A/N- Yes I know we are all shocked and outraged after the last chapter, but wait for the reveal ;) One final chapter after this as the conclusion and then maybe a survival guide too if you are lucky. Enjoy.
"Please, take me instead." Amber begged Usher, who turned to contemplate hr suggestion.
Hex reached over to keep her from trying to rise, but she fought his attempts to quiet her.
It was a terrible compromise for Hex to make, to try and prevent his brave girlfriend's sacrifice. He knew however that there could be no bargaining with this villain; he intended to kill the lot of them, there could be no survivors.
"Hmm an interesting and noble proposition," Usher remarked, scratching his cleanly shaven chin in thought with the barrel of his pistol.
Li shook her head frantically, adamant that the switch should not take place. Li figured that she was more prepared, ready for death should it come and able to embrace her fate without regret. Looking back she realised that she could be proud of the life she had lived despite its short duration. The time she had spent in Alpha Force and the fulfilment she had felt from the good they had done, struck her as the highlights.
"While not without appeal, I am going to decline your offer Ms Middleton." The crooked businessman informed Amber formally, as if he was rejecting a flawed sales pitch.
His dark emotionless eyes fixed on hers with a clinical malice," I intend to save you for last" He coldly informed her.
"I dare say it shall be a lot simpler then getting some unreliable flunky to do it." Usher added, sending a disdainful look at the hole that contained his former second in charge.
"Certainly easier then the elaborate set up I had to organise to dispose of your do-gooder parents." He griped scathingly, knowing the effect his words had on the girl.
"But first things first, I must get rid of this pest first," He gestured with his weapon to the other girl who was held on her knees in front of a grave.
"Say goodbye to your friend." Usher snarled, mirroring his last kill and raising his pistol to line up with Li's face.
"Why can't I go first?" Hex suddenly demanded theatrically, splitting the tense scene and giving the executioner reason to pause.
The unexpected move drew Usher's attention.
"I probably deserve the privilege," Hex continued, fighting off Amber and getting to his feet.
He took a tentative step forward, his face throbbing from the earlier strike and freely bleeding. The guards made no move to stop the man, he was barely able to keep standing, hardly a threat.
"After all, I am the one who has been recording this whole conversation," Hex confessed in a triumphant slur, slowly reaching inside his battered and discoloured wrist splint to clumsily remove his cellphone.
"Using the same bugging and tracking program that you did, I've been recording your little gloating speech right from the start."
Usher's face flushed in fury at the sneaky trick that had been pulled right under his very nose. The moment was fleeting though, as he quickly remembered who still held all the cards.
"Clever," He conceded, "But ultimately pointless. You must know that I will simply take the recording off your body the very next moment after I kill you." He sneered, turning on the spot to re-aim his pistol at Hex.
The young hacker laughed, actually laughed, a dry humourless sound at the imminent threat to his life.
"Oh I'm not recording it. An outside source is listening in on my palmtop, they are the one recording it." He corrected with relish, struggling through the words a little with the swelling to his face.
"Who?" Usher snarled stepping closer and jabbing the young man right above the heart with the business end of the pistol.
"Can't you guess?" Hex hissed, antagonising the villain and refusing to break off his hard stare.
From further down the line the still restrained Li spoke up.
"Did those bruises look a few days old to you Paulo?" She asked loudly, a sly smile lighting her face as she waited for the penny to drop.
Something in Usher's head clicked as the final pieces all fell into place. He whirled to the face the grave of the first Alpha Force member.
"It's a set-up," Usher growled to his men, flustered and on the back foot for the first time that day.
"Sweep the perimeter, find the-" Was as far as he got issuing orders.
The rest of his message was cut off by a distant thunderous crack from somewhere in the surrounding snow-covered cliffs.
Usher jolted from a massive impact and staggered back to his knees. Weakly he placed a hand to his screaming chest and when he raised his fingers for inspection; they came away deep scarlet.
