- Southern England, late Autumn, 2040
The hour spent with Clayburn outside of his villa felt like an eternity. The world had received unnaturally sharp contours and a strange blueish hue in the pale light of military-grade LED lamps illuminating the area, putting Strom into a strange, dream-like state. Only when Clayburn opened the doors and he was bathed in the warm glow of yellow light from the inside was the spell broken.
Strom forced himself to focus once again on his host. Outside, he had had the distinct feeling of being alone in the dark with a monster about to pounce on him at any moment, its slavering jaws ready to cut his life short in an instant. Inside, Andrew Clayburn was back to his charming host self and Strom couldn’t but wonder whether the entire experience was organized to make him feel the way he did. He decided he wasn’t important enough to orchestrate it all on purpose but if Andrew Clayburn was capable of even subconsciously influencing people to such a degree... chills ran down Strom’s spine once more.
He found himself following Clayburn through his home, from the empty halls that now felt weirdly familiar deep into the bowels of the mansion. The rooms and passages grew steadily narrower, the cold stoney walls resembling a dungeon more than anything else and with the silence only broken by their soft footsteps, his mind started playing tricks on him, making him hear haunted cries of many a soul that had perished in these dark halls, alone and afraid. As they neared the door at the end of the hallway, his dread culminated with him imagining the horrors that somehow surely awaited him behind it. The massive slab of wood slowly opened with a loud creak and behind it...
A kitchen. Strom closed his eyes for a moment and slowly exhaled. He allowed himself a second or two of feeling foolish, hoping that the man in front of him wouldn’t notice his flushed cheeks and elevated breathing.
If Clayburn had, he gave no sign of it. The kitchen was large with a number of stoves silently standing under the arched ceiling, blackened by the decades of use with untold layers of soot. The center of the massive cellar was dominated by a large wooden table of undeterminable age, perhaps as old as the mansion itself.
Touching the ancient wood grounded Strom in reality as he and his host sat down. A shrivelled man in cook’s uniform whom Strom hadn’t noticed before shuffled in, silently dropped two plates of what looked like a pudding in front of them and retreated back into the shadows. Clayburn smiled at him in response and took a bite.
“Excellent, Henry. As always.”
Clayburn nodded at Strom and smiled.
“Try it, Strom. It’s exquisite.”
He was right, of course. Strom hadn’t tasted anything like that before. The enjoyment of the soft, sweet flavor melting on his tongue was interrupted after a short while by the silent appearance of the cook bringing two cups of hot coffee. His movements were unnaturally quiet and Strom couldn’t help but imagine the ancient man not being a man at all, but a ghost, bound to the mansion and sentenced to serve its master for all eternity.
As he took another bite, Clayburn reached into his pocket, producing a battered old PDA. It was an older military model. Scratches littered its surface, its screen damaged by what looked like a bullet gash. Clayburn activated it and wordlessly handed it to Strom. Strom raised his eyebrows in confusion.
Clayburn reclined in his chair in what was now a familiar gesture and sipped his coffee.
“This was recovered from the Arish base. Before we continue, you might find it illuminating.”
Strom nodded, took the pad and, under the watchful gaze of his master, started reading.
- Entry: 1
The day is... I don’t know what the hell the date is. It’s strange, you know, not knowing a date in the age of electronics, but here I am. I found this poor thing in one of the bunkers. Looks like someone took a swing at it with a baseball bat or something. The date won’t set right. It’s stuck at 1.1.1972 00:00:00, so, let’s just call it my first entry. Cutter told me I should write everything down as a... he calls it therapy. Now, personally, I think he’s just a hack. Cutter, if you’re reading this, it means I am dead, so: you’re a hack and that bottle was wasted on you.
- Entry: 2
It’s mid-July, that much I know, but I woke up shivering. It’s incredible how hot the desert can get during the day but at night, the temperature drops by as much as 20 degrees. Fixing tanks in blistering heat by day, shivering in my tent by night. I don’t know how long can we go on like this.
- Entry: 3
It’s been a week since my last entry. I think I am ready to write about it. Not in details. We landed in Cairo. Some assholes started shooting. Annie got stuck in a Humvee when the fuel tank got hit. At night, I can still her scream. Every night. Maybe that’s what’s making me shiver. The bosses took it in stride, of course, just a few more casualties. They called them “nonessentials” even. Annie didn’t fight. She cooked and cleaned. I don’t know about the others, but her giggle and her jokes when she handed us food made her pretty damn essential to me.
- Entry: 4
When you’re on a warpath, you can deal with the big stuff. Funerals, friends gone, that sort of thing. It’s the little things that get you. Like phone batteries. Stupid thing, right? Everything’s working on batteries and we have no spares. In the afternoon, Joan’s phone died. She had the only pictures of her kids stored there and now she can’t get to them. I can hear her crying in the next tent. That’s why I carry my family’s photo in my pocket. This life sucks.
