The monotone hum of the hovercraft's engine lulled its passenger into a near deep sleep. Sadly it wasn't near enough. The sudden crashing of waves alongside the hull tossed the sole occupant from side to side – if he weren't so steady on his two feet he'd have been bouncing off the walls, and in some cases from ceiling to floor. The weather forecast had predicted a decent outlook on the day, but something was raining down beside the ship.
The next moment, the unmistakable crunch of the inflated rubber climbing up on to a jetty rang out. The amphibious transport gradually came to a halt and, judging by the few portholes, it was someplace between two tall office buildings. The door opened with a hiss, allowing light to flood through. The passenger blinked, sheltering his eyes with his arm. Stepping outside he took in his surroundings for the first time. The impact of the rolling landscape before him twisted his stomach into knots. It was all ruins – nothing but acres upon acres of ruins. Structures were barely holding themselves up; streets and parks were the victims of intense bombardments and massive slaughters. This was not the Washington DC he had seen in brochures.
He spun round to the skipper of the vessel that had brought him to this brutalized land. 'What the hell's happened here!' He shouted.
'War sir!' Came the reply, as if it wasn't any more obvious. Just then, six shells whined over the passenger's head and hammered into the side of the transport vehicle, obliterating it. The blast knocked the recent arrival on to his back. As he picked himself up and glanced at the smouldering wreckage he concluded he ought to be someplace else. The grinding sound of approaching tank threads was another indication that waiting around would prove unhealthy for him. The rumble of the behemoths was too close for comfort, so without hesitation he took to his heels. Armed with a mere Socom and chased by armour in hostile territory hinted that discretion was indeed the better part of valour.
No sooner had he done so, six Soviet Rhino tanks pounded into view, their turrets aimed at him. The six barrels roared with utmost ferocity, with armour piercing rounds screaming overhead like maddened banshees. Soil lifted in sudden bursts as they came crashing down. He darted through the streets of destruction with the tanks closing in. To his utter shock, he entered a street with the far end blocked off by the remains of a shopping mall. He could have scaled it – in time, but as he heard the grinding threads round the corner he was aware he was fresh out of it. The tanks took aim and turrets opened fire. Out of reflex, he curled up in limp defence, only to realize he wasn't reduced to pulp. Shells were still singing in their off-key harmony, but none in his direction. Confused, he glanced up and saw three tanks with a pillar of smoke emerging from the turret. Behind them was the remaining three aiming in the other direction, taking a severe beating. Behind those were other armoured vehicles, each adorned with the telltale insignia of the Allied forces. A small patrol of Grizzly tanks had spared his fate for another time. The enemy vehicles were crushed in one swift attack. As the smoke towered to the sky, the friendlies rolled up to the man. The tank commander of the leading vehicle popped his head out. He had a seedy looking grin on his face.
'How are the hairs on the back of your neck feeling Commander?' He arrogantly smirked.
'Just fine.' The Commander snapped in response. 'Now what in blazes is Ivan doing in DC!'
'War sir. Shit happens.' He shrugged. Temper soared up a couple of extra notches but flaring over impudence was not worth the Commander's effort and strength. 'General Carville is waiting for you back at base. Best to hop aboard. He's not a patient man.' With no more than a shallow mutter he climbed up on to the lead tank's chassis and gave them the order to move on. This time the tank commander gave him a curious look. 'Wouldn't you feel safer inside?'
'If none of you want to give me a decent answer as to what the fuck is going on, I'll have to find out for myself. Now drive!' He yelled. The tank leader was shocked and hesitated but as a glare came round his way he ducked back down inside and issued the appropriate orders. The tank soon kicked into motion with a groan and wheeze. The Commander held on as he glanced around. An operetta of destruction held centre stage. Harriers zoomed overhead hammering missiles into Kirovs as they dropped a payload over lumbering Chrono Miners. GIs, having barricaded themselves in the few buildings still standing upright, mercilessly gunned down scores of unfortunate Conscripts who persisted in laying siege to the defences. Prism and Mirage tanks travelled at high speeds across battered parks and streets to hot zones all over the Washington area, most of them severely damaged by Terror Drones. This was in deed war…
The tank pulled up to a checkpoint, guarded by two anxious GIs tucked in behind a ring of sandbags. They gave the Commander a once over look and then buried their faces back into their defences and their gun. Their fear smothered their curiosity. To them he was no more than a joy rider in the wrong State. Nevertheless, the guardrail lifted and the tanks passed through a camp with structures that had more holes in them than a cheese grater. Wounded men loitered among the barracks, waiting for their turn to be treated in the nearby hospital. Damaged vehicles lined in long queues to the only functioning Service Depot. How long had the world been asleep for so much devastation to go unnoticed? No. What the Commander should have had answered was: Why did his superiors keep him out of the loop?
The tank commander re-emerged. 'This is my stop; need to fix up the main gun before I head out again. Carville is down there in the Battle Lab.' He said and pointed towards a tall structure, which had its left side in a twisted heap of smouldering, mangled iron beams.
The Commander reached for the door and walked inside. There was a frantic scurry of scientists holding medical equipment and wounded colleagues. For a moment he succeeded in halting one of them long enough to gather directions. He was immediately directed to a flight of stairs. The Commander groaned and jogged up the treacherous steps. Twenty-seven floors later, he pushed open the door leading into a barren corridor. While resting a moment to catch his breath he glanced around. The entire floor was pretty much void of life. It brought a sense of concern to mind. Regardless he pushed on, examining the doors as he passed by them until he found one with a slate reading: Gen. Carville. He knocked on the door and instantly got a response. 'Door's open.'
