Warning: contains gore and OC death.
Note: I wanted to try something completely different for once and I decided to keep up one POV all the time.
Lots of hugs and credits for eight_of_heart for test reading and doing corrections! You're awesome. :)
Romantically Apocalyptic and all the characters belong to Alexiuss
A sting in the shoulder and another in the side of his leg – tiny but effective – and the sniper lost sentience over his body and collapsed.
Swirling colors of dark red and orange morphed into the flames of a furious conflagration raging on around him as he woke up on the tiled floor of a gigantic laboratory.
Swift footsteps became louder as somebody approached him and stopped by his side, roughly grabbing him by the shoulders.
"Charles, get up! We need to hurry, now!" Engie demanded, and shook him.
"What happened?" Snippy wanted to know, feeling the dizziness fade as he sat up and looked at him.
"There's no time for long explanations now. Come on, we need to get going!" Engie urged, and helped the man up, motioning for him to run along. "That thing is after us because Captain opened the-"
His voice was drowned out by a fierce, ear-splitting roar, and by the way he winced, Snippy could tell how terrified Engie was. But the fear only motivated them to run faster.
At the end of the room there was a small iron door, held up by Pilot for them to pass.
"Hurry up you slugs! It's going to blast this pla-"
Another roar sounded through the hall.
Snippy and Engie leaped through the doorway and Pilot quickly slammed it shut behind them.
"It almost got us because you were so slow!" he nagged, and the ground shook under heavy footsteps for a few seconds.
The edges of the door ominously glared in bright, burning orange and the group backed away. From safety they watched as the metal melted slightly, become malleable under the heat of the fire.
"Pilot, where's Captain?" Snippy abruptly asked after noticing their leader's suspicious absence.
Pilot winced and took a step back, raising his arms in a strange gesture as if he wanted to show them something.
"We ran from the fire spitting monster together and then... he was gone! I searched every corner, but I couldn't find him anymore. I don't understand why he would choose a different path. Why would he abandon his minions? Have I been a bad minion? Does he felt disappointed somehow? I just don't know what went wrong..."
Pilot just stood there, looking to the ground in despair with his green tinted pilot goggles.
"Captain might be still in there!" Snippy exclaimed, clenching his fists. "Maybe he is in danger. We can't just leave him behind!"
He yanked on the door knob but instantly pulled his hand back as the material of his gauntlet stuck to the searing hot metal. Quickly patting out the embers he realized the holes that were burned into it, as he looked down on his glove in frustration.
"Charles, knock it off!" Engie yelled at him and rudely pulled him back to talk to him face to face. "It's no use staying here any longer. The door is clearly sealed; we need to find another way to reach Captain, where ever he may be right now. I'm sure he's gotten outta this safely somehow."
"But what if..." Snippy started, struggling with worry.
Though he had to admit... he'd never seen anything bad happen to Captain, no matter how harsh the situation was.
Captain is Captain, he always finds a way. It wouldn't be that foolish to believe Gromov's words for now, he finally thought.
"Alright. Let's go," he said but as he turned, he noticed that Pilot was no longer where he had stood just seconds ago.
"Wait- where did Pilot go?" Engie had noticed as well, and searched the room for the man with the green tinted goggles, seemingly just as alarmed as Snippy.
As they heard the sound of his voice coming from the other end of the hallway, the two exchanged a quick glance and hurried through the door that had been left open.
An enormous hall awaited them on the other side, seeming to be a special garage to store something big. After inspecting his surroundings for a bit, Snippy finally found out what it was for.
A gigantic, white plane towered over everything else in the room, so glorious and magnificent that it left no space for wishes open. Just in front of it stood Pilot, staring up in fascination at the marvelous flying machine.
"Woooah..." he breathed.
It's been countless years since Snippy had last seen a plane, especially one in such a great condition.
"Mission... accomplished!" Pilot joyfully yelled out with all he'd got. "I found a flying machine for Captain! He will be so proud of me when he sees it!"
He ran with outstretched arms to the big wheel below the enormous body of the plane and hugged it.
Engie's interest in the vehicle seemed to have awoken now as well and he started curiously inspecting it from the outside, taking a walk around it.
"Mr. Snippy!" Pilot said, thrilled about his find. "Do you see this beauty? Soon we'll be flying through the sky and over the dark clouds! We're going to see blue skies and real sunlight again when I fly us all away from here, out of the city! I promise, this time, the flight will be safe. Because this is what I live for... to fly again is my dream... and it is really coming true! Can you believe it? No dirty shoe can stop me now!"
