Capture My Flag: A Short Story
“Capture My Flag,” a few scenes from a dystopian novel I wrote long ago. This is Capture My Flag Part 1; I’ll continue with a few more scenes in Capture My Flag Part 2. Same setting and characters as “Splinters.” Enjoy!
Capture My Flag, Part 1
We split. The sunset still shows on the far horizon, a vibrant red. Soon it’ll be replaced by icy blue, and the moon will rise, and the cold gusts will start coming down the mountain slopes like they do every night. They’ll fill the valley, and then I’ll be glad for the thick windbreaker and my heavy sweater underneath it.
I’m already glad for the combat boots. Andrew gave them to me. They belonged to his sister who’s dead, so I better treat them well, he told me. They were a little too big, so he gave me one of his T-shirts to tear up to stuff the toes. I hadn’t stuffed toes since primary school, the time I stepped on a nail and it went straight through the soles of my government-issues and I had to borrow Hunter’s old pair, which were much too big for me. It was a relief Mariette had kept them. You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to turn them in, along with everything else.
I go to the armory, like Andrew told me to. The back door’s unlatched, like he said it would be. It creaks faintly as I slip through. The floor is creakier. I find a chair in the corner and sit. I could well be here all night…
But he said he’d come, so I fight to stay awake. If he comes and finds me asleep, he’ll kill me. I’m his flag, after all. And Mal, if she finds out, will be hot on my tail. But would she think to check here?
The squeak of hinges that need oil. The door’s opening. I raise my head. Beams of faint silver moonlight slant through the high, narrow windows of the shed, slicing through the racks of weapons, smattering in patterns and wavy lines against the far wall. In the gleam I see his shadow.
It’s not Andrew. It’s Hunter.
I raise my blaster to my cheek, moving with imperceptible slowness. And pull the trigger. I hear him yelp. The shadow crumples to the floor. I jump to my feet and run to him.
“Are you okay?”
“Jesus!” He scrambles backward, clutching his shoulder. His own blaster lies a couple feet away on the floor. I kick it into the shadows, for safety. “Jesus, Lina!”
“I didn’t realize it was you, I swear.”
“What are you doing in here?”
“Searching for flags. I thought this would be a prime location to hide.” My heart hammers against the inner wall of my chest. I hope he can’t hear it. “Clearly you thought the same.”
“Yeah, sure.” He takes my outstretched hand and lets me haul him to his feet. His legs still look unsteady. “Can you give me back my blaster? I won’t shoot you, I promise.”
“Yeah, fine,” I say, but I keep mine and one eye trained on him while I root around for it in the shadows. Eventually I retrieve it and hand it back to him.
He slips it through a belt loop. “Thanks. I would’ve thought… you know… you’d be gallivanting around with Andrew.”
My cheeks flush. “I don’t gallivant around, Hunter.”
“My bad,” he mutters, looking at his feet. “Well, are you gonna come out with me? There’s clearly nothing here.”
He’s right, and if I stay I risk giving myself away. So I nod and follow him to the door. He pushes it open — the hinges are getting squeakier with each go — and we slip into the cool night air. The icy wind has picked up, carrying with it the smell of winter. It’s a good thing our time here is winding down. In a couple weeks, it’ll be cold enough for snow, and the clouds will come over the mountains to blanket the valley. The real question, I suppose, is where we’re going from here.
“We could search for flags together,” Hunter says, half-heartedly.
I shake my head. “No. Sorry. Andrew told us not to cross-ally like that.” I give a little laugh, trying to ease the tension between us. “For all I know, you could be a flag!”
“Yeah, okay,” he says. He looks like he wants to say something more, but instead he turns and heads down the beaten track, back towards Fire Grove. I wait a moment, until his figure blends in with the trunks, before following. I don’t want to go back to the armory. Clearly, it’s not as good a hiding spot as Andrew thought it would be. So where’s it to now? Up a tree? That would make it a bit obvious, wouldn’t it? To Fire Grove, to hang around? Over to the lake?
Hands clamp down on my shoulders from behind.
A second passes before I regain my breath. I hear breathing in my ear and I’m sure, sure that one of the guys on Mal’s team has gotten me, is going to drag me off and torture me until I reveal that I’m the flag, and I’m already steeling myself for what I’ll have to endure. But then I hear the familiar laughter, and the hands release and I spin around and meet Andrew’s eyes, gleaming and deadly in the darkness.
“Miss me?” he asks.
“You scared the living daylights out of me,” I say, flattening down my windbreaker. “I just left the armory. Hunter — “
“I know, I was there, I saw.” One hand returns to my shoulder, steers me off the trail. “I was gonna come in if you needed backup. But you seem to have handled it… quite fine.”
