By Matthew Sylvester
Seabury shifted on the ammo crate he’d been made to sit on. Rebels, they called themselves Homesteaders, but they were rebels to all intents and purposes, stood guard over him. Whilst they hadn’t been rough, they hadn’t exactly been gentle and he’d caught the odd elbow and bump as they’d guided him through their base with a hood over his head.
What surprised him the most was that he was still alive. It turned out that the Kiwi who had captured him had been out hunting Sentinels. The only reason he was alive was because the Kiwi wanted to know why he had killed his fellow mercenaries.
The Kiwi scared him. There was something about his eyes which spoke of a spirit well and truly broken, and then remoulded into something far, far darker than anything that should be allowed to walk the earth. In his opinion, the Homesteaders didn’t know what they had amongst them. It was like those fools you saw on YouTube who owned Tigers or Lions and treated them like lap cats. Sooner or later they got mauled or eaten.
His guards, two men called Morrison and Chuck, also had a certain way about them. He wasn’t sure whether they were former soldiers or some sort of security, but they were professional, and confident enough in their ability to stop him escaping that he hadn’t tried. Afterall, where else did he have to go?
A large man, powerful shoulders, big belly, Stetson and a braided white bear slowly ambled over. Every step he took radiated power, and Seabury could tell that beneath the paunch were muscles of iron. This was a man who had definitely served. His eyes roved over the entire area as he walked towards Seabury’s group, taking in everything and cataloguing it.
Then those eyes lit upon Seabury, and his mouth went dry. Smile lines crinkled the man’s eyes, but there was nothing friendly about the eyes looking at him. He’d been threat assessed, the number of ways he could be killed instinctively worked out and – no doubt – the many ways that he could be tortured to give up the information they needed were also being run through the man’s head.
“I’m Mads Schultz, leader of the Homesteaders,” his voice was gravelly. For a man clearly in his sixties, Schultz gave off an air of confidence which made Seabury think he’d lose four times out of five if he tried to fight the homesteader. “I’d shake hands, do the decent thing, but I’m not sure you’re a decent fellow.”
A woman wondered over and Seabury gulped as he immediately recognised her for what she was, a Ghost. A legendary Tier One Operator from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group. Only these Ghosts were a different level, created to adapt to asymmetric warfare. Experts in fighting guerrillas, and fighting as guerrillas, as so many of his colleagues had found out to their detriment.
“What we got?” her tone was completely neutral. She could as well have been saying it was raining.
“Sentinel deserter,” the Kiwi said. “Watched him kill two his own. Looks like he’s been out in the bogs for a while, the state of his clothes. He’s dehydrated, can tell by the chapped lips.”
The Kiwi pointed at Seabury as he spoke, and when the chapped lips were mentioned, Seabury ran his tongue over them, feeling the dry skin scratching it.
“How come you didn’t kill him?” again she was utterly neutral. She might as well have been asking someone to pass the salt.
“Well, I was tempted, he did take my kills after all, but I wanted to know what he was up to and thought he might have some intel. We can kill him after.”
Seabury’s sphincter tightened at the casual mention of his murder. Judging by the look that the Kiwi gave him, it wouldn’t be a quick bullet to the head either. He had the look of a man that preferred to use a knife. And Seabury fucking hated knives.
“What were you doing out in the bogs?” asked Schulz. Out of the three of them, he made Seabury feel the safest. Although that was subjective. Schultz looked like he could snap Seabury’s neck with zero effort. Still, that would be preferable to a knife across the throat.
“I didn’t sign up to kill civilians who are just trying to get by. When my unit was attacked out by the Summer’s place, I took my chance.”
“You mean you left your friends when they were taking enemy fire?” asked the Kiwi, cracking his knuckles as if he was warming them up for a beating in the near future.
“No … I mean .. yes,” stammered Seabury, suddenly aware that his life hung upon every word. “What my friends were doing wasn’t what I signed up for. I do security, I don’t kill kids. If I stayed and helped my unit fight, I’d have either died, or been forced to keep killing homesteaders.”
“Where were you headed?” asked the Ghost.
“Anywhere away from my people. I was hoping to find an old Cold War building, or a deserted Homestead where I could hide up, make plans.”
“Anyone know you left?” Schultz asked as he sat down on an ammo crate opposite Seabury.
“If they survived at the Summers’ place, then yeah,” Seabury felt strangely calmer now that Schultz had sat down. He couldn’t tell why, but it put him at ease. Not much, but it was an improvement.