He cheered and stretched his arms to dash around again, playfully talking to himself every now and then.
Pilot might be a bit annoying and childish sometimes, but for the first time in a while, Snippy felt glad to have him in their group. Upon that thought he smiled happily, unnoticeable behind his mask.
Thanks to Pilot they had finally found a way to get out of this devastated city. Even though the aviator had lost some of his memory, Snippy had faith in him. After all, he had flown a few planes in his life before and seemed pretty confident about himself.
Engie came trotting over to the daydreaming sniper, almost tripping over his own feet in the process before he stopped next to him. Snippy gazed at him for a second then continued staring up at the plane.
"This is truly amazing," the engineer started talking. "That plane is still fully intact and looks flawless from any direction. You don't know how lucky we are!" He paused for a moment.
"I wonder if we'll find Seven. Guess our Pilot won't start the machine before we fetch him back. But that's fine, because I don't want to leave without him either. I have a sense that he survived, so don't worry about leaving him behind too much. He's Captain, after all. He'll be fine."
"I guess you're right..."
Engie gave Snippy a pat on the back, and finally looked over to Pilot. Joyful as always, he still ran about before he sat down just below the left wing to catch his breath.
Snippy's eyes trailed up the wing towards a strange movement he suddenly noticed inside the turbine.
"What..." Snippy exhaled as he saw the fan moving slowly.
At first he believed that a breeze had brought it into motion, but it gained speed suspiciously fast and as he realized the danger, his heart started rushing.
Engie had just caught wind of the situation and shouted out, suddenly horrified.
"Holy shit! Pilot, get away from there, fast!"
With the wind growing stronger, his message seemed to have been lost in the low pitched, strong sound of the massive turbine, and he frantically waved his arms at Pilot.
As Pilot finally realized the danger, he quickly got up and tried to move away from the wing, fighting against the strong air draft. He leaned forwards and reached out his arms, as if he were to grab someone's hands to hold on to – someone who wasn't there.
"I have to get him out of there!" Snippy told the engineer, and made to dash forward. A hand grabbed hold of his arm and abruptly yanked him back with a painful jolt that almost dislocated his shoulder.
"No Charles, stop! Don't get any closer to the turbine!" Engie warned him and struggled to hold him back.
Pilot defied the strong wind with all he had and stopped moving as the force became too intense.
The sniper desperately tried to free himself, but Engie didn't intend to let go, tightly gripping Snippy's arms in his. There was nothing that the blue-eyed man could do now other than helplessly watching the terrible scenario taking place.
Horror-stricken he watched how Pilot's feet lost their grip and the air draft forced him to stumble backwards. At one point the power of the draft had gotten too strong for him to resist any further, and it finally lifted and dragged the man from the ground, sucking him into the turbine with a horrible crunching sound.
"Nooo, Pilot!" Snippy cried out in horror and kept staring, still restrained by Engie, who just looked away, unable to bear the terrible sight anymore.
"Pilot!" he shouted again, trying to fight himself free, but his fellow wouldn't let loose by any means.
An unbearable silence followed, leaving the still rotating fan as the only source of noise in the air.
"Why him... he didn't deserve this..." the sniper mourned the loss and sniffed.
He finally stopped struggling as the turbines inexplicably started losing speed.
Still finding it hard to believe and to accept the situation, he couldn't move his eyes from the mess of blood and pieces that were scattered all over the floor.
As the engines finally stopped moving, Gromov let go of him and together they slowly approached the plane, coming to a halt below the enormous wing.
So much red on the floor...
Though there was a green spot in the middle of it that had caught the sniper's attention, so he shuffled closer, curious to find out what it was. It appeared to be a part of Pilot's mask, so he picked it up and stared at it blankly.
Empty, green lenses looked up to him with that innocent, curious look he had seen on Pilot so many times before.
"Mr. Snippy, why is the sky so gray? I remember it having all kind of colors." "Hey Snippy, it is snowing! Do you think snowflakes have feelings?" "Mr. Snippy, come over here, Captain and I have a surprise for you! Come on, hurry up, or you will never find out!" "Mr. Snippy, why do you look so sad? Why don't you want to play anymore?", he remembered Pilot saying as he looked down at the mask.
He softly hugged it, breathing out a whisper.
"May your soul return to the sky and find solace. Rest in peace, my friend."
He decided that it would be the best to take the mask with him and give it to Captain, once he found him.
Once he turned back to Engie, he noticed him staring up at the cockpit.
"Gromov..." Snippy said as he slowly paced over to him. "Something here isn't right. We should just leave this place and go find Captain."
