Sergeant Kestrel held the beer mug high and looked through the bottom of the glass. Nobody wanted to be like Sergeant Kestrel. He was the old man who should have retired long ago. He had twenty-five years on the job and no pension to speak of. He stood over six feet tall and wore his uniform, which had faded from olive green to stone gray, snug around his lean muscles. The shine on his boots smoothed over ten-year-old scratches. Even if he plucked out the straggly gray hairs—too many to count—the wrinkles at the sides of his eyes made it impossible to fit in with all the newbie sergeants. They were being recruited younger and younger, with tons of book smarts but no real combat experience. His days of being the golden boy were long gone. The pain in his knees after his two-kilometer runs reminded him daily that it was time to get out. Being penniless after such a long stint was like being an alligator with no teeth, hissing in the mud. After his trial for official misconduct, not only did the assault charges lead to his demotion from lieutenant to sergeant, but also the fees from his solicitor had left him with less than two pence to rub together. This was a problem, as he needed a payday before retiring. He needed a mark.
Across the street the recreation center was opening. He wiped moisture from the windows of the tiny pub created by the air conditioner and grinned. The cold, empty bar suddenly warmed up. He ran his fingers through his hair, the color of sand spread over stone. The con was on. The three of them were heading to the pub.
None of those plunkers held a rank higher than corporal. The shindig for the Gene-Boomers’ impending freedom was a free-for-all sex fest for all special forces holding the rank of sergeant and above. No doubt the rookie mugs leaving the party, gripping the family jewels tightly with dry mouths, wet hands and pockets full of Brazilian credits, would be coming to him looking to purchase sex droids. Dirty bastards. Kestrel wasn’t a digital pimp. He was a con man. He was going to take their money and run with it—far, far away.
“Kestrel, my man,” said Corporal Mercado, the tall and wiry leader of the three rookies.
Awash in the red lights of the empty pub, Kestrel feigned disinterest. There was no one inside the closet-sized bar except Kestrel and the robotic bartender, yet Mercado shouted as if Kestrel were across the street at the rec center. Typical rookies: young, dumb and dodgy with one thing in common, suntans so orange they looked like tangerines with sooty hair. There was a second thing these pineapples had in common—filthy rich high-ranking daddies, generals on the job. Their fathers made millions taking bribes from British and American expatriates. His England was gone. There was no more watching the footy. No more watching Chelsea sack West Ham. No more fish and chips before going back to the estates for a quick shag. Kestrel’s gaze darted from Mercado to the tin can bartender that resembled a giant metal fly with iron squid tentacles. He didn’t want the rookies to see his eyes moisten with despair.