Nikki had taught her fair share of badly behaved kids, but Kyle Stack had to be one of the worst. From the end of the corridor, she saw Michael struggling to restrain him, and hurried down to help. Even though he had a history of being a bit of an idiot, Nikki thought Michael had done a good job trying to get him to see the light. Obviously, this was wasted on such scum as Kyle Stack. He had been excluded last week, so what the hell was he doing back here?
As she approached, Nikki kept her distance from the kid. Last time they had come face to face with one another, he had punched her in the jaw, and given her a very lovely bruise. Now as she was talking to Tom about what exactly was going on, Kyle licked his lips and looked deviously at Nikki. She felt her blood run cold.
'Hiya gorgeous,' he snarled loudly, before Michael wrenched him away, and almost threw him out of the school. Tom looked at her worriedly, and gripped her arm as she went rigid when Kyle Stack was dragged away, grinning madly at her with a scary, perverted look in his eyes. Michael's apologies afterwards were wasted however, and Tom's gentle grip on her began to fade, as memories from a place she tried to lock out constantly revived inside her head…
The sun was beating down as if it were directly concentrated upon her, and the bright light it spread over her current position was so harsh it felt like it was intentionally trying to blind her. She didn't believe in God, but she knew how he supposedly hated "war", and maybe this was his way of acting as a deterrent. Or maybe it was just that she was in the middle of the Middle-East. On second thoughts, then yeah, it was most likely that. The body protection she wore was a steadfast way of defending herself against any bullets, but it weighed almost as much as she did in her entirety, and was making her feel hotter and clammier than on most days.
Sergeant Nikki Boston eyed the rest of her team in dismay as they patiently waited behind the tonne blocks of sandbags near the city. The place had been deserted five years ago after it was threatened by a nuclear strike. The strike never happened however, and within a month, the place was swarming with rebels and, as the Brits would call them, terrorists. There had been hundreds of them at first, but over the years, and during many attacks by the army, they had been reduced to no more than twenty, many of which only returned once a month.
Back to her team, Nikki realized that every one of them was under the age of twenty five, practically newbies, apart from Charlie Henning, a twenty eight year old with two kids and a fiancé back home. Nikki really didn't know exactly what Charlie was doing here – she should be at home with her kids, not on some random suicide mission in Afghanistan where she could, at any given moment, leave her children motherless. The only reason Nikki joined the army was because she had no one, and she firmly believed that isolationism was the only way to operate perfectly.
Nikki knew that by the end of the day, she would be returning back to the barracks with less people than which she started out with. This was the most dangerous assignment she had been issued in her four years in the military service – take out the remaining rebels in the city. From reports, at this time of the day and month there was only around seven men in the city (they called it a city; it was more of a village with large buildings). But it was her job to take them all out. However, she had only been issued five soldiers, and so they were already one man down. She hoped the extra bullet she kept her pocket might just be enough to keep some of them alive.
At first, shooting someone had taken practice, skill and complete mental preparation. Now it was second nature, and although sometimes that thought disgusted her, she knew she was in the right frame of mind. She loved being in the army, safeguarding her country and her fellow soldiers from attack, and proving that women were equally as great as men were in this place. She was never going to leave this job – she would rather take a bullet through the head from the enemy at point blank range and get shipped home in a coffin. She would certainly rather die than go back to how her life used to be.
Scummy men had been something she had very brilliantly been able to evade for the first twenty five years of her life, but then she had fallen. And not just for anyone, but the scummiest man on earth. At first, he had been utterly charming. They had worked together at a printing firm; he had asked her out so many times after her half-hearted refusals, and then took her to the most extraordinary places. She gushed (it sickened her now to think of how she used to be) about him to her family and friends, let him in completely, and after eight months, agreed to marry him.
And that's when his true colours began to shine, as it were.
At first, married life was so not so different, save the beautiful platinum band wrapped around her ring finger. But as weeks turned into months, the man she knew as Robert Downing turned into the man she could not fathom out. She should've have guessed sooner really – he began to start working really late shifts at work, went out at night when he thought she was sleeping, swore at her and even on the one occasion, hit her. She had hit him back, but it never took the real sting away. The whole affair hit rock bottom when she lost the baby.
She had been four months along, going happily along with her pregnancy, waiting until she really started showing to tell everyone. But she was so happy – to have a family was all she ever wanted after living with her mother and sister after daddy walked out when she was three. The night she was planning on telling Robert, he decided to reveal that he had been screwing her sister for the best part of two years. She was so distraught, so depressed, and so angry that she wasn't careful enough, and slipped down the stairs in the middle of the night. She blamed herself so many times for what had happened. She never really stopped. Her little boy had been killed, and it was her fault.
Maybe that was why she found shooting people so easy – she had killed someone before, why was it any different now?
After losing her baby, Nikki did what any deceived and depressed woman of her tender age of twenty seven would do. She went to her bathroom, pulling out the sharpest pair of scissors she owned, and sliced off all of her sheer ebony hair. She signed up for the military the next day, determined to start anew, and put her life back on track again. She changed during training though. She used to be sweet, sort of innocence, but she managed to build up high walls that even her own emotions couldn't escape from.
