Jim stokes the fire, the burst of warmth pushes back the night chill, the embers twinkle and flutter into the starlight. It is a beautiful night, like so many he had spent here with Samantha.
Only tonight he is alone.
It is a notification, battery 10%,
I hope I don’t need that tonight.
The world is quiet this far from everything, just the crackle of the fire and Jim’s thoughts of the last few days. It had been intense.
Taking a small box out of his backpack, he opens it to find some bandages and disinfectant. He pulls gauze off the roll and wraps it around a gaping wound in his left arm.
Damn plasma burns are nasty. A few more inches and I would have lost my arm.
Jim takes off his helmet and protective vest, part of the standard uniform for a member of the Solis Republic military.
He wraps his arm a bit more but pauses.
The sting of cold metal presses hard against the back of his neck, he slowly raises one hand in a sign of surrender
“Sam?” He says.
“Of all the places to run, why would you come here?” Samantha says her voice is tense.
“Because I knew you would come,” Jim replies.
Samantha stands with her arm fully extended, her plasma rifle still pressing into the back of Jim’s neck.
“Can I turn around?” Jim asks.
Samantha steps back, still poised, her firearm aimed at Jim’s chest.
“A Warmonger? That’s some serious hardware." Jim says, “Were you expecting a battalion?” Jim carefully slides his vest back on over his wounded arm.
“Your vest won’t protect you at this range,” Samantha says.
“I’m not trying to protect myself, it’s just habit I guess.” Jim sits back down and pokes at the fire again. “Have a seat, you can see I am in no condition to put up a fight.”
“I prefer to stand,” Samantha replies.
Even in the subtle light, Jim can see that her uniform looks perfect, it always does. Samantha had worked so hard rising from poverty in the wastelands to a top position in the Solis Republic military, Jim was in the ranks simply because his father was a Commander, it never seemed fair.
“You could have easily stopped me at the Quadrant.” Jim says “You burned my arm pretty well, but still your Commander is going to know you were holding back, you never miss.”
Samantha lowers her rifle.
“I needed to talk to you.” Samantha’s voice softens “I don’t understand Jim, they sent my entire team to kill you, no explanation, just eliminate at all cost. They gave me the order to take the kill shot.”
“And what stopped you?” Jim replies.
Samantha is silent.
Jim looks up at her. The firelight in her eyes brings back the memories of all the times they spent here under the stars.
“I tried to keep you out of this”—Jim continues—“but they must have known about us, and they convinced you to spy on me? What about all those nights we spent here in the bunker, were they monitoring us then too?”
Samantha lifts her rifle again, fire in her eyes.
“You are working against the state, the Sovereign is a good man, he has made the world a better place for all of us - did you not consider your parents in all of this - did you not consider me?” Samantha says
“I love you” Jim replies “the thought that I may never see you again is tearing me up, but I have to do this. Our training taught us to not question the Superiors.” Jim leans over to pull a small handheld device out of his pack “Hell, my dad is a Republic commander, I heard that rhetoric my entire life, but sometimes we need to question it all.”
Jim taps the screen on the device as it lights up, he holds it out to Samantha,
“Look at this,” He says “you need to know what the Sovereign is doing, everyone does, the man is insane.”
Samantha stands fast, still keeping a safe distance.
“We owe our entire way of life to the Republic, to the Sovereign,” she says sounding a bit more mechanical than convincing
“No Sam, he is killing people, innocent people… even children… in the name of the Republic and I helped.”
“Please Jim, just come back with me, we can get through this together, I’m sure your father can fix this.” Samantha’s voice quivers
Jim continues to hold the device out to Samantha.
“You need to see this.”
Samantha reluctantly takes the device, the data loads as Samantha watches the screen she sets her weapon down, her expression changes to shock.
“It’s called the Prophet program,” Jim says “it uses predictive data analysis to locate future opposition, meaning 10 years or more from now.
Sam, the last mission I went on we bombed a school. The Prophet program said there was a greater than 50% chance one of those students, as an adult, would rise up against the Republic… so we killed them, all of them, and that’s not the first time they’ve done this.”
“Jim, I…” Samantha gasps.
“I didn’t want you to have any part of this” Jim continues “Your family lives in the wastelands, without your work in the Republic military they can never hope to raise their status. Still, I need to get the message out, I need to let the world know about the atrocities the Republic is committing” Jim pauses “but, I do it alone.”
