Fall of theBalearics
27th April, 2046
Office of the Mediterranean Naval Command
You asked for information about fleet movements.
As of today, Allied Fleets are converging on the Balearics. Where you and your Separatist buddies are stranded with the Russian attaché. One fleet will be coming by Gibraltar in the next day or so, the other ships are being assembled near Palermo. Then they sail for the Balearics and all hell’s gonna set loose. It’s going to be worse than Barcelona.
Speaking of which, send my regards to the ‘living legend’. Sammy was lucky to get out of there alive.
Needless to say, keep this to yourself and the ‘legend’.
This message will be wiped from your console in an hour. Do not make any digital or physical copies.
“See?” Caren waved the letter above her head. “You’ve always doubted Martin but he’s proven himself yet again. And he called you a ‘living legend’. Come on Sam, the fleets are coming here and that means the mission is over. Finished. Game over. Let’s pack our bags.”
Samuel grimaced at her, the closest thing he had to a smile. He turned his head so he could glance out through the crack in the blinds at the sun-scorched plains outside.
“You can leave whenever you wish but I’m staying until it’s done. And that was sarcasm from Martin.” He grunted. “He thinks it can replace his marked lack of intelligence.”
Samuel paced from one end of the room to the other, his hands clasped behind his back. He turned smartly once he reached the opposite mildewed wall and his shoes scuffed up clouds of dust.
Caren took her feet off the table and balled up the letter in one hand. She swivelled in her chair and threw it into the dying hearth behind. She watched it crackle and shrivel up into slivers of charred ribbon.
“I’m not leaving, Caren,” Samuel said, walking right up to her. “I’ve got my orders.”
Caren raised her eyes from the embers and looked at him with her idiosyncratic wry smile. Her gaze met his and they stared at one another for a long moment. Then finally she relented and, with a heavy sigh, swivelled around to face the desk. Her hands hovered over the desk, which was littered with curled papers like a battlefield strewn with corpses. She selected one and produced it with a flourish. She smoothened it out on her jeans and read it aloud.
20th April, 2046
Office of European Armed Forces Intelligence Division
Rue de Tréve
Dear Mr S W,
We’ve agreed, after some deliberation, to allow you to extend your mission in Spain. This was not made lightly but you’ve always been an exemplary operative and we’re inclined to grant you this one request.
But you should know, Mr Whitecliffe, that the situation is going to escalate in the very near future. We cannot give you any exact date but you can fill in the blanks considering the battles on the mainland.
None would begrudge if you decided to flee. You are and will always be regarded very highly for your service to democracy.
Do not attempt any further contact with us for the duration of your mission.
This message will be wiped from your console in an hour. Do not make any digital or physical copies.
With great solemnity,
Samuel snatched the sheet from her hands and flung into the fire.
“That should’ve been destroyed days ago,” he growled. He glared at the rest of the papers. “For that matter, all of this needs to be destroyed. If the Goddamned Separatists should find it …”
“We’ll be long gone,” Caren replied, gathering the papers with graceful sweeps of her hands. She stacked them in one pile, hitting them off the desk to keep them even with each other.
They walked out into the blinding Spanish sun, their brows creased and lips pressed thin. Their car, a nondescript machine that was still lingering on from the early 2000s, waited for them in the baking heat. Caren got to the car first and hopped into the driver’s seat. Samuel watched her with a deepening frown.
“What’re you doing?”
“Now’s not the time for heroics, Sam. You deserve better than a sandy grave.” The car roared as she ignited the engine.
“You think I want glory, Caren? I’m perfectly fine if I die anonymous. I’m a spook, a ghost in the night. I know what I signed up for.”
He leaned on the car, despite the brutal heat. He pressed his face close to hers. His shadow fell over her, enveloping her in darkness.
“Do you know what you signed up for?”
She adjusted her grip on the wheel and squinted out at the sweltering horizon. On a nearby hilltop a communications station could be seen squatting beneath a cloudless sky.
“Don’t tell me you care about the EAF, or democracy or any of that crap,” Caren said, still squinting at the communications station. “Just because of Barcelona, because the EAF bombed the wrong place-”
Samuel moved away from the car, shaking his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Get in the car, Sam. How else’re you going to get back to town?”
The motorway that ran down the length of the island was deserted. Fields full of dust languished beyond the ditches. Abandoned sheds and broken sprinkler equipment denoted where farms had once been. Samuel rolled down the window and threw his hand into the whistling air.
Their car squealed to a halt at a makeshift checkpoint. Where once a gas station had done its business, a military outpost had now been established. Separatist flags snapped in the wicked wind and sun-tanned soldiers raised their hands to cover their eyes as they examined Samuel and Caren. A soldier sauntered up to them, his rifle slung over his shoulder. He held some variant of a touchpad in his hand.
Caren rolled down her window and smiled up at him. “Hello.”
The soldier frowned at her and made a few taps on his pad. “You do realise the interior’s off limits, right? Everyone’s been evacuated. Who are you?”
“We’re part of Vladimir’s crew,” Caren replied. “I can show you my permit if you want.”
The soldier, a native Spaniard, growled softly at the Russian officer’s name. “Ugh, you’re one of his foreign dogs? That man’s a pig. Wait a second …”
He was looking at Samuel. Samuel gave him a curt nod. The soldier pointed at him and spoke softly to Caren, as if they were discussing a caged predator. “That’s Whitecliffe, isn’t it?”
The soldier turned his wide eyes back to Samuel. He extended his hand across Caren towards Samuel. “It’s an honour, signor. I heard about what happened in Barcelona. You’re a hero for the cause. If we had a hundred of you, we’d have the Federalists on the run.”