I pull away. “You didn’t send him there on purpose, did you?” I ask, suddenly suspicious.
The sudden glint of mirth in his eyes gives it away. I shove him backwards with force that surprises both of us.
“Why would you do that? My best friend? Are you serious?”
“I wanted to fuck with you. Just kidding. I wanted to test you,” he says, his eyes lazy. He doesn’t seem to mind that I pushed him. “Hey, don’t be sore about it. I was just kidding around, honestly.”
“No wonder he asked me if we could search for flags together,” I mutter, forging ahead. We’re on a little offshoot of the main trail that leads towards the lake. “You got anyone?”
“Amur and Jeffry picked up Riley, that sniveling twig Mal got as last pick.” He sounds victorious. “They’re working on him now. Half chance he’s the flag, since he was hiding out by the cabins. But he’s a coward, too, so you can never know.”
He’s glad to have one of Mal’s. A pit opens up in my stomach. But I continue down the trail. “Where are we going?”
“Lakeside. I got a tip that one of Kyle’s is hiding out over there.” He moves easily ahead of me, the moonlight gleaming off bare skin, muscular shoulders — he’s stripped off his windbreaker, leaving a tank top underneath. “If we get his, and Mal’s, then to hell with Catria and Remy, they won’t manage.”
“Sure,” I say. I can’t fault his logic.
In the distance, we hear a shrill squeal. Andrew chuckles. I shudder. It reminds me of being back on the streets of Strata 0 and hearing the screams that meant that R16 had caught up with some hapless soul. And it reminds me of the day that the Praetorians came for me and my mother’s keening wail, her arms reaching, reaching endlessly. I don’t care to relive those moments, though they’re part of me. To Andrew, I guess all the sound means is that someone’s getting tortured into giving away the identity of their team’s flag.
We emerge through the underbrush. The vast belly of the lake glints beneath the moonlight, silver and gray and black. I’m about to lower myself onto a rock when I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I feel a silent, invisible jet of energy swing past me. Andrew has already jumped into action, rushing into the undergrowth in pursuit of the figure. I leap after him. Aim in the darkness. Before I can squeeze the trigger, I hear a thud. Andrew whoops. I emerge in the clearing beside him. It’s Benson, lying on his back on the ground and panting. He’s one of Kyle’s: Andrew’s tip was right.
“Where’s your flag?” Andrew’s voice is cold. His boot presses down on Benson’s chest. I can feel Benson’s fear, a palpable current in the air. And I don’t blame him. I’d be scared, too, beneath that boot. I might hold up better than he is, but how can I say? He shudders and shakes. I notice that one of his arms is bent at an awkward angle. His fall was a bad one.
“Well?” Andrew asks. He raises his blaster, aims it at Benson’s foot. “Shall I?”
I catch his arm. “Hey, he’s hurt.”
“Who cares? He can give us the information and then I’ll radio the team to take him to med bay.” Of course. He has the radio strapped to his belt. He has the power.
Benson whimpers. I hear a trickle and see the spreading stain of released urine in his pants. I feel slightly sick. This could be me, if Mal’s people had caught up. Or if I were on a different team. I look at Andrew and know that he’s in it to win it, whatever it takes.
He pulls the trigger. Benson lets out a horrible moan, his body convulsing. His hand reaches out for my boot. Fingers scrape the initials: C.A.D. Calliope Amelia Duke. Andrew’s dead sister. It’s as if he’s begging her spirit to end this torment. I step forward, onto his fingers. Kneel down. Listen to him groan.
“Hey, Benson,” I say quietly. “Tell us. Then I can make him stop. You know him, he’s like a rabid dog. Just tell us who’s your flag.”
He turns his head to the side. The moonlight glares onto his cheek, whitening, outlining the lines of his pain. Beneath my boot, his fingers scrabble, digging into the earth. “I — “
The words get caught in his throat. My breath quickens. “What?”
“I’m…” He pulls his hand free. His fingers close again over the tip of the boot, covering up the initials now. “I’m… the flag.”
I hope you enjoyed “Capture My Flag, Part 1.” If you did, and you’re interested in reading more about the same characters and the same world, you can check out my short story “Splinters,” which I published first here, but which occurs later in the story than “Capture My Flag.”
I posted this one off of some very kind comments about “Splinters,” so if you enjoy reading about these characters and this world, please let me know! The project was a “passion project” of mine for almost five years of my life, and I’m rediscovering some of its value now. I’ll be posting “Capture My Flag, Part 2” regardless.
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