The Commander pushed open the door and it fell with a thud to the floor. He gazed in surprise at the knob still in his hands. 'Don't bother with it.' Carville said. Carville was a well-built Texan with an interesting moustache that seemed to draw your attention to it upon seeing him for the first time. His head shone as sunlight reflected off of its smooth bare surface. In all, Carville was sitting in an armchair grinding a cigar between his teeth. He then stood up, showing off his uniform and medals. 'Sorry to drag you into this Commander Black, but we've a crisis on our hands.'
'I've gathered as much.'
'Believe me, there is more to interest you.' Carville stood before a window, which was overlooking the base. 'Your reputation for handling delicate missions has earned you this one. We need a tactful mind right now and we needed it yesterday.'
'You sure you got the right man? Last I checked my reputation was tarnished.'
'Everyone makes mistakes Commander, and everyone should be given the chance to redeem themselves from them.'
'In that case what're the details?'
'I hope you have the time because it's going to be a big one.' Black raised an eyebrow out of curiosity. 'At 09 hundred hours this morning, a Soviet fleet of Amphibious Transport vehicles stormed the jetties and deployed a massive attack force. Soviet Conscripts were Para-dropped all over the State. We scrambled all available units to any hotspots but their numbers were vast.' Carville looked away. Black caught the momentary transition into sorrow and back into his former composure. 'It was a massacre. Our infantry were mowed down by the constant push of their reinforcements and a deadly sharpshooter, who infected several of our men with a deadly virus. In some places, the toxin still hangs in the air. Flak troopers knocked out most of our air support before they had time to engage the enemy. Within hours the Reds were in control, taking the White House and the President prisoner.'
'That's why we need your abilities. You're the only one that can successfully infiltrate the White House and get to President Dugan without alerting Romanov and his lackeys. If the Reds get any scent of this the President's life may be put in jeopardy.'
'I'm fully aware of the potential risks. Just direct me to an outpost I can take command of and this problem will be considered solved.'
Carville turned round slowly. 'There will be no outpost.'
'No outpost?' Black asked in confusion. 'Uuhh… I'll need something to prepare for an assault. I can't do much on my own.'
'I never said you'd be on your own. Follow me and I'll introduce you to your team.' Carville proceeded past the dumbfounded Commander as he stared bewildered at the window ahead of him.
'Team?' he then gasped. He then spun round and darted out the door. Carville was on the verge of opening the door leading on to the stairs when the Commander caught sight of him. Black opened his mouth to shout out his protest however a sudden sight outside took precedence over all qualms. 'Carville look out!' Carville glanced up and then spun round to the other side.
A smoking Harrier was in a deadly nosedive, spinning out of control like a wounded animal felled from the sky. It was heading straight for the Battle Lab. Carville immediately swung open the door and raced down the stairs. He left the door wide open for Commander Black. He sprinted to it; only he accidentally tripped up on a fallen brick. Black glanced up and saw the Harrier smash through the windows, leaving its wings plastered on the side of the building. The metal hull screeched against the floor and walls of the corridor. Black jumped to his feet and ran the other way – towards the other gaping hole in the superstructure. He saw an electrical cable coiled up by the edge of the immediate drop. With the beast bearing down on him with each passing second, Black dove for the cable, grasping the end. He rolled along the tiles until there was no more to hold him aloft. He plummeted down to earth as the cable continued to unravel. Moments later, the plane wreckage shrieked as it skid out the side of the Battle Lab in a blazing trail of fire. It did a corkscrew dive and smashed headlong into the Barracks down below. In the Commander's current situation, the burning rubble wasn't any of his concern, nor the wounded or the dead. Not even the families that would later mourn over the loss of their loved ones. But his major, undoubtedly hugest, outmost, prioritised concern was the fact that the cable still had a lot of slack in it and the floor below was getting nearer! Desperately he scaled up the cable – like a scene from a child's cartoon. He kept asking himself (but more likely obsessing over) 'How much more can there be!'
Almost as if he had spoken some form of magic word, the cable snapped into tension, whipping him against the side of the building. Black held on tightly, even though every bone in his body was badmouthing the sharp change in circumstances. Somebody would come to his rescue… at least that's what he was hoping.
The following moment Black heard Carville's voice right beside his ear. 'You may let go now.' The Commander snapped his eyes open and immediately glanced down. His feet were dangling an inch or so above tufts of green. He then glanced to his side and saw Carville grinning smugly. Instantly Black formed a scowl, and as soon as he released the cable he allowed his annoyance to be voiced.
'How could you be smirking about this?' Black shouted, 'I could have been killed!'
'I knew you wouldn't be.' Carville calmly responded. 'Your profile said you were highly resourceful.'
'Resourceful!' Black gasped. 'I threw myself out of a hole twenty-seven floors up in the hope I wouldn't get crushed, so that instead I'd have the possibility of going splat. You call that resourceful!'
'Adrenaline rushes aren't my sort of department Commander but after the mission, I'm sure we can have a detailed discussion on it.' Carville grinned. 'Now let's meet the rest of your team.' Carville turned on his heel and marched off towards the back of the War Factory. Black followed with a series of mutters and grumbles, yet the outburst had been uncalled for. That smug coot knew him well. Ever since his time away from the battlefield Commander Diamond Black longed for the addicting burst of energy that turned his blood cold and gave him the power to do virtually anything. He still had the knack for making precision-timing decisions. He only prayed it wouldn't fail him as it did before.
The blades of a transport helicopter were the first to attract his attention. As the two rounded the corner, naturally, the whole chopper encompassed their view. However, standing in line at attention beside it were five figures; four male and one female. The more Black got closer, the more he hated the mission.
Carville sidestepped and spun round. 'Meet the Commandoes,' He chimed, 'The most elite unit at our disposal… and now yours.' He stretched out his arm to the first figure – the female. 'I'm sure you recognize agent Tanya.' He said proudly. 'You been in god knows how many sorties together.'
'Yes.' Black grumbled, 'One too many.' Tanya glared at him and patted the holster on her hips. Black grinned in response.
