Written by: Stephen Brown; Mansfield Grey
I crouched beside a thick pine tree as the voices continued. The sky had turned a dark blue-pink to signal the oncoming of night. The voices didn’t seem to be getting any closer or further away. I decided to move with stealth and get closer. My unit was nowhere to be found. That was a good thing, I thought. That meant they were also hiding.
I came over the main ridge and could see Clark and a bunch of jawbreakers standing in a courtyard on the far side of the base. It was strange that I could hear him so clearly from so far away. It was then that I realized Clark wasn’t barking out orders, but merely speaking in a normal tone of voice. The way the landscape was laid out, it looked as if this construction of hills was man-made for a large audience to see and hear a speaker. Of course, there was vegetation everywhere, but this space, being as dense as it was, had a weird vibe about it. There was energy flowing through this area; I could hear the frequency changes as I moved closer.
“Red Band 1, Whiskey, Bravo, Charlie is ready and the white dove is light. Fall in!” Colonel Clark commanded.
Suddenly, I started to sweat. My head started to pound as I felt pressure behind my eyes. I recognized this old feeling, but this time it was different. I knew he didn’t have control of me anymore because I felt myself calming down. For some strange reason I could remember playing guitar, and I think I was pretty good–I think I had a memory; I think I used to play guitar. At first it seemed vague and surreal. But this memory was with Bronco and Sticks back in Bosnia and we were jamming after a mission. Bronco on drums, Sticks on bass, and me on guitar. It was a good memory.
Then all my memories started to flood back. I no longer have a family. They died years ago when I was trying to leave Red Band 1 and Clark sent someone to kill my family. I have been alone ever since. My whole life since I signed up for the Red Band 1 Project is a lie. Clark continued to re-program me to think my family was still alive–all to get me to do a mission. I asked him to do this because the pain was too great; the guilt I felt for their deaths was unbearable. When he would re-program me all the pain would go away and I could at least live with myself. As long as I was working on a mission I was fine with my imaginary world of home, but as soon as it was over I couldn’t live with myself.
I looked down to see Clark watching Axe and Pogo come out of the brush and report for duty. I could hear him talking to them. Praising them for reporting and promising them he would take away their pain. He ordered them to go with three jawbreakers to the infirmary. They were accompanied by a bunch of lab coats, Sara was one of them.
Then Clark turned towards the jungle and said in a low, calm voice, “Manny, come on in Son, and bring in the boys–Sticks, Bronco, Q; I can take away all your pain, too. You guys are good boys and you have helped your country and the development of human-kind for many years. You guys are heroes. The general population should throw parades and have holidays to celebrate what Red Band 1 has done in the past. I promise I will make all the pain go away forever boys.”
A stone hit me in the back of the head. I turned and it was Bronco, he was just up on the hill behind a huge rock with glyphs on it. He had an apologetic face on him for the stone, but I was so happy to see him. I gave him the thumbs up and proceeded to give him hand signals to stay put. I made my way up to him with the Z643 and the six sasers Sara had given me. At this height I could no longer hear Clark’s voice, but could see him talking to some lab coats.
“Where are Sticks and Q, have you seen them?” I whispered.
“They are back over here by the river. We took off when Clark showed up. We lost Axe and Pogo in the woods when we were running for cover. Looks like those guys are back in the program. I knew those guys were still fucked up. You could see it in their eyes at the jail house. No way am I going back to the program, Manny. I remember my life before the Red Band 1, it wasn’t all that bad. It was actually way better than any Red Band crap we have had to go through.
“I feel the same Bronco. I’m not going back either. I realize now that the death of my family was not my fault. It was Clark’s and only Clark’s. He will get his one day! Right now we have a new mission, get the ZX643 to the Freedom Alliance. First we have to try and save Axe and Pogo, then find a way to get out of here. Take me to Q and the Stickman. We have a rescue operation to plan.”