The MadMan of Miramar
There were two kinds of people in this world. People who knew that things happened for a reason, and people who were goddamn fools.
And Duncan, he was no fool.
Duncan had always been able to see the patterns. The writing on the wall. He knew how the world worked – and not just from reading those books that Eddie Denim gave him after he was discharged. No, he just knew. In his bones and his balls. Like the way you know when a cornered mutt’s gonna bite. Or how you can feel the bass about to drop on a good dance track.
Back at Eddie’s, when Mal had spent the night telling them tales about her cliff-hanging adventure at Paramo, Julie and Lunchmeat had their jaws half on the floor.
He didn’t think Mal’s story was surprising at all. He’d been trying to convince the others that this was capital-B Bigtime since the very beginning. Since they pulled those electric trackers out of their skulls.
Brother, if you weren’t expecting a secret government lab in the mountains loaded with weird white flowers and a fucking cancer-monkey, then you weren’t paying attention.
Paramo. Haven. The French woman with the name they couldn’t agree how to pronounce. Yeah, the writing was always on the wall. And it was leading to this.
The showdown at Miramar.
They’d left the vineyard with newfound determination. That list, with the names of former Battleground winners, it hadn’t been good for them. Too much downtime, Duncan thought. Too much quiet and mystery and all that opportunity to overthink. He didn’t care for Europe and every time they stopped for gas (Ha! ‘Petrol’? Fuck off.) it felt like some secret Battleground operative was gonna put a sniper round in their backs.
And then that French woman. How did you even say her name? Ah-neice? Uh-nays? Uh-nay-eese?
He was glad to have it behind him. All of it. Glad to have a new target and be one step closer to cracking the whole thing wide open.
They’d booked a flight across the Atlantic with the last of their cash reserves. A decommissioned C-23 Sherpa that groaned and creaked on takeoff. Lunchmeat spent the first hour with his hands gripped to the seat. Duncan thought the enormous Czech man might actually tear right through the fabric.
And sure, the plane was a piece of shit. But Duncan wasn’t worried. There was a pattern here – and the four of them dying in a military transport that stunk like orange air freshener definitely wasn’t part of it.
Mal had softened a bit since Paramo. She was still barking orders – playing military mommy and telling everyone what guns they should and should not buy when they touched down – but he could tell her confidence was eroding. Mademoiselle Machete and her tale of the blood-car had gotten to Mal. He could tell she was running numbers in her head. Trying to figure if she should have just stayed on Sanhok and tried to win it all…
As much as Mal had changed, it was Julie who was really acting different. She hadn’t giggled once since they left France. That’s not to say she was quiet – Julie was talking more than ever. But just to herself now. Muttering in a language he didn’t understand – he figured it had to be Romanian, right?
Twice he thought for sure she was talking to someone. It was damn spooky, the way she did it. And then halfway across the Atlantic she came back from the airplane bathroom with a stunned look on her face and a bloody nose. His first instinct was someone had clocked her – maybe Lunchmeat, the two of them had been spending a lot of time together.
But Lunchmeat was asleep in his chair, mouth agape, hands still gripping the upholstery.
Had she done this to herself?
He asked her if she was cool and she whispered back without missing a beat, “like ice.”
Fine. It wasn’t his job to take care of her. To read her the writing on the wall. He had one job now: find Sergei Kalimnick, the lone survivor of Erangel. The man behind all this madness.
Find him and end it. Cue the music and see you for the sequel. Or something.
He lost an hour staring into the white sea of clouds outside the plane window. Then he heard music drifting from the cockpit. A synth note and a bouncy beat – it sounded hollow and tinny from the pilot’s radio but he recognized it instantly. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”.
He started laughing. The kind of laugh that builds in your gut and hurts your ribs. The kind of laugh that makes everyone around you uncomfortable. Donna fucking Summer. What are the odds?
A lifetime ago – before Sanhok, before getting the offer from Martin – he had been working private security in St. Petersburg. Bodyguard gigs mostly. Eddie had hooked him up with the job. It paid well and Eddie said it would be good for him to be working after what had happened with the army.
It had all gone sour in a mob-run bar filled with degenerate drinkers and the women who preyed on them. Why was he in that bar? Was it just to get a drink? Was he alone? He remembered he’d been mad about something. Was it something Aimee, his ex, had said to him? Was that when she told him she didn’t know if he was actually Jess’s father.
Or did she tell him that in prison?
Funny how that memory was just… gone. Like so many others.
