The folly was built to look like one of the old NASA cruisers that prowled the scant distance between Earth and the Moon. Looking at it, Marco was reminded of the stories of the first sailing ships, which clung to sight of land for fear of getting lost in the blue vastness of the ocean. Mei's estate had several of these follies, each a fanciful rendition of some wrecked ship out of the past, and she delighted in the war games they played throughout the ruins.
Marco had played so many war games he had the astoundingly obtuse notion he might do well in a real one. Mainly they involved paint guns and the vast trackless desert of Mei's Ganymede estate, but still: how much daylight really stood between that and the Chalkydri invasion? At this was real life, and not VR.
Not that Marco would ever dream of telling his Grandfather this. Grandfather Cortes, who lost an eye to the birds in their assault on Galilee. Who had manned a battlesuit in the black above Io, who punched a Chalkydri war dragon with the thing so hard it spun off course and fell into the Second Great Spot. Grandfather Cortes would laugh that laugh of his if he knew how Marco spent his weekends, that long chortle that fell apart in a phlegmatic mess, as he reached for a handkerchief and wiping his eyes.
He spied a glint of something in the old cockpit, and crouched low. Mei? Chanchai? He moved deftly, silently, to the hole in the fuselage near the blasted-out engine. Whoever built this thing did a crackerjack job. Inside it was stifling. Marco flipped his helmet back on to power up the coolant, then thought the better of it. Heironymous Arcadio Cortes, the Blind Man of Io, would laugh himself to fits at this. No, he wanted that stifling, still air. It was real. A genuine thing.
He checked his weapon again, and moved toward the cockpit. Their games had played through these wrecks so many times, Marco felt as though he knew the ships by heart. Finally, finally, he would have the drop on Mei. He pictured the look on her face. She so loved that sniper position. He was giddy as he approached the porthole. Raised the rifle. Crept those last few inches.
And felt paint slap against the back of his neck.
"Gotcha," Chanchai said.