'Well bite the bullet and tolerate each other for one more. She's one of the best demolitionists and no body is better than her with a pair of Colts.' Carville's arm moved over to the next figure. 'Next up is Deadeye, the best sniper in the British arsenal. He can knock off a fly off a soldier's helmet a mile away and still have time to take out the soldier.'
'Interesting anecdote but reputation means nothing to me until I see it in practise.' Black replied.
'Take me to high ground and I'll amaze you with my skills sir.' The man replied. Black eyed him curiously, from the red beret down to his army boots. He didn't expect much back talk from any of them, especially a Brit.
'Yes, yes, I'm sure he will be.' Carville intervened, 'Following him is Jules – top Navy Seals operative we've got.' Carville leaned closer and in a whisper added. 'He's also Tanya's rival; excellent swimmer, excellent handling with explosives and extraordinary with an MP5.' Black stared at the erect figure before him. A thick balaclava and a pair of dark goggles concealed his face. Carville straightened up again and introduced the last two. 'Finally we have the twins, Dart and Dash.'
The two were grinning and posing as Black looked them over. One was dressed up in similar clothing as Jules. The other seemed to have a shining knight's armour and an odd looking weapon. Both of them had though a strange device mounted on their back, which hummed meticulously.
'Dart was one of the few Seals chosen for the Chrono Commando project. Needless to say he scored the highest ranking marks in the entire platoon.' Carville boasted. 'His brother, Dash, was ironically training for the Chrono Legionnaire project. Alone the two are formidable opponents for the Soviet war machine. Together they are Romanov's worst nightmare.'
'As long as they aren't mine included.' Black grumbled.
'Not to worry boss-man. We wouldn't want to let you down.' Dart chuckled. Black glared at him for his shrewd remark. He then turned back to Carville, who was pulling out a folded map from his pocket. He passed it to Black.
'Commander, with your team you are to infiltrate the White House and rescue the President. Be aware that there may be psychic defences dotted around Washington. Also, operatives claim they saw Yuri leading the Soviet contingent; he could be anywhere. You and Tanya may have taken psychic tolerance precautions however the rest of the team hasn't. Their safety is your responsibility.'
Their safety is your responsibility…
'Swell.' Black groaned.
'The Nighthawk is prepped to insert you two kilometres away from your mission. Be careful out there.' Dart and Dash phased out in flashing blue tiny sparkles. Not even a second passed when everyone heard their laughter coming from inside the helicopter. The other members dutifully climbed aboard single file and took their seats. Black was the last to set foot inside. The one place he didn't want to be was in the air, and there were a hundred reasons why. The brothers were sniggering to themselves as he walked in. They were sitting next to one another with Deadeye and Jules behind them. On the opposite side was Tanya with a vacant chair.
'Oh, this just gets better.' Black moaned. Hiding his irritation he reluctantly sat down beside Tanya, who promptly turned away from him. Black folded his legs and whilst trying his best to ignore Tanya's presence he spread the map open. No sooner had he done so he noticed it was no more than a tourist's travel map. The only difference was the two colourful crosses – one red and one blue. In respects to their written colour were two single words beneath them. The first read Enemy and the other was Base. Black muttered as he folded it up again. 'Hooray for Intel.'
Meanwhile outside, as the Nighthawk began to lift, a seedy character suddenly materialized beneath the helicopter and planted a pack of dynamite on its belly. He set the timer to ten minutes and fired it up. The second hand sliced away time without remorse. 'Kaboom! Ha ha ha.' He chuckled sadistically and disappeared the same way he turned up.
The same man re-materialized all the way across Washington DC in the Oval Office, standing before four more insidious looking figures.
'How did your mission fare?' One spoke, with a voice as calm and soothing like poison coursing through a man's arteries. He was standing on a floating one-man chariot. He had a slim physique almost making him look anorexic. On his brow was a small tattoo and around his head he had a metal ring grafted on.
'Better than expected Yuri. The fools have no idea of their immediate danger.'
'You armed it for the specified time?'
'Ten minutes.' The man grinned, 'It should be adequate time for them to reach their destination yet fail to actually step foot on it.' He roared with boastful laughter.
'Good, now go make yourself useful. I'm sure there is someone who could make use of your candlesticks.'
'Will do hee hee hee.' He vanished soon after; where to… some people would consider themselves lucky if they didn't know. As soon as the particles popped into nothingness, another member from the four turned to Yuri. It was a young woman with short dark hair. She had combat fatigue trousers on and a leather jacket. She also had a sniper rifle slung round her back.
'I don't like him.' She said crisply.
'My dear Virus.' Yuri grinned. 'You don't like anyone anyways.'
'But him I can't stomach.' She growled. 'I think giving Ivan that Chrono pack we stole a while back was a foolish idea. He's a threat, even to us with his pyromaniac endeavours.'
'I admit Crazy Ivan is not one of our most trustworthy allies but for now he is proving useful.' Yuri navigated his chariot round to the desk in the middle of the room, towards President Dugan who sat with a glazed look in his eyes without moving a single muscle. 'If however these infidels do get past Ivan's little surprise, I expect you three to handle it personally.' The remaining two, both male, straightened up and saluted in response. One looked almost identical to Yuri, except he was sporting a shirt and trousers rather than a pair of overalls. The other was decked up in traditional Russian winter clothes and had a bushy moustache and beard that would have made Carville jealous.
'You can count on us tovarich.' The Russian said.
'I should hope so.' Yuri commented. 'I specifically selected you four for this mission due to each of your outstanding performances in your fields of expertise.' Yuri took a swipe at the desk and knocked off all its contents. He then spread a map full of tactical information across the surface. There were lines stretching from corner to corner, with short phrases such as forward tank platoon running alongside it. 'Knowing the foolish Allied General, he will attempt to drop his precious commandos as close as possible, probably around here.' Yuri pointed towards a small clearing, barely noticeable in all the green and patterns. It was squeezed in between two lines marked reserve guard and tertiary guard.
