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We're All Soldiers Now [Story Thread]

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Spirits, Sep 17, 2018.

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  1. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    I'll hopefully update this thread frequently with new chapters.

    Ethan Jyung - @Oliiver
    Melody Harper - @GlowingLights
    Robyn Winchester - @HelloColdWorld
    Isaac Newton - @Wolfyy
    Minchi Juko - @Boriiii
    Blythe Sailynn - kimochi
    Adrian Fletcher - @Technoscrub
    Autumn Lloyd - @Hyrotis - KIA
    Sakura Naganohara - @Jack'O'Rann

    Isaac Newton, callsign Newt, hadn't been able to sleep at all, and he couldn't figure out why. He'd eaten last night's fill and felt totally relaxed. So why did he feel like there was something in the air about to drop on him? He was staring out of his window like he was waiting for a meteorite to crash in.
    Isaac's room was tidy. All of his papers were in one neat pile on his desk. He'd made his bed. Brushed his teeth. Everything a normal person with a normal life would normally do, in preparation for a normal day doing normal things. But there was something nagging him, something out of the blue. He felt its presence near him.

    "Sir," called a voice from behind. Newt whipped around to turn to the voice, eager for something to do, anything to take his mind off… whatever he thought he was thinking about. The voice belonged to a male, much younger than Newt himself. His name was Kiro Nakamura, but everyone just called him Kiro. His voice once again sounded like any normal person's, except his body was as different to everyone else. He was covered head to toe in metal and graphene circuits and armour, except for his face, on which he wore a metallic mask to cover his mouth and nose. The inscription on his armour on his right arm read the name キロ, which was his name in Japanese, his native tongue. And the centre of his chest bore a circular core, which glowed red.

    "Hello Kiro, how have you been?" Newt figured he'd start with the pleasantries. He hadn't talked to Kiro for a long time. He didn't have anything against the guy, but their relationship hadn't seemed to exist.
    "I'm fine sir, thank you."
    "You don't have to call me sir, Kiro. Newt will do."
    "Alright, Newt. There's a video call coming to our big screen." Kiro told him. Suddenly his voice had gotten a little smaller.
    Newt hesitated. "Who's calling…?" he asked slowly.
    "That's why I'm here," Kiro said monotonously. "I think you'd better come and see this for yourself."

    ~

    Centre of International Communications, or CIC for short. This was where all of the intel came from. Satellites, leaders from other countries, anything to get a lead on Michael Kratos. People were sitting at computers on the sides of the room, tapping their keyboards and making calls.

    Newt wasted no time. He burst into the room with large strides, with Kiro following behind. "Fletch," Newt called while walking up to the big screen. "put on the caller. And if it turns out to be who I think it is, trace the source of the call. Find out where he's hiding. The sooner we shut him down, the better."

    Adrian Fletcher, master hacker and comms expert, turned around to his keyboard and tapped his spacebar. Instantly, the room filled with the light of the screen, and in the screen was the man who was the reason that all of this tech, this entire society, existed. Michael Kratos.

    A shaved, slightly wrinkled face appeared, a face that Newt knew too well, and would have paid billions to forget. Lightning blue eyes, fringed brown hair, and a large red scar underneath his left eye. His expression was that of plain amusement, no anger or motivation. He directly faced Newt, with a small smile on his old face.

    "Isaac Newton," he said with a grand impression in his voice. "Twenty seven years old, and leader of the agency… what was it called again?"

    Newt had to take great care not to clench his fists. "Ark Angel." He muttered through gritted teeth.

    "Ah, yes, Ark Angel…" he mused. "…the bane of my existence. Ah, that reminds me. How's your predecessor as commander? What was the name… Wolf?"

    This time Newt actually did clench his fists. "What the hell do you want, Kratos?"

    "No time for formalities, eh?" Kratos frowned. "Nevermind. I just called to order Ark Angel to stand down."

    "Excuse me?"

    "You heard me, Newton. Every major organisation is out for my blood. And so far, yours is the only one who has actually posed a threat to my business. Now, I can't allow that to happen, so I'm asking you nicely to give up and go home."

    Newt could not believe what he was hearing. He almost laughed right to the gigantic face of Kratos. "You want me to give up?" he said challengingly, "After the progress we've made, you want us to pack up and go back to our families? Live the rest of our lives in your shadow?" Newt folded his arms. "Believe me, Kratos, I'd love to go back home. I have a family to live with. Friends to enjoy life with. And what am I doing? Risking my life to track down a drug lord and tyrant. I'm only here because of you, Michael. If you didn't exist, I could actually go out and lead an enjoyable life. I'm here because Wolf would want me to keep going. And I'm not stopping until I land a bullet in your forehead." Newt said flatly. He strode over to the central control panel and slammed his fist down on a large button. Instantly the large screen went to static and then blacked out.

    He whipped his head right around to Fletch. "You got his location?" he asked with no emotion.
    "Indeed I did," Fletch replied. "He's at the old castle site, somewhere near the south-east border. He's no doubt detected that someone's been tracking him, so I'm jamming all of their satellite signals and comms. They'll be down for at most an hour. You'd better get moving quickly."

    "Round up Mel and Robyn," he said in a louder voice. "we're going to pull off an assassination."
    Northwell Castle looked nothing like it was a millennium ago. The buildings and foundation were severely unstable and were known to spontaneously collapse, so they had closed off the site decades ago for the safety of the public. It was still breaking itself down, sometimes at night, you could hear part of the walls crashing into the ground. It was also known for having large areas of radiation. Years ago the nuclear bombs that caused the castle’s downfall had left patches of radioactive matter on the grass. Fatal.

    “Comms check. Fletch, do you copy?”

    “Roger that. Comms are up and running.”

    “Mel, Robyn, do you copy?”

    “Roger that.” They both said in unison.

    “Short briefing. We’ve got intel that Kratos is in hiding at the castle site, and we’re told that he’s receiving a supply of valuables in an hour. We’re gonna crash the deal.” Newt paused for a few seconds, then continued. “Robyn’s going to set up her rifle on the tallest tower, overlooking the courtyard where the transfer will happen. Mel and I are gonna hide nearby where we can’t be spotted. Robyn’s usual sniper rifle won’t have the range to hit Kratos from that distance, so she’s bringing a different one. This doesn’t have a suppressor so everyone here will know what happened the instant Kratos gets shot. When that happens, the place will be chaos. We’re gonna take out any resistance that we meet, and get us all out of there. Blythe’s on standby with a helicopter ready to take us out of here, she’s using callsign Guardian.”

    Newt got up from his prone position in the grass. He was wearing a ghillie suit which had blended in perfectly with the grass. Both Mel and Robyn were also wearing ghillies as they too started to get up.

    “Too much radiation, we’ll have to go around.” Newt said softly. “Follow me, and keep low.” The three ran silently to the east, near a small abandoned outhouse with shattered windows. One masked guard stood near the entrance, cigarette in one hand, an AK-47 in the other. He clearly hadn’t detected any movement or sound.

    “One by the shack,” Mel pointed out.

    “Robyn, you’re up. Use your suppressed rifle and take him out silently.” Newt hissed.

    Robyn slowly reached behind her back and clutched a large M21 sniper rifle, brought it to her eye and aimed the crosshair on the man’s head. A fraction of a second later, one dead corpse slumped to the ground, soundlessly. “Good, keep moving, stay low.” Newt ordered without delay.
    2 minutes later they came up to the walls of the castle. Newt quickly surveyed the area with his eyes. “Standby,” he held his hand up.

    Immediately Mel and Robyn hit the ground. “Two tangos by the main gate, and a lookout in the battlement above. No sudden movements, the lookout will notice.” He stared at the two by the gate. “Do you have a shot on the lookout, Robyn?”

    Robyn, with her telescopic sight mods, zoomed in on the battlement tower. It would be close, but Robyn could just about see the outline of his head.

    “Roger that.”

    “Standby, wait for my mark. After you take out the lookout, you have to take out the other two in quick succession. We can’t risk anyone raising the alarm.”

    “Roger.”

    Robyn readied her suppressed rifle and rested her crosshair on the edge of the lookout’s head.

    “Standby…”

    Robyn flicked off her safety.

    “Standby…”

    Rested her finger on the trigger.

    “Mark.”

    Robyn pulled the trigger a fraction of a second after she heard the order. Her suppressed bullet just about clipped the side of the guard’s head, and he went down. “Target neutralised.”

    “Okay, now for the other tangos.” Same routine. Robyn rested her crosshair on one guard and took him out silently while the other wasn’t looking. Two seconds later, his friend went down too.

    “Beautiful. Move out.”

    Soon they made their way to the gate of the tower where Robyn was to set up her weapon. There was one guard unaware of their presence, looking the other way. “Stand back,” Melody said. “this one’s mine.” She walked up slowly behind the guard while extracting her striped handgun from her belt holster.

    “Oi, Jack.” She hissed at the guard, before sticking him hard with the handle of her pistol. He crumpled to the ground immediately. “That’s how it’s done.”

    “Robyn, get to the top of the tower. Mel and I are gonna find a place to spy on the meeting. I’ll be in contact through comms. Mel, follow me.”
    ~
    “Robyn, the meeting is underway. It won’t be long until Kratos shows up."

    “Copy that, my weapon’s set up. We’ve got a problem though, the place is crawling with hostiles. Getting out of here won’t be easy.”

    Robyn zoomed in on the courtyard with her telescopic sight. She immediately took of a mental note of what she saw. Five military grade jeeps, possibly six. Two crates with a warning sign painted on it. It was anyone’s guess to what was inside, but Robyn assumed it was either money or weaponry. She spied a little red flag on top of one of the jeeps. That was good. She could use that to judge the wind speed and direction. Those were crucial elements for a snipe at such a distance. Robyn estimated she was about 400 metres away from the meeting. She turned her sight to the two jeeps furthest left. Her keen eyes spotted two leafy figures under the jeeps, both armed, one with a classic SCAR-H assault rifle, another with a green and blue striped pistol. “I’ve got you in my sights, Newt.”

    “Roger that.”

    Mel was closer to the deal than Newt. She kept her pistol in her right hand with the safety off, ready to pick off anybody at short notice. She almost yawned until she saw a large man come out of one of the jeeps. Large scar, permanent scowl. Their intel had been accurate. This was Kratos.

    “Be advised, I have a positive ID on Michael Kratos,” Mel spoke into her comms. “standby, and wait for Newt’s mark.”

    “Copy.”

    Newt spoke. “The wind’s getting choppy, Robyn. You’ll want to be careful.”

    Mel couldn’t see a lot under the jeep, but she could hear quite a few details. She heard the crate opening, and two men grunting as they supposedly held something heavy. Then she heard Kratos yelling in some other language that she couldn’t recognise, and the heavy slam of the crate’s lid.
    Robyn was looking through her sniper sights now. Kratos looked pretty ticked off, yelling at the other men and waving his arms around, forcefully shutting the crate. She’d clocked the flag on the jeep, it was strong wind pointing south-west, where Kratos was standing. Good. The wind would carry the bullet and hit harder. The harder, the better.

    Suddenly Kratos had changed his behaviour. He was no longer waving his arms around or shouting. He had put two fingers to his ear, and immediately he froze, completely still, and turned to look at the tower where Robyn was lying.

    She’d been spotted!

    “Newt, I’ve been compromised!” she said in a panicked voice.

    “TAKE THE SHOT!” Newt screamed. “TAKE THE BLOODY SHOT!”

    Robyn’s finger rushed to the trigger. She pulled back, and the shot discharged with a large booming noise, almost knocking Robyn back.

    The shot missed.
    "It's time to move!" Newt yelled as he got out from the car's underbelly and started laying down rounds on the men still looking around with confused faces. "Robyn, rappel your way down the tower to us, and I'll call in for exfil!"

    Robyn wasted no time. She hooked up her rappel rope to the railing and prepared to drop down, but her keen bionic eye made a decision that would save her life. She immediately went prone just as a sniper round zipped over her head into the cracked wall. "Counter sniper on me!" Robyn said through her microphone. "I can't get down before taking him out."

    "Well, Robyn, the logical thing to do then is TAKE THEM OUT! And keep him off our backs!" Newt was in a crouching stance firing away, and Mel had now gotten out from under her jeep and started blasting hostiles with her pistol, occasionally zipping up to them and slamming the butt of her gun into their faces.

    Robyn stood flat against the wall, her personal sniper in her hands. She formed a quick plan in her head. Whip around to the open window, while bringing her sights to her eye, and make a rough aim and hope for a body shot. It didn't matter if the sniper lived or died. Robyn just needed to disable him.

    There were a few problems with the plan, however. She could accidentally scrape her hand against the jagged brick wall. And of course, the sniper was waiting there for Robyn's head to peek out. She had to pull a fast shot. If she missed, it would be the last shot she would ever take.

    Time slowed down. Robyn started to sweat. She took a deep breath, and whirled her entire body to the window, whereas she had assumed, the sniper was lying in wait. In the little time she had to observe the target's position, she noticed that her enemy wasn't wearing armour. That would work in her favour, maybe she wouldn't even have to go for a disabling shot.
    She brought the sights to her eye. Lined up her crosshair with the target's body. She wasted no time. She took the shot, and saw a large splatter of blood erupt from the man's side. The whole process took maybe half a second.

    "Enemy neutralised, I'm heading down now." Robyn ran over to the window where she had set up her rappel rope before, and hooked herself up. Seconds later she was jumping down the wall of the tower, and soon made contact with the ground.

    "Mel, Robyn, follow me!" Newt stopped firing and sprinted to the nearest gate, with Mel's blazing speed in tail. Robyn switched her gun to assault rifle build, and ran up to her friends, while occasionally blasting at an enemy.

    "Cover me while I call in for exfil!" Newt said. Then he started shouting into his comms. "Guardian 1, this is Bravo Two Four, requesting evac, do you copy?"

    The comms were scratchy, and pilot Blythe's voice was cut off frequently and almost hurt his ears. "I hear ya, Two Four, but something's... Comms are… I need to know where to pick you up…"

    "Copy! Meet you at the secondary LZ! And get Fletch on the line!"
    "Roger that. On my way now, ETA 15 minutes." Newt waited for a few seconds, until a new voice came on. "Two Four, this is Fletch, what's going on?"

    "Comms are going haywire! What's up with the jammer?"

    "Standby, Two Four, I'll see what I can do."

    "Hurry it up, Fletch, we're taking heavy fire!" Newt had now continued firing along with Mel and Robyn.

    "Newt!" Mel shouted in the noise of the gunfire. "We can move into the apartment building there! Get to the high ground!"

    "Copy! Get into the building! We can lose them in there!" Newt ran into the building, with Mel and Robyn in pursuit. They ran up to the second floor, and out of the exit on the other side of the building, into a large garden.

    "Seems quiet." Mel said.

    "We're not out of here yet. Stay frosty."

    An eerie silence dropped on the three soldiers. There was no movement. Not at all. Everything was dead. "Watch yourself, it could well be an ambush." Newt warned.

    "What's that noise?" Robyn warned cautiously.

    Newt strained his ears. At first he couldn't hear a thing, but as seconds passed he heard a wooshing sound, and it was coming from the sky.

    Mel had recognised the threat before Newt did. "Enemy helo! Get behind cover!" she shouted. Suddenly the earth shook as a large attack helicopter armed with missile launchers and miniguns swung around the corner, looking directly towards them. Newt could tell its guns were warming up, ready to obliterate them.

    "We're in the open! There's no cover!" Newt yelled back. "Ground that chopper!"

    "Hang on! I'm lining up a shot!" Newt looked around and saw Robyn in a crouching stance, her sniper aimed directly at the cockpit. She was evidently struggling. The helicopter was rocking back and forth, meaning she couldn't get a precise shot on the pilot.

    "The rocket pods!" Mel shouted. "Hit the pods!"

    Without any notice, Robyn immediately switched her target to the larger missile pods on the left wing of the helicopter, and shot without hesitation. Immediately the left wing burst into flames and exploded, knocking Robyn once again flat on the floor. The helicopter was spinning out of control. She could almost see the pilot's panicked face as he tried to regain control of the helicopter. No luck. All he could do was scream as the vehicle spiralled randomly, until it finally gave up trying to take flight and fell in one direction.

    Robyn's direction.

    "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Robyn had to push Newt aside as she was rammed by 50 tons of metal.
    ~

    The smoke and dust cleared. Newt got shakily to his feet, in a coughing fit. For a few seconds he forgot who he was, what he was doing. Then it all came rushing back to him. Kratos. The failed assassination. The helicopter.

    Robyn!

    Newt immediately cleared his mind and ran towards the wreckage. It wasn't pretty at all. The frame of the helicopter had caught flames as had the rotors. He considered whispering Robyn's name in fear of being caught, then he remembered that they'd just brought a helicopter to the ground. Everyone would've heard the blast. That meant they were going to meet with much more resistance when they got out of here with Robyn.

    If they got out of there with Robyn.

    Newt settled on yelling her name. "Robyn!" he shouted. "Where the hell are you?!"

    Then he heard a woman's grunt and groan, and he looked a few metres in front of him where Robyn was crushed by the tail rotor. "Newt!" she called weakly. He ran over to her, and immediately attempted to lift up the rotor with a heavy grunt. It budged, but he wasn't strong enough. He needed more power.

    "Mel!" he yelled. "I need your help!" He continued trying to remove the metal beam from Robyn, and she almost shouted in pain as the pressure eased off her legs.

    "MEL!"

    Suddenly Newt heard little footsteps. Rapid footsteps. A second later Mel had whipped around the helicopter and saw Robyn trapped under the helicopter.

    "Oh God –" she started to say, but Newt cut her off.

    "No time. I need more strength to lift this up. Give me your neck."

    Mel reacted immediately. She knew exactly what Newt was going to do. She turned around facing away from Newt, so Newt could see the place where her spine connected with her skull. He placed his right index and middle finger on the back of Mel's neck, and his special ops glove glowed blue. Immediately Mel felt a little bit tired, but she knew that was supposed to happen. Newt removed his fingers and tried lifting the rotor again. Immediately he felt a surge of energy as he harnessed Mel's physical strength and moved the rotor away from Robyn, with a loud metallic creak.

    "Thanks for that, Mel." Newt nodded.

    "Glad I could help."

    "Robyn, you okay?" Newt asked, even though he knew that was a stupid question. Most of Robyn was still intact, but her legs had taken the brunt of the impact. They were bruised, bleeding, and Newt thought he could see her left thigh bend unnaturally far to the left.

    "I'll live." She attempted to stand, but consequently collapsed again with a gasp of pain. "My legs are messed up." she breathed. "I can't walk."

    Newt sighed. "Sorry mate," he said. "looks like I'll have to carry you."

    Newt slipped his left hand under Robyn's knees and his other around her torso, and made sure she was secure before walking towards the forest, with Mel in tow. "I'll have to put you down sometimes, if we come across any resistance." Newt told Robyn. "But I don't hear anyone else, and they'll all be gathering at the crash site, so I think we'll be okay."

    "I get you." Robyn replied. "Just put me down where I can get a clear shot on hostiles. And maybe check the status of our exfil."

    Newt nodded, and activated his mic. "Guardian 1, requesting immediate casevac. Our sniper's unable to walk, I'm having to carry her."

    His speaker burst to life, but he heard even more static and sound clipping. He just about identified the voice as Fletch's. "I read you, Two Four. Be advised, the enemy are using anti-jammers as well as cutting off our communication. Meaning they have comms, and we don't."

    "That might not be a problem, Guardian. We're almost at the LZ. You got an ETA?"

    "Two minutes. Guardian out." And with that, the connection cut off.

    "Listen up, Guardian's two minutes away. We have to hold this position until they get here. All unknowns are hostile, and shoot to kill."

    "You're keeping the SCAR, Newt?" Mel asked.

    "Nah. I'm out of ammo anyway." Newt unsheathed his favoured weapons: two knives with carvings. One with a fox, another with the wolf. "I'll stick with these." Newt liked his wolf knife, it reminded him of older days, with older friends…

    "Newt," Robyn said abruptly. "get me on that small mound. It's an easy place to pick off hostiles."

    "I get you. Let's go. Pick up the pace." Newt started walking a little faster with Robyn in his arms.

    The three burst into a clear space that seemed to resemble some sort of playground. There were two damaged poles at either end of a large stone slab embedded into the ground. "The mound. There." Robyn pointed at a small emerging near the wall. Newt carried her there, and placed her down gently. She breathed sharply, before exhaling and equipping her rifle. "It's possible we might not see anyone at all." She noted.

    "Don't betray yourself," Newt scolded. "keep watching the treeline."

    Newt's earpiece crackled to life again. "Bravo Two Four, this is Guardian. We're entering your airspace now. Prepare for extraction."

    "Copy that, Guardian. Make it quick. No one's appeared yet." Newt twirled his knives around his fingers, eager to leave. He was getting rowdy.

    "Patience, Newt." Robyn murmured. "Rushing will only make you a dead man."

    Suddenly Mel's voice cut into the conversation through earpiece. "Cut the chatter, I spy movement in the trees, 25 degrees North."

    "Guardian's 30 seconds out. Is it just one?" Newt asked.

    "Looks like it. Permission to silently engage?"

    "Negative. If there's more in there, you're done for. Better to wait for reinforcements."

    "Roger that."

    Newt could hear their helicopter whirring in the near distance. He hoped desperately it would arrive before they got into a fight.

    "Newt, there's more than one." Mel said. "I count at least seven." Over the earpiece Newt could hear the sound of Mel flicking her safety off.

    "Watch yourself, Mel." Newt could see the helicopter now, coming in from the West. It was so close...

    "Come on… be quicker…" he murmured under his breath. He'd hoped he would leave without a large battle, but perhaps that was too much to ask for.

    His thoughts were confirmed when he heard Mel scream through her comms. "I've been spotted!" she shrieked. "Engaging!" He heard familiar sounds of shots from Mel's pistol, and unfamiliar shots from assault rifles, although he couldn't tell what kind.

    "Robyn, watch the treeline for stragglers, I'm going to help Mel!"

    "Roger. Be careful."

    Newt whirled his knives to the front of his palms and sprinted incredibly fast with the power of his enhanced reflexes towards the trees where Mel had engaged in some intense combat. She was holding her own just fine, hitting accurate headshots and occasionally smacking noses with the gun. She was evidently struggling, though. More and more enemies just appeared from the trees.

    Newt readied his weapons as he talked to Blythe the pilot. "Guardian, be careful, the LZ is hot, you'd better be guns blazing." He met his first target, and finished him very quickly with a quick slash to the neck. He choked on his own blood as he crumpled to the ground.

    "I see ya, Two Four. Where d'you want me to hit ‘em?"

    "In the forest! Lots of hostiles in the forest!"

    "Copy. Engaging."

    "Mel, get out of the trees! Guardian's engaging!" Newt shouted as he stabbed another enemy in the chest. The two sprinted out of the treeline to where Robyn was laying down sniper shots on the trees. As Newt looked up to the sky, he saw the Sun was blocked by a colossal helicopter, complete with grenade launchers and Mark II miniguns, as well as automatic gatling guns near the front of the aircraft. These guns were the first to fire, with loud, rapid blasts they ripped down the entire treeline, and every hostile in the forest. It was all happening so quickly.

    "That's bloody outrageous, mate!" Newt yelled with a happy whoop.

    "All enemies neutralised. Load up." The chopper landed and the cargo door opened, where Fletch was waving inside the carrier. Newt ran over to Robyn to pick her up, and carried her to the door. He set her down gently on the seat, where Fletch immediately attended to her wounds. Newt looked at Robyn, deadly serious.

    "You saved my life back there, Robyn. I owe you big time." Newt saluted with the standard Ark Angel salute, his right index and middle finger waving off the right side of his head.

    "Damn right, you do." Robyn smiled at him.

    Newt walked up to the cockpit, where Blythe Sailynn was already priming the carrier for takeoff. "How'd the mission go?" she asked casually.
    Newt sighed regrettably. "Mission failed," he muttered. "we missed the fool."

    "We'll get him next time, no worries." Newt walked back into the main hold as Blythe got on to the radio back at base. "Ark Angel, this is Guardian 1. Mission failed, I repeat mission failed. Kratos is alive and well. Heading back to base now, ETA 30 minutes."
    “So we’re all aware that the planned assassination on Kratos was a bust.” Newt addressed to the rest of his team in the room. They were all paying close attention to his words. Kiro was gripping his sword like always, Ethan Jyung was twirling one of his ACP handguns around his finger. Blythe, the team’s pilot and mechanic, had her heavy pipe hanging from her belt. The rest of the team either had their hands in their pockets, or their arms folded.

    Fletch raised his hand. “We’re getting cocky,” he explained. “instead of going right after him, we need to cut off his supplies. Make sure his forces are weaker.”

    “I agree, wholeheartedly.” Newt nodded. “Fletch, show us what you found.”
    Fletch stood up like he was giving a massive speech. “I’ve been digging around the system,” he waved his arms around. “and I’ve found out two things. One,” he raised his index finger. “I know where his supply from the arms deal came from. There’s a desert in South America, the Colorado Plateau. Kratos has a base there, far away from civilisation. And there are more weapons where they came from. We should get explosives all around the base, and blow it all up.”

    Newt nodded again. “Kapaia and Blythe, I’m sending you two to that base, and I need you to blow it sky high.”

    Kapaia giggled maniacally. “Sounds like a treat,” she chuckled.

    “I was going to send Robyn with you, but seeing as she’s out of action for now, I’m sending in Ethan as your cover sniper. He’ll make sure you’re not compromised.”

    “Another thing,” Fletch pointed out. “Kratos is absolutely sure no one will find his base. Chances are he’s got a lot of secrets there. And secrets mean intel. If you could extract any of that, that would be great.”

    “In that case, Kiro’s going with you too. This is a covert op, so he’ll make sure no one can set off the alarm. While you’re planting explosives, he can go around and find anything to get us a lead on Kratos.”

    “Very well,” Kiro nodded. “What’s this other thing you found, Fletch?”

    “I’m so glad you asked!” he grinned broadly. “It turns out Kratos has an informant himself, some sort of hacker. That’s why Kratos found Robyn. Why Kratos set up a counter sniper. And that’s how he knew we were using a jammer.”

    “You mean we have a spy among us?” Minchi spoke up, almost shouted in fear.

    “Not necessarily. Technology is clever. The enemy could be listening to us right now, but I’ve set up another jammer in this very room. No one but us can hear this conversation. No, this hacker broke into our defences somehow. I’ll have to upgrade them.”

    “So, what can we do about it?” Sakura spoke up.

    “I’ve found out where he’s based!” Fletch said cheerily. “Ryogoku, in Tokyo. It turns out Kratos has affiliations with the Japanese, and I think Kiro can confirm. Mel, you said Kratos was speaking another language?”

    “Yeah,” Mel said. “he was.”

    “Could you give me some sort of example of what it sounded like?”

    “Ahh…” Mel scratched her head. “something like… anata wa… gete eye-roo?”

    Kiro nodded his head. “Japanese.” He said. “Most definitely Japanese. You’re trying to say ‘you fool.’ I guess Kratos was pretty mad at the others.”

    Fletch agreed. “We need to take the informant out, but before we do that, we need to get as much information from him as we can. Interrogate him. No doubt he knows a lot of things.”

    Newt cleared his throat. “We need to strike both at the same time, because if not, one will surely raise the alarm to the other. That means we’re splitting up. The rest of us not going to Colorado are going to Japan.”

    Ethan nudged Kiro. “Bet you wish you were going home, eh?” Kiro’s face mask made him look much more dangerous, and for a second Ethan thought he’d actually made a mistake as he stared into his eyes. Then Kiro turned his head back to Newt.

    “When are we leaving?”

    “In four hours.” Newt said. “Get all your stuff ready.”
    ~
    Mel walked outside into the night sky, away from the base building and towards the edge of the mountain. There was someone sitting there, and Mel already knew who it was. Kiro was sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, his right index and middle finger on his mask, where his lips would be. Meditating. His graphene armour glowed an ambient turquoise.

    Mel sat down next to him, as silently as she could. She knew not to disturb Kiro’s meditation. She’d done it once, and she was sure as hell she didn’t want to go through that again. Mel imitated his position, crossing her legs and bringing her fingers to her lips. She looked out to the landscape. This place was always beautiful at night. There were plenty of houses underneath them, and Mel found it relaxing just to stare at those lights.

    “It looks like I need to teach you Japanese,” Kiro spoke suddenly. Mel almost flinched.

    “I guess so.” Mel replied.

    Kiro’s eyes snapped open. “Do you see all of this, Melody? The landscape? Such beauty. Humanity has come a long way. Unfortunately, Japanese prophecy tells that all of this will cease to exist. Very soon.”

    “Oh?” Mel didn’t know how else to respond.

    “That’s why I want to take out Kratos as quickly as possible. I’d like to see his head on a spike before I die. Preferably my spike.” His hand instinctively gripped the handle of his blade.

    Mel sighed. “Don’t worry yourself, Kiro.” She said. “We’ll get him. Even if it costs our own lives.”

    “I should hope so.” Kiro stood up. “I must leave for the Colorado op. I wish you luck in Japan.”

    “You too,” Mel replied. And as Kiro walked away, she couldn’t help but wonder what interest Kiro had in her. He’d told her that she’d shown promise as a soldier, and maybe he just wanted to help her. It didn’t matter to her. She was grateful for the company. Kiro just seemed to… understand her, even when no one else did. Perhaps it was all the machinery whirring inside his head, she didn’t know. She also got up and made her way to the airfield, where her helicopter to Japan was waiting. Ethan Jyung stood just next to the sliding door, watching Mel as she approached.

    “Ready to go?” he asked.

    “Yep.”

    “Okay, that’s good. Everyone else is already here.” He turned his head into the helicopter and shouted to the cockpit. “Newt, you sure you know how to fly this thing?”

    Newt’s voice shouted back. “I’m only a little rusty, Ethan, I haven’t forgotten everything. I’ve still got it.”
    “If you say so.” He shrugged, and as Mel entered the helicopter he nudged her and whispered with a large grin. “If we crash, we blame Newt.” Mel nodded with a cheeky smile and climbed into the chopper.

    There wasn’t a lot of space, especially with the number of people onboard. Some people were sharing seats, others standing. “Excited for Japan?” Fletch said to Mel.

    “I guess,” she shrugged.

    “Okay, Newt, we’re all here, wheels up!” Fletch shouted to the pilot.

    “Blythe, we’re leaving for Japan, I’ll see you soon,” Newt said into his comms.

    “Roger. Good luck.” Blythe’s voice responded.
    "Looks like there's a sandstorm picking up," Kapaia shouted over the deafening sound of the helicopter.

    "That doesn't matter," Ethan yelled back. "if anything, that would only help us!"

    The Colorado Plateau. Ethan had a hard time seeing through the sandstorm. He could just about see the outline of a large site, it looked a lot like a military airfield. "Blythe, put us down somewhere so the enemy can't see us coming! If we're spotted, this mission's dead!"

    "Roger. There's a clearing about half a klick from the base. I can't land but you can drop down with your ropes. You can approach on foot." Blythe spoke through the microphone. "You'll need to call for extraction after you're finished."

    "Okay. Get your ropes ready, team. Link to the sidebar of the doorway."

    Ethan grabbed his carabiner and linked it to the metal sidebar, as the three others did too. He looked over to Kiro, who merely returned the glance and nodded with no sign of emotion. "Let's go! Drop now!" Ethan yelled as he jumped from the open door. His hands firmly gripped the rope as he rapidly slid down to the ground. He hit the sand with a small grunt. He prepared his rifle and attached a sound suppressor as the rest of his squad hit the ground.

    Kiro immediately took point. "Blythe already told us we're half a klick away from the target. We need to move quickly and silently. Being compromised is not an option until we plant the explosives." His robotic hand pointed to the side of a small canyon. "We'll jump down from the canyon there, and follow the river. Does everyone have their landing assist gear?"

    His question was met with two nods. "There could be armed personnel on the ground. Ethan, take them out before we jump. We'll hide the bodies in the river. Let's get it done." The squad ran to the edge of the canyon, and Ethan looked over the cliff. Sure enough, there were two black-clad guards by the river, engaged in casual conversation. Neither were armed. "You're up, Ethan."

    Ethan didn't even have to line up a proper shot. Since they were stationary, Ethan trusted his own instinct and luck to loosely hold his rifle and take the shots. Both men went down. Kiro spoke. "Now, this is still experimental technology, but what should happen is that the thrust from the landing assist eases your fall and lands you safely. Try engaging the boosters about two seconds before you hit the ground. Follow my lead." Kiro jumped from the side of the canyon, and his brain implants stimulated the boosters to activate at his will, just before he made contact with the ground. He landed softly. Soon the rest of his team followed, with Ethan landing last.

    "Along the river," he motioned with two fingers. "go."

    2 minutes of walking along the river, Kapaia spoke up. "The storm's getting violent." She said. "soon we won't even be able to see our hands in front of us."

    "That can only work in our favour," Ethan shouted. "It means we can get inside the compound easily without being spotted."

    "Stop." Kiro suddenly said. The others stopped moving immediately. "This is the place. We have to climb the cliffside."

    "And how exactly do you plan to do that?" Kapaia's snarky attitude replied.

    "With these." Kiro reached into his belt bag and took out three identical objects. It was about the size of Ethan's forearm. "Grapple hooks. Newest advancement in technology. These are silent, so zero chance of anyone hearing us. Attach them to your stronger arm." They did so. "Aim the tip of your iron sights on the crest of the cliff. Then press the small button just next to your thumb's natural position."

    The team made sure that they knew where their button was and nodded their readiness. "I'll go first, just to make sure there aren't any threats." Kiro stretched out his right arm in the direction of the high cliff and pressed the button. Immediately his arm recoiled slightly, and he saw a small piece of rock fall away from the cliff as he shot up into the air, and landed perfectly on two feet. Immediately he unsheathed his wakizashi, his shorter blade, from the sheath just above the back of his waist, ready to silently take down any surprising hostiles. Fortunately, there were none. "It's clear. Come up."

    Kiro saw Ethan come up, but when he saw Kapaia's hook hit, he instantly realised she'd aimed too low. He dashed to the edge and grabbed her arm just as she was about to fall. He pulled her up to the ground effortlessly and didn't even wait for thanks. "Over this hill," he motioned. "move."
    ~
    "It's a big place," Ethan admitted. "this is gonna take a while."

    "We can take as long as we want," Kapaia retorted. "as long as we ain't spotted. Kiro, where do you want the explosives?"

    "Any place that either holds a lot of supplies or is very explosive."

    "I like the second part," Kapaia giggled.

    "I see three possible hotspots. The tower over there," he pointed to the north. "it'll be hosting communication signals. If that goes down, the enemy has no radio comms. There's also some sort of hangar about 100 metres west of that. Seems to be the biggest building here. Bigger buildings mean more supplies. Lastly, if there's a hangar, there must be a refuelling station nearby. That'll grab everyone's attention, and eliminates the fuel source."

    "Rules of engagement?" Ethan asked.

    "Silent kills only. Find a concealed spot where you can take shots from, but do not take any shots without my confirmation. Kapaia, you'll take point and bring explosives to the hotspots, and plant. I'll be following behind you, making sure no one jumps us, which isn't likely. Let's go. Communication tower first. Watch our backs, Ethan."

    "Roger. Get it done."

    Kapaia took a large flintlock gun out of her belt. "No shots, Kapaia," Kiro warned. "That thing is very loud. Melee strikes only. If things go south, we may have to go to Plan B."

    "What's Plan B?"

    "You'll know when we need it."

    "Fine. Let's go." Kapaia half-ran in the direction of the tower. The C4 explosives on her belt jingled and rattled every time she took a step.

    "They won't hear you over this massacre of a sandstorm. You don't have to worry about that." Ethan said over the radio. "And they won't be able to see you until you're really close. You'll only really need to fight anyone unless they accidentally walk into you."

    Thirty seconds later, they made it to the tower. It stood about 120 feet tall, with red and white stripes, and it was right next to a large cliff. Kapaia extracted two bags from her backpack and stuck them on the two legs closest to the sheer drop. "Explosives primed. Where next?"

    "Refuelling station. Same procedure." Kiro said. "Ethan, are we good?"

    "You're good," Ethan replied.

    Kiro and Kapaia made their way to the station. On the way, Kapaia had tripped on something, possibly a rock, and a nearby guard had been alerted. However, he hadn't had time to trigger the alarm, as Kiro unsheathed his wakizashi and sliced the guard's neck in a lightning-quick movement. "Clearly don't know what silent means, do you?" he shook his head and dragged the body into a hidden corner where no one could see it. "Keep moving. Don't mess up this time."

    They got to the station, with Kapaia planting the bombs right on the fuel canisters, out of sight. "I can't wait to blow this up." Kapaia chuckled quietly.

    "We're not done yet. Stay focused." Kiro scolded. "Last place is the hangar. Then we can finally call Blythe and get out of here. Go."

    Fortunately, the hangar door was already open. When Kiro stepped inside, he realised this was the only building in the compound he'd actually been inside. It was spacious inside. At the back, there was a small room, with crates and bags. "Kapaia, plant the explosives in the room at the back."

    "Roger."

    While Kapaia was gone, Kiro snooped around. He found a lot of weapons and currency, and at one point he even found a smashed photo behind a chair. It was cracked badly, so badly that Kiro couldn't even tell what the picture was of. But it was as he put the picture back, his eyes picked out a small, blue glow behind one of the crates. When he looked behind it, he found a small laptop, just like any other laptop. Kiro picked it up and examined it. It seemed to be in pristine condition. A user was still logged in. That meant they could get access to some of the files. Kiro put the laptop in his pack when Ethan almost shouted over the radio.

    "Kiro! You've got company!"

    Not even a second after he said that, around five armed soldiers had blocked the large entrance, and in front of them was an old Japanese man, probably a commander of some sort. He spoke in English however, with a very crooked accent. Kiro thought he must have looked incredibly suspicious, holding two swords and a mask covering his lower face. "Freeze! Disarm yourself of all weapons and come outside!"
    Kiro did not face them. Instead, under his breath he alerted Kapaia.

    "Kapaia, I've been compromised. Maintain a low profile and stay behind cover. Do not reveal yourself."

    The commander was still shouting. "Come out NOW! My men WILL fire if you do not comply! You have five seconds!"

    Kiro breathed. "Kapaia," he muttered. "go to Plan B."

    "Five!" The soldiers cocked their rifles.

    "Four!" Kiro's hand instinctively went for the katana on his back.

    "Three!" What on earth was Kapaia doing? He was about to be shredded!

    "Two!" Kiro couldn't help but let loose a drop of sweat down his neck. Come on, Kapaia. He screamed in his brain.

    "ONE!"

    Kiro unsheathed his sword as all hell broke loose.

    The first explosion he heard was directly behind him. Shrapnel and boxes flew over Kiro's head, and he had to jump out of the way so he didn't get hit. The back room was already on fire, orange flames licking the ceiling of the room. In the distance through the large door, Kiro saw an orange cloud erupt from the bottom of the cell tower, which creaked loudly as its foundations gave way and toppled into the canyon below.

    Startled screams of confusion and panic filled the air, as Kiro primed razor-sharp shurikens into his robotic hands, three in each hand, between his fingers. Before any of the hostile soldiers regained their sense, Kiro threw all six shurikens with all his might. 6 Japanese men, including the commander, fell to the floor, one shuriken each buried into their neck. The ground was covered in blood.

    Kapaia peeked her head out behind a table. "That," she grinned like crazy. "was awesome."

    "I'm sure it was." Kiro activated his radio and unsheathed both of his swords. "Ethan, call Blythe for extraction. Secondary LZ. Let's get moving!"

    "Roger. We'll have to snatch an enemy vehicle." Ethan replied.

    "Well, that clearly won't be a problem." Kapaia pointed outside. "Convoy inbound!"

    Kiro looked and saw two jeeps barrelling top speed towards them. One jeep had its passenger poking their head out, handling an assault rifle. It didn't help him. Before he had the chance to take any shots, his head suddenly erupted into blood, which horrified the driver into turning the wheel in panic and hitting the other jeep. Both jeeps rolled over each other and eventually came to a stop.

    "Good kill, Ethan," Kiro admitted.

    "Thanks. Grab one of those jeeps. I'll come to you."

    "Roger." Both Kiro and Kapaia rushed over to the jeep and dragged two mangled bodies out. Ethan ran over to them and immediately got into the driver's seat, with Kiro in the back seat and Kapaia up front. She almost squealed as her clothes were stained with blood.

    "Get moving! Let's go!" Kiro shouted. Ethan floored the accelerator, and the tyres squealed as the vehicle shot forwards towards the desert. Kiro grabbed an assault rifle from under the back seat and shoved it into Kapaia's arms. "EMP bullets. Enough hits and the car's computer will short circuit."

    Kapaia almost frowned. "Don't you have something a little more… explosive?"

    Just then, a spray of bullets burst through the back window and into the windscreen. Ethan yelped and almost lost control of the vehicle. "Ethan, keep your head low! Kapaia, shut up and keep them pinned down!"

    Kapaia scoffed and took the rifle. She leaned out of the window and started laying rounds on the pursuing jeeps. "There's at least six vehicles following us!" she warned.

    Kiro snarled. "Bullets won't do much against that force, especially with your aim." Kapaia made a face but did not stop shooting. Kiro looked back at the jeeps. He quickly formulated a plan in his head and sighed.

    "I'm about to do something incredibly stupid." Kiro grabbed his wakizashi and slashed the leather covering on the roof of their vehicle.

    "What are you –" Kapaia complained.

    "Don't stop firing! I'm taking them on directly!" Kiro gripped the roof of the jeep and hauled himself up, so he was standing on the jeep. He had a clear view of all the enemy vehicles, three in all. Kapaia had already knocked three of them out, their burnt chassis smoking in the distance. One was about 10 metres to the right of their jeep, but the passengers hadn't seemed to notice Kiro in the open. Kiro breathed deeply and felt power surge through his legs.

    He jumped.

    He landed on the hood of the enemy jeep, and his bionic right arm shot through the windscreen, his fingers wrapped around the driver's neck. He let out a startled scream before Kiro crushed his neck without a single thought. The passenger had no time to react either, as Kiro immediately grabbed the driver's knife from his front pocket and shoved the blade into his chest. Blood erupted from his body.

    Kiro had already leapt in the direction of another jeep, as the one he had just been on lost control and crashed into a rock. He cut through the steel roof of the jeep with his katana, and jumped onto the passenger's head, instantly snapping his neck. The driver panicked, and his steering wheel went out of control. The vehicle careered randomly, and Kiro was forced to jump out of the jeep before it flipped itself over and landed on its side.

    Kiro roughly slammed into the ground. His vision was blurry. His bionic senses were acting up. There was an incredibly annoying ringing in his ears, and he couldn't stand straight. But a few seconds later, he finally was able to stand on his feet, and locate the last jeep chasing Ethan and Kapaia. They were too far away. There was no way he could run over there on time, even with his agility.

    That left his grappler as his last option.

    Kiro lifted his right arm to his eye, lining up the iron sights with the back window of the enemy jeep. Time slowed down in Kiro's mind frame. He wasn't even sure if his grappler could hit the jeep at this distance, but he had no other choice. His vision darkened just before he took the shot, and his body lurched forward at an incredible speed towards the jeeps. Rocks and cacti whizzed past him as he flew onto the roof of the enemy.
    He gripped the roof firmly with his hands as he swung his legs through the window and in the driver's face. However, he did not falter. Instead, he jerked the steering wheel a sharp right, into Ethan's and Kapaia's jeep, crushing Kiro between the two. He grunted loudly in pain, and he lost his grip on the enemy jeep. He hit the ground once again, the air knocked out of him. For a second he couldn't control his bionic arm, but soon regained control. Fortunately, his quick thinking got him back into the action, as he grabbed something on the underbelly of his own jeep with his normal, human hand. He moved under the jeep, so the enemy driver couldn't see him. Kapaia was still shooting at them, but the bullets didn't penetrate the armoured glass. Kiro looked to see what he could use against the enemy. That's when he saw the driveline of the enemy jeep, the structure that held all of the wheels together. If that failed, the jeep was no good.

    Kiro knew what he had to do. He armed a single shuriken to his right hand, which meant he was only hanging on by his left hand. His body scraped against the ground occasionally, and his bionic arm was almost screaming with pain, but Kiro ignored it. He had to throw the weapon directly at the driveline, so it could sever the connection and render the wheels useless. Kiro didn't have the conditions to concentrate, the jeep engine squealing right next to him and the bouncing of the tires against the hard ground. He had to take a wild shot. He threw the shuriken.

    It cut cleanly through the driveline and embedded itself into the chassis of the jeep. The vehicle careered out of control, and came to a stop, with no casualties or destruction.

    "We're at the LZ!" Ethan shouted.

    The jeep came to a stop, and Kiro heard a new sound: a helicopter. He dropped from the underbelly of the jeep and crawled out to see Blythe waving everyone onto the helicopter. "C'mon Kiro, let's go!" Blythe shouted.
    The three ran towards the cargo door and sat inside the helicopter, as Blythe got back to the pilot's seat and took off. Ethan looked down at the jeep they'd used to escape with. "Damn it," he cursed. "we should've scrapped it."

    "One step ahead of you, mate." Kapaia grinned wildly as she took a detonator from her belt and pressed the charge. Instantly the jeep blew up and burst into flames. "I was never going to leave this place without one last boom." She said.

    "Of course you weren't," Ethan replied. He looked over at Kiro, who was holding his left arm and examining it. "Your arm okay?" he asked.

    "Yeah," Kiro replied. "it's fine. Just took a few hits."

    "Kiro, where do you want to go now?" Blythe asked over the radio.

    Kiro closed his eyes. There was no point going back to base since everyone else had gone to Japan. But he needed to get his arm fixed, otherwise, he could ruin the Japan mission for them all, with the state of his arm. But what if they needed his help to capture the informant? His mind flooded with contradictory thoughts, and he couldn't think.

    "Hey," Ethan tapped his shoulder. "calm down. It's your call, and I'll support your decision, whatever you choose." Kiro looked at Ethan's face, and his expression softened. It wasn't often that someone decided to support Kiro, so he was grateful that Ethan had decided to stick up for him.

    "Thanks, Ethan. Blythe," Kiro announced, "we're going to Japan."
    "This place is a hell zone," Newt muttered.

    He flew the helicopter over towering skyscrapers and blinding lights. Newt may have even been inclined to admire the sight, but he knew better. Although he couldn't see them in the darkness of night, he knew there were terrorists and enemy soldiers on the ground. He hoped that the helicopter's cloaking device would help them to land undetected, but even then, he started doubting himself. He flew over intelligent rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns, but it didn't seem like any of them had detected the helicopter.

    Fletch had gotten up from his seat and briefed the team. "Okay guys," he said. "our mission is to track down this enemy informant and interrogate him about the whereabouts of Kratos, and his plans for the future. I'd prefer to do this quietly, but seeing as we've got like a bajillion SAM sites down there, we'll have to put up a fight. Only after we land, though. We should be quiet until we deploy." "We'll be pushing to a clock tower about 200 metres from where we'll deploy. I'm going to go up there, and use this thing." Fletch grabbed his backpack and pulled out a large screen, a little bigger than an iPad. "This is a facial recognition device. It'll identify targets from a good couple of hundred metres away, but it'll become less effective as the range increases. I'll use this to mark the target, and then some of you can run after him and stop him. Do not go for a kill, however. That's a crucial part of the mission. It's pretty hard to interrogate a bleeding corpse."

    A loud noise interrupted his speech. A wailing alarm from the cockpit. "Damn it!" Newt swore. "Missile locked onto us!"

    "What?!" Fletch shouted. "How?! The cloak is still active!"

    "They must be using heat sensors!" Newt shouted back. "BRACE FOR IMPACT!" Everyone firmly gripped some sort of handlebar or seat as the helicopter suddenly rocked violently. It spun in circles, both of its rotors ablaze. Unfortunately, Sakura Naganohara's grip wasn't strong enough to sustain her. Her fingers slipped on the bar she was holding on to, and the inertial force from the spinning helicopter meant she couldn't hold on anymore. She let go, and Mel tried to grab her arm in a last attempt to keep her onboard, but to no avail. Her arm slipped from her grasp, and Sakura shot towards the ground.

    "Sakura!" Mel shouted.

    "Forget it, Mel," Fletch said. "We can't do anything for her now. Hold on!"
    That was the last thing Mel heard before the helicopter crashed.

    ~

    Sakura opened her eyes slowly. She winced a little bit as sharp light stabbed her retinas. She felt along her left arm for her computer module and tapped it randomly. Instantly, the heavy-duty plastic ball that had saved her life reduced to a small cube, which Sakura pocketed. She stood up and looked around the place. She seemed to be in some sort of laboratory, there were computers and equipment everywhere, which she found quite messy. Fortunately, it didn't seem like anyone was in the room. I need to find a way out of here, Sakura thought. She looked behind her. Her plastic ball had created a large hole in the side of the building, which chilled her spine. There was no way that nobody would notice a gaping hole in a building, which meant she really had to get moving. But she couldn't leave just yet. She had no weapons due to her assault rifle and sickles being lost while Sakura was falling from the heights. She also didn't have anything to protect herself, so she needed to find something she could use to either challenge an opposition or push through the resistance.

    She started to explore the lab. She couldn't find anything useful in the room she was currently in, just computers and large screens. She pushed through double doors into another room, and that was when her eyes widened.

    This room wasn't nearly as big as the one she had crashed into, but she'd found what she was looking for. At the very back of the room, something similar to a robot suit was standing on supports. There wasn't an occupant. Sakura walked over and tried to get into the suit. Her feet slipped a few times, but eventually, she was able to get her hands and feet into the robot's arms and legs. A helmet visor automatically fitted over her head. She stepped off the platform wearing the suit and experimented with her movement. She found that there were two miniguns, one on each arm, that she could fire and reload at will. There were also six rocket pods on the back of the suit, which Sakura soon learnt were heat seeking. Again, she could reload these.

    After a few minutes, she'd learned how to engage forward and jump thrusters, and she found a large scythe she could equip to her right arm, in case an enemy got too close. Just before she left the room, a small screen appeared on the top right corner of her vision. It displayed a single word. Crusader.

    ~

    Everything hurt.

    Mel couldn't see yet, but she heard metal creaking and shouting from her friends. When she managed to open her eyes, she noticed her vision was blurred, and she couldn't walk properly. Her hearing was filled with the roaring of flames, and she found herself coughing. She looked up and saw a blurry cloud of blonde run towards her. Even in her groggy state, Mel assumed it was Newt. She heard Newt shouting at her, but his voice sounded like it was underwater. "Get out of the helicopter!" he was screaming. "It's gonna fall!" Mel ran to the cargo door. She tripped on a seat, but Newt picked her back up quickly and they both jumped from the helicopter, just before it creaked loudly and slipped from the roof they'd crashed on. It plummeted down and hit the ground with a nasty crunch.

    "Well," Newt said matter-of-factly, "guess we're not using that helicopter."

    "Newt!" everyone behind him moaned. Newt looked at them and frowned. "You seriously thought I was gonna crash the helicopter? You saw this coming?" Everyone laughed. "Ack, whatever. The clock tower shouldn't be too far from here, anyway. We'll jump down using the landing assists and approach on foot. Do not fire unless they fire first." They hit the ground silently, and they all equipped their weapons. Newt and Mini unsheathed their knives and Mel whipped out her pistol. Fletch didn't bring a weapon. "We'll find you a weapon, don't worry," Newt told him. "Let's move. Snake formation, single file."

    Newt led the line, while everyone followed behind him in a tight line. He moved into a small alleyway, where a man stood with his back facing them. He had an AK-47 slung across his back, and it seemed like he was smoking a cigarette. Newt threw his hand up, signalling to his team to standby, and walked up to the man. He covered his mouth and nose and stabbed him in the neck with his knife. He made sure the knife dug as deep as possible and then yanked it back out. The man fell to the ground, still choking on his own blood. Newt grabbed the SMG from the man's belt, an Atlas-72A, and tossed it to Fletch, who almost fumbled the catch.

    They continued along the alleyway until they came to the end. It opened into a sidewalk, on a single road. Newt peeked around the corner and saw two armed men, also with AK-47s. There was also an old man on the floor, who was being kicked repeatedly by the men. They shouted and jeered at him, and spat into his face, covered with blood. Newt didn't feel sympathy for the man. He crouch-walked across the road slowly, hoping that the men wouldn't notice him.

    The good news: the armed men didn't see him.

    The bad news: the old man did.

    He screamed at the sight of Newt, which caught the attention of the soldiers. "Damn it," Newt growled as he ducked under a spray of bullets behind a car. "Mini, throw a flashbang!" Mini took the order by surprise. She took a grenade from her belt and removed the pin. She lobbed it at the two men firing on Newt. They hadn't seen the rest of the team yet. The flashbang hit the ground in front of the men with a small ping, and everyone shut their eyes or turned away as the grenade exploded with a small cloud of smoke. The men cried out in confusion, and later in pain, as Newt ran up and slashed both of their necks. The rest of the team came out from the alleyway, and Newt nodded to Mini as a sign of thanks. She nodded back. The old man was still on the floor but was trying to stand. Newt barked at him, "MOVE!" Whether the Japanese man understood his word or not, he got the general message. He crawled away, whimpering.

    "Something's wrong," Fletch said suddenly.

    Newt looked at him. "What?"

    "Surely someone would've heard the bullets, but no one's here. What's up with that?" he frowned.

    Newt cursed. Fletch was right. "Does your computer… device… shenanigan… whatever. Does it detect heat signatures?"

    "Yeah."

    "Check the area."

    Fletch took his tablet out of his pack and switched it on. It immediately came to life, its turquoise lights glowing brightly. He pressed buttons and swiped through menus until the screen became a simulation of their environment. He could see the two men bleeding on the floor, obviously, they did not register heat signatures. "Check the roofs," Newt said. Fletch aimed his screen to the rooftops and panned slowly from left to right. He didn't see anything. But just before he gave up, he noticed a small yellow glow from behind a billboard advertising facial cream. It didn't look like a person, but he found that a large red dot appeared in the middle of the figure, and it was turning orange, yellow, white.

    That meant whatever it was, it was warming up. And Fletch had a pretty good idea of what it was.

    "Charge sniper!" he yelled. "Get away from the car!" Everyone either ducked into the alleyway or just jumped away from the car, as a loud boom filled the air and a blue beam from the billboard hit the car. It exploded instantly, roaring into flames and charring black. Fletch looked back up at the billboard. Sure enough, there was a large hole in the wood, and in the hole was a black-clad female, wearing a mask and holding the infamous MT09-ASX sniper rifle. The MT used energy cells to charge a shot, and released all the energy in firing the gun, the first of its kind. The more energy cells you used, the more powerful the shot. However, that made it very unreliable when shooting multiple targets, because you would need to replenish the cells every time you took shots. That would explain why she shot the car, and not one of the team members.