Sanhok had become a story he told himself now. He wasn’t even sure it was true. But “I Feel Love”, he remembered.
He remembered the taste of vodka and lime on his lips and hearing that song on the bar’s sound system. He remembered thinking he was made of diamond and how maybe there hadn’t been a song written since 1977 that was fundamentally so damn smooth.
And then a Russian pimp in a red Yankees hat bumped into him and spilled his drink and it had all escalated.
Memory was funny like that. Like how a song can take you back and make you think of dancing girls under red neon lights. And shattered orbital sockets.
He finished laughing and wiped tears from his eyes. Eddie Denim used to tell him, on a long enough timeline, everything comes full circle. Eddie Denim, you’re a goddamn genius.
Mal was staring at him, clearly concerned. That was fair; Julie had cracked and the last thing Mal needed was another one of them to lose their mind.
Duncan flashed her a smile. “I’m fine. It’s just coming together for me now.”
She didn’t understand. Of course, she didn’t. She wasn’t there in St. Petersburg when he killed a man with his fists and she didn’t give a shit about Donna Summer.
She didn’t see the pattern.
When they’d picked up the catamaran, the ocean had been a deep clear blue. Bluest he’d ever seen. Like something from a commercial. Blue drinks with fruit on the rim. Smiling girls and boiled shrimp on ice.
But the water changed. Everything changed when they got closer to Miramar.
This peninsula was stained. People had been killing each other here for decades and you could feel it. It was in the sand. It was in the water. This once beautiful seaside town was a mass grave.
The four of them spent four hours following the coast, searching for signs of life from the boat. They found nothing. Miramar was a dustbowl. Mal claimed to see movement on the mountain ridge overlooking the peninsula – a jeep, she said – but it was gone by the time Duncan scanned with his binoculars.
“I’m not sure what I expected, but this ain’t it,” Duncan said, mostly to himself.
“What are the odds you think she set us up?” Lunchmeat asked. The big man had twice already vomited over the side of the boat. His color had settled to a kind of cocktail olive green.
“Who? The French woman?” Duncan asked. Lunchmeat nodded.
“She didn’t set us up,” Julie interjected.
“You don’t know that,” Lunchmeat said. Julie muttered a response in Romanian and went back to fitting more knives into her jumpsuit. Two blades on her belt. Another in her boot. A fourth strapped oddly to her forearm.
A joke started to form in his head – something about bringing four knives to a gunfight – but he couldn’t work it out in time and the moment passed.
Mal readied her bolt-action sniper rifle and started guiding the catamaran to the shore. “We need to be ready for anything,” she warned.
Empty buildings. Empty desert. Empty roads. Abandoned shops covered with sun-bleached graffiti. Empty oil tanks and scaffolding for abandoned construction projects. Miramar was apparently a place people lived oh-so-long-ago but now it was nothing but a ghost town. It was Haven all over again. And he could do without a repeat of Haven.
His first thought was that the French woman was wrong, that Miramar was empty and would remain that way. Then they found the Beryl.
It was stripped – someone had taken off the stock and the scope. Empty too, though he found two boxes of ammunition in an adjoining room. It was just left out on the floor in a warehouse that used to host boxing matches. A big empty ring in the center, ropes frayed and canvas torn.
Duncan loaded the Beryl and chambered a round. “I found something,” he called out.
Mal inspected the weapon, cautious.
“It’s in decent shape. This was just what, lying here?”
Duncan nodded. Mal understood. It was going to happen here. Just like Sanhok.
They found more weapons and gear in an abandoned structure farther north. The building could have belonged to an oil tycoon or a cartel kingpin once. Big drained pool in the center. Lavish bedrooms long ago looted. The walls had been cracked and chipped by gunfire and explosives – then rebuilt and destroyed again and rebuilt. Over and over, and every time they rebuilt it, it felt like maybe they cared a little less. Cared less about keeping up the façade. Now this town – this sunbaked mass grave – had the feel of one of those fake towns he’d trained in when he was in the army.
A proxy town. Or like being on a set. Like the cameras were running and a studio audience was watching. Like any moment now Lunchmeat come through a door frame and bump his head and the audience would howl with laughter.
“It’s a simulacrum…” Julie said to no one in particular. She was standing on the interior balcony overlooking the empty pool.
“What?” Duncan asked.
“Simulacrum. It’s like… like a copy…” she struggled to explain. “It’s like an artificial copy of something.”
“Where’d you learn that word?”
