A future not so far away
“You just had to say it,” Bainbridge Carter grumbled, shouldering David up. He ran for the waiting truck, sliding in the mud-filled gouges in the abandoned logging road. He rounded the body of the downed Federalist soldier with a sneer of disgust. Killing your former brothers-in-arms got a hell of a lot easier when you saw that uniform, he decided.
David Evans barked a harsh laugh, stumbling along. It was a half-mad sound Bain had heard from him many times, usually before or just after David did something insanely stupid. Only this time, he hadn’t decided to balcony-dive into a hotel pool or surf in the back of a moving pick-up truck. This time, the damned fool had gotten himself shot.
He looked up at Samuels, shaking his head, at a loss for words. Bain hefted David into the back and scrambled up after him. Samuels shut them in, then jumped in the front and started them rolling, into the trees and toward safe territory.
As if anywhere is safe, these days.
The time to think about the war was later. They had more immediate problems, most of them caused by the illustrious David Evans.
Bain didn’t waste time. He dragged David’s shirt open, his jaw tensing at the damage beneath. “You fucking idiot,” he whispered.
All David had to do was stay cool for two more minutes, and he would have survived. But David had always been about immediate gratification, impatience at its finest.
“Knew it would end this way,” David rasped. He waved off Bain’s move toward the medical kit. “Save it for someone who needs it. I’m done.”
Bain nodded, settling into the shifting and swaying bed of the truck again. There was no saving David now, and they both knew it. Disconcerted, he pulled the rifle from his back and examined it.
All of this for a new weapon, one that would at least win them a stalemate, a solid line of defense in this insane conflict. He glanced at David out of the corner of his eye and away again, wondering, not for the first time, if any of it would be worth it in the end.
He fingered the gap in the stock in sick resignation. The specs said the control unit locked in place. He couldn’t have dropped it. They couldn’t have left it behind. His blood ran cold in the certainty that there was something very wrong here.
“Where’s the control unit, David?” The rifle was useless without it, this entire set-up wasted.
David laughed harshly. He coughed, then panted in response to the pain. He pulled the unit from his pants pocket with blood-streaked fingers, passing it over.
Bain took it, his mind working hard at David’s game. He met his former friend’s eyes. “They would have found it,” he mused. “Why would you remove...” Bain rolled the block of plastic in his hand, his mind kicking into high gear. “Something missing, David?”
David’s smile was brittle and smacking of sarcasm. “Always were smart, weren’t you, Bain?”
Not smart enough. That truth still stung.
“The chips...” He grimaced at a particularly bad bump on the logging road. “Accelerometer and gyroscope.”
“Where are they?” Damn David’s games! There was too much riding on this to play games. The lines wouldn’t hold forever. They needed a superior weapon, not to advance but to hold the ground more effectively.
A tear welled up at the corner of David’s eye. “I gave them to her.”
Bain’s heart pounded, and his mouth went dry. Ari. He’d wondered if he’d see her again when David contacted them. Her absence, when he’d reached the rendezvous point, had been both a relief and a disappointment.
“I hid them,” David continued. “I told her...never to let them out of her sight.”
Fury rose up, hard and fast.
Bain wanted to shake David until he killed what was left of his damned mind. “How could you?” he raged. There was too much at stake for this insanity.
“Now you have an incentive,” David spat.
For Ari, I would have an incentive, anyway. Obviously, David had taken Bain’s capitulation all those years ago for a loss of interest. “Where is she?” he managed evenly.
“They. It’s a package deal, Bainbridge.”
He nodded his understanding. David had always been more concerned about Lea than he’d been about Ari.
“On their way to Blue Top.”
Bain’s heart stuttered. “You sent her to Blue Top? Along the refugee trail? Into the middle of that mess? What were you thinking?” Had he ever thought something through...in his entire life?
“I didn’t know.” Misery made David appear decades older than he had moments before. “At the time... I didn’t know what was brewing at Blue Top.” The tear slid down David’s cheekbone to his ear. “Promise me, Bain. I want to hear it.”
He nodded, his breathing strangled. “If she’s alive”
David glared at him.
“If they’re alive,” Bain amended, “I’ll find them, David.”
“They’re alive.” David’s eyes slid shut. “They’re alive. She’ll take care of Lea for me. Make her promise.”
Bain nodded, only marginally aware that David couldn’t see it, his mind racing from one thought to the next.
Why would Ari have to promise that? Her caring for Lea was a given. Ari doted on her daughter...at least, she had the last time Bain saw them.
How am I supposed to find them in the center of hell? Any attempt at reaching the refugee camps that had formed in the mountains would have to come from the north and by land instead of air. A hell that’s frozen over for most of the year.