    "She's not the only one!" Mel shouted. "Infantry, 12 o'clock!" Newt looked further down the road and saw a small force running towards their position, all handling assault rifles. They opened fire once they were 50 feet from the team's position. The sound that filled the air was deafening, so many guns were being fired and lots of shouting.

    "There's no cover on the street!" Mini cried. "We're outnumbered and outgunned!"

    "We have to draw their fire, somehow!" Fletch called. "We need a tank!"

    "Tank incoming!" A voice came over the radio, and Newt barely had time to recognize the voice before the middle of the road became a cloud of dust and ash, and a large booming noise filled the atmosphere. When the air cleared, Newt could not believe what he saw. A massive battle mech had crushed the sidewalk and the road, handling miniguns and rocket launchers which immediately warmed up and fired at the enemy infantry. Bullets and rockets flew everywhere. The smart ones ran into buildings or hit the ground. The less fortunate ones were shredded to pieces. In a matter of seconds, the entire road was clear of hostility. But the thing that really took Newt by surprise was when he saw who was controlling it.

    "Sakura?!" Newt shouted. "Where the hell did you find that thing?!"

    Sakura laughed. "When I fell from the helicopter, I had to use my protective bubble and I crashed through a building, where I found this beauty." She raised the miniguns into the air. "I call it Crusader."

    Mel ran up to the mech and spoke to Sakura. "Kurann, we thought you were dead."

    "Well, I'm not much use to Ark Angel if I'm dead, am I?" she shrugged. "Anyway, Fletch needs to get up to the clock tower. It's just on the end of this road. Let's go!" The team ran along the road, with Newt at the back. "Hey, Newt!" He looked back at Kurann. "Want a go on this?"

    Newt laughed. "On that monster? No thanks. I'd probably find a way to blow it up. Plus, you look really good in it, and I need to escort Fletch to the tower."

    "You're sure?" Kurann asked. "I really don't mind giving this to you."

    "I'm sure. Now, let's go."

    Ten minutes later, they approached the tower. Newt took control and spoke into the radio. "Fletch, come with me to the top of the tower. Everyone else, hold position until we find the informant." His orders were met with rogers all around.

    ~

    "I have a possible facial match to the informant. He's running on the rooftops about 500 metres from here, heading towards our position!" Fletch said. "Mel, Mini, disable him! Do not kill him! I can't stress the importance of that!"

    "Roger," Mel responded. She called to Mini and formed a quick plan. "Mini, go straight through the houses and try to cut him off. I'm going to chase him from behind. Go!" Mini nodded and sprinted as fast as she could into an alleyway while unsheathing her knives. Mel took out her pistol and checked the ammo, and ran to one of the houses and scaled the wall. She was now on the roof, scanning for anybody on the rooftops. A few seconds later she saw a man running east on the rooftops, wearing a black suit, trousers and shoes. "I have visual!" Mel shouted. She leapt across the roofs and got behind the man, with about 100 metres separating them. He hadn't seen Mel yet.

    "No fatal shots!" Newt's voice came on the radio. "Go for the leg!" Mel had to stop running after the man in order to take out her pistol and aim down her sights. She closed her left eye and rested her right vision along the top of her gun. She locked onto the man's calf and fired. She kept her balance as the gun recoiled, and she saw the man collapse. She ran over to the man and checked his face. Immediately she noticed something was wrong. The facial structure wasn't right. His cheeks were too chubby and slightly wrinkled. His neck was too pronounced. And his torso just seemed too big. This wasn't the informant.

    "Negative ID!" Mel shouted. "It's not him!" As she said this, she noticed the man's hand move away from his pocket, and he was holding something. A detonator.

    Suddenly Mel realized why his torso was so large and solid. He was wearing explosives.

    "Crap!" She instantly moved to jump from the rooftop before the entire place went up in flames. And suddenly Mel was back on the crashed helicopter. Flames roared in her ears. She couldn't see anything, just blurs. Her arms were too weak to support her. She looked for the messy blonde hair to help her again, but she couldn't find it. This time a rush of dark brown hair ran over to her and grabbed her hand. This voice was also underwater.

    "Mel!" Mini was screaming. "Get up! We need to go!" Mel's vision refocused, and her mind whirred back into action. They were still on the rooftop. She got up and immediately ran for the edge of the roof.

    "Mini, jump! Use your landing assists!" Mel leapt from the roof and landed safely with her boot jets. Mini soon followed.

    "Mel, what the hell happened over there?!" Newt shouted over the radio. "It was a trap! A rigged body double!" Mel shouted. "The informant is still alive! It must've been a diversion." Over the radio, Mel could hear bullets being sprayed and hitting walls. "Fletch needs to find him again!"

    A new voice butted into the conversation. Fletch. "Already found him!" he shouted. "Crap… he's got a convoy with him. Three armored vehicles in snake formation. They're on the road, heading to your position. Can you set up an ambush?"

    Mel sighed. "How am I gonna do that?"

    Mini's squeaky voice popped up behind her. "I can."

    "You have thirty seconds, Mini. Make it quick." Fletch warned. Mini went to work instantly and quickly. She grabbed C4 charges from her waistbelt and planted them in the middle of the road, primed them and linked them to a wireless detonator.

    "Get to a concealed spot where no one can see you," Mini told Mel. She immediately ran over to a house, kicked the door down and went inside. Mini did the same.

    "I hear the convoy," Mel said. Ten seconds later, the ground rumbled and three jeeps barrelled around the corner. The jeep in front rolled over the charges, and then the second in the middle. "Blow the charge!" Mel shouted.

    Mini pressed the trigger.

    The jeep in the middle took the brunt of the explosion. It exploded instantly and was propelled into the air about 10 feet and landed with a crunch on the opposite side of the road. The front jeep didn't take a lot of damage, but it quickly accelerated and went down a side road, its wheels screeching. Mini didn't care. She already knew the informant wasn't in there. He was in the back jeep, which had flipped over onto its roof. Mel opened the passenger door of the upside-down jeep and dragged the man out and helped him to stand. But instantly, after he stood, he made a fist and punched Mel as hard as he could. She fell to the floor, dizzy and with a bleeding nose, but she could still see the man leaping over the jeep and running along the road. "He's getting away!" she cried.

    "Not on my watch," a new voice presented itself. Before he could disappear into an alleyway, a figure stepped out from the shadows and shoved their palm into the target's face. However, he was not fazed. The informant unsheathed a knife from their belt and shoved it into his attacker's left arm. He grunted, but he was not in severe pain. There was no blood, but orange sparks. He punched the informant in the nose, and he finally went down. The figure who had just taken down the informant wore a black mask and two swords. Kiro.

    Mel ran up to Kiro. "Why'd you come here?" she asked.

    "Well, we finished up in Colorado, so I thought you might need help here." Kiro looked at the man on the floor and kicked him lightly in the ribs. "And it turns out you did." Everyone else was starting to show up now, and Mel waved at all of them. She noticed Sakura was no longer in her Crusader mech.

    "Kurann, what happened to your suit?" she asked.

    "Got hit by that charge sniper." She said. "Wasn't nice at all. But I'm still in one piece."

    "Mel!" Newt called. He walked up to her. "You okay?"

    "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a couple of explosions, right?" she said sarcastically.

    "Right…" Newt scratched his head. "Anyway, congratulations on bringing him in. This guy's a key part of our hunt for Kratos." Mel looked at Mini, who was standing near the jeep watching Kiro handle the informant. Mel didn't know what made her do it, but she took Mini's side.

    "I actually can't take all credit, Newt." She said. "If not for Mini, he probably would've gotten away." Newt raised his eyebrow but nodded. He ran over to Kiro and helped him control the dazed man. Mel cursed to herself. Why had she stuck up for Mini? She didn't usually do that.

    ~

    "Where is Michael Kratos?"

    Everyone was in a large garage. Kiro was standing in front of the informant, who was tied up to a chair and bloodied. Mel was holding her pistol to his head. Mini had the laptop that Kiro had found in the hangar at Colorado since Fletch couldn't read Japanese. She was sitting at a nearby table, clacking keys and pressing buttons. Everyone else was either outside standing guard or watching Kiro interrogate the informant, who they nicknamed Snitch.

    Snitch coughed. "I do not know who that is." He said in Japanese. Kiro slapped his face. "Hiretsuna. Where is Michael Kratos?"

    "I do not know where he is!"

    "Very well. What are his plans for the future?"

    This time Snitch hesitated. "You know something." Kiro coaxed.

    Snitch exhaled deeply and spoke. "Michael Kratos plans to kidnap the President of the United Nations General Assembly."

    "Elias Gosfield?" Kiro frowned. "You're insane. There is no way someone would dare to do so. Even Kratos." Kiro turned to Mel. "Do it."

    "NO!" Snitch gasped. "I swear to God, I am not lying. Gosfield has information that no man should ever know. If Michael Kratos gets to know this information, the world will never be the same!" Kiro looked at him in disgust. He was gasping heavily, a wild look in his eyes. His forehead was glinting with sweat.

    "I still don't believe you." He said shortly.

    "Uh, guys…?" Mini squeaked. Everyone in the room turned to look at her. "He may actually be telling the truth. I was checking through all the files on this laptop. There's almost nothing there, so I checked the search history, and there was only one page. It's Elias Gosfield's Twitter. Here's his latest tweet."

    "The United Nations military force has been hard at work building a ballistic missile in Japan. I am the only man who can authorize the use of this weapon."

    Fletch facepalmed in disappointment. "Why," he groaned. "would you announce to the entire world that you're the only person with the launch codes for a rocket? Wouldn't that make you a target?"

    Newt scoffed. "If the UN President wasn't a target before, he definitely is now."

    Kiro turned back to Snitch. "How will Kratos do this?" he demanded.

    "The world leaders will gather for a meeting in Paris!"

    "Paris? You mean to tell me that Kratos is going to travel all the way to France?"

    "Yes! And Elias Gosfield will be at the meeting. He plans to kill all the world leaders and extort the launch codes from Gosfield."

    Kiro turned to Newt. "Gosfield needs a better security detail."

    "Gosfield always needed a better security detail." Newt joked. He stood up and rounded up the rest of his team. "We didn't get what we came for, but we got something better. I'll give a full debrief back at base. Mel, kill him." He said casually while walking out of the garage. He heard a loud gunshot and a scream behind him as he walked into the daylight.
    "The Japanese forces are coming to claim their missing informant… or what's left of him. We're going to push through the streets and fight any opposition. Equip assault rifles and sniper rifles. They'll be coming in large numbers, so any explosives we can get our hands on have the green light for use. We don't know what kind of opposition exactly we'll meet with, so be prepared."

    "How are we getting out of Japan?"

    "I don't know yet. Both of our helicopters were grounded, and the nearest airport is hours away. We don't have hours. I guess we'll just have to see what happens. Robyn Winchester is back at base, she'll be providing intelligence from the satellites and helping us get the hell out of here."

    "Alright, then." Mel loaded her pistol. "Let's move."

    "Robyn, what does it look like outside?" Newt asked.

    "Seems quiet," an American female responded. "I don't detect any heat signatures, so it looks like you're good to go."

    "Thanks," Newt responded. "Get on the main road, and keep it quiet. There could be a trap." The team exited the alleyway they had been hiding in and ran along the street, with Newt leading the pack. They hadn't even passed a full block when Newt spotted movement across the road. "Stop!" he hissed. Everyone immediately halted. He strained his eyes to properly make out what he saw. It was a dog, a German Shepherd, it seemed to be wrestling a piece of meat in its mouth. It didn't look like it had a collar. "Stray dog," he said. "leave it alone. No need to attract unnecessary attention."

    "If there's a dog here, then it's possible there are people here, too." Mel pointed out. "Robyn, detected any heat signatures?"

    "Just from the dog. Keep moving." They kept running along the same road. They received confused and suspicious glares from the public, but that didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was finding a way to go home. They passed a large house, with massive windows and a grey paint job.

    "Two armed, on the house balcony. They see us." Mel warned. Newt looked, and sure enough, there were two men holding SCAR-Z assault rifles staring down on them. They weren't aiming their weapons, however. They seemed to be deciding if it was a good idea to engage.

    "No shots yet. They seem to be leaving us alone for whatever reason. If they decide to shoot at us, put as many rounds in them as you like." Newt said.

    "One's aiming down their sights at us!" Ethan yelped.

    "Keep your sniper sight on him. Take him down instantly if he fires a single shot. We may have to go loud if their weapons aren't suppressed."

    Suddenly, a male voice was yelling from the house. He spoke in Japanese, but Kiro understood. "They're going to open fire!" he shouted. "Ethan, take them out!"

    Ethan lined up his shots perfectly and landed bullets in both of the men's heads. "More opposition behind us on the road!" he warned.

    "Lay down some fire! There's no point keeping quiet now!" Newt said. "I see at least 10 hostiles, take them out!" Gunshots filled the air. Fletch was blasting at the enemy with his SMG and reloading with lightning speed. Ethan had adopted a crouching stance and took precise shots with his sniper. Everyone else was either hiding behind a wall or suppressing the enemy with their own personal weapons. Very soon, the entire resistance was on the floor, bleeding.

    "This is not good," Fletch breathed. "this is really not good."

    "Guys, you have a problem." Robyn's voice cut through Newt's ears.

    "What's up?"

    "I'm seeing around 30 helicopters entering your airspace, arming grenade launchers and carrying infantry. Is that correct?" Everyone looked at each other in confusion. They couldn't see nor hear any vehicles.

    "That's a solid negative, Robyn. There's no one here. We're safe."

    "Hang on. Let me run a malfunction scan." A pause of 20 seconds, then: "Damn it. Newt, you've got around 70 helicopters entering the area. I'm not detecting a malfunction with the system, confirm!"

    "I don't know what to tell you, Robyn," Newt said, exasperated. "The skies are clear. We're alright. If it makes you feel any better, we can move up to the roof of a building and watch below, but I doubt it'll do any good."

    ~

    Back at base, Robyn sighed and put her face in her hands. "No," she said. "keep moving. Staying on a roof isn't gonna help you at all. I just don't understand, though. The system is still healthy, and the marks are showing up. I really think you're going to have a messy situation. Let me check the ACS one last time." Robyn reached under the table and opened a loose panel. It revealed a black box with lots of LED lights attached. All of them glowed green. She closed the panel and sighed again. "Newt, all the lights are green, I –"


    "THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!"


    Robyn blinked. "Ark Angel, say again!"

    "They were using cloaks! A ton of choppers just entered the area, hostiles dropping on rappels!" Newt was screaming. "We've got a bunch of heavy armour on our position! Tanks, mechs, everything! They're in full force!" Robyn could hear the chaos that was happening over the radio. Bullets were being shot everywhere, and explosions were happening every few seconds.

    "Get everyone to cover! I'll find the nearest available force to assist! Kill as many as you can!"

    Robyn turned to a new computer screen and established a connection with a random source. "Hello? Can anyone hear me?" A few seconds of silence passed, and Robyn almost gave up. But the room's silence was interrupted by a scratchy British accent. Female.

    "I read you. This is the acting commander of Valkyrie 72, from the Hellbringer Agency. I hear your team could use some help."

    "What's your name?" Robyn asked.

    "Aurora."

    ~

    "Into the building! Let's go!" Newt waved all of his team into the back door of the jewellery store. Everyone ran inside, weapons engaged, ready to fire at any surprises. Mel ran inside last and closed the door behind her.

    "Where are we going to go?" Mel asked. "We can't go to the roof, those helicopters will shred us."

    Newt swore under his breath. "We have to keep moving," he said quietly. "staying in one place is only gonna get us killed faster."

    "Hostiles in the windows!" a female voice shouted. Newt turned to see Kapaia and Mini throwing frag grenades out of the window, hoping to damage one of the enemies. There were shouts as the men tried to dodge the grenades, but some were not fast enough. Kapaia occasionally used her flintlock to shoot anyone that got too close. "They're overwhelming us! We need to move!" Kapaia yelled.

    Newt looked outside, trying to find something, anything they could use as cover. The only thing he could recognise as viable was a large statue of a man in royal robes. "We need to move to the statue on the other side of the street!" he shouted. "Use your smokescreens if you have them!"

    Newt didn't have time to turn around as he was suddenly tackled to the floor and his head was smashed against the floor. Red filled his vision. He could only faintly see the man who had tackled him, wearing a balaclava and unsheathing a knife. Newt reacted as fast as his arms would go, his right hand grabbing the man's fist and his left gripping his neck. Newt mustered all the strength he could gather just to keep the knife away from him, but he was getting weaker, and his arms were getting tired. Suddenly the weight was lifted off his arms, as the man stopped struggling and he dropped his knife. It clattered harmlessly next to Newt. Both of the man's hands went to his neck, as Mini quickly armed a knife and shoved it into the soft spot. His eyes went red with blood, and he fell to the side. Newt went to thank Mini, but she shut him up quickly. "The smokescreens are up, we're moving up to the statue! Come on, get up!" He grunted and got up shakily. Mini forced something into his hand. Newt looked down and identified it as a Sirach-68 handgun. "Come on! The others are already moving up!" Newt's vision was still blurry from his head impact, and he stumbled a few times while exiting the store. Mini had to pick him up a few times and support his weight. She started shouting into her radio. "Robyn, what's the status of our support?"

    "They're coming, but they've met with heavy resistance! Hang in there a little longer!"

    "The tank's spotted us!" Mel shouted. "Get behind something solid!" Newt had regained his focus and was able to fight again. He equipped the Sirach that Mini had given him and shot at the enemy. However, he constantly had to duck under the statue to avoid being torn apart by the tank.

    "Guys!" Sakura called from behind. "Take these!" She was handing out Riot Shields to everyone, including Newt who grabbed the last one.

    "Do we have any more smokes?" Newt asked.

    "Just two," Mini held up two dark green grenades. "we used most of them trying to get here."

    "That's all we need. You and Kapaia need to use the cover of the smoke and get some explosives on that tank. Kiro, cover them!" The three ran out into the street, all of them using their Riot Shields. Mini threw her smoke grenades, and the tank was surrounded by a grey cloud.

    "Get the C4 planted!" Kiro shouted. "I'll cover you with my shield!" Kiro set himself directly behind the two, holding his Riot shield out in front of him and occasionally tossing shurikens at the enemy.

    "It's done!" Kapaia said. "Get out of the blast zone!" Bullets pinged off Kiro's shield as the three made their way back to the safety of the statue. "Mini, blow the charge!"

    Two seconds later, the tank caught fire and exploded, the blast wave almost knocking Mini back.

    "I'm out of ammo!" Ethan yelled.

    Kiro reached into his belt for a shuriken but came up empty-handed. "I don't have any stars left!"

    Everyone else kept firing until a few seconds later, all of their weapons clicked. "We don't have any ammo!" Fletch screamed. "We're screwed, man! I'm telling you!"

    "Shut up and keep your head down!" Newt scolded.

    "There's more tanks coming up the road!" Mel warned.

    "We're out of explosives! This is hopeless!" Kapaia shouted. "We've lost!"

    Suddenly, everyone's earpiece cracked. Robyn's voice came on. "There's a fire mission on your street! Get to cover and hit the ground!" Everyone dropped onto their chests immediately. High-pitched whistles filled the air as sudden missiles shot out of the sky and slammed into the tanks. They instantly blew up in flames. The entire opposition was shouting in confusion as more missiles rained down on them. All of the enemy helicopters in the area were either shot down or simply retreated. Newt dared to look up to the sky, and saw a large carrier stride over their heads, armed with intelligent missile and grenade launchers.

    "Who is that?" Mel shouted.

    "That's our support!" Newt yelled back.

    The carrier hovered over the junction as ropes were thrown down and black-clad figures slid down. One walked up to Newt and spoke. She had a sniper rifle slung across her back, and she wore a mask, much like Kiro's. Her lightning blue eyes seemed to stare him down. "You're Isaac Newton, right?" She held her hand out. "I'm from Hellbringer, Valkyrie 72."

    "Yeah." Newt shook her hand. "Most people call me Newt though. Thanks for the assist."

    The girl pulled her mask down, and Mel gasped.

    "Aurora?!"

    The girl's eyes widened at the sight of Mel. "Mel? What are you doing here?"

    "Okay, uh, can we have this weird little reunion after we get home? I feel like dozens of dead bodies and burned vehicles kinda kill the mood." Fletch said. "Also, I'm hungry."

    The girl called Aurora nodded. "Very well," she said. "Get in the chopper. We're going to our own home base." She punched Mel lightly on the shoulder. "Guess we've got a lot to talk about, eh?"
    Five Years Earlier

    Mel stepped out of the car. Her green hair flew in the wind and her black shirt clung to her skin. The sky was a depressing grey and was full of clouds. It was quite cold, and Mel shivered a little bit. The car had stopped in front of a checkpoint, where a single man dressed in full black sat in a small booth, reading a newspaper. Mel's driver, she called herself Chloe, walked to the booth and whispered to the man. He nodded once and reached to his left and pulled a switch. The bar lifted and the man waved them through.

    Mel looked at her surroundings. The entire place was flat ground, except for three large buildings which looked like hangars, and a few smaller buildings at the end of the plot. Three jeeps were parked diagonally, one of them had two occupants. They were laughing and sharing a drink of Cola. There was a small shooting range, where a single woman was using a sniper rifle to aim downrange. From what Mel could see, she was hitting every shot. Her blonde hair was incredibly long.

    "Through here," Chloe said. Mel followed her direction into the leftmost hangar building. "Welcome to the Ruby Angels, Mel. We're glad to have you on board." Chloe walked up to a keypad and punched in a few numbers, and the hangar door opened slowly. "I'll run you through basic weapon training, and then I'll take you to the next building."

    They both walked inside. Inside was a shooting range much like the one Mel had just seen outside. Opposite the range was a table, stacked with guns. "Grab one of the pistols on the desk." Mel picked up the smallest pistol, a Seric-Z7. Chloe tossed a clip in her direction, which Mel almost dropped. "Literally just slot it into the space inside the handle." Mel did so, and the gun clicked loudly. "Aiming is relatively easy," Chloe explained, "just line up the top of the gun with the target. Oh, and don't hold the gun too close to your eye. The recoil will force the gun into your face, as I learned the hard way." She chuckled lightly. "You also don't want to hold it at arm's length, because the force could potentially bend your arm the other way, and I don't have to tell you it's not a nice thing to live with. Try to find the middle way, see what's comfortable for you."

    Mel experimented with her arm length and decided that she found it best to stretch her right arm as far as she could and place her left hand under the gun, to support the right arm. Eventually, she felt confident enough to aim her gun at the target Chloe had pulled up. She closed her left eye and made sure the top of her gun was in line with the target. She pulled the trigger. Instantly Mel understood why Chloe hadn't wanted her to hold the gun to her face. If she had, she'd probably be in the hospital ward with a broken nose. She stumbled backwards as the muzzle of the gun flashed and her hand vibrated. She regained her balance and checked where her bullet had hit.

    Chloe whistled. "Bullseye. Nice job." The bullet had hit the head of the target square in the centre. "Now, if you prefer, you can attach a red dot to the gun." She tossed the scope to her again, and Mel caught it. "Literally just slip it onto the top. Aiming is more or less the same, except this time you'll want to align the red dot to the target." Mel did so. Her arms took the same position, she closed her left eye and fired. Another perfect shot. "Red dots are usually more effective when you're running and firing at the same time, but when you're standing still you may prefer not to use one. Of course, that's all down to preference. Reloading a Seric is incredibly easy too. Just squeeze the plate on the top of the handle." Mel squeezed, and the empty magazine dropped like a stone. "Nice. Assault rifles work more or less the same way. To reload, you have to actually pull the magazine out and put it in a new one. We're not going to go through rifles since they're both used the same way."

    A phone rang. Chloe patted herself down, looking for her phone. She finally found it and answered. "Hello?" A pause. "Now? Okay then, we're coming." She put the phone back in her pocket and nodded at Mel. "The captain wants to see you. She's in the next building."

    Chloe beckoned Mel towards the side door. The two walked up to another large door, and Chloe keyed in her ID. "I'll warn you right now," Chloe leaned over and whispered. "the captain's a bit of work."

    The door opened and daylight flooded into the room. Three people inside turned around to face them. Two had their entire faces covered with balaclavas and goggles. "This is Melody Harper, Molly," Chloe told the one in the middle. Molly wore a normal army jacket and black jeans. Her Nike trainers were worn and battered, and her brown hair was only shoulder length.

    She merely nodded. "Harper, it's your turn to run the sweep out test." She waved behind her at the back door. "It's just outside. Aurora's going to track your progress while I stand by and watch. Go through that door." Mel stepped outside.

    This place seemed poorly maintained compared to the grounds themselves. There were lots of cut holes in the wire fences and the grass was patchy. She assumed it was like that on purpose. She turned left and saw someone standing over the weapons table. Mel looked at her hair and realised this was the same girl that had been sniping downrange a few minutes ago. The girl looked up and smiled at Mel. "Hey," she shook her hand. "you're Melody, right? My name's Aurora. I'll be helping you run the course. Grab whatever weapon you like." Mel looked over the weapons assortment and noticed they were the same weapons as in the first building. She skimmed over the sidearms until she found the Seric-Z7, and loaded the gun.

    "Just a handgun?" Aurora smirked. "In that case, let me show you something. I'm not supposed to help the course runners, but you can hold a knife below your gun using your left hand, pointing the same direction as your gun. You can still support the firing arm with your left forearm, so if someone jumps in front of you, you can do a quick jab and keep going." Mel took a single army knife from the table and copied Aurora's position. "That's it. I gotta head up to the observatory. Good luck." She winked.

    "Agent 52247, Melody Harper." Molly's booming voice came on the loudspeakers dotted around on the wire fence. "Your task is to eliminate as many enemy targets as you can. These will be cardboard popups with a masked man aiming a gun at you. There will also be civilians in play. If you shoot a civilian, points will be deducted. You have 60 seconds. Aurora currently holds the record at 22 seconds. Run through the gate when you're ready.The timer will start then." Mel checked her ammo one last time and made sure she had enough magazines to sustain her throughout the course. She assumed the position that Aurora had shown her, her knife hand crossing under her gun hand. She took a deep breath and charged through the gate into the ditch.

    "Go!"

    Three targets immediately popped up behind small rocks, all of them holding guns. Mel quickly shot down all three of them and sprinted to the building. "In the windows! Watch for civilians!" A target appeared in each window, four in total. A civilian target stood in the doorway, wearing a striped shirt and a scared expression drawn. Mel shot all the enemy targets quickly, and the civilian flipped back onto the floor. "Through the building and into the office! Go!"he ran inside and up the stairs. She was about to charge through the office door Swhen a single target popped out of nowhere into Mel's face. "Melee with your knife!"

    Mel remembered Aurora's advice. Do a quick jab, she said. Mel lifted her gun arm and stabbed her left arm forward into the target where the chest would be. "The office is the last station! Kick the door down and eliminate all hostiles!" Mel reloaded her gun and shoved her foot into the door handle as hard as she could. There were four targets in the room, all of them hostile, but there was also a real person with their feet on the desk and leaning back on the chair. Mel took care not to shoot them as she shot the rest of the targets. They all went down.

    The person took their feet off the desk and stood up. Upon closer inspection, Mel realised it was actually Chloe. "Thanks for not blasting my head off," she laughed. "Molly, what's her time?"

    "25 seconds." She said shortly on the loudspeaker.

    Chloe whistled. "That's cutting it close to the record, there. Great job. We run this course at the end of every month. We did this now so we can compare future results with today's. Aurora will take you back to your dormitory room now, where you'll be sleeping."

    ~

    "Good job on the sweep-out course," Aurora admitted. "not many make it under 45 seconds. You hit almost every target on the first shot, how did you do that?"

    "I played a lot of video games when I was younger," Mel shrugged. "but I've kinda grown out of them now."

    Aurora chuckled. "If you beat my record, I'll give you ten pounds. Better start practising." They walked up to a small building with only a few windows. Aurora put all of her fingers and thumb on a small screen next to the door. After a few seconds, the door handle clicked, and she went inside with Mel following behind. "Hey, Ellie! Meet the new girl!" she said as they walked in the dorm.

    Mel noticed that the room was pretty small. It had just enough space to fit the three bunk beds that were already inside. Two were on either side of Mel as she walked in, and the other was against the opposite wall. It was the third bunk bed that Ellie was sitting on, she was on her phone and scrolling through Instagram. She wore a half sleeve black T-shirt and army jeans. She had bright turquoise hair, which was as long as Aurora's. She looked up when she heard Aurora and smiled as she saw Mel. She got up and shook her hand. "Hey, my name's Ellie. It's great to meet you. Obviously, you've already met Aurora."

    "I love your hair!" Mel exclaimed.

    "Thanks, I really like it too." She giggled. "Yeah, you can tell the room's pretty minimal. The Angels prefer spending their budget on hardware and weaponry." She gestured towards the doors on both sides of Ellie's bunk. "Bathroom, laundry room. Pretty simple." She checked her watch. "Ah… dinner's in ten. You can sleep on this bunk here." She knocked on the bed on Mel's right. "Meet us at the canteen for dinner, yeah? It's the last hangar building, probably the one you haven't been to. Unpack your stuff and I'll show you around the place properly after dinner. Sound good?"

    "Yeah."

    "Lovely, I'll see you there!" Both Ellie and Aurora walked out of the room, leaving Mel to unpack and settle down. They're incredibly nice, she thought to herself. She was glad she made the choice to join the Ruby Angels.
    "Where have you been all this time?" Mel asked.

    The carrier touched down in the largest hangar Mel had ever seen. It could probably fit around 20 of these carriers and have room to spare. There were fighter jets and tanks dotted around the place, technicians and engineers working. Aurora jumped out, with Mel following.

    "After the Angels split up, I went underground. I actually found a job in British Intelligence as a hacker and sniper. I got some serious pay from that."

    "Really? Why'd you leave?"

    "I wasn't wild about ‘serving Queen and Country,' so I left and did my own thing. For a few years, I just became a crime fighter. Taking out the odd mugger and the odd robber, stuff like that. Then Michael Kratos showed up, and I couldn't just stand around while this guy was destroying society. I took the money I made from Intelligence and made…" she clicked her tongue and waved her arms around the hangar. "…this. I've established an agency to find Michael Kratos and bring him in. We've been around for a few months, but we haven't got anything solid yet. I'm hoping you've got something that could help."

    Newt coughed. "Well, we do, actually. Kratos' number two spilt information about a confidential meeting with the world leaders, and Elias Gosfield, the President of the United Nations will be there."

    "Isn't that the guy with the massive missile?"

    "Yep. If Kratos gets his way, all of the world leaders will be bleeding corpses, and Gosfield will eventually spill the launch codes."

    "What would he want with a nuclear rocket, though?"

    "Beats me. Maybe as leverage, or blackmail. We don't know yet. But we do know that Kratos will be there personally to see things off, which means we could get a chance to put a round or two in him."

    "Right…" Aurora nodded. "This is good. We're finally making progress. Through here." She opened a door which led into a large office. Computers were dotted all around the room, most of them switched off except for one in the corner. A girl was sending emails and browsing the Internet, she didn't notice everyone come in.

    Aurora spoke up. "Ellie, you're not gonna believe who I found." The girl spun around in her chair and looked at Mel with wide eyes.

    "Harper?" Immediately she got up and ran over to her, and hugged Mel as tightly as she could. "It's so good to see you!" She released Mel and looked at everyone else. "And who may these be?"

    "This is Ark Angel, another task force built to take down Michael Kratos."

    "I see." Ellie nodded. "What do you guys need?"

    "First off, we need a technician for this guy." Aurora jabbed a thumb at Kiro's ripped arm.

    "Oh, that's easy. Just head down the stairs on the right when you leave the room and you'll see a sign saying Technician's Office. He should be able to help you." Kiro nodded and left the room.

    "We also need to organize a new op," Aurora said. "Ark Angel has kindly provided intel about a secret meeting with major politicians around the world, including Elias Gosfield. Gosfield knows the launch sequence for a nuclear weapon, and Kratos wants it for whatever reason."

    "So what's the op?"

    "We know that Kratos himself will be there. We're going to grab our best snipers and plant them around the place. One of us also needs to be there at the meeting as a security guard, in case Kratos decides to be more physical. We could possibly get the French GIGN on the op too, but that seems pretty unlikely, so, for now, it'll be Ark Angel and Hellbringer. The meeting is at 2 in the afternoon, French time. We can also have some of us at the Eiffel Tower, just in case Kratos tries to make an escape there."

    "What about Robyn Winchester?" Newt piped up. "She's still back at Ark Angel."

    "No worries. One of our helicopters is already on the way to pick her up. She should be here in a few hours." Aurora's earpiece crackled. She stopped talking and listened to the male voice. Newt couldn't tell what he was saying, but it must've been a problem because Aurora suddenly scowled and disconnected the radio.

    "This is going to have to wait," she said. "Kratos is invading the local Japanese village!"

    ~

    "There's a village just south of here." A man paced around the room. He called himself Markus, but Newt doubted that was his real name. He didn't look like a Markus to him. He wore a standard military uniform and had a shaved head. "Around 100 kilometres. The enemy is using Javelin missiles and fighter jets to terrorize the village."

    "Is this village in Nagasaki?" Kiro cut in.

    "Yes." Markus said shortly. "Why?"

    "That is where I am from." "I see." Markus nodded. "We have to disable the missile launchers and the jets. We've also had word that they've taken hostages, so we need to rescue them. Hopefully, we'll be able to move on to Paris straight after that."

    Aurora spoke up. "The village is in a valley. We'll set up snipers around the place to provide overwatch while everyone else assaults the village and rescues the hostages. And we're gonna leave behind a hell of devastation."

    "Is the old castle still there?" Kiro interrupted again.

    "The ruins are. I'm told it's still breaking down, so we're not permitted to go there. So put simply, we have overwatch snipers and ground assault teams rescuing the villagers and kicking butts. Any of you know how to fly a helicopter?" Markus asked.

    "I do." Blythe raised her hand. "The name's Blythe, sir."

    "You're getting the team in and out of there, as well as commencing gun runs and fire missions. The demo team will plant explosives on machine guns and any armor and blow it sky high. If you move quickly, you can get straight to Paris with time to spare. You'll insert at the local farm and get extracted at the fuel station on the higher road." He coughed. "Everybody know where they're going? Everybody know what's going on?" He was answered with "Yes sir" and rogers all around. "Then move out. Commandeer the carrier in Bay 74, Blythe."

    ~

    "You're already here, Robyn?" Newt climbed into the helicopter and sat next to her. "Don't worry, I've already been briefed." Robyn's legs looked like they were in perfect condition, no bruises or scars. You never would've guessed that she'd been crushed by a fifty-ton helicopter. She kept her sniper rifle on her lap. "And I'm ready to do some damage."

    "That's good," Newt said as everyone else got in and took their seats, including Aurora.

    "Markus and Ellie are going to be our observation and communications." She said while taking out an earpiece from her pocket and handing it to Newt. "You'll need this." He nodded and attached it to his ear.

    "Here's the team plan," she announced to everyone on the carrier. "Robyn Winchester, Ethan Jyung and I are going to provide overwatch. Minchi Juko and Kapaia Lloyd are going to destroy the enemy weaponry. Everyone else is on ground assault."

    "Rules of engagement?" Newt asked Aurora.

    "Weapons free."
    "What kind of opposition's waiting for us?" Newt asked Aurora.

    "Anti-aircraft gunnery, that's why we're using the Cloak. The enemy is using Javelin missile launchers to terrorize the village, and of course, foot soldiers. Mission is to destroy all the enemy weaponry and save hostages." The helicopter touched down in the large, empty field. The closest building was the small barn, evidently unoccupied by the charred roof and broken windows.

    Everyone got out, and Blythe took to the skies again. "We'll need you to hang around, Blythe," Newt said. "Chances are we'll need fire support."

    "Roger that. I'll be hovering over the general airspace."

    The team ran out of the field and up the side of the mountain, with Aurora and Newt leading. They came to the edge of the path, where they could see the entire village. It wasn't pretty. Most of the buildings had caught flame, some had already been burnt to the ground. In the centre of the village were two large machine guns pointed towards the sky, Newt assumed they were anti-aircraft guns. There were also a few large tanks in the middle, they were launching rockets into the sky, which hit nearby buildings and burnt them to a crisp. The entire village was practically glowing.

    "This is something." Aurora suddenly spoke. "We gotta stop this as soon as we can."

    "Right," Newt nodded. "Sniper Team, set up on the ledge over there," he pointed to the left path, "and provide overwatch. Everyone else, on me. Let's get it done." Aurora, Ethan and Robyn equipped their sniper rifles and ran up the path. Newt beckoned the remainder of the team towards him and ran down into the valley, with everyone in pursuit. The entrance to the village was a mere stone wall with a small gate. Everyone crouched behind the wall and readied their weapons. "Aurora, are we clear to engage?"

    "Roger that. All units, commence the attack."

    There were a group of enemy soldiers walking casually by the gate as if the chaos currently happening didn't appear to them. Newt counted around seven of them. "Mini, toss a nine-banger. Kapaia and Mel, get your guns ready." Mini took a grenade from her belt and pulled the pin. She lobbed it in the group's direction, and they all looked down at the grenade in confusion as it pinged across the ground. However, that soon changed when they started shouting in pain and panic as the small grenade exploded into sparks and dispersed the group, nine explosions in all. "Weapons free!" Newt shouted as he got up and leapt over the wall. Mel and Kapaia were already on their feet, blasting at the enemy stragglers with their handguns. In a matter of seconds, they were all dead.

    "Assault Team, push up to the village centre!" Aurora spoke into the radio. "You've got a bit of opposition, twenty plus foot-mobiles and technicals." Newt heard a sniper shot from her microphone as she spoke.

    "By, we're moving up to the middle! Soften them up!"

    "Roger that, engaging gun run, danger close," Blythe called over the radio. Newt looked up and saw their helicopter fly over. He heard a low hum as it flew over him, and he knew that was the sound of its weapon system warming up.

    "Let's go!" Newt shouted as he picked up an assault rifle from one of the dead soldiers and ran into the village square. The air was filled with the constant drumming of Blythe's miniguns and missile launchers. Newt saw that most of the opposition were hiding in windows or behind burning cars. Most of them were firing on Blythe, but their bullets did not affect the heavy-duty chassis. He immediately opened fire on the soldiers behind the cars, who couldn't do anything but crumple to the ground. By this time everyone else had caught up with Newt and started killing their own share of enemies. Mini threw grenades at the mobile gunners until their vehicles exploded with large bangs, but these were hardly audible over the sheer mess of guns being fired.

    One brave soldier tried to get up close to Newt, but his bravery was in vain as Newt quickly unsheathed a knife and slit his throat. He fell to the ground, clasping his bleeding neck and choking. It was as Newt finished his kill that his natural sense compelled him to look at the building furthest from him on the other side of the square. He looked up to the highest window and saw a single person aiming an assault rifle up at Blythe's helicopter. No... not an assault rifle. It was something else.

    Crap.

    "Blythe!" he yelled. "Get out of here!"

    Too late.

    A single rocket launched from the soldier's weapon, which Newt now identified as a Stinger missile launcher. He knew hoping that the rocket would miss was hopeless. Stingers were built to seek their targets, and the helicopter was much too large.

    A large orange cloud erupted from the side of the helicopter where the rocket had hit. Newt heard Blythe grunt from the impact and saw the helicopter spinning around in circles chaotically. "Don't worry, I can get back up! I still have pressure in the pedals!" Blythe shouted. "Come on, you son of a gun! Keep their fire off me!"

    "Aurora! Stinger missiles in the southmost window at my 12 o'clock!"

    "I got him." She replied. Instantly the figure at the window went down with a splatter of blood. "Get Demo Team to take out the heavy weapons, or Blythe isn't going to get out of there alive."

    "Mini, Kapaia, get C4 on those artillery! Go!" The weapons were still launching rockets into the sky, and their gunners didn't seem to notice two quick people darting to each launcher and arming C4 on each underbelly. Just as quickly as they had arrived, Kapaia and Mini sprinted as fast as they could back to the safety of their squad. "Blow the charges," Newt said. Both women held their detonators and pressed their charges. Instantly all of the artillery blew apart, their chassis parts flying everywhere. The gunners hadn't even known that they were about to die. Mini felt a momentary pang of guilt, but soon picked herself back up when she realised that those men were killing innocent civilians. They probably deserved to die in such a way.

    "Thanks for the assist, guys." Blythe exhaled heavily as she managed to bring the helicopter back to the air. "Torque feels okay. Tail rotor effective, and hydraulics seem to be holding. Fuel at eighty percent."

    "English, Blythe."

    "I'm good to go, thanks."

    "Good job, Demo Team." Aurora's voice returned. "We've got new orders from the top. Markus reckons the enemy have hostages in the house furthest to the north, right at the edge of the village. Bedroom on the first floor. Get the Assault Team to storm the house and free the hostages. We'll be providing overwatch. Get moving."

    "Copy all. Let's go! House at the north end of the village!" Newt shouted to his team. "Mel, take point!" Mel ran into a smaller road while drawing her pistol, with Kiro and everyone else falling behind. She checked all of her corners carefully, making sure there wasn't a straggler or stray sniper.

    Suddenly Mel was conscious of how strangely quiet everything was. The surrounding gunfire had ceased, and the explosions had stopped. It made Mel a little uneasy. She abruptly thought of a song that she used to sing when she was really young. She wasn't sure why she thought of it just now, but she couldn't help but admit to herself that it made her feel a little bit braver.

    Behind Mel, Kiro was watching her back. He kept both hands on both of his swords, ready to quickly cut down anyone who tried to attack her. His bionic left eye was blinded from the fire in his thermal vision, and he could hear the flames roaring in his ears. It weirdly reminded him of how a waterfall sounds. For some reason, it relaxed him. Kiro liked Mel. He wasn't sure why. He admired her ability in combat, sure, but what was she to him, outside of the war zone? Kiro didn't like to think much about romance or anything like that, he thought that sort of thing was not important. However, he had to admit that something made Mel stand out from the rest of his squadmates. Maybe it was her bright green hair, he didn't know. He doubted Mel was interested anyway. And even if she was, he would want to spare Mel the publicity of liking a bionic super-soldier. He knew one thing though; he could not stand anything bad happening to her.

    Suddenly all of his senses focused on Mel. The air next to her shimmered slightly. She hadn't noticed. Kiro did.

    Alarms wailed in his mind. He lunged forward just as a man dressed in standard military uniform materialized out of nowhere, his cloaking device disabled. Kiro tackled him to the dusty ground before the soldier had a chance to unsheathe an army knife. Both warriors rolled onto the ground. Kiro was flat on the floor, with the soldier on top. He equipped his army knife, ready to impale it in Kiro's glowing core. Kiro moved his arms so that they crossed each other in an X-shape, just as the man thrust down with his knife. The blade tip never reached its target as Kiro's X blocked the strike. He immediately reached with his mechanical left hand and gripped the man's knife arm firmly. His arm shot downwards, and the man yelled in pain as the tissue in his shoulder tore. He dropped his knife and it fell to Kiro's side. Why wasn't anyone doing anything? He realised. He was about to be skewered!

    He finally found the chance to unsheathe his own wakizashi from his waist and cut across his assailant's neck. He did not attempt to cover his neck nor retaliate, he awkwardly stumbled on Kiro's right. He was dead before he hit the ground, his blood forming a dark red puddle around his corpse.

    Kiro stood straight and dusted his clothes off, while almost maliciously glaring at the rest of his team. Mel was the first to speak. "You…" she almost stammered, her eyes wide, "you saved my life."

    "Don't dwell on it. We still have civilians to rescue."

    ~

    The house was pretty big. It had two floors plus an attic and made from clean oak wood. Whoever owned this house must've had a lot of money to burn. "Stay frosty. There may be stragglers hiding in the house. Check your corners and keep your weapons tight. Sniper Team will cover the outside." Aurora said.

    "Copy all. Blythe, get to the extraction point. We'll meet you there along with the hostages." Blythe roger'd and the helicopter took off into the sky. Newt quickly formulated a plan in his head. "Two assault teams. Kiro, take Kapaia and Mel and cut the power. Enter through the back door afterwards. Fletch, Mini on me. Sakura, hold position out here until we get everyone out." His orders were understood and responded to by everyone. "My team, stack up on the door. Kiro, go around. We'll breach as soon as you cut the power." Kiro nodded and beckoned his own squad to move around the back of the house. Newt's team equipped their guns and lay flat against the wall against the door.

    They stayed in this position for a few seconds until Kiro's voice came over the intercom. "I've cut the power. Go." Newt noticed all of the lights in the house dying. He reached for the door handle, knife in his other hand. He turned the handle and pushed the door softly. It swung open without a sound.

    "Fletch, activate our NV modules," Newt whispered as he crept into the living room.

    "Night vision online now." He replied softly. Instantly Newt's world changed. The house was still dark, but the floor and walls were split into large squares which occasionally pulsed green. He looked forward and saw a single figure illuminated in green. He was aiming his rifle directly at Newt, but he didn't fire, because he couldn't actually see him. Newt wasn't going to wait for the man to sense his presence. He lunged forwards. He covered the man's mouth with his left hand and spun a knife in his right, which he shoved into his chest. The man groaned, but the sound was muffled greatly. It took Newt two stabs in the chest for the man to finally stop tensing, and he caught the dead corpse just before it could hit the floor.

    "Up the stairs. Move." Newt hissed. They crawled up the staircase as quietly as they could, the occasional creak breaking the eerie silence. When Newt broke into the first floor, he looked up and saw another green figure looking directly at him. He panicked and made to stab his leg, but the figure caught his arm.

    "Check your target, it's just me." Kiro chided. Newt dropped his arm in embarrassment and mumbled an apology. He knew Kiro wouldn't care if he heard it or not. "Five rooms up here, as well as the attic. That makes six rooms and six of us. One person to breach each room. Choose whatever room you want. If there are enemies, we'll be going loud. Weapons tight, the last thing we need is to accidentally kill a hostage."

    Mini volunteered to take the attic. It was hidden by a trap door on the ceiling, so she had to find a ladder that would take her up. She lifted the trapdoor ever so slightly while dislodging a flashbang from her belt. She tossed the grenade into the room and instantly slammed the trapdoor shut as everyone downstairs kicked their doors open. A small explosion was heard in the attic, which was Mini's signal to move in. She flipped the trapdoor open and ran at the two men who were shouting in panic. In a few seconds, both of them were on the floor, blood oozing from their necks. She turned her attention to her left. A little girl was tied up and gagged on a small chair, Mini estimated she was around five years old. She immediately went to work untying her, wondering if she was traumatized by the way she'd murdered her captors. The girl tried to stand but instantly collapsed. Her face was stained with tears.

    Mini held her face in her hands and spoke to her in Japanese. "Do you understand what I am saying?" The girl whimpered but nodded. "Go downstairs and look for the blonde man. He will help you." She held the girl's hand as she climbed down the ladder and met with the rest of her team. There only seemed to be one hostage, which Mini assumed was the girl's mother. The girl immediately broke from Mini's grip and ran to her and hugged her tightly. The woman looked up to Mini and whispered "Arigatō."

    "No problem."
    She replied.

    Newt's earpiece cracked. "Guys, we have a problem," Aurora said. "Japanese reinforcements are en route to your position. Get to the LZ immediately, Sniper Team is already on their way." Almost right on cue, the windows behind them shattered loudly and the familiar noise of gunfire had returned. The little girl started wailing.

    "Everyone to the extraction point, double time! We'll cut through the castle ruins!" Newt shouted.

    "But Markus said they were unstable! We could die in there!" Mel argued.

    "I know we're definitely going to die if we run out into the open, we don't have any other choice!" He thundered down the steps, and the rest of the team reluctantly followed. They burst through the back door into a small garden. Newt scaled the fence and kept running towards the ruins.

    Very soon all of the team were inside the ruins. "Stop running," Newt panted, "they won't dare to look in here." The little girl, whose name Mini had learnt was Asuka, had stopped wailing. However, she was still sobbing quietly into her mother's clothes. "We'll move quickly to the other end of the ruins, where Blythe's waiting with our ride out of here. Whatever you do, don't stop running."

    "Newt, this is Aurora. Sniper Team are on the helicopter, where the hell are you?"

    "We're on our way! We're passing through the ruins as a shortcut! Out!" Newt almost growled quietly in his throat. "Move! Now!" Everyone sprinted out from their hiding place across the courtyard of the broken castle. They didn't make an effort to check their corners or watch their backs. All they wanted was to get out of here.

    All except for Kiro, who'd taken the back of the line. As he was running, he saw a flash of white disappear into one of the broken buildings. This sparked Kiro's interest. The soldiers they'd been fighting were wearing standard military clothing, so who was so important that they wore a white coat?

    Kiro stopped running.

    No one took notice of it. He turned direction and followed the white flash into the building. There was no light at all. His night vision mod didn't help at all, so he had to rely on his own natural sense. There was no sound, except for the occasional tapping of running footsteps.

    "Kiro Nakamura."

    He froze.

    "You made a mistake, following me in here." It was Michael Kratos. No doubt about it. Kiro drew both swords and prepared for a surprise attack.

    "Oh, you don't need that arm."

    What?

    Suddenly Kiro lost all feeling in his mechanical left arm. It dropped loosely to his side, and his sword clattered loudly on the ground. As much as he tried, he couldn't move his arm. Now he was left only with his right arm and his own wits. "Leave me alone, Kratos."

    "Leave you alone?" his voice echoed around the room. He almost sounded amused. "It was your choice to follow me here, and I'm not letting you leave." Kiro's night vision suddenly came back online, and he had to focus his mind to adapt to the new conditions. He looked on his left and was met with the green face of Michael Kratos, grinning in his face. He swung his sword into him, right at his neck. The blade passed all the way through, but he did not collapse. Instead, he just tilted his head to the side and dissolved. He looked behind him and saw Kratos again. He delivered a swift strike to the stomach. Same result. His night vision flickered, blinding Kiro between total darkness and green walls. He stumbled backwards, and suddenly started shrieking as he felt his entire body burn. He couldn't think straight or even react properly. Kiro screamed and collapsed as every bionic circuit in his body exploded.

    People usually looked up to Kiro as the man who could not be shaken, could not be broken. But he was only seventeen. He was still a child. Which meant he could always be scared. "What's happening to me?!" he shrieked.

    "Simple." Kratos' voice was much closer now. Kiro looked up and saw the man himself towering over him. The flaring pain had stopped, but his body still ached. He stood up very slowly while Kratos watched him without expression, his scar seeming to be brighter in darkness. It was only then that Kiro noticed what Kratos held in his hand, a black MR97 revolver. Loaded. "I'm disabling all of your systems. You'll never see the light of day again."

    "Monsutā." Kiro hissed. Monster. He took one weak but final swing at Kratos' face, and that was his mistake.

    Kratos caught his flying fist and slammed his revolver into Kiro's face. He felt his mask shatter and stumbled backwards. The part of his face he had been hiding for years, painted with scars and battle wounds, was now exposed. Kiro let that distract him, which gave Kratos the opportunity to shove him into a nearby wall face-first. Kiro went dizzy, and fell to the floor, dazed. His mechanical eye had stopped functioning, he only had vision in his right eye. He tasted blood in his mouth. Through his blurred, one-eyed vision, he saw his attacker standing over him once again, aiming his revolver directly at his core, blinking red. "I'll be sure to send them your regards," Kratos growled. Those were the last words Kiro ever heard, as a single bullet penetrated his armour and core, completely disrupting all of his vital systems. He had a few seconds to feel his entire body go into spasm, his limbs catching fire once more, his vision filling with red before he finally rested on the stone, cold ground.

    Kiro died.




    Kratos holstered his own revolver and whistled. Instantly two masked men appeared on his sides. One was holding a video camera. "Tear him apart," Kratos ordered. "I want to send a message to Ark Angel."

    Note to the reader: I do plan on killing more of the characters during the story.
    "Fellow citizens of the world. You do not need me to tell you who I am. But I will tell you this: you are afraid. You are afraid because you have been brought… into the light." The video on the screen was pitch black for a few seconds before the cameraman moved into the light. It pointed at Kratos' face, a scowl hardened with scorn, eyes full of injustice and murder. "The human race is evolving quickly. Your scientists tell you this is beneficial… but I tell you, this is what will kill us all. This is what I mean." Kratos stepped out of the camera's view, and what was now in view sent fear into the hearts of every person watching the livestream.

    It was Kiro, but… it wasn't Kiro. His full face was exposed, his mask now disposed of. His head and face were fine, but it was under the neck that shocked everyone. Wires and circuits were coming out from the inside of Kiro's limbs which had been detached from his torso. Strangely, there was no blood, just shining metal wires and connections covering Kiro's body. His vital core which once glowed an ambient red was now dim and shattered, a clean hole perfectly cut out in the centre. It looked like a robot had been ripped apart and its circuitry strewn everywhere.

    "Do you see this?" Kratos said. "This man – no, this boy – depended on technology to save his own life, and this is what he has come to. Technology is easily manipulated, easily used. Technology is the result of what happens when we, as humans, use our intelligence to make life easier for ourselves. But it has its drawbacks. Everything… has its drawbacks. Nothing is perfect, and nothing will ever be perfect. Like us, tech has its flaws and faults.

    "Technology is a cancer. I am here to liberate you from this cancer. But this can only be done if I have total control." He said the last few words with emphasis. "I demand access to all critical systems of all countries. Communications, industries, everything. I require the world leaders to hand over all of their power… to me.

    "And I leave off with this last message to Ark Angel, the anti-war group responsible for the delays in my conquest. You have twenty-four hours to surrender your cause, or else I assure you, every single one of you will meet the same fate as Kiro Nakamura."
    The video turned to black and ended. Every member of Ark Angel stared at the blank screen in total silence, the only present sounds being the howling wind outside and the occasional sob of Mini, her face in her hands. Blythe had a hand on her shoulder, doing her best to comfort her.

    Finally, Mel stood up. "We're not going to let him get away with this, are we?" she hissed.

    "No," Newt said quietly. "we're not."

    "So why the hell are we just sitting here when we could be out there, painting holes in that lunatic's skull?"

    "Because we have a different job to do. What matters now is the safety of Elias Gosfield, even if that man deserves a bullet or two himself."

    "He's right," Ethan spoke up. "I don't know about you guys, but I think the death of one over millions is worth it. There's no point mourning someone that's already gone. Right now we need to focus on the Paris mission." Everyone muttered agreement.

    "I'll go through the mission plan one last time," Aurora said. "Gosfield and the world leaders are meeting privately in the building north of the Eiffel Tower. Newt is going to infiltrate the building and keep an eye on the meeting. Ethan and Kapaia are going to set up a sniper in the building south of the Tower and wait for Kratos to show. Everyone else is going to hold position at the Tower."

    "Wait, why me?" Kapaia complained.

    "There's no one else to do the job. Mini's going to set up claymores in the park, so you'll just be making sure Ethan spots his target." Aurora said shortly.