Jim takes the device from Samantha and puts it in his backpack.
“How are you going to broadcast this, they will shut it down before it even goes anywhere.” Samantha replies, “You know they cleanse the networks of any inflammatory context, you’ll never get your message out.”
“I found a way. There is an old communications system in this bunker, they called it the Substream,” Jim replies “It’s from the prewar era but it is still functioning. I can broadcast my message to the outliers, the wastelands, and the rest of the world beyond, it’s all connected. It will bypass the Republic proxies, it will get the information out to anyone who is listening … I just hope someone is.”
“Still this is suicide” Samantha replies “The minute you turn the power on in the bunker they will send drones to burn this place to the ground” Samantha sits down next to Jim.
“I know, that is why after I send the message, you need to shoot me and I mean for real this time”
Jim stares at the fire, he can’t look at Sam, after everything she has been through for him and now this.
“If you turn on your live stream, they will see you are a loyal soldier, that you stopped the enemy, a national hero. It will stream across the Republic, your public approval rating will be 100%, popular opinion will exonerate you, the Superiors won’t be able to touch you.’
blip, blip, blip, blip.
“That is the perimeter alarm, how the hell did they find me so fast” Jim grabs his backpack, shoves his gun inside, and runs into the bunker.
Samantha follows him watching him flip switches and levers, the bunker generators spin up and hum to life, the overhead lights flicker and then illuminate.
“You need to get far away from here, think of your family, your little sister,” Jim says as he types commands into the mainframe, “Your only chance now is to get far away from here”
“This isn’t your fight, get out of here!” Jim screams
Sam picks up her rifle and runs out the bunker door.
Seeing her leave, Jim feels a weight lift. Her betrayal of him was one of duty any Republic soldier would have done the same. It was his fault she was put in that position.
The antiquated mainframe screen shows a flurry of commands as it boots up.
Blip, blip, blip, blip.
More soldiers have tripped the parameter alarm.
“Come on, come on” Jim’s hands hover over the keyboard waiting for the final boot-up sequence to finish, seconds seem like an eternity until the cursor finally stops.
Jim frantically types,
To anyone listening, this data is from the Republic, there has been a mission to remove outlier citizens that are theorized to be a threat now and in the future, assassinations have been carried out by the Republic military, made to look like attacks from regional factions. The Prophet program was the data analysis engine that made all the decisions, choosing the targets. But it was wrong, the targets were increasing as it removed each threat, it would predict two more, it was self-perpetuating. I am transmitting the prophet algorithm so you will know each new target. Please save your children.
The text blinks,
Jim hesitates, this is it, this will change everything.
Just input the algorithm data and send it.
Suddenly he is struck with the blunt end of a rifle and knocked to the floor, the boot of a soldier grinds hard on his wounded arm.
“Ahhhhhh!” He screams as the searing pain shoots down his elbow out to his fingers.
“Daddy’s little soldier boy can’t take a plasma burn? Personally, I would have aimed for your head, but the orders were to let your girlfriend take the shot, I guess she flinched cause your not dead. You know she led us here, hell she wanted us to find you, guess you can’t trust anyone these days.”
The voice is familiar, it is a soldier named Cody Stearns, one of Jim’s own team.
“I knew you were a daddie’s boy when you flaked out on the Prophet mission” Cody jams his foot harder against Jim’s arm “if I wasn’t there to pull the trigger you would have come home to a court marshal, but your daddy would have fixed that, wouldn’t he?”
“You don’t understand” Jim replies “we killed children that day. There wasn’t any uprising happening, there wasn’t a secret faction in any of that.’
“Why do you care? Filthy outliers, all of them, we had our orders we are the Republic. All that land beyond the border should be Republic land anyway, the more we kill the more we can take.”
Cody takes his boot off of Jim’s arm.
“Get up” he barks.
Jim struggles to get up, he does his best to keep Cody preoccupied the mainframe screen still blinking
I just need to keep him busy, think of something Jim. God the guy never shuts up.
“I want this to be a fair fight, Jimbo I could just burn a hole in you right now but what fun is that? My orders are to kill you. They didn’t really specify how, so I guess it’s up to me.”
“It’s hardly fair, my left arm is crap and I don’t even have a weapon” Jim replies.
“Fair enough, how about I even the odds a little, we can both be in the dark.”
Cody points his rifle a the bunker generator panel.
“Nooooo!” Jim screams.