Most of all, he wondered what would happen when he came face to face with Aurora Evans again. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms. She’d made her choice, a choice Bain still couldn’t understand, and the lesser man had taken the prize.
It was hours later, after Bain had turned David’s body over, sometime during the debriefing, when Bain realized David had never once said his wife’s name.
“With all due respect–” Bain began.
“I seriously doubt respect is high on your list of priorities, Carter,” Captain Elias replied dryly.
Bain ground his teeth at the delay.
“I know you think finding them is important.” Elias waved Bain off before he could offer a retort to that. “And it may be, but right now we have a mission to attend do. After that...” He sighed. “After that, find her, if she’s still alive.”
That last comment was half-swallowed, a sure indicator that Elias, like most of the others, believed Ari was dead.
“She’s alive,” Bain attested. He didn’t question that it was so. Ari wasn’t the type to give up and die.
But she could be killed. The people at the camp were killed.
Unbidden, the carnage they found at Refugee Ridge filled his mind. The massacre had been a driving force in unifying the Free Nationalist troops. “Remember Refugee Ridge” was more than a cute alliteration.
Their initial spate of fury and outrage had won them the most decisive victories in the war so far, but it hadn’t saved the people the Federalist bastards had wiped out. It hadn’t produced Ari. It had left them, some of the less battle-hardened crying over the dead, in the ghost of a refugee camp, with more questions than answers, the two Bain sought conspicuously missing.
Bain pushed that thought away. Ari’s van might have been at the camp, but her body...and Lea’s body hadn’t been. Barring the remote possibility that the Federalists knew what David hid with them and were looking for it, too, the possibility that they’d captured both Ari and Lea alive, the two were still on the run in the mountains.
Ari was resourceful. The fact that there were bags of flour, sugar, and rice stacked on cases of canned goods in the back of her van, didn’t mean she was without food. The fact that there were boxes and bags of clothing and camping gear in it didn’t mean she was without shelter and clothing. He’d seen how she packed a sea bag.
Elias’s voice brought him back to the discussion.
“Now...about the current problem.”
“Father Hubbard, huh? Someone was bored, when that one was coined.”
“Well, he is traveling with about a half dozen kids.”
“About? Usually, we know what we’re dealing with.” Usually, I know why I’m being sent out on this sort of mission. Bain was an electrician, not a Seabee or a S.E.A.L....or engineering or special forces of any other branch. If he was being sent out, it usually meant they needed the trust of someone he already knew. Like David.
Elias smiled, an odd expression for him these days. “This one’s smart. They hide during the day and travel at night. The only surveillance we’ve gotten has been dark and...” His smile disappeared.
“And?” Bain questioned, his interest piqued.
“Whoever he is, he’s good at hiding his identity, but we think he’s one of ours.”
Bain straightened. Another trained man was good news. If it’s true. “Which branch? Navy?” Not that it mattered these days. A military man of any sort was as good as any other. But, if he was Navy, it would explain why they wanted Bain to go out there.
Elias nodded. “Navy, if we’re right. He’s wearing a pea coat and what looks like one of our ball caps...maybe submariner.”
A close match for me. “Can’t you make out the boat on the front?”
Elias shook his head. “Smudged. They think... They think it’s a first class.”
“Rate?” Bain didn’t doubt that he wouldn’t get an answer. If Elias knew the answer to that, he’d have said it already.
Bain nodded. “We’ll have to take this one slow and easy.” There was no guarantee that “‘Father Hubbard” was on their side. There was no guarantee he was sane. What they’d find would be a crap shoot.
“Use caution, Carter.”
“Don’t I always?”
Bain grinned at Elias’s scowl. How many times had Elias called him to the carpet for his lack of caution?
At least I’m not suicidal.
No. That had been David’s game.
© Brenna Lyons
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May the Best Man Win
Author: Brenna Lyons
Publisher: Phaze Books
In a future just around the corner, the United States is no longer united. Federalists and Free Nationalists are waging a second US Civil War, and the battle lines have been drawn.
When Bainbridge Carter meets up with David Evans, his ex-best friend, to get the prototype of a weapon that will allow them to level the playing field, he gets two surprises. The first is that David has gotten himself shot in one of his patented impatient and intemperate moments. The second is that David is playing a very deadly game.
As he lays dying, David reveals he has hidden the microchips necessary to control the rifle with Aurora, his wife, the woman both men have been in love with for the last 16 years, a woman trapped behind enemy lines with her daughter. It is up to Bain and the Free Nationalists to find the chips...and the woman that has them.