He never liked taking prisoners, but this particular mission unsettled Reuben more than usual.
Earlier today he received orders to lead his section into the mountain range and intercept a citizen hiking to an enemy post. Their scout, a local who lead them here, was also the one who provided the intel that their quarry was going to betray details about the squadron.
The captive, a “business partner” of their informant, sat on the ground, hands cuffed behind him. His arthritic knees had kept his pace slowed, compensating for the hour head start he got on them. And unlike the military combatants Reuben and his team usually tangled with, this resident practically surrendered once they caught up.
His mouth, however, was not so cooperative.
Perhaps it was because Keegan was the youngest of the team – all of them were well under thirty, for war’s appetite is insatiable for the blood of youth – that the forty-ish prisoner launched tirades at him about how all of them were going to pay for this affront.
“And you!” He stared at the young man with confident arrogance. “I’ll see to it that they give me your head on a platter!”
“You want fries with that?” Keegan was standing nearby and appeared distracted with scanning through a confiscated data terminal. Tyrone and Candice stood guard over the prisoner. Their guide, Perkins, paced around the clearing while they waited for the remainder of the section to return from surveilling ahead on the trail they would soon abandon.
Reuben did loath capturing civilians. Considering the propaganda the citizenry was deluged with, there were bound to be some individuals who believed the resistance movement was counterproductive to their prosperity … as anemic as it was. Others preferred to hedge their bets with the established authoritarians who wielded the power of enforcement.
Before their captive could launch into another berating, Lorenzo and Tamika returned from reconnaissance. The wispy woman that people tended to underestimate nodded in affirmation to Reuben as they approached.
“All’s clear in the perimeter ahead,” she reported. “Nobody is waiting there to follow us back.”
Perkins, who wasn’t quite as old as the prisoner, smiled at her news. “Excellent, then! Let’s head on to the pass.”
The five people in his section looked to Reuben, who felt his gut clench upon hearing Perkins’s words.
Although they hadn’t needed a guide to follow the well-established trail their quarry took, Perkins was going to lead them on an alternate route going back. It was standard procedure to avoid any routine the enemy could exploit to trace them.
And maybe that was the final, elusive clue that justified how Reuben’s enteric nervous system started twitching when he received these orders.
Perkins had been able to provide both information and interpretation. They caught and collared their prisoner without a fight. This mission couldn’t go any more smoothly….
It was his experience that life didn’t cooperate to this extent.
And there was something a little too cocky in their captive’s aggression. Reuben decided it was time to shake things up and see how the pieces landed.
“Yeah … but we’re gonna go ahead and take the trail to get back.”
Perkins stared at him as though he just claimed to spy Bigfoot roasting skewered aliens over a campfire. “That’s suicide. We have much better concealment in the pass I’m taking you to.”
“The pass is a longer route. We know this trail is clear because if our opponents were gonna outflank us, they would’ve done it already.”
“That’s not the point.” Perkins shook his head. “You know the best way to avoid detection is to alter your movements. Changing that protocol would be stupid.”
He noticed, but made no acknowledgment, that Tyrone, Lorenzo, and Tamika started strolling into a circular formation around the scout. “My enemy wouldn’t expect me to change protocol, and it’s my job to keep them confounded. Therefore, we’re taking the trail.”
While their mouthy prisoner looked less confident, Perkins’s face reddened a shade as he pressed his lips together. Then he released an audible breath.
“I still say it’s an idiotic idea, but I don’t have to follow your orders like these poor chumps. I’m taking the safer route through the pass and hope to find you at the trailhead.”
If his thriving suspicion proved to be correct, it would be folly to let this fellow out of their sight. “You may not be under my command, Mr. Perkins, but I would be derelict in my duty to keep you safe if I allowed you to leave alone. You will come with us.”
His face reddened by another shade. “I have the right to go where I want!”
Reuben locked his gaze on the man’s eyes. “It seems to me you doth protest too much.”
Perkins stared back for a few seconds, and then spun around and bolted.
Tyrone and Lorenzo had already flanked him. The first man tackled Perkins, and Lorenzo leaped into the fray a second later. The struggle lasted only a few seconds before they hauled Perkins back to his feet, each serviceman holding his arms twisted behind him.
“You crazy hypocrite!” Perkins spat as Reuben stepped closer to them. “You’ll be sorry for this!”
“Is that because your cronies waiting for us at the pass will get offended when we don’t show up?”
Their informant glared back in silence.
Tamika approached to slap cuffs on him, but glanced toward Reuben. “I’d like to know how you figured that out.”
“We aren’t out of the woods yet. They may yet come after us, so everybody need to stay sharp.” He surveyed his team with the pride he felt in them. “In other words, keep up the good work.”
As Keegan assisted Candice with pulling the first prisoner up from the ground, he smirked at Reuben. “So for your next trick, are you going to make him believe he’s a pigeon?”
With this month’s prompt word for #BlogBattle being intercept, I was immediately put into a military frame of mind again. Consider this episode to be something of a prequel to the entry I submitted last month. And be sure to follow the Blog Battler link where you’re bound to discover other stories to enjoy!