Stack Lee had himself an evil brain, loved his gun and his sweet cocaine.
Stack got quiet when the shadows fell, knew soon enough that he'd burn in hell.
Stack Shot Billy - The Black Keys
It's only one man. That's what they kept saying whenever Dobart pointed out inadequacies in the snatch plan. He was to lead in the team responsible for the capture of Ahmedov Bitsiraev, wanted for the torture and murder of at least two humans. The distinction had to be made of course, that the two victims were human. Would Cerberus have cared otherwise? Dobart, an experienced Cerberus operative, had been brought in because of his experience with such operations but that was as far as the preparation seemed to have gone. He was denied using his own people, denied also access to the intelligence leading to the snatch itself being ordered. The source, he was told, was highly sensitive and utterly above reproach. Nothing is routine, his personal mantra, was not shared by the eleven men put under his command for the grab or by the snot-nosed CO who called the shots. By the time the day came for them to make their move, complacency had taken hold of all but Dobart himself.
The pre-action briefing had been a farce. Half the time was wasted by the Cerberus soldiers complaining about the less than hospitable conditions of Ahmedov's homeworld. It was cold, real cold and the target would be used to it. Dobart felt like the only man asking questions and was met with a short, exasperated answer from his CO for each as though it was a waste of time. Only one man after all.
Three days. The blunt answer to the question of how long they had kept eyes on the target. Dobart knew he should have walked from the operation at the revelation, three days was nowhere near long enough to work up a picture of the man's movements. "He drinks all day, finds himself a woman - paying for it where necessary and then doesn't come out of his room all night. Can set your watch by him." Three days was not long enough, it should have been weeks but everyone in the snatch group just wanted it over and done with, wanted out of the cold. Dobart shared the others' disdain of the conditions though knew a few weeks in the snow was preferable to screwing the hold thing up and maybe ending up dead.
The ten Cerberus men met up one last time (two were keeping eyes on the target's apartment) before the snatch in an abandoned warehouse a short shuttle ride from the target building. The apartment building itself was a long u-shape when viewed from above and fifteen stories tall. The target's room was on the eastern, inner edge, tenth floor. "That's a lot of windows." Dobart had tried to give this as a warning but was reminded once again that it was only one man and there was "the sniper team across the way, quit your whining." Small comfort.
Dobart just couldn't understand the rush to capture this guy and alive? What did he know? The operative you replaced asked a lot of questions too, he was politely told to shut up or leave. The men he was working with offered little confidence, Surely they can see this whole thing is fucked. They went over the plan together in the warehouse, Dobart and three others would breach the target's apartment. Two more would provide sniper cover from across the dead-end alleyway - they had been all day - Dobart fought every instinct to ask if they thought they had been compromised by the target, knowing full well what their answer would be. Another two would cover the corridor as the team went in. The rest, the final four would remain in the shuttle outside.
"In case of whatever." That was the word of the squad leader who would be amongst said four but Dobart knew they just wanted to stay warm and comfortable while the 'routine snatch of one guy' went off. Nothing is routine.
The operation was to take place at dusk before the temperature plummeted with the disappearance of the system's small star behind the horizon. It was also when the target would return from the bar and hopefully be at his most inebriated. He remained the operation's biggest unknown and what little data afforded to Dobart on the target was smothered with black, censoring bars. He was in contact with the shuttle team on the ride over. "He got in about an hour ago, with a companion. Came to the window and drew the curtains. Been keeping track of them on thermals since."
"Constant?" Dobart was on edge in the shuttle; check, re-check and re-checking his equipment as he interrogated the team, "You didn't go for a piss? Take a short walk around the room? Gaze into each other's eyes for a moment too long?" He instantly regretted the final question and knew he had destroyed any chance of an honest response from the sniper.
"Constant," Dobart heard him spit after the venomous answer, "I am seeing two red-orange, humanoid masses lying together... sir." The 'sir' was more sneer than word. How many people in the building had spotted the two and spread the word in whispers of the strangers? Again, more preparation would have prevented it. How many more would see the shuttle drop armed men on the ground outside? Would the elevators be in use? The whole thing is a gaggling clusterfuck. We're supposed to be Cerberus operatives and he we are like kids playing war. If I didn't need the money so bad... How many eyes were glued to the peepholes as Dobart led the three others down the damp, drab hallway toward the target door? He already knows, he's waiting on the other side of that door with a fucking shotgun. Casually in a chair, waiting.
His inner voice screamed in his head even though the overwatch pair were giving him contradictory information, "We can see your coming down the hall, faint heat signatures. He's still in bed with whatever piece of ass he brought back."
