By Matthew Sylvester
“This doesn’t feel right man,” Seabury whispered to friend, Cape. “I didn’t sign up to beat the shit out of civilians.”
Whatever Cape had been about to say was drowned out by an agonised scream as their squad leader brought his heel crashing down on the homesteader’s outstretched arm. Although Cape’s reply was drowned out, the sound of breaking bone wasn’t.
Seabury turned away, pretending to scan the surrounding area for threat so that he wouldn’t have to see the man’s pain, a large farmer type called Summers. His family’s shouts, curses, and pleas filled his ears as the beating went on. Pretending he saw something, he shouldered his rifle and move away.
“Gonna patrol the perimeter,” he informed Cape as the sounds of fists thudding into the now unresponsive victim made his mouth sour.
“I’ll come too, fuck this shit,” Cape replied.
Together, they patrolled the edge of the homesteader’s farm. It was rough, like most of the homesteader’s homes, completely in contrast to the facilities that Skell employees enjoyed. Here, there was no sign of clean white walls, drones to carry out cleaning or security tasks, he hadn’t even spotted a television.
I get that though, they thought they were putting roots down in their own part of paradise, Seabury thought, although if he was honest, whilst the idea appealed, he wasn’t sure he could do without wifi and WebMoovees. And cold beer. The more he thought about it, using it to distract himself from the ongoing beating, he couldn’t actually see himself ever being this self-reliant. Maybe I’d settle for one of those Skell apartments with a good lake view.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” he repeated now that they were out of easy earshot. “I was a Royal Marine. Now I’m effectively helping a fucking coup.”
“I hear you,” Cape replied, voice gravelly from the scar running along his neck. “Third US Infantry, the Old Guard. Didn’t expect this when I signed up for Sentinel.”
“What the fuck do we do though, mate? Those Wolves are fuckin’ psycho. Plenty of rejects from the SAS, SBS, SEALS, GRU, VDV, Spetsnaz and any other number of nasty acronyms. We step out of line, we’ll find a fucking nine mil in the back of our heads,” Seabury took a careful look around. The Wolves were, in his mind, sneaky fuckers who liked nothing more than killing people.
“Not like we’re going to get much welcome if we do try to leave,” Cape was also looking around, trying to make it look like they were on watch. Laughs rang out as Seabury and Cape were backlit by the orange glow of flames.
Seabury glanced over his shoulder just in time to see a small black cloud burst into existence over a member of their team. Blood puffed into the air as they dropped bonelessly to the ground.
“Fuck! Get into cover!” he grabbed the protesting Cape and shoved him under the roof of a lean-to which smelt of chicken shit and goats. Crouching, he scanned the farm site, trying to spot the attacker.
“What the fuck dude!” hissed Cape as Seabury pressed him back into the lean-to.
“Dennis has just been taken down,” Seabury flicked his laser sight on, laying it on the still form of their former colleague. Deep down, Seabury didn’t give a shit that Dennis was dead. The man was psychotic, drifting from various different armies around the world before deserting from the Foreign Legion. Of more concern, was whether he was next.
Shouts, this time of alarm, rang out and their earbuds rang with panicked radio comms from their team mates.
“We gotta help!” Cape tried to leave the lean-to.
“What the fuck for? This is our chance. We can’t go up against fucking Ghosts dude. They’re at Walker’s level of bad arse!” Seabury watched as another of their team tried to dash to cover, firing up at the slope behind the farm as he did. After three strides he crashed into the ground face first, back of his head completely destroyed.
“I’m not going to let our people just fucking die!” Cape shook Seabury’s arm off and charged out of the lean to, heading to some barrels. He’d barely ducked into cover before a bullet ploughed through his neck. Hands clasped to the gaping wound as blood jetted into the air. Eyes wide, he stared at Seabury, pleading, mouth working before collapsing to the ground.
“Fuck!” Seabury turned and started kicking the back of the lean to. Gunfire drowned out the sounds of the boards breaking as his fellow Sentinels tried to fight back against their attackers. As soon as the hole was big enough, he wormed through, ignoring the sharp pain as a shattered board scored its way across his back.
Clear of the hole, he took one last look over his shoulder at the ongoing battle before sprinting away into the depths of Fen Bog.
Seabury quickly realised that once you’ve deserted from your employers and team mates life quickly gets difficult. He had a couple of grenades, three magazines in his chest rig, another full magazine in his AR, three magazines for his pistol, a water bottle, and a snickers bar.
It had been a while since he’d had to rely on his Royal Marine survival training, and he grimaced as he sucked the eyeballs out of a rabbit he’d managed to shoot, more by luck than by skill. It had startled him, and he’d fired out of reflex.
“What the fuck do I do now?” he wondered out loud. Hearing his own voice helped. He wasn’t used to being alone, having gone from being in the marines straight into Sentinel. One institution to another, and no need to worry about shifting his mindset. He still didn’t even consider himself to be a civilian. He was a private military contractor. A mercenary. Not a civilian.
But what was he now? A deserter. A traitor. A walking dead man if any of his former colleagues got their hands on him. He shuddered to think what the Wolves would do. It would most certainly involve a lot of pain, and a slow death.