    "We're going to insert quietly," Newt said. "we don't want Kratos nor Gosfield to know that we're there. I don't need to remind you how important this mission is. Either Kratos dies tomorrow, or we do. I think you know which option I prefer." Everyone nodded.

    "Michael Kratos showing his head in the middle of a killzone?" Robyn mused. "Sounds convenient, if you ask me."

    "Overconfidence makes you careless," Newt scolded, "and there's no room for error."

    "The city's locked down tight," Ethan said. "How are we getting in?"

    Newt almost chuckled. "You'll see."

    ~

    "Okay, when I asked how we're getting in, I didn't think this would be it." Ethan groaned in disgust as he waded through the sewage pipe. His clothes were very soggy and at one time he got the full experience of sewer water splashing into his face. He didn't think he'd ever be able to get the taste out of his mouth. "I would've preferred a more hygienic infil."

    "Shut up Ethan, I think you'd rather be swimming in wastewater than be shot full of holes. Let's just get this over with." Newt chided. The two, as well as Kapaia, moved slowly through the water, careful not to make a splash. The stink was horrible, and their clothes stuck to them. They eventually emerged from the sewage pipe into a stream leading to the docks. It was night, and the rain was coming down like hail. The noise filled their ears.

    "I'll be damned, what are these soldiers for?" Kapaia asked. On each platform stood an armed guard, dressed in full black which made him almost invisible in the pitch-black sky. She estimated there were at least twenty of them.

    "Probably the army. Looks like Gosfield got his security right." Ethan said.

    "Well, it won't make a difference if they're friendly or not. They'll fire on any unrecognized contacts. Stay in the water and move under the platforms." They started moving again, silently and slowly. The guards couldn't hear them over the deafening storm and were too busy looking out on the street. Their earpieces cracked. It was Aurora.

    "This is Aurora. We've convinced the French police to work with us on this op, but they're going to take a while to get here. Like, at least an hour."

    "Better get moving quickly, then," Newt said. The connection cut off. "Up here," Newt said. He climbed up onto the concrete floor, instantly hit with the freezing rain. He reached back to the water to help Ethan up, who helped Kapaia. "I bet you're glad you're out of the water, eh?" he nudged Ethan.

    "You worry about yourself, Newt." He retorted.

    "Fair enough. Stay low, we'll leg it to the building over there," he pointed, "try not to alert anyone."

    The Eiffel Tower stood directly in front of them. Despite what was happening, Newt had to admit that the sight was impressive. It might have been even better if there weren't armed men crawling around the place. "Go!" he hissed. The three ran as fast as they could around the park and stuck to the shadows where they couldn't be seen. None of the guards even glanced in their direction as they hid behind the building, waiting for the shouts alerting their presence to everyone else. They didn't come. "Doesn't look like anyone saw us. You two, get to the end of the road and on the top floor of the overwatch building. I'll be going to the target building. Don't get spotted." Newt ran into the nearest alleyway and disappeared.

    "Guess we're on our own, now." Kapaia sighed. "Come on, let's go. Don't want to keep him waiting." She tapped Ethan's shoulder and jogged along the road, with Ethan in pursuit. Still, none of the guards looked in their direction. Most of them were either staring up at the Eiffel Tower or just simply standing around, their weapons hanging loosely.

    Ethan escaped his near daydream as Kapaia suddenly stopped. "Get down, now!" she hissed, and both of them hit the floor. Ethan looked up and saw a thin red dot dancing on the ground near them. "Sniper on the top of the Tower." She said. "Take him out, or he'll alert the others." Ethan equipped his sniper rifle very slowly and pointed it at the top of the tower. He saw a single figure standing there, a laser sight issuing from their sniper. He lined up his crosshairs and pulled the trigger quickly. Perfect headshot.

    "Good shot. Keep moving." They got back on their feet and continued their journey. In the ten minutes they were jogging, they passed soldiers, spotlights, landmines, snipers. They even passed a tank at one point, heavily armoured and manning a machine gun.

    "That's some serious firepower," Ethan noted, "this meeting must be pretty important."

    "That's why we can't get spotted. You don't want to get shredded by that thing. Come on, we're almost there."

    Soon they were crouching behind a dumpster leaning against a metal fence. Kapaia looked through the gaps in the fence and immediately her heart sank slightly. It was a bloody convention out there. At least thirty armed soldiers were standing guard around the yard, and from what she could tell from the looks on their faces, they were way more experienced than the ones they'd passed. The place itself looked like a market square. Makeshift wooden booths were set up in the middle, their shelves lined with stuffed toys and food. There was no one tending these booths.

    "Damn me, it's not going to be easy taking on all of these guys at once." She hesitated. "Then again, neither is sneaking past them."

    Newt's voice cut through the night. "I'm in position, how are things?"

    "Not good," she replied, "there's a heck ton of military here, and there's no bloody way we're going through with a fight."

    "Okay... hold on." Newt exhaled. "I think I can see you. I've got a telescopic sight with me. I may be able to help you sneak past them."

    "It'll be close. The sun will come up any minute."

    ~

    Newt observed the courtyard below him. He was standing on the roof of an office building, on one knee and peering through his mini-telescope. He spotted Kapaia and Ethan crouching behind the green dumpster and counted each individual guard in his sight. 27 in all. This was not going to be easy.

    There were a few tall flowerbeds dotted around the square, growing orchids and daffodils. They could crawl behind them to stay out of sight. They could also duck behind the booths, but other than that, the market square did not offer a great deal of cover. Kapaia was right. It was going to be an incredibly close escape.

    "Okay, once that soldier directly in front of you moves position, leap over the fence and lie behind the flowerbed. I'll tell you when he moves." Newt sat there staring at the man standing in front of the fence. It didn't look like he was paying a lot of attention. His eyes frequently shot to look at different places and he didn't seem to know where to put his arms. He continued this odd behaviour for about ten seconds before a deep shout filled the air, and he walked away from the fence. "Move, now!" he ordered. Kapaia and Ethan climbed over the fence and lay flat on their bellies next to the flowerbed.

    "There's nobody in front of us," Ethan said, "should we make a run for it?"

    "No. Better not take the risk. Just keep crawling towards the road. I'll tell you if anyone comes." Thankfully, he didn't have to. The soldiers didn't change their positions, and after a minute or two, Kapaia and Ethan were safely out of the killzone.

    "Thanks, Newt. We owe you big time." Kapaia said.

    "No problem. Get to your sniper post, I'll get to my own position. Out."

    ~

    The connection cut out. "We're not far from the place. Just the top of this building here." Kapaia looked up at the seven-storey building that towered in front of her. It looked like a hotel, no doubt occupied. It wouldn't take an age to scale the wall at all, but there wouldn't be any need if nobody knew they were here.

    "Chance of hostiles?" Ethan asked.

    "Probably zero. I'd assume most of the residents are asleep, so we'll just move up the stairs. Stay quiet though, we don't need to wake anyone up."

    "I get you. I don't think anyone would take kindly to two armed killing machines." "You call yourself a killing machine?" Kapaia smirked.

    "Ninety-seven per cent shot accuracy, Kapaia. Try and keep up." Ethan smiled sweetly at Kapaia and entered the building. After rolling her eyes, she followed him up the stairs silently.

    Two minutes later they entered an old, dusty room on the highest floor of the hotel. A small, broken bed creaked on their left, and the walls were worn out and grey. "Newt, we're in position." Kapaia said.

    "Copy that. Just sit tight, we've got a few hours until the meeting."
    "Sniper Team, radio check."

    "Copy. We're dug in with line of sight."

    "Right. Fletch is hacking into the radio signals inside the building. Soon we'll be able to hear everything they're saying."

    It was four in the morning. Ethan and Kapaia were lounging on the creaky bed of the top floor bedroom, Kapaia playing with her fingers while Ethan clicked bullets into a magazine one by one. Kapaia was gazing out of the window and onto the road below her. It was completely empty, but that was to be expected so early in the morning. It also made target tracking easier. "Be advised, Diamond's vehicle just pulled into the back," Newt called. Both of them knew that Diamond was the callsign for Elias Gosfield, the big figure in the United Nations. Their primary mission was to make sure Diamond didn't get shot in the head. If they shot Kratos in the head, that would be a little bonus. "Just remember, we can't nail Kratos as soon as we see him. We need to gather intel on the meeting first. If talk about the missile comes up, I need to know about it."

    "I hear ya." Kapaia relayed this information with Ethan, who merely nodded. "We've got scaffolding on our building. We can use that for a quick escape."

    A new voice introduced itself into the conversation. "This is Fletch." He said. "I've got control of the radio comms inside the building. We'll be able to hear everything now."

    "Copy that, Fletch. Kapaia, what do you see?"

    "I've got nothing. Looks like Kratos is late for his own funeral." She allowed herself a little chuckle.

    "Just sit tight until you get a clean shot. Then you can put as many rounds in him as you like."

    "It'll only take one."

    ~

    Fletch closed the lid of his laptop and exhaled heavily. He heard small footsteps behind him and whirled around to meet Robyn walking towards him. "Something wrong?" she asked.

    "No," Fletch responded. "I mean, I guess I'm just a little bit on edge. Our last assassination plan was a bust, so I'm kinda anxious to see how this turns out." Robyn had to reach down to put her hand on the boy's shoulder.

    "We won't fail this time," she forced a small smile, "just focus on the task at hand. If something does come up, we'll deal with it then. Not now."

    Fletch had to admit that her words held a bit of comfort. "Thanks." He said. "I needed that."

    "And anyway, there's not a lot that can go wrong. Honestly, worst case scenario is that Kratos somehow knows about our plan."

    "That's what happened at Northwell. You know how that went down."

    Robyn shivered as she remembered being hit with a helicopter. "I'm positive it won't happen this time. He's not going to expect another sniper shot." Robyn promised. "Take it easy. We'll be alright." She saluted Fletch and wandered off in another direction. Fletch opened his laptop again and stared at the green screen.

    He sighed to himself. "But what if we won't?" he whispered to himself.

    ~

    "Four armoured vehicles approaching the building," Kapaia called to Newt.

    "Do you see him?"
    he replied.

    "Not yet. Standby."

    "Be advised, the meeting's about to start."

    "Copy. Oi, c'mere." Kapaia beckoned to Ethan. He groaned and got up from the bed lazily, and picked up his sniper rifle. "The meeting will be on the second floor. It's go time." Ethan slotted his full magazine into the gun and rested the bipod on the window ledge. He flicked off his safety switch and brought the sight to his right eye.

    Immediately he could see the entire building in detail. He saw the two guards standing on each balcony, the three by the main door and goodness knew how many were inside the building itself. Newt was going to have a hard time getting in undetected. "I see him." Ethan signalled Newt on the radio. "Third vehicle." He zoomed in on the armoured jeep and checked the man in the passenger seat. He'd seen enough pictures of Kratos to recognise the obvious scar and scowl that never seemed to disappear. Ethan was sort of interested to see what Kratos looked like when he smiled. "Wish I could nail him right now."

    "Easy. Get the intel first. You should be getting the feedback now."

    Suddenly Ethan's earpiece cracked loudly and he almost dropped his sniper. When he regained his focus, he listened closely to what he could hear in the meeting. The only thing he heard so far was the gruff voice of Elias Gosfield. "Dear friends… first of all, I would like to thank you for going through the effort to attend today." Ethan groaned quietly and rolled his eyes. He wished Gosfield would cut the small talk and get to business.

    "The convoy's moving into the underground garage now," Ethan said.

    "Right. It's time to move forward with the plan. I'm in position. Ready?" Ethan moved his focus from the ground to the top of the building. He slowly panned over the roof until he saw a small flashing light from behind the large clock. He zoomed in to see Newt holding a reflector in his palm.

    "Aye, I've got you in my sights." He panned downwards and relayed more information with Newt. "Two on the balcony directly below you. I can't take any shots until you're compromised. You'll have to take them on your own. Good luck."

    ~

    Newt peeked over the edge. He picked out the two hostiles directly below him, about ten metres separating them. He took a carabiner from his belt and hooked it to one of the lantern posts, and yanked on it just to make sure it was secure. Once he was certain that it would hold his weight, he stood straight on the ledge of the roof, facing towards the building. He took a deep breath and jumped.

    He grimaced at the reeling sound his rappel made, but he was comforted by the fact that the guards probably wouldn't hear it over the still raging storm. He was now hanging directly above the two guards and descending very slowly. He had to act quickly, otherwise, he'd land right on top of them. He reached behind his back for his knives and held them firmly, ready to eliminate both of them. He thrust each hand towards a neck, his victims taken completely by surprise. They tried to cough, tried to scream, anything to alert everyone inside about what was happening. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't do so. Newt was almost certain he saw the end of one knife exit the back of one of their necks. After a few seconds, they stopped struggling, and their eyes rolled into their heads. Newt planted his feet on the balcony and disconnected his rappel, which shot back up to the roof, screaming silently. He tossed both bodies from the balcony, the only signs of disturbance on the balcony being the blood splash. That meant Newt had to silently eliminate as many hostiles as he could before someone spotted the blood.

    He peeked into the room, which looked like some sort of office. There were lots of table with computers sat on top, none of them switched on. Most of these were occupied by soldiers, some dressed in formal suits, some in military-grade uniform. They were either sleeping or just staring into a blank screen. Newt switched to the very back of the room where an even smaller office was located. It had glass walls and a single door, inside the office was a single desk and computer. A large man was lounging in the chair, his hands behind his head and feet on the desk. It looked like he was sleeping. Newt also spotted his assault rifle at the other end of the room, a black SCAR-Z. It would take the man at least ten seconds to get up and grab his assault rifle, plus the time it would take for him to wake up. This would be an easy kill if he could actually get there with twenty guards in the room.

    Newt dove behind the desk closest to the window, one of the few places where there weren't any guards. He crawled slowly along the floor, careful not to make a sound. Even with the violent storm outside, the sound of shuffling would be more obvious indoors. It took him thirty seconds to get to the other side of the room. He got himself back up without a sound and silently entered the office.

    Now that he was inside, Newt could pick out more details of the room. Whoever actually owned it liked to keep it personal. There were picture frames dotted on the walls, most of them featuring a young woman and a little girl, maybe around seven years old. Both with blonde hair and blue eyes. Newt couldn't help but feel a little warm inside. He remembered someone who cared about him as much as this man cared about his wife and kid. Oh man, the price he'd pay to bring them back…

    Focus! Newt snapped back to the present. He told himself there was no use dwelling on the past and chided himself for doing so. What mattered now was the mission at hand. He could not let bad memories distract him.

    He spun a knife in his hand and crawled to the chair. He got to his feet very slowly, so as to not alert anyone with sudden movements. He held his right hand over the man's mouth and nose and thrust his left-hand knife into his chest. Strangely, he didn't scream; he just groaned quietly as his hands dropped and his head rolled to the side. As Newt removed the blade from his chest, he noticed that the blood had only stained his shirt, which was pretty much invisible against his black top. That meant he could leave the corpse on the chair where everyone thought he was still sleeping. Newt removed his hand from the man's mouth and slid the knife back into its place. He went back to crawling across the carpet, towards the SCAR-Z. Soon he was able to reach his hand above the desk and get a grip on the rifle's body. He exited the office quickly and got to work eliminating more soldiers. He slung the assault rifle across his back and unsheathed both knives. He crept up to one unsuspecting guard from behind, ready to slit his neck. But before he got the chance, he heard a heavy French accent shout from the main office. "Il est mort! He's dead!"

    Newt swore under his breath as a volley of bullets zipped over his head. He immediately dropped to the floor and equipped his SCAR. "Ethan, I'm compromised! Weapons free! Take out the guys on my floor!"

    A man came barrelling around his corner, holding a shotgun. Newt instinctively dived to the left, in the vain hope that he would fire in the spot he was before. However, he didn't even get the chance to pull the trigger as a booming shot rang out and the soldier practically exploded in a cloud of blood. Newt could've sworn he saw his arm fly off. "Well, don't just lie there. Get up and fight!" Ethan called. Newt rolled backwards and got to his feet quickly. He equipped the SCAR and immediately started laying rounds on anything that moved while ducking behind a computer desk. With the constant drumming of his assault rifle as well as the occasional sniper shot from Ethan, the room was very soon clear of all hostiles. The floor was littered with corpses and painted with blood.

    "The people at the meeting are gonna evacuate after this massacre," Newt said. Ethan didn't reply. Newt's end remained silent. "Ethan? You there?"

    "Not good…" Ethan was barely audible over his held breath. "this is a problem."

    "What's up?"

    "The leaders haven't left the meeting room yet for some reason… damn it. I think they're locked in!"

    "Locked in?" Newt asked. "Impossible. Kratos wouldn't want Diamond locked in there."

    "That's the problem," Ethan said slowly. "Diamond isn't there."

    "The hell?"

    "He must've left early. That means – oh shoot…"

    "Ethan, stop stalling! Tell me what's going on!" Newt said impatiently.

    "Newt… your room is lined with explosives."

    Newt immediately froze. He slowly turned his head to look behind him, panned along the edges of the walls and floor. He didn't know how he hadn't noticed them before, but sure enough, there were tiny plastic explosives pasted all over the office. No doubt they were some under the desks, too. "Primed?"

    ~

    Ethan was still tracing the line of explosives with his crosshair. He swore under his breath. "Yeah…" he breathed. "primed, but not activated."

    "Well, I can see that. Just tell me –"

    Ethan interrupted him. "Fletch? D'you copy?" No reply. "Fletch?"

    "He can't hear you."

    That wasn't Newt's voice. This one was deeper, more throaty, and with an accent.

    "Isaac Newton. Hell awaits you." Kratos growled.

    Ethan was still zoomed in on Newt's office, watching his movement. He definitely seemed to be panicking now, hearing Kratos' voice on their own secure communication line. He kept his sight on Newt for a few more seconds until he had a new thought, and his heart sank. He looked back to the explosive packets. They were blinking red. "Newt! Get out of there!" he screamed. Newt reacted immediately, springing on his feet and sprinting as fast as he could towards the door. Ethan didn't get to see if Newt made it out or not before the entire floor burst into flames. A deafening explosion pierced Ethan's and Kapaia's ears as the windows shattered and a red and orange cloud engulfed half of the building's exterior. Ethan could even hear the roar of the flames from the other side of the street. He barely had time to react before the floor directly above Newt's also exploded, the floor where the meeting was taking place. Damn it.

    "Another well-planned, sophisticated assassination attempt." Kratos mused. "Pathetic..."

    "What the hell's going on?" Kapaia shouted to Ethan. He didn't have time to give a reply before he got a sinking feeling again because behind Kapaia, the walls and ceiling were blinking red, and the beeping noise was getting faster and faster. She didn't even have to turn around to realise what was happening. She immediately made for the open window and shoved Ethan towards the opening as hard as she could. "GET OUT! NOW!"

    Ethan panicked. He didn't know what was happening. Everything went so fast, just a flash in his eyes. He scarcely felt Kapaia shoving him out of the window, his vision kept spinning. He looked up just in time to see Kapaia jump from the window, but it was too late. The second her foot left the window ledge, the explosives detonated. The cloud swallowed her body, and Ethan thought he heard her scream above the cacophony. He felt himself land on something, he assumed it was the scaffolding on the building. But whatever he landed on snapped, so he kept falling, and he kept landing. Falling. Landing. Over and over again, until the ground finally shot up to meet him. He hit the stone floor face down.

    He couldn't see a thing. His sight was blurry, cloudy even. He made an attempt to get back on his feet and looked up at the building he'd just jumped from. His vision only focused a second before his sniper rifle landed on and crushed his nose with a nasty crack. He blacked out. And then he was awake again, his sight still cloudy and grey. His head rolled to the side, and he immediately regretted it.

    He focused his still disoriented vision on the person lying about 2 metres on his right. It was Kapaia. She was crushed under a small brick wall, but it looked like a mountain of bricks in Ethan's terrible eyesight. She wasn't moving at all. She was lying on her front with both arms spread beside her. She wasn't flat on the concrete floor though, it looked like something was holding her weight, stopping her from hitting the ground. He tried reaching an arm out to her, but he found that he himself couldn't move properly. All he could do was let out a strangled cry, in hopes of getting her attention. And then there was gunfire. His ears flooded with the noise of automatic fire and he could see white flashes zip around his vision, even with his messed up eyesight. Explosions. Ethan cursed in his head. An ambush. This entire bloody operation was an ambush. How could they have been so stupid?

    He saw a single figure emerge from the cloud of the explosions, just as the colour was starting to return. Bullets chased after him as he stumbled over to Kapaia and shoved the bricks off her body while he screamed "KAPAIA!" Newt's voice sounded incredibly far away, it sounded as if he was shouting from a mountain. He started shouting into her face. "Look at me! You're alright!"

    Then he shifted his attention to Ethan, whose vision was now starting to focus. "Ethan!" Newt rushed over and got him on his feet quickly. "Grab her, we have to leave! Now!" He pointed a fierce finger at Kapaia who was still lying on the floor. One look at her and Ethan immediately saw that she was not alright.

    A piece of debris from the blast, maybe a piece of the scaffolding, had impaled Kapaia's chest area. While Ethan knew it couldn't hit her heart directly, it was still very dangerous. She was losing blood quickly, a red puddle already starting to form underneath her. She gasped as Ethan grabbed her arm and slung it around his neck. "Ethan… I need to…" she started.

    "Not now! Get out of here alive first, business later!" Ethan shouted back. Ethan started running with Kapaia limping by his side. Newt was in front of them brandishing his SCAR. There were enemies left, right and centre, all of them intent on killing the three. Ethan took a few shots to the arm, but his armour prevented them from breaking his skin. They kept running along the road, towards the nearest alleyway.

    "Don't stop! Keep moving!" Newt yelled. "Fletch, do you copy? Does anyone copy? Dammit!"

    "Newt! Chopper, 12 o'clock high!" Ethan shouted. He spotted a white helicopter peek out from behind a building. Its rotors whirred loudly, and Ethan guessed that its miniguns were warming up.

    "Into the building! Go! Go!" Newt screamed. Ethan hadn't even realised how far they'd run. Newt was waiting at the door of an old bungalow, most of the white paint chipped off. He tried to run even faster, but that caused Kapaia to trip and fall flat on the floor. She screamed loudly, and Ethan thought he saw tears running down her face. "Pick her up! We have to get off the street before the chopper's guns spin up!" Newt kicked open the rusty old door, he hit it with so much force that the hinges snapped, and the door fell flat down. They navigated through kitchens and living rooms until Newt finally found the backdoor. He opened this door, and it led into the deserted alleyway he was looking for. Ethan realised it was the exact same alleyway that he and Kapaia had used to get to their position. "Set her down!" Newt pointed at the dumpster.

    Ethan let her down as gently as he possibly could, but Kapaia still let out a grunt as she found the floor. Ethan looked at the way they'd just come and realised that Kapaia had been leaving a blood trail this entire time. Splatters of blood snaked through the doorways they'd explored. "Just patch me up," Kapaia growled, clutching her chest. "Get me back in this!" She was still breathing very heavily.

    Newt ignored her and talked to Ethan instead. "It's not safe here, we have to keep moving." He handed Ethan his own assault rifle and they traded a glance. Newt's face was hardened, ready for battle. Ethan could tell he was determined to get Kapaia out of here alive. Newt's eyes were full of calm, Ethan could see that, but there was something else behind this determination. Something sad. Was it guilt? Regret? He couldn't tell. Ethan just hoped he didn't look scared. "Come on, get up!" Newt grabbed Kapaia by the arm and hoisted her to her feet. He slung her arm around him as he kicked open the door to the diamond store.

    "We need…. Blythe… get us out…" she rasped. She was evidently losing it. As soon as they entered the building, she collapsed into a pile of empty cardboard boxes and almost yelped.

    "Come on, Kapaia, you can make it!" Newt forced her back up. "Ethan, clear the store! We need to get the hell out of here!" Ethan burst into the main room and surprised everyone inside. He didn't waste a precious second as rounds ripped into lives, and bodies collapsed onto the floor. The store was quite big, so Ethan had to relocate behind a jewellery display to avoid being shot. He heard Newt shouting words of encouragement to Kapaia as the two limped towards the exit, just as Ethan shot the last enemy in the store. He was reloading the SCAR as he noticed a single figure barrel into the door.

    "Enemy!" he screamed. He instinctively made to shoot him, but soon realised he didn't have a clip loaded into the gun. Fortunately, he didn't have to reload. As soon as he burst into the store, Kapaia had spun her flintlock gun in her left hand and took a wild shot. It hit him in the stomach, not enough to kill him, but a sufficient distraction which Ethan used to equip one of his handguns and slot his head. "Nice shot," Newt said.

    "I can still teach you a thing or two, old man." Kapaia snarled.

    "The church! That's where we have to go!" Newt said. Outside the store was eerily silent, very much contrasting to the diamond store. It actually didn't look like there had been any fighting here. With every step he took, Ethan found himself walking away from the Tower.

    "Why aren't we headed for the Eiffel Tower?"

    "Because one, we're not properly armed. Two, we've got bloody wounded. Is your skull really that thick?" Newt spat.

    "Just leave me, Newt!" Kapaia grunted. "I'm slowing you down!"

    "No! I'm getting you out of this!" Ethan didn't reply to his snarky comment but looked down the street on his left. The second he did so, a distant engine roar filled the atmosphere. Ethan had driven his fair share of vehicles to know what was making the noise. It was also charging up the road in their direction.

    "Newt! Jeeps heading for us on the left street!" Ethan yelped.

    "Snipe the driver! We still have to get off the street!" Newt shouted. Ethan grabbed the sniper rifle slung across his back and aimed at the two jeeps headed his way. He was conscious of the way he stood. Not moving in an open street with two heavy vehicles barrelling towards him, it was suicide. Ethan felt confident though, and he was right to be so. He tried to line up a shot on their heads, but quickly decided it wasn't worth the risk. They were swerving from left to right, it would be a miracle if he even hit the vehicle. So he focused on a bigger target. The tires. He actually missed the first shot, which fell short of the wheels. The second shot did meet its target, the jeep span out of control and rammed a nearby column. He didn't waste time as he fired at the second jeep, with the same result.

    "There's more… on the street!" Kapaia cried.

    "Newt! Take this!" Ethan grabbed one of his ACP handguns and tossed it in Newt's general direction. He almost missed the catch, but the gun twirled naturally around his fingers. He dragged Kapaia behind the flowerbed while firing shots, and forced the weapon into Kapaia's bloody hands.

    "Kill as many as you can. We're going to be here a while." Newt whispered in her ear.

    ~

    Kapaia was losing it.

    She knew that from the second she jumped from the window. The metal rod in her chest literally felt like it was burning. She was surprised she'd manage to shrug off the pain until now. Her vision was half red, full of her own blood, but she still accepted the handgun from Newt and fired at anyone who came her way. "Newt! UAZ!" she shouted as a large tank rolled up to their street. Arming twin machine guns and 5-centimetre armour plating, there was absolutely no way they could destroy it with their current arsenal. The machine guns pointed in their direction and started firing. Both men hit the ground immediately, occasionally throwing blind shots from behind the flowerbed. Kapaia didn't have the strength to tell them that they were wasting ammo. There were far too many enemies to deal with.

    "It's the GIGN!" she heard Newt shout. She stole a glance behind her and squealed with the effort, but she saw lots of men dressed in army uniform rush out of the church building and arming assault rifles. For the first time in a while, she felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe she could finally get out of here.

    ~

    "We've got wounded! Get her inside!" Newt yelled. "Let's go, let's go!"

    "We'll get her, just fall back!" one gruff voice shouted. The French accent was very thick, and the man himself was of sturdy build. Newt assumed him to be the acting commander of the GIGN unit. Two of the men picked Kapaia up: one holding her legs and the other her arms. They rushed her into the church with Ethan and Newt following behind.

    "Clear the altar!" Newt said. Ethan knocked everything off the table in a single swipe of his arm, and the two men set her down. Suddenly the atmosphere was tense. The fighting outside didn't seem to bother Newt as he sought for any way to help his bleeding friend. "Keep pressure on that wound!" Newt pointed.

    "I'm trying!" Ethan complained.

    "Try harder!" he bellowed.

    "Listen… Newt…" Kapaia gasped. She was bleeding all over the altar and onto the floor.

    "Not now, Kapaia. Just rest." Newt said. "Get a medic! Come on, stay with me!" he shouted frantically.

    "Newt…!" Kapaia groaned. Her hand reached to Newt's. He took it. "Plan K… it's time…" she rasped. And suddenly without warning, Kapaia's head dropped to the altar, and her hand fell out of Newt's, hitting the side of the table.

    "Wait, what?" Ethan quaked. "She can't be dead! She can't!" he shouted. "Kapaia! Don't do this!"

    "You're wasting your breath, soldier," Newt muttered.

    Ethan grunted in frustration as he slammed the body into the table. He stood staring at her for a few seconds in total silence before he whispered quietly. "What's Plan K?" Newt exhaled heavily.

    "Kapaia and I talked one time." He said quietly. "She's wearing a heck ton of explosives on her right now."

    "She's what?!"

    "She gave me the detonator." He continued. "If it ever got to the point where she didn't make it out alive, I was to lure as many hostiles as I could near her and press the trigger."

    "That's insane."

    "What did you expect from a psycho explosives freak?"

    "Her psychotic nature carries on even after death." Ethan nodded.

    "Come on. We have to get back to the others."

    "Wait." Ethan grabbed Newt's arm. "She saved my life, Newt. She gave her life for mine." Ethan still saw the happy sadness in Newt's eyes, but his expression softened.

    "Her sacrifice will not be in vain," he assured, "we will see this through." He shouted to the GIGN men to gather at the church door to bait the enemy inside. Sure enough, they were slowly advancing towards the door. Once everyone was inside, they tried to ram it down using a signpost. It took a few hits before the doors finally burst open, and enemy soldiers flooded the church, shouting in confidence. However, these shouts died down quickly when they realised no one was here.

    The man at the front of the crowd walked towards the altar slowly, having spotted the seemingly dead woman bleeding all over it. A metal rod was stuck in her chest. He had the nerve to go right up to her and study her movement. There was none. He turned around to leave until something grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards the altar. When he turned he was shocked to see that it was the dead woman who'd grabbed him. Her eyes were wild and red, and she wore an insane grin. "Kapaia…" she snarled. She grabbed his neck. He tried to push them away, but the woman was too strong. He stopped struggling when he heard a small noise from the woman's body. She was beeping. And it was getting faster. The soldier didn't have time to react before a great white light surrounded him.

    ~

    "Newt? Ethan? Does anyone hear me?" Fletch shouted into his radio as he ducked under a volley of bullets which hit the wall behind him. He'd been trying for 15 minutes straight to restore the communication signal with them. He hadn't been successful yet.

    "Status, kid!" Robyn shouted. She was on one knee peering through her sniper sights and accurately picking off her prey.

    "I can't find the signal!" he wailed. "They don't know what's happening!"

    Mini ran up to the two fighters. "Explosives planted on most of the treelines," she panted, "waiting on you to call the shots," Fletch asked where they were, and Mini pointed at different treelines, naming the letters of the alphabet along the way. "I'll blow them when you call it, Fletch." She nodded. "Man, it's hell out there. It's a miracle I wasn't shot."

    "That's why we need to know -" Fletch said. He was cut short by a large explosion on the left of them on another block. The ground shook violently and he saw a tall building, maybe a church, crumble to the ground.

    "Hey, Fletch," Robyn called, despite what had just happened. "Did you try setting the frequency to the enemies'? If they've changed our own, it's probably on theirs."

    "Are you insane?" Fletch challenged. "I don't know their frequency!"

    "Well, you'd better figure it out quickly! It's our best chance!" Robyn shouted as she sniped another straggler. Fletch flipped his laptop open again and started searching. His fingers were a blur flying over the keyboard, it was only a few seconds until he shouted triumphantly.

    "I've got it! Newt, it's Fletch, do you copy?" Fletch sounded strained. "Come on, come on…"

    Silence.

    "It's dead. I can't do this." Fletch slammed the lid of his laptop down. Then his earpiece crackled, and a familiar voice coughed.

    "This is Newt!" he spluttered. "We copy, Fletch. We're at the tower now!" Fletch looked behind him, and sure enough, he saw Ethan and Newt running towards him. Newt was handling an assault rifle, while Ethan fought off the enemy with his dual pistols. Soon both ran up to meet Fletch, panting and gasping.

    "What happened?" Fletch shouted over the gunfire.

    "Plan was a bust, it was an ambush this entire time. They were expecting us!" Ethan spat.

    "He killed Kapaia." Newt murmured and shook his head. "She's gone, Adrian."

    The two just stood there staring at each other for a few seconds, then Fletch turned away. "Damn it. We can't do anything about her now. We've got explosives planted along the treelines. Mini wants you to call it." Fletch repeated the locations that Mini had told him, and Newt nodded. He immediately noticed a large enemy presence near a particularly large tree, one of the first that Fletch had detailed.

    "Mini, do you copy?"

    "I hear you. What do you want me to do?"

    "Blow treeline Bravo! Now!" Newt didn't hear Mini's reply as the trees immediately burst into flames and caught onto the clothes of the soldiers. He heard their ugly screams of agony and saw their charred faces, but he could only look on as they burned. Mel's voice came on to the radio.

    "Everyone! I've just spotted Diamond! He's being held hostage by two hostiles!" she shouted.

    "Do you have a shot?" Newt asked.

    "Negative. I'm pinned down!"

    "What the hell…?" Fletch shouted. Newt turned to him and asked what was happening. "There's infrared radiation all over the place, I think they're directed at…" Fletch paused while he tapped his keyboard, "…the Eiffel Tower."

    Newt's brain went into panic mode. He started scanning the structure of the national landmark, desperately searching for an explanation. Unfortunately, he found one. Or rather, hundreds.

    He stared at the plastic explosives stacked on the metal base, the same variety that had nearly killed him in the office. "The waves are getting stronger!" Fletch shouted. Suddenly Newt realised what Kratos had planned to do. He wanted to leave his mark on this city.

    "Get away from the Eiffel Tower!" he shouted into his radio to alert everyone. "NOW!" He tapped the shoulders of everyone around him. "We have to leave! Get as far away as possible!" he roared. He started running, running as fast as his legs would take him. He ignored the bullets flying past and concentrated on sprinting. He ran so fast he tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground. He looked up at the Eiffel Tower and saw hell break loose.

    The first thing he saw was the legs of the tower exploding in small white clouds, each packet setting off a chain reaction that detonated the one next to it. He watched the trail move up the tower up to where all the legs met, and the trail ended there. The second thing he saw or heard rather, was the deafening metallic creak of the tower as it started to topple over. He hardly heard the shouts of panic or gunfire over the ugly noise that the destructed tower made. He found himself unable to pick himself up and run. He could only watch as the top half of the Eiffel Tower collapse on his side of it. He closed his eyes before it hit the ground.

    ~

    Mel was too afraid to open her eyes again. She didn't want to see the destruction that Kratos had once again managed to cause, the number of lives he'd impacted with his act of horror. But she knew she had to wake up. She had to find someone, anyone.

    She opened her eyes, and immediately regretted it. She was surrounded by a metal cage that was the remains of the fallen Eiffel Tower. The ground she was standing on was cracked and broken. She smelled something that strangely resembled chalk. She forced herself to stand and almost collapsed again. Her knees were weak. It was a miracle that she was even able to haul herself over the wall and into the daylight. She groaned loudly when she landed, and her legs buckled. She got up again and dragged her feet to get around, in fear of tripping over. Now that Mel was outside, she could see what damage had really been done. Where the great Eiffel Tower once stood, there were now four stumps of metal, the tops blackened and charred. There were translucent white clouds hugging the ground where Mel walked, and it seemed to move out of the way when she took a step. She looked to her left and saw what really remained of the tower. What once stood so tall had now fallen, vandalised by one man's greed and injustice. The very top part of the tower was now submerged into the river.

    She snapped into focus. Admire the destruction later. First, find someone that could help. She strained her ears, listening for any pleas for help. She heard none. She kept walking in a random direction, not caring where she was going. Her legs hurt. Her head hurt. Everything hurt. She was about to give up, when she heard a feeble voice mumble, "Help. Mel…" She looked to her right and saw a familiar face buried under the rubble. Sakura.

    She moved as fast as her frail legs would allow her and grabbed Sakura's free arm. She mustered all the strength she could gather and pulled upwards. Sakura tried to help by pushing up from the ground, but it didn't help too much. Mel had to let go at one point to regain her strength and went back to pulling her out of the ground. This time around, she succeeded. Sakura dusted her shirt and pants off. "Thanks," she exhaled, "I was about to lose hope there."

    "Not a problem." Mel coughed. "Where's everyone else?"

    "I'm sure they're fine, but…" Sakura suddenly let out a small gasp. "Gosfield! Where is he?" Mel's heart sank. She hadn't thought of that. If something happened to him in the destruction… "Come on! We have to find him!" she grabbed Mel's arm and pulled her toward the edge of the park. There were corpses littered all over the place, most of them in military uniform. One had even lost his arm, only a bloody stump was left behind. Mel just looked at the corpse as she walked past, only hoping that he died before he could feel the pain. "There!" Sakura pointed. Her finger led to a single person lying on their back, wearing a grey suit and tie. Both girls ran towards him and checked his face. It was indeed Elias Gosfield. The aged goatee and icy blue eyes were unmistakable. There was no chance he was alive. His skin felt cold at Mel's touch. "He could have just died from the blast," Sakura said quietly.

    "It's never that easy, Kurann." Mel murmured. She grabbed Gosfield's hair and turned his face towards her. Sure enough, there was one distinct patch of red right in the middle of his forehead. He hadn't been blown up. He'd been shot.

    "We need to tell someone," Sakura whispered. Almost as if on cue, their earpieces cracked and Newt's hoarse voice came on.

    "Where are you guys?" he coughed violently.

    "I'm okay," Mel exhaled, "I've got Kurann with me. But we've got bad news."

    "Shoot."

    "Diamond is dead. Murdered. It had to be Kratos. No one else would land such a perfect shot without the victim knowing." Mel said.

    "Wait…" Sakura said slowly, "if he's dead, then that means –"

    "Kratos has the launch codes for the missile." Mel finished. "He has everything he needs to launch a ballistic missile and destroy God knows how much." The two girls stared at each other, regret and fear in their eyes.
    Eleven Years Ago

    "Hey, Isaac!" the four girls said slowly, their words slurred. They laughed drunkenly as sixteen-year-old Newt turned his face from them and started to walk down the village path, away from the town centre. One particular girl with purple pigtails put a gentle hand on his shoulder and whispered total nonsense in his ear. He shrugged off her hand which made the girls laugh even more.

    God, how he hated those girls. He was pretty sure he didn't even know their names. They never left him in peace. If they wanted what Newt thought they wanted, he didn't care. He didn't have a lot of real friends, but they weren't the kind of friends he would've liked. He actually much preferred to keep to himself, since it was highly unlikely he would do something to annoy himself. He pushed the girls out of his mind as he approached his home.

    He opened the heavy wooden door and was already met by his father, feet on the table and taking generous swigs of beer. He slammed the glass on the table and laughed noisily when he saw his son enter the room. "Hey, stranger!" he called. He was obviously drunk, as usual. That was why Newt tended to avoid him most of the time. The living room wasn't the biggest, but it could fit everything the family could possibly need. A small kitchen at the very back and a small coffee table. The bedrooms and study were upstairs, and along the walls were weapons of every type. Daggers, stilettos, kunai, even a broadsword.

    Newt acknowledged his father's existence by a small glare, just as his mother descended the stairs. "Oh, Isaac!" she cried when she saw him. "It's time for your mathematics lesson!"

    "I'm not coming." He snapped as he grabbed six throwing knives from the weapons rack. His mother gaped at him but didn't object as Newt turned to leave.

    "You're doing it wrong, woman!" his father roared. "The boy doesn't need numbers, he needs a girl! All this time alone isn't going to help him!"

    Newt stared down his father, arrogance in his face. "What I need," he muttered dangerously, "is for you to leave me alone."

    "Ha!" his father scoffed. "Don't stab yourself with those knives, fool!" Newt didn't respond as he stormed out the door. He hated his parents too. They were assassins, trained to kill, but did they have to be so negative to him? He felt like the entire world was against him.

    He walked into the forest, knives hanging loosely at his side and peace of mind. This was where Newt spent most of his time because this was the way he liked it. Quiet. Calm. And most importantly, away from everyone else. He didn't plan to use his knives, but one can never be too careful. The forest was known for being home to wild beasts and whatnot. The one thing he didn't need was a stray lynx interrupting his private time.

    He intended to use today as an opportunity to explore parts of the forest he hadn't been to before. He'd studied a map of the forest that his mother had forced him to study, and the image burned into his mind. He'd only covered a minute part of the place. God knew how long it would take for him to discover the entire forest. He'd entered by the West entrance. He turned himself ninety degrees clockwise so he faced North. North was where the majority of the forest lay. Five minutes into walking, and the details didn't intrigue him. He'd seen all of the wildlife before. Berries, trees, animals. It was all just the same to him. He wanted something exciting to happen. He hadn't come here to lie down on the grass and stare into the sky.

    Almost right on cue, an ear-splitting roar ripped through the air. Newt snapped back into focus and tried to figure out which direction the sound had come from. He hadn't been concentrating when he heard it, too wrapped up in his daydreams. He spun around slowly until he faced what he thought was the general direction of the roar. To confirm his estimate, the same creature roared again, exactly where Newt was facing. His mind raced. He made sure his throwing knives were secure in his belt and began to run.

    ~

    Only two minutes later, he'd found the source of the sound. He hid behind a bush and peered through the gaps between the leaves at the current battle that was happening. A hooded figure was dashing in circles around a grizzly bear, which once again stood on its rear legs and roared in their face. They weren't fazed easily as they kept moving around the bear, sidestepping easily whenever it took a swipe at their face. A split-second after the bear attacked, they slashed a long knife across its paw. Newt could tell it cut deep as the creature howled in pain and retreated back a few steps. It still attempted to mutilate the person though, taking occasional swipes and moving backwards slowly. The person kept up the same routine, sidestepping every time and slashing its paws. Newt was amazed that anyone could move so quickly, so perfectly. It was like the person could read its mind. He considered helping them, but by watching them, he could tell they didn't need it. He was happy to be a spectator. He stood transfixed as the fight carried on for around a minute before the bear was finally too tired to fight. It slumped to the ground, where the person walked up to it triumphantly and ended the battle by plunging the knife deep into its skull. They stood in front of the corpse flicking the blood of their blade, clearly admiring their kill. Newt actually considered walking up to them and asking who they were, but he didn't know how they would react. He doubted he even knew them.

    Just as he was contemplating this, a flash of gold passed through the bushes behind the person, silent as a mouse. Newt gasped quietly as he realised what that was. A lion. It was sneaking up behind the hooded figure, and clearly, they were not aware of the imminent danger. Newt did the most stupid thing he could have ever done.

    He shouted, "Hey! Look out!" while spinning three knives in his fingers and tossing them at the lion. His aim was perfect. One hit the lion between its eyes, the others embedded themselves in its neck and head. The lion roared in agony before it fell to the side, dead. The hooded figure turned around when they heard the roar, just as Newt collected his knives. Once he'd picked them up, the two stared at each other for a few seconds, until he broke the silence. "Well? Aren't you gonna thank me?"

    To his shock, the person scoffed and pulled their hood back. His first surprise was that the person was actually a girl, at least they looked like one, which he hadn't really considered. He couldn't really tell from all the scratches and scars all over their body and face. They had red hair which came down to their shoulders and green eyes.

    His second surprise was when they actually scowled at him. "Thank you?" they spat, "You could've killed me, with a stance like that!" Newt didn't understand what they said, but before he could ask, the person flipped their hood back up and disappeared into the trees. Newt didn't follow.

    ~

    The next morning, after being insulted by his father and hassled by his mother again, Newt went out to the forest. This time he didn't wander to where he'd met the mysterious warrior, but rather closer to home, by the lake. He liked to stare deep into its waters, to drown his emotions and thoughts in the blue. Sometimes he would stay there for hours without realising, one time there had even been a search party for him when he'd fallen asleep by the lake. But when he got to the lake, he saw someone already sitting by the bank, twirling a blade around in the water. Newt didn't have to guess who it was. He recognised the red hair and the knife itself.

    "You again!" he called. They turned around and seemed almost flustered.

    "Oh, I'm sorry!" they said. "I didn't realise this was your spot. I've been coming here for a while."

    "Don't you worry. I was… actually feeling quite lonely anyway. You may join me if you wish." Newt sat down next to them, and they both sat in awkward silence.

    "So, I should probably tell you my name, huh?" they interrupted.

    "That would be nice." Newt nodded.

    "Wolf." They stuck a hand out, and Newt shook it. "Not my real name, but it's what people call me."

    "What's your real name?" he asked.

    "And what makes you think you deserve to know that, fighter boy?" they suddenly broke into a laugh, but it was short-lived. Soon the light mood was replaced with a more serious tone. "Look…" Wolf muttered, "I've always been here by myself. Fighting animals and whatnot. While I do enjoy the challenge, I do have to admit, it gets boring after a while."

    "I assume there's more to that." Newt motioned them forward.

    "You could… join me, if you wanted." It looked like they had to force those words out. "No offence, but you don't look like the person who has friends." Newt did feel a little bit of guilt at these words, but he didn't show it. "I guess that would be why you're wandering around the forest by yourself." Wolf chuckled again. "So how's about it? I could teach you to fight properly. Make a living out here. The only enemies here are wild animals."

    Wolf looked at Newt. He saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes, but also doubt. He could tell that they didn't just offer. They wanted Newt to come with them. They wanted a companion. A partner. A friend. "I accept." Newt nodded politely.

    Wolf's shoulders immediately relaxed. "Thank you." They breathed. "I promise you won't regret this." For the first time in ages, Newt smiled.

    ~

    The next year was the best time Newt ever had. Wolf had taught him so much that he could use, not junk like history or arithmetic, but rather how to properly cook a rabbit, or how to craft a makeshift weapon. Newt had also learned that Wolf was non-binary, so he stuck to the correct pronouns, not that he ever talked about them to anyone else. Together, they slew beasts, ate meals and sat by the lake, each immersed in their own world. He grew to spend more time with Wolf than at home, but he doubted his parents cared. They were probably glad that he was never home, only returning in the night to sleep. And even then, he didn't always come back. Sometimes he slept with Wolf in the forest, gazing up at the night sky and stars. Newt never had someone like this before, and he loved the feeling. He hoped Wolf felt the same.

    The feeling didn't last.

    Thursday, the 24th of February. Newt visited the forest like he always did, expecting to find Wolf in their usual spot by the lake. But they weren't there. Newt looked at the grass, looking for any sign of conflict or struggle. Maybe he was worrying too much. Maybe they were just finding food or fighting some wild beast. He almost forced himself to swallow it down, force himself to believe that Wolf was okay. But it all came back when he found a line dug into the grass, leading into the trees. It was unmistakable. Only Wolf's boots would make a mark like that. They'd been trying to leave a trail for Newt to follow, which they would've done only if they were taken against their will. Newt's heart stopped. They'd dragged their feet as they'd been pulled away.

    He panicked. He didn't have any weapons. He didn't have anything to defend himself. That didn't matter to him. All he cared about was racing into the woods, following the line and screaming Wolf's name. He didn't care if a bear snatched him. He would make sure Wolf was safe. He kept running. Running faster than he'd ever run before. His legs flared with pain, but he ignored it and continued sprinting. He didn't know how long he'd been running, but he finally saw movement in the trees ahead. "WOLF!" He pushed himself even faster, his legs screaming with exhaustion and pain. He could see them beyond the bushes, they were right there!

    As Newt broke through the bushes, his heart sank. Wolf was fighting off three armed men with just a single arrow, which was already broken and splintered. They had a fresh gash on their cheek and one of their eyes didn't seem to be able to open fully. "Hey! Leave them alone!" Newt cried. But just as he made to lunge towards Wolf, something gripped his arms and pulled him back. He looked behind him and saw that it was another man who'd been hiding somewhere. He kicked Newt hard in the shin which made him grunt loudly with pain, but he didn't scream. The three men had won over Wolf now, and two of them were holding each of their arms. The third one stood directly in front of them, doing something with his hands. Holding something. Then he spoke.

    "I know what you have done, Wolf Diabolus." He muttered dangerously. He had a very throaty voice and an accent Newt couldn't understand. "I know what you have told them." Wolf was still struggling against the two men holding them in place but to no avail.

    "Damn you," they hissed.

    The man didn't react to this comment. "What happens here will change the world forever." Newt saw what he was holding in his hands, and almost cried out when he saw that it was a gun. A basic handgun but still deadly. "Nothing can stop this," he said quietly. He cocked the gun.

    "Not even you."

    The shot was a lot quieter than Newt had expected. It sounded less like an explosion and more of a door knock. However, he knew that wouldn't make the pain any easier. Wolf groaned as the bullet bit into their belly. Their head fell to their chest but they were not unconscious. Newt could hear their deep breaths, see their wild eyes. The two men holding them released their grip, and Wolf fell to the floor face up. The three men then turned to look at Newt. "What about the boy?" the man holding him barked. "Do we kill him?"

    The man who had just shot Wolf crouched so that his face was level with Newt's. Newt could smell his breath, which reeked of smoke and blood. His black facial hair was starting to grey, and his stormy eyes stared deep into him. "No. Leave him." He said. "Let him try to save his friend. Only then will he see what force he is really dealing with."

    He only realised how weak his legs were until his captor let go of him. He sank to his hands and knees and stayed in this position for a few seconds. The horrible laughs of the men faded away in the distance, but Newt paid no attention to them. He could kill them later. Right now, his focus was Wolf.

    He crawled to where they lay. Their blood had seeped into the ground, and the grass around them was stained a dark red. Wolf was still breathing… just. Newt had been taught by them how to properly attend to wounds, but he didn't have any medical supplies. All he had was his hands, which he used to press down on the wound. Wolf gasped at the pain but soon settled down. "Newt, you can't do anything. It's over."

    "No." Newt looked them dead in the eyes. "I will not let you die like this." He pressed on the wound even harder, but blood was still pouring out. Wolf was losing blood quickly. He didn't know how long he could keep them alive. He kept trying to prevent the bleeding, using different points around the injury, but to no avail. "Wolf, I can't stop it. What do I do?" He stared at Wolf again, but this time with sadness. Guilt. He was afraid. Afraid of losing his best friend.

    "Let it go, Newt." They murmured.

    Newt actually couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I can't do that. You're my best friend. That's basically accepting your death." There was no use trying to use other words. Wolf knew what was happening.

    "Newt. Let it go." Newt froze for a few seconds, not thinking or moving. After Wolf calling his name a second time, he finally shook his head in sorrow and removed his hands. Immediately the bleeding became worse, spilling on the ground beside them.

    "You need to run," Wolf whispered. "Take all the weapons you could possibly carry, and as far away as possible from here. That man wasn't lying. You don't know what you're dealing with here. If I can't leave this place, it makes me feel better to know that you can."

    "I'll find them." Newt was starting to sob. "I'll find them, and I will make them pay for what they did."

    "I know you will," Wolf brushed a tear from his cheek, "little Newt." Their arm dropped from Newt's face, and their head hit the hard ground and rolled to the side.

    "No," Newt whispered. "No, no, no, NO!" his voice gradually getting louder and more painful. "Wolf! Wake up! WOLF!" he shook the corpse violently, in the vain hope that they would open their eyes again. When he gave up, he rested his head on their body and started to cry. Not only from the death of his companion, but seventeen years of sorrow and scorn let out through his tears. His own body quivered. "I'm sorry," he sobbed, "I'm so sorry…"

    Newt didn't know how long he lay there, mourning over Wolf's body. Even when he had no more tears to cry, he still shook violently and wailed. After he finally lost his sense of time, he wiped his nose and eyes and looked up at the night sky. The stars were little comfort to him. Newt would find the people who did this to him. And when he did… they would pay hell.

    He turned Wolf's corpse over so that they were now facing down, and he took both of their knives. When he held them in his bloodied hands, he noticed details that he hadn't seen before. Both knives had carvings of animals, a fox and a wolf. Both were incredibly light but still sturdy. He knew Wolf would want him to take them. Who better, than their only companion and friend?

    He made sure both knives were secure in his belt and thought about where he would go. His first thought was back home but quickly shoved it out of his mind. People would start asking questions if he walked into the village covered in blood and tears. That only left one other option. The city.

    Newt looked at the night sky again and identified all the stars that Wolf had shown him. He found the one he'd been looking for, the North Star, and looked directly ahead of him in that direction. If he kept moving, he could reach the city within a couple of days. He once again checked all his weapons were in order and ran.
    "Mission debrief," Robyn announced, "primary objective was the safety of Elias Gosfield, codenamed Diamond. Mission failed, Diamond murdered, most likely by Kratos. Civilian casualties total to zero. Home casualties…" she paused on the word, "…one."

    The room was silent in respect for their fallen soldier. "I don't know about you guys, but I for one am getting very tired of being killed." Ethan cut through the quiet. "I think we've been waiting too long. We have to strike."

    Before he could continue, Newt interrupted. "We can't strike if we don't know where he is. We need intel, and that requires time."

    "We don't have time!" Robyn slammed a fist on the table. "Kratos is murdering all of us one by one, and you still want to sit back and take your time with things? I thought you cared about your soldiers, Newt!"

    "I do care, Robyn. That's why I tried to save Kapaia and Kiro. But Kratos is one step ahead of us. It's like he knows what we're doing." He replied calmly.

    "If you did care, you would've –"

    "Everyone shut up!" Sakura shouted. The entire room fell into silence. "We are being destroyed. Ethan is right, we have to act as quickly as possible. But Newt is also right. Rushing means we make mistakes. And in this time of war, mistakes are fatal."

    "Speaking of war…" Mel's voice took over. All eyes were on her as soon as she mentioned war. "there's something on the TV I think you should all see." Everyone looked at each other and then got up to follow Mel into CIC. She found a remote and flipped through channels until the news came on. A female news presenter was on screen, she looked around forty years old and she wore a grey suit. Next to her was a map of the entire world. The expression on her face was deadly serious.

    "Following the attacks on the city of Paris, the Prime Minister of France, Marco Moreau, has spoken out to the governments of the world that remain standing."

    The screen then switched to another place, an office that belonged to the French Prime Minister. He was sat in his leather chair, arms on the desk and a furious expression. He slammed a fist on the table. "We," he said in an accent, "have been terrorized. Our blood has been spilt on our soil. Our beloved Eiffel Tower has been felled. I will not stand for this. We will not stand for this." He took a breath, then continued. "The military has declared war upon Japan. We invite all other nations to rise up against Japan, who is to blame for our destruction. They destroyed your leaders. Now, we will destroy them."

    The screen flicked back to the news presenter standing next to the map. "Other countries have released similar statements to the world. These include Afghanistan, Germany, Austria, Russia, etcetera." She pointed at each country on the digital map. "The countries of the world are rising up against each other. This may be our last stand."

