Author's Note: Hi everyone! I actually wanted to end this chapter at a later point in the story, but had to cut it back to keep it at a reasonable length for the first chapter, so please understand that I'll really get into the story in the next chapter. Hope you enjoy what I do have so far, and I will hopefully have the next chapter up by next month. Please feel free to leave any comments/critiques/questions!
"I have always thought the actions of man
the best interpreters of their thoughts."
- John Locke -
He now stood before them, stood tall with condescending power in the form of a tiny device in his hand. His choice of attire was laughably ironic—a ratty old jacket boasting admirable ranks from the U.S. Army and Air Force. The man had an odd sense of humor, at the very least.
Here he was now, no men to protect him, and no weapon to defend himself. And yet, neither Elliot nor Tyson could pull the triggers of the guns pointed straight at his head. Even as ruthless mercenaries, they couldn't let seven million people die because of one mistake. He knew how to play them. He knew that they needed an explanation for this violent enterprise he called the "40th Day Initiative".
A social experiment, he called it. One that, in his mind, was the only way of ridding the world of its inner beasts and put to rights the society of moral practice—the moral practice of honor and sacrifice.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Elliot growled. His trigger finger twitched impatiently.
Jonah Wade turned around with a glint in his eye.
"I release this trigger and seven million people die. Unless I give the order, my men will continue to execute civilians. But, if one of you is willing to show me sacrifice, I will order my men to pull out."
"What sacrifice?" Tyson knew they were playing right into his psychopathic hands, but what other choice did they have with so many lives at stake?
Jonah waited before he spoke, a smug smile subtly playing on the corner of his thin lips, seemingly enjoying the building tension in the room. "If one of you has the will to shoot the other, sacrifice your partner for the greater good, I will do as I said."
The bargain caught both men off-guard. The words hung there in heavy silence as they replayed them in their heads to try and make sense of it all. Neither could move, much less exchange a glance between each other.
Tyson racked his brain for a solution, a distraction, anything.
"How do you know I won't just shoot myself?"
Jonah chuckled darkly. "That's not a sacrifice. That's an exit. A cowardly one. And I assure you, it won't save those people out there."
Tyson kept his fiercely loathsome gaze steady with the madman's, but inside he was filled with sudden panic, an emotion that was all but foreign to him.
There was nothing else. Seven million lives destroyed in a matter of seconds with the single push of a button.
"You have ten seconds," he warned. "Or I make the decision for you."
The air became unbearably thick and heavy, and it became hard to breathe, much less think. The Glock clutched in both his clammy hands seemed to weigh down his arms, but he couldn't move.
"Fuck, just do it, Rios."
He flinched at the sound of Elliot's voice. "Shut up."
He felt the burden of this moral dilemma collapse onto his shoulders. There were only two options: kill Jonah, along with seven million innocent people, or kill his partner. His partner, who, he knew, was always aware that Tyson was the objective one, the more moral one of the pair. The final decision-maker. Time was running out.
And in that moment, knowing full well that he would hate himself for the rest of his life, the older man allowed himself to become completely detached from his emotions, only leaving the objective part of him that made him the reputable mercenary he was. All resolve turned to the outcome of the greater good, and if only just for this instant, nothing else mattered.
With a swift movement of his body, he turned to face his target, and a mechanical finger pulled the trigger.
A deafening bang, then a grunt, then the thud of a body hitting the ground.
A long second seemed to linger as the echoes of these unfitting sounds rang in his ears, not making sense in their context. Then the second passed, and he turned back to Jonah with the gun still held up.
"Give the order," he roared, "NOW!"
Unfurling a pleased sneer on his face, Jonah turned around to voice a command over one of the radios in the control center.
He spoke the last word, and Tyson couldn't hold back any longer. Before Jonah could meet his eyes again, he fired his gun with immaculate precision at the back of his skull.
Another body crumpled to the ground.
Time seemed to freeze for the moment. There was no movement, no sound, not even a breath. In the stillness, Tyson was hyperaware of his partner's body a few feet away, as still and stiff as his own.
Then a violent shudder ran through his body, freeing him of his rigidity. Still detached from himself, he dropped his gun and rushed to where Elliot lay in a growing pool of dark, fresh blood. He was disturbingly still, without even the rise of his chest to indicate any breathing.
A trembling hand reached out to place two fingers under Elliot's jaw line. He held his breath, concentrating on ignoring his own throbbing pulse and finding one under his fingers. No thoughts ran through his mind, only an empty chasm of numbness.
Seconds, minutes, hours could have gone by.
And then, there it was—weak and hesitant, but it was there. Unsteady beats just barely sustaining.
He sprang into action, and it was almost routine. Grab bandage roll from vest pocket. Analyze the damage: bullet straight into the upper ribs. Wrap bandage around wounded areas heavily enough to slow bleeding.