"No Charles. I need to find out who started the turbines. Whoever it is, I'll give him hell," Engie threatened and gazed at the stair wagon, leading up to the plane. "He must still be in there. Come, let's not waste time."
Still in shock from the tragic happening, Snippy just allowed Engie to pull him along and didn't even try to resist. Without further ado they took the stairs, but were wary as they entered the passenger aisle. Nobody seemed to be hiding under the seats, so they moved on through a few transition cabins with doors. Finally the two stood at the door leading to the very front cabin of the plane – the cockpit.
"Quickly Charles, ready your rifle. We must take everything into account," he heard the engineer say.
Snippy half-heartedly swung the weapon off his back and as he looked down on it, he caught sight of Pilot's mask again, which he previously had attached to his belt.
How is vengeance going to help us now... It won't bring you back to life, the sniper thought, feeling too distressed to take on a fight right now.
No. Stop it. Being sad isn't going to help either. I shouldn't let my feelings keep me from doing my job, he suddenly thought. Gritting his teeth, he tried to keep a clear head and suppressed the dramatic, horrifying pictures in his mind. It would be the best way to deal with them for now.
With a nod he let his partner know that he was ready, and Engie kicked the door open.
The engineer stepped inside the empty room and leaned over the seat to take a look out of the window, but there was nobody to be seen.
"You look as handsome as always, my lovely administrator," came from the corner behind the door.
Snippy saw blue light shine down on Engie's back, who froze in place as he heard it.
"That voice..." the engineer gasped and turned around, looking it straight in the eye.
"How is this thing is still alive?" Snippy scolded, memories of his work days in the past coming back to him. He had instantly recognized the ANNET drone from his life before the nuclear fallout, and suddenly started feeling nervous as it focused him, moving its lens suspiciously.
"I see you've brought a friend with you, my love. Why don't we all play a little game together? I'm sure it will be fun."
"I'm sick of your games, Annie. How many more hunter-exterminator drones are you going to send looking for me? I wish you'd gone under with the rest when the world ended," the administrator growled.
"Oh my love... Things could be so easy for both of us if you would just cooperate and connect with me. But you leave me no choice. I promise, I'll find a way to break through your administrator rights and terminate you for good," ANNET said.
Engie gulped and nervously shuffled backwards, maintaining eye contact with the drone as he pushed Snippy through the door behind him and grabbed the knob.
"Trying to leave in silence? That's not a nice way to say goodbye. Prepare for punishment..." the hovering ball said.
The engineer slammed the door shut and pulled Snippy with him. "Run Charles! She can't break through my admin rights for now, but I'm sure she won't hesitate to kill you!", he shouted anxiously as they ran through the aisles.
Snippy felt the fear crawling up his back as the door behind them was blasted away with a loud bang, which only motivated them to run faster. To buy some time he made sure to shut every door behind them thoroughly.
The ground trembled under the devastating explosions.
"There... the exit!" Snippy indicated and literally jumped down the stairs with big leaps, always taking up to three steps at once. Engie followed and even though he was much slower than him, they soon reached safe grounds.
"What now?" Snippy asked, expecting a good plan to follow.
"She'll be here soon. We have to keep moving."
They exchanged a short gaze before they started running towards a small wooden door leading back into the inside of the building.
"Stop hiding, you two. I'll find you anyway through my organics sensor!" sounded from the distance.
Snippy stopped all of a sudden and the engineer quickly turned to him.
"What's the matter?" he asked hurriedly.
"She won't have trouble passing that door. Maybe I should try to stop her with my gun," the sniper suggested.
"Impossible. Since these drones were once meant to be used as spies in war, I personally made them bullet-proof," Engie informed him with regret in his voice, before he opened the door for Snippy and they passed through. "Only a cup of hot beverage can destroy her now, I guess," he admitted with a faint smile and paused.
"There has to be a way to turn her off..." Snippy continued, unwilling to give up yet.
"Just stay out of this, Charles," the engineer said as they walked. "All she wants is to see me dead. I really don't want to pull you into this."
"Gromov..." Snippy started, but missed the chance to continue.
They heard a crash as the wooden door they had passed just seconds ago splintered into pieces.
"Quickly!" the copper eyed man whispered and pushed Snippy into one of the metal lockers that were lined up along the corridor. As he found out that all the others but this one were locked, he squeezed himself inside too and shut the door.
"Are you sure she won't find us here? This seems like a pretty dumb idea..." Snippy questioned in a whisper, huddled close to Engie in an awkward squatting position. He felt a shoe on his lap and the thick jacket of his colleague was blocking his sight.
