After a full day of training the rooks about their plates Marcus and Tai retired to their barracks, Marcus shared his with Carlos, who must have still been out training. Their room was small but not uncomfortable, two single beds with rough steel frames sat on the left and right walls while on the north wall a small window looked out over the rest of the base. From here Marcus could see most of Jacinto in the distance, just a gray mass of blurred gray skyscrapers. Beyond that he knew laid his home...Fenix mansion. God he hated that place. So many years he spent in that huge house all on his own, with nothing to keep him company but the family dog.
Both his parents were scientists with the COG, they’d disappear for months on end on expeditions, even when they were home they spent all day down in the laboratory running trials and experiments on fuck knows what. Marcus spent most of his time at the Santiago’s which was why he was almost a third son to them. On the rare occasions that he would take Carlos or Dom back to his home they would be awed at the size of it, and secretly wonder why it was all so quiet. If anything it would be even quieter now...in his early teens Marcus’s mother, Elaine, had gone missing. His father told him that she’d left them. Marcus had only recently learnt from his father that she hadn’t left them at all...she’d died, in a COG expedition into a cave system beneath Jacinto.
“I’m sorry Marcus...I just...” Marcus stared hatefully at the man that was no longer his father. “I didn’t know how to tell you...you were just a boy.” He whimpered. Marcus didn’t know what to say...they didn’t have a body to bury...no record of where she fell...no exact date of when it happened. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it on this one old man...I’m done...” he said finally standing up solemnly and heading towards the door.
“Marcus,” his father cried reaching for his hand, gripping his fist like a vice Adam swung him round. He didn’t even think, he just punched him...full force, knocking the old man to the ground, blood spattering across the polished marble floor.
“Don’t ever call me that,” Marcus hissed violently. “I’m not your son anymore...” Adam looked up at Marcus with tearful eyes. “I’m not coming back here, don’t try to contact me.”
That was the last he seen from his father in almost three years. “Jesus...” he whispered to himself in the empty barracks. “I need a drink.” There was only one place in Hells gateway to get a decent drink, the Rusty Nail. The bar was a rustic and dark place, just the way Marcus liked it. It was a vast disused aircraft hanger, several bars were dotted around the huge space while the main bar was in the shape of a cog with a huge pyramid of bottles in its centre. A red light created a strangely alien mood in the bar, it was crammed full of laughing drunkards, rooks and people from the air control towers. A constant beat of music pulsed through the crowds like an electronic heart beat making them move and shift to the beat. Almost every gear in training came here from drinks after a hard day’s work; it was almost full when Marcus arrived. The one eyed barman recognised him instantly.
“Marcus!” he cried across the crowded bar. “Good to see you boy!”
“You too Victor,” he said pushing through the throng of trainee’s, he sat himself down on a spinning steel stool. Victor once was a world champion boxer, all though the sixty year old was slightly past his prime these days. He was a friendly looking man with a huge bald head and one startlingly blue eye. “Business looks good.”
“Yeh if you call rooks with shit for brains business,” he smiled. “No things are good, did Bernie tell you what happened last week?”
“No...” Marcus said softly.
“We had an indie spy in here trying to gather information from some pissed up rooks.”
“Well what did you do?” asked Marcus.
“Well that’s his helmet over there,” Victor nodded his head to the back wall where a large trophy shelf sat containing pictures, news paper clippings, armour and COG tags. Sure enough a deep gray helmet with white squad markings took pride of place in the centre of the shelf. Marcus laughed. “Indie fuckers...” Victor said whilst cleaning a glass with a pure white cloth. “They can do whatever they want on Sera but when they start bringing that shit into my bar...”
“Once a gear.” Smiled Marcus.
“Damn straight brother.” He said tapping his chest where his COG tags rested under his shirt. The two laughed loudly causing several people to turn and look at them, “So what can I get you Marcus?”
“Coming up.” Soon a huge glass of pure golden liquid sat in Marcus’s hand while he and Victor exchanged conversation over the bar. “How’s the rest of the squad?”
“They’re good, looking forward to a bit of R-n-R next week.” He answered taking a long draft of whisky.
“And you’re not looking forward to that?”
“There’s a war on Victor, I’d rather be out there fighting than relaxing back home. Gears are dying every day.”
“True enough...have you heard the latest casualty list Marcus?” shooting his gaze to the old bar man a rock fell through his stomach.
“No...why? Is it Dom?”