'If you know so much, why do we not wait for them there just in case?' Virus snarled.
'Because I want to lure them into a false sense of security. I have informed the men to abandon their patrols until further notice. When the Commandos are destroyed it will be a crushing blow to Allied Command, from which they will never recover. We will then be able to conquer all of the United States without further difficulties. However as a precaution…' Yuri threw a glance at the three. 'I want you to be in position.' He planted a stubby finger on to the map within a small circle, which had Outpost 2 written in it. 'Boris I want you stationed here.'
'Yes sir.' The Russian laughed. Yuri promptly placed his finger on a new spot, on the White House itself.
'I want my most valued Psychic Commando to wait here for any possible interception with the commandos. In the meantime he can watch over the president.' The Yuri clone grinned and gave a nod of the head.
'Why does that blasted head case get to stay here?' Virus snapped.
'Once I leave here, the effects of my psychic abilities will wear off of the president. My clone will take my place instead, and ensure Dugan's cooperation.'
'Why don't we just kill him now and avoid the whole babysitting deal.' Virus growled as she swung her rifle into firing position. Suddenly she dropped her gun and grabbed her head with a scream.
'Enough!' Yuri yelled, swinging his arm towards the Psychic Commando who had both his hands on his temples. 'We need not turn against each other.' Virus picked up her gun and gave the clone a threatening glare. 'Virus, I still need you for the most coveted job of all. We two will be the final defence if they should happen to succeed.'
'And if they don't?'
'Then we shall be the first to stride through the captured Allied base.'
It was an odd habit of his but pacing was what kept Black's mind calm and ready for complications. Flawless plans would stretch out like rolling breezes across meadows of silky silence. In this state of calm he could spot any weeds that may ruin the harvest. It often gave the wrong impression as others watched him move around in his trance. Deadeye leaned as far as he could into the aisle towards Tanya and asked, 'Is something on his mind?'
'Hopefully a plan that won't backfire like the last.' She responded curtly. Deadeye stared in anxious bewilderment at Tanya who continued to gaze out the window. He then turned his attention to Black and noticed he was glaring at them. His piercing view moved from one person to another. All, except for Tanya, were watching the Commander with a sense of tension. The pilot unknowingly broke the awkward silence.
'We're over the LZ.' He said. 'Prepare to disembark upon landing.' Silently Black took his seat again. With a frown he resumed his battlefield calculations. Dart and Dash exchanged glances and then turned slowly back to their commanding officer.
'Hey boss-man.' Dart spoke up. 'Do you think me and my bro can hop off now and wait for you down below?' Black raised a hand and gave it a limp wave, indicating he couldn't really care less. The two immediately exchanged glances once more. From under Dash's visor, one could see a grin on his face. Mere assumption implied Dart was the same. With a sizzling zap the two bailed from the Nighthawk. Instantaneously, Black looked up in surprise.
'They were serious!'
Dart and Dash materialized on the ground below and high-fived each other before scanning the area for probable threats. The clearing was empty, not even a wisp of life disturbed the surrounding area. Dart and Dash lowered their guns and glanced up at the helicopter as it drew closer. Their weapons fell with a tumble to the ground.
'Bro! What is that thing!' Dash exclaimed.
'Looks like some form of explosive!' Dart shouted. 'Can you zap it from here?'
'Not without taking the whole chopper with it!'
'Then we gotta get them outta there!'
Dash had just finished bowing his head in acknowledgement when he popped out of existence for a brief moment. His brother had done the same thing at precisely the same time.
Black was leaning against the window trying to get a better view of the ground below. 'Where the hell are they?' He muttered. All of a sudden they turned up, a few inches in the air. The two landed with a loud clump, causing the commander to spin round with a start. The brothers didn't waste any time. As Black opened his mouth to demand they stay on board, Dart grabbed him by the shirt and Tanya by the arm. Simultaneously, Dash took a hold of Jules and Deadeye. Within that abrupt movement they had then disappeared once more.
Black was completely confused, feeling a little queasy from finding himself on solid ground. A strong smell of what seemed like burning brimstone made his stomach twist in all kinds of knots. As weak as a twig holding up a decrepit old man, he had to gather his strength and demand what was necessary. 'What's the meaning of this!' He yelled as he swallowed back a throat-full of bile, unlike Deadeye who had little stomach control on the matter.
'No time sir!' Came Dart's reply. 'We got to get the pilot-' just then the Nighthawk exploded, sending off flares of flame and sharp debris in all directions. Dart and Dash grabbed their team-mates once more and transported them a few meters away for safety. Upon materializing, Black clutched his stomach and slumped to his knees. 'Have you been hit!' Dart anxiously exclaimed.
'No.' Black groaned, 'It's that nauseating smell.' Dart glanced around and realised all the others, except for Dash naturally, were looking a tad green around the gills. A smile broke out on both the brothers' faces and they felt a lot more relieved. Wearily Black stood up and turned round to examine the wreckage of their transport in the distance. 'Yuri knows we're coming.' He said grimly. 'There'll be no more time for subtleties.'
'But what about the President?' Dash nervously asked. The Commander turned to him, an expressionless look on his face.
'We're being carefully studied. To Yuri this has become no more than a sideshow. He would have been greatly disappointed if he found out we hadn't survived.' And to himself, Black added, 'Especially since I'm back in the game.'
'How do you know for certain?' Jules asked.