"These lockers are made of a certain mix of materials that includes a lot of aluminum," the engineer explained silently. "It will disturb her signal and shield us."
"Ahh... but what if-" he started but Engie shushed him.
"My love, where are you hiding this time? Come out, so my hunter-exterminator drone can give you and your friend a big kiss! Don't be shy," the voice of ANNET spoke to them.
They held their breath as the hovering ball passed their locker.
By peering out of a few small holes in the door, Snippy watched her depart for the second level.
"She is gone. But why was this drone here in the first place?" Snippy wanted to know.
Engie opened the door and freed them from their uncomfortable position, before he began to explain his theory.
"Okay listen... I haven't told you the whole story," he began. "This place is one of the military points I assigned drones to for spying on possibly hostile nations, before ANNET went insane. In that case, there should be a control room somewhere in this building, most likely in the cellar. We'll be able to tell their location when we arrive there."
The copper eyed man started walking further inside and his colleague just followed him.
"Wait... so there are more of them here?" Snippy asked, not quite following the explanation.
Engie just nodded.
They walked through a door and took the stairs down into another hallway, where the lights came from small windows in the top edges of the wall and were replaced by fluorescent light farther away.
As they walked, the sniper continued bombarding him with questions.
"So if we go in there, would there be a possibility to turn ANNET off from there?"
"Not exactly. As you see, not even the nuclear bombardment could eliminate ANNET. But we can probably disconnect her drones if we turn the generator in this building off and cut the power supply line for the signal tower they are connecting to the server with," Gromov explained.
"However... that generator room will probably not be easy to enter. In the moment ANNET started to see the humans as a threat, she built up an automatic, mechanical system to protect her generators from any organic being. That's why it's almost impossible to turn one of them off."
The two swiftly passed through the metal door that lay at the end of the hallway and entered the strange room that lay ahead.
One side of it was covered with lots of screens and a tiny computer, illuminating the room as the only source of light and showing the location of the drones assigned to this stronghold.
"Hey... how come there are working computers here?" Snippy asked in confusion.
"This place is like a bunker. It has a generator that supplies these computers and the tower the drones are connected to with power. If it shuts down, they will disconnect and shut down too," Engie explained, and sat down at the computer. "Now give me a moment to hack into the system. I'll see if I can deactivate Annie's trap system that lays ahead on the way to the generator, so we can pass."
There wasn't much for Charles to do right now to make himself useful, so he remained standing in front of the screens and watched the world through the eyes of the drones, sighing of boredom every now and then while he waited patiently for his partner to make progress.
He sure is a genius, even if he can barely defend himself in open combat. But that doesn't matter, as long as he always finds a way to outsmart his enemies and get away, Snippy thought.
"Alright. I hacked it and successfully deactivated every single trap that lies ahead. The way should be safe now. Let's go and shut it down," Engie said confidently.
"Wait... look at these", Snippy said in a stern tone and pointed at one of the screens. "I think a few of them are on their way here, including the one we just met. She must have sent them after us!"
"That doesn't matter. We'll be at the generator in no time. From there on it's gonna be a piece of cake to deal with the drones," he reassured with a smile and hovered over to a round gate, where he pressed a square-shaped button on the wall, which opened the gate in a complex way.
On their way they passed through two smaller and completely empty rooms that were separated by fireproof doors. As they walked, Snippy noticed many holes and strange mechanisms in the walls, ceiling and on the floor, seemingly existing for the sole purpose of allowing the traps to emerge if something dared to activate them. They made the two rooms look a little bit different from each other.
"Don't worry... I've shut them all off. It's safe to pass," Gromov said.
"Stop thinking I'm scared! You're the one who's always scared when we wander through the streets of the wasteland,",the sniper grumbled, crossing his arms.
"What? I didn't even mean to offend you!", the engineer said and punched the other one's shoulder.
"Oww! Alright alright... I'm taking it back!" he finally said.
Snippy wouldn't admit it aloud, but he was very grateful for the company. Not only because of how Engie had helped him get through the fortress, but also for simply having somebody around to talk with. It was bad enough that they had lost Pilot.
He bit his lip at the thought of his dead crew-mate.
Pilot... I wonder how Captain will react when I tell him, he thought sadly.
As they went through the second room and opened the door, they carefully strode into a big room that laid behind it and relatively bright, artificial light welcomed them. The two came to stop in the middle where they had full view of the gigantic machine protruding over them in its full pride with tons of thick cables and pipes leading away from it in every direction. The engines were in motion and moving cogwheels were visible on the outside.