She would come back into the barracks at one in the morning, her brow coated in sweat, her fingers bleeding from the intensity of her work ethic, only to be roused five hours later. She worked herself to the brink of death, but never complained, and just worked harder. She built up her physicality over a period of about three months; she had always been tall, but now she was muscly as well, and could run for a straight ten miles without stopping. She could carry weights some of the men she trained with struggled with, and she was so concentrated that when her divorce papers came through, she signed without so much of a tear. The only time that her barrier failed her was the first anniversary of when she lost her son. She cried at two in the morning for ten minutes.
She sold her wedding band and bought herself some extra special, reinforced combat boots. Then she just continued to work – taking exams and physicals, and took whatever crap she needed to take from other people, and slowly travelled up the chain until she became a Major. When they requested nearly three hundred men and women to go to Afghanistan, she took it as a way out of Britain. When she arrived, she was demoted slightly to a Sergeant for a special team, but was still regarded as one of the most accomplished women in the British military service.
So here she was now. But, for one of the first times, Nikki Boston had not been paying attention, and one of her younger soldiers had spotted the remaining rebels in the city, and let off a shot which missed the opposition by a mile. Nikki gave him a cutthroat glare and hissed, 'Congratulations Jenkins, you just successfully gave away our location.'
The officer named Jenkins blushed ferociously, lowered his head in shame, and declared, 'Sorry ma'am. Saw a rogue ma'am. Thought it would be best to shoot ma'am.' Nikki let the corners of her thin lips curl into a quick grin which only Charlie saw.
'Come on then you lot, let's go. We can't just hang around like sitting ducks all day,' Nikki declared authoritatively, and very carefully, her little regiment got to their feet and began to slip out across the high ground before they entered the city itself. With eyes like an eagle, and a voice sharper than nails screeching across a chalkboard, Nikki directed her team across the plains of dust. They were almost completely silent, like deadly assassins, and the only sound that could be heard (and this was at short range anyway) was the heavy breathing of the youngest soldier here, Officer Connors. At just nineteen years old, Nikki was determined to get him home at all costs.
Charlie, her second in command on this mission, had gone racing ahead to check if the coast was clear. Two years ago, Nikki tried and then gave up trying to order her around and keep her in line. She back chatted some of the highest ranking Officers in the military, and was a bit of a nuisance. The only reason she was really still here was because she was the best shot Britain had seen for around twenty years. Suddenly, Charlie's heavy footsteps halted, and her worried voice called out, 'Hey Nicks, I think you're going to need that extra bullet.'
Quietly and professionally, Nikki brought the rest of her team forwards to where Charlie was standing, her gun standing out against the plains, in front of her chest in a loaded position. Nikki ordered everyone to do the same. The rebels seemed to have scarpered at Charlie's beckon, probably realizing they were in trouble. But as Nikki got the update from Charlie, she knew that she was in trouble as well. There were approximately twelve of them, meaning they were half the number of the opposition.
With a deep breath in, Nikki took the first step into the abandoned city and began stalking around, gun in outstretched hands, her steps careful and precise, making sure she was not clumsily stumbling around. The tension mounting through the atmosphere was horrific, and with every turn, Nikki's stomach sank. The city may be tiny, but looking for twelve people was like looking for a green bean in a haystack (slightly bigger than the chances of finding a pin in there anyway). Behind her, she was glad to hear her team were branching out as well, with Charlie covering her back.
The time seemed to drag, but as the sun began to intensify, and Nikki's hands relaxed on her gun, she knew that their search today was going to be completely fruitless. Charlie was sending through a steady stream of information about their surroundings as they delved even deeper in the ghost town. The place was eerie, and almost frightening. But that was one word Nikki never used. She wasn't afraid of anything anymore.
After about an hour, Nikki finally dropped her gun to her side and turned around to face Charlie, stating they should get back to the barracks. With her team only a few metres away, round a few blocks and corners, Nikki was relieved to see everyone was still intact. Before she could issue her orders however, twelve men, faces masked, stepped into the square. Guns raised, each side waited for the other to go first.
Evidently, they didn't want to wait.
The moment the bullet was released, the noise made her ears ring. Before she could stop it, the bullet of steel delved deep into Charlie's chest, speeding right through her body armour, breaking through as if it were just cotton wool. The rest of the team turned on the twelve men, Jenkins taking down two instantly, and Connors another one. The bullets springing through the air broke the tension, and the yells of both English and Pashto screeched through the entire place. The gunfire was unnecessarily loud, and after shooting at the man who had done so to Charlie, Nikki took her place as Sergeant and dropped down next to Charlie.
You know when you've been reading inside a car, and after a few minutes you begin to feel sick so you try and open the window? Just to get some fresh air to settle your stomach? But then it's raining, and it comes pouring into the car so your parents yell to close it or the seats will get wet, and all you can settle for is looking outside. And then, when you try, the rain is falling so thick and fast down the glass panes that you can't even see outside; your vision is all blurred and you just feel so dizzy.
