Monday, November 03, 2008

Jude

(Or: Pulling the Trigger.)

Jude's squad advanced cautiously through the ruined building, pulse rifles at the ready. Guerillas had taken this town three days ago. A day after that, a truck filled with human skins had been delivered to the nearest DemSatR embassy; some identifiably belonging to people known to be living in the town at the time of the attack. The DemSatR had immediately authorized a retaliatory strike; Jude's squad was part of it.

As squad leader, Jude was only half-watching the scenery around him, trusting his men to give him warning of any attack. The rest of his attention was on his command equipment, which displayed a constantly-updated tactical map of the surroundings via a heads-up display projected onto Jude's glasses. The map showed a firefight several buildings away between DemSat soldiers and guerillas, contributing to Jude's caution. An earbud in his right ear gave access to squad- and platoon-level chatter, as well as one other frequency; which, with a series of chirps, suddenly demanded the entirety of Jude's divided concentration.

It is important to note here that Jude is a spy.

Jude held up his hand sharply, indicating a halt. As the squad obeyed, other squad members relaying the order for those who hadn't seen it, Jude gestured to his earbud to indicate the reason, and then leaned against a nearby wall, covering his mouth for privacy. The others gave him some space.

"This is a message from Talon HQ," his employer informed him over his earbud. "We've finally picked a side. Two full companies in the employ of the Talon Consortium are being delivered to the Front for Popular Liberation. All nondisclosed observers are being withdrawn from both sides, effective immediately. They are to rendezvous at the nearest junction point, referring to the list you were provided at the start of this mission."

"What?" Jude hissed, shocked. "You can't withdraw me now! I'm in the middle of a combat situation!"

"Further orders follow for those embedded in DemSatR forces," the message continued. "All nearby DemSatR forces should by nonrevocably liquidated before departure. We anticipate that the advantage of surprise will allow the responsible operative to complete their assigned task within acceptable risk parameters."

"Talon HQ out."

As the message played, Jude had slid down the wall he'd been using for support, his face growing ever darker. The Talons have sided with the guerilla scum? he thought. But... they're not human! They eat people! I thought I was just going to be undercover with the Demsatties until we decided to formally contract with them. I damn well didn't sign up to kill my own men!

The men in Jude's squad, still waiting for an explanation, looked worried. The squad sergeant - Robert - talked to one of them - a corporal, George, Jude remembered - and then began walking towards Jude. Jude watched Robert, paralyzed. What should I tell him? he wondered. What can I tell him? Or should I just pull out my rifle and open up on him right now - start the slaughter?

Then, mercifully, another signal came onto his earbud. Jude pointed to his earbud again, holding up his index finger, one more minute; Robert nodded in agreement and turned back to supervise the rest of the squad. Jude didn't watch him; his whole attention was fixed upon the new message.

"This is Company G HQ, calling all squads," came a voice tinged with panic. "I repeat, all squads. We are taking heavy losses. No enemy contact reported. Platoon 2 is off the radio. Treachery suspected. Repeat. Treachery suspected. Be on the lookout."

The message had been broadcast to all local DemSatR forces. Even as it ended, Jude's men were turning to him, looking to him. What do I do? Jude panicked. What can I say?

Filled with panic and indecision, hard-learned instinct replaced thought. Jude stood, toggled his mike to squad frequences, looked his men in the eyes, and spoke.

"All right, so things have taken a turn for the worse," he told his men. "People are dying. The brass say it's treachery. It's not good, no matter how you look at it."

"But you know what? This is war. People die. It happens. We came here to fight, to drive back the goddamn rebel scumbags and burn their bodies when we're done. And if we've taken some losses - well, they ain't comin' back. They're done. So we'll grieve when we put the bodies in the ground - not before. We've got work to do."

Jude paused a moment, then continued. "And they say there's traitors in the ranks. Well, I don't know about that. One, the brass are always looking for someone to blame other than themselves. Maybe there are traitors, maybe there aren't - but it's not our concern, either way. Why?" He paused, taking the time to look each of his squadmates in the face. "Because I know you. We know eachother. And there's no damn way any one of us would sell the others out. Do you hear me?"

