We are all each other, peering through a different set of equipment. Does that make you hungrier?

Adam wanted little more than to snap the blade from where he stood in the doorway into the face of the man behind the desk that was his captor, but he felt that it would be a bad plan to relinquish his only weapon.

No, I need to see what he wants with me first. Most likely has my .44.

“Don’t try anything fast, son, or I’ll paint my walls with your grey matter,” added the sharp, gruff voice of the man sitting behind the desk in the room Adam was analyzing.

The man behind the desk had initially sat with his arms behind his head and was leaning back, but had slowly brought his hands down out of sight when he threatened to blow off Adam’s head. He leaned forward, and the lighting of the room made it difficult to see his unfamiliar face.

Adam took a step into the room. His ear and cheek were still bleeding, and some of the blood had begun to dry on his face.

“Damn, you got cut up pretty good. At least you didn’t die. Now, sit down. We have to talk about an application you filed three Years ago,” said the man behind the desk.

Adam’s eyebrows rose as he began recalling what application was in question.

Three Years ago? I had just gotten out of the Saturian Airborne Defense and was looking for work. Hmmm, couldn’t be about getting on to the Police Raid Squad, because I’ve been doing that. What was it? For Saturian Homeland Protection? No, they wouldn’t go to these lengths.

Then he recalled.


“The S.I.R.?” asked Adam, a look of concern washing down his bloodied face.

“You have to sign this agreement for your answer. I’ll walk you through it, Adam,” said the man behind the desk.

“Agreement? Nondisclosure?” asked Adam, but the man made no acknowledgment. Adam knew about the secrecy contracts that intelligence officials were required to sign; they were no secret.

“You can’t tell me because I haven’t signed the secrecy agreement yet?” asked Adam. The man across from him did not change his expression. Adam decided to ask a question that the man should be able to answer before moving on. Special forces training was like this: everything was a test.

“What should I call you, since you called me Adam?”

“You can call me Guybehindthedesk, shit-eater. Now read this contract. I can answer a few things that you might ask, but some other things I can’t answer for a civ. I am forced to dance a thin line,” answered Guybehindthedesk.

Adam nodded, his eyebrows touching as he mulled over what he was just told and lifted the document that had been set in front of him.

It was similar to a non-compete that one might find in certain types of businesses, and basically outlined that, upon signing, he would be bound by secrecy. If he let anybody in on what privileged information he knew (accidentally or no), and the transmission of that information led to the death or endangerment of an operative -or compromised undercover Representatives or investigations- then he would have committed treason. By no fault of his own, this document could accuse him of a crime even if he didn’t endeavor to commit one.


The man grunted.

“What’s this bit about forfeiture of trial rights?”

“Sign it, and you don’t get to be present if they have one.”

“Who is ‘they’?”


“Can I be sentenced to death?”

Silence, this time accompanied by a jabbing glare.

Adam scribbled his signature into the appropriate box and dated it 1917/1/13. He passed back the document to Guybehindthedesk so that he may sign and date the “witness” section of the document.

“Okay, good. Don’t be a leaker, and you get to keep your head, Adam.”

“So I wouldn’t even be able to defend myself in a trial against myself?”

“Nope. Be careful who you speak to and how you talk. It could be your head,” said Guybehindthedesk.

“That’s unfair. I just signed away my life,” whined Adam. “What if I wanted to become a novelist?”

Guybehindthedesk scoffed.

“Well, I let you read it first, so that’s on you,” retorted Guybehindthedesk. “Now, listen. You’re living on borrowed time, son. And when it boils down to it -and I mean when it gets real bad- it’s gonna be you doing the fighting. Don’t let ’em take a bite without takin’ someone with you, ya hear?”

Adam sat a moment and pondered what he was told.

Borrowed time.

“Will I be trained to do the fighting?” he asked.

“You will be trained to fight trained men. They have men trained to fight men trained to fight trained men such as yourself. Just in case you do commit treason,” explained Guybehindthedesk.

“You mean, there’s better than, say, a Saturian Marksman?”

Guybehindthedesk nodded his head.

“There’s better than that? Better than Marksmen? Killing them? But I thought Marksmen were cream of the crop.”

“Yes, far better. Only difference is who eats who. How much sport is there in killing a man who never saw you? No, these guys enjoy the dance. An eye for an eye leaves us all blind, unless one eye is repaid double. That’s how we got such a fashionable society. That’s all I have to say to you, son. Now, Guywhotrainstherookies is going to take you through the next period of training. You will die this time. In a simulated sense.”

Borrowed time.

“Can I have my watch back?” asked Adam, bluntly, after taking in all Guybehindthedesk had to say.

One eyebrow on Guybehindthedesk’s obscured face rose.

“Only if you can take it from me,” he answered.

Guybehindthedesk opened a desk drawer, and removed Adam’s lucky watch. Before the watch hit the desk, Adam’s knife opened Guybehindthedesk’s chest cavity. Adam shoved Guybehindthedesk into the wall behind him from Adam’s side of the desk and he vaulted over the wooden desk. He stabbed Guybehindthedesk in his gut, pinning him to the wall, and he fell, limp, to the floor. And, man, did it feel good to kill him in such a manner -with his own hands. So personal. It felt great. But Guybehindthedesk didn’t bleed. Strange.

Adam felt secure the moment he slipped on his lucky watch and retracted his Revolver from the desk.

Still loaded and hot. Perfect.