"Wow... so this is the generator? It's huge...!", Snippy said, simply stunned by the view, and got a half-hearted "Yeah," from the engineer.
"Let's just turn it off quickly before they catch up," the copper-eyed man suggested and strode over to the big machine, Charles following.
All the cables leading to the walls were armored at the end and under high voltage – it would probably be a bad idea to damage them while trying to pull them out of the wall with force.
There were also no switches or buttons anywhere to be seen on the outside of the machine to turn it off somehow.
The one who designed this thing must have seen a high priority in keeping it running forever, Snippy thought.
Looking over to Gromov, he got the feeling that the man had found a better plan to deal with the problem. The engineer hastily fumbled along the sides and stopped as he found the notch of the big lid in the front side. Quickly he took a small crowbar from the pocket of his jacket, hooked into the notch and pushed against it full force.
The lock inside broke open with a clank and the lid opened wide, revealing a bunch of tangled up cables, wires, pipes and plugs in all kind of colors.
For a while Engie just looked up and down the mess, staying completely calm while taking his time to think things through.
Just what function do they all have? And how can he even keep a clear head in front of all these cables? How does he keep an overview over all that stuff? Snippy asked himself, unable to understand any of this.
"Hey Charles," the engineer finally said and made a gesture with his hand. "Lift me up."
"What... why would you...?"
"To change the position of these two cables up there. Maybe I can cause a short circuit," he explained and pointed up.
"Why don't you lift me up? After all you're heavier than me!" Snippy protested.
"But you're stronger, and I doubt you'd know what to do up there."
Damn... he's so right again.
"On a side note..." Engie continued. "Your gloves aren't made of the same material as mine. I'm afraid you might receive a deadly electric shock if something goes wrong."
Silence followed and after Snippy realized he had obviously lost the argument, he just stared at his partner.
"Okay fine, I'll do it," he huffed and hooked his hands together to create a ladder.
The engineer stepped on it, holding on to the stronger cables of the machine while climbing up to the sniper's shoulders. For a second Snippy thought they would both lose balance and fall over, but somehow it worked out and Engie stood on top of him, wobbling precariously and leaning against the generator with his hands.
"You alright down there?",he checked with the sniper, who just gave him a short "yeah".
"Okay then. I'll start now," was all he said before he began the operation.
After some jiggles and endlessly twiddling around up there, something started to sizzle ominously, followed by a crashing noise. Engie instinctively dodged, lost his balance and fell right off Snippy's shoulders with a thud. Worriedly the blue-eyed man moved to check on the engineer who just sat up on the ground, clasping his left ankle.
"Gromov! Are you hurt?" he inquired.
"I don't know... I think I just sprained my ankle," Engie said.
The lights in the room started flickering uncontrollably and the generator sizzled continuously.
"Looks like we managed to do something after all. Some of the wiring's burned through and the generator is slowly shutting down. It's not exactly what I planned, but I think it will do the job."
The engineer got up, took a few steps and fell, his ankle refusing to work the way it should.
"Yep, it's definitely sprained," Alexander stated with frustration.
Out of kindness, his fellow offered him a hand. Back to his feet his hand instantly got hold of Snippy's right shoulder to avoid falling again and they exchanged a short look.
"It's okay, I'll help you walk," the blue-eyed man let him know.
"I owe you one, Charles," he said and limped across the room with him.
As they passed through the first door, Snippy started to wonder what might have happened with the drones and why they hadn't caught up with them yet. Something seemed fishy about the whole situation, but he assumed that they naturally stayed away from these chambers, since nobody was allowed to enter them in the first place.
One more room to pass. But what could wait behind it? Were the drones really all shut down already, or are they waiting for our return? he wondered and opened the door to the second room.
As they nearly had reached the middle, a static noise sounded.
"I can see you, my dear Alexander. The game is over," a feminine robot voice announced.
Engie winced and Snippy looked around in confusion, trying to figure out where the voice had come from, but there were no drones around, just a small speaker somewhere in the top corner of the wall.
"A disturbance in my signal told me that something must have happened to my precious generator, and I can't connect to some of my drones anymore. Why did you do this to me? Don't think I'll let you get away this time. You are going to pay for this and everything you did, once and for all. I've already set up everything necessary for your execution, and you're just where I want you to be now. Thank you so much for your cooperation in this matter. Goodbye, Dr. Alexander Gromov."
A clicking noise below their feet made Engie glance down at the unevenly holed ground for a second.