"Yeah!" came the enthusiastic response from the squad, momentarily deafening Jude. Their faces were warm with pride.

"All right then," Jude told them. "This mission's FUBAR, any idiot can see that. We're turning around and heading back to HQ. Hopefully they'll have some better suggestions on what to do once we get there."

The sergeant gave the orders, and the squad began to move. Jude placed himself at the rear, still filled with worry and doubt, despite the confident facade he'd presented moments ago. Unattended, his right hand played with the butt of his pistol.

Suddenly, a teal line began blinking on Jude's HUD, indicating an incoming tightbeam signal. Jude faltered in his step, and then continued walking, turning his head to align the reciever with the source of the signal. His earbud crackled for a moment, and then snapped into crisp, clear silence. "Identify yourself," Jude ordered. He might be a spy and a traitor ordered to kill his own men; but he was still an officer, damn it, and he didn't need to deal with this!

"Nice speech you gave there," came a familiar voice. "Very inspiring. I almost found myself compelled to shout "Yeah" along with the rest. Now, do you want some help?"

"...Gary?" Jude asked, surprised. "What are you doing here? I didn't see you in training."

"You wouldn't have," Gareth, fellow Talon merc and spy in the DemSatR forces, told him. "I'm in SpecOps. Well, was. I'd tell you what branch I was in, but it doesn't really matter, does it?"

"You killed your squad, then?" Jude asked, surprised at the calm in his voice.

"Squad, hell!" Gareth laughed. Presumably he was pacing Jude; the squad was still moving, but the signal stayed strong. Jude still hadn't managed to spot him. Continuing, Gareth laughed again: "I took out the whole damn platoon, my friend! Better damn well get a bonus for that when I get back!"

"You, alone, took out two full squads of SpecOps troops?" Jude asked, disbelieving. "You were always better than me at the target range, but you weren't that good."

"Eh, it wasn't so hard," Gareth admitted ."They never expected it to come from one of their own - plus, their snazzy camo-armor doesn't do jack against other SpecOps guys. Glowing outlines projected onto the HUD, all that stuff. For squad coordination."

Now Jude finally spotted him. Gareth's form was blurry, and made Jude's eyes water whenever he tried to focus; but he was there, loping along silently beside the squad, rifle in his hands.

"So, you did a great job of taking suspicion off yourself. Was really looking bad for you, but you turned it around," Gareth said, something off in his voice. "So, when are you going to do it? Pop the rose? Pull the trigger? It's going to be a lot messier if you wait until you get to HQ, you know. Unless you want that."

Jude said nothing. His hand was still fiddling with the straps securing his pistol. One of them fell loose.

"You aren't seriously considering ducking out of it, are you? Or - of defecting? Actually turning to the DemSatR? These guys are patsies, man," Gareth prattled. "I should know - I got a lot higher up than you did! They're chumps, man. When the FPL gets our guys on their side, man, the demsatties will collapse faster than that. And let me tell you - thanks to their, shall we say, sponsors, our own employers will be able to pay us a hell of a lot more than the DemSatR offers to anyone of our pay grade."

Jude continued fiddling, still walking with the rest of the squad. The second strap on his pistol's holster fell free.

"Come on, man!" Gareth pleaded. "Say something! Or, if you don't want to talk - just pull the damn trigger!"

The last strap on Jude's holster came free. He squinted one last time, made sure his aim was right, and tried to pull the pistol out. His left hand snapped out, grasped the wrist of his right; for a moment he strugged, insanely, with himself. Then the moment was over - his left hand released its grip - his right came up, pistol in hand, and

he pulled the trigger.

---

Epilogue

---

As Gareth's body fell to the ground, leaving a trail of blood and other bits in its still-blurry wake, Jude slumped in sudden relief. Then, suddenly, he thought of how this would look from the squad's perspective - who, even now, were turning to take in the SpecOps corpse and their squad leader, smoking gun in hand.

Man, Jude thought, This is going to take a lot of explaining.

Then he puked his guts out.

3 comments:

mr sex said...

na na na na na na na
hey jude

jude said...

hey

Cavalcadeofcats said...

Thanks for commenting, "Jude"!