With each night of the following week came a slew of nightmares for Traw, leaving him restless and disturbed. His days droned on with little energy as he returned to the mundane life to which he was once so accustomed. As he fixed fences and herded cattle, he thought of nothing except the chaotic gunfire and explosions, with darkness and flames as their backdrop. He could still taste the bitter rubble dust that fumed through the air, most of it carried adrift by smoke. He could still hear the blaring sirens from afar, the intense laser fire, and the cries of children abandoned in the streets.
It was the end of the seventh day since the invasion. Traw returned home with bags under his eyes and dust ground into his face, as he lost his mask and goggles in the battle. Occasionally, he could hear the faint noises of construction from the city. Blocking his weary eyes from the blazing sun on the horizon, he shifted open the rickety back door to his homestead and slipped off his coat. He was ready to pass out in the entrance. Luella greeted him enthusiastically as she always did, and he took in her embrace, giving thanks again to some invisible entity for her safety. “We have visitors,” she told him excitedly. “They look strange, but they've been nice. I like them.”
There ain't been any well-meaning strangers around here for as long as I can remember, he thought, subtly resting his hand on the holster strapped to his tough leather belt. He turned the corner to see two men in black longcoats standing in his kitchen, hands folded behind their backs. Traw's glance darted to the other side, where Louise stood with a cup of tea.
“We have visitors, dear,” she told him, forcing a pleasant smile. He saw that look in her face before: it was a look that spoke volumes to her anxiety of the situation, yet concealing it so as to let the situation remain tepid.
He nodded briskly and excused, “Why don't you go upstairs, darlin'. This's bound to be private business.”
Not hesitating, she set her cup down on the counter and went upstairs, Luella close behind, not asking a question. “So gentlemen,” he began, once he heard the door shut upstairs. “I take it you're no emissaries from those raiders I sent to hell.”
“Do we bear the attire of raiders?” one of them asked, his voice clipped and smooth. The way he looked into Traw's eyes disturbed him, as if the well-dressed newcomer had some unspoken power over the situation.
“I wouldn't be surprised if you just dressed all official like that so you can get into my house. If you are, let's get this brawl over with. I wouldn't want my daughter to see two more corpses in her lifetime.”
“I assure you we're of a higher order,” the other replied, his voice similar to that of his associate. As he spoke the words he tapped a pewter pin on his chest, bearing the the symbol of his organization: a diamond-shaped eyeball. “We've been sent here by IRO: Intelligence and Research Offices. We are an associated party of the Galactic Armored Marines, handling all surveillance, intelligence, investigation, and much more that proves to be the crippling blow which sends enemies of the State to their knees. Our mission is to--”
“Enough with this,” Traw dismissed in a groaning tone, sensing the memorization in the agent's voice. “Just tell me why you're here, I get the point already. Very impressive.”
The agents glanced toward each other, as if diverting to a backup plan. “Our surveillance monitored the battle that took place one week ago. Among other things, our task was to seek out the best fighters, for Project Azrael, directed by Commander General Venko of the GAM. You, and four others, have been chosen to be part of an elite combat unit known as Death Squad. Upon joining, you and your team members will undergo five weeks of rigorous training, both mental and physical, to prepare you for your assigned missions and bond you as a team. After that, your team will be under Commander General Venko's direct orders to accomplish special tasks that can only be performed by you and your team. This will continue for two years, and then your tour will be over. This is a prestigious honor among the GAM community: the Council of Officers has taken a high degree of consideration in choosing you.”
Traw smirked, looking down to the floor. “I don't give a damn about the GAM. Or IRO. Or any of you people, for that matter. I just wanna live my life in peace, not serve some great purpose or perform a noble duty. I live in the desert, you idiots. I couldn't care less what happens to the rest of the State, as long as my family and I can live in peace. That's all. So get your patriotic BS outta here, before I kick it out.”
As Traw dismissively walked away, the other agent chimed, “The overall salary for this two-year-tour is 2.3 million kaoris, Mr. Traw. Additionally, during your tour, your family will be kept at the utmost comfort at the capitol resort near the capitol on Neptune.”
Traw stopped in his tracks. Turning around slowly, he asked, “You said 2.3 million kaoris?”
“That is correct.”
Traw put his hand to his mouth and bit it, finding the offer difficult to believe. He almost laughed. “I'll have to talk it over with my wife, but if you ask me, it's a sealed deal,” he told them, slightly jittering. “When would I start?”
One of the agents pulled out a small pad, with a stylus attached to it. “You will have twenty-four hours to comply, Mr. Traw. When you have reached a decision, please sign your name onto this pad. Within four hours, we will have a transport here ready to take you and your family to the capitol. Upon your arrival at GAM headquarters, you and the other members of the team will be escorted into the Commander General's office, where you will be briefed. Finally, you will begin your training and embark on your first mission. As we tell all our soldiers, 'time flies with the service of one's country.'”
Traw smirked. “I'll let you know. You can get goin' now,” he dismissed, a thousand thoughts stirring in his skull. The agents nodded and left for the front door in single file, hands still folded behind their backs. When they heard the door shut, Luella and Louise slowly descended the stairs, cautious with every movement. They both saw Sebastian's back turned to them as he stared at the face of the pad, pondering his decision.
“Babe?” Louise asked, taking the final step to the floor. Luella was close behind, sensing something important had happened. She stood behind her mother, glancing around. Sebastian turned about, limply holding the pad. “2.3 million kaoris,” he repeated, partially to himself.
“How many?” Louise asked in shock, joining him.
“2.3 million,” Sebastian answered, slowing his words for further effect. “Plus a resort for you and Luella while I'm gone.”
Louise's expression was somewhere between joy and concern. “I...I don't know what to say, darlin',” she exclaimed, putting her hand on his back. “But why'd you be gone?”
“Workin' for the GAM. Big company, big paycheck. After that, we can settle down, just the three of us. I'll never have to work another day and miss time with you and Luella. No more raiders. No more danger.”
“How long did they say you'd be workin'?”
“Two years. That's it. After that, freedom's ours. We won't have to worry about crawlin' on until the next paycheck, or havin' our cattle stolen by raiders. I've kept up this farm my whole life...and I think fate's finally givin' us a chance to move on.”
Louise gazed at the floor, her stance modest. “I don't know,” she admitted. “I don't like the notion of bein' away from you for so long. It makes me...uneasy.”
“You'll be mighty safe, darlin',” Sebastian assured, putting his arm around her. They both looked at the datapad in his hand. “I promise.”
She remained hesitant. Luella approached from behind. “Your pa might have a new job,” Louise told her daughter, struggling to sound excited. Luella nodded; she had heard the whole exchange between her parents. It was clear she too was trying to hide her apprehensiveness.
Sebastian looked into the eyes of both his women, young and old. “I'm seizing this,” he told them, unclipping the stylus. He clicked a smooth button on the top of the screen and it flashed on, displaying a bar on which he would sign his name. Once again he looked at them both. In their own ways, they expressed their anxiety.
Not giving it a last thought, he signed his name onto the pad, and it flashed green, showing a paragraph of text regarding the arrival of his transport craft. In that moment Louise looked at her husband like she never had before: there was something heroic in him, and yet something so alien to her.