'Because.' Was the reply. It never even came from Black's mouth. All eyes focused on Tanya's back. She was standing a few feet a part from the rest of the group. Her head was bowed, her eyes closed and her arms folded. 'He's the tactician.' There was a huge weight in sarcasm in her words. She gave him a piercing glare from the corner of her vision as she snapped her eyes open. 'We haven't even been under your command for more than ten minutes and look at the fine mess you've already put us in.' The anxious gazes from the rest of the team were digging into Black's body, each one a lethal dosage of bad memories. Black noticed there was an unacceptable level of doubt in their eyes, an intolerable quantity of distrust in their mind, yet he said nothing; did nothing. Whereas one would have acted upon the insubordinance he shrugged it aside. With a wave of his arm he gave the order to move on.
'Follow me.' He said in a near whisper. Tanya glanced away as he turned his back on her. Whilst staring away, her facial muscles crumpled up into grief. She chose to keep it hidden from the rest of the team, lest Black realized the truth behind her aggression. She gazed at the sky, took a slow deep breath and regained her former composure.
In the meantime, Jules rushed up to Black. 'Sir?' He stammered. Immediately the Commander spun round, causing Jules to stumble backwards in alarm.
'I'm not discussing it.' Black snapped. He looked up at the others, 'And one other thing. Let's cut this sir bull. Out here I'm like any one of you. I can run, I can fight and I can die. In the battlefield I'm an equal to any soldier. So knock off the chivalry!' Some of the men quivered under his words. Black knew that this was not good for a first impression, but he knew something else – something that only one other person could recall with perfect recollection.
Their safety is your responsibility...
He had to keep his distance from his team. It was they and he – there had to be a clear distinction or history would repeat itself.
Suppression, repression, regression...
This was the chain that had tormented him the day he was requested to contribute his knowledge to the American war effort. This was the chain that bound him to a dark past and enigmatic present. His future would be the spawn of circumstance and his own actions. Would light shine at the far end, or would more shadows swallow him into their midst?
'Now move out!' He bellowed.
Somewhere in the middle of Washington DC, within the sprawling hive of a Soviet military base, Yuri floated through with Virus walking along side him. Conscripts stood at attention, rigid with fear. The man inspecting their ranks was not a man to sneer at. Their every thought was being monitored and if one should slip up and reveal one to Yuri's disliking the penalty could very well be worse than death a thousand fold. Yuri was definitely the sort of person that, as his shadow passed, you would resume comfortable breathing and cease the praying.
The following moment, the sound of fast paced running gathered everyone's attention. Yuri manoeuvred his chariot round and a breathless Conscript weakly stood at attention, giving a desperately strong salute. 'Yes?' Yuri said slyly.
'W-word from the LZ, sir.' The Conscript stuttered. Yuri's eyes widened in anticipation. 'Only one fatality – the p-pilot.' A sardonic grin spread slowly across Yuri's face.
'Really?' He asked. 'How did they manage to escape?'
'We're not sure.' The soldier answered in a near whimper, 'But we found footprints f-five, maybe s-six meters away from the crash site.' He swallowed hard as he prepared to fill in the rest. 'The problem is that the tracks look like they started from there.'
Virus glanced up at Yuri. 'Chrono technology?'
'It would seem.' Yuri agreed with delight. 'Thank you for your report, you are dismissed.' Yuri added, addressing the Conscript directly. 'You may return to your post.' The infantryman cautiously took a step back. His whole body went stiff with tension when he heard Yuri say, 'One other thing.' The man's heart drowned out the sound of his heavy breathing. 'Inform your commanding officer to distribute double rations for his entire unit – a reward from Yuri Prime.' The Conscript was rooted by bewildered shock, while others lined up in the ranks eyed him with jealous envy. 'Now, do not delay.' The Conscript nodded and, after saluting, scampered off to spread the good news. Virus turned back to Yuri, with a face full of puzzlement.
'Why the grand reward?' she asked.
'I probed his mind.' Yuri answered. 'He is stationed in Outpost One.' Virus connected the rest of the puzzle on her own. She grinned mischievously while the two resumed their inspection. As for Yuri, it was the first time he had slid his hand into his overalls with purpose on his mind. He pulled out a small disk and gazed at it with a treacherous smirk. 'Maybe there is a use for you, if not for my original intent.'
The team sat huddled in a circle, guns at the ready. Shrubs and trees masked their presence as they patiently waited. Black was crouched down, detached from the group with a pair of binoculars. He was examining troop deployment, vehicle movements and defence outlines of a small base that stood in their path. Black lowered the spyglass and glowered at the structures. 'One power plant and two tesla coils? Why?' He returned the binoculars to his eyes and searched for an answer. A few seconds of close examination to every detail and he discovered the truth. Hidden by the power plant was the top of an antenna. But it was no ordinary TV antenna, even though it looked one with the building. 'Shit! A psychic beacon!' Black slid back to the rest of the team, who were anxiously awaiting his return – at least most of them were. 'Suppress your thoughts!' He immediately ordered. The squad was stunned but only Tanya knew what he meant by that. She gave Black a concerned glance. 'We're in a psychic beacon's field.' He briefly explained. 'Think of holidays, sex, baseball – anything but war.'
The others nodded uneasily. Tanya stood up and walked past Black. The cold emanating from her body was not of hatred but of depressive recollection. Even Black turned away, with a feeling of dark reminiscence clouding his thoughts for a moment. He moved a hand to his forehead as the weight of a past's burden made him sick with regret and revulsion.
A little further down from a smaller outpost stood a barricaded structure. Inside a Conscript idled over a desk with monitors, keyboards and speakers. On the monitors a motionless green line ran from one side to the other through the centre. The speakers crackled as static only came through. The Conscript yawned as another walked in, carrying two cups of steaming coffee. Suddenly there was an explosion outside that rocked the walls of the house. Amidst the blast was an inhuman scream. The two remained as they were, unbothered by the fact that the blast was in the vicinity.
The second Conscript handed over the coffee, while the first leaned back in his chair to accept it. He bowed his head in gratification as he lifted the cup out of the other's hand. He had a long sip, following it with a pause of savouring before turning back to the other. 'How long do you think he'll keep at it?'