    She said no more as Mel flicked the TV off. "Kratos has started bloody World War Three," she said in a dangerous tone, "and we couldn't stop it."

    "My God…" Mini whispered. Similar murmurs filled the room until Mel held her hand up and silenced them. Mini still spoke. "So what do we do now? Do we keep going after the man who caused this, or do we fight alongside the military?"

    "We can't lose sight of our objective." Newt stood beside Mel. "We started this mission looking for Kratos, and we're damn well going to finish it. But we need time. And information. Charging headfirst into a warzone will only get us killed faster." Everybody murmured assent. Newt saw everyone nodding and agreeing with each other.

    Ethan spoke. "I would've liked to go straight for the missile site," he said, "but you're right. We have to gather intel and find out where Kratos is headed. We also need to shut that missile down."

    "Oh, that reminds me!" Fletch exclaimed. "I overheard the UN leaders talking about the missile, before the… incident. I've got pretty much everything. The location of the site, the floor plan, even the schematics for the rocket itself." He took out a tablet, switched it on and flicked through menus until he found what he wanted. He swiped the screen in the direction of the large television, and suddenly a large animated blueprint appeared, identical to the one on Fletch's tablet.

    "Where's the missile?" Robyn asked.

    "Let's talk about the site itself first. It's actually an abandoned coal mine in Kyoto, around two kilometres deep. It's now used as a nuclear power station. The missile is right at the very bottom, as you would expect. It's fuelled by the nuclear reactor inside the power station, which gives it immense power. The station is in a valley, so we can insert from two sides to disarm the missile."

    "That's what I'm thinking." Robyn put a finger to her chin. "How are we gonna disable the rocket?"

    "I… haven't actually figured that out yet," Fletch admitted sheepishly. He scratched the back of his head. "Launch control is near the missile silo, so there must be some way to abort the launch. We may not even have to go near the missile. But if all else fails, we won't have a choice but to blow it up."

    "Whoa, hang on." Newt interrupted. "Blow it up? Won't that destroy everything within five miles?"

    "No, actually. The interior of the chamber is made from verilium, supposedly the hardest and strongest material in existence. If the walls are thick enough, it may be just enough to contain the blast." Fletch actually looked a little impressed with that statement.

    "How do we blow it up?"

    "Well, I doubt there would be a self-destruct button on the missile. We'll have to bring in our own supplies and arm them on the rocket. That does mean someone has to physically enter the chamber to plant the explosives." Fletch looked at everyone behind him. They all suddenly became very interested in their feet. "Oh, don't worry. I won't make you choose. We're not going there for a while anyway. We'll have to take a mineshaft elevator all the way to the bottom, abort the launch by any means necessary and get back out. Simple!" He sounded oddly cheery about the situation.

    "You make it sound simple, yet I think it will prove differently when we've got ten countries fighting over control of the missile." Blythe pointed out.

    "Again, haven't really figured out the fine details of the mission. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Anyway, we've received an anonymous tip that one of Kratos' mates is doing some shady business in Mexico. And by shady, I mean drugs. Naturally. Not only are we going to shut that down, but we also think he has valuable intelligence we can use in our favour. Robyn, pull up the picture."

    Robyn nodded curtly and pulled out a tablet of her own. She swiped her tablet screen to the television, and the display split in half, one part showing the mine schematics, another showing a personal file. "Name's Raul Augusto." She said. "Specialises in drugs, hitmen and crime in general. He owns a factory in his basement, probably to culture his… products. He lives in a pretty big house, almost a mansion. Three floors, a private sewage system and a personal bedroom."

    "Does he have any relatives?" Newt asked.

    "Just one. His sister, who lives with him. That's Maria Augusto. She's aware of the criminal activity her brother carries out, but she doesn't seem to care. She depends on her brother to protect her."

    "Pull up a picture, Robyn," Fletch repeated. Only then did Newt notice that there was no mugshot of him. It was just words and numbers.

    "Right." Robyn paused. "Here's his face."

    As soon as he saw the face, Newt's heart stopped.

    It was him.

    The accented man who'd murdered his best friend.

    There was no mistaking it. He had the exact same features as he did ten years ago. His hair was grey though, and his stormy eyes seemed frailer. But he still held the determined expression and muscular build. He also held the life of Newt's friend in his hands. "What the –" Newt said out loud, and everyone turned to look at him. "Nothing, nothing. Carry on." He said hastily.

    Robyn raised an eyebrow but continued. "The house is near a local market. We'll insert at the edge of the village, push through the market and through to the house. We'll apprehend Raul Augusto there and interrogate him heavily. We'll use his sister as leverage if we have to."

    "That's a dirty move," Mini spoke up. "The sister doesn't have anything to do with the business. Why threaten her?"

    "This is war, Mini," Robyn replied. "We have to do whatever it takes to get the information we need to save millions of lives. Plus we don't know for sure that she isn't part of the business."

    Fletch switched off both tablets and the large TV screen. "All clear?" he asked. "Newt, you're looking pretty pale."

    Newt didn't reply. He was stuck staring at Raul Augusto's face, the face that taunted Wolf and himself, the face whose owner had destroyed his world.

    "Call Aurora's unit," Mel said. "We're gonna need them."
    Mexico was a mess.

    The place looked like a desert, with small buildings scattered on the ground. Even the walls of those buildings were stained a sandy colour. There was a singular concrete road snaking between the buildings, leading into the main city. Flying sand filled Newt's eyes as his team's dropship descended towards the ground. In the distance, police sirens wailed.

    "Machine guns on the rooftops!" Mel shouted, and Newt diverted his sight to the buildings. Sure enough, there were bipod guns mounted on rooftops, manned by local triggermen. They opened fire as soon as they heard Mel alert her team. The bullets pinged off the bulletproof armour of the ship and the inside of the carrier. The air was already filled with the noise of gunfire, and the aircraft dropped slightly.

    "Blythe, get us out of here!" Newt shouted. "Move to secondary entry point!" The team returned fire to the gunners as the carrier hauled itself into the clear sky again and shot forwards in the direction of the city. Newt turned around to look at his team. "No use keeping quiet now," he shook his head.

    "We'll insert at the street market," Aurora said, "and we'll push to Raul Augusto's house. Interrogate him, and probably take him captive."

    "Friendlies?" Ellie asked.

    "All unknown contacts are hostile. Raul Augusto is the only priority. Insert, get into the house, get intel, get out. Simple."

    "Easier said than done," Mel looked out from the open cargo door. "there's a bunch of militia down there. Probably just stray cartels, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. Be on your guard."

    "Touching down at the market, T-minus ten seconds," Blythe said. The aircraft descended to the ground and hovered about ten feet above the market. The triggermen had already started shooting at them, sparks were pinging off the walls. Both teams stacked up on either side of the door, Aurora and Newt standing next to it. They nodded to each other before emerging from their cover and returning fire.

    As soon as Newt jumped out, he knew that the enemy was expecting them. Barbed wire and makeshift walls had already been set up in optimal locations, with armed men ducking behind them. There were enemy soldiers running between the market stands, firing at them while ducking behind cover. Newt shot at the stalls themselves first since he knew that the bullets would penetrate the thin plastic sheets and hit the target behind them. He occasionally looked up to shoot at the idiot who didn't stay in cover or to quickly whip out a knife and stab someone's chest or neck. He often heard the sound of his teammates providing supporting fire, who saved his life on multiple occasions. In less than two minutes, the enemy was leaving the market and retreating, shouting in panic.

    "We've got them on the run! Keep pushing forwards!" Newt shouted.

    "Drones!" Aurora yelled.

    "What?!"

    "Over there!" she pointed hastily at the tallest building. As she pointed, a dark cloud emerged from behind the building and flew over the market square where the team was. They made a noisy buzzing sound, but Newt knew not to mistake them for bees. These were assault drones, designed for agility and firepower. How the Mexicans had managed to get their hands on them, he didn't know. Those things didn't come cheap. They were 12 inches by 12 inches, each with four motor propellers. They were armed with two cannons, automatically tracking their target and firing. And now there were hundreds of them swarming in their direction.

    "Get inside the building! Go, go!" Newt waved everyone into the nearest building, which appeared to be a butcher's. Meats were displayed in a glass case all around the room. The drones were still buzzing outside, but it didn't seem like they had detected anyone. "How the hell do we take out those things?" Newt asked.

    "The only way I can think of right now are EMPs. It'll short-circuit their wires and all of them will drop like stones." Mini said. She took something out of her belt and placed it in Newt's hand. "EMP-G. Electro-magnetic pulse grenade. Throw one of these at the swarm, and the entire thing's dead."

    Newt accepted the large grenade and walked to the window. He looked outside at the buzzing drone swarm flying around the market. Despite the circumstances, Newt found the sight quite intriguing. When the drones were packed together tightly, it looked like a trail of paint moving along a canvas. When they were more spread out, they blotted the sun out and shrouded the entire square in darkness. He must've been standing there too long, because one of the drones suddenly looked in his direction, and the green lights on its rotors turned a blood red. Out of the blue, it started wailing, and suddenly all of the other drones were wailing, a red wave rushing towards Newt. He panicked but didn't waste any precious time. He released the pin from the EMP-G and hurled it at the oncoming swarm. As soon as he threw it, he picked up his rifle and bolted out of the butcher's store, along with everyone else. He didn't see all the drones drop to the floor, but he heard the metallic crunches of drone upon drone.

    "What the hell…?" Ethan panted after they stopped running. "We weren't prepared for a drone swarm. The enemy's better equipped than we are."

    "He's not wrong," Mel said worriedly. "Guns and knives won't cut it. We need more firepower."

    "Don't you worry, guys." Aurora cut in. "I have a friend here in Mexico trying to start a civilian's rebellion. He should have all the hardware we need. Explosives, EMPs, whatever you want, he's got it."

    "I don't care what it takes. We visit your friend, grab supplies, and go after Raul Augusto." Newt spat.

    "Are you okay, Newt?" Mel frowned. "You don't seem… yourself."

    Newt glared at her. "You worry about yourself, Mel. Aurora, take point and lead the way." With a raised eyebrow and a nod of the head, Aurora slipped into a narrow alleyway. Everyone followed her silently until they found her crouching at a manhole.

    "We'll have to go underground to avoid being spotted," Aurora said. "We don't want to expose where the rebellion's hiding."

    "More sewers?" Ethan groaned. "I had enough of those back in Paris." Newt glared at him fiercely, and that made him shut up. Newt along with Aurora gripped the manhole lid firmly and dragged it away from the entrance. Newt descended down the ladder first, then Aurora, then everyone else.

    ~

    "Well, I've gotta admit, never would've thought Mexico would have cleaner sewers than Paris." Ethan smiled happily as he emerged into the blinding sunlight, glad he didn't have to trudge through waste water.

    "Save it, Jyung," Aurora said as they walked down the street. This part of Mexico seemed more normal. There were marketers shouting for people to buy their fruit and vegetables. Passer-by's shot raised eyebrows at the team handling firearms, but it didn't seem like they cared a great deal. "In here." Aurora turned into another dank alleyway. There were puddles along the sides, and rats scurried along the walls when they saw the team. They kept walking until they came up to a single door. It wasn't anything special. Just a normal brown door with no handle. Aurora knocked three times and murmured to the others. "Just a note of warning, do not wind this guy up. He can go from zero to one hundred real quick."

    She shut up as soon as the door creaked open, and a muffled male voice spoke in Spanish. "Contraseña?" he grumbled.

    "Nuevo amanecer," Aurora replied in a hushed tone, and the door swung open. A middle-aged man poked his head out and looked at Aurora. He had a small goatee beard and a shaven head. He did not talk but beckoned her and the team inside. He led them through different rooms of the house before he opened another door into a larger room, probably the main lounge.

    A single man was seated on an armchair, one leg on top of another and sipping a steaming cup of coffee. He looked up as soon as he heard the door open but frowned when he saw Aurora. The goatee man muttered their arrival, but it wasn't needed. The man in the chair waved him away and motioned the team forward. "Hello, Miguel," Aurora said.

    "Greetings, señorita." He said. His voice had a snake-like hiss to it, which made everyone feel on edge. He had wavy black hair and a luscious beard. He wore a black leather jacket and formal trousers. His breath smelled of coffee and smoke. "What brings you to Mexico?"

    "My team is looking for Raul Augusto. No doubt you've heard of him." Miguel nodded curtly. "We want your help in capturing him."

    "Raul Augusto is a dangerous man. You know that, si?" He said. "He has his own private strike force. It would be pretty much suicide to waltz up there."

    "Not with us fighting alongside you. We're a team of elite soldiers trained for kill-capture missions. We'll make sure the op is a success." Aurora put a hand on Miguel's shoulder, and he gave a small smile.

    "Very well then." He put his coffee mug on the table next to him and stretched. "We have a vehicle depot in the backyard. Take whatever you like. My friend will show you the way." Everyone looked behind them, and suddenly the man with the goatee was behind them, this time with an assault rifle slung across his back.

    Aurora turned back to Miguel. "Thank you, Miguel." She smiled. "You're a great friend."

    "Any time, señorita." He smiled back and raised his coffee mug to her.

    ~

    "Who's Miguel?" Mel asked Aurora as the goatee man led them to the armoury.

    "Miguel? The guy you just saw in the chair?"

    "No, I mean… how do you know him?"

    "Friend of a friend. He's also one of Kratos' top dogs, but he's a traitor. He's starting a civilian's revolution against him and Raul Augusto. Since he has a relationship with Kratos, he has access to his weapons array."

    "How do you know he's loyal?" Newt asked.

    "Trust me. He is." The man with the goatee stopped in front of a larger metal door and punched in a code on the neighbouring keypad. The door hissed and slowly slung outwards to reveal a large armoury room. Everyone walked in and looked around. The walls were stacked with firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns. Pretty much any gun that you could think of was available in this room. Newt walked over to the handgun selection and scanning each individual weapon. He heard a whistle to his left, and he looked at Aurora. She tossed him a large assault rifle, and he grunted with the effort of catching it. "Try that for size." She smirked as she turned her back and checked out the sniper rifles.

    Newt familiarized himself with the rifle. It was pretty heavy compared to his usual one, but it had a large magazine which could hold more shots than the traditional assault rifle. He held the leather foregrip tightly and walked to the man with the goatee, who was observing everyone's choice of weapon. Newt asked him quietly, "Do you have a firing range?" He nodded silently and beckoned him to a door in the far corner of the armoury. Newt thought about how the only time he'd heard the man speak was when he'd supposedly asked for a password from Aurora when they'd entered the house. He led Newt to an even larger room. The walls were a glossy black, and the only objects in the room were the firing ranges. Newt took his rifle to the leftmost aisle and aimed it downrange. His arms were already getting tired from the effort of holding the rifle upright, but he did his best to ignore it. He closed one eye and aligned the iron sights with the centre of the cardboard human target. He pulled the trigger.

    The first thing that struck Newt was the massive amount of recoil that came with each shot. He almost fell back completely before he caught himself and steadied his feet. He'd also noticed the incredibly loud booming noise that the gun made, which had distracted him from making the shot. He looked downrange and saw that his shot had missed the target completely. Behind the cardboard human, a smoking hole had appeared in the wall.

    Newt looked back at the goatee man, whose expression almost seemed to suggest he was laughing inside. "I need a new gun." He said shortly. The man shrugged and led him back to the armoury, where everyone else had already chosen their weapons. Newt put the heavy rifle back on its rack and picked up his other rifle, which he was more familiar with. No one said a word as the man led them out of the armoury and into the backyard where Miguel was waiting, smoking a cigarette. He was leaning on a traditional armoured jeep with an assault rifle slung across his back. He threw the cigarette to the floor as soon as he saw everyone approach him.

    "Are we ready?" he asked.

    Newt nodded. "We're ready."

    "Take whatever vehicle you'd like. But not the tank. No one touches my tank."

    "Where the hell did you get a tank from?" Newt asked in surprise.

    "Must we tell each other everything?" Miguel scoffed mockingly. "Take a jeep, if you're going to be like that. We leave in 15 minutes."

    Everyone clambered into a jeep in pairs, Newt riding with Robyn. She started talking to him about goodness knew what, because Newt didn't hear her. All he could think about was what he was going to do when he got his hands on Raul Augusto. The image in his head wasn't pretty.

    ~

    The jeeps roared across the sandy beach, leaving dusty clouds behind them. The tall, white apartment buildings were a blur as they sped along the coastline. Sunbathers and tourists had to jump out of the way quickly to avoid being crushed by the armoured vehicles. Everyone in the jeeps had to shout to be heard. "Enemy vehicles on our right side, on the road!" Ethan yelled. With Robyn driving, Newt turned to face the road, his assault rifle ready to fire. As Ethan had said, two black Range Rovers were speeding along the road next to the beach. Both rolled their windows down to reveal two masked men wielding semi-automatic rifles. They aimed their weapons at the jeeps and opened fire. The first shot actually came quite close to hitting Newt's face, but he ducked at the last second, the bullet zipping harmlessly over his head. He retaliated by shooting at the driver of the front jeep. The windows were armoured, so it took a few magazine reloads before the glass shattered. Newt fired one more shot which passed cleanly through the driver's head. Both hands lost grip of the steering wheel and the Range Rover slid out of control. It careered to the left and to the right before smashing into a small sedan on the oncoming lane of the road. This was an effective distraction for the driver of the other vehicle. He panicked and jerked the steering wheel sharp left, which only led the car to crash into one of the apartment buildings.

    "That's his house, up ahead!" Robyn shouted. Newt reverted his attention back to the front. A large mansion was now in front of them, about half a mile away. It looked incredibly grand, with a front patio. The house was incredibly tall, the highest tower reaching higher than the surrounding trees.

    "Gun it!" Newt yelled. The jeep lurched forward, and Newt had to grab onto the roof frame to avoid falling out. They were probably travelling at something like 80 miles per hour. His hair flew in the wind and he was almost unable to breathe. He saw his teammates firing at the house, either suppressing fire or hoping for a lucky shot. Suddenly the jeep skidded to a halt, throwing Newt forward into the passenger seat. Robyn raised an eyebrow but said nothing as she collected her weapon and jumped out of the vehicle. Newt did the same. He along with everyone else ran to the gate and ducked behind the gate wall. Bullets whistled past the gate as Augusto's men fired on the team.

    Newt shouted to Mini and Blythe, "Flashbangs! Go!" Both of the girls immediately came up with hand grenades and lobbed them over the wall. Less than two seconds later they exploded in the front courtyard, shouts of pain and panic rising up. While they were distracted, everyone rushed into the yard and gunned them all down. Enemy commanders tried to get their troops in order but failed miserably as they were cut down like the rest. Miguel ran ahead of the other and they all regrouped in front of the house itself. Now that Newt was directly in front of it, he could see how tall it really was. He had to walk back a few steps to be able to see the roof. He couldn't help but wonder how much anyone had paid to live here.

    Miguel started dishing out orders to everyone. "Newton, your team are moving up to apprehend Raul Augusto. My team are going to the basement to torch the drug factory. Aurora, your team is with mine. All clear?" He nodded at everyone, a determined expression on his face.

    "Let's get it done. The sooner we finish, the sooner we get out of here. Let's go!" Newt shouted to his team. He ran into the building first, assault rifle blazing. Everyone followed, Mel falling behind. Just before she could follow her teammates, Ellie grabbed her arm.

    "Hey, keep an eye on him," Ellie warned. Mel didn't have to guess to know she was talking about Newt. "He looks like he could snap at any minute."

    "He's not usually like this. I don't know what's up." Mel sighed.

    "Just keep him under control." Ellie managed a small smile and followed Aurora to the side door which led to the basement. Mel watched her go and then loaded her handgun. She entered the building. By the time she was inside, all of the initial enemies were already bleeding out on the floor, if not already dead. Her team was already moving up the stairs to the next floor. She quietly tailed them, watching their backs for any stragglers. Sakura was at the front holding a Riot shield, covering her friends from a surprise attack. The attack never came.

    "Something's not right," Fletch said, "surely more enemies would've heard the shots. Where are they?"

    "Better not to jinx it," Robyn said. "Raul Augusto is probably on the highest floor, cowering in his bedroom. We'll take the stairs up. Don't risk using a rigged elevator." They moved up the stairs as fast as they could, while doing their best not to make any noise.

    Aurora suddenly appeared in their radios. "What's your status?"

    "We're moving up to his bedroom now," Newt growled, "we'll have him in about two minutes. Out." Mel grew increasingly worried. Newt seemed to be getting angrier by the minute. They came to the fire escape door, and they stacked up on both sides. "We'll bust through this door, push to the bedroom door and capture Augusto. Mel, take point." She nodded shortly and took a position right next to the door. She glanced at Newt, who gave her the nod. She turned to face the door and kicked it down.

    The second the door fell off its hinges, Mel ran into the room, handgun out. There were enemies in the corridor, so she shot them quickly and they collapsed immediately. Her teammates flooded the corridor from behind, and she pointed to the very end of it. A single door stood there, wooden with a gold-coloured handle. It was most likely locked. Everyone stacked up on both sides of the door. Newt quietly called to Blythe. "Kicker charge on the door. Move." He said flatly. Blythe reached in her backpack and pulled out two large metal rods, connected by multi-coloured wires, like a pair of nunchucks. She stuck each one on the door, one on each vertical door frame. She then connected a detonator on the wire, which glowed green as soon as the connection was made. Blythe nodded to Newt, who stood back as the door exploded.

    Mel and Newt were the first to enter the room, bursting through the orange cloud of flame, guns at the ready. Raul Augusto was directly in front of them, two masked soldiers on either side of him. They were about to raise their handguns up to shoot at the two intruders, but they were put down quickly. Mel wasted no time in charging into Raul Augusto, knocking him against the poster bed and headbutting his nose. He groaned but did not give in. He made an attempt to bring up his knees against Mel's stomach, but he never got the chance as the rest of Ark Angel burst into the room, holding Augusto's hands and feet against the wall. He struggled but to no avail. He could only watch as Newt walked menacingly towards him, a knife in hand. He walked to Augusto's left side.

    "I only have one request," he hissed, "don't make this difficult for both of us."

    Augusto still struggled against Ethan's and Robyn's strength, but he replied, "I have nothing to tell you." Newt glanced at Ethan who held Augusto's left arm. He merely nodded. Newt rested his knife on Augusto's left pinkie finger and cut downwards.

    Augusto grunted heavily, but he didn't scream. His finger dropped to the floor uselessly. He was breathing heavily, and blood was already starting to pour from the stump that once held his finger. Newt brought his mouth close to his ear. "You have nine fingers left, plus ten toes." He hissed. "After that, we'll have to get a little creative."

    Augusto only looked in Newt's eyes, stared into his merciless pupils. "I have nothing to tell you." He repeated. Suddenly he groaned again as another finger fell to the floor, his ring finger. He gritted his teeth but remained silent. It was only after Newt removed his middle finger that he screamed, an ugly, horrible sound issuing from his lips. "You know what I want to know," Newt said. "Tell me."

    "You may as well kill me," Augusto whimpered, "I am already dead."

    "Kill you?" Newt couldn't help but let out a low chuckle. "Believe me, I would love to do that. It's taken all my self-control not to shove this knife down your throat." He suppressed a wince as the painful memory of his former best friend's corpse appeared in his mind. "So you'd better start talking."

    "Did you not hear me?" he roared. "Kratos is going to kill me. He is going to kill you too. Nothing will stop him."

    Newt glared at his anguished face for a few seconds before finally deciding what to say. He leant close and whispered, "I can guarantee your safety if you tell me what I want to know. I can get you out of Mexico. You'll have all the safety you'll need at home. I promise."

    That's when Augusto broke. He told Newt everything. Names, places, dates, he blabbered every little secret and white lie that he knew. He talked for a full five minutes. Newt thought he'd seen a tear run down Augusto's wrinkled cheek while he gave him all the information he wanted. After Newt was fully satisfied, he said one last thing to Augusto. "See? That wasn't so bad. You might still have your other fingers if you'd co-operated when I asked." He hesitated, then continued. "Stay with us. You'll be safe in our company." Then Augusto did something Newt did not expect him to do.

    He laughed. Despite his mutilated hand and other minor injuries, he laughed. "You are a fool to think I could actually trust you." Newt raised an eyebrow, but he still continued. "You think I don't recognise you? I still remember ten years ago." Mel's instincts went into panic mode when she saw Newt clench his fists. She put a hand on his shoulder to try to calm him down, but he wasn't having it. He pushed her hand off his shoulder and slowly advanced toward Raul Augusto. "Tell me, Newton. Did the light in your friend's eyes die as they did? Were your hands sticky with blood, as you tried to save them?" He mocked. Newt made a growling sound in his throat.

    "If you want to live," he hissed, "shut up."

    "It gave me great pleasure knowing I fulfilled my duty for Michael Kratos." He roared in laughter. "Pleasure in knowing one of his greatest enemies would be torn apart mentally." And that was when Newt lost his cool.

    He unsheathed a knife and forced into the side of his neck.

    Again.

    And again.

    And again.

    Raul Augusto let out a strangled cry, but he choked on his own blood which was also splattered all over the wall he had been forced again. Newt heard someone shout, but it was only after a few seconds that he realised he was the one shouting. He kept stabbing Augusto's bloodied neck until he fell to the floor, dead. He turned around to face his team, who stared wide-eyed at the monster that had just been unleashed inside Newt.

    "If anyone asks," he snarled, "today never happened." He stormed out of the room.

    ~

    Newt refused to lead the team outside, so Mel took point and showed them out. The sun was as scorching hot as ever, she had to shield her eyes so she could see properly. "Aurora, where are you? We've finished up." Mel said into her radio.

    A gasping voice responded, out of breath. "We're coming," Aurora replied, "but boy, do we have news." Right on cue, Aurora came scrambling out of the basement door, followed by Ellie and then Miguel. No one else followed.

    "Where the hell are your teams?" Mel asked.

    "Dead." Aurora panted. "They're all dead."

    "Why are you out of breath? What's going on?"

    "They have a poison." Miguel butt in. "A soldier threw a vial at us. It exploded into green clouds all over the floor and threatened to climb up our necks. Us three got out in time, but our teammates…" he shook his head in sorrow, "…they were not so lucky."

    "I managed to grab a sample just before escaping." Ellie reached into her pocket and pulled out another vial, filled with a sludgy, dark green liquid. "I want to do a test on it. Hopefully, Fletch can join me in this experiment. He looks like he knows what he's doing."

    Fletch looked surprised. "Okay then," he said, "I'll help."

    "But that doesn't make any sense." Mel said, "Why would Augusto be creating a chemical agent in his basement?"

    "That is something we are yet to figure out," Miguel said.

    "So," Robyn interrupted, "are we going home."

    Miguel shook his head. "Not yet." He said. "Our citizen's revolution is due to begin tomorrow. After seeing you fight today, I think you may be a valuable asset."

    "Asset?" Robyn spat. "We aren't assets. We're soldiers."

    "Whatever you like to call yourselves. We could use all the help we can get. I will be fighting as a spy with Michael Kratos, while you –"

    "Stop right there. He's coming here?" Newt finally spoke. "That's surely not a coincidence. First, he shows up in Paris, and now Mexico? And he just so happens to be there at the exact same time that we are?"

    "If I were to assume, my friend," Miguel put a finger to his chin, "it sounds like he's hunting you down."

    "He must really want us dead if he's travelling all over the globe," Mel said. "I don't really care what he wants with us." Newt put a hand on Miguel's shoulder, the first sign of passiveness he'd shown in ages. "Just make sure you kill him when the time comes, soldier." He whispered in Miguel's ear.

    "You will not be disappointed. I will sacrifice my life if it means his downfall." Miguel nodded.

    "Who's leading the rebellion? I would assume you?" Aurora asked.

    "Actually…" he paused, "…I was hoping you would, señorita."

    "Me?"

    "Yes, you. You appear to know what to do in difficult situations. I know you would not let us down."

    Aurora hesitated, then spoke in a much softer voice, "I'm honoured." She muttered. "Really. But I can't do that. This is not my fight. This is for you."

    Miguel nodded as if he understood. "Very well. But will you at least nominate a leader for us?" Aurora looked around at everyone she had fought alongside with. All of them had been excellent combatants, but she didn't know how any of them operated in a position of authority, except for one.

    "Yes," Aurora said. "I nominate Melody Harper."

    "Wait, what?" Mel was genuinely surprised.

    "This isn't your first time leading a squad. In the Ruby Angels and the military, you have experience. I know you better than anyone else here. You can do this."

    Mel stared at Aurora for a few seconds, then fixed her expression and nodded to Miguel. "Fine." She said. "I'll lead your rebellion."

    Miguel smiled and raised his hand to his forehead – a salute. "Copy that, ma'am." He chuckled.
    Miguel sat in the back seat of his private military jeep, staring out of the window at the corrupted territory that he now lived in. Men wearing bandannas sat on the terraces of shops and residence, holding assault rifles and shotguns. They watched his jeep drive past, but they did not show any signs of aggression. Miguel assumed they were scouting him on his way to meet Michael Kratos. It genuinely disgusted Miguel to know that this was the place he lived in now, a wasteland ruled by militia and cartels. He wanted his old home back. He wanted the old Mexico. He wanted a place where people could walk outside freely, where they weren't under the constant fear of being spontaneously shot by militia. But he couldn't think about that now. Right now, he had a job to do.

    Miguel's radio crackled, and Aurora's voice came on. "How you doing, Miguel?"

    "A little nervous, if I'm being completely honest." He spoke quietly so the driver couldn't hear him. At this point in time, he couldn't trust anyone but his closest friends. "It is one thing to see Kratos face to face. It is another thing completely to work alongside him, and see all the crimes he has committed."

    "Kratos isn't a criminal, he's a nationalist. A mass murderer. He trades blood for money. Just sit tight. You'll be fine."

    "How is my rebel group?"

    "They're in good hands. Melody knows what she's doing. We will succeed. Don't worry about a damn thing." Aurora paused, then continued. "There is one minor issue. Our blue tracker can't ID you as a friendly, so when the bullets start flying, you CANNOT blow your cover. The only way someone can actually recognise you is if they identify your face. Still, don't worry. You'll be fine." The connection cut out.

    "But how is it possible to not worry," Miguel was speaking to no one but himself, "when I must stand shoulder to shoulder to my country's true bane?"

    ~

    "Melody," Newt knocked on the old wooden door. It creaked open even as he was knocking, enough to reveal Mel loading a SCAR-Z assault rifle. She looked in his direction as she slotted the magazine in the rifle.

    "Hi." She said casually. She slung the rifle across her back and started to load her handgun.

    "It's time. The rebels are waiting."

    Mel nodded shortly and walked out of the door, Newt following closely behind. As they walked through the various rooms in the building, men and women alike stood to attention as soon as Mel entered the room and saluted to her. "How do you feel about this?" Newt asked Mel.

    "About what?"

    "About leading the rebels. Surely you aren't one hundred per cent confident."

    "I'm commanding the rebellion group belonging to someone I don't even know. I'm not aware of their abilities in front line combat, I don't know how many troops we have, and not to mention Kratos' best warriors will be here to make sure we don't succeed. So yes, I'm totally fine." She said sarcastically.

    Newt put a friendly hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it." He said. "You'll be great. You're a fantastic leader and a fearless warrior. If I had to hand over my rebel group to someone, you would be my first choice."

    Mel blinked. "Really?"

    "Really." Newt smiled. "Now get out there and show the people what you're made of."

    The two of them stopped in front of a double door, spanning from ceiling to floor. Mel looked at Newt one last time, and he winked. Then she opened the doors and walked through. Mel almost ran straight back inside when she saw how many people there were. The courtyard was packed with civilians, some raising assault rifles. Everyone was shouting in triumph when they saw Mel, and she started to feel nervous again. She raised a hand timidly, and everyone stopped shouting.

    "Citizens," she began, "I am honoured to be here today to announce that you will take back your freedom!" Everyone shouted again, raising fists and weapons into the air. They were obviously very excited for this moment. "Your people have been under influence for years, even decades. But that ends today!" More shouting. "It is not enough to break free. We… will… break them!" The people shrieked louder than ever before, and Mel turned to Newt, beaming. Newt flashed a thumbs up at her.

    ~

    The jeep pulled up behind a mansion, similar to the one previously owned by Raul Augusto. The walls were vandalized and scrappy, much like most of the buildings in this part of Mexico. There was a single wooden door leading inside, the paint chipped away and the wood worn out. Miguel stepped out of the vehicle gingerly, thanked his driver quietly and watched him leave. He only dared open the door once he was completely out of his line of sight, and walked inside.

    The first thing that hit Miguel was how dimly lit the place was. He stood in a large room, completely deserted except for a few small tables. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, shattered and ruined. Glass shards were littered all over the floor, crunching under Miguel's heavy feet as he walked towards the other end of the room, where the staircase was located. As he ascended the stairs slowly, he thought about what Aurora's friends thought of him. They were probably a bit sceptical of letting a total stranger do their dirty work, and honestly, Miguel agreed. He would have done the same, but now it didn't matter what they thought. He had to focus on the task ahead. Focus on the task right behind the bulky door that the stairs led to.

    He pushed the door and walked inside. This room wasn't nearly as big as the one Miguel had just come from, but still considerably large. Like downstairs, the room was near empty. The only contents were a fireplace, a flimsy wooden chair, and a man sat on the chair, staring into the flickering flames. His lightning blue eyes seemed to follow the flames as they threatened to lick his face. He wore a white suit and shirt and had a thoughtful finger on his chin. If Miguel didn't know any better, he looked like he was mourning.

    Kratos whipped around to look at Miguel as soon as he heard the door slam shut. As soon as he recognised the friendly face, he grinned broadly and vigorously shook Miguel's hand. "We are ready." He whispered. Miguel simply nodded his understanding.

    Kratos slowly got up from the chair and walked to the balcony looking out to the beach, beckoning Miguel to follow. He leaned on the railing and stared out to the crystal sea. "The Europeans are coming, Miguel." He hissed. "There is a… traitor, in our midst." He spat out the word.

    Miguel feigned surprise and stammered. "But – but how? Who?"

    "It matters not!" Kratos raised his voice. "Because I am one step ahead of him. I am always one step ahead, Miguel. Remember that."

    Miguel was genuinely starting to panic, but he kept it hidden behind a serious expression. "I believe we have business to attend to." He coughed.

    "How right you are. Come, let's go." He tapped Miguel's shoulder and led him back into the room. He turned left and walked through an inconspicuous door in the corner of the room. Kratos held the door open as Miguel walked through. He's a monster, Miguel reminded himself. He may play nice, but he'll stab you in the back when you least expect it.

    The door led into a simple corridor, with another bulky door at the end of it. They walked towards the door, both silent. As they approached the door, Kratos halted Miguel and muttered to him. "You want to see true power?" he smiled. He put a hand on the doorknob. "Here it is."

    He pushed the door open and strode confidently into the daylight. Miguel followed and stood at his side. They were standing on a stage of some sort, overlooking a courtyard. And in this courtyard, there were men. Women. Even children. All of them cheering for Kratos. Miguel's heart sank as he realised who these people were. They were supporters of Michael Kratos. People who thought he was doing the right thing and thought his actions would benefit them in the end. How foolish they were. Seeing them all gathered here, it reminded him of his own rebellion, except that these people were fighting for the wrong thing. Kratos was their common enemy, but they didn't know it yet.

    The crowd silenced when Kratos stood still. He took a few seconds to observe the numbers of the crowd, admire his countless supporters. Then he raised a confident fist and shouted, "Nova Satus!"

    The crowd repeated his words. "NOVA SATUS! NOVA SATUS! NOVA SATUS!" Miguel did not recognise the language nor its English translation, but the name obviously riled the crowd up. They kept cheering, until a large shadow cast over the courtyard, and they fell silent. Miguel looked behind him and saw what had caused the shadow. An aircraft had appeared behind the stage where Kratos was standing, a VTOL. Miguel turned his attention to the logo painted on its side and recognised it. This was a VTOL belonging to the British Army, and it was about to open fire.

    Unfortunately, it never got a chance. As soon as the VTOL made an appearance, Kratos turned himself around and glared at the ship in fury. He did not move at all, and Miguel wondered why until he saw his other guard pick up a missile launcher. He loaded a rocket into the barrel and aimed at the VTOL. Kratos shouted, "FIRE!"

    The man fired the missile which made direct contact with the left wing. The entire wing and jet engine fell from the jet onto the floor. The VTOL was soon to follow, trailing smoke and flames as it spiralled rapidly, its pilot desperately trying to regain control. It was no use. The jet slammed into the nearest column, and the entire wall fell on top of the grounded VTOL. Miguel knew there was no way the pilot would have survived. Kratos' crowd was now screaming in fear and panic, and they all made to the courtyard's gate. Everyone pushed and shoved to try and get out first, but Kratos made no effort to calm them down. He simply walked over to Miguel as if nothing had happened and put a pistol in his hand. "Meet me at the city gates." He said, and he ran for the nearest door back inside.

    Miguel didn't follow. Instead, he jumped down from the stage into the courtyard and joined the mass of citizens trying to leave the gate. He tried to shove people out of his way, but it was futile. Kratos would get away by the time he made it to the gate. He surveyed his surroundings and found an ordinary side door on the adjacent wall, which none of the crowd had spotted. He ran for the door and kicked it down. The door flew a few metres before landing in a spot of mud. He reconnected his radio and tried to establish a connection with Aurora. There was nothing but static. Why wasn't she picking up?

    Miguel gave up quite quickly. There was no use wasting any more time. He tried to contact someone else, the leader of his citizen's rebellion, the green haired girl Aurora called Melody. "Melody, can you hear me?" Miguel shouted.

    There was a few seconds of crackling, but soon Mel's voice could be heard, crystal clear. "I copy, Miguel. What's your status?"

    "He's gone! He left just as the shooting started!" He took a breath, then continued. "Kratos knows! I'm sure of it!"

    "There's no way he knows. If he did know, you'd be dead already."

    "He told me to meet him at the city gates."

    Mel swore. "He's trying to escape. We can't give him a chance to dig in. Move through the city and re-establish contact. Head South through the market. Good luck."

    Miguel loaded the pistol that Kratos had given him and sprinted as fast as he could. He knew this place like the back of his hand, so it didn't take very long for him to find the market. Many of Kratos' men were already there, shooting at enemies behind the stalls and on the rooftops. Wait, not enemies… Miguel recognised the faces of some of them. It was his rebellion. "Melody! The rebellion is here!"

    "Oh, damn it…" Mel said. "You have to keep moving. Do not engage unless absolutely necessary."

    "Another thing! Kratos shot down a British military airship! Mexico just became a war zone!"

    "I'll try to establish contact with the commanders. If you run into them, you have to remember that you're just another terrorist in their eyes. You just keep moving and find Kratos. Out."

    Miguel ducked behind one of the stalls to avoid being shot by his rebellion. Immediately he began searching for a flanking route. He did not want to have to fight a team that he had worked so hard to create, and he also didn't want to be torn apart by his own people. His rebellion was smart because they would know most of the secret alleyways and flanking routes in the place. But Miguel was smarter. He had deliberately missed out one crucial alleyway when he was teaching them about the site, in case of a situation like this. Miguel made another check of his handgun's ammunition and made a run for the eastern wall.

    He was shot at by the rebellion, but fortunately, their accuracy was not perfect, and the bullets embedded themselves harmlessly into the wall he was running along. Quite ironic, considering Miguel had trained them to shoot, but now he was grateful that he was a terrible teacher.

    Miguel leapt into the alleyway. Daylight couldn't reach into here, so Miguel relied on his natural night vision to navigate. There was only one route, however. This alleyway stretched all the way to the town square, from there it would only take around a minute to reach the city gates. Miguel holstered his handgun and sprinted.

    ~

    "Talk to me, Miguel. Do you see Kratos?"

    "One minute!"

    "My VTOL's coming into the AO. We'll have you picked up in no time."

    "Copy." Miguel broke from the alleyway route and entered a derelict house through a shattered window. He landed in what looked like a dining room. The table was turned over and all the chairs splintered. A television screen was shot full of holes and lying on the floor which was littered with glass. Miguel ignored all of this and burst through the front door into the town square.

    The fighting was much more intense here. But instead of a rebellion fighting Kratos, military forces of multiple countries were fighting Kratos' men. Britain, America, France… all those who had lost political leaders in the Paris disaster were now seeking vengeance. Miguel's rebellion was nowhere to be seen. That meant he had the opportunity to slip past both sides in combat and run for the gate. But when he got there, Kratos was nowhere to be seen. That meant he was already outside…

    Miguel ran to the left side of the large wooden gate, where a reinforced steel door was situated. There was no way he could kick it down, and he did not know the code to unlock the door. So his last option was to slam the door with his fist, in hopes of getting the attention of anyone on the other side. He almost gave up, until the door shrieked loudly as it dragged across the concrete floor, and Miguel slipped through as soon as he could fit. Then he looked up to see who had opened the door for him. Kratos.

    "Miguel!" Kratos raised a hand in greeting and smiled.

    "Kratos." Miguel gasped. "We must get you to safety. We have lost too many men already."

    As he said this, Mel spoke in his radio. "Miguel, I'm descending now. Are you still with me?" Miguel looked up and saw another VTOL above the street, hovering about fifty metres away.

    "Victory is not measured by losses, Miguel…" Kratos mused. A soldier walked up behind Kratos and got his attention. It was only now that Miguel saw what he was holding, another missile launcher. Suddenly Miguel realised what Kratos was about to do. His heart sank as Kratos accepted the launcher and pointed it at Mel's VTOL. "…it is measured by gains." He fired the missile.

    The rocket exploded when it hit the hull of the VTOL, and the airship started to drop instantly. Miguel could hear Mel shouting, "Crap! We're hit! We're going –" Miguel never heard her finish the sentence as the VTOL slammed into the ground, shaking the earth beneath Miguel. Kratos tossed Miguel his launcher, who caught it and immediately placed it on the floor as he followed Kratos to the wreckage. About ten men were gathering around the downed bird, two of them actually entered the airship and dragged Mel out. She refused to stand up, and her knees were dragged along the jagged stones. There was a large gash on her forehead, her blood dripping to the ground.

    The men cheered as Kratos crouched to meet Mel face to face and muttered, "You knew I would be here. Who betrayed me?" he asked.

    "Nice try. You won't get jack from me, idiot!" Mel shouted fiercely. Despite her injuries, she was still struggling against the men restraining her. Kratos gave a small nod, and out of the blue, he punched Mel in the face. She shouted in pain, and she spat blood, but she kept talking. "Is that all you got? Huh? You're wasting your time!"

    "MIGUEL!" Kratos suddenly yelled. Miguel jumped and turned to look at Kratos.

    He was pointing a gun at him, finger on the trigger.

    He walked menacingly towards him, and Miguel walked backwards until he hit the wall. Kratos kept aiming the gun at his face, fury in his eyes. They stood like this for a few seconds before Kratos' expression softened, and he flipped the gun so that the handle was now facing Miguel.

    "Kill her."

    Miguel blinked. "Is something wrong, Miguel?" Kratos muttered.

    "No."

    "Then prove your loyalty by following my orders!" he shouted.

    Miguel stared at Kratos for a few seconds, then slowly took the gun in his hand. He walked slowly towards Mel, who was still throwing insults at Kratos. "Yeah, that's right! Kill me, Miguel! And you, you spineless piece of crap! Getting others to do your dirty work? What kind of man are you?!"

    Miguel stood in front of Mel and held her face straight so that she was forced to look at him. With a quivering hand and shaky breaths, he held the gun against Mel's temple. "Kill me, Miguel. Do your job!" She hissed.

    "Now, Miguel!" Kratos was now standing behind Mel, his face beside her. Everyone stood where they were while Miguel started thinking in his head, weighing the pros and cons of murdering an ally.

    "KILL HER NOW!"

    "I'm sorry," Miguel whispered to Mel.

    His finger tensed on the trigger.

    But just as he was about to fire, he turned the barrel away from Mel's head and aimed at Kratos' face. The action took a fraction of a second. The shot should've hit Kratos directly between the eyes, but Kratos was faster. He grabbed Miguel's arm just before he fired and yanked it upwards. The bullet flew harmlessly into the sky. Miguel struggled but there was no point. Kratos drew his own gun, his signature revolver, and shot Miguel in the chest.

    Miguel's eyes were filled with blood. He fell backwards and hit the stone-cold floor headfirst. His head was pounding and he could hear the blood roaring in his ears. He lost all strength in his body, and his chest flared with pain. Kratos strode in front of Miguel's dying body and made sure that he could see him. "You betrayed me, Miguel." He said dangerously. "And for what?"

    Miguel coughed but managed to choke out a few words. "You… are an animal. I pledged my life to those I serve…" he rasped.

    "To those you serve?" Kratos whispered. He stood up straight and glared at Miguel. Then he shrieked at the top of his lungs, "To those you serve, your life means NOTHING!"

    Those were the last words Miguel heard before Kratos shot him in the head.

    ~

    "I see her! Down there!" Newt shouted to Blythe in the cockpit.

    "Enemy presence?"

    "It's just her. Get down there!" The VTOL descended and hovered above the street. The dust blew away from the jet as it got closer to the ground. Newt left his seat next to Blythe and made his way to the door. He grabbed the harness on the adjacent seat and attached it to himself. He linked a rappel rope to his harness and the doorframe and made sure it was secure. Newt gripped the rope firmly and jumped from the VTOL, using the rope to slow his fall. As soon as he hit the ground, he detached from the rope and ran over to Mel who was lying on the ground next to her wrecked airship.

    "Hey." Newt tapped her face. "Hey, can you hear me? Mel?"

    Mel's eyes opened weakly, but she managed to give a frail nod. "I'm okay." She coughed.

    "Where's Miguel?" he asked.

    "Dead."

    "Where?"

    Mel pointed to where Miguel's bloodied corpse lay, bullet wounds in his head and chest. His facial hair was stained with blood as well as his hands. "What happened?" Newt whispered.

    "Kratos ordered him to kill me. He tried to pull a fast one and shoot Kratos instead." She shook her head in sorrow. "He wasn't fast enough."

    "What about Kratos?"

    "He's long gone by now. We lost him."

    "We won't worry about him for now. Come on, let's get you out of here."
    When the VTOL touched down back at home base, Fletch immediately rushed Mel to the infirmary just to be sure she wasn’t injured so seriously that she’d need to take a break from the action. After them, Newt jumped down and landed on the floor with a quiet grunt. Ignoring everyone else who got off the VTOL, he immediately made for his own living quarters, a small single-storey building with enough space for only a single room. The building was on the corner of the Ark Angel compound, which he meant he had complete privacy unless someone knocked on his door. No one asked where he was going nor what he was doing, which Newt was grateful for. Right now, he just needed to think.

    He crouched slightly so his eye lined up perfectly with the retinal scan device next to his door. The device took a second to record and identify his retina and then gave a happy beep and unlocked the door. Newt pushed it open and strode inside.

    His home wasn’t the most comfortable, but Newt had gotten used to it a long time ago. His walls were covered with an ugly yellow wallpaper which already threatened to peel off the wall. Newt still didn’t understand why he’d decided to use this horrendous colour. He’d make a mental note to replace it when he had the time. He also had an old coffee table in the middle of the room, with only one chair accompanying it. The only things on the table were a newspaper and a few coins which Newt never touched. He rarely had the opportunity to use the coins, but he enjoyed reading the newspaper. It was a great help to keep his mind off things when he needed it.

    Newt walked past all of these and went straight for his bed. He sat himself down and put his face in his hands, covering his eyes. He did his best to debrief himself about the op. The primary objective was to interrogate Raul Augusto. Check. He also killed Raul Augusto, the man who killed his best friend. That could be a little bonus. Afterwards, his team had been recruited by Miguel to assist a civilian’s revolution against the local government and its tyrants. The revolution had been successful, but at the loss of their creator Miguel, murdered by Kratos himself.

    While he was still pondering these things, he heard a loud, distinct knock on his door. He almost shouted to them to enter, but caught himself when he realised he was the only one who could open the door. With a frustrated snarl, he got up from the bed and walked to the door. He couldn’t guess who’d want to talk to him, so he was quite reluctant to reach for the handle. He almost considered going back to the bed, then thought twice. If somebody wanted his attention, it was probably important. He opened the door.

    He was a little taken aback to see Sakura standing there, hands behind her back and still in her combat uniform. Her sickle stick hung from her waist belt. She almost looked nervous to see him. “Hello, Sakura,” he greeted with a raised eyebrow, “do you need something?”

    “Yes,” she whispered, then coughed. “I need a talk with you. About Mexico.”

    Newt blinked. “Right…” he nodded slowly. “okay, come inside and we’ll talk.” He held the door open as Sakura walked in tentatively. Newt closed the door quietly casting a glance at her. What could she possibly want to talk about?

    “Want to sit?” he motioned towards the chair. “Sorry, no one usually comes in here. I don’t prepare for visitors.” He said sheepishly.

    “Where will you sit?”

    “The bed works just fine.” Sakura pulled out the chair and sat while Newt flopped onto the bed.

    “Something happened in Mexico,” Sakura began, “Augusto said something to you. Whatever he said, it meant something to you.”

    “Sakura –“

    “You were well aware that the op was an interrogation order.” She continued. “Not a kill/capture order. His death was not part of the plan.”

    “Listen to me –“

    “No! You listen to me!” Sakura’s voice suddenly rose. “You didn’t have the green light to kill him. His death wasn’t necessary. That was murder.”

    “Stop!” Newt shouted. Sakura fell silent. “He had it coming. He deserved to die.”

    “It wasn’t your place to decide that.”

    “Yes, it was.” He took a deep breath, then continued. “…I don’t know. I heard Raul talking like that, and I guess I just lost my cool.”

    “Isaac, you don’t lose your cool! What the hell did he do to you?” Their voices were starting to rise.

    “HE EXECUTED MY BEST FRIEND!” Newt roared while rising from the bed. Sakura actually whimpered. “He murdered the only person who actually cared about me! The only one who listened to me! So yeah, when I saw him, I lost my cool! WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU DO?!” he screamed.

    Newt forced himself on to the bed again. He looked at Sakura, she was actually taking deep breaths and staring at Newt, fear in her eyes. “Listen, I’m sorry.” Newt exhaled. “It was ten years ago. But I still can’t get the image out of my head. It haunts my dreams, sometimes. If you want to make me mad, go right ahead and mention that. You’d be dead in a heartbeat.”

    “You’ve got to get this under control.” Sakura whispered. “You were lucky the first time. If you lose it again, who knows what the consequences will be?”

    “I thought I was over it…” he shook his head, “…but I guess not.”

    “You have time.” Sakura stood up. “We can focus on helping you after the mission debrief. Come on.” She beckoned Newt towards the door, and they both walked out into the freezing cold. Their bodies shivered and their teeth chattered, but they eventually made their way to the mission room, where everyone was waiting.

    ~

    “Good, you’re here!” Robyn exclaimed as Sakura and Newt walked in. “I was wondering what was taking you so long.”

    “Just get on with the debrief. Please,” Sakura added.

    “Fine. The primary objective was to capture Raul Augusto and interrogate him. That was a success, even though…” she cast a sidelong glance at Newt, “…yeah. Then Miguel Ramirez, a top dog for Michael Kratos and a traitor, recruited our unit for a civilian’s revolution, which Mel led.” She nodded at Mel, who only nodded back. “The revolution was a success. A new government is now in place, and there were seventy-two losses on our side. Seventy-three, if you count Miguel. He was murdered by Kratos when he blew his cover, saving Mel’s life in the process.” She finished.

    Everyone in the room was still silent, their own thoughts running through their heads. “Do we have a new op?” Fletch asked.

    “Possibly.” Robyn turned to face the large television behind her. She tapped on her tablet screen until a building appeared on the big screen, outlined by turquoise lines. It looked similar to a castle. “This is an old gulag in Russia, right on its western border. Kratos uses this gulag to organize weapons and illegal trades. He goes there once a month to check on things, and guess what? Today’s his monthly return.” She smiled.

    “Okay. So we just insert and pin him to a wall. Sounds simple enough.” Newt nodded.

    “Oh, no. That’s where you’re wrong. We aren’t going there.” Robyn put the tablet on the table. “I am.”

    “What the – by yourself?” Newt gaped at her. “Absolutely not. I won’t allow it. It would be better to hold back and gather more intel. I don’t think you have that much, so far.

    “Ugh, this again?” Robyn looked disgusted. “This is exactly why I’m going by myself. You always hold back. Intelligence isn’t everything, Newt. At some point, we have to engage.”

    “It’s a ridiculous idea, inserting without any clue what you’re doing. It’s suicide.”

    “I would rather die trying than watch the world burn around me.” She retorted.

    “We have to play it safe, like we did in Mexico!” Newt complained.

    “You broke into the guy’s room and sliced his fingers off! How is that playing it safe?”

    “Well, it made him talk! It was the right move! It worked in Paris too!”

    “In Paris? I think Kapaia would disagree!” Robyn snarled.

    The air was suddenly silent as soon as Robyn mentioned their former squadmate. Half the room became quite interested in their feet. Robyn spoke again. “I’m going to Russia,” she said slowly, “and none of you are going to stop me.”

    “How would you get back?” Ethan asked.

    “I’d find a way. Whether it takes one night or months. I’d find a way.”

    “You can’t go to Russia.” Newt said. “It would be an act of war without official Congress.”

    Robyn was genuinely shocked. “Act of – we’re in the middle of bloody World War Three! Soldiers and innocents alike are dying because of what Kratos did! I doubt it would matter too much if one soldier crossed the border. I’m going to Russia!”

    She turned around and made to leave. Newt stood up from his seat and shouted at her. “On whose authority?”

    “On MY AUTHORITY!” She screamed. She stared Newt down for a few seconds before turning around in a huff and heading towards the armoury.
    Robyn opened the door of her stolen Ferrari and stepped out gingerly. It hadn’t been a difficult job to snatch it, some idiot had left the door unlocked and the key in the ignition. She left her sniper rifle in the car but she still had her handgun on her, tucked away safely in her right boot. The bar she’d stopped at wasn’t a very impressive sight. It was a simple brick building, about the size of a typical house. She was only here because intel suggested that her target wasn’t due to arrive at the gulag until an hour later. She had time to kill. A neon sign on the roof flickered and blinked green, obviously wearing away with age. It read in English “Dmitri’s Drinks.” Only a few other cars were parked in front, one man was leaning on a small hatchback and having a smoke. He shouted something at Robyn, probably Russian. She didn’t put any effort into translating his exclamation as she ignored the man and pushed the front door open.

    The bar was almost empty, as indicated by the lack of cars in the parking lot. There were only around five tables, of which two were occupied. The customers paid no attention to Robyn as she walked up to the bar. A single man was wiping down the table and putting drinks away. He wore a mint green T-shirt, which Robyn thought looked hideous. He had no beard but he did have a small orange moustache that was neatly combed downwards.

    He didn’t see Robyn until she tapped on the table with her nails. He yelped and dropped his washcloth, then he looked at Robyn and seemed to relax. “Dobryy vecher,” he smiled. Robyn’s translator mod whirred in her head. He’d greeted her.


