Burke pushed her hat barely an inch off her face. "Yeah?" From under the brim, she could just see her partner pointing to the skies above.
"See that star, right there. The red one. That ain't a star. That there's the planet Mars. You can tell, because it ain't moving like the rest of the stars. And it's red."
"Is that so?" she said, and let the hat slide back over her eyes.
John shifted on his coat, and Burke could tell by the sound of the grit underneath that he had rolled onto one elbow. "Yup. My dad told me all about it. Was readin' in the papers the other day that some fella in Italy seen canals in its dirt! Imagine that. Canals on Mars!" The excitement in his voice was boyish enough to remind Burke how young John probably was, despite the thick beard he chose to sport.
Burke kept her hat low. "What's a canal?"
"'What's a...'? Are you serious?" John said, and Burke heard him sit upright. "When you'd leave school? A canal is one of them manmade rivers for moving water and boats around. Manmade, Burke!"
Giving up on getting to sleep any time soon, Burke took off her hat and sat up, turning to the warmth of the dieing embers. "You're telling me there's men on Mars? Well that's great, 'cause there's too many of you down here already." Behind her, John was getting increasingly excited.
"No, dummy! There's aliens up there! Little folks that don't look like you or me, but have towns and carriages and probably cows too, I'll reckon." He paused, and Burke imagined him scratching at his beard they way he always did when he was thinking hard. John was great to play poker against. "Maybe not cows. Bugs. Big 'uns. Big enough to ride around on."
At this point, Burke had heard just about enough, but before she could say anything, she heard a loud ping from her coat. She turned to see John starring into the moonlit sky. The red "planet" had suddenly shifted and was now falling through the sky.
"That's weird. What do you-" John said, but the rest of his words were lost as his ashes drifted out on the cool night air. The ship came to a silent hover above the grass.
Burke holstered her raygun. "'What's a canal?' You fucking dumbass."