This is amateur hour.
This was Freddie Young’s thought as he relieved the commanding officer.
It was his thought as he took an M-16 from a soldier he could not see in the dark.
As he lowered his night-vision goggles.
As he brought the rifle to his shoulder.
As he centered his sight on the shadowy form of Genette Eason, running.
“What is she, 15? You got bested by a kid?” He let her keep running for a moment, then he squeezed the trigger.
In phosphorescent green and deep, dark black he watched as the girl ran. And then her right calf exploded in a green mist, and she fell into the ash.
He whispered an apology. Violence was a part of his job, a tool, both necessary and distasteful. Unlike his compatriots, there were high fives all around, there was no joy in it for Freddie.
“Bring her back.”
A stretcher was unfolded from a rucksack. Freddie walked across the ash with two soldiers, prepared to help lift the injured girl onto the stretcher.
When they reached her, they saw her the green glow of night-vision, and she seemed a pitiful sight. Her legs were dark with blood, her chest heaving, her mouth a grimace of pain.
It was only when they bent to lift her they realized she was not crying, she was growling.
Jesus, this girl is tough, was the thought ringing through his head as he watched her reach up to the closest man and grab him in the one place he was least protected, his face. She growled, then she screamed as she dig her nails into his skin and ripped a chunk of flesh from his cheek.
To his credit, the soldier only screamed a little before driving the butt of his rifle into the girl’s forehead. He was winding up for a second strike when Freddie stopped him.
“We need her to be able to answer questions.”
“Fuck you, I need my cheek back.” The soldier reared back, tried to throw Freddie off balance, and ended up with a punch to the throat. He wheezed and spat, struggled to catch his breath, and collapsed on the ash.
“I’m in command,” he turned to the remaining soldier at this side, but spoke loud enough to be heard by the group still in the distance, weapons hot. “I say who dies and who lives. I say who we question.”
He bent and grabbed one end of the stretcher, nodded toward the other, “She comes back to camp, alive.”
Camp was a single tent, containing a communications array, and a footlocker full of ammunition. The girl was brought inside, her gaping wound attended to by a medic. Her leg was wrapped in a not-yet-on-the-market material which compressed the wound enough to stop any further bleeding. An IV was set up, pushing fluids. Her blood pressure responded nicely, and Freddie felt comfortable waking her up.
Smelling salts did the trick, and she took a great, gasping breath. No painkillers had been administered, they were a bargaining chip. He sat on the edge of the bed and rattled a bottle of pills in front of her face, the carrot dangling from the edge of a stick.
“You must be in a lot of pain.”
Her response was a growl.
“These little pills, the work remarkably fast.”
Another growl, and a pathetic, dry-mouthed attempt at spitting.
“I’ll tell you what,” he placed a hand heavily on her wounded leg, “I’ll give you one, if you tell me what I want to know.”
She tried, remarkably, to leap up and attack him, but he was taking no chances. She was strapped to the stretcher. She gave a defeated whimper, and opened her mouth. Give me the pills.
He opened the bottle, slowly, took his time fishing out a small, orange tablet. “Ten time more effective than OxyContin, a thousand times faster than morphine.” He held the pill just beyond her pale lips. “Just tell me who survived with you.”
He dropped the pill onto her tongue, and she dry swallowed. In addition to killing pain, PK468138 was known to have a very interesting side-effect: it shut down all resistance to interrogation. Enemy combatants who’d been given this drug, which even the pentagon was not aware existed, would let loose a laundry list of criminal infractions, locations of their compatriots’ strongholds, and even names of double agents. Water boarding was for children.
He needed the information quick, there was already a team out searching the area for other survivors.
The girl took a few deep breaths, closed her eyes, and began to speak.
“There were some boys from my school. I don’t know them, not really. One of them is cute,” she blushed. “There was also a man.”
She paused, her mouth was dry. “I don’t like him. He’s crazy. He carries notebooks around town with him and tells everybody about his conspiracy theories.”
“Do you know his name?”
That name rang a bell with Freddie. Never a good sign. “You said he was crazy? Conspiracy theories?”
“He said the government was doing experiments. Right outside of town, he would tell us.”
“What did Kevin look like?”
“Short with lots of muscles and dark hair. And a tattoo.”
“What kind of tattoo?” Sweat was beading on the back of his neck, despite the cool night air.
“Like daggers crossed over a skull.”
Freddie stood up, backing away from the girl, reaching for a walkie talkie. He picked one out, opened a channel to all frequencies, “Alpha Team, return to camp, immediately”
He waited a moment, no response. They were trained to respond with a double tap on their mouthpieces. There was only silence. He waited a minute, then repeated his call.
This time there was a response. A deep voice, out of breath. “You sound familiar, do I know you?”
“Alpha Team, return to camp, do you copy?”
“Alpha Team is gone, friend.”
Freddie dropped his walkie and stepped out into the darkness. He took deep, steadying breaths before returning to the tent. The girl was passed out. She didn’t see him roll up his sleeve, she didn’t watch him run his fingers over the raised lines in his skin, the fading tattoo of crossed daggers in front of a grinning skull.