“Magic cards,” she said without a smile.
Mal had climbed up on the roof, precariously balancing on chipped shingles. She was again scanning the horizon with her binoculars.
“Anything?” Duncan asked, climbing up beside her.
“I think those are buildings,” she said, handing Duncan the binoculars and pointing toward the mountains.
He took a look but saw nothing but blurred shapes. Maybe he could have made it out before Haven. Before he lost the use of his right eye.
“It’s some kind of compound. That would make sense, right? A place where they could overlook the game.” She said it without her usual confidence.
“Unless it’s under the ground again,” Duncan said.
Mal lowered the binoculars. A strange flat look passed across her face.
“I can’t remember,” she said.
“What happened. On Sanhok.” Duncan now realized the look on her face was confusion. And she was trying to hide it.
“I remember remembering,” Mal said, her voice quivering faintly. “And now I can’t. Until you said what you just said, I didn’t remember there was an underground bunker on Sanhok. I just…”
Duncan had never seen Mal scared like this. He puffed out his chest some, tried to look bigger. Stronger. That’s what people need in times like this: a leader.
“Duncan, what did they do to us?”
He wanted to give her an answer. To talk her up. To tell her that he was going to get them through this. But he didn’t get to say anything.
Because he heard the phone ring.
Not some digital jingle – this was metallic and had a rattle to it. The kind of ring that required internal mechanisms and couldn’t be downloaded from the app store. It was so out of place – so foreign here – that for a moment he thought he was imagining it.
But Mal’s eyes shifted as confusion spread across her face. She was as perplexed as he was.
They maneuvered down from the roof hastily, knocked free chipped shingles which shattered on the hacienda floor below.
“You guys hear a phone?” Lunchmeat called out.
Duncan dropped down to the internal balcony and listened.
Muted and distant. He followed the sound down to the ground level. Down to a corner stairwell. Sure enough, there was a dusty panel built into the wall. They might have walked right past it.
Duncan pried open the panel to reveal a dusty phone. Hard plastic, cracked and covered with dust. Even as it rang in his hand, he half expected it to not work.
He lifted the receiver and placed it to his ear. Silence on the line. Was that breathing or just static?
Finally, a voice.
Cold and gravelly and distinctly Russian. It sounded a million miles away – like a voice from the bottom of a well. Maybe this was the ancient phone line. Maybe it was something else.
“Is this who I think this is?” Duncan asked. Mal, Lunchmeat, and Julie stood beside him, anxiously waiting for answers. From the looks in their eyes, they already knew the answer.
“I wanted to wish you the best of luck,” Sergei said. It was hard to get a read on him – the distance, the heavy accent – but he sounded genuine. He sounded like he cared.
“What are you talking about?” Duncan asked.
“Almost a year ago you failed to answer my question. Now I’m going to give you another chance. Do you consider yourself a survivor?”
Duncan didn’t know how to respond to that – but he didn’t have to. The line went dead. He jammed his thumb down on the receiver, trying to get the open line back. It was gone. Sergei was gone.
“The hell was that?” Lunchmeat barked.
Duncan just shook his head. They knew they were here. Of course they knew they were here.
Lunchmeat took the phone from him but the line was dead. He threw it down and slammed his fist into the wall so hard it cracked the plaster. Not good enough for Lunchmeat. He grabbed a loose piece of concrete and slammed it into the phone receiver.
Still. Not. Good. Enough.
Duncan watched as Lunchmeat ripped the panel right out of the wall. He grabbed hold of a piece of exposed conduit and started pulling. Within seconds an electrical spark crackled from the broken panel and sent the big man to the ground.
Julie went to his side. Not Duncan. Something else had grabbed his attention.
The sound of engines.
He stepped outside and looked up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and so he saw the C-130 Hercules miles out. No mistake on the make or the model. Shit, this could have been the same exact plane that had cast them down into Sanhok almost a year earlier.
For a desperate moment, Duncan dared to believe that the transport was here to deliver equipment to Miramar. Or maybe staff? Did the Battleground have staff? Even a battalion of Pillar mercs would have been preferable to what happened next.
As it neared the coast, black spots appeared in the sky. First just one. Then a swarm of black against the vibrant blue sky.
He couldn’t hear the telltale thwumps of the deployed chutes – not at this distance. But there was no mistake. The four of them had infiltrated Miramar. They’d made it to the center of the peninsula to some half-destroyed Hacienda. Eddie was right; it all comes full circle.
They were back in a goddamn Battleground.