Chapter 1: Individual Sacrifices
PRESENT DAY BLOOD GULCH:
My wrists ache. They’re chafing on the nylon cord that he used to bind them together so he could drag me down here. And the cord remains, rubbing my wrists a little bit closer to raw every time I attempt to move them. They could have untied me. It’s not as if I can escape from this base without any weapon or any armor. I don’t even have a shirt to cover my torso.
FOUR MONTHS PRIOR:
It’s a true testament to just how tired Grif was that he allowed me to tuck him into his bed, though I doubt that he was even awake past me leading him into the bunkroom he and Simmons share. But by the time his head hit the pillow I’d already made up my mind to do whatever it took to help him. And morning rounds turn out to be the perfect time to think out a strategy.
I know that I’m not a brilliant strategist. Truth be told, I’m not really better than average at anything except one particular skill that I discovered quickly in boot. It’s a skill that would be useful in combat if any of my superiors had ever bothered noticing it. But apparently my bubbly personality annoys people, so I’ve been transferred around too much to really develop a ‘combat niche’. Honestly, who, other than military roughnecks, is annoyed by bubbly personalities? I sigh and force myself back on topic.
I know that Sarge can’t really be reasoned with where Grif is concerned. I’ve never discovered exactly why he hates my orange clad teammate so much. Truth be told, I don’t think even Grif himself knows exactly why Sarge hates him so much. But I do know that I’m going to need help. Unfortunately I can’t count on Simmons to help me because his loyalty is to our superior officer. I’m too nice to say it to his face like Grif does, but Simmons really does take his kiss-ass routine a bit too far sometimes. I’m pretty much out of options. The only other people around who could possibly help me are the Bl-.....
My steps come to a dead halt as an insane half-plan begins to form in my mind. Am I really willing to risk getting killed to help Grif? I can’t help but remember all of the times he has poked fun at me. But along with those memories also comes all the times when we just hung out and rambled about random stuff. He is the only one here that’s relaxed enough to just sit and talk to. He’s the only person in the whole Red Army who I think of as my friend, even if he probably doesn’t think of me as his. My answer seems clear as I find my feet moving already.
As I march straight toward the center of the canyon I can’t help but think that I must look suicidal. I have no armor, no cover, and only my pistol to protect myself with. When I reach the crest of Halfway Hill I stop and bring the scope of my weapon to my eye. The scope is weak so I can’t really make out too many details. I can make out the forms of two soldiers standing together on the roof of our enemy’s base, and by the looks of things I wasn’t the only one who decided it was just too hot for armor today. One of the figures is looking through the scope of a sniper rifle pointed in my direction. I’m sure he can see me much better than I can see him. I continue to watch as his companion drops from view into the base, only to return a few moments later with a third soldier. This one is wearing armor. Black armor... Oh balls.
“You’d better thank me for this some day Grif” I whisper to no one but myself as I lower my pistol and continue forward. After about thirty seconds of nervous walking two shots ring out. A pair of dust clouds instantly rise off of the canyon’s floor to my left only a foot away. I do my best to swallow a yelp. I’m not sure if that was a really well placed warning shot or if he just missed. Slowly, knowing they are watching my every move, I bring up my own weapon in midair out at my side. One simple motion drops my ammo clip before I continue walking forward. There are no more shots fired until I’m close enough to their base that I can easily make out details of each soldier present, including the forth, who has just arrived on the scene.
The sniper has tussled black hair and blue eyes. He appears nondescript in every sense except for one detail that causes him to stand out. Both the sky and the canyon wall behind the base are visible through him. Everything, from his standard issue blue cammo shirt to the annoyed look on his pale face is a bit opaque. I have to rack my memory before I come up with his name. This must be Church. He’s the one we think of as in charge of Blue base.
The next soldier is brown skinned and his chin length dreads rustle slightly in the breeze. His eyes comb over me and he has a grin plastered on his face. “Dibs” I hear him hiss as I finally come to a stop only a few feet from the foot of their base. The voice belongs to Tucker. I’d spent hours with the injured man when our sides originally teamed up to search for Lopez and O’Malley. The only things that were really on his mind were women and sex. So if he’s thinking what I think he’s thinking... things might get REALLY awkward.