The other merely shrugged, and the first groaned in annoyance. Just then, over the speakers came a shrill whining noise. A single monitor went plumb crazy, with spikes hitting the top and bottom of the screen. The Conscript jolted out of his chair, spilling the coffee all over his laps. 'Fuck! It burns!' He howled. The second Conscript clamped a hand on the other's shoulder and forced him back down in his seat, while turning up the volume with the other hand.
'Shut up idiot! Listen!'
Over the speakers came a voice in a soft whisper, however all of it crisp with ferocity and anger. 'You call yourself a Commanding Officer! You're a disgrace! I want him demoted now! No – I want him arrested; arrested for the murder of my son!' The voice cut off abruptly. Static again consumed the channels. Even the monitor screen had returned to its former state.
'It's an Allied officer.' The second Conscript said. 'Which beacon picked him up?' The first glanced up at the monitor. On it, written in marker on the plastic shell below the screen, was scribbled OMEGA.
'Christ it's Omega!'
'Omega!' The other exclaimed. 'That's behind the forward defences! What are the Allied forces doing at the rear!'
'It could be the commandos!' The other said with a wince. The scalding coffee was still seeping through his uniform and first layers of skin. 'We have to tell the supervisor.' The other glanced towards an open door. He stared with great worry out at the open. Another explosion rung out, again with an agonised scream snuffed out midway. This time, the two Conscripts gulped anxiously as they both decided to speak with the man in charge of the outpost.
Outside, in the sweltering heat, a score of Conscripts and Tesla Troopers stood gathered round in a wide circle. They were a distance away from a ring of kneeling civilians, facing one another. Two Conscripts were leaving the ring, dragging behind a severed arm and leg. The civilians stared at a pile of limbs and harshly mutilated corpses, all of which were victims of brutal explosions. Most of the captives had broken down in tears. Others were praying incoherently for salvation. The next moment, Crazy Ivan appeared in the centre of the ring with a dynamite stick in his hand. He waved it teasingly above his head.
The soldiers broke out in an uproar of maniacal whistles and applause. Some were flashing wads of cash in the air. Most of the prisoners cowered, while others wept openly. One man, having had his mettle snapped into oblivion, rushed to his feet and lunged at Ivan only to be shot down a few feet later by a Conscript. 'Another failed American!' Ivan roared with laughter. The soldiers followed suit, mockingly pointing at the limp body on the floor, drowning in a pool of its own blood. Ivan then raised his hands high above his head in a stern abrupt motion. The cheers ceased at once. 'Everybody,' He said, with a sadistic grin imprinted on his face. He lowered his free hand to his pocket and pulled out a box of matches. He struck a light and put it to the dynamite fuse. 'Place your bets!' He then zipped towards a female prisoner and forced the Roman candle into her hands. The soldiers promptly responded with a menacing chorus.
'Pass the parcel! Pass it around!' The woman tossed it over to the prisoner beside her with a pained sob. The next prisoner, a male, bounced it on to the next person. The deadly game continued as so, passing from trembling hand to trembling hand. Ivan hopped from foot to foot like some giddy schoolboy in the centre of the ring. The two Conscripts from inside the control room stared in mortified horror at the scene. Hesitantly, the two approached the mad pyromaniac. The first soldier broke through the ring unhindered. The second however was less fortunate. The stick of dynamite crossed his vision and he mistakenly put out his hand to catch it. His eyes bulged as he gaped at the centimetre left of burning fuse being eaten away at a frightening speed. With a startled yelp and quick reflexes, the Conscript hurled the stick over his head. No sooner had it impacted the floor, it left a crater and tossed soil all over his backside.
'House wins!' Ivan bellowed triumphantly. There were a few murmurs from the infantrymen, but also a heavy load of laughter. The unfortunately lucky Conscript glanced down and saw a fresh stain over the coffee on his trousers. The other was bewildered by the ordeal his stricken comrade had gone through. It infuriated him, giving him the toxic courage to spin round and wave a threatening fist at Ivan.
'You callous bastard! You could have gotten us killed!' Ivan suddenly jabbed the Conscript in the stomach and slid the end of a dynamite stick into the man's open mouth. Ivan lit the fuse and grinned menacingly as the Conscript stared cross-eyed at the end and the flickering flame.
'What is it you wanted to say?' Ivan said smugly.
'Nothing.' Came the panicky, muffled response.
'You sure? Then why have you left your post?' Even under the increasing pressure, the Conscript recalled his sense of duty.
'Omega.' He gulped. Beads of sweat drenched his brow.
Ivan leaned closer. 'What was that?'
'Allied soldiers are converging on psychic beacon Omega.' The Conscript choked on his words and slammed his eyes shut. The fuse was inches away from ending his life. Yet, Ivan whipped out the stick of terror and grabbed the Conscript by the scruff of his uniform.
'What! That's impossible! No Allied soldier has penetrated our -' He froze. An expression of resentment flushed over his face. 'The bastards!' He shouted and hurled the nearly finished dynamite over his shoulder, towards the congregated mass of soldiers. It was a frantic scramble as it struck the floor between them. Amidst the stampede a few soldiers were trampled to death. When the stick exploded it took out a large number of the men, wounding dozens more. The prisoners, although shaken up by their harsh games, felt a pang of alleviation. Their tensed muscles relaxed slightly and each grinned weakly to the person across them. 'Is it the Commandos!' Ivan screamed at the Conscript.
'Don't know.' He anxiously blurted out. 'But we know there is an officer.'
'It's them.' Ivan raged. 'They escaped my surprise. The bastards! When I find them I'll kill them all!' Ivan shoved the Conscript aside and phased out. The Conscript, pale as a Russian Winter, gazed at the spot where Ivan had been standing. As soon as he was certain the crazed supervisor wasn't returning, he slumped back in a faint.
