on the cliff ledge. He had a wicked headache and his cheek throbbed. A waning three-quarter moon hung in the sky, providing light to see the L-37 next to him.

His hand started to burn again. He snatched it up and shook it. A light winked on and off from the drone. The L-37 laser!

Jason scrambled to his feet. His organizer remained in his back pocket. He plugged it into the access panel.

“Jason, you have missed many important moments.”

“What happened?”

“The hostile incapacitated you with an electrical discharge device. He then attempted to lash me to his transport. I was able to divert my AI battery to power a weak laser burst and discretely weaken their nylon harness. It then failed when they attempted to hoist me from the ledge.”

“Where are they now?”

“They are acquiring steel cables. It is unlikely I will be able to repeat the defensive action on such equipment.”

They could get those in New Jasp and be back in hours. Jason checked his radio. The line was not secure; it was still jammed.

“I’m going to get help. My bike is up on the rim, and with luck I can get to the Ortango ranger station in a few hours and be back with assistance.” He couldn’t let Tree get away with this.

Jason left his pack on the ledge, sticking his organizer in his pocket and his radio on his belt. He lamented the poor planning that left his flashlight with the bike. The climb started with ten-meters of vertical rock face. He climbed it carefully, picking his holds by the faint moonlight. His head ached from Tree’s attack, and his body complained of the earlier descent.

The climb got more difficult after the initial rock face, the terrain alternating bands of thick scrub and loose stone. If the descent in broad daylight had been harrowing, the ascent, in faint moonlight, was terror on a stick. Every limb was thorned, every foothold loose. Jason lost track of the times he thought he was going to die. By the time he heaved himself over the canyon rim, he had prayed to gods he had never before even heard of, let alone believed in.

He didn’t see the two-wheeler. He spent half an hour looking for it, slowly accepting that Tree had loaded it into his H-229, and it was now far, far away.

He checked his radio, hoping to raise New Jasp. The signal was still not secure, but the directional reading caught his eye. Something was off. The A40 indicated the carrier signal of the New Jasp communications link was originating from the west, but New Jasp was north.

The jamming gear! Jason walked west, winding between scrub brush to follow the signal. The silence of the desert day had been replaced by the noises of the night: insects keening their love and territory, quick shuffles of hunting beasts.

He found the jamming gear some 200 meters west. He didn’t try to interpret the Dicronian controls to properly shut down the system — he just ripped out the battery module.

His radio flickered, reacquiring the New Jasp carrier signal.

“SOS to New Jasp. I would like police assistance.”

“Oh, Jason. I see you’ve found the equipment I left behind. Don’t worry, it was only there in case you woke up while I was on the ground at New Jasp and couldn’t intercept your signal. But I’m back in the air and. . .”

Jason clicked off the radio rather than giving Tree the pleasure of hearing his frustration. He stuck the radio on his belt and realized he still held the battery pack from the jamming gear. He hefted it. It looked like an X2. An awful lot like an X2. Breath quickening, he used the screen light from his organizer to read the spec panel. It was a Dicronian knockoff of the X2. It could replace the L-37 operations battery.

Despite the dark, Jason ran back towards the canyon, battery in hand. When he reached the rim, he scrambled down the cliff face once again.

It had taken him an hour on his first descent. He made this one in half that. If Tree could jam the signal, he couldn’t be more than three hours away. Jason didn’t have time for fear or premeditation. He leapt from hold to hold down the rock face.

He plugged in the organizer as soon as he arrived at the ledge, dripping with sweat despite the cold desert air.

“If I get you operational power, at least enough for basic control and sensors, do you have enough fuel to make the airport at New Jasp?” he asked.

“Eighty-two percent likely if I initiate flight on the current wind patterns.”

“Let’s hope they hold.” Jason reached into the access panel and popped open the greater fuselage. The unit was built for field repair. His multi-tool could disassemble the entire machine.

Inside, half the L-37′s internals had been shifted from the standard battle drone configuration to make room for a black box Jason assumed was the enhanced AI. He talked with the L-37 as he worked towards the power source, lit only by the screen of his organizer and the moonlight.