    “Vy govorite po-angliyski?” she asked him. Do you speak English?


    “A little bit,” he spoke in English, his accent still heavily present. “Do you come for a drink?”


    “What’s your name?” She dodged the question.


    “I am Dmitri, ma’am.” He nodded for no apparent reason. Did she hear him whimper?


    “Are you scared?” Robyn frowned. “Why are you scared?”


    “Have you come to kill me?”


    “What? No!” She raised her eyebrows. “Why would I want to kill you? Because I’m American?” she spat.


    “Oh, no ma’am!” Dmitri exclaimed. “My apologies. It is not because of your accent. It is just that…” he lowered his voice. “…every month, soldiers come to this bar to drink. But they always cheat out of payment, so they drink for free. It costs the bar a lot of money, but we cannot do anything.”


    “Russian?” Robyn asked.


    “Yes, ma’am.”


    “And they’re coming here today?”


    Before Dmitri could reply, there was a loud knocking on the rickety door, followed by a young but gruff voice. “Dmitri! Open up, you stale old man!”


    “They are here.” Dmitri whimpered.


    Robyn said nothing as the door burst open and two sturdy built men walked in. Both wore military armour and boots, but they didn’t appear to be armed. Then again, Robyn was hiding a gun in her boot. She didn’t know what those men were carrying. One man was clean shaven, young and had dim blue eyes. The other was brown-eyed with a heavy scowl fixed on his face. Both were walking up to the bar.


    The brown eyed man slammed a fist on the table, completely ignoring Robyn’s presence. “Get me two Vorstogs, Dmitri. Quickly.”


    “But I – uh…” Dmitri faltered. “We do not have any Vorstog in stock,” he finally admitted.


    “Zmeyegolov, then.” He spat. “Do not waste my time.”


    “We… do not have any of that, either.” Dmitri squeaked.


    “What?!” he suddenly roared. “What kind of bar is this?”


    “Please sir, we have plenty of other fine choices available –“


    “I do not want your fine choices, Dmitri! I want Vorstog!” he shouted.


    It was at this point that Robyn finally intervened. “Hey! Leave him alone!” she challenged.


    The man stopped shouting immediately and diverted his attention to Robyn. From the expression on his face, she wondered if she’d made a mistake. “An American?” he slurred. “Dmitri, you know you are not supposed to accept foreigners here.”


    “I welcome anyone to my bar, American or not.” He stated simply.


    “I don’t know how you do it in America, girl,” he continued talking to Robyn, “but here, I get what I want. And nothing gets in my way.”


    “He hasn’t done anything to you. Why do you have to bother him?” she complained.


    “It isn’t your place to question my authority.”


    “Maybe. But I’m still questioning your authority.” Robyn said coolly.


    “You talk too much.” He said. “I think it’s time you learned your place.” He snarled viciously, and Robyn knew she was about to get into a fight. He started advancing on her, and she spied his right hand reaching behind his back. Any second now, he was going to pull a weapon.


    Robyn put an end to that quickly. She forced her heel into the man’s ankle, and he grunted with pain. His hand left its place behind his back and curled into a fist which he hurled aimlessly at Robyn with a grunt of effort. She dropped to the floor to avoid the punch, and as soon as she hit the ground, her hand dove into her boot and took out the handgun she’d been hiding. Before the soldier realised what was happening, she shot him in the groin.


    He roared in pain and collapsed onto the ground, grasping between his legs. Robyn watched him scream and squirm on the floor like a child, and finally ended his agony with a single shot to the head. She couldn’t help but feel slightly satisfied that her initial shot had hit its target.


    In fact, she felt so satisfied that she’d completely forgotten about his friend, who gave an angry shout and charged straight at Robyn. He rammed her right into the wall which made her drop the gun, and crushed her with his large body. The impact knocked the breath straight out of Robyn, and she gasped for air. A split second after she recovered, she saw the soldier unsheathe a classic army knife from his belt. He tried to stab Robyn in the centre of her forehead, which to her was a clear indicator that he wasn’t very experienced with a knife. She jerked her head to the side as the knife embedded itself harmlessly into the wall.


    As soon as knife hit wall, she punched the man in the nose with her free hand, which sent him stumbling backwards. Before he got a chance to regain control, Robyn had yanked the knife out from the wall and cleanly cut across his neck. The motion was quick, but the wound was deep. The soldier gripped his neck trying to stop the blood spurting from the wound, but to no avail. He gasped and choked as he slowly slumped to the ground, and his head rolled to the side.


    Robyn bent down to the floor and picked up her handgun. She looked at Dmitri, who was standing frozen in fear behind the counter. His eyes were incredibly wide, and Robyn thought she saw his arms shaking. “You have quite a mess to clean up,” she said casually, once she noticed the bloody mess she’d made.


    Dmitri seemed to snap back into focus. “Yes, um…” he stammered, “yes, I will dispose of the bodies. Thank you,” he added.


    “Not a problem,” Robyn scratched her neck. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I should probably leave before the authorities get here.”


    ~


    Robyn spat dirt out of her mouth and continued watching the movements of the gate patrol from the bush she was hiding in, five hundred metres away. Her magnification mod was constantly whirring while Robyn zoomed in on each of the soldiers’ faces to see if any of the names sparked a memory. None did. Robyn had memorized their patrol movements in around two minutes. There were three guards in total. One went walking around the gulag on its left, another went on its right. One guard remained at the gate, who glowed a brilliant green in Robyn’s night-vision mod. She thought of ways she could get past the gate without having to eliminate the guard, because if his friends came back around and found him bleeding on the floor, that was going to ring a lot of alarm bells.


    “Newt, how does –“ Robyn started, then she caught herself.


    Right. No comms. She was on her own.


    The two minutes she’d counted were now up, but the two guards that usually flanked the walls hadn’t moved from their position. They stayed focused on the path ahead, only illuminated by the dim street lamps in the cold night. If they were staying put… then they were expecting visitors. And then Robyn had an idea.


    Five minutes later she was crouching at a different bush, out of sight from the patrol guards but still having a great view of the place. She was much closer to the gate now, about a stone’s throw away. If she was fast enough, she could sprint behind the guards and slip through, but she was smart enough to know that was risky and foolish. If she was caught, she’d be finished before she’d even started.


    Instead she waited patiently until the jeep she’d spied out was within earshot, and then in her sight. The first thing she’d noticed was that it was no longer using its headlamps, when it had been using them on the open road. If that was the case, then the jeep obviously didn’t want to attract public attention. It rolled up slowly to the gulag’s gate, where the three guards were waiting.


    While the men were shouting at the driver, Robyn slowly left her hiding place and crept behind the jeep, out of sight of anyone. While the driver and guards were conversing, she lay down on her back and crawled slowly under the chassis without making a sound. The first thing that hit Robyn was the gross smell of the underside of the jeep, it stinked like it hadn’t been washed or used in years. The second thing she noticed was how dirty the driveline was when she gripped it with both hands. Once she got off this jeep, she was going to find a place to wash her hands.


    Robyn shifted her feet until she found a sturdy hold, and slowly lifted herself off the ground. She’d heard of an ancient Greek legend where some guy had grabbed hold of the belly of the sheep to get into the home of a monster. She didn’t know how that would’ve worked since he would’ve had nowhere to hold his feet, but that didn’t matter. It took Robyn most of her energy to keep herself off the ground, and desperately hoped the driver would finish his conversation too.


    Eventually he did, and he got back into the car with a slam of the door which almost made Robyn drop. She kept hold though, and felt the jeep quiver and shake until the engine turned on, and the jeep started moving. She hoped she wouldn’t have to stay under here for too long. At most, it should be around half a minute, possibly one full minute.


    Robyn groaned at the thought, but then remembered she’d been recording their conversation while she was getting under the jeep. If she wasn’t doing anything useful under here, she might as well listen over the conversation. Maybe she’d learn something useful. She scrolled through the menus in her neural interface until she found the recording, and played it.


    The first voice was the guard’s. “Hey! State your name and passengers!”


    Then the driver’s. “Okay. My name is Yuri Vanakov, but I am travelling on my own.”


    “Why are you here?”


    “Delivering supplies. The boss himself requested them.” Robyn didn’t need to guess that ‘supplies’ meant weaponry.


    A pause of a few seconds, then: “Okay. You’re good to go.”


    The recorded conversation ended there, which was convenient since the jeep had now suddenly stopped. Robyn had to grip the driveline harder to avoid hitting the ground. She was a little bit disappointed that the conversation hadn’t included any juicy details, but now she could get out of here and get to work.


    She waited a few more seconds after the engine switched off, to give the driver time to get far away from her. Once half a minute had passed, Robyn slowly eased herself onto the ground, which was solid concrete. She rolled out from under the vehicle so she lay on her back facing the night sky. She got to her feet quickly and surveyed her surroundings. The jeep had stopped at a small parking lot which only had six spaces, the only space being occupied was the one she’d been on.


    The parking lot was on a small hill at the wall of the compound. Robyn could see the entire place from here. The gulag looked very similar to a castle, apart from the fact it was adapted to be a containment centre for POWs. There was barbed wire surrounding a plain courtyard, apart from a single steel door on the east side. The building itself definitely resembled a castle: a single terrace stretched all around the gulag, one sentry on each corner. From the building analysis beforehand, Robyn knew that the prison ward stretched underground as well as above ground. Finding Kratos was going to be a lot of work. But first, she had to actually get into the compound.


    Robyn unzipped her pack and took out all of her gear. A mobile exo-suit, to help Robyn climb walls and perform better in hand to hand. A grapple hook in case she needed to make a quick escape or a silent kill. Finally, she took out the plastic explosives. If she wasn’t going to leave here alive, at least she would leave burning devastation behind her.


    Five minutes later, her exo-suit was up and running, her rifle slung across her back and her handgun attached to her belt. Both weapons had sound suppressors attached, in the event that she would need to eliminate someone without attracting attention. Once she made a final check that all her equipment was in order, she sprinted down the hill towards the compound.


    ~


    Robyn ducked behind a low stone wall. There was another small patrol on her right, heading in her direction. It was unlikely they would see her in the dark and behind a wall, but just to be sure, Robyn brought her arm up and tapped on the console on her forearm to activate her cloak device. She tapped the button, but the console made no sound, and Robyn was still visible.


    Dammit! This is not the time to break!


    She kept tapping frantically at the screen. If the patrol saw the light of her blue console, she’d be dead in a matter of seconds. Come on, come on! What the hell is wrong with you? You were working before!


    Suddenly the console finally relented and vibrated on her forearm. Instantly her entire body became invisible, only seeable through the ultraviolet rays of sunlight which weren’t present in this time of night. She didn’t dare loose a sigh of relief as the Russian patrol marched past her, completely unaware of her presence.


    Once she was sure that the soldiers were out of earshot, she jumped up from behind the wall and sprinted again down the hill towards the gulag. The colossal spotlights on top of the towers shone all around the site below. Even though she had a Cloak on, Robyn took care not to get caught in them. She didn’t know if those lights had UV rays or not.


    She kept running and almost shot right off a small ledge, a drop of about ten feet. The second she caught herself from falling off, her cloak unexpectedly deactivated. Robyn flinched at suddenly seeing her bare skin again, then remembered: Cloak batteries lost power when you moved. Her sprint had drained the life out of them. Now she’d have to be careful where she walked.


    She looked down below the ledge and surveyed the environment ahead. There were lots of vehicles, stretching from here to the other end of the site. Trucks, jeeps, tanks… every military vehicle Robyn could think of was here in this depot. While she was still checking out the ground vehicles, she heard a loud helicopter headed in her direction from her front. She looked at the sky and saw a single chinook aircraft, and attached was another tank, far bigger than the ones on the ground. It was attached by a single platform and ropes connecting the platform to the hull of the chopper. The chinook flew over Robyn’s head, the sound of its rotors flooding her ears.


    Even better, it was starting to rain. At first it was only a slight drizzle, but it wasn’t long until it became torrential, and the rain attacked Robyn like stones. She ignored the distraction and continued surveying the place ahead. She could crawl under the vehicles to get to the fence surrounding the building, and use her exo-suit’s jump to get over the fence itself. After that, she’d be inside.


    She jumped from the ledge and used the exo-suit’s grips to stabilize herself. She moved to the front of the vehicles and slowly made her way to the fence. She hadn’t seen any enemies yet, so until she did, she could save time by simply walking along the depot. She took the precaution of arming her pistol and holding it out in front of her. Should anyone suddenly come around the corner, they would be an easy kill.


    And it did happen. Halfway to the wired fence, a stray soldier had come running out from behind a truck, completely throwing off Robyn’s guard. Thankfully no alarms were raised as her exo-suit’s automation kicked in and guided Robyn’s gun hand to smack the soldier in the nose with a sickening crack. He slipped on the wet grass and fell to the ground, but didn’t get to scream a warning as Robyn crushed his head with a single stomp of her boot. His blood seeped out and snaked through the blades of grass, but Robyn ignored it as she grabbed the dead soldier’s shirt by both shoulders and dragged him under the truck. It would be a long time before anyone found the body, but if anyone happened to catch the blood, no doubt they would put two and two together.


    Just in case anyone else came around to find the soldier, Robyn decided to get out of sight and drop underneath the trucks. Her clothes and arms were covered in mud and soil, but she put that aside as she crawled underneath the trucks. Eventually she reached the fence, but before getting out from under the truck, she palmed a C4 explosive and attached it to the bottom of the truck. She’d use the explosives to cover her escape.


    She’d burn the place to ashes if she had to.


    Once she ensured that the package was primed and ready to detonate, she rolled out from under the truck and got to her feet. She was now standing between a vehicle and the fence. The fence wasn’t anything special, just a simple criss-cross pattern and barbed wires along the top. Robyn still had to be careful though. If she got caught on the wire, she’d either be seriously injured or left hanging on the fence, waiting for a soldier to find her, and then probably kill her. Try to keep that from happening, she told herself.


    She looked left and right, just to be sure there was no one around to see her. The sound of the boost jump would be quite loud, but it should be safely disguised in the deafening rain. Robyn checked her console and a thin smile spread across her face when she saw that her Cloak batteries had recharged. She activated the cloak and immediately became invisible. She kept scrolling through the console until she found the module she was looking for, the boost rig. She tapped the console one last time and her legs immediately felt ten times lighter as the exo-suit relaxed. Robyn took a few steps back, so she could get a good run-up. The fence was a lot higher up close than it was on the ledge, but if Robyn put in maximum effort, she could make the jump. She started running, and almost slipped on the damp mud. She kept going though, until she was around three feet away from the fence. That’s when she bent her knees and felt the satisfying sensation of the exo-suit charging a jump. Suddenly Robyn soared into the air, high enough so that she could leap over the barbed wire. As she looked down while landing, she saw a thin cloud of steam that had issued from the exo-suit when she jumped.


    She took a few seconds to look around her, just to check that no one had seen her jump. Once she was satisfied that she had remained undetected, she allowed herself a small grin as she reached the wall of the gulag.


    The weather was really taking a turn for the worse at this point. Robyn started hearing frequent thunder crashes and occasionally saw lightning illuminate the sky for split seconds. She couldn’t help but wonder if she had to be even more hidden now, on the minute off-chance that the lightning gave away her position.


    Once again Robyn swiped through her console until she found the settings for her gloves, and enabled Nano-Grip. Nano-Grip was brand new, state of the art technology. It had fibres on its surface so thin that they could fit between the particles of any solid object. In essence, it meant Robyn could turn anything magnetic.


    The LED lights on her gloves flashed a brilliant blue and vibrated ever so slightly in Robyn’s hands. She considered attaching spikes to the soles of her boots, but quickly dismissed the idea since it would make a lot of noise and could attract the attention of anyone inside. She didn’t need them anyway. Her upper body strength would sustain her just fine.


    She firmly forced her right palm into the brick wall. The stone was grey and old, moss and plants already growing into the cracks. She’d be lucky if none of the bricks dislodged and hit her head. That would not be a nice way to go out. She wondered what Kratos would think if he found Robyn lying in the mud, a large red welt on her face and a red stained brick lying beside her. The image wasn’t pretty.


    The Nano-grip glove’s lights turned bright green as the fibres established a secure grip on the stone. Then she applied her left hand to the wall. Once she was happy that both gloves were working as they should, she placed her right hand on the wall above her head and jumped to get her left hand above her right. She stayed there for a few seconds, suspended in the air by her gloves, then she began to climb, using her boots to boost herself up. The gloves were silent, as was Robyn as she ascended the wall of the gulag, moving quickly until she reached the balcony that stretched all around the building.


    Robyn disabled her Nano-grips and once again pulled out her handgun. She also grabbed a knife and crossed it under her gun arm, a stance that Melody had taught her a while ago. It was simple, but highly effective. Her sniper rifle stayed slung across her back. Robyn had promised herself to only use the rifle as a last resort, maybe if her handgun ran out of ammo or the target was too far away for a pistol. If possible, she wanted to get up close and personal to Kratos, see the blood and pain in his eyes as Robyn fired shot after shot into his body.


    Robyn walked along the balcony until she found a way inside the building, an old, wooden door that was locked by a hatch. The door however looked incredibly frail and loose. Robyn knew she had the strength to kick it down, and that’s what she did. The noise of the door hitting the floor was hardly audible over the storm. The first thing that Robyn noticed was that there wasn’t a single light on. Her first instinct was to find a light switch, but she didn’t know where she was. She could have stumbled into an entire room full of Russians, and suddenly turning on a light was bound to get their attention. She decided on flicking on her night-vision mod, and she suddenly realised where she was.


    She was in the prison compound of the gulag. She found herself standing on the balcony of the prison, more levels above and below her. The number of balconies stretched so high that Robyn couldn’t even see the ceiling. The walls were lined with prison cells, half of them occupied. She saw people suffering in their cells, some sleeping on the floor, some rattling the bars of their cage and shouting. Some were simply cooped up in the corner and silently sobbing. Robyn couldn’t help but feel a pang of pity, but she knew that these people were not priority. Kratos was priority. Perhaps once she killed him, if she had time, she could unlock some of the cells and free the prisoners. She knew that was very unlikely, however. Firstly the chance of her getting out of here alive itself was quite slim. Even if she did successfully assassinate Kratos, the entire gulag would be on alert. She would have to get out of here as quickly as possible, leaving no time to help the poor prisoners. She couldn’t help however but wonder what these people had done to end up here. Kratos controlled this place, so these people must have done something to piss him off. She couldn’t imagine what, though.


    She moved quietly as to not attract the attention of anyone, even the prisoners. They may have been harmless, but they could have shouted if they detected an unknown presence. Just as Robyn was about to reach the stairwell, she spotted multiple people highlighted in green grouped up together. They weren’t in cells, but they were armed. These guys had to be guarding the cells. Robyn would have to eliminate them before she could advance.


    She counted six Russians in all. They were all looking at each other, so Robyn couldn’t slit their necks one by one and be on her way. Once one went down, she’d have to take out the others quickly.


    Robyn ducked behind a brick column, just wide enough to cover her body. She let her head poke out just enough so she could aim down the sights on her handgun. She’d brought a normal red dot sight to attach to her pistol, since it contrasted heavily with the green of the NV mod. She quickly formulated a plan in her head, deciding in what order she would shoot each enemy in turn and predicting how far she’d have to adjust her aim to line up the consecutive shots.


    She went over this plan five times in her head, to make sure there was absolutely no chance she could miss a shot. Once she was confident, she lined up with the head of her first guard, and then fired a shot. And another. And another.


    Suddenly all of them were lying on the floor, bleeding out. Robyn couldn’t see their green bodies now, since they no longer radiated heat. They hadn’t even known Robyn was there. It would be a long time before anyone found the bodies, but once they did, she’d have a problem on her hands. She dismissed this for later and descended the stairwell.


    Eventually she reached the floor of the prison compound. She looked around her and saw that there were multiple paths for her to follow, six in all. Robyn studied each one carefully, keeping in mind compass directions and her objective. She activated her neural interface and accessed her schematics of the entire site. She located the control room, on the east side of the building. The control room was where all the security feeds were and where the observatory was. If Robyn had to guess, Kratos was in the control room, overseeing his deliveries.


    She turned to face east, directly staring at a door, it looked similar to the one Robyn had kicked down to get inside. However this door was unlocked, Robyn found as she pushed it and it swung open with a distinct creak. She cringed as she expected one of the prisoners to shout, but it seemed like they kept silent. She closed her schematics and moved through the corridor. The corridor was lit by dim overhead tube lights, so Robyn disabled her NV mod and picked up the pace.


    After a minute of navigating the corridors and passages, Robyn found herself back outside on a different balcony. The storm was really starting to take a turn for the worse. The thunder cracks flooded Robyn’s ears and the lightning blinded her more often, not to mention that the rain assaulted her head like stones. She brought her schematics map into view again and located where she currently was. She was getting close to the control room. She had to move left along the building. Robyn put her weapons away. It was very unlikely she’d need them now, and even if she did, her own hands should suffice just fine.


    She walked casually along the balcony, knowing exactly where she had to stop. She turned a corner and almost fell fifty feet to the ground. There was scaffolding on this side of the gulag. Robyn hadn’t seen it from the edge of the site since it had been on her blind side. There were only planks of wood providing passage from one part of the balcony to the other, but there was so little space for her to fit. She could jump the gap using her exo, but it was a pretty long distance, and she didn’t know how stable the floor on the other side was. She could plunge right through if she landed with too much force.


    Robyn inhaled deeply and forced her back against the wall. Before wandering across the planks she enabled her Nano-grips, they would help to keep Robyn stuck to the wall. Even then, she was still very anxious to travel across the plank. She placed her left foot out, then her right. She kept doing this to move across. She had to physically remove the Nano-grip gloves from the wall so she could reposition them, and every time she did that she felt herself tumbling down to the ground. The scaffolding creaked and groaned, it looked like it would collapse at any moment. God, she knew that this task would’ve been dangerous, but she hadn’t expected to almost die fifty times in an hour.


    After what felt like hours, Robyn finally leaped to the other side of the balcony. She used the strength of the exo to pull herself up, and couldn’t help but exhale in relief. Out of all the situations she’d been in, that was definitely stressful.


    Robyn checked her schematics one last time. She was directly underneath the control room. And just like that, she had a plan. Forget knocking on the door, she could spy on what was happening in the room before killing Kratos.


    Robyn knocked forcefully on the wall next to her. It was a miracle, but over the rain and storm, she could hear the reverberation of the knock when she put her ear against the wall. That meant it was hollow, meaning there was space inside that wall.


    Robyn knew what she had to do. She grabbed a chunk of C4 plastic explosive from her pack and stuck it on the wall. She stood back, because she knew that the blast would completely obliterate the wall, and she didn’t need to be caught in the explosion. What she had planned was risky, but if it worked, it would get Robyn to where she needed. Thunder boomed, and Robyn reassured herself. She palmed a remote detonator for the C4 and paid close attention to the sound of the thunder. If she wanted this plan to work, she had to time the blast exactly with the sound of the thunder. That way, the explosion would just sound like part of the thunder clap.


    She closed her eyes, fully focusing on the sound of the storm. Every time there was a small hint of thunder, her thumb twitched on the detonator’s button, but she couldn’t detonate too early. It was hard to hear anything over the rain, but suddenly a deafening crack flooded Robyn’s ears, and she pressed down on the detonator in a panic.


    The wall in front of her became an orange cloud, then a black cloud as the stone was destroyed, leaving a new space in the wall. Even Robyn had hardly heard the explosion, so there was no chance that anyway in the control room above did. She snapped the detonator in half and tossed the pieces over the balcony. Even if someone lucky found the detonator, there was no chance they could reroute the signal to another explosive.


    Robyn looked inside the wall she’d just blown up, and found short structural beams held between two other walls. She kicked one as hard as she could, and the beam remained sturdy and intact. She nodded to herself. Robyn could climb these. They stretched up and up, all the way to the top of the gulag. She didn’t need to go that far though, she only needed to get to the control room.


    She gripped a beam firmly with both hands, and placed her feet on another beam below her. She’d trained in an environment similar to this, and back then she had to fight off AI programmed to maim her. Since there were no AI here trying to kill her, this should be easy. She pulled herself up to stand on the beam, and then jumped to another to bring herself higher. She kept repeating this process until she found what she’d been looking for, a small hole in the wall. Light was leaking out of it. This was the control room.


    Robyn couldn’t help but feel excited. She’d been through a lot of effort to get here, and now she was here. She steadied herself on the beam and peeked through the wall.


    The room wasn’t too special. It was merely just a few television screens and a couch. There was a man sitting at the screens, hands behind his head and feet on the desk. One look at his face and Robyn knew this was not Kratos. For one, he was smiling. Secondly, Kratos was standing right beside him. There was no mistaking the scowl and distinctive blue eyes. Robyn considered ending him right there, but decided to wait. If anything interesting happened, she could gather intel before killing him.


    As if on cue, another man ran into the room, breathless. Kratos stared at him until he recovered his breath and said, “Sir, still no response from the prison team.” Russian accent.


    “Get down there and find out what’s going on. I want a report in five minutes.” He barked. The soldier nodded hastily and left just as quickly as he’d entered. Then Kratos turned to the man looking at the screens. “Stop slacking off, Salim. Tell me what’s going on.” He said.


    “Well, uh…” The accent caught Robyn by surprise. It wasn’t Russian, but it sounded Middle Eastern. Arabian, maybe? The man also sounded quite nervous, his voice sounded higher than a usual masculine voice. “…the cameras inside the prison have been destroyed, or maybe they have just gone offline. The storm may have knocked out the power lines.”


    Salim was interrupted by a sharp ring of the telephone beside him, which Kratos picked up before Salim could. He barked into the phone, “Yes?” Then: “Azov. What do you need, my friend?” Robyn ran the name Azov in her translator. It was the name of the sea separating Ukraine and Russia, so it was likely that Azov was a fake name. “Oh, of course.” Kratos chuckled. “Not only am I aware of the invasion…” Robyn’s heart sank as Kratos got on all fours and looked through the hole in the wall, staring directly into Robyn’s eye.


    “…I engineered it.”


    DROP! Robyn’s instincts shrieked. DROP NOW!


    The wall above her was flashing red. The walls beside her were flashing red. Everything was flashing red, the explosives Kratos had planted in advance were about to detonate.


    DROP, DAMN IT!


    And just like that, Robyn snapped back into focus. She tried to leap down gracefully, but her foot tripped on one of the beams. She was out of control, the entire world spinning. She was falling, falling…


    ~


    Her vision was still blurry when she slowly opened her eyes. She tried to get up, but found her arms restrained by two people, one on each side. That was when Robyn realised she was kneeling, and the two men were holding her up to stop her falling to the floor. A tall man stood in front of her, then got on one knee to look Robyn in the eyes. She still couldn’t see properly, but she could guess that it was Kratos. “You had guts coming here.” He muttered simply.


    “How did you even…” her words slurred. As far as Robyn knew, she hadn’t been knocked unconscious, so how had Kratos gotten down here so fast?


    “Where is the rest of your team?” Kratos asked. His voice was much harder now.


    Robyn took a few seconds to regain her breath, Kratos gazing at her like a hawk. Finally she had the strength to say, “I’m it.”


    Kratos snickered. “Fool.”


    That was the last word Robyn heard before Kratos round-house kicked her in the face, and everything went black.
    47.

    72.

    29.

    Robyn woke up in a sweat, taking in huge gulps of air as she tried to figure out her situation. How long had she been asleep? She was in a panic, she didn’t know where she was or how she got here. She couldn’t remember anything.

    Robyn forced herself to calm down. If she remembered one thing, it was that panicking never helped in a situation like this. She needed to keep a cool head and be careful. She took in one final deep breath, which helped to settle her.

    From what she could see, Robyn was in some sort of chamber. The walls were a gloomy grey, green moss seeping through the cracks between the bricks. The floor itself was a dull brown, but when Robyn looked down she realised she was on her knees. She tried to stand – and failed. Her hands were tied behind her, it felt like her arms were wrapped around some sort of pillar that wouldn’t allow her to stand. She tried to grope whatever bound her hands with her fingers, to no avail. Robyn coughed suddenly and spat blood on the floor. What the hell? What happened to me?

    14.

    It was a woman’s voice, her pleasant tone cutting sharply through Robyn’s silent mind like a blade. She scanned the room, trying to find the nice lady, but there was no one else in the room. Robyn was alone in here, forced on her knees in total solitude. She kept trying to break her bonds by stretching her hands away from each other, but she quickly figured out that her efforts were in vain. At that moment a door opened beside her, and a man walked in. Robyn studied the face, and suddenly she remembered.

    Leaving her team behind, unaware of her safety or situation.

    Hunting Kratos on her own, a suicide mission.

    Kratos knowing of her infiltration, and planting the explosive trap.

    36.

    God damn it, what were these numbers? She heard it, but she didn’t think Kratos did. It was stuck in her mind, rattling her brain and piercing her consciousness. She didn’t complain though. She liked hearing the voice of the lady.

    “You’re awake.”

    “Well spotted.”

    The pleasant female voice was cut off by the rough, hoarse voice belonging to Kratos. “I will not waste time,” he stated shortly. “you will answer my questions. You will answer them truthfully, and you will not attempt to converse off-topic. Do you understand?”

    “Whatever.” Robyn rolled her eyes. 84.

    “Do you understand?”

    “Okay, fine. Yes.” She groaned.

    “Good.” Kratos nodded, and suddenly in one quick motion, he swung his boot into Robyn’s stomach. She was gasping for air again, a numb pain erupting where Kratos had kicked her. “How many others came with you?” he muttered.

    “I already told you, I’m it. I came by myself.” Robyn gritted her teeth as Kratos kicked her again in the same place, causing her to spit blood again. She was going to be sick if he kept kicking her.

    “I’ve always seen you as a rash soldier, but I did not think you were this suicidal.” Kratos mused. “What about the airship we shot down?”

    “Airship?” Robyn hadn’t called for emergency extraction, and it was incredibly unlikely that anyone had come to rescue her. He’d probably grounded a stray aircraft full of innocent people. “Not my people. I didn’t call anyone.”

    “Then what is your name?” This time Robyn kept silent. 47.

    “Hey! Answer me!” Kratos kicked her in the stomach a third time, and Robyn really was sick. She turned her head to the left before throwing, because she assumed Kratos would be a lot more angry if she ruined his boots. 72.

    “Why are these numbers stuck in my head?” Robyn murmured. “What do they mean?”

    “I’m the one asking questions here.” Kratos said shortly.

    “Did you put them there?” Robyn asked. “Oh God, did you brainwash me?”

    “The numbers are there,” Kratos said slowly, “to keep you under control.”

    Robyn stared at him, dumbfounded. “What the hell does that mean?” she spat. “Your bloody mind tricks won’t work on me.”

    “I’d watch your language.”

    “And why should I?” she snapped back.

    “Because we’re being recorded as we speak.”

    “We’re – what? Why?” Robyn stammered, then she realised. Kratos had recorded the death of Kiro Nakamura, which meant… “Are you going to execute me?” Robyn almost laughed. “Broadcast a video of you slitting my throat?”

    Kratos ignored the question. “Out of all the soldiers in Ark Angel,” he muttered, “you are one of the most talkative, and the most annoying.”

    “Thanks. I try.”

    “That wasn’t a compliment. I’m going to shut you up for good.” Kratos stepped closer to Robyn and took his hands out of his pockets. “But first, I will show you discipline.”

    “Didn’t you already show me discipline when you kicked me over and over?” Robyn groaned.

    “Seriously. For one minute, please shut up.” The door opened again, and this time two soldiers came in, dressed all black and wearing masks. They simply stood behind Kratos with their arms folded, waiting for his command. Kratos stepped even closer, so close that Robyn could probably sweep him off his feet if her legs were free. She frowned slightly when he clasped his hands together, fingers entwining until his hands and fingers made a strange shape, resembling some sort of triangle, but all the fingers were within the triangle, except for his two index fingers which stuck out in front.

    “This is an ancient Japanese ninja technique.” He explained. “The ninja of the fourteenth century used it for many things such as securing embedded projectiles in walls… or torture.” 29. “Nova Satus would enjoy this.”

    Robyn said nothing, but she asked herself what Nova Satus could be. She quickly ran a translation in her mind. Nova Satus - Latin for ‘new dawn.’ Robyn didn’t get to ask what it was as Kratos approached and held his hand gesture right in front of her face. In front of her right eye. Her bionic eye. Her face showed no fear. In her mind, she dreaded the possibilities of what Kratos could do. He put his index fingers on the top left and bottom right corners of her eye, and squeezed.

    Robyn screamed. It was the ugliest sound that had ever escaped her mouth. Her voice cracked and her throat burned as she shrieked, staring in horror at her mechanical eye, now in Kratos’ hand. Her eye socket flared with pain, trying to shut her eyelids only made it even worse. She did not stop screaming. Goodness knew what she looked like without an eye. And even while she screeched at the top of her lungs, the woman with the numbers cut through the noise. 14.

    The two soldiers behind Kratos walked on either side of Robyn. The one on her left grabbed her chin and forced her head up while the other took an eye patch from his pack and secured it loosely around the wound. Robyn’s screaming had more or less subsided, but her face still throbbed with pain. It throbbed even more when she saw Kratos crush the mechanical eye with his bare hand and sprinkle the fragments on the floor as if it was sand.

    “How confident were you,” he asked in a mock soothing voice, “when you told Newton that you would come home? That you would not fail?” He chuckled. “So imagine his surprise when he sees that one of his best agents,” he threw his hands out in front of him, “has failed so miserably!” Was he smiling?!

    “Damn you,” was all Robyn managed to hiss, gritting her teeth. She used a word a lot stronger than “damn.”

    Kratos immediately dropped the positive face and scowled at her. “I wanted to meet the woman whose mission it was to kill me.” He growled.

    “My mission was to stop you,” Robyn smirked despite the agony, “but if that meant killing you, I don’t think anyone would be too troubled.”

    “Two of your friends tried to kill me,” Kratos said shortly. “and they failed.”

    “They died fighting for righteousness and justice. Died fighting for what they believed in!” Robyn shouted. 36.

    “Unfortunately, dying for what you believe in doesn’t make it true,” It was Kratos’ turn to smirk at Robyn now. “as you’re about to find out.” Robyn’s eyes – or eye – had barely widened before Kratos spun a revolver around his finger and shot her in the side.

    Robyn saw her own blood splatter on the ground beside her before she actually felt the pain. But when she did, she craved death. Craved. She didn’t scream, but kept the exploding pain bottled in a violent grunt. She didn’t feel the pain on one side, but two. Robyn looked to her right, and saw the bullet shell, lying on the floor next to the wall. The shot had passed clean through her.

    Kratos slid the gun into his belt and held Robyn’s face in his hand, a staring contest. “I know you’re a persistent soldier,” he hissed, “so I give you twenty minutes to bleed out. Time enough to contemplate whether it was all worth it. Cut her down,” he told the soldiers. Suddenly the bonds on her hands were loose, and Robyn crumpled to the floor, vision swimming and entire body numb. She didn’t see Kratos leave before she blacked out.

    ~

    “The US Rangers are going to storm the place. We’re going with them, but we’re going to extract Robyn before they torch the site.” Newt said.

    “Transport?” Blythe asked.

    “You’re piloting one of our own aircraft to the site, but we’ll have American air support helping us out.”

    “What’s the Rangers’ primary objective?” Fletch said.

    “They’re there to burn the place to ashes. To them, Robyn isn’t a priority. But she is to us,” Newt added.

    “We should get Aurora’s unit to help.” Mel pointed out. “Her boss Markus is a Ranger. He’ll help us out.”

    Newt frowned. “I don’t know. ‘Markus’ and ‘help’ don’t sound right in the same sentence. It’s his job as a Ranger to follow orders. I doubt he’d assist us. And Aurora’s unit are on another op, so we’re on our own. The Russians are going to do everything they can to make sure we don’t get Robyn. That includes killing her, if Kratos shooting her hasn’t already. So we need to get to her as fast as possible.”

    “We’ll need all the help we can get.” Sakura spoke up. “There’s exo-suits in the armoury, but one’s missing. I think Robyn took one. They’ll give us an advantage in battle.”

    “Asking this is probably a mistake,” Ethan interrupted, “but… is it worth going after her?” He slowed down as soon as everyone lay eyes on him as if he was crazy. “Okay, okay. I know she’s our squadmate and our friend. But she chose to go alone. She was well aware of the risks in going. Sure, she failed, but she offered her life. I don’t know…”

    “We’re going to save Robyn.” Newt stated shortly. “Whether she likes it or not. We are not leaving her to die in there.”

    “Our access point is the courtyard.” Fletch said. “We’ll drop down from the chopper and shoot our way to where Robyn is. Then we shoot our way back out.”

    “That’s a lot of shooting.” Ethan nodded. “But a simple plan. I like it.”

    “Okay.” Newt stood. “Let’s go save her life.”

    ~

    “One klick to drop point!” Blythe shouted. Their helicopter flew over the green land, the sparkling grey ocean on its left. The sun had started to rise, and Blythe could see the silhouette of the gulag in the distance.

    Suddenly there were two deafening roars from behind. Blythe stole a quick glance and spotted two grey fighter jets tailing her. They both zoomed past her, making her cringe at the noise. Her radio crackled, and an American male voice spoke. “Ark Angel, this is Hammer One, ready to strike. Waiting for your go.” He called.

    “Good to have you on our side, Hammer One.” Blythe said. “Fire!”

    “Roger. Missiles away.”

    A high-pitched whistling noise pierced the air and Blythe’s ears as the missiles on the wings of the fighters detached and shot towards the gulag. They zoomed so quickly that even the jets couldn’t keep up, instead they peeled off and went around the gulag.

    ~

    Newt checked all his gear and weapons were in order. He helped to secure everyone’s harnesses and exo-suits and gather all the equipment. He went over the plan once more in his head. Insert, grab Robyn, get out. All while trying to stay alive.

    Great. This’ll be easy, he thought to himself sarcastically. If he failed, if Robyn died while trying to pull this off…

    He shook his head and chided himself for thinking about that. His team would succeed. To distract him, he poked his head out and sized up the place. The gulag was a lot bigger than he’d anticipated. Tracking Robyn could take longer than he thought.

    His earpiece crackled. “Newton, this is Markus.” The familiar gruff voice who sounded like he didn’t care at all spoke. “I’ve spoken to the Rangers. You will have any support you need to track down your friend.”

    “Roger, Markus. Appreciated,” Newt added quickly.

    “However, I’ll need you to follow every order I give you if you want to stay alive. No playing the hero.”

    “I hear you.” Newt rolled his eyes. “What do you need us to do?”

    “Our choppers have met resistance from RPG stations on the towers. We need any sniper units you have to eliminate them so you can deploy.”

    “Copy all. Out.” Newt cut the connection. “All sniper units, this is Newton. Standby to engage RPG teams on the towers. Blythe, I need you to hover still over each tower so our snipers can eliminate the enemy. Shift to another tower when I say so, how copy?”

    “Copy all. Stabilizing.” The helicopter came to a sudden stop, the open door facing the gulag where Ethan and Aurora were positioned.

    “All snipers, you are cleared to engage!” Newt shouted. Ethan and Aurora immediately went to work, firing quickly and effectively, hardly ever missing a shot. They marked their targets and reloaded quickly and efficiently, until all the enemies on the tower were lying on the floor.

    “Shift, Blythe.” Newt called.

    “Roger. Shifting.”

    The helicopter yawed to the right, where it met with another tower. “Stabilizing.”

    “Open fire!” Newt repeated, and both snipers reloaded, ready to engage the tower. But they never got a chance. Suddenly a single fighter jet streamed under the helicopter, while dropping payloads on the tower. The entire structure exploded and burned, but the chopper suddenly dipped and careered to the left, thrown off-course by the fighter’s streamline.

    “Hang on!” Blythe grunted.

    An alarm was blaring non-stop in the chopper, and the vehicle shook violently. It suddenly jerked, and Ethan couldn’t grab a handhold in time. He flew towards the open door, out into the open air. He would’ve dropped like a stone into the ocean if Sakura hadn’t acted quickly and grabbed Ethan’s forearm. He was left dangling off the platform as Blythe struggled to regain control. “This is bad!” Ethan yelped. “This is very, very bad!”

    “Markus!” Newt yelled into his radio. “Get those fighters to cease fire immediately! That was too close!”

    “I’ll do what I can, Newton. One person in a gulag doesn’t mean much to the Rangers at this point.” Just like that, Markus cut the connection.

    “We’re landing now. Get ready.” Blythe said.

    “Bloody Yanks, I thought they were the good guys!” Fletch spat as he helped Sakura pulled Ethan back on board.

    “Fletch, cut the chatter! Stay frosty!” Newt shouted. The helicopter descended slowly to the courtyard and touched down on the grass lightly.

    “We’re down! Let’s go!” Blythe shouted as she kicked open her cockpit door and immediately opened fire on the enemies on the balcony.

    “Boots on ground! Go, go, go!” Everyone else flooded out of the cargo door, Newt tailing them.

    “Mel, climb up on the left flank! I’ve got the right!” Newt shouted.

    “Got it!” Mel nodded and instantly boosted up onto the balcony with her exo. The soldiers there were obviously surprised to see her suddenly appear, but she didn’t give them time to gather their wits as she gunned them down quickly with her handgun. She kicked the last one in the stomach which sent him tripping backwards into Newt who was waiting with a knife out to cut his throat.

    “Hostiles on the opposite balcony!” Mini shouted. Around ten soldiers had gathered on the balcony and started opening fire on the team who ran to find cover.

    “Cobra Two, this is Newton!” Newt shouted into his radio. “Lasing targets on balcony, need you to initiate gun run!”

    A female replied. “Cobra Two copies all and reads your lase. Got a tally on ten tangos, inbound hot.” The next second a helicopter appeared above their heads, bearing the logo of the US Rangers, an eagle and two carbines crossing each other. “Danger close!” The pilot shouted as the helicopter’s minigun opened fire on the balcony, shredding through the walls and men standing there. In a matter of seconds they were all dead. The helicopter pulled back to the skies but the pilot spoke, “You’re clear for now. Recommend you move in now before reinforcements arrive.”

    “Thanks, Two. My team, on me!” Newt shouted to his friends. They sprinted through the courtyard to the main entrance of the gulag building and ran right through, guns blazing. Any soldiers keeping post there were torn down as Ark Angel stormed the place. “Pick up the pace! We have to get to Robyn!”

    “Door here!” Mini pointed. Above the door was a signpost with words written in Russian. They stacked up on both sides of the door.

    “This must be the prison.” Newt nodded. “Mini, breach charge. Quickly!” he barked.

    She nodded hastily and grabbed a square-shaped panel from her pack. She slammed it on the door and twisted the handle which glowed blue and gave a small beep to indicate that it was ready to detonate.

    “You got a flashbang?” Newt asked her. She nodded. “Give it to me. We’ll do a synchronized attack. I’ll toss it right after the door blows.” Mini tossed him the white grenade and they both leaned against the wall. Newt nodded to her to indicate the detonation.

    The door gave way easily, large chunks of wood and brick rocketing away from them. One chunk of rock actually hit a soldier behind the wall on the head. He went down and didn’t get back up. Immediately Newt threw the flashbang underarm into the hole in the wall. The room filled with white light, and any other soldiers standing behind the wall stumbled backwards, blinded. Newt and Mini used the distraction to cut them down with their knives, tossing their bodies over the railing afterwards.

    Newt was right, they’d reached the prison compound. Spotlights lit up the prison tower, its walls lined with prison cells made with black iron bars. All the cells Newt could see were empty.

    “That’s the control room up ahead!” Fletch shouted. He pointed to the end of the railing where a small room was. There were a few computer screens lining the walls, each showing camera feeds. “I can use it to find Robyn!”

    “Get on it! Everyone, cover him!” Newt ordered. “Mel, we’re on cell duty. Follow me!” Newt palmed both of his knives and descended the stairs leading to the cell block, Mel in tail. “We’ll eliminate all the bad guys on this floor then advance.” He shouted. Mel nodded her understanding.

    Every few cells there was a gate separating different cell blocks, which they had to shoot through to kill the enemy. They also had to kick each gate open since the locks were rusted thoroughly. They clanged loudly on the stone floor as the two soldiers ran along the railing and firing at enemies. “Careful!” Mel called. “Robyn could be in one of these cells!”

    “Fletch! Have you found her?” Newt yelled.

    “Not yet, but I’ve got searchlights tracking enemies on your floor. That should make your job easier!” he replied. Instantly everything in front of Newt glowed white, the searchlight piercing through the darkness and exposing hostiles. They were even blinded by the sudden brightness, meaning Newt and Mel met with little resistance. The enemies were putting up a fight, but they put up a bigger one. Within minutes the prison fell silent with the deaths of dozens of soldiers.

    “Talk to me, Fletch! What’s going on?” Newt asked again.

    “Found her!” Fletch exclaimed. “She’s been moved further down into the prison. The basement, if you like.”

    “What’s the fastest way down there?”

    “Through the armoury. Directly underneath the control room.”

    “Okay, hustle. Reinforcements are going to arrive at any minute, and we’re not going to be here when they do.”

    Newt ran to the control room, followed by Mel. Fletch was just getting up from his seat and pointed at the floor next to the door. “Trapdoor here. It leads to the armoury.” He said. He dug his fingers into the gap between the trapdoor and floor and pulled. The trapdoor opened easily, Fletch almost stumbled backwards from the exertion. He crossed his arms and looked at Newt. “After you,” he smiled.

    Newt didn’t smile back as he placed one foot on the ladder, then his hands. The armoury was not far down from the control room. In fact, Newt could have jumped down here without a scratch. He stepped down from the ladder on to the floor, and checked his surroundings. The walls were stacked with weapons. Assault rifles, sniper rifles, carbines… it was all here.

    He didn’t notice that his team had followed him down until the last person landed on the floor. “See anything you like?” Newt asked rhetorically. They all checked out the weapons, each person selecting their own favourites. Newt selected the SCAR-Z, only because he’d used it a lot and was very familiar with it.

    “Newt.” A female voice called. He turned around and saw Sakura standing there, not looking at him but at the back wall. On the wall hung a single Riot Shield, made from clear bulletproof glass and sturdy plastic. “There’s only one shield. Not enough for all of us.” Sakura shook her head.

    “No. We only need one.” Newt said. “Grab the shield.” She did. “Sakura, you’ll take point with Fletch. Use the Riot shield to draw any enemy fire. Fletch, stay behind the shield and lead the way. Everyone else, try not to die.”

    “Not dying sounds good.” Ethan grinned, slinging a brand new MT09-ASX charge sniper rifle over his shoulder. Everyone murmured agreement.

    “Ready?” Newt’s question was answered with rogers and yeses from everyone. “Okay. Sakura, Fletch, lead out!”

    Fletch immediately ducked behind Sakura, who expanded the Riot shield to full size, so large it covered the entirety of her body with room to spare. She walked slowly towards the tunnel leading to the cellar, taking care that everyone else was behind her shield or some form of cover. “Left staircase,” Fletch whispered when they came to a fork in the tunnel system.

    “How close are we?” Ethan asked.

    “Almost there.” Fletch whispered. “Down the corridor, here.” He pointed to a dim light emitting from a small doorway in the wall.

    “You can put away your Riot shield now, Sakura.” Newt said. Sakura pressed a button on her wrist console, and instantly the shield folded itself away, shrinking into a microscopic square attached to her wrist. She’d be able to deploy it again if needed.

    The corridor was incredibly narrow, so narrow that everyone had to move in single file to be able to move towards the single door at the end of the corridor. The place was dimly lit, with only a few ceiling lamps providing basic night vision. “I hope we’re not too late.” Mini squeaked.

    “Hope isn’t good enough. Gotta have faith.” Blythe said.

    Upon seeing the door, Mel frowned. “Weird. The door’s unlocked.”

    “Give me a sec.” Fletch said. He lightly placed his fingerprints on the door and closed his eyes. Through the cybernetic implant in his brain, he could detect most systems, computer or mechanical. He searched through the door until he found the locking mechanism. He removed his fingers from the door. “She’s right. You could literally waltz right in.”

    Newt nudged Fletch out of the way and readied his assault rifle. “It could be a trap. Wait here.”

    “You’re going in there alone? Are you nuts?” Ethan hissed.

    Newt ignored him and dug his rifle into his shoulder. He kept one hand on the trigger, his other hand moved to push the door open slowly. He kept pushing until he could fit through the gap. He walked right in, gun ready.

    He didn’t see the fist coming. The next thing he knew his head had been slammed against the wall and a pistol held to his forehead. An voice shouted, “Drop it, mother –“

    Newt’s attacker paused, and then much to Newt’s surprise, removed the gun from his head. “Jesus Newt, I almost shot you in the face!” she exclaimed. Newt looked up, and his eyes widened when he saw who it was. Black and green hair, black jacket, and multiple rings on her gun hand. But the most distinctive feature was the black eye-patch, looking like it was about to fall off.

    “You guys took so long. I started wondering if you were actually coming for me.” Robyn chuckled.

    “Son of a – we thought you were dead!” Newt couldn’t restrain himself as he went to hug Robyn, but caught himself when she yelped.

    “Ow! Ow, ow.” Her voice shrank and Newt noticed she was clutching her side. It was bandaged, but a large red area had appeared.

    “Where did you get bandages from?” Newt asked.

    “I came to after Kratos shot me, I don’t know, I think the numbers woke me up –“

    “Numbers?” Newt interrupted.

    “Didn’t you hear the conversation in the video Kratos broadcasted?”

    “There wasn’t any audio.”

    “Oh.” Robyn shrugged. “Basically, he put a bunch of numbers in my head that won’t leave me alone no matter what I do. Even when I was bleeding out I kept hearing them.”

    “That’s…” Fletch spoke up. “that’s weird. Why would he do that?”

    “The numbers probably mean something.” Robyn said. “I doubt he’d put them in my head to annoy me. Anyway, I got the bandages from the med bay when I woke up."

    The conversation was cut short by the room suddenly shaking. The walls started to crumble and the room was filling with dust. Beyond the quaking, Newt heard explosions. “What the hell was that?” Robyn asked.

    “Damn it. The Rangers must’ve started firing again.” Newt swore.

    “The Rangers are here?!” Robyn’s eyes – well, eye – widened.

    “Not for you.” He said. “They’re just here to blow up the place.”

    “Oh.” Robyn pouted. “Wait, shouldn’t we be like, running, in that case?”

    “That,” Ethan said, “is a good idea. Can we go now?”

    As if in answer, the room shook again. “Yes.” Newt shouted. “Let’s go! Double time!”

    Everyone flooded out of the room, Newt lagging behind with Robyn in case she stumbled or fell. He activated his radio. “Markus!” he roared. “What the hell are your fighters doing? We’re still inside!”

    “Newton, the Rangers aren’t responding. Get your team out of there alive.” That was all Markus said before severing the connection.

    “Useless piece of – get out of the way!” Newt yelled as the ceiling came crashing down in front of them. “Go back, go back! We’ll leave through the prison!”

    Everyone turned around and ran the way they came from. Soon they were back in the prison compound, the entire building was quivering now. Now there was a massive gaping hole in the ceiling, sunlight streaming through. They’d be buried under rubble if they didn’t get out soon.

    “Cobra Two! We need extraction NOW!” Newt roared.

    “There’s too much smoke, Ark Angel. I can’t see you!” the pilot responded.

    “Damn it!” Newt kicked a stone to the side, and just like that, he had an idea. “Blythe, do you have a flare? Incendiary? Anything that explodes a lot?”

    Blythe almost seemed surprised. “I’ve got a flare, but what are you going to do with that?” she asked.

    “Just hand it over! Take care of Robyn while I do this!” Blythe rushed over and slung Robyn’s arm over her shoulder while simultaneously tossing the flare to Newt. He released Robyn and ran to the place where the sun shone, directly under the hole.

    This was incredibly risky, but Newt had no other choice…

    He unloaded a grenade from his SCAR-Z rifle and stuck the flare right into it, then put it back into the grenadier. Newt kept muttering to himself, “This is stupid. This is stupid. This is very stupid.” Any weapon specialist with half a brain would advise against sticking a flare into a live grenade. They would definitely advise against launching that grenade into the sky. It was unpredictable. The grenade could just fall out of the assault rifle and explode right next to Newt. The recoil might be so powerful that the shot would miss and kill everyone else. Or it could just explode in the grenadier itself while Newt was holding it. That would not be a very impressive way to go out.

    But he had to try. It was either try this incredibly risky move, or let everyone die. He went for the first option. He aimed the sights directly with the large hole, and fired. The rifle made an odd clunk noise, which worried Newt slightly. He ignored it however as the grenade sailed up into the air, glowing brightly in red and orange, shooting through the hole and into the sky.

    Within seconds Newt’s radio came to life. “I see your flare, Ark Angel. Dropping rig for SPIES extraction now.” Suddenly a steel rope dropped from the hole and hit the ground, attached to it were multiple carabiners.

    “This is it! Everybody hook up!” Newt called to his friends. They all rushed to the rope and attached their belts to the carabiners, Newt helping Blythe attach Robyn. Very soon all of them were hooked up. “Cobra Two, take us up!”

    “I hear you. Hang on.” A few seconds of silence, then suddenly Mel rocketed away from the ground towards the hole, then Mini, Sakura, until Newt was the last person to be pulled out of the wreckage. He zoomed through the hole into broad daylight, and he saw the devastation that the US Rangers had caused on the gulag. Entire towers were crumbling and falling over into the sea. Most of the building was on fire. And explosions were always present, missiles hitting the walls and buildings inside the gulag.

    “I’m gonna kill Markus.” Newt snarled.

    “Easy, Newt.” Mel called. “Let’s get away from this place first.”
    “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Ellie gazed at the vial of yellow-brown liquid in awe. “It’s not a virus, nor bacteria. It’s something completely new.”

    “Is it alive?” Aurora asked.

    “It must be. If it wasn’t alive it wouldn’t be killing people. It targets specific bodily systems, particularly the critical ones, such as the nervous system, immune system and the circulatory system.”

    “What sort of symptoms are there?” Newt coughed.

    “To be honest, there wouldn’t be any, but that’s because it kills you almost instantly. It severs pretty much all of your blood vessels, so you’d be bleeding. As in, a lot of bleeding. You’d die within seconds.” Ellie shuddered. “But maybe if it was in small doses, you’d live a little longer… perhaps a week, most likely less. You’d probably lose your mind, maybe you’d have hallucinations, hearing things that aren’t there, stuff like that.”

    “Hearing things?” Robyn spoke up. “Does that mean I’m infected? With those numbers?”

    “I don’t think so.” Ellie shook her head. “You seem to be in perfect health, apart from the fact you had an eye gouged out and got shot. No, those numbers are something else.”

    “I’m getting pretty tired of hearing numbers everywhere I go. It’s not –“

    “Do those numbers follow a pattern?” Fletch interrupted.

    Robyn stared at him. “I… think so.” She stammered.

    “Do you know the pattern?”

