Edition 11: Rabble by Arley Sorg
Soldiers are drawn from the incarcerated to fight against the fast and bloodthirsty Trayg that threaten to overwhelm their world. When they offer them advantage in the form of upgrades, the prisoners would be fools to reject any help. In the war against invasion, isn’t any advantage worth testing? SY
Darrin shifted in his bunk, struggled against coarse blankets. Sleep teased the corners of his eyes. Thick drowsiness crept under his skin.
She pooled, bright white and red, a head splitting star in congealed blackness.
Slick moonlight beaded in her hair, blood drops bright on her blouse. Her last, surprised breath as she crumpled in his arms.
One night six years ago. A night he used to not care about. It wasn’t even the worst he’d done.
He swung his feet onto cold floor, planted his sweaty face in his hands.
Across from him, Anders noisily sucked air, spidery long legs cramped into a small cot. Sorenson’s arm dangled from above Darrin, fingers twitching near his face; he smacked his lips too loudly. And Anders’ bunker Daniels, from the 22nd, thrown into their cube because CO’s couldn’t stand to see an unused bed, wheezed long peaceful snores from a thick sleep.
Luck was stupid as hell, throwing Daniels in with Darrin’s group. At least they had cots; he’d heard about men sleeping on floors. But there was no comfort in sharing a room with an outsider.
All noisy asses—they irritated the hell out of him. He shot up, half hoping he’d wake them and start an argument. Disappointed, Darrin wandered down the black tiled hall toward the balcony.
From up there he could see most of the island. Dark water pushed against the shore, city lights hazy across the bay. Not an impossible swim, just dangerous; more dangerous was getting caught.
He leaned against the metal rail, lit a cigarette. Smoke blurred the compound and for a moment he wished everything would just evaporate. He closed his eyes, thinking it might happen; a sharp snap of air tugged his hair, insisted he was still there, on a lonely balcony sixteen stories up, at the end of his life.
“Not supposed smoke out here,” someone mumbled. He knew the dense Spanish accent well enough: further proof he was still here.
“Can’t smoke anywhere.”
“Only criminals smoke anymore,” Rincon’s boots scuffed the granite balcony; Darrin could hear his smirk. “Got one for me?”
Darrin looked sideways, pulled a cigarette from his pocket, passed it to the lean soldier. “Can’t sleep either?”
“Why sleep? We be dead soon anyways.” Rincon winced, long scar pulled tight, hot red under the lighter’s glow.
Darrin thought of other men he’d known. Long ago. Men he hadn’t cared for half as much. “You don’t know that,” he said half-heartedly. The wind smelled faintly of iron and tar, smoke and blood.
“I do know. Me, this is third time,” arms crossed, the Spaniard shrugged and eyed the gauzy sky. “You only so lucky.”
“Five for me,” Darrin lied.
Darrin smirked and looked at his boots.
“You are bad liar,” he said, the last word sounding like layer. “How many you?”
“Two. This will be number two.”
“Perfect. Isn’t ‘number two’ mean ‘shit’?”
“Yeah, it’s old slang. Still, ‘Dro, you don’t know. I hear sometimes it’s not that bad.”
Rincon leaned on the rail, pinched the bright burning cig to his lips. He sucked and the tip glowed angry red, a furious little ember from hell. He squinted meaningfully at Darrin. “You know, this Courtner, I hear he cut your balls he catch you smoking.”
Darrin laughed, shook his head. “I heard he takes your cigs and smokes them in his office.”
This time Rincon laughed with him. When their laughing was done, both men stared out at the compound, at clusters of strong steady lights like cold stars, chilly gusts tugging at their clothes like an impatient kid, and Darrin thought they both wished everything would somehow vanish into the darkness.
An old, corrugated, converted hangar made their gym, locked them from sight, fading fluorescent lights wincing and walls rattling like the entire building was shell shocked.
They were called the 52nd Elite. Brandt sometimes called them heroes; he ran them like dogs and usually called them worse. His voice could grate through a storm and still thunder into a man’s ears, Darrin thought that was probably the reason they’d put him in charge.
He was an undeniable bully.
He used an electrified collapsible baton to make his point, like the guards at Lompoc. “If he’s a soldier,” Abrams moaned, panting, “I don’t wanna be one.” Silent, Darrin turned away.
Was a time when Darrin had wanted to pin Brandt down, shove that baton right up his ass.
