Drums. Pulsing in the background, slow and throbbing. The kind of sound that you feel, the pressure of it coursing through the air, pushing and pulling on your ears and eyes. They are coming.
“Get up.” Williams was already awake. Terns dragged himself to a sit. I kicked Davis in the ribs to get him moving. “We have to go. They’re coming.”
“Are you sure?” asks Davis.
“Of course he’s sure, shit for brains. Get the fuck up.” Williams is a good soldier. We’ve served together for a long time, all the way back to the insurgency. Christ, that was a long time ago. We held up pretty well for a while there. It’s almost over now, though. Almost done.
It takes less than three minute before we’re moving again. The trees are good cover, as good as we can ask, all things considered. They’re not enough. Those fuckers will find us. They find everyone.
“Where are we even going anymore?” asks Davis. He’s young. He’s ready for this to be over. He still doesn’t realize that it’s not a game, that when it’s over he’ll be dead. That’s when it ends, that’s how you escape.
“For Chrissake, Davis, pull your shit together.” It’s Williams again. He doesn’t have much love for the kid. His own sons are gone. He doesn’t know for sure, never saw the bodies, never got a telemor to confirm it. He’s a father, though. You just know. They’re gone. They died in the war, on foreign soil, somewhere Williams has never been, will never go. Distance matters again and that’s strange. Ever since the magitrack hubs went down. It takes a long time to get anywhere. And sometimes when you get where you were going there’s nothing left anyway.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“You don’t know what?” asks Davis.
“Where we’re going.”
“What do you mean you don’t know where we’re going? What the hell does that mean?”
Williams is walking close behind me, then Davis in all his young, stupid, righteous fury. Terns brings up the rear. He’s a quiet son of a bitch, that one. Never know what he’s thinking. Something fierce in a firefight, though. Not the kind of man I’d want to be on the wrong side of. They’ll get us, of course. It doesn’t matter what we do or where we go. We’re just trading time. They’ll get us all in the end. There’s going to be a mound of bodies a mile high when they finally get Terns to stop fighting, though.
“It means we don’t know what’s out there anymore. The tele hasn’t worked in four days. We don’t know who’s still standing, where they might be, where they might have gone. We’re walking blind, Davis.”
“Well why the hell are we going anywhere, then? Why don’t we just wait for Garricks to come and get us? They knew where we were four days ago, they knew the path we were taking. Why don’t we just fucking sit and fucking wait?”
Williams sighs. A deep, windblown sigh. He’s almost done. He’s a good man, one of the best, and even he is almost done.
“You really do have shit for brains, don’t you?” He’s angry now. Why shouldn’t he be? How do you have patience for some dumb fucking kid when the only kids you ever cared about are gone and you know you’ll never see them again? “Don’t you remember what the commander just said?”
Davis is clueless. He’s worn down past the threads. He can’t function this way, he’s not built for it. He doesn’t know what the fuck is going on anymore. He just wants to stop, wants it to end, wants to rest again. He’ll never rest again. Well, one more time, I guess.
“We can’t fucking sit and fucking wait because they’re coming, you dumb fuck. If you sit, they’ll be on you. Soon. And for all I care, you can sit. I won’t shed a fucking tear when they get you. But I’m walking. I’m going to keep going because that’s what the Commander says and because I want to live. Lord knows I shouldn’t, but I do. I fucking do. So I’m going to keep going. But by all fucking means, you just sit your ass down right here and you wait. We’ll see you on the other side, kid.”
We’ve stopped. No one meant to, it just happened. The conversation, the fatigue of it all, it ground us to a halt. All except Terns.
“He must have gone on. Come on, we’ll catch up to him.”
Williams glares at Davis. We move on. Pick up the pace. There’s no sign of Terns.
“Did you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything.”
There is no silence deeper than the silence before a fight, when everyone and everything in range are breathing in, holding their breath, waiting for the moment to strike. I know that sound, I know that silence. I know it’s over. The drums have stopped. They’re here.
Davis screams and Williams throws him to the ground. I pull up my rifle to make the last stand that I’ve always thought I’d make. I can’t. I feel the rips in my chest and back. I see Davis. Got him right between the eyes. Williams, the good man, is crying over his body, firing off shots. He looks, just for a second, at me as I fall. I’m looking into his eyes as he gets hit, right behind the ear. I wonder if Terns made it, if he got ahead of them and flew off. I hope so. But I doubt it. No one ever does.