    “I’m trying to ignore the numbers. Why would I try to memorize the pattern?” She frowned as if he was stupid.

    “Well, try to memorize it. If I know what it is, it might help us in some way. It might even help get the numbers out of your head.”

    “Mind if I continue?” Ellie cut in. They both apologized and she carried on, holding up the vial of liquid for everyone to see. “I’m holding the most lethal weapon in the world. We were lucky to get a sample.”

    “Could we make some sort of antidote out of it?” Blythe asked.

    “This thing – let’s call it Chimera, for name’s sake – it kills people so quickly, there would be no time to administer the antidote. There’s no point. If you’re exposed, you’re dead. We just have to make sure no one gets caught in it.”

    “Okay, new question.” Mel said. “What the hell was this thing doing in Augusto’s basement?”

    “He was culturing it, most likely.” Ellie carefully placed the vial into a test tube rack. “Seeing what this is made of, it would be incredibly expensive to create it. Augusto is – was rich, so he probably had the resources to culture it.”

    “Raul didn’t create the weapon.” Robyn suddenly blurted. Everyone in the room stared at her.

    “How do you know that?” Eliie asked, squinting at her.

    She took a deep breath. “I – I don’t know. I just had the gut feeling that it wasn’t him. But I know who did create it.”

    “Who, then?” Newt asked softly.

    “When I was in Russia, Kratos was talking to someone on the phone. His name was Azov. He’s the one who warned him about my coming. But he created the bio-weapon. I know it.”

    “That’s a hunch. We can’t move in based on a hunch.” Mel said shortly.

    “But you have to!” Robyn’s voice rose. “If we just let him do whatever he will, thousands, maybe millions will die!”

    “Is that you talking, or the numbers?” Mel shouted, a fierce fire in her eyes.

    Robyn might have rushed to hurt Mel if Newt hadn’t taken charge and yelled “Stop!” Both girls immediately backed down. “I don’t care who gives the intel – “

    “That’s not intel!” Mel complained.

    “Shut it!” Newt glared at her, motioning fiercely to her to sit back down. Then he turned to Robyn. “Do you know his first name?”

    “I don’t. I don’t even know if Azov is his surname. It could be his first, or even a nickname. Sorry.” She put her face in her hands.

    “Fletch, do you mind running a name recognition search for Russian natives called Azov?” Newt asked.

    “Already have. I did it as soon as Robyn mentioned the name.” He turned his tablet screen so that everyone could see it. “There’s three men called Azov that match. One’s currently in prison, on charge of auto theft. The other one is five years old, doubt he’d be able to synthesize a lethal bioweapon such as Chimera. But this one…” he swiped upwards so that his screen mirrored with the large television on the wall. “Say hello to Vladimir Azov.”

    Instantly a mugshot appeared on the big screen. A man shaved bald, a hardened face that started to wrinkle and poisonous green eyes. “Russian, fifty-two years old, has a criminal record on charges of firearms deals. But the really juicy part is that he was employed as a micro-biologist two years ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean he knows how to make a bioweapon, but he knows Kratos well, especially if he has his phone number.”

    “Sounds like our target.” Newt nodded.

    “Do we kill him?” Sakura asked.

    “Absolutely not.” He shook his head. “We need to know where Azov’s keeping Chimera. If we don’t, then who knows what he’ll do with it? We don’t even know how much of it he has.”

    “So it’s a capture mission.” Robyn finished. “We find him, interrogate him and come back. Where is he right now?”

    “London.” Fletch said.

    “London?” Newt frowned. “What’s he doing there?”

    “No clue, but we have to get to him quickly. Satellite intel suggests he’s at some sort of factory, right next to one of the subway stations. There’s a ton of lorries there. He may be using that to transport Chimera.”

    “We should bring gas masks.” Mini squeaked. “If Azov happens to have Chimera on him and ready to use, we cannot breathe that in.”

    “Good call.” Newt nodded.

    “When do we leave?” Mel asked.

    “Well, we did a ton of work getting Robyn to safety. We’re all tired. We’ll get a few hours shuteye and then get to London.”

    “Sounds good to me.” Ethan said as he got up from his seat and left the room, followed by the others.

    Newt was one of the last to leave, he was just about to walk out the door until a harsh hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. He turned around in surprise and saw that it was Mel who’d grabbed him. She looked pretty ticked off. “What the hell is up with you and Robyn?” she hissed. “Why are you babying her?”

    Newt was taken aback by the sudden attitude. “She’s had a rough time in Russia, Harper.” He used her surname to remind her who had more authority here. “She knows she made a bad choice, and she regrets that. Don’t make her feel any worse than she has to.”

    “Those numbers in her brain are doing something to her. She might not be reliable anymore.”

    Newt was definitely shocked now. He’d never heard this kind of talk from Mel before. “Go so far as to call one of my soldiers unreliable again,” he threatened, “and I will personally make sure you regret it. Leave Robyn alone. That’s an order.”

    “But –“

    “That’s an order!” Newt roared. They held a fierce staring contest for a few seconds, glaring into each other’s furious eyes. Mel gave up trying to oppose him and strode past him in a huff. Behind her back, Newt made a rude gesture at her that he knew very well that Mel would’ve killed him for if she’d seen it. Then he turned around and headed for his own room.

    ~

    3am, and Robyn wanted to die.

    She hadn’t been able to sleep at all, not with the numbers constantly bothering her. She’d tried everything she knew to try and get them out. Meditation, yoga, she even repeatedly hit her head with a spoon. But nothing worked. Every time she felt a drop of sleep, the woman in her head just seemed to get louder and louder, as if someone had turned her volume up. She even tried sedatives, but that had no effect, either. She grunted as she threw the box of sedative pills to the other side of the room and lay in her bed, head under the pillow.

    For the first time in ages, Robyn felt hopeless. She wanted these numbers to leave her alone, but she didn’t know how. She hadn’t even been able to identify a pattern like Fletch requested. Every time she tried to understand what the number was, it was like her mind filled with noise, noise so loud that the number was barely audible.

    Maybe Mel was right. Maybe she’d been put to her limit. These numbers could limit her in a fight, and cost her life, or maybe the lives of her friends. She would not let that happen, but she wouldn’t stop fighting either. Now that she’d met Michael Kratos face to face, she wanted nothing but to force him to tell her how to get the numbers out, right before ripping his throat out with her bare hands. But that would have to wait. Nobody knew where he was now, and in a few hours, they would be going to an old factory in London.

    She groaned into her pillow. She wanted to be angry, but couldn’t feel any emotion. She wanted to cry, but couldn’t bring herself to do so. All she could do was lay in bed, wishing she was dead.


    4am. The hangar bay was buzzing with conversation, Robyn’s team were gathered around their usual helicopter. Blythe was already in the cockpit making final preparations and checks, while everyone else loitered around the cargo door, deep in conversation.

    Robyn felt tired. More than tired, she was extremely lethargic. It had taken her five minutes just to get out of bed and get dressed, and it had taken her much longer than usual to get to the hangar.

    “You’re late, Robyn.” Newt turned away from his conversation with Aurora to face Robyn. “Rough night?”

    “Like hell.” She sighed.

    “Look, come here.” He beckoned her away from everyone else. “If you need it, I won’t deploy you. You could stay at base, or go up to the skies with Blythe and Fletch as recon. I won’t force you to be part of the heavy fighting. It’s totally your choice though.” Newt spread his hands, waiting for Robyn’s answer.

    “Appreciate the gesture, Newt,” she pushed Newt’s hand down, “but I don’t want to sit around idly while you people are fighting. If you need my help, I’m going to be there. And I don’t need you babysitting me. I can hold my own.” She smirked.

    “You’re sure?”

    “Yes.”

    Newt held his gaze at Robyn for a few seconds, then turned back to face his team. They all stood to attention once he coughed to get their attention. “We leave in five,” he said, “so here’s the plan. We insert by helicopter outside the factory and clear the surrounding buildings. Once we go loud, Blythe will provide air support and recon. Until then, you,” he nodded to Blythe, “are going to stay in the sky, see what’s going on in there.”

    “Where’s Fletch?” Sakura interrupted. Newt looked around the room and realised he hadn’t seen the kid at all this morning.

    “That’s a good question.” Newt said. “I don’t know.”

    “I’m here!” a voice shouted from the entrance door to the hangar. Fletch ran across the large room, feet noisily slapping against the floor as he sprinted towards the helicopter.

    “And where the hell have you been?” Newt demanded. “I would’ve left without you, had you been another minute late.”

    “Okay, okay. I’m sorry, yeah? But I just got off the phone with MI5.” He looked flustered.

    “MI5? How did you –“ Newt shook his head. “Never mind. Why did you contact them?”

    “I didn’t.” Fletch coughed. “They contacted us.”

    “Why?” Newt repeated.

    “Their French operatives have just intercepted a message from Russia going to London. They think it’s Azov.”

    “What did they say?” Robyn asked. “Come on, we’re running out of time.”

    “There’s a delivery going out from the factory we’re going to. The lorries are going to dispatch the packages somewhere. I don’t know where,” he added after Newt opened his mouth to ask.

    “Is Chimera the package?” Mel asked for him.

    “Likely. But the Director of MI5 doesn’t think our team is equipped to handle it, even with the Hellbringer unit. She’s tasked SAS to assist us in securing the lorries. Commander goes by the name of Reid.”

    “I sense a ‘but’ coming on.” Newt frowned.

    “But…” Fletch continued, “SAS isn’t going to help us infiltrate the compound. They’re only helping us contain the package.”

    “Of course.” Newt shook his head. “Whatever. We don’t need them anyway. We can get in just fine.”

    “Are we ready to go?” Blythe shouted from the cockpit, voice muffled. “We’re already late.”

    “Good point! Alright people, we’re moving!” Newt announced in a louder voice. He beckoned them all inside the helicopter, and everyone rushed to the door. “Fletch! Tell MI5 we’re on our way, ETA one hour.”

    “Roger.”

    ~

    “Not gonna lie,” Fletch shook his head, “I would’ve thought a factory transporting bioweapons would be more… menacing, you know? I didn’t expect a simple warehouse.”

    He sat at the back of the helicopter, stationed at the thermal camera that gazed on the ground below. It was all black and white in the screen, but Fletch knew it wouldn’t be much different if he looked outside. There was a little parking lot in the middle of the compound, most of the spaces occupied by lorries. Surrounding the lot were three buildings. Two were factories and offices, but the one to the north of it served as accommodation to any workers. Or soldiers, probably. There weren’t any lights that Fletch could see, which meant either no one was here, or the people here were trying to stay covert. He assumed it was the latter.

    “Relay the information to Newt, Fletch.” Blythe called from the pilot’s seat. “I can only stay in the sky for so long until I’m spotted.”

    “Right. Sorry.” Fletch cleared his throat. “Newt, do you read me?”

    “Yeah. I read you.” A rough voice grunted. “What do you see?”

    “We’ve got four trucks in the compound, parked in spaces in the middle. They have something written on the side…” Fletch rotated the camera to see the side of the leftmost truck. “It’s marked Charity Globally on the side.”

    “That’s an odd way of doing charity work.” Newt said.

    “Yeah. Wait, hold on.” Fletch rotated the camera again, towards the entrance gate. He spotted them driving through the gate single file, three of them. “The trucks are leaving by the main exit. Be advised, one of the trucks is still there.”

    “Copy. We’ll check that out once we clear the place.”

    “Newt, why don’t we just get an SAS bomber in here and make the entire thing crumble?”

    “Too high profile, Fletch. For now, you and Blythe will provide cover fire. Check the buildings,” Newt ordered.

    “Blythe, turn the helicopter so the door faces the north building, please.” Fletch called.

    “Okay, turning.” The helicopter rotated slowly on the spot, in a few seconds Fletch had a clear view of the building. He zoomed in on the windows with the camera and spotted humanoid figures in the rooms, lounging in chairs or lying in beds. “Thermal camera’s picking up heat signatures inside the north building. You need to eliminate them before moving outside.”

    “Copy. SAS will be on station at any minute. Are we ready to move?”

    “Can I say it?” Fletch blurted.

    A pause, then, “Say what?”

    “The ‘green light’ thing?”

    Another pause, and Fletch could’ve sworn he heard Newt sigh. “Yes, okay. Sure.”

    Fletch grinned. “Ark Angel, you’ve got the green light. Mission is a go!”

    ~

    “Okay guys, let’s do this.” Newt topped off his rifle as he spoke. He stood against the wall leading into the alleyway between the building and the main road. He peeked behind the wall and saw two armed soldiers walking outside, one holding an empty bottle of beer. “Two targets in the alleyway. Ethan, you sweep, we’ll clean. Use your handguns.”

    He didn’t reply as Ethan restored his sniper rifle to its place on his back and took out twin pistols from his belt, sound suppressors attached.

    “Weapons free.” Newt hissed.

    Ethan aligned the iron sights of each handgun with the heads of his targets and pulled the triggers simultaneously. Both men went down, the beer bottle crashing silently onto the chest of the man who had been holding it.

    “Good kills. Stack up on the door they came from.” Everyone rushed silently down the alley and reached the single door that the men had left open.

    “Sounds like there’s two more inside.” Aurora said. Newt listened closely, and sure enough, he could just about hear soft snoring.

    “Make sure they don’t wake up.” he whispered. Aurora motioned to Ethan that she’d deal with them. She walked into the room slowly, careful not to make a sound. Newt didn’t see her murder the sleepers.

    “Bedroom clear. Move back out.” Newt beckoned his team to a different door on the other side of the room, opposite the door they’d come in through. He pushed the door slowly, it groaned quietly as it swung open. He peeked out and saw that they were almost at the middle of the factory. They were separated only by a tall, narrow wire fence and another soldier standing by it, not facing Newt. This one had no apparent weapons on him, save for the single knife hanging from his belt.

    “Stay here. This one’s mine.” Newt unsheathed a knife from his belt and crept up slowly to the guard staring out of the fence. He wasted no time as he covered the man’s mouth and nose and sliced the blade across his neck. The execution was quick, but deep. Newt left the man choking on his own blood as he motioned his team forward.

    “Mini, you got the cutting rig?”

    “Yes.”

    “Get to work on the fence. We don’t have much time.” He jabbed a thumb at the wire fence and Mini nodded. She unzipped her pack and took out a large square frame with both hands. She grunted as she heaved the frame towards Newt and hooked the frame onto the fence. She pressed a button on its side and immediately it hummed loudly. Two black rods shot out from two opposite sides of the frame and starting spinning around slowly. A quiet zap could be heard as two red lasers suddenly emerged from the rods. Whenever the laser crossed a wire, it cut through as if it were silk.

    “I really wish these things weren’t so slow.” Mini sighed.

    “Stay frosty. We –“ Newt was suddenly cut off by the beeping in his earpiece, indicating an established connection. The radio crackled, and a female with an obvious British accent spoke.

    “Newton, this is MI5, how copy?”

    “Loud and clear, ma’am.” Newt knew better than to call the Director of MI5 anything else. “What’s the status of that SAS team?”

    “The 32nd Regiment is just outside the compound as of now. Waiting for your go.”

    “Patch me through to whoever has the conn.” Newt said.

    “Roger. Patching you through to Staff Sergeant Reid.”

    Immediately a different voice spoke. This one was male, a rich Cockney accent present. “Newton, Reid. I understand you might need help.”

    “I didn’t ask for it, Reid,” Newt said, “but I may as well take it.”

    “Doesn’t matter. We’re here now.” He replied. “We’re ready to kick this off. Waiting on you to call it.”

    “Standby.” Newt turned to Mini. “Is the fence cut?”

    He was answered by the clattering of a perfectly circular section of wire fence hitting the ground. Mini looked up casually and nodded.

    Newt tuned his radio back to Reid. “We’re ready.” He sounded determined. “All teams, greenlight on assault! Secure that truck!” He brandished his rifle and raised an arm to signal his team. “Come on, we’re moving!”

    Ark Angel rushed through the hole in the fence and found themselves inside the compound. Suddenly the air was filled with the roar of engines, and in a few seconds two jeeps sped along the road on both sides, skidding to a halt right in front of them. The doors opened and people dressed in standard military uniform flooded out of them, handling assault rifles and snipers. That got the attention of all the enemy soldiers inside, as suddenly the sound of gunfire filled Newt’s ears.

    One of the soldiers wearing a regular military protection mask ran up to Newt, expertly holding their assault rifle. His voice was muffled by the mask, but his words were clear enough. “You’re Newton, right?”

    “Name’s Newt, Reid.” He bared his teeth, a show to indicate that he could probably push Reid around. “What’s the plan?”

    “Kill people.” He said. “Secure the truck.”

    “Sounds good to me.” Ellie cocked her handgun. “Let’s get to work.” She ran out into the blazing battle, her teammates and Reid following.

    ~

    A man stood on the top floor of the warehouse, staring through the dirty window down at the chaotic warfare unfolding outside. Most of his soldiers died within minutes, which disappointed him mildly. Next time, he would be sure to hire more apt warriors. He scratched his bald head and turned his attention to the soldiers who had invaded his property. All mixed races, but none of them were of his ethnicity. He also found that disappointing.

    He was disturbed by a knock on the door behind him, and a young man appeared in the hallway. Dressed in the standard Russian military uniform, a simple pistol strapped to his side. He cleared his throat. “Mister Azov. Your transport is ready.” He rasped. The bald man merely nodded and followed the soldier down the staircase.

    ~

    “Fletch! Get me rounds on the east warehouse, second floor, NOW!” Newt roared. He was crouching behind a pile of wooden crates, occasionally peeking out and firing at enemy stragglers.

    “Got it.” Fletch replied. The helicopter in the sky swooped down from the sky and hovered in front of the warehouse, level with the windows. Newt could just about see Fletch’s face peeking out from the helicopter as the minigun opened fire, spraying bullets into the walls and shattering the windows.

    “Whoa, hold up, RPG!” he heard Blythe shout.

    “Pull up, pull UP!” Fletch yelled and the helicopter took back to the skies. Just at that moment there was suddenly a whistling noise, and Newt saw a trail of smoke dart out from the window. The rocket narrowly missed the helicopter, fortunately, giving Fletch the opportunity to shoot him down. “Their aim’s getting better.” Fletch said.

    Newt turned around to see Reid alongside him, gunning down an enemy soldier who’d tried to leap over the fence and escape. “Looks like we’re clear.” He nodded.

    “Fletch! Are we clear?” Newt asked.

    “Don’t see anyone else on the ground. You’re good to go.”

    “Okay!” Reid shouted louder than Newt expected, boasting authority and power. “All teams, set up a perimeter around the truck!”

    Immediately everyone rushed towards the truck, Ark Angel and SAS. Everyone got on one knee forming a semicircle behind the parked truck, weapons trained on the cargo door. “Hall, open it.” Reid barked at one of the SAS soldiers.

    “No. I’ll do it.” Ellie interrupted.

    Reid stared at her like she was insane. “You don’t disobey orders in the SAS.” He hissed.

    “I’m not SAS.” Ellie shrugged. She got up from her kneeling position and walked gingerly towards the cargo door. It was plain white, but appeared to be in mint condition. She placed one hand on a door while her other held the pistol in front of her. In one quick motion she yanked the door open and pointed her weapon inside, expecting a trap. But she quickly put the weapon away and frowned.

    “It’s… it’s empty.” Ellie stammered.

    “You what?” Reid barked.

    “I said it’s empty.” Ellie said, loudly. The truck didn’t contain any weapons, nor Chimera. It was completely deserted, save for the broken wooden crate tucked into the corner.

    Reid got up from his position and brought a finger to his earpiece. “MI5, the truck is empty. What’s the status on the rest of ‘em?” A pause, then he spoke again. “MI5, come in! MI5, where are the trucks?”

    “Newt. It’s Fletch.” His own earpiece suddenly buzzed.

    “Copy, Fletch. What’s up?”

    “Thermal imaging has detected two unknown persons legging it to the subway, at your three. One is armed.”

    “It’s gotta be Azov.” Robyn snarled. “We have to grab him. Quickly.”

    “He’s almost at the tube. Get moving, fast.”

    ~

    “There he is!” Ethan shouted. “Dead ahead!”

    “Don’t engage! We need him alive!” Reid roared.

    Mel strained her vision and just about spotted the two figures Fletch had pointed out, sprinting rapidly to the subway station. “Where the hell do they think they’re going?” she asked. She was running as fast as she possibly could, but Azov had had the head start, and was already descending into the tube.

    “Wait, hold up!” Reid suddenly shouted. Everyone immediately came to a halt in front of the station.

    “Seriously? He’s getting away!” Robyn complained.

    Reid ignored her as he put his finger at his ear again, listening to whoever was on the other end. A few seconds later he cut the connection and faced them. “MI5 has a change of plans.” He said. “Director wants you people at Buckingham Palace.”

    “What? Why?” Newt asked.

    “Not all of you.” He carried on. “She wants you and Harper coming with us to the tube, and your helicopter as air support.”

    Mel blinked. “You still didn’t answer Newt’s question.”

    “Because I don’t know the answer to Newt’s question. I just follow orders. I don’t question them. So, are we clear on what everyone’s doing?”

    One by one, everyone reluctantly nodded their agreement.

    “MI5 has vehicles on the way to transport you guys.” Reid pointed at the majority of Ark Angel, including Aurora and Ellie. “As for you,” he turned his attention to Newt and Mel, “you’d better follow us.”

    “I don’t like this.” Newt growled.

    “Neither do I.” Reid shot back. “If it was down to me, I’d be sending all of you to the city and bring SAS down with me.”

    “Both of you, shut up! We’re losing valuable time!” Robyn cut in.

    “She’s right.” Mel joined. “Time wasted talking here is time we could be using to chase Azov.”

    “Okay. We’re moving!” Reid barked at his SAS soldiers and beckoned them all into the station. Newt and Mel looked at each other, as if considering mutiny, but it seemed that they both decided silently against it and followed Reid, leaving their teammates behind.

    ~

    “Get out of the way! SAS coming through!” Reid shouted as he shoved past the civilians trying to go about their day.

    “There!” Mel called. She pointed at the platform furthest away from them. “Platform 2!”

    “Come on, pick up the pace!” Reid roared.

    They all descended the stairs as quickly as possible, but it was too late. Just as Mel stepped onto the platform, she saw Azov rushing onto the train already there, and the train pulling away rapidly. “Damn it! We missed him!”

    “Not yet.” Newt came up from behind her. He pointed at the end of the platform, where two silhouettes of what looked like vehicles were. “The maintenance trucks! We can chase down that train!”

    “You’ve got guts, soldier.” Reid nodded. “Everyone in the trucks, now!” Mel was the first to reach the trucks. They looked like ordinary pick-ups, painted dirty white and rusted. She clambered into the back of the truck while Newt threw himself into the driver’s seat. Reid went up to them and reached behind him. He pulled out a basic submachine gun and tossed it to Mel. “That pistol won’t be any good chasing that truck.” He said. “Kill as many of them as possible.” She merely nodded. Reid climbed into the passenger seat beside Newt and shouted to the drivers, “Chase that damn train!”

    Immediately two engines roared to life, the noise echoing off the walls of the tunnel. The trucks lurched forward, and Mel almost tumbled out of the vehicle right there if she hadn’t caught the edge of the cargo bed. The trucks shot into the tunnel single file, tailing the subway train. “RPG! Watch it!” Mel shouted. Instantly a whistling rocket flew past them, narrowly missing the truck and exploding a few metres behind them. The tunnel shook with the impact, the wall was starting to crumble. “The tunnel’s not gonna take much more of this!”

    “Try and get alongside it!” Reid shouted to Newt beside him. The subway had now opened up to multiple rail tracks. Newt yanked the steering wheel and the truck leaned to the left and drove on the track opposite the train.

    Mel topped off her SMG and started firing on the train beside them. They were still roaring down the subway tunnels, but she still hit her shots with ease through the train’s windows and doors. She kept firing until she noticed the tunnel getting brighter, white light shining in front of them, and a cacophonic horn sounding. “INCOMING TRAIN!” She shrieked. “Go right!”

    Thankfully Newt reacted just in time. He jerked the wheel sharply to the right so that they were now behind the train they were chasing. The oncoming train narrowly missed the back of the truck and sailed past them. “Little bit too close there, mate!” Reid shouted.

    “Sod off! We’re still in one piece!” Newt barked back, but Mel could’ve sworn she heard laughter in his remark. “Patch me through to MI5!”

    “Connection’s online!”

    “MI5, this is Newt!” he shouted. “We’re tracking hostiles through the tube, we need to know where they’re headed!”

    Mel could hear the reply, almost inaudible amidst the engines and gunfire. The same female voice, the Director, was on the other end. “Copy. Standby.”

    “Watch your fire!” Reid warned. “Civvies up ahead!” As he said that, the trucks sped past a subway station, the platform full of people. The air was filled with screaming when they saw the guns and warfare, and the trucks chasing the speeding train. Mel made sure she didn’t fire a single shot. Any stray bullet could find its way into an innocent person’s skull.

    “Bravo Two, this is MI5.” The Director’s voice returned. “Be advised, all metro exits from your position are located in the city, over.”

    “Blythe! Where the hell are you?!” Newt roared. They were approaching the tunnel’s exit, out into broad daylight. The sudden air resistance made Mel stumble, but she caught herself and refocused her efforts on firing on the train. The air was freezing cold despite the sun, making Mel’s skin tingle. She almost hugged herself, just to keep herself warm.

    “I’m here!” Mel heard Blythe reply. “Inbound and hot! Fletch, tear that train to shreds!” Mel thought she heard Fletch give a cheer as the helicopter’s minigun spun and ripped rounds into the train. The constant spray was so loud that even the train and trucks couldn’t be heard. Sparks flew off the train where the minigun hit, but it didn’t do much to stop the train. The helicopter pulled back into the skies when another tunnel approached, and Mel was plunged into darkness again, her surroundings illuminated by the train lights and the trucks.

    “This line goes straight to Westminster!” Reid yelled. “We have to stop this thing now!”

    “Why’s that driver still breathing?!” Newt shouted to no one in particular.

    Someone replied, nonetheless, a soldier from the truck driving in front of them. “I see the driver!” Another British male, but he sounded very young, perhaps in his twenties. “Taking the shot!”

    “Damn it, West! I’m driving!” Another voice came on, clearly angry.

    “Keep the truck steady!”

    “CRAP!” the driver swore. “Hold on!” Mel watched in horror as the truck in front suddenly started to swerve, slamming into the tunnel walls and knocking structures down. She couldn’t help but gasp as it abruptly shot towards its right, driving full speed into the front of the train.

    What happened next was hell. There was the ear-piercing noise of metal grinding against metal, the crushing sound of the two vehicles destroying the pillars holding up the tunnel. Mel saw the truck swallowed up by the train, crumpling under its heavy weight. “Hang on!” Newt shouted. Their own truck was starting to lose control. The carriages of the train were now starting to disconnect, each one turning over and rolling into the walls of the tunnel. Something had now burst into flames, probably the engine of the truck massacred by the train. Flames and wreckage flew everywhere as Mel dug into the cargo bed of the pick-up truck, Newt grunting as he tried to regain control of the vehicle. Her ears screamed at the mayhem currently flooding her hearing. She hardly felt or saw her truck careering to the sides, and she finally blacked out when the truck flipped over on its side, throwing Mel off.

    ~

    Robyn rushed over to the helicopter as it landed on the road junction. She and the rest of the team were stationed just outside Westminster Station, making organisations and making ready for the truck’s arrival. The place was crawling with local police, officers wearing high visibility jackets did their best to move civilians back. Sirens wailed in the distance as police cars Robyn reached the helicopter just as the door opened and Blythe jumped out of the cockpit. “What’s their status?” She asked. She knew Blythe would recognise who ‘their’ was.

    Blythe hesitated before mumbling, “The subway tunnel collapsed, with them inside.”

    Robyn stared at her, eyes full of disbelief. “What?!”

    “They might still be alive,” Blythe said, “but… the damage was pretty bad, Robyn. They’d be lucky to survive.”

    “They’ll be okay.” Fletch had now exited the chopper and walked up to meet the girls. “They’re hard fighters. They’ll make it here.” His face was full of confidence… but also doubt. Even if he didn’t admit it, it was obvious that he also worried for their safety.

    “I hope so,” Robyn breathed, “because if they don’t, we’re lost.”

    ~

    Newt didn’t know how many times he’d slipped in and out of consciousness.

    He was awake only for a few seconds at a time, only so he could see the burning wreckage surrounding him while he lay on the floor, dazed and useless. Then he would fall asleep again, and then wake up, only to see the same things again. It was a cycle, seemingly endless. He knew he should cry out for help, maybe stand, but he couldn’t even bring himself to talk. His body quivered violently when he coughed blood, a numb pain in his abdomen and pretty much everywhere else on his body.

    “Newt?” The voice sounded so far away, as if it was underwater. “Newt! Wake up!”

    And then he was conscious for real, rasping violently as he coughed, getting the dust out of his system. He opened his eyes, and saw a blurry figure in front of him, holding him upright and saying something to him. Dirty green hair, desecrated by dust and dirt, and a scarred, bloodied face. After a few seconds, his vision was clear and thought process clean. “Newt.” Mel shook him to keep him awake. “Are you okay?”

    Newt couldn’t bring himself to tell her yes, or even raise his hand to give a signal. He felt so unbelievably tired. He wanted nothing more than to find a bed and snooze the pain away. He heard his radio crack, but he couldn’t make out any words that the caller was saying. However, it was clear that Mel also got the message. She lay Newt down as she connected her earpiece and talked to the person on the other end. When she spoke, she sounded tired as he did. Dazed, even. “MI5… do you read me?”

    He could somewhat make word of what the Director was now saying, but it came in fragments. “Ark Angel… status…”

    “The train’s done in under Westminster.” Mel slurred. “We’re moving to the surface.”

    “Link up… of your team. They’ll… on scene… minutes.”

    “Copy.” Mel sighed and cut the call. “Come on, Newt.” Newt felt himself being lifted up by the shoulders, and he miraculously held his standing position. “Looks like it’s just us now.”

    “What about Reid?” he asked, voice rough.

    “Dead. Ripped to pieces. It wasn’t pretty.” Newt couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt. He knew he wasn’t responsible for the SAS commander’s death, but he felt as if he could’ve made a better effort to keep that truck under control, and save his life. And to have died so horribly, Newt almost wished it had been him instead.

    “Can you walk?”

    “Kinda.” His legs wobbled with the effort, but he could take it slow. “I’m getting better. I’ll be okay in a few minutes.”

    “Good, because we’re gonna have to dig up Azov from the wreckage.”

    Azov. Newt had completely forgotten about him when chasing the train. “He would have been in the back carriage. That’s the safest place to be in a train crash.”

    “That’s this one here.” Mel pointed behind her to a carriage. It was still somehow standing upright, but its side was badly scratched and its windows completely shattered. “It would be a miracle if he survived.” She remarked. “Much less remained conscious.”

    “I wouldn’t want to be conscious to witness whatever happened back in the tunnel.” Newt said. “Take point. I’ll watch our backs.”

    Mel climbed into the train and unhooked her striped handgun, Newt following. None of the lights were working, except for one that blinked randomly at the end of the coach. “I think that’s him.” She suddenly whispered. Newt looked and saw a single man get up slowly from a seat in the corner, legs shaky and coughing hoarsely. He looked up and saw Mel and Newt standing there, and just stood there staring at them, as if deciding whether to fight or run. He decided on fighting.

    He didn’t get very far. He lunged weakly and swung a fist at Mel, who easily sidestepped and shoved him into the wall. He groaned, but remained conscious. “Come here.” Newt grabbed Azov’s shoulder and spun him around so that he was facing away from him. Then he put a knife on the back of his neck, its cool edge making Azov shudder. “Don’t try to resist,” Newt spoke slowly, “or I will end you.”

    “You may as well end me now.” Azov rasped. “I am of no use to you.”

    “I think you’re wrong there.” Mel spat. “Your people are probably coming for you. They’ll either find you dead, or they won’t live long enough to see you.”

    Newt engaged his radio. “Ark Angel.” He said.

    “Newt. It’s Sakura.” Sakura suddenly exhaled. “Damn, even a train couldn’t kill you. Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

    Newt couldn’t help but chuckle lightly. “We have Azov, and we’re coming up from Westminster Station.”

    “Copy. I’ve set up barricades all over the place, and grabbed a mech suit. MI5 reckons one of the trucks is coming here.”

    “Okay. We’re on our way.” Newt pushed Azov forward and out of the carriage. “Move. We’re leaving. Mel, take point. I’ll keep this fool behind cover.”

    “Roger.” Mel ran in front of Newt, pistol out and ready to engage any surprises. “Follow me.” She jogged to the main exit staircase and stood there, waiting for Newt with Azov. He seemed to be playing up, like a child with a temper. Newt pushed him again and he walked clumsily in Mel’s direction.

    It took an age to get Azov out of the station into broad daylight. He kept tripping over stairs and checkpoints, which warranted threatening growls from Newt and disapproving sighs from Mel. It was at least five minutes before they were climbing up the steps into the main road, Newt nudging Azov forward and shouting to two nearby police officers to hold him. They grabbed each of Azov’s arms and dragged him to a police van, where they stood on guard.

    Newt turned around and saw someone running towards him. He easily identified her as Ellie by the bright, luscious aqua hair that flowed gracefully to her waist. She didn’t show any sign of relief seeing Newt alive, nor even a greeting. She simply gripped his shoulder and shouted over the noise of the sirens. “The truck’ll be here any second! We have to lock this road down, now!”

    Newt nodded his understanding and beckoned Mel to follow him. The three ran to the T-junction where everyone else was on a knee, weapons locked and loaded, sights trained on the empty road ahead, waiting for the truck to barrel around the corner. Sakura stood behind them in a standard military mech suit. Two mounted miniguns pointed down the road, ready to shred through anything that came by. Two armoured military vehicles were stationed on either side, so that the fire team crouched between the jeeps. “Stack up at the blockade!” Ellie grabbed her carbine rifle and took a crouching stance by Fletch, who handled a simple SMG.

    “There’s the truck!” Sakura yelled. At that precise moment there was a screeching sound of tires squealing on tarmac, and the truck came into view. It came speeding down the straight road, directly towards the blockade.

    “Open fire!” Robyn shouted. Immediately the air was filled with the blinding noise of gunfire as anyone with a weapon shot at the Charity Globally lorry, aiming for the driver’s side. The driver was obviously surprised at the sudden outbreak of gunfire, so surprised that the truck turned over on its left side. It skidded along the road before halting right before the blockade, cargo door facing them.

    “Hold fire, hold fire!” Newt roared, and just like that, the gunfire came to a halt. “Ellie, open the doors. Everyone else, get the civvies away!”

    Police officers waved the curious bystanders away and pushed the crowds back while Ellie stood up from her stance and walked tentatively towards the cargo doors. Mel and Aurora followed her, already aiming their weapons at the door in case any nasty surprises jumped out. Ellie gripped the handles of the doors and hesitated, as if considering getting someone else to do it. Then she seemed to reassure herself, and yanked the doors open.

    ~

    Mel rushed into the truck as soon as Ellie opened the doors, hands gripping the pistol so tight as if it was dear life, trigger finger tugging. She checked every corner in less than a second and quickly decided that no one would suddenly jump out and claw at her face. The truck was near empty, save for the large wooden crate right at the back corner. It was unmarked, just a normal box. Mel wasn’t an idiot, though. If it was in a delivery truck, there must have been something inside it.

    “Aurora, help me get this crate outside.” Mel called. Aurora as well as Ellie rushed over and gripped the handles of the crate. It was insanely heavy, so heavy that they ended up having to drag its weight across the wall of the overturned truck and onto the tarmac. The three girls grunted as they pushed the box into the daylight. Everyone had a weapon pointing at the crate, not knowing what to expect. Mel glanced at Newt, who jabbed an inconspicuous thumb at Azov, who was struggling to free himself from the police officers he’d been handed over to.

    “Let go of him,” Mel told them. They cast a confused glance at her, then reluctantly released their hold on him. Azov could’ve attacked Mel right there, or tried to run. He seemed to realise that was futile however, so he stayed put, ice cold eyes staring into hers. “What’s in the crate?” she asked.

    No reply.

    “I’m not going to ask again. You’ll go on the floor if you don’t answer.”

    He remained silent, but he tilted his head slightly and shot a cunning smirk at Mel. Then, “Michael would do well with an asset like you.”

    Mel blinked. “Even suggest such an idea again,” she growled, “and you’ll get one in the skull.”

    He fell into silence again, his knowing smile still aimed at Mel. She snarled at him, trying to frighten him into submission. He stood there like a stone wall, unmoving. She was about to move closer, to punch him, to threaten him, do something to get him talking. But she had hardly taken a step forward before she heard Fletch’s young voice yell, “DRONES!”

    Mel whirled around behind her, and her heart sank.

    The unmarked wooden crate had burst open, but now the air was filled with flying mechanical drones, armed with miniature cannons. They flew upwards in a spiral, surrounding the area and closing off any means of escape. Civilians were screaming in terror, trying to run but found themselves blocked off by the drones. The police officers fumbled for their weapons, and Mel’s team aimed their own up, but Newt shouted, “Don’t shoot!”

    The atmosphere was suddenly tense. Everyone had a gun pointed at a target, drones hovered still in mid-air. No one made a noise. Nothing moved, and that was the distraction Azov had been waiting for.

    While Mel was staring dumbfounded at the drones, he lunged forwards and knocked her to the ground, while grabbing her handgun. When she felt the gun slip out of her holster, she knew she was dead. She hit the floor, stretching her arms to cushion her fall. Azov stood above her, the striped pistol in his left hand, muzzle pointing at Mel. “Nova Satus,” he hissed.

    Then Azov turned the pistol around and shot himself in the head.

    “NO!” Mel cried.

    He dropped the pistol after the shot had been fired. His blood and brain matter spilled onto the tarmac while he slumped to the ground. He was dead before he hit the floor.

    And then a drone exploded.

    And another.

    And another, each exploding one by one. Mel saw the explosions first, and noticed the brown cloud that issued from the explosion. The same colour of the vial of Chimera.

    Newt shouted before she could. “MASKS ON! NOW!” he roared over the explosions. Mel fumbled for her gas mask and hastily slipped it over her face, as did everyone else. The civilians started screaming again and were running away from the place. Every single drone was bursting into toxic clouds, each explosion straining her ears, but amidst the chaos Mel heard Ellie.

    “CRAP!”

    And then the truck exploded in an even bigger cloud of Chimera.

    The force was so strong that Mel flew backwards, crashing onto the tarmac once again. Everything around her had turned into the misty yellow-brown cloud now, it surrounded her and clouded her vision through the gas mask. The smoke was so thick she could hardly see through it. She thought she saw something burning a few metres away, most likely the truck. But what grabbed her attention was the girl lying a stone’s throw away, and Mel was horrified when she saw Ellie there, her gas mask shattered beside her.

    Mel forgot everything else. Forgot Chimera, and the rest of her teammates. She got to her feet hastily and ran faster than she’d ever run before, ran towards her best friend lying motionless on the floor and cradled her head in her arms.

    Ellie’s hair that was once so bright was now stained with blood… so much blood. It oozed out of her nose, her mouth… she was losing blood in every place imaginable, it was all over her face and body. And her eyes were no longer eyes, but pure red, bloodshot and wrecked. She stared up at Mel, knowing her fate had come.

    “Ellie…” Mel stammered. “Get a medivac on the way! Somebody! Please!” she shouted desperately into the street, not knowing who could hear her but hoping somebody would.

    “There’s no use.” Ellie rasped, voice hoarse. “It’s Chimera. You’ve got to fall back, get everyone out!” she cried. She coughed a few times, projecting yet more blood from her body, and then lay still.

    A gentle hand suddenly rested upon Mel’s shoulder. She looked up and recognised the messy blonde hair that belonged to Newt, his face hidden behind the mask. “She helped us.” Newt muttered. “Her death was not in vain.”

    She turned her attention back to her dead friend. To anyone else watching, she was staring at her bloodied eyes, lost in thought.

    But behind the mask, she sobbed uncontrollably.
    “…in danger. I repeat, Downing Street is within the contamination radius, over!”

    “This is Hereford HQ! We’ve been attacked!”

    “GIGN in the blind! My men are either dead or dying! I’ve been exposed!”


    ~

    The TV screen changed to BBC News. A female reporter stood on the side of the screen, wearing an ordinary grey blazer and trousers. Her face was deadly serious. Behind her was a screen displaying video footage of London’s gas attacks. It was now about four hours since the first bombs exploded in front of Buckingham Palace. There were still clouds of fatal gas scattered along the road and sidewalks. All civilians had been instructed to stay indoors, no exceptions. Now the only living entities that roamed the place were elite soldiers belonging to the Navy and SAS regiments, wearing military-grade gas masks to protect them from inhaling Chimera.


    “...and now this brings us to the recent gas attacks in London. A few hours ago, a truck transporting combat drones primed with a lethal chemical detonated in front of the Royal Residence. Police, military and external combat organizations made an attempt to prevent the attack, but unfortunately, it was not to be so.” The screen behind the reporter changed to a close-up view of the drones exploding, the footage coming from a local CCTV camera. Anyone could see each individual drone detonating one by one, spraying the bioweapon everywhere. “To add to this devastating event, international organizations have reported that the gas attacks were not limited to London.”

    The screen changed again, but this time it showed a map of the entire world. Red markers indicated where other attacks had occurred. The reporter was correct, the attacks hadn’t just been on London. It had been all over England, all over Britain… all over the world. France, Germany, America and others had all been attacked by Chimera, in the exact same way London had, with the Charity Globally truck rolling up to crowded areas and detonating the drones containing the chemical. Millions had died. Not one person had been cured in time to save a life.

    “It’s been called ‘the worst terror event in history.’ Infamous terrorist organizations have not stepped forward to claim responsibility for the incidents. Al-Qaeda and other notorious associations have kept silent.” No wonder. Newt knew who was responsible for the attacks. He grabbed the remote and switched off the TV.

    “He’s really done it, now,” Robyn spoke before anyone else could. “He’s taken out thirty, forty million people, and no one could do anything to stop it. We failed.” She sighed exasperatedly.

    “It wasn’t just our fault.” Fletch interrupted. “We had police and the SAS on our side. There was no way we could’ve stopped that on our own.”

    “That doesn’t lessen the severity of the situation, Fletch!” Newt snapped. “Millions are dead, and we can’t do anything to change that!”

    “Okay. Sorry,” Fletch’s voice turned to a quiet murmur.

    “So what do we do now?” Sakura asked.

    Robyn took charge and walked in front of the screen. “I was digging around the internet,” she said. “Kratos mentioned something called Nova Satus. It means ‘new dawn’ in Latin. I tried looking for Nova Satus everywhere. Military search engines, the deep web, even Google.”

    “That’s low,” Fletch muttered.

    “Right? So I was pretty much stuck. Stuck until I dug a little bit into the past, our past.” Robyn paused a short while before continuing. “Remember Miguel? I was skimming through his camera feed, where I found this.” Robyn waved a hand at the screen and it immediately switched back on, but this time it showed a different video. It showed exactly what Miguel saw on his undercover mission in Spain. Everyone could see Kratos embracing him, Kratos exposing the knowledge that there was someone spying on him. She fast forwarded all the irrelevant conversation until the really important part came when they both stepped outside to the courtyard and met hundreds of people below. People cheering for Kratos. Cheering for a cold-hearted and merciless killer. They thought he was doing the right thing.

    “That is Nova Satus.” Robyn pointed a confident finger at the crowd. “It’s a group of Kratos’ followers. I showed Fletch, and he did some further digging. And he found something.” She nodded to Fletch.

    “It’s a Twitter page,” he said. “It’s called Theseus, and that’s what all his followers know him as. But Nova Satus isn’t just a few hundred people. It’s millions. Twenty million, to be exact. And look at the comments.” Fletch changed the display to a simple Twitter profile. Its profile picture and banner were just plain black, and with only one Tweet, consisting of emojis of a bomb and a person wearing a gas mask. The Tweet was sent out five hours ago. One hour before the Chimera attacks. The comments were what caught their attention, though. One person replied, “NOVA SATUS! We will save ourselves!” Another said, “We will crush any resistance that hinders our path to salvation.”

    No one spoke, but everyone could feel the disbelief haunting the room. People actually thought Kratos was the good guy. A hero.

    “Kratos must’ve promised these people a hell of a fortune if they’re worshipping him like this.” Blythe spat. “I wouldn’t go to him even if my family’s lives and riches depended on it.”

    “He probably sees himself as a hero too,” Newt said. “The hell kind of nickname is Theseus?”

    “Well, if you were a villain and destroying governments in general, would you not call yourself a hero?” Fletch remarked.

    “Well,” Newt sighed, “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The room stared at him, weird expressions fixed upon their faces.

    “Uh,” Robyn raised an eyebrow, “I don’t think that works in this context.”

    “Whatever.”

    “Forget about him being a hero!” Sakura gasped. “He just committed mass murder all over the continent!”

    “Hang on a second…” Mini murmured. She was almost whispering, but everyone fell silent to heed her words. “Kratos has known affiliations with the Japanese, and seeing as he knew Azov, he’s with the Russians as well.”

    “Yeah. So?” Fletch asked although the rising of his eyebrow indicated that he knew what she was about to say.

    “Both of them have powerful militaries and one common enemy…”

    “America.” Robyn breathed. Mini gave a small nod, confirming her dread.

    “Russia has bad blood with the States from the Cold War…” Newt mused, “and America blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those seem like perfectly reasonable motives -”


    “To attack the US.” Mini finished. “The Chimera attacks weren’t just terrorist attacks. They were designed to cripple every country’s defenses, so they could waltz into America and assault them. They’ve paved a way for an invasion.”

    “Clever piece of scum.” Newt spat. “Kratos knew about it. He united two of the strongest nations and teamed them up against America.”

    Just then, a loud ringing sound filled the room, the noise radiating from the large speakers. The colossal TV screen lit up, with a picture of a telephone and a single name, written in bright red. Dunn.

    “Huh?” Ethan perked up. “Who the hell is Dunn?” Everyone else started talking, asking questions and general commotion, but Newt silenced them all by raising his hand, a frown fixed upon his face. He stepped gingerly to the computer and looked at its screen. Metadata was listed all along the right side of the screen, but Newt was only looking for one piece of information. A few seconds later, he found it. Location: New York, United States of America.

    His hand shook as he reached for the mouse and established a voice connection with the mysterious caller.

    Before Newt could even speak, a male screamed from the speakers, making everyone in the room cringe. “Metal zero one in the blind!” the man screamed, “We’re under attack!”

    “Zero one, this is Ark Angel. We are aware of the gas attacks, and decon units are on the way, over.” Newt stated formally.

    "Not the gas!” The caller, who Newt presumed was called Dunn, was gasping heavily. “We’re under attack by Russian ground forces!”

    Oh, God. Newt’s heart jumped in his chest. “Say again, zero one. What Russian forces?”

    “THE ENTIRE RUSSIAN ARMY!” Dunn shrieked. “Request immediate assistance!”

    Newt could hear everything going on at Dunn’s end. Gunfire, roaring engines, it must have been a full-blown battle down there. Behind Dunn, Newt could hear another voice, American like Dunn, however this time female. “Dunn! We got Japanese fighters crawling the skies!” she shouted.

    “Get inside the embassy! NOW!” Dunn screamed, and that was the last Newt heard of him before a massive explosion drowned out Dunn’s voice, and the call went to static.

    “Damn,” Ethan said after a few seconds of stunned silence. “Looks like they’re not doing so well.”

    “What do we do?” Sakura asked. Newt got up from his seat.

    “We can’t go to America,” he said. “We’re too far away, and we’ll never get there in time. And with two of the largest armies trying to kill us, we won’t last very long. So, unfortunately, unless someone helps the US, we’re staying out of it.”

    “So where do we go?”

    Newt looked at Robyn, stared straight into those stormy grey eyes. “You were right,” Newt muttered. “You were right this entire time.”

    “About what?” Robyn looked puzzled.

    “We should’ve gone for Kratos straight away, instead of going on side missions. If we’d been able to shut him down earlier, millions would have been saved. Kapaia would have been saved, and maybe Kiro too.” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

    The two continued staring at each other, with the entire room watching silently. It was very rare for Newt to apologize, especially to someone who had directly disobeyed his orders. But in that moment, Newt felt as if a connection had been established. Somehow, he knew Robyn better now, understood her. He understood why she’d gone to Russia alone. Why she saved his life on the assassination mission, and why she was willing to sacrifice herself to save him. It was like some sort of enlightenment.

    “It’s not too late,” Robyn whispered, “we can still do something.”

    “Yeah.” Newt nodded, “I know what ‘something' is. We're going after Kratos. And this time, we're going to give it everything we've got.”

    “Hell yeah.” Ethan murmured.

    “Priorities first,” Robyn said, confidence lining her voice. “The missile?”

    Damn. Newt had forgotten all about that. “We have to shut it down.” He whispered. If that missile launched, if it added to the already devastating death toll caused by Chimera… Newt did not want to imagine living in that world.

    “Fletch.” Robyn barked. “Pull up the site schematics again.”

    “Roger. Coming up now.” Fletch swiped the tablet’s screen, mirroring it to the large television on the wall. The blueprints for the launch facility were displayed on the wall, inside and out.

    “Let’s see…” Robyn put a finger to her chin. She pointed to the left of the screen with her other hand, indicating the area surrounding the main building. “There are gas vents east of the facility leading straight into the mine. We can cut through them and get through without a problem.”

    "There’ll be heavy resistance on the ground, though,” Sakura remarked. “Armoured vehicles, infantry, they’ll be defending the vents. We’ll need some serious firepower.”

    “If you can commandeer a Crusader mech, that’ll be enough to get us through. Mini and Blythe can take care of the armour.” Newt said. “Next?”

    “The vents will take us straight to the elevator. If we’re lucky, the elevator will be on our floor and we can just take it to the bottom of the mine.” Robyn said. “If it isn’t, then I guess we’ll be climbing.”

    Fletch rotated the image of the mine so that everyone could see what was at the bottom of the mine. There were double doors directly in front of the elevator doors, most likely locked and bolted. That wouldn’t be a problem for the demolition team. On the other side of the double doors lay the launch site. The room itself was massive, the ceiling expanded five hundred metres high, and the floor was about as large as a soccer pitch. When someone looked up, they would see a perplexing number of skywalks stretching across the room, complete with light machine guns position on the guardrails and RPG stations. And at the very end of the hall, a large gaping hole had been cleared in the ground. The schematics didn’t show it, but it was plain obvious that the hole would contain the missile.

    “How do we disarm the missile?” Blythe asked.

    “Settle our units first. All of us, including the Hellbringer unit, are inserting by the vents.” Newt said. His role as squad commander finally dawned upon him, and this time, he would not mess up. “We’ll all go down the same elevator and enter the launch facility. Fletch, Mini and I are going to break into the control room and try to abort the launch.” He paused before finishing in a quieter voice, “If that doesn’t work, we’ll have no choice but to arm explosives on the missile, get the hell out of there and blow the entire thing to ashes.”

    “We’ll risk destroying everything around it. Including civilians.” Blythe frowned.

    “We don’t have a better choice.” Newt faltered as he suddenly realised the absence of one of his squadmates. “Where’s Mel?”

    “No idea.” Robyn dismissed the question.

    “I think she’s upstairs, in the boxing arena,” Sakura said, pointing at the ceiling. “Aurora might be there, too.”

    He groaned, more in laziness than annoyance. “Fine. We move out tomorrow. Get your gear in order, and have the rest of the day to yourselves. And someone update Mel and Aurora.”

    The room was filled with quiet clamouring as everyone packed their belongings away and started conversations, but Newt coughed and they were once again silent. “I wouldn’t have told you this if it wasn’t important,” he said slowly, “but you need to understand the risks. Some of us… may not come back alive.”

    Deadly silence. Then Blythe spoke, “We offered our lives the moment we signed up to join. We’re prepared for this. Right?” One by one, everyone muttered their assent. “If we die, we die for a good cause. That’s all I’ve ever wanted in life. To make the difference.”

    Newt nodded. “Thanks.” He said. “Dismissed.”

    ~

    21.

    Robyn ascended the staircase to the second floor, slowly and quietly. She didn’t want to disturb Mel if she was busy, and she definitely didn’t want to cross her if she was in a bad mood.

    As Robyn walked down the corridor towards the armoury, she thought about what she’d tell Mel. She wasn’t too bothered about Aurora, as far as she knew, Aurora was cool, although Robyn wasn’t a fan of her hair. She’d tell them both about the upcoming operation for sure, but she felt as if she owed Mel something for some reason. Perhaps she was annoyed that Newt had offered Robyn to sit out of a mission. Maybe she was upset over the unfortunate death of her best friend. Or perhaps she just really hated Robyn, deep down. That was fine with her. She was used to people hating her. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she only realised a minute later that she’d walked right past the armoury, and she jogged back, embarrassed. 49.

    Robyn peeked inside the room and was honestly quite surprised at what she saw. There was a small ring in the middle of the armoury, with weak ropes wrapped around the edges. Firearms were stacked on the walls on racks, looking neat and presentable. The door in the corner of the armoury led to the firing range, which was locked tight as it should have been. Robyn didn’t dwell on these details however, as she focused her attention on the two women fighting in the arena.

    Mel had Aurora clinging on to the ropes, blood leaked from Aurora’s nose and a nasty bruise had developed on her left cheek. Mel was walking towards her slowly, both fists clenched, her right hand smeared in blood. Aurora’s blood, Robyn realised in horror. What was she doing?

    Despite the beating she’d received, Aurora still got to her feet, struggling and groaning. She looked up at Mel, breathing heavily and her voice hoarse. “Is that all you’ve got?” she snarled. “I don’t think Ellie would be impressed with this child’s play.”

    “I’m going to kill you,” Mel growled as she attempted to hook her head with her fist. Aurora sidestepped in one quick motion while violently striking Mel’s back. She collapsed with a cry of pain, now on all fours with Aurora standing over her.

    “That’s not very ladylike, is it?” Aurora taunted. “You’re a failure. You failed to save Ellie. You failed to save both Kiro and Kapaia. And it is all. Your. Fault.” She forced extra passion into those last words, and Mel finally snapped.

    She moved so quickly that Robyn couldn’t help but gasp quietly as Mel suddenly spun herself around the floor, her legs catching Aurora’s ankles and making her fall. Before Aurora hit the ground, Mel was already on top of her, hands resting at her neck. Robyn expected her to throw Mel off, perhaps kick her abruptly, but all she did was laugh. “Oh man,” she chuckled, “if you ever came across Kratos, he wouldn’t stand a chance.”

    Mel did not laugh back or even smile as she got off Aurora and dusted herself off. “I won’t rest until the fight’s done.” She stated simply. She got to her feet and was preparing to leave the room until she spotted Robyn at the door, and her eyes narrowed. 72.