But then he went on his first run. In the cracked, blasted cement hole of south Philadelphia, Brandt had saved his life, pulled his half-conscious body out of a crumbling building. Brandt carried him, left him sputtering behind a torn wreck of an old car. The building crashed in a rain of dust; Darrin was in shock, paralyzed, heart trying to smash through his chest. Brandt ran off. To keep fighting Trayg.
Preacher always muttered that Trayg were demons, sent by God to smack humans back down from the skies.
“We were never meant to be up there.” His southern drawl made him sound more sincere. When nervous he’d absently shine the simple silver cross at his neck with finger and thumb. It was his tell; Darrin had made money off him because of it. But damn if it didn’t make Darrin think twice about anything. More so when Preacher talked about Trayg, all stern, eyes steady and jaw set.
Brandt ran them around the course. Since that first outing, Darrin no longer needed prodding to hustle. He grimaced at the familiar baton sizzle and the shout of a newer recruit who’d lost speed behind them.
“Runts are twice as fast as you, meat!” Brandt yelled to reinforce the sting. “Twice as strong!”
It wasn’t exactly true, but Darrin kept quiet, yanked himself hand over hand up the chain. To the top of the wall, then a dive-and-roll onto the mat below. Going headfirst… it went against all instincts. His gut twisted but he jumped.
In his first briefing they’d told him Runts were 1.67 times faster than the average soldier and 2.42 times stronger. Hand to hand combat was a last resort: you were bound to lose. In Philly, he saw one lift a man off the ground and throw him at another soldier. Like he was a doll. He saw them scrambling through alleys and down the street, climbing on walls like damned monkeys. It almost made him piss his pants.
He’d opened up with his M7Z, spraying an arc, and watched trembling as some of the Runts leapt out of the spray onto walls and roofs like jumping spiders. Their short, sleek, slender suits made them look like mercury bugs.
It still made his skin crawl.
Darrin finished the course third, chest straining like he was about to die. He grabbed a towel and looked back. Past the obstacles, at Brandt.
“What are you grinning at Gates? Third ain’t first. Think Runts can’t outrun third?”
“No sir,” Darrin called through the course with a wry grin. “They’ll kill us all sir!”
“Not if I kill you first, meat! Twenty laps, smartass.”
“Yes sir, thank you, sir!” Darrin shrugged at Preacher, who’d finished second. Usually only volunteers who’d seen action ran the course as hard as they did.
Darrin couldn’t guess at what Preacher had been before. He had meaty, calloused fists and a dangerous, holier-than-thou scowl. Better a man like that was on your side than against you.
A week later they were moved to staging base Sixteen.
Regular troops didn’t trust Elites, Darrin could see it more here than he’d seen elsewhere. They were kept on the lowest level: storage units barely converted to basic housing. Their movements restricted to the bottom three levels and they had to have a pass for almost everything.
Darrin held his pass up for the lone elevator guard—technically a lower rank; regulars rarely took orders from Elites so no one bothered with pretense. The man nodded and stepped aside.
Courtner had soldiers who’d already done a Trayg run come to level six for debriefing. Why they want me for, I’m a virgin, Preacher’s smile was violent, suggestive. Darrin looked away but someone else laughed: You’re one of us. Better luck next time.
Darrin found the long, half crescent, dark metal meeting room. Single long table in the middle, small bright circles of light thrown down on its glossy wooden surface. Through dense windows Earth was a big gray half moon cut with streaks of blue and green and brown. Politicians blamed Trayg, said the initial bombing had coated the sky with grime.
“Fall in, Gates,” Courtner scowled, beady eyes narrowed at Darrin’s shoes. “You rabble finally get your chance to pay your debt.” He shifted plastic documents around the table, thick arms flexed knots and his round gut strained the buttons of his shirt. When he was satisfied he eyed the short line of so-called seasoned men.
“Rincon, you’ve got the most time on the ground. You’ll run this op.”
“Si señor,” ‘Dro snapped, spine taut. “What about Brandt, señor?”
Courtner bristled at the Spaniard. “Stow that señor shit, Rincon. This outfit speaks English. And Brandt’s not holding your hands on this one.”
Queasiness stole through Darrin. He wanted to leave, kick Courtner right in the face, run down the hall. Wanted it enough that his heart hurt, his pulse throbbed in his hands. Few guards were posted on these levels. He could get to the arms locker; he almost risked a glance at the others… they had to be thinking the same.
He’d learned enough to know that when you stand before men like Courtner you don’t move, you scarcely breathe.
