Gwinnett’s executive offices occupied an antebellum, two-story plantation house overlooked the Low Country marshes of South Carolina just across the river from Savannah. Last night’s storm surged the king tide higher than normal and the whipping winds carried salt foam from the breaking waves across the brown reeds of the marsh to leave glistening flecks on the white paint on the historic mansion.
Absorbing and analyzing the view out the large salt-spotted patio doors as a potential battlefield, Gwinnett frowned as he took in the massive but almost-dead oaks lining the driveway. What had been a tree-shaded, classic approach to the massive mansion was now, thanks to the heat, oak midges and salt, a row of almost-leafless skeletons against a dull, cloudy sky.
His desk comm system lit up and he took a private feed directly to his ear bud. A low, hesitant, voice filled his ear. He listened to the report for thirty seconds…
“Son of a bitch, those bastards killed Sergeants Shaw and Berry? Didn’t just hurt them!” Gwinnett’s voice rebounded off his office doors to echo in the caller’s ear.
The murmuring voice on the other end of the call heard the sharp slap on Gwinnett’s wooden desk but continued his report.
Gwinnett’s sniper training kicked in. He took a deep breath, held it for two seconds and slowly released it. His anger replaced by calm determination, he listened carefully until the report finished. “Thanks, you’ll see a bonus this month,” he said. Disconnected the call with a curt nod and flick at his glasses.
Motionless, his mind involuntarily shifted gears to the 5-foot wide live oak stump in front of his Savannah home on what was once a completely shaded street. Even the occasional stench of the pulp mill up the Savannah River had stopped a few years ago when there weren’t enough local trees to make it profitable.
Sadness replaced the sniper’s calm as he accepted saving the South would be the second war his family had lost. Gwinnett thought about his options for a few seconds. Did another calming breath routine. He imagined himself pulling a trigger.
A short chopping hand motion lit up the comm system. “Executive. Level one,” he said.
The comm device interrupted the six senior executives of QuellCorp, the world’s largest security company, with a tone demanding an answer. All six took the summons on their ear implants, opening the network with single clench of their jaws. “Priority meeting. My office.” Six acknowledgments double-clicked onto the system.
Sarah’s, his daughter, contained a message, “Landing in ten minutes, inbound in copter. At full speed. Be there in fifteen.”
Gwinnett frowned. He didn’t like flying in anything without wings. No matter how many assignments, how many parachute jumps, he simply didn’t trust anything that could fly backwards or sideways as easily as forward. He grimaced at the thought that at 57, his jumping and active service days were well behind him and that some mornings his knees clearly telegraphed this message.
The five executives already at their offices in the old mansion joined him within a few minutes. Sarah’s copter banked over the low country, dropped to skim the salt marsh grasses leaving a trail of flattened grass in the wake of its unmuffled, screaming engines. Gwinnett heard the background chatter on the company network but declined the 360-degree, 3-d camera view.
“QuellCorp Radio. Gwinnett Two.”
“Gwinnett Two. Quellcorp radio.”
“QuellCorp, request immediate priority level one landing instructions. Coming in hot.”
“Gwinnett Two. You are cleared for direct, priority inbound on 17. Winds zero. We’ll have your ground crew and transport waiting.”
“Copy that Quellcorp. Inbound 10 minutes on 17 direct.”
This was all routine and Gwinnett turned to his men, but suddenly stopped as a flashing red light and message appeared in the center top of both lenses of his glasses.
“Shots fired. Gwinnett Two.”
He stopped. Flicked the edge of his glasses. “Give me the 360-view, include lead-up time of ten seconds,” he said.
He didn’t say anything to the group. As senior executives, they had the same warning lights flashing in their corneal feeds and were issuing identical orders.
The 360-view showed the quadcopter approaching a small channel island where a herd of wild pigs were happily rooting up clams and vegetation. Smaller babies played around the sow’s feet. As the copter passed the island the front gun cameras showed the entire copter executing a slow spinning turn – while staying level and without losing speed – to spray heavy machine gun rounds at the herd. The animals disappeared, leaving no part larger than a dollar bill. They simply disintegrated into a red bloody mist under the hail of explosive bullets. One animal at the far end of the line was untouched. It staggered away from the carnage as fast as it could manage. The front camera continued to rotate and then showed a view of the base in the distance as the machine never hesitated from its forward travel.
“Well, they are a scourge on the native wildlife,” said Richard Simpson, VP of QuellCorp’s Security.
Gwinnett just looked at him. Didn’t say anything. Damn stupid stunt just to kill something; what are we going to do with her? he thought.
Gwinnett sent a message to his daughter’s private comm channel. “Get here safely even if it takes extra time. We’re going to start a fire, not put one out.”