"No... did she just undo-"
As he realized what it was, he gasped, turning to his colleague.
"Get away from me, Charles!" he screamed out and viciously shoved the sniper away, who abruptly lost balance and fell to the ground.
Snippy winced as he heard the sound of moving cogwheels and chains underneath the ground that led up to a short, horrible slash sound as they shot from the walls and ground.
As he heard a short, pained cry, his mind made up horrible pictures in his head, but as he dared to look closer he realized that it was much worse than what he had expected and his stomach convulsed at the terrible sight.
Massive needles of solid steel that had come from every possible direction were spread through the centre of the room.
Blood splatters were smeared all over the ground, reflecting the light from above.
Somewhere in the middle of the mess stood Engie, coughing, panting shakily.
"No... Gromov!" Snippy cried out and rose to his feet. Copper eyes focused on him, before Engie collapsed and was caught by the needles that were stuck deep in his body.
Instantly the sniper grabbed the bars in his way and passed them to get closer to him, heart rushing wildly. As he arrived he could take a closer look at his comrade.
Only one of the deadly needles ran through below his right shoulder, the others gored the rest of his body, but none seemed to have managed to hit the zone around his heart and up.
Alexander had a hard time getting back up, but he pulled himself together.
"Undoing the deactivation of the traps as a way to kill me without the need to break through my admin privileges, huh... She really got me this time..." the trapped engineer said with frustration and groaned, cringing in agony as more blood poured down on the ground.
"Shh...", the blue-eyed man soothed him while he reached out to nudge the fur lined hood back and gently removed the face gear to make breathing easier for Gromov. He had seen his face a few times before, but it never looked this pale.
"It is no use... My body is a wreck. I'm going to die here," the man muttered.
The low, delicate sound of blood dripping to the tile floor and the laborious panting filled the room with a bitter sensation.
"So now you're going to leave too..." the sniper said in a broken voice and gazed down at the green mask on his belt, then over to the orange shades in his hand.
The engineer started coughing and threw up some blood, then continued fighting for breath.
"I know it is a horrible last wish to ask for from a team mate, but..." he said with weak voice. "Please end this and finish me off."
Snippy's heart jumped.
"What? No! Don't say that!" he cried out, appalled about his fellow's last wish. "I can't do that..."
Upon taking off his own face gear too, the sniper looked him in the eyes for a few seconds before turning his gaze to the floor in despair.
In all the time they had spent in Captain's group together, Gromov had become a friend to him, and now this friend had asked him to give him the bullet.
Another pained hiss came from the trapped engineer and as he caught himself again, he looked back up to the sniper.
"You know... If you're just gonna stand there and watch me die slowly, you're a real sadist, Charles," he said weakly and put up a strange grin, which the sniper could only categorize as either irony or pure madness.
"Face the fact that there is no chance for me to survive this." Engie's voice sounded very rough now, as he talked to him quietly. "Even if you would somehow manage to free me, I'd bleed out in an instant."
Knowing very well it wasn't true, he hated being called a sadist. By all means Snippy felt horrible being in this situation and being forced to do such a thing was mentally devastating. Seeing him like that tore his heart asunder and he hated to admit it, but Gromov was right. His own denial would only extend the agony unnecessarily, and he knew that he was the only one who could stop it now.
Slowly he took the rifle from his back and readied it, hands trembling fitfully.
"If that's your last wish, I'll do it," he finally said.
"Thank you, Charles...", Engie muttered and closed his eyes, as the rifle was brought in a position that would grant him a quick death.
"I'm so sorry it has to end like this..." the sniper muttered and sobbed. "Goodbye, my friend."
Heavy-heartedly he pulled the trigger.
After the loud bang, there was no return.
The rifle fell to the ground with a resounding clang, as Snippy dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands.
The gloomy silence was only interrupted by a few single sniffs.
"What have I done..."
The flickering lights finally died down completely, leaving him in darkness.
"Pilot, Gromov..." he muttered to himself, sobbing uncontrolledly. "I failed to protect them. It's all my fault..."
Feelings of guilt overwhelmed him mercilessly and he never imagined solitude could be so oppressive. While he sat there, time seemed to have lost its meaning and he just remained there, pondering in despair.
He noticed a warm glow suddenly lightening up the dark, but it left him unimpressed. If there was a place called hell, this would probably be it, and he felt like it was consuming him with every second. But he just didn't care anymore.
"Don't cry, mein Sniper..." a familiar voice soothingly said to him and he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Captain...?" he asked doubtfully and turned to see the man with the officer's hat and the loosely looped, red scarf.