“Something to say, volunteer?” Courtner’s bitter breath coursed down the front of Darrin’s shirt, their noses almost touched. Darrin also knew enough to avoid insubordination charges: Elites were punished more severely. Still, he wasn’t going to be pushed around just because someone didn’t like him.
He leveled his eyes on Courtner’s. “No. Sir.”
The colonel hesitated, steel brows pinched. He finally grimaced, as if last night’s dinner was coming back, and moved to the table. “Let me continue without interruptions. You know what Runts look like.” He shuffled several prints to where the line could see them; stiff, no one moved more than their eyes.
Silvery, armored Trayg climbing through broken buildings. Trayg bodies littering the devastated London harbor. Images of two Trayg on metal tables, supple dark skin peeled open in long slices, eyes fixed on the camera as if they were alive.
“The next bit is classified. Since the first attacks two years ago, intelligence has observed something no one talks about. Partly due to the damage those bugs leave behind.”
Breath held; tension strapped around Darrin’s chest. Blinding flashes and blood.
“Estimated casualties from Trayg attacks are drastically less than the count of human involvement.” Courtner stood straight, hands on his hips. Let the words sink. Darrin heard Preacher swallow. The whispering squeak of boots further down as someone shifted. “You guys aren’t geniuses but even you have to know what that means. They aren’t just shooting up the place. For two years these alien bastards have been snatching captives.”
Darrin felt light headed. He’d seen it himself, he’d written it off. Maybe he just hadn’t wanted to think about it, didn’t want to believe. Fighting things that were inhuman was enough, seeing them move like melted lighting, faster than you can tilt your gun. It was terrifying. He didn’t want to think about what taking people might mean.
Even in that first broadcast. Back when he was hiding out in New Orleans with Rocket. Eating two-day-old Chinese food from boxes, flinching every time sirens blared beyond those stained walls. They hadn’t been watching for alien attacks or political scandals or anything else. They were on edge, staring at a silent flickering screen, waiting to learn something, anything that might help them stay one step ahead.
Emergency broadcast cut off the news. National Emergency.
Rocket made a joke, he always did. Darrin knew in his gut that he just didn’t get it, he couldn’t believe it was real. Darrin dropped his chopsticks…
Runts scrambled faster than possible through San Diego. Camera tipped. Fell. Cracked. Darrin turned the sound on: screams, gunfire, explosions.
At the corner of the screen he saw it. Short bodied, lean and long armed, snatched a woman like she was a handbag on sale. He saw it run off screen—in the opposite direction that all the attacking Runts were going. It took less than a second, maybe half a second. He looked over at Rocket: his face had fallen slack. He told himself he hadn’t seen it, maybe he’d seen a body get knocked over, or a shadow, a trick of light.
The next morning Darrin was third to report to the med bay on level 2. Courtner’s rigid words stuck in his gut. And the dream of her, sweat like cold blood on his hands; not the others, not the laundry list of errors that summed up his life, but her. He stood naked, oddly self-conscious. The man took samples from every orifice, pulled blood, plucked hair, made him perform a few routine physical tasks. Darrin squinted sidelong as the officer’s eyes stumbled over his scars and tattoos.
He waited, secretly hoped the doc would find some way, some excuse to exonerate him from what was next. He hadn’t finished his four-year bid, he’d be sent back. But his neck shivered thinking about what would come next.
An overeager geek led him through a side door, into a white room filled with silver panels and sharp instruments. Several others awaited, all dressed to perform surgery. In the viewing room above, a half dozen officers with too much glinting ornamentation on their chests watched him like suspicious wardens. The weight of what he was and what he deserved filtered through glass, gravity crushing the air from his chest.
“Did Colonel Courtner explain the procedure to you?”
Darrin shook himself, felt like he’d just woken up, his vision already blotted from the injection. He mumbled wait; he had changed, they had to see that. Words were sloshes of mashed sound.
“You’ll be awake, there will be some pain, but the analgesic will make it tolerable. We need to keep you awake. To make sure the procedure is working.”
They strapped him onto a metal table with runnels and started slicing. He screamed, jerked at the straps. The man frowned at him, waved the scalpel in front of his face like a wagging finger. “If you thrash, we could mess this up. You can scream if you want, but don’t move, or you might end up a paraplegic.”
On the transport, Darrin sat crammed between Corwin, whom he’d seen but never met, and Anders, whom he couldn’t forgive for keeping him up so often. Rincon paced the narrow space between their feet: two rows of soldiers in a tube shaped ship coursing steadily towards their end.