Jet engines, faint, but approaching made his ears prick up. Unsure as to whether the IFF – Identify Friend or Foe – subdermal chip in his forearm was still active, he frantically cast around for decent cover. Not seeing any, he threw himself down into the ever-present wet mud, rolling around and covering himself as best as he could. He was just in time. Barely daring to breathe, he watched as the drone flew overhead.
Seabury didn’t know how long he lay there waiting for a Wolves Quick Reaction Force to come and kill him. In the end, he slowly stood, rolling his shoulders to work free the kinks caused by holding position for so long.
“If they were going to come and kill me, they’d have done so.”
Picking a direction, any that led away from the massacre at the homestead would do, he set off.
Seabury tipped his head back as he tried to catch one last drip from his water bottle. Fen Bog was a saltwater marsh, and no matter whether he had water purification tablets or not, he wasn’t going to be able to drink the clean water without getting the salt out.
“Can’t bloody boil it, don’t want to risk a fire,” he muttered as he slapped at what must have been the one millionth bug to try to drink his blood. His feet were sore, his wet socks and boots impossible to dry. Trench foot was a serious concern, but it wasn’t as if he could charge headlong through the marsh. There were deep stretches of water and, more importantly, Sentinel patrols. As it was, he’d managed to travel a couple of miles in eight hours.
Groaning, he settled into the roots of a tree, ignoring the wet mud squelching between his buttocks. He’d quickly grown used to the stinking mud and the way that it clegged everything. Back to the tree, he looked at the hills of New Argyll and Mount Hodgson rising behind them.
Auroa was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever been too, the ecosystem seemingly featuring nearly every aspect bar deserts. As he slapped at his arm, he grinned ruefully at the thought that he could really have done without the bogs.
Back at base, he’d heard rumours that homesteaders were gathering in the mountains. With a sinking heart, he realised he had no choice but to throw himself upon their tender mercies. Hopefully he’d meet some who would be able to testify that he’d never treated them roughly. Even if his colleagues had.
Decision made, he pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the screams of protest from his tired muscles. Knocking his boots against the tree, he tried to shed some of the mud clinging to them. It was fruitless, he knew, since as soon as he started to walk they would be coated once again, but the effort had to be made. And it allowed him to delay setting off for a few more seconds.
“Goddammit! Who the hell chose these bikes, they’re not worth shit!”
Seabury slowly lowered himself onto his stomach, cradling his assault rifle as he carefully squirmed his way up to the rise of knoll. The voice had come from just beyond, and by its very nature he could tell it was a Sentinel.
“Do you ever stop whining!” snapped a second voice, followed by the sound of metal on metal as one of the speakers tried to fix the motorbike in question.
“Don’t fucking start, I’ve got every reason to piss and moan. Shit bikes, shit pay, shit posting,” snapped the first voice as Seabury reached the top of knoll. Just below him, only a few metres, were two Sentinels and their motorbikes. A couple of crates of supplies stood to the side by their small bivouacs.
Gathering his knees under him, Seabury pushed himself to his feet, rifle stock planted firmly into his shoulder, aiming directly at the first speaker, a florid-looking man he hadn’t seen before. Not that it made any difference, there were lots of Sentinels he hadn’t met yet.
“Gentlemen, I’d really appreciate it if you would be so kind as to drop your weapons, and open those supplies,” Seabury dropped his voice an octave and went all Londoner on them, people tended to find that accent threatening.
“Fuck!” the man working on the bike dropped his spanner as his practically jumped out of his skin. The first speaker just raised his hands to his waist, holding them open.
“A little bit higher mate,” Seabury gestured with the barrel of his weapon, indicating just how high he wanted those hands. They were far to close to the man’s pistol. They moved. But not up. Seabury fired, his shot ripping into the man’s stomach, folding him over instantly. A blur of movement and Seabury switched his aim, firing twice as the mechanic went for his own pistol. With a sharp scream, the man collapsed, vomiting blood.
“Fuck .. traitor,” gasped the first man as he clutched at his stomach, writhing in pain.
“Bollocks, I said don’t go for your guns. You fucking went for your gun!”
Glaring at each other, neither spoke for a moment. Seabury, because he was frantically trying to work out what to do next, and the wounded Sentinel because he was in too much pain. Decision made, Seabury fired again, the bullet punching through the man’s ribcage, blasting his heart to smithereens.
“Didn’t expect to see that,” Seabury froze as cold metal pressed into the back of his neck. “Is this a lover’s quarrel, or something different?”
Seabury’s head was pushed forward as the muzzle of the weapon pressed against the base of his skull.
“Different!” spat Seabury. “I’m done with this shit. I didn’t sign up to treat civvies like animals. Just fucking shoot me, you wanker.”
And he was. Done. Utterly. At that moment he gave absolutely not a care in the world that he was facing death at the hands of an unseen executioner. A sense of calm settled over him, calm he’d never felt before. “Mate, just fucking shoot me.”
“And why would I do that?” The accent was Ozzie, maybe Kiwi. Pass me your weapons,” the muzzle pressed again. Seabury sighed, then passed his weapons to the man. “Now, how about we go and speak to Mister Schultz. He’s going to fucking love you.”