A tiny oil lantern stood on the ground next to him, faintly lighting up the area around them.
A moment of silence passed before Snippy managed to pull himself together and even if his voice only came out quietly, he spoke up.
"Captain, something terrible happened. Pilot and Engie... I couldn't..."
"What happened? Where are they?" Captain asked, and got up.
The sniper didn't know how to put it in words. The mere thought of the past hours brought back the vivid, terrible pictures to his mind.
"It all happened so fast, and I failed to protect them... I'm so sorry!"
"They... died?" Captain said sternly.
After that he didn't move and just remained silent, staring at the sniper intensely with ominously glowing purple lenses, the little flame nearby flickering wildly. An ominous sensation hung in the air, and he didn't like it.
"Captain...?" Snippy asked tentatively and got to his feet, staring back at him.
Looking closely, he noticed that the red scarf was no longer around the Captain's neck, and he felt alarmed.
"Captain, where is your scarf?"
As the sniper felt a sudden weight on his shoulders, he noticed a furious red glint from the corner of his eye.
He felt as it tightened around his neck and he panicked as it started to strangle him. Gasping and pulling, he desperately tried to get it off, but all his attempts were in vain. There was a strange sensation it emitted; it seemed like it had evolved an independent existence that inevitably craved for his blood.
Upon an angry, snake-like hiss the sniper felt teeth digging deep into the side of his neck, causing a severe hemorrhage.
He clutched the snake head with the intention to squash it enough to let go, but it felt hard like steel in his hand. Two more cobra heads appeared around him and sidled down, slowly wrapping around his body and legs.
"I am disappointed in you..." the Captain said and turned his back on him.
Snippy tried to say something, but the red cobra around his neck cut off his air supply in its tight grip.
All he could let out was a silent groan as another cobra bit him in the left arm, soon followed by one biting in his leg, greedily feeding on his blood like savage beasts.
"Captain... Help me!" he barely managed to press out, but the leader didn't seem to show interest in him anymore.
The wrap constricting his chest was so strong now that it felt like it would break his bones in only a matter of time. As his legs were compressed in a painful way, he fell down on his back, unable to move anymore.
The violent red mass seemed to constantly grow bigger as it mercilessly leeched the last bits of life energy that was left in his body, and it formed a gigantic spear looming above his chest.
Head tilted to the side he tried to scream his name, but his voice only allowed him a silent groan.
Upon freeing his hand he reached out to his leader one last time, watching him walk away without looking back.
Scorching pain shot through him in the moment the red spear gored his chest, rupturing everything on the inside beyond a chance to ever heal again. When his body gave in to the pain and he couldn't feel anymore, the light around him finally faded to black.
Somewhere in an other place, Snippy awoke abruptly and sat up, panting heavily. Clutching the area around his pained heart he searched his body for grievous wounds, only to end up finding none.
Night was falling.
He still remembered everything clearly, but the fact that he could by no means remember going to sleep here unsettled him.
As he looked down and saw Pilot's mask laying on the ground just by the couch he laid on, he yelped, jumping up with rushing heart, eyes wide open. Seeing it made something snap inside him and he lost it. There was an unbearable feeling that strangled him from the inside, taking away his breath.
Hearing the wood creak under slow footsteps, he took hold of the kitchen knife that lay on the table just in front of him and pointed it to the person who approached him from the trappy shadows. Tension hung in the air, and he felt it growing with every step.
"Put down that sharp knife, mein sniper," the figure said and came to stop in the gloomy light coming from the window, finally revealing his full self. "You're only gonna get hurt again."
Captain wore his red scarf around his neck again and Snippy swore he could see an aggressive red glint in it. Backing away in panic, he kept the knife up, clutching the metal shaft with trembling hands, breathing harshly. As he stumbled into somebody behind him, he startled and turned around in a matter of milliseconds, pointing the glinting sharp blade right at the person who stood there.
Something suddenly brought him to lower his arms, and he lost the tension in his grip. The knife fell to the floor with a clank as he saw him standing there in front of him, safe and sound.
"Gromov?" he asked disbelievingly.
"What's wrong with you, Charles..." the engineer scolded with a serious voice. "Why would you point that knife at Captain and I?"
In relief he exhaled, but couldn't respond to the question because he didn't even know the answer himself. Snippy felt so confused right now.
Still trembling, he massaged his temples as he felt a dull headache forming and exhaustion made itself noticeable in his muscles.
"What happened... I don't even remember getting here," he muttered.