Darrin swallowed a snort; space flight was smoother than through atmosphere. You hardly knew you were going anywhere.
Rincon spoke but his words disappeared into a haze. Darrin watched his own fist as he opened and closed it. He didn’t feel different, except a bit sore where they’d sealed him up, but he could just see metal filaments under the skin, reinforcing tendons and muscle, slightly darker than blue veins.
There was something else that distracted him, something odd tugged at his mind. Whenever he tried to think about it, whatever it was shied away.
“Have you called her? You usually call. Before…” Darrin knew Preacher’s southern sound without looking across the small space. He fished out the fragile little picture. He kept it hidden in a small pocket he’d sewn into the jacket. The young girl’s face shone, same long glossy hair her mother had, but his own stubborn eyes.
Every time he saw the photo he wanted to laugh. Really laugh, like the laughter of freedom, where his heart and everything in him would soar.
He’d learned long ago that you just don’t laugh around certain kinds of people; he let the tightened corner of his mouth show his joy. And he sank into the dull, sweet, half-numb ache a moment before eyeing Preacher.
Preacher wasn’t fingering his cross.
“No,” Darrin glanced at the floor. “No, I didn’t call her.” Something tickled his mind again and he frowned.
“Well. Maybe it’s gonna be easier now we’re upgraded.”
Darrin winced at the southerner. “Courtner said the mods could kill us. If our bodies don’t accept all the parts. Anytime, we could just…”
Preacher shrugged. “Well. Too late. You’ll have to call her when you get back.”
If we get back, Darrin mused.
Anders craned slightly and smiled at the small, wrinkled picture. He had a slurry accent and refused to tell anyone what country he was dragged from. Slender filaments ran under the skin on his neck, disappeared behind his ear. “How old is she?”
Darrin leaned back, frowned tension at the taller man. “She’s 7 now. Haven’t seen her in years.”
“She know what you’re doing out here? She know she might never see her old man again?”
“Nah,” Darrin stared wistfully at the picture. His eyes stung; he wiped them quickly, slipped the photo into hiding. “I just. You know. Call her. Before anything dangerous. Just to say hi.”
“Her mom must not like…”
“Ey, pendejo,” Rincon scowled at Anders. Darrin looked away; his skin tingled. His heart scored dull pain into his chest—augmented burned hotter. Rincon’s hand landed too lightly on his shoulder. “It’s cool Darrin. He didn’t know, man.”
The old transport jostled as they hit atmosphere. Everyone grabbed something and braced, muscles flexed, jaws taut. He’d only been off world a few times, usually it made everyone nervous, and the transition from seamless coasting to jarring atmosphere was always hard. Still, his gut didn’t lurch the way it used to, his body only tensed to minimize movement.
He gnawed absently on his lip, watched the escape hatches rattle. I didn’t call her.
Rincon was a good soldier. No one doubted it. He had seen more action than any of them.
He was a good man; well, what passed for good among people like them. If he’d said he’d reformed Darrin might believe it. But it was something none of them would say.
As they filed to the back of the transport, glances passed back and forth behind Rincon. Brandt always led them, Darrin heard that someone like Brandt always led Elite troops. Someone not like them, but with nuts of steel. To keep them in line.
Stepping foot on a new world…it was unsettling. Even wrapped in envirosuits, the hairs on his neck tingled and his fingers tickled.
Boots crunched their first steps out, sound somewhere between biting bone and breaking teeth. The landscape sloped around them, formed a massive slate bowl, as if they had landed at the bottom of a dry toilet, and their ship was a…He looked at his shoes, grinning darkly: so what were they?
All waiting to be flushed.
Curving, forty foot cliffs, darker marble-like striations running through the slate, all the way to narrow ledges above.
The worlds he’d seen were always dark, cold, rocky. The first had not been like this one. That world had a big gray sky and scythe-like cliffs, long, narrow crevices with sharp edges. One man sheared open his suit on a jag and his blood froze before they could get him back. Their sergeant told them to keep moving, to leave the body behind. They spent several Earth days excavating looping caverns of odd, small, spiked artifacts, supposedly evidence of Runt expansion.
Everyone had moved slowly through those caverns, petrified by talon sharp edges along walls, apprehensive that scores of Runts would swarm out of those dismal, dangerous tunnels.
Darrin had seen action only once before, but men had died on every planet he’d been sent to.
“You know the drill, grunts,” Rincon’s voice, flattened through the small helmet’s com. “Defense. Recon. Strike. Anders, Morello, perimeter. Sorensen, Verne and O’Connell, recon.”