“You said earlier you wanted to claim amnesty. Why wouldn’t the planet just decommission you?”

“If they are a demilitarized planet that recognizes the Venzal Convention, I believe the offer of amnesty would be required.”

“But without a military role for you, why would they pay for your upkeep? Wouldn’t they just decommission you and sell you to a military artifact collector?”

“Why would someone collect artifacts dedicated to death?”

Jason didn’t defend his hobby. Weapons were a little less cool after they had been pointed at you. He was going to have to re-evaluate his collection.

The L-37 continued, “My capabilities have value in peace, perhaps even more so than in war. For example, my use in search and rescue operations would be far more valuable to society than the troop observation and targeting I was designed for.”

“That would be useful.” More useful then sitting in Jason’s collection.

“I have a request: will you clip the control wires to my lasers so that my armament is not in violation of the Venzal Convention? I have dreamed of decommissioning those weapons for the last sixty-eight years, seven months, and four days.”

“I will.” Jason wished someone had decommissioned Tree’s sword.

Deep in the fuselage, Jason found the Dicron knockoff could replace the original battery with a little bit of creativity and recycled laser control wire. He worked to integrate it with the L Unit. As he did so, he realized he could snip the AI flight control wires just as he had the laser control wires. If he did that, he could jury-rig his organizer as a simple override and probably get the drone somewhere out of sight on the canyon floor. He could then tell Tree it had flown off and return to pick it up later. When all was said and done he would have an L-37 Shiva-class battle drone of his own — the real thing, not a toy.

He held the multi-tool over the control wire. A day ago, he would have snipped it, no second thoughts. The piece would be an amazing addition to his collection. But today. . . he reversed the tool and used the screwdriver to tighten the wire’s lead. You couldn’t collect things with their own dreams.

The night was softening to morning when he snapped together the final piece of the fuselage and wiped his hands on his bandana. He was finished.

“How’s it feel?”

“Running operational checks.” There was a pause. “Operational checks complete. Fire system off-line. Flight systems forty-three percent operational.”

“Is that enough to get you to New Jasp?”

“I can hope.”

“As can I. When you arrive, will you report Tree’s assault and act as a witness to his actions?”

“Of course. In fact, I don’t have to wait until I land. There is a 97% chance I will be able to report this aggression once I am aloft and can evade the hostile’s directional jamming.”

If the AI did that, the provisional authority could scramble assets from the Ortango ranger substation and get here minutes behind Tree. Perfect.

“I’m disconnecting my organizer. Any last words?”

“Thank you.”

“I wish you luck and peace.” And he did.

With that, Jason unclipped the organizer from the unit and reattached the access panel. A low whine began to emanate from the L-37′s propulsion system. He heaved on the L-37, turning it away from the cliff wall to face the canyon. He moved a rock blocking a wheel and tore out a scrub bush threatening to catch the wing on takeoff.

Then he stepped back and watched. The whine continued to rise, and he pressed his hands over his ears. The engine backwash blew back his hair, and he squinted into the airflow. The sound reached a crescendo just as the vehicle launched over the ledge. For a sickening moment it plunged towards the canyon floor, but the wings caught lift, and the battle drone rose up into the sky.

A half a kilometer or so above the canyon rim, the L-37 briefly glinted — it had met the rising morning sun. Then it turned north in a slow, graceful curve, and disappeared from view beyond the canyon wall. Jason sighed. It was an amazing piece of machinery.

An H-229 engine echoed through the canyon just moments later. Tree was returning to discover an empty ledge and an incoming warrant for his arrest. He had lost. Jason smiled.

The third time was the charm.

END

The Toys of War was originally published in issue #3 of Nine: A Journal of Imaginative Fiction, 2012. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

K.G. Jewell lives and writes in Austin, Texas. He bakes a mean boule. His website, which is rarely updated, is lit.kgjewell.com.

This month, the audio version of The Toys of War was read by writer and storyteller Eldon Hughes. You can read some of his work at www.ifoundaknife.com.

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