Dobart paused at the door and the rest stacked up behind him, his whole body throbbed in anticipation. There was no time then for his fears and worries, his mind needed to be focused and clear. He allowed himself one reassuring thought, It's only one man. He motioned for one of them to come to the door and be ready to kick it down on three. A slow, rhythmic counting on his fingers and silence instantly shattered with the hinges.
The place was a dump, food wrappers and dishes littered the stained floor. The only light came from a beside lamp in the open-plan adjacent room and cast long shadows across the space. The men with Dobart were at least professional in their execution of the snatch and spread quickly across the apartment with a chorus of 'clear'. "Sir, get over here!" A voice from near the bed, Dobart went over and felt sick.
He had half-expected a drunken, ex-Alliance soldier to be stood naked and handcuffed with a screaming accomplice being held by the wrist. Instead there were two females in the bed, half-exposed by a misplaced bed sheet and seemingly unaware of their rude, uninvited house guests. "Off their fucking faces on something." He was tipped off by somebody and made a run for it.
"Overwatch," Dobart was on the comms, "You guys fucked up! Target has gone." He was livid at their mistake and time that had been wasted. Who knew how far Bitsiraev had made it in this time? He got his answer in the reply from the sniper team's channel.
"True, they fuck up," the thick local accent, "But not so badly as you. You should tell him not to open curtain." Dobart turned to the man at the window about to let a little of the outdoor floodlights in. The heavy curtain lifted without him so much as touching it and he crumpled to the floor with shards of glass from the window. The crack of the rifle seemed to arrive a moment later. The two presumed prostitutes didn't so much as stir at the commotion.
"Everyone out! Now! We're compromised!" The fish needed out of the barrel. There was a feverish dash back out in the hall as the remaining three forgot all survival training in a bid for actual survival. He hadn't heard anymore shots and they crouched out in the hall to plan their next move. Now he's going to make his run for it.
"Dobart," the shuttle pilot broke up their frantic breaths, "I can't raise overwatch on the comms."
"Target has slipped the noose, we have one definite and two probable KIAs," he tried to think, they had to get outside, "Drop your guys off and get in the air, let me know if anyone leaves the building."
It was cold without his armour and Ahmedov wished he had picked up something other than the shirt and pants before he made his escape. The time window had been so small and left little choice. Distracting the sniper team and replacing himself with another warm body had cost him a small fortune in nightly rates but it had all paid off. Their rifle was too cumbersome but the two had been armed with pistols and one would have to suffice.
The cold air tore at his lungs as he ran from the apartments along the white-dusted street toward the edge of town, the snow jerked up and down in his vision with every heavy footfall. He had been momentarily surprised to discover it was Cerberus men with eyes on him and not the Alliance but the result was the same and the surveillance shoddy. Able to lose their amateurish tails on him with ease he wondered what sort of yokels were even after him. Even able to watch and listen to those supposed to be doing the same to him, almost laughing out loud to find out they were attempting the grab after three days.
He should've gotten off-world then and been making a relay jump when they kicked his door down, but he didn't. Pride was Ahmedov's greatest sin and led him down the path to the other six. He had spotted the crude overwatch the first morning they set up, whilst stretching naked at his window and scratching his balls for their benefit. He waited outside as the operation reached its zenith, listening at the door for the perfect moment of entry. He liked to think - although he could never know for sure - that he kicked in their door at the same moment the team across the way busted in his own. The rest was all so many broken limbs and pathetic pleas.
He ran having heard the shuttle and knowing another burst of biotics so soon would have left him exhausted. He embraced the cold air at first as a reminder of who he was and where he came from until every hulking breath began to kill and there were tears in his eyes from the wind. He needed to get to the western outskirts and the amongst the small forest that hugged the edge of the buildings as a reminder of what the planet used to be. More importantly the snow-laden, pine like sentries would render the shuttle useless and force the remaining Cerberus men to split up on foot to find him.
"No sign," the shuttle pilot said dejectedly, "He ain't in or around the building as far as I can tell." He should've been long gone but stayed to fuck with us.
"Any visitors leave the vicinity?"
"Not since the contact, he'll be on foot."
Dobart had left the remaining two to carry the body out from the room and take statements from the two female companions when they came out of their drug-induced stupor. He met up with the two sentries in the corridor, bounded down the stairs, feet slapping on the bleak concrete and burst out into the cold air with no clue of what to do next. The cold became their ally, knowing that few would venture out in such conditions and snow fell through spotlights, vanishing into the thin white blanket. "Get up high," he said to the pilot, "Look for any heat signatures within running distance. Out of the ordinary."
They waited outside, the six of them twitching and jogging on the spot, for word from the eyes in the sky. Every second they waited was a second the target put more distance between them but any time spent chasing in the wrong direction was wasted entirely. Dobart was thankful for the Cerberus helmets that hid accusing eyes, in them he had already caused the deaths of three.
