Chorus, p.1
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       Chorus, p.1

           Dagda Publishing
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Chorus
Chorus

  Eric Robert Nolan

  Λ

  There was a time, Rebecca’s father had told her, when wolves could not speak.

  They were mute. They were as dumb as any other animal – whatever sounds they made were no more intelligible than birdsong, or dogs barking, or the loud, intermittent wail of the stray cats that so often woke her during her Brooklyn childhood. They were mute, he’d told her, and few. They almost never attacked people. And they did not form armies.

  Rebecca cradled her shotgun, and tried to stay awake.

  They were actually very few indeed, back then. Rebecca knew that in the days long before the war, people had actually worried that there were too few wolves. When the nations of men had sprawled across and crowded the Americas, people worried that wolves had been an “endangered” or “threatened species.” To her, it sounded like a sick joke – humans worried that there weren’t enough wolves.

  Sitting on her backpack outside her tent in the August humidity, she cursed the darkness and continued drumming her fingers against her knees. It was good for staying awake. It wasn’t as good as coffee, real coffee. The last time she’d had real coffee was in New York City, and she hated the instant stuff that Caleb liked to bring along on patrol.

  She dropped her head. She pulled the barrette out from behind it, and her shock of red hair fell down around her fair face like a crimson cowl. Conscious of her Squadsmen around her, she was drumming her fingers to hide the trembling of her hands.

  History was difficult for her to picture. Her chosen profession – indeed, the latter half of her life – resulted entirely from the war. (She, like virtually anyone who saw combat, regarded it simply as “the war.” Civilians in the fortified East Coast cities most often called it either “World War III” or “The Wolf War.” If they were histrionic enough, they referred to it as “The War Between the Species.” During her first (and only) year of college, she’d been taught the truly pedantic appellation of “the Global Interspecies Conflict.” But to her, or anyone else wearing a uniform, it was simply the war. Or, even more simply, it was the shit.

  She stopped drumming her fingers. She decided to rise and walk the perimeter. It wasn’t much of a perimeter, really, just 90 square feet on a dark hilltop, containing 20 Squadsmen, above the wooded suburbia of some random, formerly inhabited town in what men still liked to call New Jersey. There were 20 Squadsmen here, when there should have been 24. Rebecca didn’t want to think about that.

  Below her Squad, in the valley to the north, lay the symmetrical long rows of the empty shells of what had been houses. This had been a neighbourhood once. Thirty years of overgrowth had swallowed up most of the wooden structures, so that they were little more than oddly shaped, vine-covered lumps, barely distinguishable from the natural landscape. The roads between them were uneven beds of cracked and faded asphalt, long since reclaimed in spots by erosion and wildgrass.

  The largest manmade structure that was still fully intact was the blackened, boxlike fossil of a jackknifed tractor trailer, its driver’s mummified face a pale oval against its window, like a dried albino peach. From the day’s reconnaissance, Rebecca knew that the houses, too, held only the dead. The place, for all practical purposes, was a mausoleum.

  She looked to the east for comfort. Even here, New York City’s lights created a warm glow along the night’s horizon. The Manhattan of 2054 was still as full of light and life as it had always been.

  She should have been sleeping. That was standard operating procedure. She was a Captain. She had not one, but two, well trained sentries who were awake and walking perimeter. The first was Owens, the Brit. The second was Francis. The first she could barely understand, and the second she disliked.

  “Hallo, then?” Owens chimed. He slung his weapon around his shoulder and greeted her, when he saw she was awake. “Not sleeping, Ma’am? Everything is fine, get to your tent.” He smiled, his rough, round face just a little bit reassuring. There was genuine concern in his voice.

  Thank God. Owens had uttered a sentence that she actually could make sense of. Owens had a cockney accent. Over the past two months since he had been assigned to her Squad, it had often embarrassed her that she couldn’t understand what one of her own people was saying to her.

