Clouds of mosquitoes and sand flies descended upon our early morning reconnaissance meeting. We got our orders while continually slapping at the ravenous insects.
“Spread out and search every last inch of Memory Hill. Our heat sensors detected at least two or three resisters. They must be found and detained.” Commander Owens swatted a sand fly on his neck, leaving a bloody smear. “Remember, don’t let ‘em say a word to you. Stun ‘em before they can talk.”
With that our group of ten fanned out, our phasers set to drop the enemy in their tracks, still alive but unconscious. Easier to handle them that way.
Mist hovered waist-high in the wooded area we were searching. Ghostly figures appeared, then vanished, among the trees. No one wanted to be out there. But those were our orders.
The humidity and dead calm made for a sticky, miserable patrol. Twigs snapped underfoot. Someone let out a curse after slipping on the mossy rocks that littered our path. I groaned within. All my years of tracking these resisters had taught me what my father, a veteran of the Fourth Conflict, had never gotten the chance to do: how to move through any terrain as silently as possible.
I squinted to my left. Jevere, a new recruit hailing from United Earth’s biggest city, was having a hard time of it. Slapping the air in front of him, crashing through the underbrush like a clumsy bear, he was the picture of ineptitude.
I shook my head and grunted in disgust. Overhead, the infrared drone hummed and sent back its information to Base Camp.
A boulder the size of a small child crashed down the slope toward Jevere. Too late, he glanced in that direction. The rock hit a stump and launched into the air. I saw his mouth gape and his eyes widen seconds before the boulder laid him flat, gasping for breath.
“Need a medic approximately two clicks from camp on the eastern slope,” I reported on the micro-chip radio implanted in my wrist. No time to assess his condition; I had a job to do.
Still shaking my head, I continued my ascent of the hill. That boulder did not dislodge by natural forces. The enemy was near.
Craning my head back and forth, keeping my finger on the phaser trigger, I spotted a small cave dug into the hillside. Seconds later a camouflaged figure darted into its opening.
I smirked and whispered, “Gotcha.”
Skirting the bushes on the approach to the cave, I crouched behind some scrub brush and signaled my position to Evans on my right. He was far enough away that I would be able to claim this capture as my own and receive the accolades. Maybe even a promotion.
Before I knew what was happening, an arm hooked around my neck and pulled me to my feet, removing my phaser from my fingers.
“We’re going into that cave,” a voice hissed close to my ear, “and you’re not going to make a sound. Understand?”
An extra squeeze around my throat convinced me to cooperate. My assailant and I moved as one into the cave depths, where darkness would hide his face.
He forced me onto the rock floor and cuffed my wrists behind me.
“The drone has your position,” I warned. “Within a few minutes this cave will be surrounded and you’ll have to surrender.”
“Oh, will I?” He chuckled. “I know this cave better than anyone. And you do, too, Juan. If only I could reach you, help you remember. But the mind blocks they used when you joined the United Earth Forces are very strong.”
“All I need to remember is who I am and what my job is, and who you are and what you stand for.” I spat on the ground beside me.
“Do you really know what I stand for? Look, I only have a few minutes to talk and then I’ll have to go.”
“You have a captive audience, I guess.”
He sighed. “Maybe you’ll remember the things Momma taught us when we were growing up.”
He began to recite the cursed lies we were warned to avoid. As he neared the end of his recitation, my lips unwillingly framed his last words: “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”* I wept as a flood of memories assaulted my heart.
“Take care, Juan,” he whispered before escaping deeper into the cave, “and remember.”
*Juan’s brother recited Psalm 23 (NKJV) which ends with these words.
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