“What's this about?” Traw asked with a twinge of irritation, resettling into his black jumpsuit beneath his uniform. The rest of Death Squad was seated in four chairs opposite of Vault's desk. There was a grave setting to the room, yet nothing grave had been said. It had the feeling of an execution, though no one had been put on trial.
“We're waiting on a message from Commander General Venko,” Vault answered. He too seemed tense, twirling his thumbs in his lap. “It's concerning your contract. There's apparently been a...kink, in the terms of service. ”
Not a single person in the room was easy about the situation thus far.
"Moore already knows this, but should things go awry and Venko is deemed a threat, I have a network of high-ranking officers who won't hesitate to take him off the throne."
"Wait, whoa...say that again," Sanchez exclaimed, leaning forward. He seemed both intrigued and exhilarated.
"There are several officers, like myself, who would have no problem either assassinating or imprisoning the Commander General. It's no secret he's the reason this war is still crawling onward. He's been ordering more so-called retaliatory attacks on the Nektro, and stoking the embers of riots on the homefront. There are few on the Council of Officers who are truly by his side, and they're certainly outnumbered by those who would not mourn his demise."
"And you're telling us this why?" Traw asked. He sensed their lives were subtly on the precipice of a dark path.
Vault paused, tapping his fingertips on the edge of his desk and biting his lip. "As I'm sure you've noticed, Venko has become more unstable recently, and he's the one calling the shots. If it was anyone else on the Council, I wouldn't worry like this. But his ambition is blinding him, it would seem. If he was to severely endanger this team, I simply want to have a plan in place as a last resort."
Then the call came in from GAM headquarters. The six men glanced at one another, then settled on Vault, who reluctantly pressed the 'answer' button' on his keyboard.
There sat Venko, at his own desk. The city bustled
behind him, as could be seen by the massive window substituting a
wall. “Good evening, gentlemen,” Venko greeted. Traw could sense
something insidious about him, like the last time he saw the
Commander General's face.
“Good evening, Rank Alpha,” Vault replied, attempting to conceal his nervousness. “So what is the reason for your calling? I'm sure you're a very busy man.”
“Not too busy for the heroes of the State,” Venko grinned with cheeks like old, brittle wax. “The reason for my calling is that I realized recently how valuable Death Squad is to me.”
Traw waited a moment. Venko wasn't expounding. “Then why'd you cut our contracts short?” he wondered cynically.
“That is the question of the day,” Venko replied with a theatrical tone as he rose from his chair. “You each have someone, or something that you care for. Mr. Aveer, your village and family are both precious to you, there is no doubting that. Mr. Sanchez, I'm certain you wouldn't sleep easy if something were to happen to your neighbors and friends back in Las Doreson. Mr. Clayton, although you were a hard case in this respect, your brother, Thomas, is very dear to you. Although nothing else seems to be. Mr. Moore, your freedom is valuable to you, I'm certain of that. And Mr. Traw, your wife and daughter are the centerpiece of your life. You make it quite obvious.”
“Quit tellin' us things we already know,” Sanchez retorted, rolling his tongue along his front teeth. “Cut to the chase.”
Venko stopped his monologue, biting his tongue. He knew he could have Sanchez thrown in prison for that kind of retort, and was almost tempted to do so. Yet he continued, “You each have something or someone you are attached to outside of yourselves. Losing these things would certainly be devastating. It might even tear you apart.” He paused, as if turning a page in a speech. “Are you aware that you have become national heroes beyond compare?” He showed the screen of the datapad he was holding, to reveal numerous media clips with footage of Death Squad in action. They had exciting headlines that made one swell with patriotism just by reading them. “People idolize you five men; they long to be like you. The GAM's recruitment rate for the previous six months has grown exponentially because of you. If you were to leave right now, our country would be in despair. They need you. I need you.”
“Point being?” Clayton asked. Even he was starting to show his displeasure with the situation.
“That is why I want each of you to sign a contract stating that you will serve the GAM indefinitely until Rank Alpha releases you of your service. With Death Squad as a beacon for the State, we can bolster patriotism, eliminate domestic threats, and send a clear message to the Nektro that they aren't welcome here.”
There was an uncomfortable pause, and the six men in the room glanced at each other nervously.
“Yeah, that's not happenin'. I ain't servin' you longer than I signed on for, with no more reward,” Traw smirked defiantly. “I think I speak for the rest of the squad when I say...shove that contract up your ass.”
Venko didn't seem to be fazed by Traw's blatant insubordination. He swiped through something on his datapad. The screen switched to live footage of a dark cellar, with a host of red beeping lights among vague silhouettes of containers. At the center of the shot was Luella, Louise, Clayton's brother, each member of Aveer's family and several of Sanchez' gang members, all in bindings that covered their mouths. Their eyes were covered by black cloth wrapped round their heads.
“I have everything that each of you love ready to be obliterated, at my command. You will serve the GAM until properly released.” Venko's voice was no longer pleasant or diplomatic. He had abandoned that.
Traw watched the screen, frozen in horror. He thought of the detonation. Then he looked over at the other four men, who were all in the same state, except Moore, who was thinking again of his own imprisonment. Vault was frantically going over something on his datapad.
“I cut the contract to eight months to ensure that you still had attachment to these people,” Venko concluded, switching the feed back to himself. His presence was that of a demon. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but too much of it just makes the heart grow cold over time. I couldn't afford to have my leverage lose its effect. So you will report to GAM headquarters immediately in order to comply with the new orders. Captain Vault, do you understand?”
Vault said nothing, staring at his desktop as his mind churned. “Captain Vault?”
“Go to hell, Venko,” Vault sneered, looking directly into the screen and proceeding to shut it off. With urgency, he continued, “I just finished setting the armor suits into your drop pod. It's directly down the hall at the second left. Entry code is 3019.”
No one moved. “Go, you idiots!”
Scrambling out of their seats, the men left the captain's office, and Vault himself reached into his desk for his pistol. Once the five men had left, he muttered, “Not without a fight.”
As they drew close to the second left, Traw saw Twelve turn the corner, with haste in his steps. “Master Traw,” he greeted, in a tone that was both pleasant and urgent. As Traw drew closer, he saw that there were seven Marines waiting behind Twelve with their guns raised. “Run!” Twelve shouted, turning around and beating down two of the guards.
Moore drew his pistol and shot down to others, diving into a spray of gunfire. There was a brief exchange of shots, and all five members of the squad survived, seven dead Marines later. Traw pulled out the magazine on his pistol. There were three bullets left. Then he saw Twelve lying on the floor, with six bullet wounds in his chest. Traw knelt down beside Twelve, picking up the servant's hand and clutching it. “I am glad I could serve you,” Twelve grinned warmly, struggling to speak. His body was shaking, blood running down his cheek and spilling over his lips. Traw held Twelve's hand as the manservant went cold.
“Traw, let's go!” Sanchez urged, already inside the pod with the rest of the squad. Traw lingered for a moment longer, looking into the face of his fallen servant. Taking a deep breath, he holstered his pistol and slipped into the pod. Without delay, Sanchez sealed the door shut and the pod ejected from the hull of the Indefatigable.
After strapping himself into the seat, Traw bit his lip and said nothing, staring into his blood-stained lap. Sanchez gazed out the back window of the pod as the battlecruiser drifted further away. Moore sat with his hands rubbing slowly together, his elbows resting on his knees. Aveer clenched his fists and sat upright, breathing heavily. Clayton checked the diagnostics of the pod to keep himself busy. Nobody spoke a word as the pod drifted toward Sino.