Chess, is a game of war, played on a small board. The best tactician, wins.
War, is like a gigantic game of chess… with guns, and bodies, and blood. You may not even know where all the pieces are on the landscape, or what rank they are. The loser, almost always, dies.
There are those who will tell you that there are no rules in War. They are wrong. There are.
First rule of War: Know when you are in a war (and you always are), who the enemy is, and why he is your enemy.
Quinn, should have been alone in the middle of nowhere.
He’d moved fast, over the last few hours, and before that too, before he’d hunkered down in the sand in the shade of a large, grotesquely shaped cactus, to avoid the blistering heat of the afternoon sun.
The six-hours start he’d been given on this ‘exercise’, to get himself lost and to evade his pursuers, had been all he’d needed.
Once dusk had fallen, and the small drone, two thousand feet above him had returned to base (he’d seen it leave), he headed for his first ‘station’, just as they knew he would have to…. if he followed orders.
That drone, and others like it that had followed his progress, constantly told others about his position. He didn’t like to be observed like that. It made him vulnerable.
He wouldn’t shoot it down, as he would always be tempted to do. That, would be too obvious, and exactly what his commanding officer, Martins, wanted him to do, so that he could add that to the litany of calumnies he could throw at Quinn at his next court martial.
Under cover of darkness, he could change whatever he wanted to change about his itinerary, laid down by others, and he intended to. He didn’t trust anyone, especially not Martins, and especially not with that drone overhead. It would soon be replaced with an infra-red seeking drone for the overnight hours, but he knew how to fool that one.
This was no longer a game, but was a battle of wits... with Martins.
In the morning, the returning daylight drone wouldn’t find him either. No one would. He would be twenty miles away by then.
Martins wouldn’t know where he was, or where any of the others were. They all knew what this ‘game’, was really about.
Quinn left most of his unnecessary, surplus kit (heavy and useless combat gear) there, near the first station, well hidden, not needing to be burdened by forty pounds of anything that was not essential for what he intended: to survive. He needed to move fast. He might come back in a couple of days to retrieve it.
Too much of what he carried was just added weight to slow him down, to sap his strength.
He took dried food with him for at least two days, all of his water, his sleeping bag, his sidearm, and .22 semi-automatic rifle, with scope and silencer, along with the live ammunition for both, as well as a few odds and ends that he might need, including some snares. There was small game out here, and he didn’t need a larger caliber, standard-issue rifle for that.
His main goal was always to avoid detection by anyone.
As soon as their orders had come down, that they would be spending a week out here on an ‘exercise,’ he and his men—those who would be ‘hunting’ him— had hidden certain essential items to pick up… all, unknown to Martins. They knew what would face them. It wouldn’t be ‘them’, against Quinn, and the rigors of the desert environment, it would be Martins, and his resources, against them all.
Martins intended that none of them would survive.
Now, Quinn was free to do what he wanted to do, and he also intended to survive. So did his friends.
They’d meet up somewhere in about fifteen to twenty hours, and work this out… what they would do. The over-riding need at the moment, was to evade Martins, and disappear off the radar.
Participants out here, sometimes… albeit rarely… did not survive. It was usually an unfortunate accident.
This time, it wouldn’t be an accident.
Quinn was on Martins’, ‘expendable’, list.
They all were.
‘Tragic live-fire accident kills six Marines! Next of kin are being notified.’
That, would suit Martins, fine. Officially, there were five, hunting him on this exercise. His colleagues. But there were others out here too, or there soon would be. ‘Observers’, supposedly.
They didn’t know what they would be up against.
They would be taken out, one by one, without being too seriously harmed, but only by their own clumsiness, lack of observation, and stupidity, and not in any way that could be blamed on Quinn and his men, even if they 'had' engineered it.
This was a game that Quinn was at home with; in his element… a game he would usually win, even when the odds were heavily stacked against him.
Quinn would move from his present position before the other drone got into position, rest for three hours, until the moon came up, and then he’d travel for most of the night in the cooler air of the desert.
His only problem would be water… if he followed the rules… but he had no intention of doing that. It had been a long and dry summer. Everywhere was parched, waiting for the rain. He wouldn't destroy a cactus to get water. He didn't need to.