Rincon gave a host of other orders and punched up the topmap on his forearm console. Preacher and Darrin huddled with him, studied the small flickering image.
“What you think we’re in for here?” Preacher tapped the floating map image, shifted it. “Look. This has to be where they are. The ridge is perfect cover.”
“Whatever eso es, amigo, we need remember directives.”
Darrin shifted, his suit making a soft crinkling sound, like crushed plastic. “Why isn’t our directive to save them? At least try to bring some back?”
Preacher glanced warily at Darrin and smirked. “You didn’t ask when Courtner was handin’ out orders.”
Darrin smiled an honest, light smile. “Didn’t want to have to kill him.”
Above lurked one small speck of a sun, a lonely dull silvery light. The air was dark and this was “daytime.” Envirosuits gathered information that Darrin usually refused to look at. It was too unnerving. Temperatures, atmosphere, measures of light and other things that he could never see as useful. Each bit reminded him what was under his feet was not home. Each scrap of data told him he could die, that this was dangerous. Unknown. And creatures or no, so many things here might kill him.
For the first time he grew curious, that odd speck of star so far away. He touched the quicklink on his forearm console, called up the local temperature: 12 degrees. He slid icons till he found the time on Earth.
In New Orleans. 2:43 am.
His head throbbed in dull pulses. He hadn’t been there since…
“Estas bien amigo?”
“Yeah,” he lied, refused to look at Rincon. He pushed her face out of his mind; the smell of blood lingered, his suit felt heavy.
“At least you’re no scared. You been off world mucho?”
“Let’s just get this done,” Darrin breathed. He squinted at the map. Tension gnawed his gut; he tilted his head, looked back at Rincon. “Damn, that’s it. I’m not scared.”
The cliff, a wave crest frozen as stone around them, came alive with movement. Morello first, running back toward the ship; he leapt foolishly, the height too much to survive undamaged. Then the captives. A score or more in black envirosuits of some kind.
Darrin slid behind the transport; Preacher and Rincon were by him. He heard grunts and shouts, someone fell, most of the others hustled in. Shots rang against the ship’s metal carcass. His head throbbed in time with the sounds.
Calmly ‘Dro turned, ordered a few to run down to the far end and open fire from that side. He un-shouldered his M7Z, checked the rounds, nodded once at Preacher. They slid towards the edge, gun points first. “Load grenades, provide cover fire,” he said to Darrin, toneless.
“Check.” Darrin switch to a grenade cartridge. He tapped the forearm console, initiated camo. The silvery suit shimmered and dulled to the color of the stones around them.
Then it flickered, made a popping sound and turned back to its normal silver.
“Suit fried man?” Preacher smirked at Darrin, knelt. “You shoulda checked before we boarded.” Preacher aimed at the cliff and squeezed the trigger, the sound shattering the air around them.
“Good idea,” Rincon breathed. He punched the same command into his suit. It shimmered, shifted, dulled. Then popped, a thin trail of smoke wafted from his console. “Joder…” he glanced at Darrin briefly, then shrugged and fired toward the cliff.
Shots bounced and chipped flakes off the stone near them, pinged off the hull. Darrin shrugged. Took up position just behind the two of them and lobbed three grenade shots toward the cliff. The first explosion blew a cloud of dust and debris into the air, Rincon and Preacher ran to flank.
The second explosion caught several captives. Blew them into chunks and smears of red on rock, too quick for them to scream. Triumph flung itself through Darrin in a brief rush. Then a shot rang off his helmet, cracked a corner of the face.
Laughing, he ducked behind the hull and heard the third grenade explode.
Down toward the other end he saw several men had fallen, one missing a head…Suddenly an explosion flung smoke amongst them, two Elites went flailing backward, another was torn to pieces. Screams, shouts.
Always screams, Darrin thought. But she hadn’t screamed. Mary Owen. The woman in his dream.
He’d learned her name later, years later. When it had happened he hadn’t cared; she wasn’t supposed to be there, it was her own fault. That’s what he used to tell himself.
He glanced over his shoulder, toward where Preacher and Rincon had run, but they were already out of sight. He wondered briefly who the captives were, if the woman he’d glimpsed on the news that first day was with them, brainwashed, bloodthirsty.
Anders ran up, fell to his knees. His face was slack. “I think I’m dying. My suit’s opened…” Darrin eyed the blood trailing from where Anders had his hand clamped over a wound.
