A trail of smoke came from Luke’s cigarette. His head rocked and weaved with the motion of his seat. His seat was a mobile fortress, complete with missiles, rail-guns, and a truly frightening array of machine guns.
Luke surveyed the countryside with his rifle in his lap. His face had a wide stare to take in any movement. Dirt, grime, and grease was on his face. His uniform was scavenged, with signs of repair all over it. Patches covered his jacket. They ranged from girl scouts to military honors.
He was shorter than average, and by no means did he think himself smart. Luke he was an excellent shot, and he got to use his skills every day. He was a teenager, although that just meant he had a 1 in his age. He was still expected to act like an adult.
Luke had killed many people. All with his rifle. All within two shots. It was his duty.
The radio crackled at his chest at the same moment the Charger slowed to a stop.
“To the east, do you see him?” a woman’s voice.
Luke stood up. His eyes narrowed as he turned to the opposite side of the tank. He raised his rifle but ignored the scope, looking to the horizon.
There, on the edge of the hills, was a man running. He would soon be out of sight, and they might risk losing him.
Luke readied his rifle at his shoulder. His officers had told him to always lie down for a long range shot, but he seemed to shoot better while standing.
In the scope, he could make out desperation running through tall grasses. Where was he running to? Where was he running from? His superiors would want to know. He drifted the crosshairs from the man’s torso to his legs.
Without hesitation he took the shot. The man fumbled against the reeds, and his movements were unpredictable. The bullet went into the dirt a few inches from the man’s left leg. He didn’t seem to notice. Luke saw the sound of the rifle find him, though. The man suddenly ducked his head and fell to the ground.
Luke waited for him to rise. He needed a good shot at one of his legs.
“You get him?” Julie said over the radio.
“Mmmmmm,” Luke growled.
The man stood up and took a long step into the grass. Luke fired at where he thought the man’s other leg would go.
The man followed up, his leg moving right to where Luke wanted it be. The bullet found its mark. It passed through his lower leg, breaking bones, and tearing the flesh. The man doubled over in agony, clutching the area above the amputation.
Luke snapped his rifle away from his shoulder, resting the butt against the tank. He grabbed the radio.
“He’s down,” Luke said.
“Neutralized?” Julie said.
“No. Just down.
Luke sat down as the Charger started moving. He went to inhale his cigarette but found nothing. With his left hand he took it out of his mouth and observed it. Nothing but filter. He flicked it into the fields.
Julie rolled the Charger right up to the injured man. It was her humor to casually arrive at the victims with Luke sitting on the side.
The Charger halted. After only a few moments, the hatch flew open and Julie climbed the ladder to the outside.
She was large. Much larger than Luke, in all ways. Her engineer’s cap had been covered in grease so many times it was permanently the hue of grey. Her uniform was cut at the sleeves. She had a frown, but Luke wasn’t worried.
Next out was Ferris. This one was older, with the least dirty of their uniforms. He wiped sweat from his brow as he pulled himself out of the Charger.
“Why’d you spare him?” Ferris asked Luke.
Luke thought for a second. The injured man screamed in pain.
“He seemed desperate to get away from something, sir. I dunno what, but I thought you might wanna know, sir,” Luke said.
Ferris squinted at him, “Really? You thought about all that?”
Luke was unsure if he was receiving a compliment or an insult.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
Julie looked over the edge of the tank at the man in the grass and her face change from amused to afraid.
“Sir, Luke. He has a fucking key,” Julie said.
“Everyone’s got keys…” Ferris started.
The captain looked over the edge, and the man was holding up a keycard. They couldn’t read from on top of the tank, but the symbols were something they knew about. It was a presidential keycard, that much was certain.
“Help. Me,” The man screamed.
“Oh god damn,” Ferris exclaimed, “Luke get the first-aid ready. Julie, get him inside.”
“Yes sir,” the two of them said, almost in unison.
Julie scrambled down the side-ladder, while Luke descended into the belly of the Charger.
Once inside he lowered the rear-facing ramp. Rusted gears ground against one another, with red dust coming from the joints. He grabbed the first aid and then sat on the floor. He pulled out the different layers of tools and items.
The man’s leg had to be amputated. Luke made sure of that.
Ferris descended, surveying the first-aid.
“Alright, alright,” he said to himself.
He was the only one with any medical training. And it wasn’t much.
Julie dragged the man up the ramp with ease. Blood followed him on his right leg, making a trail up the ramp and into the Charger.
“Jesus,” Ferris said, “Mister, I’m sorry. We’re gonna have to amputate the leg.”
He was saying this to a man in shock. There was no response.
Ferris worked with what he had, using a tourniquet and a bone saw. The floor in the Charger began to pool with this stranger’s blood.
“This is gonna be a pain in the ass to clean,” Luke said.
“Shut the fuck up, private,” Ferris yelled.
The captain went to the front of the vehicle, sticking the bone saw into a small slot that had been cut into the floor. He waited for a few moments and when the bone saw emerged it was red-hot.
“He might wake up for this one,” Ferris said, “Hold him.”
Luke and Julie each held and arm and a leg while Ferris readied the stump for cauterizing.
He took a deep breath, and then pushed the flat edge of the red-hot bone saw against the severed leg. It hissed, and the man woke up from the worst nightmare into a.
“AHHHHHH!” he screamed, flailing his body.
Luke and Julie struggled to keep him down. But after the initial pain, the man flopped back to a state of shock.
“Okay. Okay,” Ferris said to himself, “He needs blood.”
“Oh god damn it,” Luke exclaimed.
Ferris gave him a look of indignation.
“…sir,” Luke pretended to finish.
“You’re the universal donor,” Julie said.
“Yeah, I fucking got it,” Luke hissed as he rolled up the sleeve on his right hand.
Ferris readied the needle and tube. In a few moments everything was set up so the man was receiving new blood.
Ferris collapsed into one of the driver’s seats. Luke mulled over his leash. Julie leaned her weight into an overhead hand-hold.
“It’s a presidential keycard,” Ferris said, looking at nothing in particular.
“What do you think it opens?” Julie asked the crew.
“Let’s not…” Ferris began.
“It’s probably a god damned fake. They always…” Luke began.
“PRIVATE! Learn your place! You interrupt me again and you can switch places with the man on the fucking floor,” Ferris bellowed.
His voice rattled against the consoles.
Luke ground his teeth, “Sorry, sir.”
“Now, as I was saying, we need to test it. If it’s real, our mission is about to change. We might even go back the way we came.”
He rifled through one of the storage bins and took a small piece of paper out. It was worn. The corners were gone, and it looked about to disintegrate. He squinted, and then passed it over the stranger to Julie.
She looked it over and started reading, “A presidential seal should show up under UV light. And the numbers all should end in 87.”
Julie looked up at Ferris, who was already opening a small compartment. Underneath layers of junk, he pulled a small light. He pressed it to the keycard and the presidential seal of President Ronald Reagan was visible.
“Well, shit,” Luke said.
“That’s just step one, Julie, you give it a look.”
She scanned the numbers on the card, and her face grew white.
“87’s across the board, sir,” She said, handing it back.
“Okay. Okay,” Ferris calmed himself.
“Captain, sir, what’s the call?” Luke asked.
Ferris pointed at the man on the floor, “We wait for this one to wake up, and we’ll ask him a few questions.”
“Party time,” Julie exclaimed.