    This’ll be fine, Robyn thought to herself. This will be just fine. Aurora came to Robyn first, who she quickly dismissed as she briefly updated her on the situation and the next op. She gave a small nod and left in a hurry. Robyn didn’t question her as Mel approached, an inquisitive look in her eyes. “What do you want?” she demanded.

    Yikes, Robyn thought, so much for the friendly approach. “Newt told me to update you. We’re moving out to Kyoto tomorrow.” Robyn said. “What were you doing with Aurora? It looked like you were trying to kill her.”

    “Oh, that.” Mel gave a weak giggle that Robyn detected was fake. “Aurora was teaching me basic hand to hand. Just in case I ever run into…” She left the sentence hanging.

    “It wasn’t just that.” Robyn frowned. “She called you a failure. Made you angry. That’s not basic hand to hand, especially with a close friend like her. If you ask me, it looked like she was training you to let out your emotions.”

    Mel suddenly became very interested in her feet and put her hands behind her back. “There may have also been some of that.” She admitted reluctantly.

    That was the indicator that Mel evidently didn’t want to go into any more detail. “Don’t worry about it. Newt allowed everyone to take a rest before leaving. Do whatever,” Robyn said as she turned to leave.

    “Wait,” Mel called. Robyn stopped dead in her tracks. Turned around to face Mel. “I’m sorry,” Mel said quietly. “For… everything. For disliking you. Just… sorry.” Robyn was stunned. Apologies were extraordinarily rare from Mel.

    “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” She turned towards the door again. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy a day off before we plunge into a warzone and most likely die. Have a nice day.”

    ~

    “How’d it go?”

    “She’s stable.” Robyn waved a hand while she sipped on her steaming cup of coffee. “She’s a little torn up about Ellie, I think, but she’s okay.” 18.

    It was eleven o’clock in the evening. Everyone except Newt and Robyn had gone to sleep, and now they were lounging in the main room sipping on hot drinks in the dark. The room was lit only by the faint moonlight, and the only audible sound was their breathing and the occasional sipping. “How d’you think tomorrow will go?” Newt asked.

    “Badly. We’ll be shredded to pieces before we even get to the elevator.” Robyn jumped as Newt suddenly laughed out loud, even almost dropping her coffee.

    “Where’s that positive attitude I usually count on?” he chuckled.

    “It got crushed. Along with my eye.” Robyn pointed at her eye patch while putting her coffee on the table next. “Am I getting a new one at some point?”

    “Later. After the op.” Newt said. “But hey, look at the bright side. Now you don’t have to close one eye to aim down your sights.”

    It was Robyn’s turn to laugh now, and as she did so she realised she hadn’t laughed in a long time. Her throat even hurt from the sudden outbreak, but she savoured the feeling because it would soon be possible that she’d never laugh again.

    “Robyn,” Newt said after Robyn’s laughter ceased, “random question.”

    “Shoot.”

    “What would you be doing if you weren’t hunting down an international terrorist?”

    Robyn thought about that for a little bit before answering, “I guess I’d join the actual army. I enjoy fighting. I am the fighting.”

    Newt smiled. “Good,” he said. “Me too.”

    “I guess I just like tearing my enemies apart.” Robyn shrugged.

    “I’d like to tear you apart.”

    A thrill rushed through Robyn’s blood, coursing through her veins as she jumped again. “Was that your pathetic attempt at flirting?” She crowed. “Blythe’s helicopter could do better!”

    “You’d sooner hang with a helicopter than me?” Newt laughed. Then silence formed between the two, it was not the normal comfortable silence they always had but a tense and unnatural silence. Robyn looked at her coffee, unsure of what to say. “Too wild?” Newt asked.

    “Like hell it isn’t.” Robyn smiled. “But dial it down. You’ll wake someone up, I swear.”

    Newt lightly chuckled to himself as he took yet another sip of his drink. “I don’t care. To be honest, I don’t have a lot to care about.”

    “Apart from keeping your soldiers alive,” Robyn said simply.

    “Breathing soldiers work better than dead soldiers, I always say.” Newt raised his cup to his mouth before removing it and grumbling quietly. “I’m out of coffee, damn it.”

    “Don’t get any more. You’ve had enough caffeine as it is. Any more and you’ll be bouncing off the bloody walls.” Robyn grinned. The smile quickly faded into a frown as she too checked her cup. “What a joke.” Her cup was also empty.

    “I’ve never seen this side of you, Robyn.” Newt tilted his head. “Something happen?”

    “There are a lot of sides of me you haven’t seen,” Robyn said, smirking.

    “It is nice,’ Newt murmured, playing down his cup on the table beside his chair and standing up with a groan. “I think I’m a little curious as to exploring these… new sides.” He mused.

    “Slow down!” Robyn laughed again. “Listen, after tomorrow’s op, we can actually have this conversation properly, yeah?”

    “Sounds good to me, pirate girl.” Newt winked.

    “Pirate girl?!” Robyn burst into howling laughter once again, while her hand motioned towards her eye patch. “Seriously? That's almost in bad taste."

    “Whatever happened to not waking anybody up?” Newt whispered softly. “Never thought a considerate woman like you could be so loud.”

    “Go to sleep, idiot.” Robyn murmured, a grin spreading across her face. She hadn’t felt this elated in a long time, and she wanted to cling on to the feeling. However, she hadn’t lost track of reality. They were going to be fighting to their deaths tomorrow, and they needed all the rest they could get. That was the thought that made her put Newt away. If she could, she would have him stay here all night, even if that only scratched the surface of what she wanted.

    “I'll go to bed,” Newt said, “but I won't fight tomorrow until I have this.” And before Robyn realised what was happening, he had already walked over and planted his lips on hers.

    At first, her brain shrieked at her to pull away, but Robyn had other plans. After a few seconds of getting over the sudden shock, she sank into the kiss and embraced Newt. His lips were warm, unbelievably warm. She wasn't familiar with the emotions coursing through her body, but God, she loved it. And then all too soon, Newt pulled away. “We really should be going to bed.” He said, almost reluctantly. “I'll see you in combat uniform tomorrow, pirate girl.”

    “Good night.” Robyn gave a small wave of her hand. And with that, Newt left the room, leaving Robyn in solitude. She sat in the room for another half hour, lost in her thoughts, and eventually went up to her own room and dreamt of Newt.
    5 o’clock in the morning, Ark Angel and Hellbringer were flying into Japanese airspace, into Kyoto. The night sky was practically glittering with stars, and the moon was brilliantly bright at this time. The units were flying in three different drones, self-flying helicopters. Once their passengers had jumped off, they would automatically activate their cloaking devices and turn around. Hellbringer had Aurora as their commander, and they were using their own carrier, callsign Alpha. Robyn, Ethan, Sakura and Mini were flying in the Bravo helicopter. They would deploy in the forest outside the facility to set up sniper lines and explosive traps. Newt, Mel, Blythe and Fletch were being deployed by callsign Charlie, they would deploy into the local village and eliminate any threats there before approaching the facility on foot and making the rendezvous with Bravo team. Once the link up was complete, they would enter the facility and stop the missile launch, hopefully in time for dinner.


    ~


    “Everyone clear on the plan?” Newt shouted. “Everybody know what they're doing?”


    “Yes sir!” Multiple voices shouted in response, either on his radio or right in front of him. Charlie team were getting their drop equipment ready. Mel was checking everyone's harnesses to make sure they were secure. If one fell apart while dropping, there would be no reserve chute.


    “Charlie, this is Alpha team.” Aurora's voice appeared on the radio. “We're breaking away and scouting the facility. Good luck, over.”


    “Copy, Alpha. Good luck, out.” Newt replied, and cut the connection only after he heard Aurora bark at someone supposedly called Kane. “Bravo team, do you copy?”


    “Loud and clear.” Robyn responded. “We're approaching our drop window.”


    Below him, Newt could see a gigantic forest stretching for miles behind him. Trees towered over the ground, as if trying to reach the helicopters. There were no lights in the forest he could see, which was good. Either no one down there was awake, or there had been no one down there to begin with. One way or another, no one would see them.


    “Greenlight for drop, Bravo.” Newt said. “Good luck.”


    “Good luck to you too. Out.” Robyn replied. The connection cut out. Newt could only assume that she and her squad had parachuted out of their drone, and his assumption was confirmed by a nerve-racking shriek from Ethan as he dropped like a stone. Newt couldn’t help but give a light chuckle.


    Newt turned around to face his squad. Blythe was checking Mel’s harness, patting her down and doing whatever to make sure it was secure. Newt honestly had no idea what she was doing until Blythe beckoned him towards her. He walked towards her and turned around so Blythe could work on his pack. A few seconds later, she patted his shoulder to indicate that he was good to go.


    “Charlie team, ready for drop.” Newt shouted.


    “Copy.” They replied. Everyone rushed over to the left hand side of the cargo bay and attached their harnesses to the rail overhead. Once they were ready to drop, they would run straight out of the drone and parachute. Newt was closest to the cargo door, followed by Fletch, Mel and finally Blythe at the rear. “Cargo hatch opening now.” Blythe informed.


    As she said this, the back of the helicopter folded away slowly to reveal the night sky, grey and dismal. Newt’s ears were instantly filled with the sound of wind flooding the drone. He grabbed the sidebar, just to be sure he wouldn’t accidentally fall over and make himself look ridiculous. “Blythe, call individual drops!” Newt shouted.


    “Go!” She responded, and Newt started jogging slowly towards the cargo door, picking up speed as he went. He was going at a full sprint by the time he reached the door and leaped out into the freezing air. Newt held his breath for the first few seconds of the fall, his skin prickling at the sudden cold.


    As he fell, he heard Blythe shout the command again, and he saw Fletch drop from the drone. Newt paid no attention to him as he gazed downwards and focused on his own flight path.


    In fact, he had been so focused that he hadn't noticed the last parachute from the drone stray from the other three, headed west.


    ~


    “Markus, do you copy?” Aurora hissed. She was crouching among a pile of bushes alongside two of her squad mates, concealed and out of sight. They had been there for a few minutes, waiting for their greenlight to advance towards the launch facility and scout it out. But her colleague beside her - she went by the name Kane - had tapped her shoulder and pointed at the sky where she could see four parachutes, but one seemed to be going off course.


    “Loud and clear, Alpha.” A gruff, manly voice replied.


    “Looks like one of Charlie's assets are straying from the course. Alert Charlie Commander Newton and relay any other information to him.”


    “Roger. You have the greenlight to approach the facility. Make sure you do not get spotted, else the entire operation becomes a bust. Do not engage until Bravo and Charlie teams are with you.” Markus stated, his monotonous voice drilling its words into Aurora's head. “Wildfire out.”


    ~


    Fletch hit the ground with a lot more force than he should have, grunting with the sudden impact and rolling for a few more metres. His clothes were muddy and dirty by the time he got himself back up. He hastily grabbed his weapon which was lying in a little ditch, an arm's reach away. The weapon itself was somewhat clean, thankfully. As Fletch picked it up, his earpiece buzzed and Newt's voice came on. “Squad, regroup on me.”


    As Fletch scanned the area searching for one of his team, he absorbed details of his surroundings. He'd landed just outside a forest, not as large as the one they'd been flying over, nor was it as dense. A light road had been marked into the ground, eroded by people walking on it and time. In the moonlight, the leaves appeared almost purple, as did the grass. Above the forest, the moon lingered, larger than Fletch had ever seen it. He would have stuck around to admire the sight around him if he didn't have a job to do. He found Newt standing a few metres away, conversing with the bright green haired girl that was Mel. He ran over to where they were, almost tripping over on the way and skidding to a halt in front of them.


    “Where's Blythe?” Newt demanded.


    Fletch instantly frowned as he suddenly realised the absence of a team mate. “No idea, sir.” He replied, shaking his head. Suddenly their earpieces cracked simultaneously, and an old male voice spoke.


    “Charlie, this is Markus. You'll address me as Command from here on.”


    “Who the hell invited him…?” Mel muttered under her breath.


    “Sailynn just activated her emergency transponder. She's half a klick west of your position, in the local village, over.”


    “That's on the other side of the forest. She must've been captured, damn it.” Newt cursed. “Copy, Mar - Command. Thanks for the relay. Out.”


    “Command.” Mel scoffed. “Sometimes that old man gets too full of himself.”


    “Cut the chatter. We have to get to Blythe. On me,” Newt ordered. Mel fell in line behind Newt, and Fletch behind her. They all readied their firearms and entered the forest.


    ~


    Staff Sergeant Dunn wasn't usually fazed by front line combat, but this was bigger than anything he'd ever seen.


    It had all happened so fast. One minute the base had been on break, relaxing and drinking. The next minute, they were on full alert, alarms wailing and armoured vehicles rolling out. Dunn's Captain had told him that New York's coast was under attack by Russian submarines launching missiles. However, once Dunn and his squad had been deployed into New York, he realised it was a lot worse.


    Gas attacks. A bioweapon dubbed Chimera had been unleashed all over the world. Millions had lost their lives as a result. But America had taken the brunt of the impact, because now Russian tanks were rolling down the streets and firing at anything that did damage, whether that meant buildings or civilians. Thousands alone had died from the Russian forces, but it didn't end there. FLIR satellites had identified fighter jets roaring across the sky above Manhattan as Japanese, and these were also firing on civilians and buildings. Many of the Army Platoons and even the Rangers had been killed.


    So far, no other country had made to assist them in pushing back the Russian and Japanese forces. Dunn had tried to contact a radio station after his communication line with command had been knocked out. Miraculously he got someone on the line, a British male who called himself Ark Angel. However he hadn't managed to relay any useful information before a Japanese fighter launched an airstrike on his street, and his team had been forced to take cover inside the embassy. The connection had been cut from there.


    Staff Sergeant Jack Dunn wasn't usually one for religious ideology, but once he had gotten inside the building, he fell to his knees and prayed silently to whatever God would answer him.


    ~


    “Charlie One, this is Bravo One.”


    “Copy, Robyn. What’s up?” Mel and the remainder of her squad were ascending the hill that the village lay on. Fletch had pinpointed Blythe’s location at the east end of the village, which was where they were approaching from.


    “We’ve run into a problem.” Robyn explained. “The area surrounding the facility has a perimeter of electrified fencing, and we aren’t equipped to vault over it.”


    “Damn.” Newt said out loud. “Okay. Alright, Bravo, this is Newt. We’re currently on a search and rescue mission for Blythe. Once we’ve secured the package, we’ll advance towards any power lines and knock them out. That’ll get you time to cut through the fence before backup power activates.”


    “Bravo copies all. We’ll hold position here until you knock out the power. Out.”


    Charlie team had arrived at the edge of the village. A single outhouse lay in front of them, a shabby little shack built from rotten wood. Mel almost didn’t see it against the night sky. Luckily it seemed empty after a quick search through the open window. Afterwards they walked up to the stone wall that surrounded the village. It was in better condition than the outhouse, but that wasn’t saying it was in good condition. Parts of the wall had been chipped away, little stones and pebbles lay on the ground beside it. Mel boosted Fletch over the wall due to his small size, Newt climbed over just fine.


    By the time Mel had entered the village, Newt and Fletch were already on their way to the closest house. It was painted green - a horrible colour for a house, Mel thought - and one of the windows had been smashed. There were no lights inside. “She’s either in here or the house directly opposite us.” Newt said in a hushed tone. “Stay quiet, we don’t want to attract attention to ourselves. Not until we knock out the power, because people will definitely notice then.”


    “I spotted a transmission tower outside the village.” Fletch said. “We can blow its legs and it’ll collapse.”


    “We don’t have explosives.”


    “Blythe might be carrying some. She’s pretty good with explosives.” Mel remarked. “Fletch, go around back and find a way to kill the power to this house.”


    “Got it.” Fletch turned around and disappeared behind the house, leaving Mel and Newt stacked up at the front door. Both of them brought the consoles on their forearms into view, and tapped a single button. Instantly Mel’s world turned green as the night vision mod activated. A few seconds later, Fletch’s voice appeared on the radio. “Alright, I’ve cut the power. Go.”


    Mel pushed the door handle down slowly. Surprisingly it wasn’t locked, allowing her and Newt to enter the living room. The room was not very big, only having enough space for a small television and an old couch, which was occupied by the green silhouette of a sleeping cat curled up on the armrest. She took care to step silently, as to not wake the cat and alert anyone in the house.


    A finger tapped Mel’s shoulder, and she turned around to see Newt. He pointed two fingers at the ceiling to indicate that he was moving upstairs. Mel nodded, a silent message to say she would stay down here. Newt did not respond as he turned around and slowly ascended the stairs.


    “Mel, it’s Fletch. I’m coming in through the back door.” A voice said, out of nowhere. The sudden break of silence made Mel jump, but she calmed down quickly and watched the kitchen door open slowly and Fletch’s small, timid face peek out.


    “You should really put your weapon through the door before your head,” Mel whispered softly. “Having a hole in your gun is better than having a hole in your skull.”


    “I’ll keep that in mind,” Fletch hissed, though he fell silent as soon as he heard someone descending the staircase, and Newt came through the door Fletch did.


    “She’s not here. She has to be in the other house.” He said. “Front door. Move quickly, the sun’s coming up.”


    Mel was a little surprised. Either dawn was very early in Japan or they’d been here much longer than she’d thought. She went to the door quickly, Fletch and Newt in tow. They sprinted silently to the house opposite the one they’d infiltrated, and held position at the front door.


    “To hell with stealth,” Newt grumbled as he spun his entire body around and shoved his foot into the door. The sound of the door slamming into the floor was so loud that Mel heard it echo throughout the village. If anyone was in the house, they’d definitely be awake now. “Guns at the ready. Mel, take point. We’ll cover you,” Newt commanded.


    Mel wasted no time as she rushed into the house, handgun already locked and loaded. Two armed soldiers suddenly appeared in the corridor, handling two assault rifles. Two shots and they were bleeding on the floor. “Up the stairs, move!” Newt barked.


    She flew up the stairs in less than a second, shooting down one other soldier who had been caught unaware of what was happening. Once Mel made sure he was dead, she turned to the single door that occupied the first floor. Inside the room, she could hear muffled shouting and the loading of rifles. She strained her hearing, and she could just make out the sound of a female voice struggling.


    “Sounds like this is the place,” Newt said. “These guys are mine.” Before anyone could object, Newt had already slammed his boot into the door and sent it flying. The two men holding Blythe captive succumbed to their gunshot wounds before the door hit the floor.


    Blythe was tied up in a cheap wooden chair, hands and feet bound by ropes. Her weapons were laid out on a table behind her directly next to the window. “Mel, untie her quickly.” Newt ordered.


    Mel walked over to behind Blythe, and gazed at Newt. He understood the silent signal and tossed one of his knives to her, which she caught by the handle easily. One quick slash and her hands were unbound, another slash and her feet were free. “You guys sure took your time,” Blythe murmured. “I really thought you were gonna leave me behind.”


    “That was my first thought,” Newt said, “but you had all the C4. We’re gonna need it. We’re gonna blow up the transmission tower up north so Bravo team can breach the perimeter.”


    “Sounds like a plan,” Blythe said as she slowly got up from the chair. She picked up her weapons from the table, her trusty iron pipe and a classic carbine rifle. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!”


    ~


    “Bravo, it’s Charlie.”


    “Copy, Charlie. What’s your status?”


    “We’ve secured Blythe and we’re on our way to the tower, over.” Newt said.


    “Copy. We’ll be ready.” Ethan replied.


    The transmission tower was very tall, painted with large red and white stripes. It stood upon a large stone slab, and the tower overlooked the cliff, its bottom being a good few hundred metres down. “Blythe, get explosives on the two legs nearest to the cliff. Hurry,” Newt barked.


    He watched her run towards the tower while unshouldering her pack and extracting two slabs of plastic explosives. Blythe set one on the left leg of the tower, taking care that it was secure and wouldn’t fall off. She did the same to the second leg, and shouted at everyone. “Explosives set! Get back!”


    Newt stepped back, but didn’t get very far before Blythe had already caught up with him. “Now?” She asked.


    “Now.” Newt confirmed, and Blythe pressed the detonator. Instantly two loud explosions burst through the air as the C4 combusted, leaving orange clouds and smoke where Blythe had set them. The foundations of the two legs were nowhere to be seen, completely obliterated by the explosion. Shortly after the explosions, Newt’s ears cringed at the sudden screeching of the tower slowly tilting towards the cliff. It got louder the further it fell until the wires it carried snapped with a distinct crack and the entire structure sank into the cliff, shaking the ground beneath them.


    “Bravo team, the tower’s down! Get cutting!” Newt shouted into the comms.


    “Backup power in twenty seconds,” Fletch warned, staring into his console.


    “Roger, cutting. Standby,” Ethan replied, and he could be heard hissing, “You’re insanely slow, you know that?”


    “I’m doing the best I can!”
    Robyn protested.


    “Ten seconds!” Fletch said.


    “Okay, we’re through! Thanks for the help, Charlie.” Ethan sighed.


    “Not a problem, Bravo.” Newt said. “We’ll rendezvous in fifteen minutes outside the main entrance of the facility. Set up sniper positions and explosive lines until we get there. Out.” He cut the radio connection and glanced back at his team, standing to attention and awaiting their commander’s orders. “Good work, people. Follow me, we’re going to find Bravo team.”
    The dry, autumn leaves crunched as Sakura sneaked among the bushes and trees, a bag full of explosive claymores and C4 on her back, weighing her down. She didn’t know how long she’d been planting her share of Mini’s firepower, her legs were burning from exhaustion from carrying the heavy weight. Mini had told her to place explosives in places where any enemies might take cover, such as behind a tree or hill, but Sakura felt she had so many that she might as well cover the entire ground with them. She checked her pack and groaned at seeing the bag not even half empty. She must have been wandering around the forest for at least fifteen minutes, but it felt like hours. That was why she was so relieved when Mini signalled her radio and told her to come back to the rendezvous point. She had been waiting for Newt and the rest of Alpha team to come back just so she could be done with this business.


    Sakura planted one more claymore mine between two small sycamore trees, almost falling over while she crouched down and gently rested the metal explosive on the ground, pressing the button on its side to arm it. The tiny LED light flashed red to indicate a successful prime, and Sakura turned around and slowly made her way back to the rest of her squad.


    When she came out of the forest muddy and gross, Mini looked up from her work, messing with a strange type of machine Sakura had never seen before. She didn't get the opportunity to ask what it was before Mini hastily slipped it into her pocket. Sakura didn't really want to know, either. Mini was quiet, but she knew her way around an explosive. If she was messing with it, that was a signal to Sakura to maintain a five mile radius.


    “Is Charlie here yet?” Sakura asked tiredly.


    “Almost. They're just coming up the road now.” Mini muttered and pointed a calloused finger east. Sakura gazed in that direction and managed to pick out four figures walking up the hill, no doubt Charlie team.


    Sakura's radio suddenly crackled to life, making her jump slightly. When she calmed down, she listened to Robyn talking over the comms. “Mini, Sakura, stay behind the tree line. Ethan and I are gonna go and brief Charlie.”


    “Okay. We're headed there now.” Mini disregarded formal military language as she got to her feet and beckoned Sakura back into the forest with her. She followed without a word.


    ~


    The facility looked a lot smaller than Newt had expected. The wall surrounding it was a simple stone wall, though it was evidently better maintained than the wall of the local village. There was a small section of wire fence, with a door made of the same material. There weren't any padlocks or anything like that on the door, so Newt assumed it was either alarmed or unlocked. Possibly both.


    He could just about see a few of the buildings over the wall. These had multiple stories and black tinted windows, but they weren't like the industrial buildings one would find in a city. They were much smaller, and probably weren't used as much.


    On approaching the stone wall, Newt's earpiece came to life, and Ethan's voice came on over the radio. “This is Bravo. We've got a visual in you, approaching from the tree line north of you, over.”


    Before Newt could even respond, there was already the sound of leaves being crunched underfoot as two people walked out of the trees that Ethan had pointed out. They both wore green ghillie suits, to camouflage and blend in with the trees and ground. Both had sniper rifles in their hands.


    The person closest to the wall spoke, and his voice revealed him to be Ethan. “Glad you made it,” he nodded, “but watch your step around here. Mini and Kurann were planting a hell of a lot of explosives, and I don't know where they are.” He shrugged while giving a light but nervous chuckle.


    “You're clear on what you're doing?” Newt asked.


    “Affirmative.” The second ghillie sniper spoke, Robyn. “We'll provide sniper support until you clear a path to the main elevator. We'll rendezvous there once we're clear of resistance.”


    “Good.” Newt nodded in approval. “Where the hell is Alpha? Weren't they supposed to group up here with us?”


    “No idea. I tried contacting them but there's no response.” Ethan said.


    “Aurora better have a damn good explanation.” He sighed. “Okay, doesn't matter. We'll wait ten minutes. If they don't give us the go, sod it. We'll move in anyway. We move forward with the plan.”


    “Sounds good.” Ethan nodded. “Mini and Kurann are waiting in the trees. Come join us, if you will.”


    “I wouldn't mind that.” Newt grinned.


    ~


    “So let me get this straight.” Aurora said. “You want me to not alert Ark Angel and leave them in the dark?”


    “That's about it, Alpha.” The gruff old man responded.


    “What the hell? Why?” Aurora demanded.


    “I can't tell you that, but -”


    “Wildfire, I'm not going to act unless you give me a good reason to. So until you can do that, I'll be giving them the nod.”


    Aurora and her squad were leaning against the stone wall surrounding the facility, unaware that Bravo and Charlie were on the opposite side of the compound. Two sniper assets, Reyes and Griff, were set up on the hill closest to them, two sniper rifles engaged and ready to go.


    “Fine.” Markus replied with a heaving sigh. “There's been a change of plans. There's a package I need you to pick up.”


    “I'm not your postman, Markus.”


    “Not a literal package, you dolt.”


    “Yeah, whatever.” Aurora rolled her eyes. “What is it?”


    “A person. Hostage.”


    “And why are they so important to you?”


    “Because he knows where Michael Kratos is.”


    Aurora froze. She had not expected that. “Got a name?”


    “No chance, kid.”


    “Don't call me that. What do you want us to do?”


    “I already told you. You're going to rescue him. They're moving him soon, so act quickly.”


    “And who are ‘they'?” Aurora pressed on. This was too sudden, there must have been another reason for this.


    “You ask too many questions. Your job is to follow orders, not question them. Get it done, out.” Aurora could hear Markus huff exasperatedly before cutting the voice connection.


    The rest of Alpha team stared at Aurora curiously as she removed the radio from her ear and threw it to the ground with a grunt of anger. She planted her foot on it, pressing down on the earth as hard as she could, completely obliterating the device. “What the hell are you doing?” Kane hissed.


    “New objective.” Aurora stated flatly. She definitely was not in the mood for attitude. “We're leaving Bravo and Charlie behind for now. The location's marked on your consoles. Get moving, now.”


    ~


    “It's been ten minutes. We'd better move in.” Ethan remarked.


    “I'm going to kill Aurora for this. Come on, let's go.” Newt picked up his assault rifle lying next to him and slowly got to his feet. “You're sure Alpha isn't responding?”


    “Affirmative.”


    Sakura sighed. “They're the biggest squad out of us. With them out of the game -”


    “We're at a disadvantage, but it doesn't matter. We'll just have to fight harder.”


    “That’s easier said than done.” Blythe countered. “Fighting harder is difficult when we’re going to be shot at on sight.”


    “It’s the only choice we have, unless Aurora and her squad pull off some heroic last minute rescue.” Newt rolled his eyes.


    “Aurora isn’t one for theatrics,” Mel interrupted. “I don’t know what she’s doing, but I trust her. She’ll come through.”


    “She’d better.” Robyn spat. “We could be corpses by the time they ‘rescue us.’” She stressed her last words with finger quotes.


    “Cut the chatter, people.” Ethan said. “We’ve wasted enough time as it is.”


    “Right.” Newt nodded in agreement. “Come on.”


    ~


    74.


    Robyn was the first to break through the treeline and emerge into the open daylight. It had been quite a few hours since they had first deployed into Kyoto, and Robyn had to put up a hand to shield her eye against the sun. Even though she'd gone through the plan a million times in her head, Robyn still felt there were some variables that needed to be considered. She just didn't know what those variables were, apart from the fact that they were a squad down.


    Robyn tried thinking about what could've happened to Alpha. Maybe they had run into enemy resistance. If that was the case, they should have been dead already. Perhaps that old man Markus had something to do with it. Robyn really did not trust Markus. She'd seen the US Rangers operate before, and they were quite efficient. Markus had been fully prepared to bury Robyn under a Russian gulag as long as his fighter jets stayed in the sky. She didn't know why. What had she done to him? Perhaps it was just selfishness, or duty, maybe even just a general disregard for women. If that was the case, Robyn was going to exchange a few words with him, in a dark alleyway with no witnesses.


    Her thoughts were interrupted by Newt's hand resting gently on her shoulder, and she almost shuddered at the sudden contact. She turned her head and smiled, then realised that Newt couldn't see her face through the ghillie. He could have been serenading Ethan for all he knew. “Something wrong?” Newt asked. 29.


    “No.” Robyn said shortly, and immediately regretted her sudden outburst. Newt didn't seem to mind, nor did he pry as he gave her a friendly nod and turned to the others.


    Ethan walked up to her boldly, sniper rifle slung across his back. “You know, we've got the easy job here,” he said. “Just stand out of the way and eliminate long distance targets. It's really unlikely we'll be hurt.” 42.


    “That's not what I'm worried about.” Robyn replied tiredly. If she was in a better mood, she would've chided him for thinking she was that selfish. But despite his carefree attitude, she liked to keep him around for moral support. “I'm more worried for the others. If they get hurt -”


    “They won't.” Ethan reassured. His expression softened and he tried for a small smile. “Because we'll be covering them. We are the two most elite sniper assets around, after all. If we have their backs, we'll all leave this place alive.”


    “You sound confident. Too confident,” Robyn furrowed her brow.


    “You know, it's really hard to make an awe inspiring speech if you're just going to shut it down like that.”


    Robyn laughed out loud, and for a moment in time there, she believed him. Maybe they would get out alive. And then that feeling was back, the dread that haunted her about what was about to happen. She wished it would go away, because that was the last thing she needed before she entered the battlefield. “We'll try to stay quiet, yeah?” Robyn nudged Newt. “No use compromising ourselves unnecessarily.” 27.


    “If we had a larger force, perhaps.” Newt shrugged. “But since… yeah.” He let the sentence hang, they'd already discussed Alpha's uncalled for absence many times. “I'm gonna kill Aurora for this,” he repeated.


    “You keep saying that, and you'll make me worry for her life.”


    Newt opened his mouth to respond, but their conversation was cut short by Sakura's voice, desperate and frantic. “Heads up!” She shouted, and Robyn turned to look at her pointing down the way Newt's team had come. “Enemy patrol down there!”


    Robyn rushed to the crest of the hill, Newt tailing closely behind her. She squinted against the brilliant sunlight, but sure enough there was a large patrol headed their way, and fast. Infantry were running towards the facility, and small mobile tanks were slowly scaling the hill. “How the hell did they find us?” Robyn breathed.


    “I don't think they did.” Newt admitted. “They might not know we're here. Perhaps they work here. Uh… you okay there, Mini?” Robyn turned to see Mini staring at the tanks, eyes wide in fear and hands on her face. 64.


    “If they don't know about us now,” she said slowly, “they definitely will in a few seconds.”


    “What? Why?”


    “Because I planted explosives there.”


    And just at that moment, one of the tanks burst into flames, swallowed by the smoke and fire. The sound sliced through the air and reached Robyn's ears. The foot soldiers started shouting in panic, weapons out and looking for hostiles. “Damn it,” Newt snarled.


    “You know what they say. If you're gonna screw up, get it out of the way early!” Ethan shouted, already adapting the prone firing position and aiming down his sniper sights.


    “Guess we're staying put,” Robyn shrugged before copying Ethan's posture and loading her sniper rifle. “Get the gate open while we hold them off!” She shouted over the deafening sound of Ethan's weapon firing.


    ~


    “Stupid Markus, stupid hostage…” Aurora grumbled as she dragged her rifle across the ground through the forest. Her squad mates had given her concerned looks the entire time they had been walking. Kane had even asked if she was okay, and it had taken two other people to keep Aurora from punching her face. After that incident, they more or less left her alone, which she thought was good. That gave her space to think. What the hell was Markus thinking? Newt needed her support. Their chances of success would drastically decrease without them, not to mention their chances of survival too. Why was this hostage so important? Who were they? And how did they know where Kratos was? There were just too many holes to fill.


    Since Aurora had destroyed her earpiece, her squad had to stay close to her so she could command them. That made movement very difficult as they kept tripping over each other and generally being a nuisance, so Aurora was relieved when she stopped at the location marked.


    It was a lot less impressive than Aurora had thought. It was only a simple shed, built from rotten oak wood and a worn out slate roof. It was quite literally a random wooden house in the middle of the woods. Aurora actually debated turning back. If Markus had brought her here, he must have been playing some sick joke. Then again, she'd disobeyed an order before, and that was not an experience she needed again.


    Aurora threw up a hand, signalling her people behind to stay where they were. She removed the handgun from her holster and brought the sights to her eye as she slowly approached the shed. It didn't seem out of the ordinary, but she noticed that the windows had been tinted black, making it impossible to look in from outside. That meant she had to go in.


    She looked back at Kane, her new second-in-command after Ellie. She twirled two fingers in the air facing the ground, knowing Kane would understand the hand signal: Set up a perimeter around the shed.


    Kane nodded and beckoned the rest of the squad to join her. In a matter of seconds the entire Alpha squad adopted crouching stances around the shed, weapons trained on the surrounding forest. Aurora walked to the door and placed her hand gently on the rusty handle. For a moment, she considered whether doing this was worth anything at all. She didn't know what she was walking into, but that didn't matter. Her job was to follow orders, not question them. With that thought in mind, Aurora forced the door open.


    And almost plummeted down into a manhole.


    Aurora caught herself on the doorframe just before she fell. She found herself staring into darkness, a pitch black hole situated right in the middle of the room. The ladder that complimented it only reached down a few metres before being enveloped by the darkness.


    Aurora's instincts shrieked at her to leave this place. It just didn't feel right. Random holes in misplaced sheds usually rang many alarm bells. She hated it, but she knew she had to go down and see what was there. She was still staring into the hole when Kane outside shouted, “What's the play, boss?”


    “I told you to stop calling me boss, Kane. It feels weird.”


    “Whatever. What do you want us to do?”


    Aurora stood there for a few seconds, engrossed in thought before shouting back, “I want you and Keith coming with me. Everyone else, hold this perimeter until we get back. All clear?”


    Kane and another man walked into the shed with Aurora, Keith almost falling into the hole and saving himself the same way she had. “What the -” he started.


    “I know. It's odd,” Aurora sighed. “But you know we don't get to choose our missions. The package is a hostage who has actionable intel. We're gonna go in there, grab the package and get out. After that, we're gonna do what we should have done and help Newt's squad out.”


    “Oo-rah…” Keith slurred. “After you, m'lady.”


    Well, better than being called boss, Aurora thought as she slung her gun across her back. She sat at the edge of the hole and felt the ladder with her feet until she found a rung. She lowered herself onto it slowly while her hands reached for the rung above. Once she had a stable stance, she moved her foot down a step and descended the ladder into total darkness.
    “Guys, I need that gate open now!” Newt roared over the sound of his rifle. Masses of enemy soldiers were assaulting the hill where Bravo and Charlie squad were. On the horizon, a few tanks could be seen rolling in their direction.


    “I'm on it!” Blythe called. The sounds of gunfire and shouting filled the air as she rushed towards the gate while thrusting a hand at it. Her fingers made contact and she pushed with all her strength, but to no avail. Despite its appearance, the gate was locked. “It's locked!” She shouted.


    “You're really gonna let a latch stop us?” Robyn called without turning away from her sniper sights. “Make a hole or something, somehow! Is there anything in your pack?”


    That gave Blythe an idea, and she thrust a hand into her pack. A few seconds later, she found what she was looking for - a small aerosol can that appeared to be a normal can of deodorant, but would in fact burn clean through human skin. It would also burn through metal fences such as this one. “It'll take a while for this to cut through, at most five minutes!” Blythe informed.


    “I don't care! Do what you have to!” Newt shouted.


    “Enemy dropship inbound!” Fletch warned. Suddenly there was a large whoosh sound in the air, and a large shadow passed over them. A massive aircraft had entered the battle, and the cargo doors on its sides were slowly opening. Even before they had opened fully, foot soldiers were already jumping out and rappelling down to the ground to join the already threatening hostile forces. The dropship pulled back into the sky, engines roaring as it shot away from the battlefield.


    Blythe popped off the cap of the can, aiming the nozzle at the locking mechanism. The metal hissed quietly, with only a small stream of smoke to show that the spray was effective. The sweat on her palms made the can slip slightly from her hand, but she kept the nozzle pressed down firmly until the can was empty, and she tossed it to the side. The wire was starting to stain green, meaning it was slowly corroding. “It’s working!”


    “Good, now help us!” Ethan shouted. More dropships were approaching the hill, deploying yet more infantry and even armoured vehicles. Loud explosions were frequent as Mini’s and Sakura’s claymores were triggered by foot soldiers walking over them. As Blythe rushed over to where her team were situated, Newt tossed her a small weapon, a submachine gun. She fumbled around with the magazine until she finally slot it into the gun and went to join Newt and Mel, who were firing at the flanks of the enemy.


    “Are those mech suits?” Fletch screamed from behind them. Blythe gazed down the hill, and sure enough, she could see humanoid figures marching on the path, although much bigger than the average sized human. When she squinted, she could just about pick out the colossal mini-guns mounted on both arms.


    “Yes, Fletch,” Sakura said matter-of-factly, “those are mech suits.”


    “Sakura, can you hijack one of those?” Newt asked.


    “Sure, I’ll just walk up to them and ask nicely.” She rolled her eyes.


    “Not the time for sarcasm!” Ethan yelped. “They’re getting closer!”


    “Does anyone have something? Grappling hook, explosives, anything?”


    Fletch piped up. “I’ve got a hook,” he exclaimed.


    “Uh… why?” Mel asked, raising an eyebrow.


    “No reason. Stop being so nosey!” He said accusingly.


    “Yeah, whatever. Go with Sakura,” Newt commanded, “and get hold of one of those mechs, somehow!”


    ~


    “Keep quiet! You’ll expose us!” Sakura scolded as she and Fletch waded through the trees, sidelining the battlefield. Sakura was really annoyed that she was in here once again, and she took special care not to trip over on the off-chance that she fell flat on a claymore mine. Fletch had almost stepped on one particularly concealed one, and she’d had to grab his arm and yank him towards her to save both of them.


    Fletch had the grapple device strapped to his right forearm which hung loosely by his side as he walked through the thick vegetation behind Sakura. She could see the raging battle from the corner of her eye - tanks roared as they advanced towards the hill where the rest of her team were fighting for their lives. Masses of infantry were sprinting ahead of the tanks and relentlessly firing rounds. Every so often a deafening rumble would fill Sakura’s ears as a dropship arrived and deployed yet more enemy soldiers and vehicles. If this kept up, they would all be dead in five minutes. The two of them kept moving silently until they were both too tired to carry on. After a few seconds to catch their breath, they exited the forest and found themselves behind the enemy lines.


    Sakura thought there were only many enemies coming, but now that she could see everything, her heart sank as she realised the true power of the forces approaching. Tanks upon tanks, an entire army of soldiers, and even the back line of Crusader mech suits… Ark Angel would be torn to shreds.


    Unless she could turn the tide of the battle. “Pass me the grappler, now.” Sakura said without even looking at him. He instantly unstrapped the device on his arm and tossed it to Sakura, who caught it flawlessly and attached it to her own arm. “Okay, let’s see…”


    She studied the back line of the enemy forces, built out of numerous mechs. She squinted to see them from the treeline, trying to pick out any details that would help her eliminate one of the operators and use the mech. At last, she found one. The mech operator on the right closest to the forest, their back was exposed. Sakura could easily reach in there and just pull them out, but it would take an age to run up to it, and her friends could very well be bleeding out by the time she did. She suddenly became aware of the heavy grappling hook on her arm, and formulated a quick plan.


    It would hurt the operator greatly, but she had no other choice. Sakura aimed at the mech suit, lining up the sights with the exposed back. She forced her eyes shut, and her thumb shook on the trigger. For them, she told herself. Sakura hated killing, but she knew it was sometimes necessary. For instance, it would hopefully save her friends’ lives. She would trade one life for others. With that thought in mind, she pulled the trigger with all the strength her quivering hand could muster.


    She hadn’t realised that even her legs were wobbly as the hook discharged from its barrel, and Sakura almost fell flat on her backside. She steeled herself though, and kept a stable stance until the hook reached the mech she was aiming for, and tore through the pilot.


    And she released the button, prompting the hook to retract. As it did so, Sakura stepped back and adopted her stance once again as hook and pilot flew towards her. “Be ready for the catch!” Fletch warned.


    “Catch?!” Sakura cried.


    “Yeah! You gotta render the operator immobile somehow!” He called. The pilot was coming closer and closer, and as each metre passed Sakura could see how fast he was moving. There was no way she could catch him. The most likely outcome was that they would both fall to the floor, and it would become a wrestling match. Yet she still held out her free arm, ready to receive the speeding incoming missile.


    Closer and closer, and Sakura got more nervous by the nanosecond. Before she even knew it, the pilot had already slammed into her, but miraculously she stood firm ground, much more stay standing at all. She held the pilot's head in her hands, raised to her shoulder height and writhing to escape her grip. Perhaps it was that relentless movement that made Sakura act next, but she didn't know. Before she realised what she was doing, Sakura had tightened her grip on the pilot's head, their screams visible through their helmet but inaudible. Then she ploughed the man's head into the ground as hard as she could.


    Instantly blood splattered over the bright green grass. A sickening crack made Fletch beside her wince as the pilot's skull fractured, and his entire head collapsed under Sakura's force. Added to the grappling hook penetrating his spinal cord, there was no chance of survival.


    Sakura gasped and instantly released the man, he flopped to the ground, dead and mangled. “I killed him,” she cried as she stared in horror at her hands, stained with blood. “Oh God, I killed him…” She hadn't intended to end his life. This had gone wrong, this had gone very wrong…


    “Hey! Earth to Sakura!” Sakura blinked and became aware of Fletch snapping his fingers in front of her face. “We still have friends to rescue. Get to the mech!”


    “Right!” Sakura did her best to shove aside the thought of the man's black blood and ran to the mech, which was now lying face down on the ground, with no pilot to pick it up. When she reached it, she quickly decided that the mech was still functional. She slipped into the suit quickly, sliding her arms and legs into the limbs of the mech. In a minute, she pushed the mech off the ground with its large guns, a warm growling noise issuing as the mech's weapons systems warmed up once more. “Newt, it's Sakura,” she activated her radio. “I've got possession of an enemy mech.”


    “That's good work, Sakura. Now get back here, the gate's almost open. Try to blow up some stuff on your way.”


    “Count on it,” Sakura allowed herself a grin and cut the connection.


    “Can I get my grappler back?” Fletch asked.


    “Sure, but how are you gonna get back? There's only space for one in this.”


    “You worry about yourself.” Fletch said as he caught the device. “Just tear them apart.”


    “I can do that.” Sakura nodded as she moved the mech so it faced the enemy forces, who were starting to realise what was happening. Fletch had already disappeared, so she was left to fend for herself. After a deep breath, she nailed down the triggers on both cannons and started devastating the enemy.


    ~


    Newt had run out of ammo two minutes ago, which left him defenseless and unoccupied. All he could do was point out targets for the people who still had ammo, but slowly they were all using up their magazines. He was barking commands at the sniper when Fletch suddenly appeared at his side, grappler on his arm. “Where is she?” Newt asked.


    “See for yourself,” was all he said as he pointed down the hill at the new destruction that was coming about. Explosions had started at the back lines of the enemy, and they were quickly making their way towards them. Newt didn't have to guess who was causing them.


    Suddenly there was a loud metal clang behind him, and he whirled around gun ready. But he immediately stood down when he saw only Blythe, crouching next to a gaping hole in the fence. “Gate's open,” she said casually.


    “Good work,” he nodded. “Everyone inside! Move!”


    One by one Newt's team left their position and ran to the gate and crawled through the hole. Newt was about to follow them when he heard another airy sound. He assumed it to be a dropship, meaning that the enemy forces didn't know that they'd breached the perimeter. He crawled through the hole in a hurry and followed his team who were trying to move around to get to the central building. “The elevator's in there, but we've got tanks circling the building!” Robyn shouted.


    Newt wasn't delaying this time. “Blythe, Mini, knock ‘em out, GO!” He roared. The two nodded to each other before both disappearing in the opposite directions to flank the enemy tanks.


    “More dropships coming in!” Mel warned.


    “Hostiles inbound from the elevator!”


    “Tank's locked on to you, Newt!” Ethan yelled. “Get out of the bloody way!”


    Newt turned back to the elevator, but it was blocked by a colossal T-88 tank. The T-88 had two machine guns on either of its flanks and a large main gun in the centre of its roof that fired explosive, devastating bolts. And the main gun was pointing exactly where Newt was.


    He did the most stupid thing at that point. He froze, and didn't move even after the tank fired straight at him with a loud explosion from its cannon. He clenched his eyes shut so that he wouldn't have to see the face of death.


    Except it never came. Newt heard the deafening sound of the shell exploding, but he didn't feel any different. Against his will, his eyes opened automatically.


    He no longer saw the tank, his line of sight was blocked by a large sheet of metal - no, not a sheet. A sheet would've been obliterated. This thing was stronger.


    And then the metal block that had saved his life lifted upwards, allowing Newt to see again. He looked up in case he needed to decide whether to run or engage. When he realised who had saved his life, he settled on neither.


    Sakura’s mechanical arm was smoking slightly, but still intact. Before the tank could get a chance to flee or take another shot, she grabbed the cannon of the main gun and literally snapped it in half with an ear piercing screech. Newt couldn’t even hear the other explosions of the tanks that Mini and Blythe were dismantling. Sakura dug the mech’s cannons under the tank and lifted. It took a few seconds but soon enough the tank ended up on its roof, rendered useless.


    Newt was surprised, but also quite impressed. “Thanks for the save,” he told Sakura.


    “Not a problem.” She shrugged. “But you need to get everyone into the elevator now. I spotted more reinforcements coming in from the north.”


    “What about you?” Newt asked, sizing up her mech. “You won’t fit into it in that thing.”


    “I’ll cover your escape and find my own way down. You won’t need to worry about me,” Sakura assured.


    “That won’t stop me from worrying, though.” He shook his head. “I’d be leaving you to the mercy of possible thousands of enemies.”


    “Those possible thousands of enemies are gonna kill us all if you don’t get everyone into the elevator.” Sakura turned around while spinning up her chain guns. “Go. I’ll make sure they don’t get to you. Be ready for anything.”


    As she stomped away, Newt realised she was right. He had to act fast, and make sure Sakura’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain. “Mini, status.” He spoke into the radio.


    “All armour neutralised. We’re coming back now.” She replied.


    “Okay. Everybody group up at the elevator, now.” He commanded. In less than a minute, everyone was at the elevator, waiting for its doors to open. “We’re all clear on the plan, right?” He asked. A series of rogers and affirmatives told him what he needed to hear. Newt heard a near inaudible humming noise, but it was growing louder. He assumed it to be the elevator coming up, and sure enough it clanged with the roof of the top floor.


    The doors opened swiftly with a loud hiss, and immediately two armed soldiers unexpectedly came barreling out of the doors. Despite being caught by surprise, Newt and Mini cut them down easily with their knives, both executing stabs to the abdomens and slashes on the neck. The two fell to the floor, blood leaking out and snaking through the ground. “Inside. Now!” Newt barked. They all rushed inside the box, and Newt made to stretch to press the basement button, but realised all the buttons were printed in Japanese. He had to ask Mini to press the right button, and then they were on their way down. It was awkwardly silent for a few seconds, and no one spoke to anyone. Then suddenly muffled explosions occurred, quite obviously above ground.


    Mini suddenly gasped. “Sakura’s still up there,” she whispered.


    “She’s fighting so we could finish the mission. Make sure she doesn’t fight for nothing.” Newt said as the elevator started slowing down as it reached the bottom floor. “Doors opening.”


    “Got multiple hostiles in the room ahead.” Robyn warned.


    “Wait for my go.” Newt waved a hand. He could see the soldiers in there, and none of them had noticed the elevator nor the people inside it. That was until the elevator hit the floor with another loud clang, and that seemed to grab their attention. They all whirled around to look at the elevator, and the opposing forces within it.


    “That’s a go.” Newt said casually.


    The soldiers never stood a chance as Ark Angel shredded them with their weapons, they didn’t even have to leave the box. “Reinforcements inbound!” Fletch warned as a door in sight burst open and more soldiers flooded the room.


    “Get out! Engage!” Newt barked as he clambered out of the box and reloaded his weapon. His team followed quickly, running ahead of him and providing cover fire while he reloaded. The explosions on the surface had become even louder and more intense, and Newt dreaded for Sakura's safety. In fact, he felt so guilty about letting her stay up there that he hadn't heard Blythe call out.


    “RPG! Get your heads down!” She shrieked. Before he even knew what was going on, Newt watched his team disperse and take cover behind boxes or walls, leaving only him in the open.


    Robyn opened her mouth to shout a warning, but it was cut short by a sudden burst of light in the hallway they were fighting in. That burst of light was headed rapidly in Newt's direction, the rocket sailing through the air, cutting through as if it was silk.


    Miraculously, the rocket missed him. Unfortunately, it hit and exploded on a brick column next to him, propelling Newt against the opposite wall and knocking the breath out of him. He heard someone scream his name, but he couldn't tell who. The column that the rocket had hit was cracked heavily, but it didn't end there. The column was starting to collapse, along with the floor.


    “Get out! Now!” He roared at his team. They scrambled away from him, and just in time too as the floor beneath Newt gave way and he fell through, hitting the floor below. He was winded once again, and try as he might, couldn't find the strength to pick himself up. He couldn't see properly, his vision was blurry and his whole body felt sore.


    His hearing was starting to improve since he could hear Robyn shouting from above. He could almost see her silhouette. “Stay there! I'm coming down to get you!” Her voice sounded like it was underwater, slurred and unclear. Unfortunately she never got a chance to rescue Newt before the floor beneath him collapsed again, making him fall another level. That floor broke under his momentum too, and the next, and the next. By the time he hit the bottom floor, Newt was out cold.


    ~


    Aurora hit the ground with a grunt, hands red from sliding down the last few metres of the ladder. Her teammates Kane and Keith shortly followed, disengaging their weapons as soon as they hit the ground. However, not a single shot was fired after they realised how empty the place was.


    The place was unlike anything Aurora had ever seen. The room they'd landed in wasn't large, but very dark. Fortunately light was streaming through an obvious doorway directly in front of them. After walking through this doorway, they could see the full extent of this place. The walls were a dark blue, but turquoise markings that looked uncannily like circuits were all over these walls, and they glowed brightly.


    “What the hell is this?” Keith whispered in awe.


    “Don't know,” Aurora answered, “and I don't care either. What matters is finding whoever's down here.”


    “Right.”


    They ventured through the underground building slowly. They stayed together in one group in fear of losing each other in the mess of winding passageways and tunnels. It felt like some sort of maze to Aurora. They had to go back the way they came several times when they found dead ends or locked doors. After fifteen minutes of wandering around this maze, Aurora estimated there were only a few passages left to explore. She turned left at her current position and probably would’ve been killed right there if Kane hadn’t pulled her back. “Whoa!” She exclaimed. “Check it. Turret above that doorway.”


    Aurora looked and found what Kane was looking at. Above the doorway ahead was the automatic turret, armed with twin cannons. It struck Aurora as odd because it should have been strafing and checking for threats. This one was just sitting there, staring at the floor. “I think it’s dead,” she said.


    “What the hell is this place?” Keith repeated. “Why is there a turret here? And why is it down?”


    “Cool it, Keith,” Aurora snapped. “Let’s find our package.”


    They approached the doorway, checking for threats inside before entering the room. This room looked massively different to the others, having simple walls and wooden floorboards. The room contained nothing save for the massive screen in the middle. It was pitch black, and there was a single chair behind the screen. No one occupied it.


    “Can you get that computer online?” Aurora asked.


    “I could try,” Kane said. She put her weapon on the floor as she approached the screen. She dropped to the floor and slid under it, reaching for what Aurora assumed were wires. Keith stayed at the door, watching for anyone coming their way. “This is gonna take -”


    Kane was cut off by a sudden shuffle of what sounded like boxes nearby. All three soldiers immediately engaged their weapons and walked slowly towards the sound. There were a lot of crates in the corner of their room. Aurora hadn’t noticed them before, but they were the only thing in the room apart from the computer. She also didn’t know if that was where the sound came from, but she shouted nonetheless: “Get out of there!”


    Her command was followed by a surprising high pitched whimpering noise. Aurora was even more surprised to find that the whimpering was caused by a man, who clambered out behind the crates and got himself to his feet. Before he could even look up, Aurora had already dropped her rifle and dug a handgun into his forehead. “You have two seconds to tell me who you are before I blow your brains all over the wall,” she snarled.


    The man yelped in fear, and his words came out in a panicked tone. “My name’s Devon, Devon Russell!” He squeaked. “Don’t shoot me!”


    He had a British accent, which was odd since they were in Japan. “What is this place? And why are you in it?” Aurora demanded. “Come on, I don’t have all day.”


    “Here?” Russell blurted. “This here is a bunker. For the missile, you see.”


    “Bunker? Why do you have turrets installed in a bunker?”


    “I don’t know! Michael told me to put them there! He never told me why!” He cried.


    “Michael? Michael Kratos? You work for him?” Keith spat. “Why, I oughta kill you right n-”


    “Stand down!” Aurora shouted. Keith froze. She turned back to Russell, and spoke in a softer voice. “I’ve been told you know where Kratos is. Tell me.”


    “He'll kill me if I do.” He said shortly.


    “I'll kill you if you don't.” Aurora retorted.


    “You can't kill me.”


    “And why would that be so?”


    “Because you need information. I know who sent you to find me.” Russell said. Aurora blinked. “I know who is up on the surface. I know who has gone to disarm the rocket. I know every single name. And I know why you're here.”


    “How,” Aurora growled. Not a question.


    “I'm a hacker and technologist for Michael. That computer there,” he pointed to the blank screen, “belongs to me. I killed it as soon as I saw you three on the camera feed.” He seemed particularly proud of himself.


    “Listen here, you little -” Keith started with a snarl.


    “STAND DOWN!” Aurora yelled for the second time. This time he shut up for good. “Look,” she told Russell, “I'll make a deal. If you tell me what I want to know, I'll get you out of here safely. I can send you to someone who'll protect you. All I want is Kratos’ location. Deal?”


    Devon Russell glared at her. “How do I know you aren't lying?” He muttered.


    “I'm a woman of my word. I don't make empty promises.” Aurora said. “Clock's ticking, Devon.”