“No no Dom’s fine...Marcus...Annabelle was killed in an indie attack on her ship...” Oh god...thought Marcus. He had gone through basic training with Annabelle, they were in Alpha-Five together...and now she was dead. “They bombed it, she reached the Harpy that was evaking them but she went down to get more survivors, when she was down there the indie bombed the Horizon again. I’m sorry Marcus.”
“Damn...R.I.P Annabelle!” he proclaimed loudly before downing his drink.
“She’s been awarded the Iron Star, I think her husband will probably receive it for her.” Victor said knowing that Marcus was barely listening. “Let me get you another drink,”
“Yeh...another drink...” Annabelle. Shit girl I only saw you three months ago! Why did you have to go being a fucking hero!
“You see that’s the problem with you lot from Alpha-five.” Said Victor returning with a fresh glass of whisky. “Sergeant Rockwell trained you to be fucking heroes; it’s great when it works out, shit when it doesn’t.”
“Yeh...” whispered Marcus.
“Hey Victor! Can we get another round over here?” shouted a rook from across the circular bar.
“I’ll be right back Marcus.” Victor said tapping the bar top with two fingers before walking around and taking the newest orders.
“Shit...” the sounds of the bar soon over ran Marcus’s ears. The pounding music, the rabid conversations, drunken laughter, the sound of the television sets in the corner being turned up so the rooks could hear the score of a game of Thrashball. It was the Eagles and some loud mouthed player was screaming into the camera, ‘Yeh baby! Wooo! You can’t stop the coal train!”
“I said no!” said a harsh voice beside him. A voice he recognised...Is that the operator from Control? Turning around he saw a tall elegant blonde shaking off a rough hand from her shoulder. Something sprung up in Marcus’s chest...a viral protective instinct he’d had since a child... two veteran gears were pushed up against her sides, hands running down her back.
“Get off me you creep!” she shouted trying to push the two gears off her body.
“Come on baby, loosen up!” said one drunkard that Marcus recognised, his name was Gram although he called himself Goliath.
“Get off!” she said. Gram grabbed her wrist harshly and she yelped in pain, that was it.
“The lady said no,” Marcus said pulling him from the operator. She yelped slightly as he pushed her behind him protectively. Throwing the other gear off balance the two stood beside each other, both were broad and scarred.
“What the fuck do you want Fenix! Mind your own business!” shouted Gram.
“I can’t do that,” he hissed moving to confront him. “Get out of here Gram...before you regret coming here tonight.”
“What you gonna do about it Fenix?” moving to slow for Marcus Gram threw a wild punch out, Marcus swerved avoiding the punch. Slamming his hand around Gram’s wrist Marcus pulled him off his balance with all his strength, with his spare hand he smacked onto the back of Gram’s head and pulled him downwards whilst tripping his feet. Flying through the air like a muscled missile Marcus slammed Gram’s head onto the top of the bar, with a sickening crunch blood splattered the bar top and up Marcus’s arm. Releasing the dead weight from his grip his body hit the floor with a soft thump. The operator behind him screamed, his drunken friend had drawn his pistol aiming down the sight at Marcus. From nowhere a huge frame shot from the crowd tackling Gram’s friend to the ground, with a blur of fists there was a satisfied noise as the mystery fighter got to his feet.
“Three months without me and it all goes to shit huh Marcus?” he recognised that voice. Dom turned around with a huge pearly white grin across his face, laughing loudly the two best friends roughly embraced each other in the middle of the bar with everyone watching. Dom was his older brother only slightly smaller, with deep brown eyes a friendly lined face and a joyous fun loving personality. Over the three months Dom had grown a small triangular goatee on his chin and an ultra thin line of stubble around the rest of his features, as well as that a new tattoo covered his right shoulder. “Good to see you Marcus.”
“You too Dom!” he smiled hugging him again. “Damn I missed you man! Come on let me buy you a drink.” Marcus said with a laugh.
“So what was all this about anyway?” asked Dom looking down at the two unconscious gears.
“Oh shit!” Marcus swore spinning to see the face of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was a tall elegant woman with shining blonde hair cut around her shoulders, deep emerald eyes shone out even from the darkness of the bar. She wore a plain white t-shirt and a set of black denim jeans that hugged the curves of her body, something long forgotten in Marcus was suddenly awakened, like a dying fire that had just been doused with petrol. “Are you OK?” he asked softly.
“Yeh, fine, thanks to you.” she smiled brushing some hair from her face. “Anya.” A delicate porcelain hand reached out from the darkness.
“Marcus.” He said taking her hand and shaking it gently.