He spun the revolver’s ratcheting cylinder -even though he knew it was unhealthy for the piece- and whipped his wrist to slap the cylinder into the gun with a satisfying, metallic clack. The hand cannon had a single laser etching on the side of the barrel, a confirmation that it was Adam’s Momauguin .44: his first curse and final word.

Adam stepped quickly to close the door that was still ajar, just in case someone wanted to see what the raucous was while he formulated a plan of escape.

A sneaking suspicion swept over Adam, and he snatched the contract he had signed off of the desk. But the words were gone. All that remained on the paper were the two signatures and dates. Confusion now swept over him, and Adam was unable to concentrate on his plan as he scrutinized the documents.

But Guybehindthedesk didn’t sign a name, instead he wrote, written in a fine cursive:

Dead man’s hand. Don’t ever turn your back on a door, shit-eater.

Suddenly, Adam heard the door thrust open and felt a projectile enter the back of his neck before he could even turn around and see the intruder. He was dead, he thought.

Adam and Vinh, some time ago, were deployed to a Raid in the Chords -a vast mountain range along the western side of Satur- and they were told it was to fight DOME Abhorrents. And they believed it: the people they were killing even looked like Abhorrents.

It was a simple enough set of orders: listen to your commanding officer and keep your head down. Adam found that his comrades who followed either one of the orders and not the other were the ones that didn’t come back home with them.

The fight’s real problem arose when Adam became the commanding officer, after all others at today’s skirmish were killed in action. Yet it was not by rank, though, as a few men who did outrank him remained in that cliff-side foxhole alongside him. But they were too incompetent to assume the role, and everyone turned to Adam for survival. Even badass Vinh looked his way for orders in the only regiment that survived the bloodshed that day.

Executor Pantheon had just been hit by shrapnel from a poorly-aimed artillery shell, and his head lay in shambles at Adam’s feet. The command was supposed to shift to the recently activated Officer Croydon, but he was crying uselessly on the ground like a babe. Figures, thought Adam. Croydon was in the Officer Prep School instead of going to high school, and was fast-tracked for leadership because of family legacy. But he had never seen battle and lacked the bond of brotherhood between the regiment that had attended basic training and a dozen smaller skirmishes together.

Now that this destined-for-leadership weakling was frightened and crying on his ass, no direction was being given to the platoon. And when the orders stopped coming, the soldiers started dying. Adam took it upon himself to shout commands at his brothers in arms.

“Heads down! Keep your heads the fuck down! Vinh! Hit that nest! Delta team! Suppress the gunners at 10 o’clock so he can take the shot!” screamed Adam, as loud as his vocal cords would allow.

Immediately, his team lined up at the front of the trench and firedover the embankment. The artillery was fired again, and this better-aimed shell took out a dozen men in brutal fashion.

“Vinh! We need that nest down! On three, everyone up and suppress that fucking nest!” shouted Adam. He hoped his voice would hold.

“One…Two…Three!” he bellowed, spit spewing from his mouth with each syllable.

Adam stood and turned so that he could point his rifle up-battle and remain as small of a target as he could. The rest of the squad followed his example, and Vinh stood to take his own aim through the sights of his long-rifle. A dozen men fall all around them from counter-fire, but Vinh aimed true. The artillery nest was left unmanned, for now, after Vinh’s shot ruined the gunner’s face.

“Delta! Get ready to move, on me!” shouted Adam. He was scared shitless, in truth, yet his shouting was unwavering and commanding. No-one could detect that Adam did not know very well what he was doing, nor could they sense that he was more afraid than any of them.

Adam climbed over the foxhole and started sprinting for a rocky cover a league ahead of the outfit, keeping his head low and his rifle pumping carbon from its muzzle. Vinh met his stride and passed him, as he was always the faster of the two. What few men in Delta were left followed suit, but were unfortunately the focus of DOME fire. Only a select, additional four of the 20 men that dashed to safety made it to the fallen rocks that served as Adam and Vinh’s new source of cover.

Luckily for those four, Adam and Vinh were amazing long-shots. Judging by the absence of further artillery-fire and gunshots, the DOME force was dwindling.

Adam popped above cover, fired a shot that met the skull of its target, and dropped back below the rock cover. He turned to Vinh, and they smiled at each other.

“This shit is fucking awesome!” shouted Vinh, who stood above cover, yet kept his head and rifle barely nudged above the rocks.

Six shots later, Vinh had done collateral damage with his long-rifle and had killed eight men with his skilled hand. Adam bowed respectfully to him in his mind. Adam was able to stop giving orders, and the six last men of Delta became an organism -a machine- on their own. They needed no speech: they were harmonic. The day was theirs, and they climbed that cliff and searched every inch of those caves to find the retribution of their fallen brothers.

Adam knew it was wrong when they found one of them still alive, but it just felt so good to partake. And it was wrong. It was disgusting, but he hated the DOME men that had killed his friends and comrades more than he cared for his own conscience.

It was an idea he and Vinh came up with, and it involved melting the plastic that came with their ration-packs onto the skin of a man who could still feel. And they kept melting more onto him. And more. Even after the man couldn’t cry any more they kept doing it.

At one point, Adam couldn’t remember if it was he or Vinh or whoever else, but one of them had cut off the man’s forefinger. They thought it was funny when the broken man chomped down onto it like it was his last meal when they put the severed finger in his mouth.

But they didn’t kill him afterward. No. They spread peanut-butter over him and tied him sitting to a chair. Fuck that guy, they thought. And they left him there for nature to finish the job. Or whatever.

“Wake up, S.I.R. Ilsa. This has been a drill.”

Back to the Guide:

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.