“Your suit will compensate, it’s not that cold here.” Darrin tilted his head, narrowed his eyes at Anders. “You been wounded before?”
“No,” Anders smiled. “Hurts like hell though.”
“You thought you were dying?”
“Yeah. Guess I’m not the smartest grunt out here.”
“You look calm for a dying man.”
“Well, I’m not dying, am I?”
Explosion shattered the top of the transport; both men curled into balls on the ground, covering their heads. Metal and dirt rained. When it stopped Darrin stood, shifted back to his firing position, lobbed three more grenades.
Darrin woke coated in dirt, scraps of rock, pieces of scorched metal.
He propped himself up on an arm; bodies littered the ground around him. Captives and soldiers; some leaked blood and some were torn by large rounds and grenade blasts.
He didn’t remember going down. He patted himself quickly, checking for wounds. Pulled himself to his feet, glanced around, wary.
Preacher sauntered toward him, rifle slung over his shoulder. He dragged the body of a captive with one hand and Rincon with the other. Blood trickled droplets from his calf but he didn’t seem too troubled by it.
“Shit,” Darrin breathed. “‘Dro…”
“Matter of time,” Preacher shrugged. Darrin could see through his helmet face that his eyes were rimmed red. Preacher let go of both and fell to his knees, his face a strange mask of cold, smug triumph, his eyes at odds with the rest of him.
“Anyone else survive?” Darrin glanced again, tapped at his console for the bioscans of his unit.
“Don’t think so.” Preacher pulled Rincon by the shoulders till he was laid out between them.
Darrin kneeled too, feeling suddenly awkward. “You okay, Preacher?”
The other man nodded. His drawl strung out longer than usual. “Used ta not care ’bout this shit, you know. First time out, plenny ours died, we killed plenny Trayg. Honestly, it was excitin’. The thrill, the fear. Gettin’ out of that cage, feelin’ like I had purpose.”
Darrin nodded; his back ached, and his neck. He saw a large square piece of transport hull, blackened from a blast, and guessed it had come off and knocked him out.
“Told myself I wasn’t makin’ no friends out here. Told myself I’d do my bid and get back to reality, what was left, whatever the Trayg hadn’t destroyed.”
“I know,” Darrin answered, a dull, dark throb filled his chest. “I know, man. Was a time when I didn’t care about anything, either.” He looked at Rincon’s body. Punctures in his abdomen, blood smeared all over the front of his suit. Something cold quivered through Darrin, cracked the crust he’d caked over his heart. We’ll be dead soon anyways, he’d said, that night on the balcony. Darrin’s hands trembled; he stood quickly, pressed against the feeling. “I can’t go through this shit again.” He marched over to the captive, its dead hand still clutched the alien rifle.
His heart juddered. Not alien rifle.
Darrin sucked in air, tilted his head. “That is not an alien rifle…”
Preacher frowned over his shoulder. “‘Dro is dead and you wanna take they weapons?”
“No, man. Look…that’s not…it’s…” Darrin pulled off the captive’s helmet.
Cold, colorless face, motionless under the dull light of a small silvery sun.
“No, I know him, Preach. He’s not a captive, he… he’s one of us.” Darrin’s knees pushed into the grit of ground, slim glint of silver caught his eye. He turned Daniels’ head. To expose the thin metal disk buried in the base of his neck.
Darrin leaned back, squeezed his fist shut, felt the threads of augmentation beneath his skin. He could squeeze through a brick, they’d told him.
“He looks familiar,” Preacher stood.
“Daniels. He was in a different squad.” The bottom of his gut dropped; he looked out over the gorge, bodies littered the cliff, blood splashed over rocks. “They’re ours, Preach.”
The crust around his heart crumbled. He fell on all fours, limbs wooden, clutched Rincon’s leg. A shudder tore through him; he thought of his wife, emaciated by disease, his worthlessness proven by her last moments; it had been the last time he’d let go, the last time he’d felt everything. She lay in the hospital, hem of her sheets wadded in his hands, he watched her life slip away. He’d finally learned loss, suddenly understood: all the people he’d hurt, all the things he’d done, rose on a wave and crashed over him.
“One more year,” Preacher muttered softly, his voice buzzed through Darrin’s helmet. “Just one more year. And my sentence is done.”
Arley Sorg grew up in England, Hawaii and Colorado. He can be found hunched over a laptop at a certain local coffee shop in Oakland. Approach with caution, chocolate or a fresh cappuccino. You can find out more about him at http://arleysorg.com/