It squatted by a leafless copse at the end of the country road, a silent hulk, deathly still in the moonlight of the cloudless sky.
I had no desire to gaze upon its grim countenance again, but I’d made a promise.
No-one had told us what to expect when we reached the last of the battle lines – the final frontier – all those years ago, but then again why would they? Ours was a secret organisation; rarely did we receive any missive more complex than a time stamp.
So we’d made our way across the blasted heath on foot having landed some way from our designated base of operations, a dreary farmhouse far from the vagaries of civilisation and the window lizards of the city we’d left behind. Upon entering, we secured the area and scoured the grounds for ordinance and resources. We found some ammunition as well as food rations and some water. There were no enemy bugs or transmission equipment of any kind.
We dug in and settled down, waiting for the next message. Now and then we’d scout the perimeter.
Some days passed.
One or two of the men got sick, complaining of stomach ache and sweating like pigs despite the winter climate. We put it down to a touch of flu, thought nothing of it.
A week later, the first two men had died and the others were suffering from the same symptoms. It was decided that I, still relatively healthy, would leave the base and return to the city to request medical help from our superiors.
I had to make my way on foot to the nearest highway; there was no means of communication with the rest of our group.
It was another week before I made it back to the city.
I headed for one of our safe houses, got cleaned up and sent a missive by the usual means. Some hours later I was arrested by a number of our fellow agents and taken to an unknown location. Once the bag had been removed from my head I was subjected to rigorous interrogation; standard practice.
After the usual protocols had been observed I was examined by one of our medical officers, and was informed that I was suffering from a moderate amount of mercury poisoning.
I was also informed that the time stamp we had found weeks ago had not been issued by our organisation.
It was with a heavy heart that I returned to that dismal farmhouse. I did not hope to find any survivors; for how would they know that the mission was a trap, the time stamp planted by double-agents, and that the food and water had been tainted?
Taking a deep breath, I knocked upon the door using the code we’d agreed upon.