Chapter 12: The Hard Truth

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"So what happened?" Allan asked as they drove through the desert darkness. He realized that he'd slept through the entire day and now it was night again.

"I don't know, Montgomery didn't give me the details. She was..." he hesitated, seeming to consider his words. "Pissed, and scared, I think."

"Huh," Allan murmured. "I don't know why she wouldn't just recapture him and try again." He stared out over the passing miles through his vision filter, watching the flow of the landscape sway and rise and fall, the dust blowing in the wind.

"Something's changed," Johnson said. He pressed on before Allan could ask what he meant. "I don't have any solid facts, just a feeling. A vibe, man. You know what I mean?"

Allan considered it for a moment. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

They both fell silent, listening to the quiet drone of the engine. Allan considered the situation, trying to feel it out, but he just didn't have enough pieces. What could be different? Was the killer somehow more powerful now? Had he managed to reach his destination...wherever the fuck that was? Not enough pieces.

Allan kept his peace, happy enough to be back in his armor and out of prison. Whatever happened, his life here was done, he knew that much. Maybe Montgomery could help him cut some kind of deal, go somewhere else. Maybe he was badass enough to sign up for Spec Ops. They had brutal standards, but he'd gone through some pretty brutal shit.

So, for now, Allan simply sat back and waited.

* * *

The pickup zone turned out to be a spot in the middle of the desert wasteland that comprised a large portion of Lindholm, roughly fifty miles north of Lansing. There was a single jump ship waiting for Allan, its lights off, its presence hidden from anyone who didn't have some kind of light-enhancement technology. The skies were still gray and overcast. The moon and the stars were hidden behind the thick clouds.

Two men in black-and-silver armor waited for him, sitting on the back ramp, helmets off, smoking cigarettes. One of them was dark skinned, with a shaved head, a gold earring, and eyes that glowed white in the darkness. The other was pale with a gaunt face and a fuzz of brown hair along his skull and jawline. They both stood up.

"Sergeant Allan Gray?" the glowing-eyed man asked.

"Yes," Allan replied.

"Could you de-polarize your visor, please?" he asked.

Allan hesitated, a feeling of absolute terror shooting through him, freezing him into place. He trembled briefly, fighting to get himself under control.

"Sergeant Gray?"

"Yes, sorry," Allan murmured. He did as they asked. They both stared into his helmet, scrutinizing him, studying his pallid face.

The man with glowing eyes nodded. He took a deep pull on his cigarette, flicked what remained out into the desert and then exhaled a thick cloud of blue smoke. He stuck out his armored hand. Allan shook it.

"You can call me Poet," he said. "I'm the technical expert of Shadow Team."

"Icarus, I'm the medic," the gaunt man said, shaking Allan's hand.

"I, uh..." Allan felt confusion slowly flood his system. "I'm afraid I'm not sure what Shadow Team is, exactly."

"Yo!" Johnson called. Allan could hear the jeep's engine idling behind them. He turned around, squinting into the glare of the headlights. Johnson was leaning out the driver's side window, looking anxious. "Montgomery made some promises, so...can you guys, like, uh, deliver on those promises at all?" he asked.

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