Here’s an excerpt from my current draft of my action-spy-post-apocalyptic thriller, tentatively titled Freeburn. This is a (very) rough early version of a new scene from about a third of the way through the novel and is presented without context – I hope it can be parsed well enough, both in terms of the people in the scene, but also in terms of the tone of the story. In case you’re wondering, I’m primarily posting this to try to fire myself up to write some more, so please let me know what you think!
I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and watched the sunset.
It had taken a while to extricate myself from the hospital after the attack – calming the terrified civvies, accepting back slaps from Gerstmann and co, seeing to Ayoub’s wounds. I’d taken a few myself, including a bullet graze on my right shoulder that I hadn’t even felt in the heat of the moment.
The sun had started to dip by the time I was ready to steal Lin’s bike and hit the road. No one tried to stop me – I had made vague noises about checking for surviving bandits lurking in the trees, and they’d been accepting enough. I admit there was a bit of an itch between my shoulder blades as I took off – I’d seen Lin sniping from the roof earlier, and she was easily good enough to peg a moving target, especially one she didn’t like that also happened to have just stolen her ride.
Thankfully, the twitchy Lieutenant mustn’t have been paying attention, and I made it without incident. I parked the bike well away from my actual destination, leaving it on its side amongst the surprisingly lush undergrowth, and moved away from the road, making sure I wasn’t followed.
The stump was perfect – in deep enough to obscure me, but not so deep that I couldn’t look down the road and over the houses dotting the distant hills, glittering prettily in the setting sun, off-white buildings stained orange and purple.
I could see clearly down the road, so naturally I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
‘How long did you know I was there?’ a deep voice, clipped and precise.
‘A while,’ I said, not turning around. My pistol was clutched in my left hand, dangling loosely against the inside of my thigh. I looked relaxed, and the gun should have been completely invisible to him, but somehow I knew he could feel the tension in both me and my trigger finger. ‘But only because I expected you.’
‘Liar,’ twigs crunched beneath his feet – an affectation, he’d never have accidentally done anything that could reveal himself. ‘If I was that predictable, I’d be dead.’
‘And yet, here I am, waiting for you.’ I smiled, finally turning to face him.
‘And yet here you are.’ He was tall, thin and muscular, looking twenty years younger than his middle age. He wore uniform fatigues, devoid of any insignia except for one: A bat-winged dagger. ‘It’s good to see you, Marcus.’
‘It’s good to see you too, Colonel.’
Llewellyn smiled at me. ‘Didn’t you hear? They made me a simulated Brigadier before they retired me. A general without an official unit, unattached to any branch of the Her Majesty’s military, and having never commanded more than two-dozen men at a time.’
I grinned at him. ‘We did more work than most battalions, simulated Brigadier General sir.’
‘That we did, Freeburn.’ His voice turned serious. ‘And how about now?’
Well, that brought us to the crux of things.
‘You killed my men. You’ve denied me what is rightfully mine.’
I shrugged. ‘The people in that hospital would probably disagree.’
‘Those people exist to allow men like us to do the hard work, you know that. I bear them no particular ill will, but they have supplies that my men need, and if we don’t have them, we will all die.’ Llewellyn had begun to pace, hands clasped behind his back – it was a pose I’d seen often, and one that usually ended with me being ordered to go kill someone. ‘You’re interfering in plans I’ve been working toward executing for more than a year now.’
‘And what plans are those?’
He ignored me, pacing silently. My hand tensed on the gun.
He stopped, instantly, eyes snapping to me. ‘Are you going to shoot me, Freeburn?’ His teeth glistened in the encroaching dark, more snarl than smile. ‘Is that what we’ve come to?’
I loosened my grip. Slightly.
‘Why did you miss our meeting?’
‘Honestly?’ I winced, actually embarrassed. ‘I was pissed about the job and drank too much on the flight, decided to grab a couple of hours of bunk time before heading up. It wasn’t personal.’
He barked something like a laugh. He stood – not at ease, never that – but suddenly more comfortable, as though the pieces had finally clicked into place and he knew what he was dealing with.
That pissed me off.
‘I didn’t realise at the time that armageddon was starting, of course.’
‘Of course,’ he replied. He stood just outside of my reach, not quite facing me, ready to move in any particular direction in an instant. He’d thickened in the middle, now that I could see him up close, although his fatigues were old and battered enough that they may have been adding to the effect. He still wore his usual beret – tan, devoid of insignia. He carried no visible weapon, but I knew that he had at least two knives on him. Not that Daffyd Llewellyn needed knives – he was deadly enough all on his lonesome, even well on his way past middle age.
‘What did you have for me?’ I asked him after the silence had stretched long enough to get uncomfortable. The sun had dropped lower in the sky, the shadows stretching between the trees. I could smell rain in the air, the first hint I’d seen since I’d woken from my long sleep.
‘I’d been ordered to kill you, of course,’ he shrugged, as though it were of no great import. A chunk of ice settled in my gut. ‘You must have worked that out by now.’
‘I had guessed.’ And I had, the more I had considered it. The night I’d been shot, the pink-haired assassin had implied I was responsible for what was happening. Budrickson and Lin had said it outright. I’d never found out why they’d believed it, but if enough people start accusing you of something and you actually didn’t do it, it probably means you’ve been set up. ‘What I want to know is why.’
‘That’s the million dollar question, son. Someone at MI6 disliked you enough to send you all the way around the world twice just so your old CO could put one in the back of you skull. What did you do?’
I shrugged, hoping I seemed mysterious rather than the utterly bewildered dickhead I felt like. I’d never seen eye to eye with the service, but I’d never done anything near bad enough to get myself implicated in the worst act of terrorism the world had ever seen. And, as Llewellyn had just said, it seemed like a particularly personal ‘fuck you’ from someone to send me on a trip just to be murdered by him.
We stared at each other as the last vestiges of light drifted away. The moon gleamed between the clouds and was absorbed a moment later as the rain began to fall.
‘I killed a lot of your men, General. I’m not sorry, they were scum.’
‘They were, but they were mine.’ He stepped close suddenly, so suddenly my hand tensed on my gun. ‘You’re mine too, Freeburn. I need you. This whole place has gone to shit, but I’ve got a plan and you increase the odds of my success dramatically.’
‘I usually do,’ I grimaced as he squeezed my shoulder, hoping he’d take it as a smile.
He reached into a pocket and handed me a piece of paper – it was too dark to see what it was, but I could guess. ‘Come to me, bring me something worthwhile, and I’ll leave these people you seem to care so much about-’
‘I don’t give a fuck about these people, Llewellyn, you know that.’
‘-in peace. Don’t interrupt me again.’ There was the Colonel I knew, voice suddenly as sharp as the combat knife tucked into the small of his back. ‘Come to me, and we’ll work this out together. I want answers as much as you do, and we’ll make whoever did this to us pay.’
He squeezed my shoulder one last time and stepped back, not turning away from me.
‘You’ve got three days.’ He said, withdrawing into the shadows, back the way he came. ‘After that, my plans will have progressed far enough that you’ll be left behind.’
I nodded. Not much else to say to that.
‘I’ll be seeing you, Freeburn. Make sure you don’t shoot me in the back.’ I saw his teeth glint in the sparse moonlight. He turned around and walked away, raising his left fist in what I initially assumed was a salute.
Then I noticed the two red dots dancing around on my chest.
‘If I was that predictable,’ I muttered, holstering my pistol with very slow, deliberate movements. ‘I’d be dead.’