The installation seemed to be slowly coming to life.
It was a creepy, ominous feeling that filled Eric with a sluggish, cold dread. He held onto the heavy machine gun that he'd salvaged from Seth's corpse and wondered if he'd made the right decision. Should he just abandon it? It was probably the correct choice. If he ran into one of those things, the best option seemed to be just to run. He'd gotten lucky so far. Well...lucky only in the sense that he wasn't dead and he was still physically intact aside from some bumps and bruises. But how long would that last? How long could he hope to survive?
Eric wasn't exactly a warrior.
Sure, he was a combat engineer and he'd seen more than his fair share of combat. But he'd wanted to leave all that shit behind when he'd left the military. Murder was ugly, nasty business. If he was being honest with himself though, he wasn't entirely sure he considered putting one of these things down as murder. They were...creatures. Not creatures in the sense of animals, protecting their territory or hunting for food.
No, they were something different.
There was a kind of awful intelligence to them. In a way, it'd be a lot easier to pass these...he loathed to call them demons but he could think of no other name, these things off as animals. He remembered Seth's name for them: Bandersnatch. But that had been Seth's name. For some weird reason, Eric felt uncomfortable using it, even inside his own mind...
He came to the end of the corridor he'd been slinking along as stealthily and silently as possible and peered cautiously around the corner. Nothing but another dreary, bloody stretch of scratched-up metal deckplates and bulkheads. He'd been cast into an industrial wasteland, populated by nightmarish alien creatures. He wasn't too far from the hangars they'd first entered. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Eric made his way around the corner and began traversing another hallway, hurrying to his destination.
As much distance as his mind put between his time spent murdering fellow humans and what he was doing here, Eric couldn't help but notice that there were too many similarities for comfort. The apprehension, the terror, the certainty that death was waiting around every corner and the sure knowledge that pretty much the only thing keeping him alive was nothing more than luck wrapped in a thin layer of skill and caution. Mostly you were just throwing dice every time you took a chance, or flipping a coin.
You could keep living, or you could just as easily die and lose it all.
Eric was still uncertain about whether or not he wanted to continue living. Although he had a history of being a generally gloomy person, he'd never been actually suicidal. If anything, he'd been afraid to die. Combat had changed him, but it wasn't that simple. It did different things to different people. He'd known one guy who'd lost it and had gone on to kill himself. He knew other guys who were just fine and went back to their lives when it was over. He knew still others who couldn't go back, who became addicted to what some called 'the life'.
If he had to come up with an answer to this particular conundrum, he would say that being on a battlefield with death possibly and constantly a heartbeat away...tended to clear your mind. It brought your life into a perfect, harsh focus and suddenly, you were shown what truly mattered to you. For some, their families back home or the life they left behind was the only thing that mattered, so they had no problem going back when it was done. Some had made the harsh discovery that nothing before their time in the military mattered as much as the military lifestyle did to them now, so they stayed, unable to 'go back to sleep', as some of them called it.
Eric had been shown his own light.
It was, in a way, his damnation.
He'd discovered that the life he had before didn't really mean much to him. The people in it, the things he did, hobbies and interests...they were all pale ghosts next to his current life. But it wasn't the drills, the sense of belonging, the satisfaction of fixing something just in the nick of time or the combat that did it for him.
YOU ARE READING
The twelfth novel in The Shadow Wars. Eric Starck is a man adrift. After fighting in the Systems Wars that ravaged the galaxy, he's spent the past three years drifting from one job to the next, never quite feeling comfortable. The latest in a long l...