In that moment Pilot emerged behind Captain, fixing his mask and making strange grumbling noises in the process because it just wouldn't fit the way he wanted.
"Captain, I'm done with shaving. Why is everyone so quiet? Did that shoe say something bad again?" he asked, rudely pointing at Snippy.
"Mr. Engie, could I ask you to take care of Mr. Snippy? I think I'll need some tea," Captain said, waving around his mug. "Come, mein Pilot. We have missions to discuss."
"Yes, Sir!" Pilot exclaimed and followed him out of the room, leaving the other two back alone.
The engineer picked up the knife and ran his thumb over the blade, Snippy studying the moves of his hand curiously.
"So you don't remember anything? I guess I'll have to wise you up then..." Engie said and set the knife down on an old, wooden dresser.
"Please do," the sniper demanded and took a bottle of decontaminated water and two glasses with him as he walked over to the couch.
He took a seat, motioning Gromov to do the same and with a tired sigh the man sat himself down beside his blue-eyed colleague, watching him fill the glasses with water and take a sip from one.
"It was really strange when I saw it and I didn't know why somebody would do this," Engie started and took a glass now as well. "But it seems you've been narcotized by a tranquilizer gun."
"What... Why would someone use such a gun?" Snippy asked, pondering.
"I'm still wondering the same thing. They could have used regular bullets, but I guess that wouldn't have ended that well for you," Engie explained, placing the glass back on the table.
He unfolded his other hand and showed him two strange looking projectiles with injections and needles.
"These were stuck in your shoulder and leg, and they put you to sleep for quite a long time. I think it's been about 8-10 hours since it happened," he said and looked down at them. "When I saw them, I feared they contained some deadly substance like poison, but no symptoms of poisoning showed up on your skin..."
Upon that, the sniper stared at him with a suspicious look on his face.
"Don't think of me as a creeper now just because I watched you sleep! Captain friggin' told me to..." Engie spoke for himself. "It was just for observance."
"Okay..." the blue-eyed man grumbled, leading back to the topic. "But why did they shoot at me?"
"When Captain came here carrying you on his shoulder he just told me you got shot by a man in a white gown and his sneaky comrade. Apparently they only were after the bag of supplies you had with you, because they snagged it away right after you collapsed and left you lying there."
"Seriously...?" Snippy asked in a slightly angered tone. "That was so typical for him to just watch me getting assaulted and do nothing."
"Well at least he didn't bury you on the spot. It could have been worse."
"Oh come on..." the sniper ranted and gave him an ironic look. "It could always be worse."
"So tell me... What's worse than ending up dead?" Engie asked out of nowhere.
What was that? Why would he bring that up now? Snippy thought.
"I'm not afraid of death, if that's what you're implying. You see, with a little bit of bad luck, it could hit any of us, at any time," he said and thought back of the dream he had, seeing his colleagues die in front of his eyes. Churned up inside, he looked down to hide his distressed expression.
"You act like you're afraid of nothing," Engie scoffed. "Don't fool yourself, everyone is afraid of something, even if it's just a feeling, or something small and insignificant. It can be pretty much anything."
"Just a feeling, huh..." the sniper muttered to himself. The vivid pictures returned to his mind as he closed his eyes for a few seconds and he gritted his teeth at the brutality they showed him.
"Tell me one thing, Charles... What's your biggest fear?"
Snippy was more than certain about his answer, because it had been following him around for so many years and was probably the reason he still struggled to stay alive every day.
"There's not much left in this world that's worth fighting for. Captain, Pilot and you... You guys are my reason to live on and I think I couldn't forgive myself if anyone would die because of me..." he faltered, swallowing as the pictures from his nightmare swam back into his mind.
Beside him, Engie shifted. Merely thinking about it traumatized the sniper until it brought him to a point where talking became out of question. Fighting the fuss that was going on inside of him now, he looked down and sniffled once, cursing himself for letting his emotions become noticed.
Seeming to sense something was wrong, Engie moved closer to him on the couch.
"Hey..." he said soothingly, moving his arm around Snippy's shoulder and pulled him into a hug, gently stroking his shoulder. Gromov seemed to feel that this kind of contact was more than necessary, as the sniper's breaths finally slowed down a bit. Yet it took him a while before he could speak up again to add the final part of his answer.
"To lose my comrades... is my biggest fear. I saw it happen in my dream, and it felt horrible," he spoke, his voice finally back to normal, and he looked up, blankly staring into the distance.
"In the end, all you get is the bitter taste of solitude."
Thanks for reading.
Remember: Reviews are always welcome.