- Entry: 5
So our leaders, in their infinite wisdom, started to screw up with the entire region by pissing off locals and stealing their shit. Well, I might be a simple technician and all that but I don’t see anything good coming out of that. We need the food, yeah, but we could have traded or something. Maybe they have some grand plan. They keep telling us they do. But deep inside, I think they’re just as lost as the rest of us. Today, I walked past some of the supplies they “recovered” – they are stored near the southernmost bunker. Right next to the body bags.
- Entry: 6
The crap the locals drive is incredible. Just today, they dragged in an original T-72. This thing’s by now like sixty years old. Some crazy Russian painted all sorts of scribbles all over it but I can’t read that shit. Wish Ivanov was still with us. He was an asshole, but man, he could drink with the best of us. The junk keeps coming in. We have Sheridans, BMPs, British four-wheelers, even some crazy modded Brit vehicle I can’t even recognize, it looks like it’s been put together from two different tanks. I have no idea how so much of this weird stuff keeps appearing here or how they’ve kept it operational for so long.
- Entry: 7
PROPERTY OF THOMAS BELLAMY, TECHNICIAN. IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND I FIND OUT, YOUR VEHICLE WILL SUFFER A MYSTERIOUS BREAKDOWN IN THE DESERT
- Entry: 8
So, I am a section chief technician now. Not how I wanted the job. Work keeps pouring in, no time to write or think about other things.
- Entry: 9
Clayburn’s coming for us. The old bastard won’t let us go. We knew this was coming, but it all feels so surreal. The days run by one after another and each is the same as the previous one. You get up, you get to work (god, how I miss the breakfast and washing part that used to be in between), in the evening you check the mess tent for the names of the people who weren’t as lucky as you that day. You take a swig of whatever’s left in their honor and go cry yourself to sleep if you’re not tired enough to just drop on the spot.
- Entry: 10
Holy shit... how do I even write about something like this. So, Clayburn has arrived. With the Crimson Reavers. We’re so dead. But that’s not the worst of it. They brought in freezers full of severed heads of the family members of the guys here. Wives, husbands, grandparents, even kids. How can such evil actually exist? This is insane. What kind of monsters are they? Anyway... I was lucky. Ron and Dave from my shift weren’t. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ron cry before, it felt so strange. Like a nightmare, you don’t wake up from. Dozens of people I know lost someone. I heard through the grapevine that some families were warned and managed to escape the corporate goons. My folks are gone, I had nothing to lose, but damn... I can’t imagine how I’d go on. Even saw Major Seagrove cry. He looks like a ghost these days, what we had to do (did we?) clearly haunts him. He’s a good guy, we feel for him. Grey’s just a bitch but even she was shocked, I could tell.
- Entry: 11
It’s been 24 hours and the base is slowly waking up. People look different. Like something died inside them. There’s no music being played anymore, you don’t hear any banter at the shop. We just focus. The only person who didn’t cry even a little seems to be Blackwood. I don’t know about that guy. Marty from the comms tried to look him up in the database and everything seems to have been expunged. Not so strange – Marty told us that Blackwood ordered this when we split back in the Balkans for as many people as he could. Harder to track their family members, he said. I don’t know. Maybe. Somehow, feels strange for Clayburn not to have backups, but then, Blackwood was amongst the highest ranking officers, he probably had the clearance to do this. He came with a reputation of caring for his people and in a way, he did – we never took crazy gambles and we never slaughtered civilians. Okay, the locals aren’t technically civilians. Or are they? I can’t tell anymore.
- Entry: 12
And of COURSE, the local mercs joined Clayburn. I would too if some asshole left my family to starve. I hate Grey, almost enough for a little technical accident to happen.
Note to myself, entry deletion does not work. Talk to Marty about it.
- Entry: 13
There’s some sort of operation going on. They don’t tell us little guys, everyone’s too busy, but both Grey and Seagrove were seen taking off into the desert. Too tired to write. This is it.
- Entry: 14
We did it! We beat the bastards. They drew up some sort of plan for a massive operation out there. I don’t know much, only that they caught them in some sort of pincer maneuver. They were led by that fat swine Peter. When his tank got hit, the Reavers just turned and retreated. Don’t know why. We slaughtered the mercs and I heard that Grey personally dragged the little piggy out of the wreck and brought him here. Blackwood shot him in the head in front of everybody. The Reavers just boarded their ships and left a day later, content to have blockaded the base. Half of the base got drunk that night.
- Entry: 15
We’re going away from this hellhole. I’ll leave this here. Wish us luck.
Strom switched the PDA off and looked up at Clayburn, who was staring at him with a small smile on his face.
“So, that’s how it happened.”
Clayburn nodded, his half-smile never leaving his face. Strom felt confused.
“Why would the Reavers retreat? Surely they could have wiped them out there and then. With losses, yes, but this whole nightmare could have been finally over. It’s the second time them not getting involved led to further losses. This makes no sense.”
Clayburn’s smile widened.
“That’s because you haven’t heard the best part yet...”
The Episode 3 is over – the list of winners as well as the outcome on the Seahawk forces will be announced in the near future along with the distribution of the top prizes.
We would like to thank you for participating but, with the entire two episodes remaining, the Seahawk journey is far from over and you will face some very difficult objectives and decisions.
We’ll see you on the battlefield!