Pavlov lights a cigarette, and fans himself with a girlie mag in a vain attempt to beat the intense heat that prevails even in the midday shade of the pipeline. The Equatorial Salt Flat is a hot place, and the desert wind roars through hot and gritty. Pavlov’s cigarette burns, and he smiles underneath his headwrap. Tobacco doesn’t grow well underground. The harvests are meager. He drums his fingers on his black-plastic assault rifle. Model of 2242. Six-point-eight-millimeter, caseless. The magazine holds fifty rounds. Pavlov has seven lonely, homemade bullets inside of the gunmetal cassette jammed into the rifle’s buttstock. Pavlov scratches at his scraggly beard, his fingers irritating the sunburn that comes with a day above ground after a life beneath it. The wind blows shimmering salt crystals across the flat in a shimmering cloud of beauty that Pavlov regards with boredom. To some, it would be beautiful. To Pavlov, it’s just another cloud. Just another heat wave. Just guard duty. Just life on Sisyphus.

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