Black stood on the edge of the copse, analysing the enemy troops from a distance. Rigorous studies of structural blueprints were imprinted on his brain. He had to be a hundred percent positive that he didn't take out any Conscript in the range of a Tesla Coil – the effects would have been somewhat shocking.
The Commander heard someone approaching from behind. As instinctive precaution he grasped his sidearm. He lowered the binoculars and glanced over his shoulder. 'Hey boss-man.' Dash responded. Black glanced back ahead, pretending he had no interest, maybe his visitor would have left him alone. No, instead he settled down beside the Commander. 'So what's the plan of attack?'
'Ssh!' Black hissed.
'Oops, sorry.' For a moment they stood in silence as Black continued to monitor enemy movements. Dash felt uncomfortable in his Commander's shadow. The Commander himself could tell from the constant tapping of Dash's finger against his knee. Dash then shuffled round and pulled out a canteen. He took a sip and afterwards passed it towards Black. Dash tapped Black on the shoulder. The Commander briefly gazed at the offering and then shook his head.
'No thanks. Stomach still hasn't settled from the Chrono shifting.' Dash grinned as he pulled the canteen back.
'It happens. Rookies can't handle the smell of Sulphur.'
'Sulphur?' Black gave him a look of interest.
'Well it's not actually sulphur but it sure damn well smells like it. The reason behind it is because when we use the Chrono pack or Chronosphere we temporarily don't exist. Therefore, we practically burn ourselves back into reality. It's a split second thing but it hangs in the air long enough to make you want to puke.'
'You do know that your thoughts may be recorded as you tell me all this.' Dash promptly clamped his hand over his mouth. Black immediately smirked and added, rather maliciously, 'Not to worry. Yuri tends to have it set on higher standards. Technology, I'm afraid, is not his interest. Battle plans however is where you'll find him sniffing around.' Dash relaxed a little, feeling much relieved he hadn't given away a flaw in a hi-tech weapon. Black started to watch the troops again. He noticed one of the Conscripts was moving behind the Power Plant – out of the Tesla Coils range.
Dash cleared his throat and spoke up. 'May I -'
'Don't bother.' Black snapped. 'It's private history.' Black rose and pulled out his trusty Socom. He checked the magazine as standard procedure. It was full. He slammed it back in while Dash watched him with surmounting curiosity. The Commander coyly spun the gun round his finger and smacked it back into its holster.
'But sir, this enigmatic tension has got everyone rattled.'
'If they believe I'm an incapable leader, let them tell me up front. I won't be offended.' Black replied. 'Now, if you don't mind, I'm going for a stroll.'
'Get everyone to wait for the signal and you'll understand shortly.' Black began to creep towards the base, whistling a catchy irritant melody.
Black hugged the wall of the Power Plant and sidled towards the back. He peered round and caught a glimpse of a soldier midway through relieving himself. Black pulled out his Socom and snuck up behind him. Before the Conscript was aware of a threat pretty much on top of him, Black walloped him hard with the butt of his gun. The soldier went down like a wilted flower. Black dragged him off into a shrub and switched over uniforms. He cleared his throat and tried his Russian. Flawless – he should have been a linguist, or better yet an actor with such finesse. He got up and walked round the front of the power plant, whistling a small tune to keep his mind off of his impending plans. The Tesla Coils hummed with threatening implications, only they wouldn't harm a fellow countryman. Even for an enemy, Black admired their technological structures. How was it this electrical bulb built a top a tall pole could distinguish friend from foe? Allied scientist attempted several times to break the mysteries behind it but to no avail. Most of the researchers have been mildly electrocuted during their studies when turning the damn thing on. The bulb alone could paralyse a man – if you were fortunate enough it would last only a short period. But with the rings around the pole, the voltage was pumped up to excruciating degrees. If there were Tesla Troopers nearby there would even be the possibility that they juice it up further. The whole thing was an intriguing Pandora's Box. It was a shame Black intended to see them destroyed.
Black walked into the Power Plant and proceeded down a short corridor, leading to a single double door. He pushed it open and emerged on to a catwalk high above a room with shrieking generators. He took hold of the railing as he glanced down. 'Tesla powered generators. Seems they can't get enough of the stuff.' He began to walk round and climb down a set of stairs to the lower level. Technicians looked up for a mere glimpse of their visitor. A Conscript walking amongst them wasn't that interesting. Black looked around, trying to find a place where he could jam a monkey wrench into the system – figuratively speaking of course.
After having a good scout around, Black found one technician bent over a generator cursing loudly in Russian. A panel had been removed and the man had disappeared half way inside the machine. Grinning slyly, Black strode up to him. 'You!' He bellowed in a strong Russian dialect. The technician jumped, banging his head against the roof. He meekly pulled himself out, rubbing his sore skull.
'Yes sir.' The man stammered. His whole body trembled at the sight of a higher ranking soldier. For sure he'd have swooned if Yuri made a personal appearance.
'What is the problem?' Black demanded.
'It keeps tripping sir.' The technician promptly answered. 'It's not much of a problem, the others are working perfectly and we still have power.'
'Yuri requests that all plants be working at optimum efficiency. Or have you forgotten?' The Commander argued. 'How long before it is fixed?'
'A few minutes; as soon as I locate the problem.'
'As soon!' Black bellowed. He was enjoying his little charade, watching the man cower in fear. 'Why haven't you found it?'
'I can't understand what's wrong with it.'
'Step aside.' Black huffed. He shoved the technician aside and peered inside. Truthfully, the Commander couldn't understand the As and the Bs of the whole set up but as soon as he shouted, 'There's your damned problem – the circuit's burnt!' the fool fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
'Where?' He asked as Black stepped back. He poked his head inside.
'Far back; top left corner.' Black responded as he moved behind him.
'I can't see anything!' The technician yelled back.
