by Bill Cox
“Take cover!” Juana whispered.
She hunkered down, trying to flatten herself as far as possible into the dusty ground. Several yards away to her left she could see her younger brother Alejandro doing the same, an invisible gravity squashing him into the curvature of the earth.
The drone approached their prone forms slowly, the soft whine of its turbo-fans breaking the silence of the desert night. Twenty feet away it stopped, hovering a few feet above the ground. She could hear faint clicks and whirs as the drone ran through its sensor suite, looking at the scene in front of it through various spectrums of light and heat.
They had taken precautions, expensive precautions that had used up all their savings. The people-traffickers had been only too happy to take their cash. They both wore clothing made from meta-materials that would mask their heat signature, synching it with the ambient background temperature. It had meant that for much of the trek across the dry, hot wasteland they had been deeply uncomfortable, but it would all be worthwhile if they could survive moments like this.
Juana knew that if she and Alejandro crossed the border then they would automatically become citizens. The attrition rate at the border was in excess of ninety per cent, and the government figured that anyone who survived such odds was probably the type of rugged individualist who wouldn’t prove to be a burden on the state, hence automatic citizenship.
The drone inched forward, closing in on their position. She slowed her breathing as she’d been taught, hoping that the machine’s microphones wouldn’t pick up the noise of her respiration. Across from her she could see Alejandro, his eyes screwed shut. The drone inched ever nearer, its engines kicking up dust. Juana held her breath as the dust swept past her.
To her left she heard a small cough. Her heart raced as the drone veered towards the sound, towards the prone form of Alejandro. It hovered menacingly above him and she could see his slight form shuddering, hear his low sobs.
There was an ear-shattering crash as twenty rounds of depleted uranium were fired into her brother’s little body. He barely moved as the bullets impacted. The drone hovered over his corpse for a moment before resuming its patrol, the whine of its engines fading into the night.
She felt the tears trickle down her cheeks. She lay there for a while, watching the distant lights of the highway that represented the land of hope, where they had planned to build a new life away from the poverty and violence of home. After an indeterminate time, Juana got to her feet and walked towards the lights, never once looking back at the wilderness behind her.