Well, that's exactly how she feels right now anyway.
The woman was trying to clot the bleeding, but it was clear the moment Nikki saw the wound that there was nothing anyone could do. Whilst the battle fire continued, Nikki heaved Charlie's body into her lap, and grabbed her hand. Charlie was probably her best friend – really her only friend – since she joined the army. As she coughed violently, the dust from the ground seeping into her nose, blood began to stream viciously from her stomach womb. She found Nikki's eyes, and managed a small grimace of pain.
'Whatever you do, don't leave me here,' Charlie whispered desperately, gripping Nikki's hand with all the strength she had left, 'I don't want to be sent home as a mangled piece of flesh. My kids can't see that.' Tears which Nikki tried to barricade poured slowly down her cheeks, dripping onto Charlie's, and the blonde smirked a little.
'Nikki Boston, crying over me dying, never thought I'd see the day.' It would have been funny, had her voice not hitched at the end, with a cry of pain echoing from her cracked lips.
Nikki shook her head, her ears blocking out any sound from outside of their little bubble. 'Don't say that Charlie,' she whispered anxiously, trying to work up a smile, 'You've got to get home. Come on; Adam needs you, Tilly and Sofia need their mother.' Nikki gripped her hand, sniffing back tears as they fell continuously down her face. She brushed some of Charlie's hair from her face, but Charlie didn't reply, just kept on breathing shallow breaths. She had only seconds left.
'Nicks, promise me this,' Charlie breathed out, so quietly Nikki almost didn't catch it. Nikki nodded furiously, trying to prevent herself from sobbing out loud. People had died in her care before, but not Charlie. She couldn't lose Charlie. 'Find yourself a decent bloke when you get out of here.' Nikki gave a small smile and laughed softly. 'I promise.'
Charlie smiled up at her, her blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. Then the grip of Nikki's hand died, the spark faded, and her eyes glossed over, having looking up at the sky for the last time. 'I promised I would you get you home safely,' Nikki whispered, carefully depositing the girl's body on the floor, her combat clothes stained with blood, sweat and tears, 'And now you're going home. You're safe now.' She pressed a light kiss to Charlie's forehead, and stood to her feet, completely forgetting the whole battle thing going on.
Eleven were dead, on the rebels' side, but one had completely disappeared. Nikki looked around at the massacre, and then at Charlie's small body. The whole ground seemed to be bleeding, red seeping through the dust. The stench of death overpowered her and before one of her little troop could comfort her, she said clearly, restraining tears from her voice, 'Take her body back to the barracks.'
Every man nodded, and moved to collect their fallen comrade's body. Connors however looked pointedly behind Nikki, and was about to yell a warning before a bullet went straight through his head, and someone grabbed Nikki roughly from behind, yanking her into a death grip. Nikki watched in despair as Connors fell to the ground, eyes glassy like Charlie, but before she could cry out, a strong arm wrapped around her neck and pressed the butt of a gun to her chin. She had been broken again, and hadn't been careful. But this time her baby boy wouldn't pay the price – she would.
'Senga yai kgula,' the man hissed menacingly, tightening his grip on Nikki's throat to the point where one more point of pressure would snap her neck. The words sent shivers down her spine – hello gorgeous. She had no way of escape. She looked down at the ground, her feet now hanging limply in a pool of blood around her feet. It was Charlie's. And somehow, this gave her the anger and strength to keep herself alive. Because the mother had died as a result of her negligence, as had a nineteen year old boy. She had to get back to honour them. They couldn't just die for nothing.
Slowly lifting her foot up, Nikki kicked back into the shins of the main holding onto her. He grunted in pain, not having anticipated this, and before he could grab her again, Nikki kicked hard in his other shin, sending him a few centimetres back. She prised his fingers off her neck (the sound of crunching bones as she broke them off her neck) and kicked him defiantly in the stomach, sending him crashing to the ground. He didn't have time to beg for mercy before Nikki grabbed her bullet from her pocket, loaded her gun, and shot him directly in the face.
When she got back to the barracks, Sergeant Nikki Boston resigned, went back to England, to the life she hated so much, and trained to be an English teacher. She couldn't live like that anymore. Screw doing it forever. She would never, ever handle a gun again. Charlie and Connors were sufficiently commemorated, but she had failed them, just like she had failed herself.
Two words had sparked the memories which almost killed her. "Hello gorgeous" – it was like her trigger. Any man she had seen since coming back to England who had labelled her as or called her that had been dumped straight away. Her entire military years had been some of the best of her life, but the end of her army career had almost destroyed her. As Nikki reached the end of her reminiscent time, her knees began to give way as the stench of dead corpses and freshly split blood overpowered her, consuming her, dragging her down into the pits of hell. The man's face when she shot him and tore his skin and bones apart. She could vaguely hear Tom calling her name, and holding onto her, but soon enough, unconsciousness saved her from having to relive the moment her best friend died in her arms.