Scars of Hermes

"Mercury…she's a beaut, ain't she?"

"She? Why she?"

"Well, you know…planets…countries…"

"Venus is a she. Earth is a she. All the rest of the planets are male. Or at least their namesakes are."

"What about moons?"

"Mercury doesn't have any."

It was idle banter, David reflected. The banter that people employed to hide and/or reduce their fear. Banter employed by a pair of scavengers that had landed on the Mercurian surface. Landed near the planet's terminator, where temperature existed in the Goldilocks zone. Provided Goldilocks was in to porridge that burned you no matter which bear it was prepared for.

"Come on," David grunted. "Move it."

With a nod, Torres followed. The two men got on the buggy and headed out to the scarred landscape.

"Kind of looks like the moon," Torres noted. "All the craters…all the detritus…"

David remained silent. Banter time was over. He had a job to do. Even if Torres was right.

Nothing changed on Mercury, the scavenger reflected. The planet was without an atmosphere or tectonics. It was a planet that bore the scars from countless bolide impacts, and would bear them right until the sun engulfed it. Only in the last decade had scars of human nature been added to it. Automated war machines littered the landscape - the Messenger War, as some called it. Fighting between the superpowers on Earth as to who held exploitative rights. Fighting not unlike the moon and Mars, but with no humans on the surface. Far better to send robots to stake claims. Far easier to send machines that needed no food, water or air. Far better to wage war with machines even if the delay between transmissions was four minutes at the least. It struck David as no wonder that the "war" had come to nothing. The planet was too far away to control one's forces and whoever emerged from the dust would be guarding a world that wouldn't be mined for another few decades anyway.

"There…" the scavenger murmured, pointing to a downed UAV. "Let's check that one."

Torres glanced over the driver's shoulder. "Think you can cut into it?"

"It's damaged…besides, it's a Crow-class. More speed than armour and all that."

Mercury was a dead world. But it still had opportunities for those who recognised them. Namely the nations of Earth that were lagging behind in the space arms race. Capable of sending men and materials beyond Earth, but not on the same level as the superpowers. The moon and Mars were contested, but Mercury was abandoned, its relics unguarded. A treasure trove for nations that wanted to catch up in the unmanned vehicle race.

And it was a treasure trove for people like himself, David thought as he got off the buggy and approached the craft. People who were willing to be shot a few hundred million miles to a barren world, to bring back flight recorder data and sell them off to their masters. Sometimes even small UAVs themselves. United Korea, the African Commonwealth, the Pan-Pacific Alliance, even corporate interests…all willing to get state of the art technology and employ mercenaries to do it. Not that the powers of America, Europe and the Sino States held any real claim to the tech left on the world, but scavenging was best not advertised.

"Here…" David said, tapping the side of the craft. "CPU should be here."

"Can you cut it out?" Torres asked.

"Maybe…pass me the plasma cutter."

The newbie obliged, and David began cutting as he looked at his suit's chronometer-thirty-six hours, fifty-five minutes and twenty-four seconds until the scavengers had to dock with their module in orbit, before the sun had fully risen over the battlefield. Plenty of time to cut even, he reflected. Even factoring in hydration, nourishment and the replenishing of oxygen, the pair would easily make ends meet.

"Does it ever bother you?" Torres asked suddenly.

"What?"

"You know…the whole grave robbing stuff…"

"They're machines, Torres. They don't have graves."

"Yeah, but…"

"Besides…" David said as he cast the hull plate to one side. "Even if these things are in their graves, so to speak…all we're taking are their brains. Like an organ transplant."

"Never heard of a brain transplant."

"Course not," the more experienced scavenger said. "Because people have proper transplants, and cloning a brain doesn't work for every reason under the sun…no pun intended. But these are computers. And computers…" He stared into the motherboard, finding the CPU and letting out a silent cheer as he saw it hadn't been damaged. "Are interchangeable."

"What about AIs?"

"Well, when the quacks make a proper AI, let me know."

David didn't resent Torres's outbursts. Not right now at least. Not as he took a laser scalpel to pry the CPU out of the craft, as if opening the door to Ali Baba's cave. The kid was new to the job. He still had a conscience. So much conscience that even looting war machines was bothering him.

"They'll never heal, will they?"

"Huh?" David asked, sliding the CPU into the buggy's depository, fitted with racks to keep such devices.

"The scars…" Torres said grimly. "Mercury, the moon, even Mars…"

"What scars?"

"Of us," the kid said, gesturing around the field of craters, a fair size of them created by explosive projectiles that had missed their targets. "There's nothing to remove them."

"Aw, I dunno…Mars has its dust storms…"

"You know what I mean. No water, no plate tectonics, no air in most cases…they'll always be here…our legacy…"

David rolled his eyes. He'd heard people go on about this bullshit before. Each world had its own soul, or Gaia, or whatever people called it. Some feeble attempt to get the Resource Wars to cease. To end the conflict.

David didn't care how the conflict ended. Just as long as it provided him with plenty of scrap to work with.

"I mean, look around you," Torres exclaimed. "These craters. These scars. These-…"

"You done?" David interrupted, causing his junior to glance at him. "Or do you want to sit in the ship?"

Torres opened his mouth, then closed it.

"Well?"

"No…" he murmured. "No…I'll keep working."

"Good."

And with that, both men got on the buggy and made their way to the next wreck.

Another scar. One that wouldn't heal.

But, as David reflected, they could still sterilize the wound…


Update (23/07/12): Made adjustments as per review.