"West," the pilot crackled, "He's just entered some woods about half a click away."
"You'll drop us off outside the treeline." Dobart knew the shuttle was useless for insertion amongst the timber and the target would too. Though the vehicle could still be used to hinder his movements with its side mounted gun if one was left aboard to man it. "Don't kill him," Dobart ordered as he was dropped off at the tree line, "Keep him turning, double him back if you can." He led the remaining four in amongst the wooden pillars, following the still fresh tracks until the pilot could force a change in the target's direction. Their armour and respirators would give them the edge in the chase but luck could still turn things one way or the other.
Ahmedov stopped as the shuttle screamed passed him overhead, he bent double with hands on his knees and heaved clouds of condensing breath into the air. The cold stung the extremities, fingers and toes burned with the frost and begged for respite. The pistol in one hand sapped ever more warmth from him into the conductive metal. He was blinded momentarily as the shuttle spun perpendicular to him and shone down a spotlight that lit up the snow on the ground and picked it out of the air like suspended diamonds. Ignoring it, he pressed on and left the glare for only a second before thrown back into its gaze as his movements were matched. Casting a shadow across his eyes with an arm was almost as worthless as those made by the high, thin branches and he couldn't effectively plan his route across the uneven ground.
The shuttle's nose faced right, to the north and Ahmedov took a sharp left knowing it would have to move in reverse to keep the light on him. His long shadow slipped quickly once more over the pin-cushion blanket. They would be in the woods behind him by now, he knew that much and they would know he was now headed south. He had to move fast. Losing them was not an option and nor would Ahmedov have been interested had it been one. The more space he put between himself and his pursuers the more chance they would split up to end it. One on one the odds were firmly in his favour, time and the elements were not. There was an undeniable rush from the situation, his heart pumped hard at the turning of the same old tables.
The thrill of the chase always worked both ways.
Dobart wrestled with doubt as happens between making a decision and realising the full effects of it. Having gotten word that the target had turned left, the five of them split into a staggered line to cover the most space and give the highest possibility of making contact. He had given strict instructions not to engage the target and to call in a sighting and wait for back up. But those soldiers? Forced to waste their time in the cold and after a man who had already killed three squad mates? Could they keep their finger off the trigger if the opportunity presented itself? All he could do in the mean time was plod along as quick as his legs would allow in the conditions, the snow forcing him to lift his legs higher than was comfortable, sapping the energy from him. He had taken the leftmost position in their ragtag net, hoping that it would give the best chance of running into the target.
Information came in constantly from above with the shuttle keeping track of all six in relation to each other. When it became clear the target was going to outrun and slip their cordon, Dobart told the shuttle to turn him again or hold him up at least. This needed to end. After its manoeuvre came a curious snippet from the pilot, "He's stopped. Amongst a cluster of trees, we can see him but can't get close or a clean shot."
He ordered that they try and hold him there while they converged on the position, wondering who was closest. He reiterated over the comms that the target was to be taken alive and not, not to be approached without back up. Dobart figured he was probably furthest from the position and pumped his legs on the bearing given to him by the pilot. The sooner he got there the less chance of the others playing out their revenge under the spotlight, a splash of red victory over the virgin white. He could hear their excuse already, "He was only one man." And the rifle had never felt to heavy.
Ahmedov watched the searchlight stream through the thin pine branches, catching each breath in the air like a cloud. He would use the shuttle as a beacon for his hunters, its lighting bringing them to their individual ends. They needed him alive, the spotlight was attached to a side-mounted machine gun that would have cut him in half by now had that not been the case. But he did not need them alive or one perhaps, out of curiosity and even then not for very long. Just a few questions. Ahmedov put his back to a tree and waited, trying to adjust his ears to the hum of the shuttle so that he could pick out the soft crunch of snow. To run anymore would only have delayed the inevitable confrontation between himself and his pursuers, better it happened on his terms.
There was only a need to take on the first one against one, get his cold fingers around the dropped rifle and the rest would be easy. How many more before capturing him alive ceased being a priority? More than three was the only certain response and the delicate but deliberate footsteps from the other side of the tree gave an opportunity to find out if it was four. He let the pistol hang loose on one finger from the trigger guard and raised both hands above his head before he left cover and turned his back on the shuttle. The Cerberus soldier had been approaching the wrong tree, even with direction from the pilot and Ahmedov had to grab his attentions with a quick shout and a broad grin, "Over here." The rifle trained on him in an instant and the barked commands came in a flurry to try and hide the soldier's surprise and apprehension.
"Stop! Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Drop it!"
