He noticed the dust on his boots too late to do anything about it. By then the lifter was in the air, and the straps held him tight to the seat. The floor was transparent, and so he watched the burning jungle flick by between his boots.

He’d worked so hard on those boots, too. They’d been mirror-bright as he stood at attention, waiting for the colonel to call his name. They’d shone like oilslicks in the sun as he marched to the lifter’s door, carrying his heavy black duffel bag stuffed with everything he owned in his left hand, swinging his right fist shoulder-high in front of him.

And now: dust.

Soon enough he’d have a chance to clean them off. Soon enough he’d be aboard the evac ship, ready to break orbit. His work here was done. Everyone’s work here was done.

The jungle gave way to black glass, a desert that would never bloom again, and then the lifter rose through the blue sky into the star-spangled darkness of night.

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