Samuel shook his hand. “Thank you. But can you let us through my friend, we’ve go to report to the Russian. You know he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Of course sir.” The soldier straightened and waved for the barricades to be removed from the road. “It’s an honour sir. Truly.”
They sped away from the checkpoint in a billowing cloud of dust and sand. Samuel twisted in his seat to look back through the window at the soldiers. They watched them for a long time, like statues standing amongst the heatwaves.
The harbour town of Puerto de Rodriguez welcomed them with hostile stares. People stared at them from the upstairs balconies of apartment blocks. Plaster peeled off the walls like old skin. The Separatist banners hung over it all and the soldiers sat with their idle fingers twitching at playing cards, cigarettes or triggers.
Caren chewed her lip. “I don’t like it. We should leave now. We’ve that boat down by the East District-”
“No,” Samuel interrupted her, his voice harsh. “I’ve a job to do.”
Caren set her jaw and Samuel could see muscles pulsing beneath her skin. He skimmed a finger over the dashboard, creating a furrow in the bed of dust.
“Take me to HQ and you can do what you want.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye as they neared the Plaza de San Martín.
A monolithic monument to the Spanish Civil War covered them with its shadow. Children were climbing on it and a squad of soldiers sat beneath, smoking and drinking on empty munitions crates.
“I’ll cover for you, Caren. I can create a distraction while you get away.”
Caren said nothing to that. They entered the Plaza and she turned right, away from the Separatist HQ, away from the Russian and away from Samuel’s vengeance. His hand, which had been drawing trenches on the dashboard dust, balled into a fist.
“What’re you doing?”
The soldiers looked up from their game and the children stopped playing on the monument.
“I’ve read your file, Sam. I know what happened to your last partner … but you can’t do anything for him now. Come home.”
Samuel forced a smile he did not feel. His hand dropped to his waist, where he kept his pistol holstered. “Stop Caren. Now.”
He stared at her, disbelieving. “Pull over.”
He was reaching for the wheel before he could think about it. Caren gasped and the car swerved hard left, into an abandoned market stall. The wheels squealed as they hit the curb and Samuel could smell something weird from the gearbox. Wood shattered around them as the car ploughed through the stall. Samuel caught a glimpse of an advertisement for Santander Bank before they crashed through the modern glass walls of an office block. His head connected with the dashboard.
He saw himself on the shores of Barcelona again, the horizon red and the silhouettes of battleships ghostly. He could hear the skyscrapers crumbling behind them, could feel the tremors of artillery strikes. He was standing with James. The boat was coming for them. Then … then …
Then he felt the seatbelt fastening him into place. The side of his face was lifting off the dashboard now and he could see blood smeared on it. He sat there, thinking about Barcelona and how he could hear the bombers but couldn’t see them. He heard the car door being flung open but it sounded like James opening the case of his sniper. He felt hands around him, dragging him from the wreckage of the car but that wasn’t right … he’d been the one holding James, cradling his broken body as the soldiers jumped from the boat.
“Sam, you fool,” a voice said. “Come on, we have to get out of here. The ships .. it’s starting.”
The voice of his partner, his friend. But the voice was too soft. Was James already hurt?
He could hear curses in Spanish. The soldiers, the Separatists, had given James a burial at sea … as if he was one of their one.
But he could still save James. The planes were coming but the bombs hadn’t landed yet. If James just took cover.
James was directing him somewhere, tugging on his elbow. Where was he going? Away from the boats?
Samuel threw off his partner’s grip and tried to pull him down to safety, through the breeze of shrapnel. His partner snapped at him and shrugged him off. If only James could understand what was coming.
His partner dug his fingers into Samuel and yanked him further along, away from the boats and away from salvation.
“That’s Whitecliffe,” a voice in Spanish cried out.
Then; “Let him go or we’ll open fire!”
“Get a medic, get help, quick!” Samuel shouted.
He blinked but couldn’t see clearly. There was sand in his eyes. If only they could see the future like he could.
He squirmed out of his partner’s grip and tried to pull him to cover but James twisted his arm and threw him away. He scrambled on the sand … but it wasn’t sand. It was the carpet floor of an office building.
Samuel turned on his back, a sickly feeling mounting in his stomach. It had happened again, the flashbacks … at the worst possible moment.
Caren was walking to the soldiers when they opened fire, her hands were open in a plea for calm reason. The bullets ripped through her. Her shirt was torn to shreds and her body danced in the air under the impacts like a marionette held by a jittering drug-addict.
She took a step backwards after the firing had stopped, still on her feet. Then her knees buckled and she keeled over. Her hand went out to catch herself, as if this was a situation that could be salvaged.
Caren’s effort to keep herself up failed and she collapsed face-first onto the carpet. Samuel hoped she hadn’t cut her face on the glass shards.
Samuel’s body moved independently of him. Like a movie, he felt as if he were watching something that was happening to someone else. Everything registered in his mind a second too late. But someone was still in control of his body. Someone made him jump to his feet, made him roar at the soldiers, who were shocked as they looked to him. Flames of embarrassment leapt into their faces.
“We thought she was a traitor,” one blubbered.
He was on knees, pressing his fingers against Caren’s pulse. The soldiers were calling a medic.
Behind the chatter of short-tempered Russian officers on mobile phones, Samuel could hear the beginning of the Allied bombardment.
His thoughts flicked briefly to the children who’d been playing on the Civil War Monument.
Around him, the Balearics began to fall.
But he, himself, had already fallen.
Gerald O’ Donovan 5th Year
“This short story has it all –pacing, atmosphere, superb evocation of time and place, suspense, characters and technical inventiveness. The maturity and skill of Gerald’s writing is exceptional. Brilliant stuff.”-Author Ciarán Collins