My gaze drifts to the suit of black armor. Even with the reflective helmet I can feel the piercing look that the woman inside is directing at me. It makes me feel like she’s reading my thoughts. To say that Tex doesn’t like me is an understatement of gigantic proportions. I can’t blame her I guess, but I quickly avert my eyes anyway. Hopefully they’ll call her off before she kills me once she realizes exactly who I am.
The last soldier stands a bit taller but looks younger than the rest. His brown eyes are friendly and his dirt colored hair is shaped in a simple bowl cut. He raises a muscled arm and waves at me and despite the tenseness of the situation I quirk a smile back at him. There is no question in my mind that this has to be Caboose. He always seemed to be the only other person, besides me, in this canyon who was ever cheerful.
A spray of bullets at my feet quickly brings my attention back to the direness of the current situation. “Hands where I can see ‘em” the freelancer barks. As I spread my arms up at my sides she leaps from the roof. This is bad. This is REALLY bad! “Drop your weapon.”
She doesn’t have to tell me twice. I let my pistol fall from my grasp and put my hands behind my head. As my gun hits the dirt I allow my eyes to dart up to the others, silently begging one of them to take over and send the mercenary away. But the barrel of her gun brushes my face and I’m forced to snap my attention back to her.
“Eyes right here A-cup. I’ve got questions that you are going to answer.” I can hear the evil grin in her voice and I begin to feel light headed. The second she hears my voice she’ll know who I am and I’ll get filled with holes. “Tell me when you were shipped in. I want to know how you got here without us knowing!” The command leaves no room for argument. Blackness creeps into the corner of my vision and I suddenly remember to breath. But it’s not soon enough to keep my legs from giving out on me. I land on my knees with my eyes still locked onto her gun.
“Tex! We’re not going to get anything from her if you give her a heart attack” Church’s voice calls down. He sounds annoyed by the whole situation.
The freelancer makes a noise of disgust but kneels down and grasps my arm roughly to hoist me up. “Fine. You guys can interrogate her inside then” she yells back. I start thanking my lucky stars. But I only get to Mimosa before the woman hisses, “You make us all look weak” in my ear and slams the butt of her rifle against my temple.
The blow is hard enough to cause my vision to blacken for an instant and the momentum casts me fully onto the ground flat on my back. A memory from high school makes its way uninvited into my thoughts. It is a memory of another first blow to the face, from a different attacker who hated me for what I was, and the subsequent public beating I’d endured. The water gathering in my eyes forms into two tears and they fall despite my best efforts, mixing with the dirt I lay in... I close my eyes in an effort to pull my thoughts together and fight the blinding pain in my head as the Blues on top of the base begin yelling.
“You are bleeding.” The quiet voice causes my eyes to flutter open. When did Caboose get over here? I guess that last blink lasted a bit longer than I thought. Without another word he reaches around and gathers me up, hoisting me into his arms as he stands. Within several strides I’m carried into the base leaving his still arguing teammates outside.
After taking a quick series of turns Caboose deposits me into a bed. He quickly disappears, giving me a moment to take in my surroundings. In all the times I’ve managed to find myself inside Blue base I’ve never been in the bunks before. The room is nearly identical to the one that Grif and Simmons share. There are a few more pinups here though, which brings me to the conclusion that Caboose must bunk with Tucker. A drop of liquid splashes against my nose, drawing my attention. Oh, yeah. I’m still bleeding. I gingerly prod my temple to try to assess the damage, but a shooting pain makes me jerk my hand away.
“Band-Aids will help.” Caboose makes his presence known from the door frame. He is holding a first-aid kit and a small mirror. “I brought you a mirror. Girls are always looking in mirrors.”
“Thank you” I whisper without thinking. But before I can search his face for a reaction the sound of several pairs of feet announce the approach of the rest of the Blues.
And so ends Chapter One. Stay tuned for chapter two. Here’s a tiny sneak preview to tide you over.
“The first hot chick we get in this canyon and what’s the first thing you do? You bust her in the goddamn face! Do you have unresolved jealousy issues Tex? Can’t you stand a bit of competition?”
“She’s NOT competition. She’s an embarrassment to women.” The trio has to be standing right outside the door now because I can pick up every word of the woman’s angry hissing. She doesn’t seem pleased with Tucker’s accusation at all.