General Merrick walked across the tarmac flanked by the three members of Phalanx Company, the special ops squad he counted when the chips were down and the situation was dire.
Each soldier was decked out in black body armor. To the general’s right, was squad leader Ava “Red” Kingston. Some might assume her nickname came from her red hair, but in truth, it was from all the blood she spilled on the battlefield. The scar underneath her right eye indicated she’d even spilled some herself.
“Captain,” General said. “I’m not about to tell you how to run your team, but I strongly advise you put aside the petty bullshit with Lieutenant Mackenzie. Find him and get his ass in motion now because you’re going to need the Mack Truck on this one.”
“All due respect sir,” Red replied. “Mack’s a liability. He disobeyed a direct order.”
“Your call,” Merrick said. “I just hope Shitbird One and Shitbird Two over here will be enough.”
Shitbird One was Kirk “Primetime” Ross. He was a handsome man, to say the least. In fact, his drill sergeant in basic training rode him about it incessantly, telling him that he was too pretty to be a soldier, that he looked like he should be on television instead. A master sniper, he’d racked up over three hundred confirmed kills on the battlefield alone.
As for Shitbird Two, Marvin “Slim” Eldridge served as the team’s pilot. He didn’t have much in the way of muscle, but he made up for it with his knife skills. If that didn’t work, his spooky, soul piercing eyes had been known to make enemies think twice about messing with him.
“Can you really blame Mack for trying?” Primetime asked. “I imagine you’re a tough girl to get over.”
“Stow it, Shitbird One,” Red said.
The crew reached a helicopter. Slim jumped into the pilot’s seat. Primetime took a spot in the back.
“The Heretic is a ghost,” Merrick lamented. “Honestly, the best minds have been trying to figure out who he is for years to no avail. No one is sure he is even one person. He might be several, perhaps a mythical leader the Day Zero cult has manufactured to use to communicate with. We’ve tried to track his messages but he’s smart. He knows how to cover his tracks using tech even the experts haven’t begun to master.”
“We’re on the case, general,” Red said.
“I hope so,” the general said. “Because it’s my ass on the line.”
“Your meeting with the president went that well?” Red asked.
“Don’t even get me started,” Merrick said. “Tell me about your informant.”
“I’d rather not, sir,” Red said. “This is someone who has been there for us time and time again. He’s trustworthy but he’s skittish. The fewer people who know about his involvement the better.”
“Understood,” Merrick said.
Red jumped up into the chopper and took a seat. As the helicopter rose into the air, Red and the general traded salutes.
“Godspeed, Phalanx Company,” the general said as he watched the metal bird fly away.
Inside, each squad member put on a headset that allowed them to communicate over the sound of the chopper’s loud, churning blades.
“God I wish I had a set of tits so I could get men to believe everything I say,” Primetime said.
“Oh, don’t worry, general,” Slim said as he mocked Red with a girly voice. “I have a special source and I’ve got it all under control.”
“Shut your suck holes, ass clowns,” Red said as she pulled a tablet out from under her seat. “In his day, Merrick was a better soldier than the three of us combined.”
“We weren’t making fun of you,” Slim said.
“Just your tits,” Primetime added. “And their apparent ability to blind the general to a threat right under his nose.”
“It has nothing to do with my tits, pigs,” Red said as she punched a few numbers into her tablet. “It’s all about trust. And I wouldn’t assume the general’s oblivious until we’re in the clear. He’s a crafty old goat.”
Primetime took a seat next to Red and stared at her tablet as the Heretic appeared on screen.
“Why have you summoned me?” the Heretic asked in his synthesized voice.
“We need to talk about a raise, dick stick,” Red replied.
“Do we?” the Heretic asked. “I thought our business was complete.”
“For the product, yes,” Red said. “But we’ve just been assigned to track your ass down so if you want us to stand down and go get some beers instead, its going to cost you.”
“My, my, my, Ms. Kingston,” the Heretic said. “Aren’t you a delightful little capitalist. I don’t suppose the funds I’ve already sent your way buy me your assistance in this matter?”
“Not when you put out a video to the whole world to announce that you’re up to some shit, mongoloid,” Red said.
“You drive a hard bargain,” the Heretic said. “Shall we say one million each?”
“Two million,” Red replied. “Each.”
“Done,” the Heretic said. “Oh and Ms. Kingston?”
“What?” Red said.
“Don’t go entertaining any thoughts about a double cross, now,” the Heretic said. “We’re all in this together and if it ever turns out we aren’t, I have more than enough evidence to put you and your colleagues in Leavenworth for the rest of your lives.”
“You go down, we go down,” Red said. “Got it. I’ll expect the deposits within the hour.”
“You won’t be disappointed,” the Heretic said. “Heretic, out.”
The transmission ended and Red stowed her tablet under her seat.
“Who do you suppose that creepy little twerp is?” Primetime asked.
“I don’t know,” Red said. “Some stupid teenager on his mother’s laptop for all I know.”
Primetime pulled an orange out of his pocket and started to peel it. “I don’t like all this talk about Leavenworth.”
“There’s not going to be a Leavenworth soon,” Red said. “There’s not going to be much of anything soon.”
“Then why are we breaking nine thousand different Federal laws in the name of cold, sticky cash?” Primetime asked.
“Because there will be a few strongholds we’ll be able to buy our way into,” Red said. “Money will be the name of the game when the world ends.”
“Like it isn’t now,” Primetime rebutted as he pulled off an orange slice and ate it. “And let’s not pretend it will be worth much once all the governments collapse.”
“By then we’ll be sitting pretty,” Red said. “And in a position to protect what’s ours.”
The soldiers sat there for awhile.
“Mack was a good man,” Primetime said. “Sometimes I wish he was still with us.”
“Don’t,” Red replied. “He’d kill us all if he knew what we’ve done.”
“What do you think he’s up to now?” Primetime asked.
“Doing something bad ass for sure,” Red said. “That’s what Mack is all about.”