Anywhere that had even a suggestion of moisture, or greenery, was a magnet for small rodents, rabbits, toads, desert tortoises, and, of course, rattlesnakes. The extreme dryness had brought them out more than usual.
He knew where the observation posts were, and where they kept the keys. He was not supposed to use them on this exercise, and he wouldn’t, if he could avoid it, but there would be water there.
This, was war... albeit an ‘exercise’ in a sham war that he was supposed to lose, considering what was arraigned against him.
There were no rules in this kind of war other than those you made up for yourself. Survival of the best equipped (mentally), and best prepared. Survival of the fittest, but only in the Darwinian sense of, ‘fittest’… best adapted… best aware.
War, and what to do to win, had been drummed into him often enough, so they had no right to assume he would obey anything of what they said, ‘had’, to be done for this exercise. They were also wrong. There were some very subtle rules, in war.
If you didn’t know them, you didn’t survive.
Quinn had written some of them.
He would play the game. But he would play it 'his' way, and he would play to win, using 'Quinn’s rules'. In the end, they wouldn’t know how he’d done it, but he would have fulfilled all of their requirements, just not in the order of doing them that Martins had laid out for him. He would also, survive. As would his friends.
The ‘agenda’ Colonel Martin had given him, was not what he intended to follow. That, made him far too vulnerable, and Martins still bore one hell of a grudge for being made to look stupid in so many ways.
Except, he was… stupid. He’d risen to where he was; to his maximum level of obvious incompetence—so the ‘Peter Principle’ had it—on daddy’s shirt tails, and everyone knew it.
‘Daddy’, was a low-level General, if there was such a thing, and, ‘Daddy’, was ten times the man his son was, or would ever be. 'Daddy', was also one of Quinn's friends.
Quinn’s unflappable calmness in the 'sham' inquiry Martins had set up to railroad him, had angered Martins to an extreme. More insubordination. Hence, ‘this’, and his demotion.
The others hunting him—his ‘friends’, also being punished with him—wouldn’t follow ‘their’ orders either, whatever they had been.
Quinn always had his own agenda. That’s what had got him into this trouble in the first place. He’d had difficulty taking orders from an obviously incompetent idiot. He hadn’t told Martins that, in so many words, but he’d let him feel it, by re-interpreting his orders.
Now, hours later, Quinn was a good thirty miles from his starting point, and only four, from the last ‘check point’ of five. There was no one there. No observers or reception committee to greet the victor… if he survived. Not yet. Not for a few more days. He was supposed to be days away from here.
Quinn would be back here again in another five days, having met all of the requirements, and with all of the ribbons, collected one by one. He knew that two of the other five men following him, would already be hot on his trail to beat him to this point and lay a ‘trap’ for him as they waited, intending to take away his ribbons, so that they could claim ‘victory’.
That is, if they believed Martins, and if they played his game.
They hadn’t believed him, any more than Quinn had. It was a more sinister game than just an exercise.
Those who were following him, hunting him, could not possibly know where he was, or that he was this far ahead of them. Not if he’d obeyed his orders… and they, had obeyed theirs.
They wouldn’t obey their orders, either. He’d trained them that way. They could still be six hours away, behind him, except for ‘Jackrabbit’. He, could have narrowed that gap to just an hour or two. Or could even be ahead of him, looking for him, waiting for him to walk into ‘his’ trap. That was Jackrabbit’s way. They’d have a good laugh when one of them surprised the other.
Quinn looked at his watch.
It was still early in the afternoon of his second day, and hot.
He’d been moving fast, since first light, for the last nine hours, avoiding all of the sensors he knew about. He’d 'snacked' all the way, not wanting to stop and have a drone find him. There were about four or five hours of good daylight left.
‘Live firing’ into sector 4-7, would start at midnight, still eight hours away.
He was on the distant edge of 4-7. They intended to keep early arrivals out of that sector.
His general route, given to him by his C.O. spelled out where he had to check in, recover the colored ribbon stashed in each of those places to show he’d been there, and then… if he could survive that, and evade his hunters… and whatever else would be thrown at him… make it to where he was now, but in several days’ time.
It was a deliberately convoluted course that would take all of his five days, or more, to cover and make him vulnerable in too many ways, to a devious bastard like Martins.