Dobart heard the words over the net, only able to curse the soldier's headstrong actions and pump his legs harder. Giving orders now would only distract the soldier from the target and create an unwanted window of opportunity. The action played out to him in bursts over the comms that broke in above the rasp of his laboured breaths. "Be advised, contact with target. Now unarmed." Dobart saw brief flashes of the shuttle, of its searchlight, still off in the distance and knew things were going to play out one way or the other before he so much as got there.
"Hands behind your head! Behind your head! Listen to me! Do you local shits understand english? Hands behind your head! What did you say? What the fuck did you just say? Don't make me shoot you! Lot of accidents could happen out here now your hands, head, now! What the hell do you- shit!" There was a three bullet burst and a scream like a butchered hog before static and relative silence.
"He's a biotic!" the shuttle pilot took up the slack of updating the remaining men on the situation, "Christ he split the guy from shoulder to guts, armour and all! Fucking mutant piece of shit! Grease that fucker!"
"No!" Dobart imagined the gunner's finger stopping dead on the trigger, "We need him alive!"
"At what cost?" the pilot muttered and cut himself off as he realised he had left the comms channel open by mistake.
More than four was Ahmedov's answer. He had waited for a moment to feel a line of machine gun fire tear through him and it never came. Instead the long shadows hovered gently from side to side, stretching far out in front until darkness swallowed the trunks. And a little further the glints and reflections of shifting armour plates working their way to him, still a way off in the wooden needles. He quickly went over to the body and put a hand on the rifle, finding the dead fingers locked stiff around the grip. No blood had been spilt, his attack had fused flesh and armour as the the shoulder had peeled from the torso. Bone, metal and organs combined into a queer, hardened paste where the insides should have been spilt and melted the snow.
Gunfire. Echoed cracks and shouts travelled so well in the cold, night air. Dobart stopped and listened, counted the rifles and detected three separate sources. Shit. A flurry of information on the nets, shouting and swearing with no discernible narrative. All he could do was keep running. The skirmish was in sight by then, the muzzle flashes between trunks and the delayed cracks. Nothing made sense from his vantage and Dobart could only run, impotently hoping that the gunner in the shuttle didn't end it in such a way so as to waste the sacrifices already made. "Get that light out of our face!" a man from ground yelled, "Can't see shit!" Rifle staccato punctuated everything and Dobart was quickly giving up on the operation being a success. A relative success, four men dead.
Five. Suddenly one less rifle in the percussion, though the others picked up the slack. The pilot was dark, quiet on Dobart's end of the comms completely. Didn't want the leader of the operation hearing what he said next, presumably to the man on the gun. Its own drumbeat slower and louder than the rifles on the ground and spewed a tracer with every third round, the light caught splinters and bark chewed up on their way to the deck though he couldn't see where the bullets were aimed. Though a few heavy bursts from the gun silenced all others and voices from men went quiet as though in awe. Were it not for his feverish pace Dobart might have heard the flakes of snow making contact with the ground.
"Target is down," somebody eventually thought to say.
The three remaining men in the snow stood around the target when Dobart arrived, the smell of gunfire in the air and the surrounding trees scarred and bitten by lead. A splash of red was already well trodden nearby and not a word was spoken by the Cerberus men, they were all listening intently to what Dobart had assumed to be a corpse.
"Was... fun. Next -ime I chase you." A liquid splutter and blood on the chin. Dobart stood over him like the rest, overcome with a queer respect or perhaps fear of him. The heavy rounds had caught him in the right arm and whilst is still remained somewhat connected down to the fingertips, the flesh was torn and flapping. Muscles split from snapped tendons and evidence of biotic implants were clearly visible. Ahmedov was in deep shock and managed to take short gasps between the mocking words, "Only... took... twelve of you." The laughter, interrupted with eruptions of blood that stained the teeth, haunted them all. Dobart ordered the wounds be packed with gauze and bandaged, not to waste the medi-gel. He would still be taken alive and shuttle searched for the nearest clearing in the trees.
"Nice shooting," he would say to the gunner at some point later.
A/N: Nice to write another action scene, play around with POVs and little jumps to keep the thing flowing quickly.
This took me four weeks. Four fucking weeks to write a chapter I can usually churn out in five or six days. The writer's block has set itself in reinforced concrete and I need to take some time on this thing. This is not be giving up on this as I have with other stories but quite the opposite. I worry that if I continue pumping out chapters at the rate I have done so far I will do something shit just to try and move things forward. I need to set up some sort of corkboard in my room like The Wire and figure where the thing is going. I've seen it over the last few chapters, I've gotten lazy and complacent. I need to play ME2 again, that's the main thing. I just don't know when they meet. A side mission? A main mission?
I will keep writing in the mean time, don't worry about that. I have the first chapter of a ME3 thing hand written and ready for copying. Something to keep my going while I try and figure this story out.