The gathered security force forgot all about their prisoners and immediately dived for cover. Those that had seen action in any conflict zone felt the familiar tremor of fear that only came with receiving accurate sniper fire.
The powerful 7.62mm round had punched a distinct hole straight through Usher's chest and messily exited out his back in a gory opening that was much larger then the entry wound. Ragged strips of skin muscle and fabric hung from the ragged hole, like the worlds most grotesque living cave. Fountains of blood poured forth from the new cavity, saturating his expensive charcoal suit.
Hex observed the light flicker in his eyes and his lips open and close ineffectively with no noise. In seconds the flame of life is his pupils was snuffed, extinguished.
Daniel Usher was really dead this time.
Amber watched the man, surprised by the sudden turn of events, but oddly satisfied as well. It was quicker and much better then that despicable man ever deserved, she reflected sombrely.
The half dozen remaining guards scanned the distant ground nervously, trying to spot the hidden shooter. Li and Paulo had both found themselves inexplicably free from restraint as their respective handlers had dived for cover from the hidden threat.
Hex moved back to Amber, unafraid of the mystery sniper, he knew it was not them that were being targeted for once.
"But how? Who?" Amber whispered in confusion, as Hex helped her back up to a one legged standing.
The sniper blinked frantically through his scope after he squeezed off the crucial shot.
The shell casing of the fateful round, clinked lightly out of the M-21s ejection port and hissed softly in the surrounding snow. His remoistened eyes quickly shut again in relief after his hit was confirmed centre of mass, by the stumble of his target and the accompanying red spray.
The pounding of his heart and the fatigued shake of his muscles had made the shot more difficult then he had first anticipated.
With the important moment passed, he took in a deep breath of crisp mountain air and pushed up the brow on his pallid, arctic grade beanie, revealing a fringe of lightly blonde hair.
Despite the frigid mountain air blowing over his prone form, Alex felt far warmer then he should given the circumstances.
The extreme cold weather, white jacket and trousers that allowed him to blend in when he entered the compound, had left him feeling hot and sweaty after his frantic climb to a decent sniping spot.
Speed had been of the essence and he was lucky to have managed to get back to his chosen elevated vantage point, just over 200m away. The whole way he had been listening into the progression of events on the ground, via an earphone from Hex's palmtop, which was snugly strapped to his side.
With the rapid downwards spiral of conversation and the executions drawing closer, he had madly rocketed up the slopes, scraping himself countless times on the sheer rocks in his haste.
Alex had barely made position when the first shot was fired and he had witnessed through his heaving scope, as the decoy took the bullet meant for him.
It had been a backbreaking effort carrying the young hitman from days ago in the carpark to the edge of the compound for the set-up. After being trapped in the 'jammed' boot of his own car for several days, Alex figured the badly beaten young man probably appreciated the fresh air. The decision two days ago to cram the unconscious man into the back of their vehicle had not been one he had made lightly.
The most convincing argument to do so was the vague likeness in appearance that they had shared, Alex figured with all the heavy bruising, the less morale man could serve as a decent doppelganger in a pinch. Hex must have thought so too, since he helped Alex stuff him in there and draw attention away from the fact that they had done so.
Remembering the friends that were never far from his thoughts, Alex peered down his scope once more and listened intently to the bud in his ear that provided him with audio.
"The guy Usher shot wasn't Alex, it was our sleazy would-be hitman from a few days ago that looked a little bit like him." Hex explained simply to his girlfriend.
Amber's jaw dropped in astonishment as she realised what a sneaky piece of deception they had just pulled off.
"So then Alex is..?" She concluded excitedly.
"Still alive and I assume is the one who just capped Usher." Hex finished for her, giving the most recent corpse a nudge with his foot.
"Was this all part of another plan between the two of you?" She accosted him, suddenly moody at having been left out of the loop.
Hex raised his hands in defence, knowing his partners penchant for delivering a good slap or punch to the shoulder when she was wound up. The still edgy guards politely ignored the domestic going on behind them and focussed on trying to regroup and establish a course of action.