He fires and the panel explodes with a firestorm of sparks and the entire bunker flickers to dark, the hum and buzz go silent.
“You son of a bitch” Jim says under his breath, the anger wells up. Everything he had worked for had led up to this moment only to be crushed.
“Uh, uh, we don’t allow that kind of talk on our team,” Cody says with a sly smile.
Jim takes this opportunity to lunge at Cody, knocking him back into a pile of old boxes.
Under the cover of darkness, Jim slips into an adjacent room.
Cody gets up and picks up his plasma rifle, the weapon’s controls respond to the movement, the touch screen lights up filling the room with a blue glow.
“Nice try Jimbo.”
At this point several more soldiers step into the bunker, their rifles add to the collective glow.
“Fan out, he’s in here somewhere” Cody barks.
Jim moves carefully to avoid being seen. He and Samantha had investigated every inch of this bunker, but it is only a matter of time before they will corner him.
He can see his backpack, the handle of his gun is just peaking out of the top.
If I can get there, I may get out the door and into the wooded area. If I use the element of surprise, maybe.
Five soldiers, he couldn’t hope to take them all, his weapon only had 10% battery, that is about three shots on full. This was impossible.
Ok, Jim, you have one shot at this.
He takes a deep breath. This is the Hail Mary plan.
He leaps towards the mainframe control and grabs his backpack he pulls out his handgun and gets off one shot; he hits the soldier standing guarding the bunker doorway, Jim runs towards the door, only to feel the searing pain of a plasma burn, this time in his leg he falls and drops everything.
“Ooooooh Jimbo, so close, but you think I wasn’t watching the door? I knew you would try to bail on all the fun and games.”
Cody leans over and presses his gun against Jim's skull.
“Any last words?”
“Yeah Cody, you forgot to turn on your live stream. How are you going to document this? How will you get the credit if the world doesn’t see it?” Jim replies, trying to buy a little more time.
“Oh yeah, good call, always thinking of your team, aren’t you?” Cody says smugly.
Cody stands up to adjust his chest camera
“Ok, here we go, smile Jimbo.”
He points his weapon again at Jim.
“Citizens of the Republic, I am broadcasting from a bunker on the edge of the Republic's territory, my name is Cody Stearns, Republic military, and I am about to remove a dangerous criminal, an enemy to our way of life. Do you approve?”
Cody’s camera lights up green, social approval 100%, he smiles, this is a big win.
“My friends, I am not the enemy.” Jim starts “I love the Republic, I am even a Commander’s son,” Jim says “I am being falsely accused of spying because I wanted to be with the woman I love.”
Cody’s camera flashes orange, social approval is failing, everyone loves a good story.
“People of the Republic don’t listen to his lies, you don’t understand, this man is the enemy.”
Jim continues, “I am also a devotee to our way of life, but my love is forbidden by the very military I serve, forbidden by this man, will love prevail or be crushed here tonight?”
Cody’s camera flashes red, popular opinion is pushing back.
“Damn it, shut up,” Cody says as he clicks off his camera.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have done that,” Jim says “You know that the public doesn’t like to be shut out from a great stream.”
Jim is smiling. He may die, but at least he got the upper hand.
“You are so done” Cody lifts his gun, Jim closes his eyes and waits for the inevitable.
The distinctive shock wave of a Warmonger rifle blast explodes inside the bunker, it hurls Cody back with a gaping burn hole in his chest. Three more shots and the bunker is silent.
Jim looks up to see Samantha standing in the bunker doorway.
“What are you doing here? You should be across the border by now.” Jim says.
“Saving you.” Samantha smiles “I knew they were going to converge on you, so to answer your question from earlier tonight, yes, I was planning on taking on a battalion.”
“The bunker generator is fried, Cody shot the panel, it is over I can never get this data out,” Jim says standing up he picks up his backpack.
“We could try to make it across the border,” Samantha says helping Jim limp up the bunker steps “I commandeered Cody’s armored transport, he won’t be needing it.”
“Sam, are you sure you want to do this? Chances are they have more troops at the border, as you so eloquently put this, it is suicide.”
Samantha smiles, that beautiful smile Jim loved seeing every day.
“I’m in this to the end.” She says, kissing him on the cheek.
“I love you, Samantha from the Wastelands.” Jim says “But for the love of God, please never shoot me again with that ridiculous gun of yours, that really hurts.”