Crysis Escalation - By Gavin G. Smith

Chance – Part 1

Airfield, CELL cobalt mining support depot, upper Podkamennaya Tunguska River, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, Russian Federation, 2025

Walker tried to blink away the tears. Many of the other CELL “security personnel” wouldn’t make the call to their partners before a big op. They felt it was bad luck. Before CELL Walker had been in 2 Para, running patrols into the LCZ during some of the worst of the London troubles. He had seen the people who made the calls and the people who didn’t get killed in equal number. He wanted it fixed and strong in his mind why he had to survive each op.

‘I know I shouldn’t, I know you just need to hear that we love you and miss you. I know anything else just messes with your head, but we need you back.’ Carlotta was crying and, sensing her mother’s distress Elsa, just six months old, started crying as well.

Walker squeezed his eyes closed, a tear running down his cheek. Outside the comms booth there was a long queue of hard men and women waiting their turn to use the Macronet portal, despite the shitty reception and the constantly frizzing images. That didn’t matter, this was his two minutes, nobody would get in his face about that. Just like nobody would comment on the tears. It was the unspoken rule. They’d all be the same.

Walker’s eyes opened as his girlfriend and child shimmered momentarily and then solidified.

‘I’m due leave soon and I’ll be back . . .’ his Birmingham accent was still thick, despite years away from the West Midlands of Britain.

‘Do you know when your tenure’s up?’ Carlotta asked. Walker had effectively been drafted into CELL for non-payment of their energy bill. He’d been labouring when they invited him to “work debt free”, but they certainly had uses for a skill set learnt in the British army. His biggest fear had been that he’d end up fighting the Ceph in New York or some other infection area, but at least that seemed to be all over bar the clean up now.

‘I don’t know,’ he answered truthfully. His superiors acted cagey every time he asked about it. How much debt had they run up, he wondered? Walker had thought that they had always lived a reasonably frugal existence.

There was a discreet tap on the door. The red counter above the booth had run down to zero, but nobody was going to be a dick about it unless he really took the piss.

‘Baby, I’ve got to go . . .’ he started.

‘You’re scared . . .’

‘I’m always scared, I miss you, both of you, but they give us drugs for the fear . . .’

‘I don’t want to hear that. This one’s different, isn’t it?’

The Macronet link cut. The words: Predicted Operational Security Breach appeared in red floating letters where the poor quality image of his wife and child had been moments before.

‘It’s just routine, baby,’ Walker lied to the warning message. Why’s that a high-resolution image but my girlfriend and kid aren’t? Walker wondered, inanely, unable to process anything else. There was another more urgent knock at the plastic door of the booth. Walker took a moment to wipe away the tears and then, red-eyed, head down, he stepped out of the booth.

‘Sorry man,’ he mumbled and made his way through the queue towards the exit.

He pulled down the patch on the arm of his fatigues between the straps for his body armour. He took the first syringe, let the smart needle guide itself to a vein, and he injected the good stuff in. He thought of it as getting his game face on. GABA, trycilics, the military grade stims that he had sworn off when he left the paras. He started to experience the artificial feeling of power coursing through his veins. He knew it was artificial because he knew the contrast between being up on the combat drugs one moment and then coming back down to Earth the hard way a moment later. When you found yourself wearing your squadmate’s internal organs as outerwear. He still embraced the high. Locked the final flickering image of Carlotta and Elsa away. That image was for when he needed to fight harder, just to live.

He pulled his glove off with his teeth. Pressed his thumb against the needle. The weapons rack accepted his DNA and released the Scarab assault rifle to him. He checked the weapon and took as much spare ammunition as he felt he could get