Then he oriented himself around Elliot's body and ripped apart his combat vest before placing blood-drenched palms against the center of his chest. With firm hands, he began pressing down rhythmically, one, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. Even with the muffled sound of Elliot's ribs cracking from the shattering impact of the bullet, his mind was only set on getting him to breathe.
Perspiration ran down his forehead, and with each pump, Tyson's mental state slowly began to seep back in, along with desperation and remorse. Desperation for bringing his partner back. Remorse as he realized he was trying to fix the damage that he himself inflicted.
"C'mon, Salem," he grunted. "Breathe, dammit, breathe!"
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two—
Suddenly Elliot jerked to life, gasping for breath and violently coughing up blood. Tyson froze mid-pump and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
"You're gonna be okay, man," he said, reassuring himself more than Elliot. He quickly propped him up against the line of computer monitors and turned back to the wound to lay more bandages over the messy bloodstained ones.
A disoriented Elliot opened his eyes and caught sight of the blood running down his side. "Shit, you actually got me," he slurred.
Tyson kept his eyes on his busy hands, unable to look up into his partner's eyes. "Elliot…"
He burst into drunken laughter, which turned into another bloody coughing fit.
"Jesus, calm down, Salem. You're in shock."
"Damn right I am," he croaked. "Just took one of your bullets, you'd think I'd be dead right now. Gettin' rusty there, Tyse." He grinned cheekily.
"You're right, I was aiming for your arm, you idiot."
Elliot groaned as his fractured ribs cracked under the heavy bandages, his face twisting with pain. "Well, aim better next time, buddy."
"'Next time'…" Tyson muttered.
He tightened the dressing on the wound and Elliot carefully exhaled a faltering breath. "What's the damage?"
Tyson was quiet for a moment before he answered. "Bullet clipped a few ribs under your arm—fractured some, too. That's all I know. We gotta find a hospital or a doctor or something."
He wrapped the last of the bandages over Elliot's wound and clapped him lightly on his shoulder. "Just… sit tight for a minute." He pushed himself up and wiped the blood off his hands on his pants.
Elliot sighed and closed his eyes. "Yeah."
"Hey," Tyson snapped as Elliot opened his eyes again. "Can't have you knocking out right now. Stay awake."
Checking one more time over his shoulder to make sure Elliot stayed conscious, Tyson walked towards the middle of the control center, where Jonah's body lay. With experienced eyes, he looked around, at the monitors, at the radios, anything that might be of importance.
The various screens stacked in disorder displayed nothing more than the streets of Shanghai, unchanged and still in one piece. Jonah's mercenaries seemed to be withdrawing and releasing civilians.
"What the hell happened?" Elliot asked.
"He did what he said he would."
"What?" He seemed to mull this over as Tyson continued his search.
He navigated through the computer, not exactly sure what he was looking for. He came across a single file simply named "40". Deciding against checking it right now, he moved the file into a flash drive already attached to the laptop and stashed it in his pocket.
"Then, what, you popped him?"
Tyson then directed his attention to the radios. There had to be a way to get in contact with someone who could get them out of there. He began testing each radio, checking for signals and waiting for a response to his unheard calls. He felt the frustration churning inside him. It was always Alice who got them out of whatever trouble they got themselves into; Alice who knew how to work all this technical shit; Alice who they needed right now.
In defeat, he grabbed Jonah's laptop and slammed it onto the table, crushing it.
He leaned against the table with his hands on the edge, composing himself, when he heard a bellowing "FUCK" from behind him. He whirled around to see Elliot trying to get up, clutching his side.
"Goddammit, not even for five fucking minutes," Tyson growled as he scrambled back to him. "Sit DOWN, you idiot."
"Rios, I can't just sit with my thumbs up my ass over here." As he spoke, he let himself fall back against the monitors, grunting in pain and breathing ragged breaths. "We gotta get out of here. I fucking hate this place."
"Yeah, I hear you." Tyson rubbed his eyes with one hand, contemplating a different plan. "Alright, we gotta go back. We'll figure things out when we get there."
"The wharves. There were ships there that we can check out. See if anything's there." He looked at Elliot. "Maybe you oughta stay here while I go check it out."
Elliot looked at him as if he was crazy. "No can do. I'm not staying here any longer than you are."
Tyson exploded. "For fuck's sake, you've been shot! I fucking shot you, Elliot—don't you get that? This isn't like other times, slapping a patch on with a blast of morphine and walking back out." He pointed at Elliot's already bloody bandages. "That was a point-blank shot; the bullet's still lodged in your goddamn ribs—fractured it, even. Hell if I know how bad it really is. So just relax for a minute, or God help me, I'll sedate you myself!"
Elliot waited patiently until Tyson finished barking at him. "Hey, man. I get it. You shot me, you feel guilty, whatever. You did what you had to do, okay? I don't blame you. Just get me the hell out of here. I ain't dying in a goddamn temple."