“No one survived,” smirked the Ghost. “And we monitored their comms, they didn’t get anything out apart from a contact report.”
Seabury’s shoulders slumped, he was in the clear, for now. Under official procedure, he’d be marked down as Missing In Action. People would be looking for him, but not necessarily to put him down.
“What if I offered you a place with us, would you take it?” asked Schultz.
“God yeah,” Seabury replied before he had a chance to think it through.
“Good,” Schultz smiled. “Not going to take you at your word though. You’re going to need to prove that you’ve turned and you’re not a spy.”
“What, you don’t think that killing my own is good enough?” exclaimed Seabury.
“No, you’re a bunch of fucking murderers. I think you’ll do anything it takes to bring us down. So until you’ve proven your worth, you’re not going to be trusted,” snarled Schultz. The Kiwi and Ghost shared a look. They still clearly wanted to kill him. His guards didn’t seem to care either way.
“So, what you’re going to have to do is help those two over there hunt down a kill a group of Sentinels who have named themselves the Crazy Eights. You know them?”
Seabury gave a jerky nod as his heart sank. “Former Foreign Legion. Utterly mad bastards. Deserted. Like killing. Anything. Whatever it takes. Doesn’t matter what either. Mad dogs.”
“Good, then you’ll have no problem helping Chuck and Morrison do what needs to be done. They’ll give you a weapon once you’ve located the patrol. Our Kiwi friend will be going along too, providing overwatch. He’ll only be watching you mind.”
Seabury looked over at the Kiwi and shuddered as the man gave him a finger-pistol.
Smoke rose lazily into the sky as Morrison and Chuck led Seabury through a dense part of forest. Their footsteps were muffled by the thick coating of pine needles, but they still placed each step as though their lives counted on it. He was impressed. And was beginning to understand just how much the Sentinels had underestimated their opponents. They weren’t a bunch of tree-hugging hippies like they’d been portrayed. They were tree-hugging hippies who were stone-cold killers. Some of them at least. And now they had Ghosts helping them.
The smell of burning got stronger the closer they got to the column of smoke. It was acrid, wood mixed with man-made materials, and what smelt suspiciously like burnt flesh. He looked over at Chuck and Morrison, seeing that their shoulders were tensed, weapons raised.
“Can I get my weapon now?” he murmured, keeping his voice low. Whispers carried over a surprisingly long distance due to the sibilant essess.
Morrison looked over at him, then unslung a M14. He passed it over, sans magazine.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Scare them?” said Seabury.
“You get the magazine when we find them. And then you take the first shot.”
Seabury didn’t bother saying anything else. Even though the weapon was unloaded, it was still reassuring to hold it.
With a couple of hand signals they were back up and moving, Seabury’s shoulders itching as he imagined the Kiwi’s sights laid dead centre. As hard as he tried he couldn’t place him, and hadn’t seen hair nor hide since they’d left where the homesteaders had held him.
“Hold!” Chuck dropped to his knee and tucked his rifle into his shoulder, Morrison a split second after him. Seabury followed suit, cursing as he took aim with an empty rifle from the last century. By the look of it, it was older than he was.
Something landed next to him, a magazine to his immense relief. Snatching it up he placed it into the well and pushed it home as quietly as he could before chambering a round. Voices drifted from ahead of them, some laughter feral in nature.
“Five hostiles, fifty metres, ten o’clock,” murmured Morrison, slipping the safety off his rifle.
Seabury scanned the area Morrison indicated, finally seeing a group of five men stood over what looked like a pile of bodies. A jerry can stood next to them, and he gulped as he realised wht the Sentinels had in mind.
“Three shots as one,” ordered Morrison. “Seabury, take the big fuck with the red beret, Chuck the man with the shotgun, I’m taking the guy wearing the old legion beret. Engage the other two at will. Seabury, you’re one. Chuck two, I’m three. Start the count, fire on last ready.”
Seabury slowed his breathing, laying the iron sights of his rifle on the Sentinel commander.
Three rifles barked. Three bodies hit the ground. Seabury shifted aim, and fired again, blowing the throat out of another shotgunner.
“Move!” Morrison pushed himself to his feet and advanced on the downed Sentinels. Taking careful aim he put a bullet into each of their heads whilst Chuck and Seabury covered him. “Clear.”
Chuck looked over at Seabury. “Good shot. Welcome to the club, we’ll take that rifle back now.”