'Then how about a closer look!' Black shouted in English. He rammed the technician inside with all his strength. His head struck the electronics with a thunderous bang. Instantly he screamed as his body shuddered in spasms. Fire erupted from the panel as the generator began to short circuit. In the next moment, the whole building was engulfed in total darkness. The smell of cooked flesh disturbed Black as he admired his overall handiwork. In the distance, frantic footsteps were heard approaching. He sped away from the scene of the crime, pulling out his sidearm. Two technicians suddenly, and yet unintentionally, barred his path. They hesitated, confused by the fact that it was a man in a Conscript's uniform heading their way. However, the moment Black raised his gun they knew what the status meant; only they were too late to react to it. Two shots rang out and their bodies were still in mid-collapse as Black swept past them. He raced up the stairs, with a hailstorm of lead dancing at his feet. Soldiers had taken offensive positions on the catwalk and swept the lower floor with quick bursts. The only exit was up there, past them, but proceeding on that course would have called for a suicide note. Instead, Black leapt over the railing as a bullet zipped past his ear. With his momentum he fell into a window below the catwalk and smashed it. He tumbled to the ground, and rolled into a kneeling position. Immediately, the sounds of heavy gunfire and explosions welcomed him. He raced to the front and saw Conscripts retreating into the distance. One by one the men fell, like an invisible assailant striking them over the back of their head.
The Tesla Coils erupted in a ball of flames and came crashing down. Commander Black saw Dart buzzing about, placing demolition packs on the psychic beacon. The destruction of the Tesla Coils was his doing. There was a sudden burst of rapid fire and, upon turning round, Black saw Tanya and Jules mowing down Conscripts as they surged through the front doors of the power plant. Then the whole power plant began to sparkle with blue lights, as a bright undulating beam struck it. Tracing it visually it led to Dash who was aiming his strange weapon at it.
'Without a trace,' he chuckled as it vanished from sight, only his good mood promptly soured and changed to horror. Black spun round and saw what had spooked him.
The whole platoon scattered as the Rhino tank fired its first shell. Dash phased out and came up behind it. He took aim and moved his finger towards the trigger when Tanya jumped aboard the back, forcing him to lower the gun. Tanya raced to the front and slapped a demo charge against the turret. She jumped off and lay still on the ground, in front of the still moving behemoth. Without much delay, the tank blew and the danger was no more.
Black emerged from cover and approached Tanya. She had finished picking herself up from the floor and began dusting herself off. 'What the hell were you thinking!' Black yelled. She promptly fixed a glare upon him. 'You could have gotten yourself hurt!'
'Look who's talking!' She shouted back, 'You left us in the woods to go attend your own private party! If you want to look after someone, look after yourself – I can fend for myself!' She stormed off. Black turned round, clenching a fist tightly. He saw the rest of the team gazing anxiously at him. He cursed and marched off in the other direction.
Jules turned to the others and commented, 'Shit! There was more heat between them than what she was packing!' The others nodded apprehensively.
'I think we should go after them.' Dart said. The rest of the team hesitated for a moment and then agreed, only because Dart aimed his gun at them. The squad split up and went in separate directions, hoping to rally up the team.
Meanwhile, word had gotten around. The destruction of a single outpost had spread like a brushfire from soldier to soldier until it found its way to Yuri's ear. Yuri stood a top his chariot, hawking over the anxious Conscript who came bearing the ill news.
'So… Outpost One has been decimated – including the Omega Beacon?' Yuri asked calmly.
'Yes sir.' The soldier nervously responded.
'This Commander moves fast. It will be an exciting encounter on the field of battle for us.' Yuri gloated. Secretly, and subconsciously, he thumbed the small disk in his pocket.
Commander Black stared at the map he was given. On it, with a pencil he always kept about his person, he marked their progress, jotting down details of encounters and casualty statistics. He hadn't even finished when he decided to scrap the idea and cross out all he had done. He crumpled up the map and looked up spotting Jules and Deadeye approaching.
'Finally we found you.' Deadeye said, trying his best to hide his frustration.
'Why even bother?' Black hissed. 'I know you all can't stand me. Why did you even bother coming for me?'
'You're right sir.' Jules said. Black glared at him but Jules didn't even flinch. 'There are a few things I can't stand about you and Miss Tanya but we have a mission that needs to be completed and it needs our full strength, attention and cooperation.'
Needs our full strength, attention and cooperation.
'Where you rehearsing this on the way?' Black asked.
'Don't worry, you've gained my attention.'
'We'd like to be able to trust you.' Deadeye said, 'But your relationship with Tanya is causing concerns. We don't want to have to tear you two apart in a critical moment.'
'It is true that we seem to get at each other's throats; but we have our reasons.' As Black said this, a flicker of remorse spiked his eyes. He knew the fault for their attitude towards one another, and he wished he didn't.
'We understand that.' Jules said, 'But it still shouldn't surface here.'
'Believe me Jules when I say you don't understand. This is exactly where it should surface.' Black turned away, releasing the crumpled up map from his hand.
'We're willing to try and understand, but we need to know what it is that is causing this.' Deadeye responded.
'If I did reveal the story, it would only make you doubt me more. It's best to leave everything as it is, at least for now.' The two detected the hurt in their Commander's voice and accepted his request. Just then, Dart appeared between them.
'I've been looking all over the place for you lot!' Black turned back round, developing a more rigid and controlled composure. 'Tanya has located a second base. She's waiting for you before an attack is launched.'
'That's new.' Black commented.
'Well actually my bro is holding her back just in case.'
'Ah that sounds more like her. Do we have to Chronoshift there?'
'It's the fastest way.'
'I hate this.' Black muttered as they all took a hold of Dart. The next moment he phased out with a pop and they were all gone. All that remained to mark their presence was the map. On it was a single visible sentence, untouched by the Commander's spontaneous erasure. It read: It is no different than it was back then.