In another day or so, he’d head back to his starting point, and begin again, but this time… behind, all of those hunting him.
No one would expect that. Maybe.
Tactical warfare 101. ‘Always do the unexpected; prepare for the unexpected; do, the unexpected’. He excelled at it. He, taught it. He wasn’t known as a ‘Master Tactician’ for nothing.
Where he was, he should have been alone, but he wasn’t. He hunkered down, waited, and watched. Something was not as it should have been. He was not alone.
The entire Base Training Area was a training ground, forty miles long by twenty miles wide. The signs warned of the danger of possibly live, ammunition; and with live firing exercises at any time; military maneuvers; traps, mines (squibs, rather than the real thing, of course), grenades, Bouncing Betty mines, that fired paint, and were trip activated. ‘Claymores’, designed to scare the shit out of you, rather than to kill you.
Signs warned of what would happen to outside trespassers who came onto the Base… ‘Enter at your own risk’.
‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’. 'Arbeit macht Frei.'
Like hell, it did.
A Great-Uncle of his had died in Auschwitz. His mother had told Quinn of it decades later with tears in her eyes.
Quinn said a small prayer at that memory.
You trespassed here at your own risk. There would be a target painted on you. Your body wouldn’t be found.
So, it was an accident. They hadn’t obeyed the signs.
Couldn’t be helped. Death by misadventure.
The temperature was over a hundred, even in the shade, but it could soon fall to freezing, once the sun disappeared.
He would never dare light a fire, not with any of those drones around, but he didn’t need to.
They would like to see him do that, so that they could lob a live round with sufficient accuracy, that he would never be seen again, apart from a few bits and pieces. That was exactly what Martins wanted.
Quinn cut a piece off the jerky he’d had in a side pocket of his pack and took a swig of water to make chewing it easier.
He’d chosen the shelter of the rocks to rest out of the direct blast of the scorching midday, and late afternoon sun. From the elevated position, which gave him a mostly unimpeded view across the landscape he’d seen a movement where there should have been none, except for a bird, or some small desert animal.
No one of his own group could be ahead of him! Not even Jackrabbit. Surely not.
Do the unexpected.
It ‘could’ be Jackrabbit.
Expect the unexpected.
Quinn brought his scope up, to look.
He saw nothing at first. They’d dropped out of sight for the moment.
None of his own party could be this close to him, not even Jackrabbit, not unless they could fly.
He pulled his cap down lower over his eyes and looked again.
He saw a head, above the brush, bobbing in the far distance, walking. It was not what he expected to see. Not, 'Jackrabbit'.
They seemed to know where they were going, but didn’t know about him, waiting, watching.
The rough track which passed as a ‘road’, and which skirted the top edge of the abandoned quarry, was just ahead of them, down the embankment, but it was a steep descent.
The former quarry, on the other side of the road, usually had some water in it, even on the driest summer… good for swimming, but today it looked to be completely dry. Not a good sign.
The walker (not one of Quinn’s group), paused at the top of the bank, looking to choose the easiest way down to the track, presumably to walk out.
The decision was taken out of his hands when the bank gave way under his feet, and he was thrown off balance.
The large pack on his back, cushioned his fall, but it was still an undignified descent, with him rolling a couple of times before he got to the bottom.
Quinn zoomed in.
There was something about…
Too far away, but he’d seen enough.
A woman! A young woman too.
What the hell was a woman doing out here, and inside the boundary fence?
Didn’t she know where she was? Maybe she’d intended to cool off with a swim in the old quarry… if she’d known about it from some long-gone relative.
The army had taken possession of all of this land, about the time of the end of WWII so there were still a few of the old civilian structures—fallen-in, now, gutted—and one or two windmills for pumping water, still standing, though rusted out and useless; as well as a few fenceposts, and wire.
Without water, nothing was possible out here.
She was injured and couldn’t get up. She shrugged out of her pack and tried to stand, using that to sit on, at first.
She fell back.
Quinn almost heard her cry of pain.
He’d seen enough.
He put his scope back on his rifle and headed out to get to her, but taking an indirect route, just in case she hadn’t been alone. It wasn’t a trap of Martin’s making. He knew that. He moved slowly, checking around for any other movement. He could still be wrong.
There was no other movement.
He photographed her with his phone as he approached her.