"Just the part about using that guy as a decoy, obviously we didn't think he would be shot. The whole thing was more of a plan 'B'." Hex insisted, trying to placate the beast.
"Uh oh, Hex is in the trouble" Paulo commented in amusement, able to forget the extremeness of the situation with the slice of normalcy.
"Speaking of the plan and trouble," Li was reminded, looking around at the uncertain looking band of mercenaries that were spread across various pieces of cover and concealment. The fear of further sniper fire had them all hunkered down with itchy trigger fingers.
Hex and Amber were preoccupied with their current dispute, as it often was with those two, the rest of the world ceased to matter. This left Li to carry out the next stage in the plan, which was anticipated to ensure their continued safety.
"Hey Assorted Mercenaries," Li addressed the armed men in a loud voice.
Ouch, she noted internally, yelling does not help my headache at all.
"Your boss is dead, pretty safe to say your employment has just been terminated. You can try kill us if you want, or you can get a head start on your running before the SAS turn up here in like five minutes." Li announced in ultimatum at a volume that made her dodgy ribs strain with the effort.
Any gun for hire worth his salt knew about the legendary British Special Forces unit. Indeed some of the gathered group were ex-troopers or had attempted selection for what was one of the worlds greatest fighting units (after the NZSAS -IRNW). Accordingly, the threat of the Special Air Service and an unknown sniper was enough to rapidly start clearing the compound of all armed personnel.
Li and Paulo turned to each other with small smiles at how quickly that had got the gunslingers moving.
The original plan had been to gain information on the whereabouts and identity of their hidden foe, to record some evidence and then have the SAS swoop in for the save. It was a plan that had to be quickly modified when the threat level increased to the group.
Unsurprisingly, when 'The Regiment' had heard that a mysterious paramilitary force had inured their Company SgtMajor, they had quickly mobilised a formidable attack team to retaliate. It only took a short phone call from Alex, when he discovered the enemy stronghold, to get the Special Forces unit moving in the right direction. Gathered intelligence and radio chatter had meant that the specialist force was already in country and it became only a minor readjustment for them to make it to the compound.
The arguing pair had finally stopped and it had obviously taken a lot of the formidableness out of Amber by the fact that she needed to be held up by Hex the whole time. She looked pale and drawn after only moments of yelling at him.
She was clearly still ropeable when she turned on Li and Paulo.
"Did you two know that wasn't Alex getting killed?" She accused the pair dangerously.
The couple shared an equal look of apprehension before coming clean.
"Well most of the injuries he had were obviously a few days old." Paulo explained the subtle difference that had not escaped his trained eyes.
"I noticed that too, but also saw a suspicious looking guard jumping back over the fence, after delivering the decoy." Li admitted.
Being assumed unconscious meant she was able to sneakily watch in a different direction. Years of martial arts had also left her with a fairly intimate understanding of how bruises develop and change over time.
To the guards it wouldn't have been as apparent since they didn't know how injured their prisoner was prior to being captured.
"By not knowing, you actually added a certain amount of authenticity to the act." Hex suggested hopefully, as if that fact should make her feel better.
It was the wrong thing to say.
Amber was reaching boiling point from the amount of clues she had missed and the unnecessary emotional trauma she had put herself through. Her eyes hardened and her lips were pressed tightly together, her hands on hips swore trouble.
Looking as though she had several strongly worded things to say, Amber suddenly winced and sunk back into Hex's arms.
Forgetting that she was supposed to be mad at him, she sent him a weak grin of appreciation, before hardening it into her usual scowl. Hex didn't mind, he'd always thought she looked kind of cute when she was angry, hence why he wound her up so often.
"First the hospital for my leg and then I am yelling at you guys so much." She growled in promise, through gritted teeth.
Alex chose that inopportune moment to reappear, rifle slung over his shoulder and a shy smile fixed on his face.
"Especially him," Amber amended, narrowing her eyes on the man, like a sharpening crosshair of her own.