  Owens was a transplant from the United Kingdom. The UK, as so many Brits were wont to explain, was basically an island fortress. It was better protected, even, than New York City. It had done so well for itself in the war that it now simply exported its soldiers to places that needed them. One result was that there were a hell of a lot of British, Irish and Scots fighting in places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Another result was that there were a hell of a lot of American Captains who had to ask their Squadsmen to repeat themselves.

  “Not sleepy.” She answered as pleasantly as she could, and smiled back. At only 5 feet 2 inches, she literally had to look up at him as she spoke. She brushed her locks away from her bright green eyes and hugged her petite form a little tighter.

  She should have been sleeping, she knew that. She needed sleep to do her job. Her job was to think and make decisions. Her job was to be confident and sure. Her job was to lead. She didn’t like her job.

  “Not sleepy,” she said again, and ran her fingers through her hair. She smiled again, too. Owens was one of the most brutish looking men she had ever encountered, but she’d served with him just long enough to know better about him. “How about I take over?”

  Francis interrupted.

  “You aren’t up for watch yet, Ma’am,” he said.

  His voice was level, as always. He emerged from the shadows so quickly that it startled her. He was as quiet as a wolf, which maybe explained why he was so good at killing them.

  “In fact,” Francis said placidly, “you aren’t up at all. I thought Captains slept, while front men watched.”

  “Well, maybe I’m a front man at heart,” she raised her eyebrows and shrugged. She smiled as broadly as she could, crossed the unlit campsite, and pointed her shotgun at the dark. Owens smiled, not seeing through her bravado. Francis did not smile.

  She could feel Francis’ eyes on her back. She wanted to turn around. She wanted to tell Francis exactly what she thought of him. She wanted …

  “Movement!” Caleb said breathlessly. His thin frame shuddered, as he fairly spasmed out of his sleeping bag. His eyes went wide, as he pointed to the southeast. “Movement, Ma’am, I fucking swear it!”

  Both of her sentries snapped to the task. Owens and Francis stood back to back, their weapons raised. Whatever the differences in their perso-nalities, they functioned well together tactically: in an instant, Francis covered the north, while Owens covered the south. Rebecca saw Owens’ body stiffen at the threat as he pointed and swept his weapon. Francis looked relaxed enough, but Francis was always relaxed.

  Caleb, despite his training, very nearly panicked.

  “Ma’am, I saw movement. No shit. Seriously,” he said hoarsely, and too loudly. He pointed to the southeast again. Caleb was a fine field surgeon, but a damned liability in combat.

  Rebecca just wanted to shut him up. If there were wolves out there, they had already marked the position of Rebecca and her Squad. If they were drones (which was likely, she thought), they were too stupid to relay the news of her Squad to the main pack anytime soon. They would attack by themselves, and that could be handled.

  If there were lieutenants among the drones … Rebecca didn’t want to think about that, any more than she wanted to think about the four men she’d already lost. Her people were disciplined and well trained. As a Captain in the Special Animal Warfare Service (SAWS), she’d earned not just accolades, but also professional soldiers who were the best of New York Cit
y. The men and women of SAWS Squad 54 didn’t need an order to awaken. Caleb’s panicked voice was enough.

  They ringed around the perimeter silently. Their weapons made no sound, as they were already loaded and locked. Their night vision goggles slipped on. The front men crouched and pointed their weapons in all directions. The sharpshooters pointed theirs as well and scanned for targets. The front men were the less talented marksmen. They wielded Benelli Super 90 M4 combat shotguns, selected for their stopping power.

  Their job was to stop any wolves from reaching the sharps.

  The sharps held M40 sniper rifles, and their job was to identify a lead wolf and kill it. However intelligent the wolves might be, they’d never really lost their cardinal weakness – kill the lead wolf, and the rest were likely to break ranks.

  “There …,” Caleb pointed, more diffidently this time.

  She looked. To her, there was nothing but another noiseless corner of the New Jersey hills. There was nothing but another dead, quiet corner of another dead place in another dead town. There were no wolves, no humans, just quiet. In the open, lightless expanse of the continent, she almost wished for a full-fledged battle. She hated the quiet. And even more than that, she hated being still.

  “Owens?” she whispered.

  “No
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