    Russell sized them all up, and Aurora could see in his eyes that he realised he couldn't make an escape. With a sigh, he nodded. “Fine. I agree to your terms.”


    “Good choice. The location,” Aurora commanded.


    “Yes.” Russell dug in his pockets for a good few seconds before extracting a small metal device. Aurora’s hand instinctively reached for her gun in case he’d taken out a weapon, but he simply tossed it to her. “That's a cell phone, but not just any cell phone. There's only one contact saved on it. Fifty points if you can guess who it is.”


    “Kratos.” Aurora muttered.


    “Ding, ding, ding. When you call that number, the phone immediately starts tracing the location of Kratos’ phone, even if he doesn't pick up. You'll have it a couple of seconds after calling. Don't call him now,” Russell yelped as she flipped open the phone. “It'll only work once. Use it only when you have to.”


    “Understood.” Aurora slipped the phone into her breast pocket. She had what she came for. Now she could get back to the surface and help Newt. “Okay, we're leaving. Come on.”


    “Time for another really long walk.” Keith groaned.


    Russell coughed. “Actually, you won't need to walk.” He went to the computer and ducked under its screen. Within seconds he was back up, and the massive screen blinked to life. It showed different pictures - camera feeds, Aurora realised as she recognised the shed they'd entered from, and her troop of soldiers stationed outside. Russell flicked through each feed until he stopped on one. Aurora knew this one wasn't too far from the other one since she could see her squad in the corner of the screen. The rest of the feed was quite dark, but she could make out silhouettes - silhouettes of vehicles, jeeps.


    “Walking will take least half an hour to get there. Those will take you five minutes,” Russell said.


    “Nice,” Kane rolled her eyes, “so can we leave now?”


    “Yes, please.” Russell looked to Aurora. “I trust you'll keep your end of the -”


    He was cut short by a sudden bang from the corridor. Russell froze for a few seconds, then slowly slumped to the floor, blood oozing from the side of his head. Aurora watched the entire thing with wide eyes. Then she turned to where the gunshot had came from, but before she could even turn her head another shot issued from behind her. The soldier who had shot Russell collapsed to the ground immediately, and Aurora whirled behind her to see Keith's Desert Eagle's barrel smoking and aimed at where the soldier stood. “If he hadn't killed the Brit, I would have,” he snarled quietly.


    “More from the corridor!” Kane warned.


    At this point Aurora knew they were going to have to fight their way out of this bunker. She grabbed her rifle from the floor and activated her radio. “Paris, status!”


    A female voice replied, but she was crackly and distorted. The signal down here wasn't helping. She could hear the firefight happening in the background. “We've got problems! Lots of Nova Satus forces converging on our position! We've lost Clark and Judith!”


    “Paris, there are multiple jeeps near your position in the trees. Find them and hold position until we get to the surface!” Aurora shouted.


    “Roger. I'll send reinforcements your way. Haynes, Jackson, get down there and help them!”


    “Oh, it's on now, man,” Keith said as he unslung his shotgun. The corridor was flooding with uniformed fighters firing upon the three Hellbringer agents. Aurora fired her rifle in bursts, but she couldn't ignore the feeling of Russell's cell phone in her pocket, the one that had cost him his life. It felt like it was getting heavier and heavier, weighing down with Aurora's guilt that she had failed to deliver her promise to the technologist, and the dread of what would happen if they left this place alive.
    Newt woke up absolutely drenched. He was lying on the floor which was covered in a pool of water, so cold that it made him shiver. His head throbbed like hell, but he still forced himself to sit up and then stand. He only had a vague recollection of how he'd gotten here, most of it being falling for ages.


    Wherever he was, Newt couldn't see much since it was so dark. He'd lost his assault rifle while falling, leaving him with only his two knives to defend himself and find a way back to his team. He pushed his legs through the water as he pushed towards the nearest light, a dim but adequate light above a doorway. The water sloshed as he waded through, and Newt cringed because it made so much noise. He hadn't seen anybody down here yet, but he couldn't take chances. If someone saw him, he was dead.


    He was moving through what seemed like an office, each room contained a single table – most of these were overturned in the water – and occasionally something like a map or board. These obviously weren't in use now since they were at the lowest level and the water had destroyed most of the equipment.


    Newt's heart jumped into his chest when he caught movement directly in front of him. Panicking, he quickly submerged himself completely in the water, holding his breath as the armed man passed by. Newt knew how to open his eyes underwater. From his blurred image through the water, he wore a hazmat suit and mask, and was shining a flashlight through the darkness and on to the rotten walls. He hadn't seen Newt yet.


    A quick plan formulated in Newt's head. Stab the guy, keep moving. Seemed simple enough. He wouldn't even have to hurt him if he just passed by quietly. He wouldn't ever know that Newt was there.


    By the time Newt resurfaced however, the hazmat man was gone. No sign of him nor his flashlight. Newt decided that was a good thing. He levelled himself so that only his head was above the water and slowly cut through the water. He didn't know how or why the water was here, but it offered advantages and disadvantages. Newt had a place to duck under if he came across a hostile, but the water made way too much noise when he was walking.


    His earpiece crackled constantly while he travelled. There was no chance he was going to get a good signal down here, and even if he could, the water would've messed up the radio completely. Newt was on his own until he regrouped with his team. If he regrouped with his team.


    A flash of light crossed Newt's eyes again, and he immediately ducked underwater silently. Through the water he could see another yellow figure, probably another one wearing a hazmat. That put another question on Newt's mind. Why were they wearing hazmats?


    Alarm bells started ringing in his head as the person turned the corner and started walking in his direction, where he was submerged underwater. He had half the mind to literally spring out of the water and slash his throat, but that would be both noisy and unnecessary. He had to wait until he got closer and hit him before he realised what was happening. He had to hit him before he fell into the water, because Newt would have to catch him and let him down gently to avoid making noise.


    The guy was less than two metres away. Time to strike, now.


    Newt shot his right hand through the surface of the water. The soldier obviously must have noticed, judging from the sudden yelp and the splash of the flashlight hitting the water. Newt went to grip his chest tightly while he pulled himself up. He took one punch at his face, covered in a hazmat mask. His fist shattered the helmet and connected with the man's nose. He probably would have screamed had his neck not already been slit by Newt's knife. Newt cradled the man's head and back as he stumbled backwards, and slowly lowered his dying body down into the water silently. The whole process took around ten seconds.


    One down, Newt thought, probably only tons more to go.


    Fortunately for him, that wasn't the case. He'd only come across one other hazmat guard on his travels, and he had been another easy kill. The rest of the time was either spent hiding underwater or gliding through the water. Newt didn't know where he was going. He hadn't studied this floor on the schematics of the facility, because he thought he wouldn't have had to. Now he slightly regretted that choice.


    It was a full five minutes before Newt found anything of use - a large but simple wooden door that stood at the top of a makeshift staircase made from stepladders. He really wasn't feeling like looking for alternative exits or utilities given the difficult circumstances, so this door was the only option. He tried being inconspicuous as he ascended the steps but cringed as his footsteps echoed all around the corridor. He stood at the door, both of his combat knives sliding into his palms.


    Forget being covert. He'd do this the old fashioned way. Newt spun the knives in his hands as reassurance and kicked the door down, charging into the room shortly after.


    He instantly decided that this approach was a terrible idea as a foot dug into his stomach and a palm was forced against his face. Newt hit the wall, dazed. Before he could see clearly, he felt a cold ring rest upon his forehead.


    "Drop the -" someone started to speak, but suddenly faltered. Newt frowned as he felt the cold ring being removed from his skin. "Damn it, Newt, I almost shot you in the face again!"


    He blinked as he suddenly identified the voice that was speaking to him. It was none other than Robyn Winchester, who was now holstering her handgun and reaching an arm out to help Newt up. He could see what was happening now. He and his entire team were here, excluding Aurora's squad. They were all holding position in a large room filled with crates and boxes. Red light alarms flashed and blared on the ceiling above. Most of the team were firing at whatever was trying to kill them, but Blythe and Mini were at the far wall of the room, tinkering with some strange device. "What the hell, Newt? You're soaked!" Robyn gave a knowing smile.


    "Long story," Newt dismissed the remark, "what's happening here?"


    "Schematics show that the launch room is directly behind that wall." Robyn pointed a finger at where Blythe and Mini were working. "Those two are working on the breach, won't be long now!"


    "Any updates on Alpha team?" Newt asked. If Aurora still wasn't here, then they would have a serious problem.


    "Afraid not, Isaac." Newt blinked as Robyn said his real name. "They've gone dark. They could be dead for all we know."


    Newt nodded. “Okay, fine, but how -”


    “Charges set!” Blythe suddenly shouted out. “Get back, get back!”


    “Hurry it up! We’ve got even more enemies filling up this corridor!” Fletch warned as he sat behind a large crate, reloading his weapon. Robyn pulled Newt to the back of the room where the others were assembling.


    "Fire!" Mini shouted to Blythe. She nodded and pressed on the detonator. The entire room shook violently as the explosion happened, chunks of the wall flying through the air and dust obstructing Newt's vision. Nevertheless he felt Robyn grab his arm once again as she dragged him through the smoke and dust and into the launch room.


    The first immediate detail Newt noticed was the sheer size of the room. The walls were literally lined with catwalks and staircases, all most likely made from reinforced steel. Several tens of tanks could easily fit in here with room to spare, and that was just the area. The ceiling was so high that there were large vents on it, no doubt for transporting deliveries or people.


    The second thing he found was the missile itself. It sat at the furthest wall from Newt, which could easily be a few hundred metres. He could only see the top of the missile due to the glass covering it. No, that couldn’t be glass if it was braced for an explosion. It must’ve been something really strong to withstand that much power. The tip of the rocket was painted black, and the body of the rocket below the tip was the natural grey metal colour. Right now it didn't seem to be doing anything, but Newt knew what that weapon was capable of. With that knowledge he could only see the missile like some sort of volcano, ready to erupt unexpectedly.


    "Hey! Wake up!" Newt snapped back to reality thanks to Robyn snapping her fingers in his face. "Remember the plan? You, Mini and Fletch are gonna find the control room and shut down the launch sequence for the missile while we cover," she shouted.


    Newt was in full focus now, and he nodded to Robyn, "Got it." He had to shout to Mini and Fletch due to his broken comms. "Hey! On me! We're getting into the control room!"


    The two of them ran to Newt, having to cover a very large distance. As they ran, the air was suddenly devastated by the roar of gunfire as the enemy realised who had broken in. Fletch fired at the enemy while Mini just ran as fast as she possibly could, being at a disadvantage without a firearm. Fletch, surprisingly, was first to reach Newt. "Control room's through that door there," he panted as he pointed down the room. His finger led to a single side door, unmarked and concealed by the scaffolding and stairs.


    "It'll be really hard to get there without being shredded, especially with such a long distance to cover," Newt remarked.


    Mini had come up to them now, and she started speaking, in between heavy gasps for air. "There's…" she panted, "sprinklers… on the ceiling. Distraction for… enemies." Her hands clutched her sides as she caught her breath.


    Newt looked to the ceiling and found what she meant. The enemy really would not expect a sudden shower in the heat of a gunfight. On the undersides of the catwalks, small, round metal devices were attached. They were probably the sprinklers that Mini was talking about. "Fletch, can you get those sprinklers working?" Newt turned to the young hacker.


    "Of course I can!" Fletch said adamantly. "I'll need a few minutes to boot up my computer and breach the system. Try not to die during that time."


    "We'll make an effort."


    ~


    Aurora was already on her last magazine. Keith and Kane were still fighting furiously as she reloaded her rifle. They were almost out, they just had to clear these last few rooms and corridors. But each corner she turned looked identical to the last, and Aurora was paranoid that she'd lose the way out. However, Keith had reassured her that he knew the way to the ladder, and Aurora had no choice but to trust him. She was reluctant to do so, because last year Keith had almost gotten her killed on a mission in Germany. Long story.


    "What's the status of everyone on the surface? Are they safe?" Aurora shouted.


    "Affirmative!" Kane replied. "Haynes and Jackson are still trying to find us. Shouldn't be long now!"


    "We don't need them! I can get us out!" Keith said.


    "Yeah? In how many pieces?" Kane retorted.


    "If you'll stop being a pain in my backside, one! If not, we'll try experimenting!"


    "Cut the chatter!" Aurora interrupted. "I think that's our backup!" She'd spotted two brighter-coloured uniforms behind the masses of the black enemy uniforms, and they were gunning down the resistance. She recognised one of the faces, a determined and hard-built man who went by the name of Gabriel Haynes. Behind him was Raymond Jackson, one Aurora had never talked to but was well known around the unit. The two of them took the enemy by surprise with their flanking attack, and they were soon dealt with.


    Haynes ran up to the group first. "We've taken care of the initial opposition, but they've got reinforcements inbound," he reported.


    "What about the rest of the unit? Are they -"


    "All present and accounted for," Jackson said as he appeared behind Haynes. "They're all waiting by the jeeps as you said."


    "Okay, good. Let's go then."


    Two minutes later, Aurora climbed back up the ladder she'd entered from into daylight once more. The first detail she noticed were the masses of bleeding corpses lying in the grass, staining the ground red. Aurora had seen death before, but it didn't make this scene any less gruesome. If there was one thing she hated about her job, it was the aftermath of battle.


    "Commander!" A voice suddenly called out in the silence of the forest, and Aurora turned to see her lieutenant Lena Paris. She wore a different uniform to the rest of the unit and had a rank displayed on her vest. Aurora walked up to her at the tree line just as the others were leaving the shed. "How was the mission?" Paris asked.


    "Well," Aurora said, "good news is that we have a method to locate Kratos. The bad news is that the guy who gave us said method is now dead."


    "Shame," Paris clicked her tongue.


    "But nevermind that," Aurora shook her head, "the jeeps?"


    "Just behind me," Paris waved a hand in that general direction. "Everyone's kitted up and ready to go. Just waiting on your call."


    "You have your call," Aurora nodded to Paris, and then turned around to shout at her teammates, "Hey! Over here!"


    "You seem eager," Paris remarked.


    "I am eager. And ready," Aurora said. "Let's go help Newt."


    ~


    "Fletch! Talk to me!" Newt shouted from behind one of the storage crates, covering himself from the enemy fire that drove into the wall behind them.


    "Give me a minute!" he yelled back.


    "We don't have a minute! We'll be dead by then!"


    "Okay! Sprinklers coming on… now!" Fletch tapped a button on his laptop as he said that word. Instantly a new sound filled the place, almost overpowering the constant gunfire. It even distracted some of the enemy soldiers as they looked to the ceiling for the source of the sound. "Get to cover!" Fletch shouted at his own teammates.


    Everyone scrambled to find something to cover their heads while still simultaneously firing at the enemy relentlessly. Since they were now distracted by the sound, they were much easier to kill. But only a few seconds later they caught on and returned to suppress Ark Angel. They hadn't even been firing for a few seconds before the ceiling exploded.


    A colossal torrent of water rained down from the ceiling, slamming into each enemy soldier. They cried out in panic and alarm, but it was no use. Some of them had dropped their weapons, and they were the ones that died first to Ark Angel's superior firepower. Immediately they gained the advantage as enemies were eliminated faster. “Now!” Mel shouted. “Before they get the chance to re-organise! GO!”


    “Fletch, Mini, on me!” Newt called. He hadn’t intended to let that much water pour into the room, but it didn’t matter. It did its job. Before he knew it, Mini and Fletch were on his tail, following him on the right flank of the room, out of sight of the enemy. There was one door right at the end of the room, and the only door around. It had to be the control room.


    Newt halted at the door, Mini and Fletch skidding to a stop right behind him. He heard shouting inside the room, frantic and panicked. “People inside,” Newt warned. “No time to sneak in. We’ll just have to kick in the front door. Mini, charges.”


    Mini was immediately at the door and placing a large device on it that was almost wider than the door itself. She flicked the switch on the side of the explosive rig to arm it, and stepped back. Without warning, she triggered the detonator. The door became a cloud of dust and a mess of burnt wood and ash. "Move!" Newt yelled.


    Mini was first to rush into the room, Newt following close behind. When he entered, he noted two obvious things. One, it was much smaller than it looked from outside. It was probably the same size as two cars parked next to each other. The second thing was that the room was practically empty save for two soldiers sat in chairs at the computers on the wall. They turned around at the sound of the entry explosion but didn't have time to grab a weapon as Mini slit one throat, Newt dealing with the other. Both fell to the floor, dead.


    Fletch immediately went to occupy one of the computers. "I'll work on getting the abort codes," he said. "Anybody suspecting anything outside?"


    "Wouldn't think so. They would've broken in by now if they knew," Mini answered.


    Newt took the time to look around the room. The walls were filled completely with computer screens, he struggled to find places where the wall was exposed. The screens displayed glowing diagrams and schematics that Newt knew he didn't have a hope of interpreting. While he was looking at the computer screens, his eye was caught by an inconspicuous grey door in the corner of the room, unmarked and unlocked. "Fletch," Newt asked, "where does that door go?"


    He turned around in his seat, ceasing his tapping away at the keyboard. "If I recall correctly from the schematics," he said, "that goes down to the missile room. As in, the chamber where the missile sits."


    "Oh," Newt blinked. "So we're staying away from that, right? Like, a good few miles away?"


    "You're gonna hate these news then," Fletch grimaced. "I can't get the launch abort codes."


    "What? Why not?" Newt demanded. They'd come so far, they couldn't have hit a block now.


    "Password protected. I could hack my way through, but it would take an age. And if you look here…" Fletch pushed his chair over to another large screen, this one with a large clock display on it. Probably the only thing Newt understood in this room. The clock displayed 00:07:24.


    "Seven minutes until launch," Newt guessed, dread filling his chest.


    "Yeah." Fletch's response was hardly audible.


    Mini had been standing quietly in the corner as this exchange happened, and Newt heard her cough to get his attention. "Do you remember the backup plan?" Her voice was suddenly hoarse, and she was also scarily quiet.


    The backup plan. Mini would have to go in there and physically plant explosives on the missile. She would detonate it when the missile was already in the air, so it would be destroyed safely with minimal damage to the earth below. "It's too dangerous. I can't risk it," Newt said.


    "You don't have another choice. If that missile launches without my C4 on it, thousands, maybe millions will die," Mini hissed.


    "Mini -"


    "Please." She was begging him to let her do this. Fletch just stared at Mini, a transfixed expression of worry on his face. Newt gazed into the girl's eyes. He had never thought much of her, but she was determined. He could see that on her face.


    Finally, Newt turned his back on her. "Fine," he murmured, "get planting."


    And then Mini did something she'd never done to Newt before. She hugged him, and she hugged him tight. Newt was so surprised that he didn't think to hug her back. "Hey, this isn't goodbye. You're coming back."


    Mini pulled back. "Yeah, right." She took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready."


    "Head down the door," Newt pointed. "Fletch, give me your earpiece. I need to talk with her."


    "Yes, sir." He did so. Newt turned back around to wish Mini luck, but she was already gone.


    ~


    "Mini, do you read me?"


    "Yeah - I mean, affirmative."


    "This isn't difficult. Get in there, plant the explosives, get out."


    "Got it." Mini was rushing down the stairs, they seemed to go on forever. Her legs were already starting to tire, but she forced herself to descend faster. Every second wasted could be a second used to save lives.


    "Fletch says you've got six minutes," Newt informed over the radio.


    "Copy. I'm at the chamber now." Not a lie, because Mini had finally arrived at the end of the long staircase. There was another door there, but not like the one in the control room. This was reinforced steel, and there was no handle. Instead, there was a console on the wall next to the door, indicating to swipe some sort of key card. "There's a locked door here. I need Fletch to get it open."


    "Roger. Standby," Newt said. Mini could do nothing but wait for the door to click loudly and swing wide open. It felt like it had taken too long. "You've got five minutes and twenty-seven seconds. Remember, no pressure. Panicking means mistakes."


    "Right, right." Mini exhaled shakily as she walked through the reinforced door, and she froze at the sight of the missile.


    It was much, much bigger than it appeared in the launch room. It was easily the size of a skyscraper, maybe even taller. She wasn't even as tall as the fins of the rocket, which were painted purple. However, on the side of the fin, there was a small sign. It was yellow, displaying the hazard symbol and a warning. "Newt, I think Chimera's in this rocket," Mini relayed.


    "Don't worry about it. It's not going to suddenly blow up in your face. You're down to five minutes and four seconds. Make it quick."


    "Okay."


    In the next two minutes, Mini worked faster than she had ever done before. She didn't bother priming half of the explosives, since the most powerful ones would set off a chain reaction and detonate the unarmed ones too. Not having to prime them must have saved at least a minute. Very soon, the base of the rocket was surrounded by plastic explosives. "Newt, time."


    "Two minutes and forty-two seconds. Fast work," Newt said. "Now get back up here. The rest of the team are probably having a hard time."


    "Roger." Mini left the explosives by the rocket and walked quickly back to the reinforced door. She was about to pass through when an alarm siren suddenly blared, making her freeze on the spot. That was the mistake that cost her the few seconds she would've needed to get out, because the door slid shut right in front of her eyes.


    "Newt!" Mini yelled over the siren. "The door locked!"


    "Working on it!" Newt replied. The siren echoed all around the metal chamber, assaulting Mini's ears like hounds. She wanted to scream, but she knew that was futile.


    She heard yelling on the radio, and she strained her ears to listen. The first voice she heard was Newt's. "Are you kidding me now?"


    Then Fletch: "It's locked me out! I can't disable the locking mechanism!"


    "Hey! Turn off the sirens! I'm about to go deaf!" Mini shrieked.


    "I can do that!" Fletch exclaimed. Seconds later, the launch chamber was once more silent apart from Mini's unstable breathing.


    "So I can't get out?" she asked tentatively.


    "NO." Newt's reply was adamant and determined. "We are getting you out of there. Don't think for a second that I'm leaving you behind."


    "One minute and twenty-two seconds!" Fletch yelped.


    One minute and twenty-two seconds. There was no chance they'd get the door open in that time before the missile launched. The thrust would burn Mini alive, and there wouldn't be anyone to detonate the explosives on the rocket. Mini could've sworn she heard her own heart pounding in her chest. Her head practically exploded with thoughts and scenarios, trying to find any way to complete the mission. And then, she had it.


    She knew what she had to do. She had to make sure that the rocket never left this place.


    "Newt," Mini whispered slowly, "I have to blow it."


    A few seconds of silence followed, before: "No chance. Give us a minute."


    "We don't have a minute!" Her fist clenched. "This rocket is going to launch and murder millions of innocent people! It's one person over millions, and I think that's worth it!"


    "You could destroy the entire facility with an explosion like that."


    "No, I won't." Mini was now staring at the walls of the chamber. They were metal, but upon closer inspection she realised it wasn't normal steel. "Do you know what verilium is, Newt?" She probably had under a minute now. "One of the hardest and most resistant metals on Earth. This could contain the explosion."


    "Mini, I won't leave you! DAMN IT, HURRY UP, FLETCH!" Newt was practically screaming now.


    "You're gonna have to." Mini turned to the rocket again. So this was it. This was how she would end it all. When Mini thought about death when she was younger, she'd always thought she'd be afraid. But today, she was surprised to find that she wasn't. She was brave. She was determined. The remote detonator in her hand felt like it was getting heavier by the second. The seconds which were counting down her life. "Get the others home safe. Please."


    She slammed her thumb on the detonator as hard as she could.


    She never got to witness the hell that followed.


    ~


    "More up on the catwalks!" Mel warned. "Bloody hell, I'm hit! Aaargh…"


    "Mel's in trouble!" Robyn called as she shot at one more enemy’s head before disengaging her sniper rifle and desperately trying to locate Mel. Her eyes darted all over the place, to the catwalks, the walls, until they finally fell upon the stack of crates sitting at the far end of the room, somewhat close to the missile chamber. Robyn couldn’t see her directly, but she did catch Mel’s bright green hair fly as she was shoved into the crates by an enemy soldier. Nothing made this soldier stand out from the rest, but he had his weapon raised high as he slammed it into Mel’s shoulder. Robyn couldn’t hear them over the raging battle going on around her, but she could almost feel Mel’s cry of pain as she sank against the boxes. Her hand moved to the injured shoulder, and Robyn felt her heart jump when she saw the blood on her hand. Her blood.


    Robyn forgot everything else. She had to get to Mel. and fast. "Ethan, cover me! I'm going after Melody!"


    "Got it, make it quick!" he responded.


    Robyn could run fast, quicker than the average human. But even as she sprinted at top speed, even with Ethan trying to put bullets into Mel's attacker, she knew she couldn't run the entire length of the launch room before the soldier ended Mel's life. As that thought ran through her head, the strangest and most miraculous thing happened.


    Suddenly, the entire launch room was ablaze with white light, so bright that Robyn had to physically turn away to avoid being blinded. She couldn’t tell where it came from, but it worked wonders as literally all of the gunfire ceased and was replaced with startled yells and panicked shouts, and Robyn couldn’t tell if they were from the enemy or her own team. Even when turned around, the light surrounded her and scorched her eye. It started searing with agony, and her vision became a brilliant red. She shut it tightly, and even then all she saw was red.


    And then the ground was shaking. It was like an intense earthquake, the place shook so violently that Robyn lost her footing, and she fell flat on her backside. She knew she wasn’t the only one experiencing it — it felt very real. Then her ears almost exploded from the deafening roar that followed shortly. By the time this all happened Robyn, to her horror, had figured out what had happened. The missile had detonated, and it had done so violently. It was a miracle that everyone in the room wasn't incinerated right there. Somehow, the glass and metal chamber held fast. Newt must have royally messed up.


    The light was dying, Robyn realised. The red vision she once saw was starting to fade into normal black, and she even risked opening her eye. She could see again, that was good. She was still flat on her backside though, so she hastily got to her feet and picked up her weapon lying beside her. As Robyn looked around, she saw that everyone else in the room was regaining their focus too, now that the temporary distraction was gone.


    And then Robyn herself regained focus. The thoughts running through her head were a blur, but she could pick out three distinct words: Mel. Wounded. Kill.


    Mel was going to die.


    Robyn whirled around to face where Mel was sitting. Her heart sank when she found her lying on the floor, eyes closed and blood staining the ground around her. The soldier who had assaulted her was also on the floor nearby. Unfortunately, his eyes were not closed and he was definitely not bleeding. That changed quickly however as, through the silence of the entire launch room, a single sniper shot rang out. Next thing Robyn knew, the soldier was lying on the ground once more, obviously bleeding out from his skull. The room was silent until Robyn alone heard her earpiece crackle. "Aw, man. That'll stain my ninety-seven percent shot accuracy!" Ethan moaned.


    "Shut your mouth and start shooting! I've got a casualty to attend to," Robyn scolded. She turned again to face Mel lying against the crates on the floor. She could've been dead from the way she looked. Some of the blood had even gotten to her brilliant green hair, now stained red in some places. Getting her out of here was not going to be easy, especially with the gunfire that had now restarted…


    "Newt! Do you copy?" Robyn called.


    A few seconds of delay, then: "Yeah. Everything's going to hell. What's the problem?"


    "What's the — the problem is that we're still down here and we're probably going to die! One of us is already close to that fate!" Robyn shouted.


    "What? Who?"


    "It's Mel."


    ~


    No. Not another one. He'd already lost Mini. Newt would not leave behind another. "Fletch, get moving! The rest of them are in trouble!"


    "Yes, sir!" Seconds later, the two of them bolted out of the door they came in by, Fletch firing his submachine gun and Newt handling an assault rifle he'd picked up from a deceased adversary. A lot of things had changed while he was panicking in the control room apparently, Newt found. The reinforced glass that had been covering the missile was now pitch black, allowing no light through at all. The ground was a lot more slippery, Newt realised as he sprinted across it. That was probably caused by Fletch's sprinkler antics. However he only had two real concerns: the fact that there were more enemies now than there had been before the detonation, and the slim figure of Robyn Winchester running through the battlefield, a green haired girl slung over shoulders, bloodied and bruised.


    "We're overwhelmed!" Newt's earpiece came to life, and Ethan's panicked voice broke through. "We can't take on this many, we need to leave!"


    "We've got no way out! We—"


    Newt was abruptly cut off by a sudden roaring sound. The roaring of engines, he realised. That wasn't right. How would any vehicles get down here? Were they enemy reinforcements, driving through the old mines? Would they really have to go back the way the came, with Nova Satus forces on their tail? While Newt was pondering over these thoughts in his head, the wall to his right exploded.


    An army jeep broke through the wall breach, skidding to a halt directly in front of Newt. As soon as the car stopped, its doors opened and armed soldiers climbed out, shouting commands and firing their weapons. One glance at their uniforms was all it took for Newt to identify them. Hellbringer units. Aurora's team.


    And then many other jeeps joined the fight, one after another speeding past the wreckage of the wall and deploying its passengers. Now, with the additional support of Hellbringer, Ark Angel had the high hand. Slowly but surely, enemy numbers were beginning to fall.


    The driver's door of the jeep in front of Newt opened, and a woman stepped out. She had beautiful chestnut hair that went down below her shoulders. She was taller than the average woman, Newt noticed as she got out of the car. She wore a uniform similar to the other Hellbringers, but with some differences, especially the rank printed on her chest. Her brown eyes were soft and gentle, and they gazed at Newt. "I'm assuming you're Commander Newton," she nodded. "I'm Lieutenant Paris. We—"


    "Where the hell were you people?" Newt demanded. "Alpha team were supposed to be with us when we entered the facility above ground! And now you've just come in for a heroic rescue?"


    "Look, Commander," the lieutenant interrupted him. "I get that you've been inconvenienced. Get down!" she suddenly shouted as she grabbed Newt's sleeve and dragged him to the floor behind the jeep.


    "Inconvenienced?" Newt spat. "One of my soldiers could die because you can't move to where you should. One of mine already has died!" He almost choked out the words, but he hid it well.


    "Commander, I'll explain later, I promise. What matters now is our escape." Paris pointed to the ceiling. It was astonishing how Newt hadn't noticed before, but Paris was pointing at a shutter, large enough to fit anything, really. "Commander Aurora's working on getting a chopper for evac. She says to get your hacker on opening the shutter for her."


    Newt nodded to Fletch. "Go." He nodded and ran off back towards the control room."So what now?" Newt turned his attention back to the lieutenant.


    "Now, we hold position until evac arrives," Paris said simply.


    "And how long will that be?"


    "ETA approximately ten minutes," Paris stated.


    "Not good enough, Lieutenant. We'll be dead in five!"


    "We can do it, especially with a Crusader on our side."


    "What?"


    "What was her name… Sakura? We found her while we were entering the facility." Paris almost looked like she was smiling. "She should be coming in any—"


    Newt blocked out the rest of Paris's speech as his radio suddenly crackled in his ear. A familiar voice came on. "Hey Newt, you've got support inbound. A hella loaded support, I should add," Sakura chuckled.


    She was still alive, miraculously. Even after the surface was stormed with tanks and impenetrable firepower, she was still alive and kicking. "Good to have you back in the game, Kurann," Newt replied. As he said it, the room was once again filled with the roar of jet engines. Only a few seconds later, the wall exploded again, but this breach was a few metres away from the first. The projectile that had caused the destruction was almost a blur as it moved, but Newt couldn't miss the cannon arms and wicked grin of his friend.


    The mech suit stopped moving and simply stood in the middle of the room. Immediately the noise of gunfire was amplified as all enemy fire was focused on Sakura. It was to no effect however, because even as bullets and rockets rained down upon her, she lifted the cannon arms to the sky and made a show of reloading them. After that, Sakura unleashed hell upon the enemy. She fired the chain guns at the catwalks, heat-seeking missiles at the columns. The enemy was devastated.


    Newt was so mesmerised by the blood show that he didn't notice Robyn coming up to meet him, Mel still on her shoulders. Paris was the one to wake him up as she rushed forward and checked Mel. She turned to Newt. "She's unconscious, but not dead, thankfully. I can do first aid in my jeep, but we need to get her out if she wants to live."


    "Do whatever you have to," Newt nodded. Paris shouted at some of her co-operatives, calling them to her position with medical equipment. Carefully, Paris lifted Mel from Robyn’s arms and carried her to the back of the jeep, where one of Paris’ people opened up the boot and helped to put her inside. Newt watched over the entire process.


    He was brought back to attention by the activation of his radio. “Newt. It’s Fletch.”


    “Is the shutter online?” he asked.


    “That’s the good news, they should be opening right about… now.” As he said that last word, Newt noticed the room getting much brighter. He looked up and saw the metal shutter that Paris had been pointing at. It was now opening slowly, letting the natural daylight hit the launch room.


    “I’m guessing there’s also bad news,” Newt said.


    “You guessed correctly. The missile —”


    Before he could continue, the room started quivering again. This quake was even more powerful than the last, and Newt had trouble staying on his feet. He had to lean against Lieutenant Paris' vehicle to avoid falling completely. The launch room was suddenly filled with an ear-splitting screech, a metallic groan that cut through the air. And suddenly it all stopped. The ground stopped shaking, and once again the gunfire restarted. "Fletch," Newt said, "did that have something to do with the bad news?"


    He could hear Fletch click his tongue. "Maybe," he said matter-of-factly. "Remember how the missile was fuelled by a reactor core below it?"


    "Yeah…"


    "Well, the explosion of the missile just sent it into overdrive. The strain capacity of the core isn't stable enough to sustain the -"


    "Hey. English," Newt rolled his eyes.


    "Right. Long story short, we've got three minutes before this entire place turns into one gigantic smoking crater."


    "Brilliant." That was going to be a problem. That was why the people in the basement he’d landed in were wearing hazmats, not that they would help them. "Lieutenant, over here!" Newt called to Paris.


    She rushed over, leaving her medics to tend to Mel. "Problem?" she questioned.


    "If you count a nuclear reactor explosion in two minutes," Newt said.


    Paris didn't seem to react, she just clicked her tongue. "Aurora had better pick up the pace then," she said.


    Suddenly, both of their radios crackled and activated.


    "Somebody say my name?" a familiar voice said.


    "You've got a lot of explaining to do," Newt said shortly.


    "Yeah. I know. But let's not worry about that now. I'm coming in through the launch shutter," Aurora said. A few seconds later, Newt heard the familiar noise of helicopter blades and rotor engines from above. He looked to the shutter and spotted the chopper slowly descend. It wasn’t just a helicopter, it was a proper carrier. He reckoned it could fit everyone here easily with room to spare.


    The ground shook again, even more violently than the initial tremor. “We’d better move quickly,” Fletch warned. “Explosions are going off all over the place!”


    “All units, on my position! We’re getting out of here!” Newt signalled to anybody that could hear him on the radio channel. He looked to Paris, and she nodded to indicate that she understood. Newt could hear the explosions faintly now. They weren’t deafeningly loud, but they were getting closer with each blast. The medical team were working on getting Mel out of their jeep. The carrier’s rotor wings blew the dust and empty bullets away as it gracefully descended and landed on the ground.

    Its cargo door opened to reveal three Hellbringer agents standing there. Aurora was one of them, standing in the middle. Newt didn’t recognise the other two, but they jumped out of the helicopter while engaging their weapons. “Get the injured onboard first!” Aurora yelled. Immediately Paris and Robyn took Mel by the arms and legs and carried her to the open cargo door. Sakura jumped into the air with her mech and slammed into the ground a few metres in front of the carrier, protecting it from enemy gunfire.


    “RPG on the catwalk!” Blythe warned. Too late. By the time Newt whipped his head around to where she was pointing, the rocket had already been let loose and was speeding towards the carrier. Sakura’s mech reached with its left arm to block the missile, and she was lucky that the rocket turned towards her. The explosive hit the arm, but with a devastating consequence: her robotic arm fell off the robot and fell to the floor, useless.


    Sakura lost her balance due to the missing weight. The mech tilted to the right and crashed to the floor with a metallic screech. Newt couldn’t see nor hear its operator, and he couldn’t tell if she was in pain or even still alive. “Sakura!” he yelled.


    “No time for her, Newt! Get onboard!” Aurora screamed at him. Newt hated it, but she was right. The reactor’s explosions were getting much louder now, and even if he could somehow dig through the wreckage, there was no way he could pull her out before the reactor swallowed them all alive. With a frustrated growl, he turned his back on the discarded mech suit and ran to the carrier, leaving Sakura behind.


    Some of his team had joined Aurora's flanking soldiers in setting up a perimeter around the carrier's entrance, including Ethan and Blythe, the latter was handling one of the enemy assault rifles. “Everybody onboard! We. Are. Leaving!” Newt shouted.


    “There’s no time!” Ethan shouted back. “You’d better go, now!”


    “If you think for even one second that I—"


    "Newt!" Aurora interrupted. "The reactor's about to blow! We need to leave!"


    "No!"


    "Newt!" Oh God, he'd forgotten about Fletch. "I'm pinned down in the control room! I can't make it. Go! NOW!"


    "Sod this," Aurora snarled. She turned around and ran back to the helicopter's cockpit. A few seconds later, the carrier started levitating. "Come on, we're getting out of here!"


    "NO!" Newt yelled as the carrier gained more and more altitude. The warriors on the ground, Ark Angel, Hellbringer and Nova Satus, getting smaller and smaller as they climbed higher. "Get us back down there!"


    "We can't! If we go down there, we all die!" Aurora cried. Newt could've sworn he heard a hint of sorrow in that voice.


    They broke through the surface. Newt was almost blinded by the dazzling sun shining on his face, but he could still see the chaos that was happening. He could see the explosions going off all over the facility now, a lot bigger than he had thought. There really was no way anybody down there would survive.


    "Ethan, come in!" Newt shouted into his radio.


    No response.


    "Blythe, do you read me?" Even louder. Same result.


    "Fletch," Newt gave up on shouting, out of breath, "are you still there?"


    His radio remained silent, and the only thing he could hear was the facility being obliterated by a reactor meltdown, taking everyone inside with it.
    "This just in. The French government has just released a public statement announcing an end to the conflicts across the world. The United Nations will meet once again to discuss rejuvenation projects for areas affected by the damage. In simple terms, World War III is over."


    "However, Michael Kratos, the man who is believed to have sparked these events is still at large. Governments have made the decision to prioritise the rebuilding efforts rather than to apprehend Kratos."



    ~


    The sun had just started to rise, its dawn light stretching over the horizon. The once black sky was beginning to turn into an ambient orange. Slowly, the sunlight shone onto the earth, highlighting the oceans and forests that the helicopter flew over. The vehicle had come from Kyoto in Japan, where a large nuclear meltdown had happened. The explosions had claimed hundreds of lives and cost billions of dollars of damage. This was obvious on the helicopter, half of its hull had been burned black. Despite its colossal size, the helicopter was only carrying four passengers. Everything was silent, apart from the helicopter that was flying to the UK.


    ~


    "Robyn, get Mel to the infirmary," Aurora ordered as the chopper descended slowly to the landing pad. As soon as it hit the floor, the rear cargo door opened with a hiss and Robyn stepped out, carrying Melody in her arms. The first-aid done by Aurora's lieutenant had stopped most of the bleeding from her gunshot wound, but she needed proper attention. Robyn briskly walked to the nearest door that led to the hospital wing and disappeared.


    Aurora removed her cockpit headgear and got up from the pilot's seat with a sigh. Her expression showed no emotion. The mission had damaged her, just as it had damaged everyone else that survived. She turned around and headed towards the cargo door. When she left the cockpit Aurora found Newt still sitting there in the passenger's compartment. His face was down, elbows on his legs and fingers through his hair, stained with ash and blood. Eyes closed. Aurora decided not to disturb him.


    She stepped out of the helicopter and on to the ground. Ark Angel's headquarters looked different from what she remembered, or maybe she just hadn't been to the helicopter landing pad. The place was very small compared to Aurora's own headquarters, but she could excuse that on account of the fact that Ark Angel hadn't been funded by the government.


    She wasn't sure what to do next. With most of their allies dead, they were at a significant disadvantage. There was no chance of taking on an army like the forces at Kyoto. Everything seemed like a dead end. Giving up was slowly becoming the more tempting option.


    WHACK.




    Aurora's train of thought was interrupted when she felt a sharp jolt of pain on the back of her head. Her eyes widened and she fell to her knees, then fell on her front. Panicked thoughts rushed through her throbbing head. What hit her? How did they hit her? Nothing made sense, until —


    "I trusted you." The voice was behind her, she could sense the fury lining his voice. There had only been one person behind her, and she didn't need to turn around to identify him.


    "You know what I had to do," Aurora tried snarling, but it turned into a pathetic wince as the wound on her head throbbed harder.


    "I trusted you," Newt repeated, "we all did. So why in hell," he grabbed Aurora's shoulder and turned her around so she was flat on her back and glaring at Newt standing over her, "did you disobey a direct order?"


    "I had to leave. Even your friends told me to leave. It was either get out or die. I went with the option that they suggested." Aurora was still quite stunned at Newt's sudden outburst. She'd never seen him so… furious.


    "Two seconds, Aurora," Newt seethed, "all they needed was two seconds."


    "I needed those two seconds to get us to safety. Do you know why Ethan told me to go? And Blythe? Even Fletch?" Aurora stared directly into his eyes. "They knew they would die. They told us to leave so that we could hunt down Kratos without them. They knew the risks."


    “You sacrificed their lives—”


    “They sacrificed themselves!” Aurora spat back. “I’m not responsible for a decision they made, and to be honest, you’re an idiot for thinking so!” Newt didn’t reply, but maintained that venomous glare at her. Aurora couldn't help but wonder if she'd made a mistake.


    Her head started to throb even more intensely, but she did her best to ignore the pain as she talked. “You want to know why Alpha team was so late, right?” she blurted out. “It was Markus. He told us to go on a side mission and find some guy—”


    "What guy?" Newt roared. "Your priority was with us!"


    "Listen to me, damn it! This guy had valuable information, a way to locate Kratos."


    Newt stopped shouting then, thrown off by the sudden information. Aurora kept staring at him, knowing that he had let his guard down. She could've sworn she felt blood run down her head where Newt had hit her. "Don't tell me about it now," Newt said quietly as he offered a hand to help Aurora up. She hesitated, but eventually took it. "You're okay. For now."


    ~


    He had a way to find Kratos. He only had one shot at this.


    Newt and Aurora were sitting in the lounge, not talking to each other at all. Neither of them wanted to explain the blood on Aurora's head and in her hair, so she'd had a quick shower before coming here and put on a plain black baseball cap.


    Two minutes later, Robyn and Mel joined them. Mel was now using crutches, and Newt could see the bulk of the bandage covering her wound through her trousers. Robyn walked behind her, arms crossed and a bored expression on her face. When Mel reached the seats, Robyn helped her ease in and lay her crutches beside her.


    Mel was the first to speak. "So what happens now?"


    "Now?" Newt murmured, just loud enough so that the word was clear. "Kratos has murdered thousands of innocent people, started an international conflict and put most of our friends into the ground. Now," he glanced at Robyn, "we bury him."


    "How do you propose we do that? We've got no way to find him," Robyn asked.


    "That's where you're wrong," Newt remarked, which sparked a surprised expression on Robyn's face. "Aurora, explain to them."


    Aurora hadn't even told Newt about it until now, so even he was a little confused when she pulled out a simple cellphone from her pocket. "This is from one of Kratos' cronies, a guy called Russell. He told us that if we call the number saved on this, it'll track Kratos' location."


    "How do you know it isn't fake?" Robyn asked.


    "He died right after the handoff. It'd be a shame if this didn't work," Aurora shot back. Even Newt detected the warning she gave Robyn: Don't question me. Robyn reluctantly desisted and leaned back into her seat.


    "Before we make the call, we need to organise ourselves. Who's going?" Newt asked.


    "I know I can't come, since…" Mel's eyes wandered to her crutches.


    "Looks like you two are the only ones left," Newt told Robyn and Aurora. "Are you up for it?"


    "Like hell I am," Robyn said, Aurora nodding agreement.


    "Then let's make the call." Aurora tossed the phone to Newt who caught it effortlessly. He unlocked the phone and searched through the menus until he found the contacts list. Sure enough, there was only one number, saved as Nova Satus.


    After a deep breath, Newt tapped on the profile and pressed call. "Put it on speaker," Aurora hissed. He did so.


    The phone rang for a good few seconds, Newt almost dreaded the possibility of Kratos not picking up and wasting this one precious call. He was about to end the ringing when suddenly it stopped and was replaced by a series of scratching and muffled grunts. This was only temporary before a scratchy voice spoke.


    "Who is this?" snarled Kratos.


    Newt silently took in a deep breath. He had to make every second of this conversation count. "Newton. I'm coming for you, Kratos."


    A sinister and haughty chuckle came from the speaker before Kratos spoke again. "Haven't you heard, Commander? The war is over. I no longer have any ties."


    "Maybe the world's war is done," Newt said softly, "but my war ends with you." None of the girls in the room dared speak, listening intently to the conversation.


    "Like it ended for your friends in Kyoto, swallowed up by the explosions? Like it ended for Miguel and SAS Commander Reid, whose efforts were in vain to stop me? Or do you mean how it ended with your little forest friend, all those years ago?"


    He almost growled. Almost. It took all of Newt's self-control to not slam the phone on the floor. He remained silent as Kratos continued, "Yes, I thought so. Tell me, Commander. How long did it take Wolf Diabolus to die?"


    Stay calm, Newt's instincts tore at him, trying to keep him at bay, stay calm…


    "I've ripped this world apart. I've ripped your world apart, ripped it to shreds. Now it's only a matter of time before I find you," Kratos murmured.


    "You won't have to look far," Newt said before ripping the phone away from his ear and ending the call.


    Nobody spoke for a few seconds, letting Kratos' words sink in. The idleness was then interrupted by a sudden tone that issued from the cellphone in Newt's hand. He looked at the screen, but he no longer stared at the home screen. Instead he was looking at a single line of letters, numbers and symbols. Encryption.


    "Aurora, can you take a look at this?" Newt tossed the phone back to her.


    She glanced at the screen before looking back up at Newt. "It's encrypted, so there must be an encryption key somewhere. Give me a second while I—"


    Aurora was interrupted by another tone from the phone, this time playing a little tune. "Or it could just shove it in my face," she raised an eyebrow, but continued. "These are latitude and longitude coordinates. They land at…" Aurora paused as she tapped furiously at the phone, Newt having absolutely no clue what she was doing. "They land at Dubai," she said finally.


    "What the hell is he doing in Dubai?" Robyn demanded.


    "Beats me. But it looks like he's at the Burj Khalifa. You know, that really tall skyscraper—"


    "I know what the Burj Khalifa is," Robyn snapped.


    "Cool it, Robyn," Newt warned. "The Burj Khalifa, eh? Sounds like a really nice place for a final battle."


    "We only have one chance at this. We can't mess this up," Aurora remarked.


    "Okay, let's sort things out," Newt said, taking control as the Commander. "Mel, you'll be staying here for obvious reasons," he hinted at her leg, "so you'll be our eyes. Are you any good at hacking?"


    "Kinda," Mel shrugged, "I did a little bit back at the Ruby Angels."


    "I was better, though," Aurora flashed a friendly smirk at her.


    "It'll do. You need to hack into the tower's cameras, sensors, computers, everything. I do not want Kratos leaving our sight, got it?"


    "Roger that," Mel nodded.


    "Robyn, Aurora, we're going to storm the place with everything we’ve got."


    "That could do so much damage," Robyn started.


    "I don't care about damage. I don't even care if it's illegal," Newt shook his head.


    "It's illegal. It's murder," Mel remarked.


    "Right, whatever. My point is, I don't care what it takes. We are going to go there and end that sorry fool's life. Whatever it takes."


    “I don’t think we’re up for this,” Aurora frowned. “If Kratos is making his final stand at the skyscraper, he probably has a ton of defenses in place to make sure we don’t leave that place alive.”


    “I can help with that,” Mel coughed. Newt looked at her inquisitively. “Sakura. She built new armoured mechs in her spare time. She told me that they were based off of the Crusader mechs that she used in battle, but with some adjustments.”


    “How many did she make?” Newt asked.


    “Three.”


    ~


    “Welcome to Sakura Naganohara’s home,” Mel announced as she entered the room on her crutches, Newt following behind her. He’d never been in Sakura’s room before, simply because there had never been a reason to. It was incredibly spacious, and also incredibly dull. The walls were a plain grey, as was the floor. There weren’t a lot of cosmetics that Newt could see, all he found was her bed, table and gear.


    “Where are the mechs?” Aurora asked, now entering the room along with Robyn.


    "Follow me," Mel beckoned them to a space in the room. "Hold my crutch," she told Newt, which he took. Mel outstretched her hand towards the closest wall and lay her palm against it. She kept it there for a few seconds until a small bleep cut through the silence. She took her hand away, and a section of the wall hissed as it literally sank into the floor, much to Newt's surprise. It moved slowly until it was no longer visible, revealing another room behind the wall. Mel took her crutch back and headed straight into the room, the others following her.


    It wasn't bright, but not dark either. It was just the right amount of light for Newt to see what he was here for. The place reminded him of a garage; it was nearly empty like the other room and spacious. The only difference was that there weren't three humanoid mechs standing at the back wall.


    Newt could tell that Sakura really had changed a lot of things. They were now painted a slick black instead of the standard white and grey, and the chain cannons were nowhere to be seen. These were compensated for by what seemed to be more armour for the front of the suits, heavy-duty titanium which could take on almost any projectile.


    "Say hello to the Crusader 2, or as Sakura liked to call it," Mel gave a small smile, "the Titan."


    “Okay…” Newt folded his arms while inspecting the mech. “Talk me through it, what did she do?”


    “She removed the cannons on the arms because she said they were too heavy and really hard to move around. Now they’re just normal arms so you can carry normal weapons. That’s really the only significant change apart from the armour upgrades, but Sakura felt like it made a massive difference.”


    “How come she told you about it and not me?” Newt asked.


    “Not sure. Maybe she wanted to keep it a surprise,” Mel shrugged, although it was small due to her crutches.


    “She’ll surprise me when it works when we storm Kratos’ safehouse and kill him,” Newt nodded. “Robyn, Aurora, suit up.”


    ~


    Robyn hadn’t worn a mech suit before, but she loved the feeling of being able to control a heavyweight killing machine. Her favourite part of the mech was that it had its own visor that connected to Robyn’s nervous system, which meant she could see as if she had two eyes again. In reality, she’d still only have one, but having clear vision in both visual channels would aid her massively in the fight.


    Along with Aurora and Newt, she’d spent an hour practising her shooting in the suit. It had felt weird to begin with, but gradually it grew on her and she found that she was really good at using it. They’d also established a proper engagement plan: a drone would fly the three of them into the country and in front of the building. From there they’d waltz right into the building and make their way through in search of Kratos. Once they found him, they’d kill him quickly. They’d do all that without dying, of course, but that was the challenge.


    Two hours later, the three infiltrators met at the landing bay. All of them had assault rifles strapped to the backs of their mechs and armour plates in position. “Ready to go?” Newt asked. Robyn and Aurora nodded. “Mel’s in the command room. She’ll be getting into the building’s systems and helping us find Kratos.”


    “It’s been a while since we called Kratos,” Robyn remarked. “Don’t you think he may have escaped by now?”


    “No, I don’t think so,” Newt shook his head. “I think he’ll be there for us.” He was probably right. After all the inconveniences they’d caused Kratos, he would be out for their blood.


    “Well,” Robyn took the assault rifle off her back and loaded it, “let’s not keep him waiting.”


    ~


    “Hey. Can you hear me?”


    “Loud and clear, Mel,” Newt said. “What’s up?”


    “I’ve gotten control of the building’s cameras. It looks like Kratos is on the 160th floor.”


    Aurora thought about that. The Burj Khalifa had 163 floors in total, which meant Kratos was sitting near the top floor. “He knows we’re coming,” she told Mel. “He’s planning an escape right now.”


    “He doesn’t know you’re here yet. I’ve gotten control of his radio comms too, so I can hear everything he says. It’ll take a while to get control of the other systems. My hacking’s a little rusty, sorry.”


    “Don’t be sorry. You trained with the Ruby Angels, you’ll do great,” Aurora reassured.


    Newt, Robyn and Aurora were sitting inside the helicopter drone. Its walls were heavily armoured to stop anything getting through. They were almost at the Burj Khalifa — in fact, they were literally descending now. “Mel, who’s out there?” Robyn asked.


    “Uh…. looks like there’s police out there, and I think army officers too.”


    “Probably on Kratos’ payroll,” Newt rolled his eyes. Suddenly the noise of the helicopter’s rotors was overtaken by the clashing cacophony of the metal walls screeching. “They’re shooting at us!” Newt warned. That meant they’d landed.


    “Well, looks like they know we’re here,” Aurora shouted. “You guys ready?”


    “Yeah,” Newt shouted. Then in a quieter tone, he added, “Remember, this is for our friends at Kyoto.” With that, he gave a mighty roar and charged at the wall, which gave way easily. Robyn jumped out after him, and Aurora last.


    Whatever Aurora was expecting, it had not been a mass of police officers and soldiers defending the entrance of the building. They were all stacked up at the doors with all kinds of weapons: assault rifles, explosives, the entire set. “That’s a lot of guns,” Robyn yelped.


    The radio crackled and Mel came on. “Give me a second, I’m turning the drone around to help you out.”


    No one had fired a single shot yet, which struck odd to Aurora. However, that changed quickly as the familiar rush of the helicopter’s blades returned. Seconds later, the resistance at the doors were screaming and panicking as the drone let its miniguns and micro-missiles loose. Very soon, they were all lying on the floor, dead or dying. “Thanks for the assist, Mel,” Newt said.


    “Not a problem. I have to extract the drone now. I’ll give you regular updates. Good luck.”


    “Okay guys,” Robyn exhaled, “it’s on us now. Kratos doesn’t leave here alive.”


    “Watch for civilians!” Newt warned. Suddenly there was a mass of screaming as the doors flew upon once again and hundreds of people ran out. Aurora could tell they weren’t hostile, they weren’t carrying weapons nor armour. “Into the building! Go, go, go!”


    “I have control of the lifts now,” Mel informed. “Kratos doesn’t seem to be alarmed. There aren’t any lifts from his floor to the roof, so he’ll have to take the stairs. That should give you time.”


    “Look out! Behind us!” Robyn shouted. Aurora turned around and found more enemies on their knees and firing at them. Lots of their bullets just deflected off her heavy armour, but that didn’t mean she was invincible. She raised her assault rifle and they all went down quickly. However, they were quickly replaced by more soldiers who piled out of jeeps that stopped at the entrance. No matter how many times Aurora killed them, more took their place.


    “They’ll just keep coming!” Aurora shouted.


    “Mel! Where are the lifts?” Robyn yelled. “We’re getting overrun here!”


    “They’re dead ahead! Keep moving through the lobby!”


    “RPGs from outside!” Newt warned. Before Aurora even realised what he’d said, a flurry of rockets shot past her and hit the wall closest to her. She didn’t have time to react as the wall exploded into dust and ash, and a landslide of debris fell on top of her, making her stagger and drop her weapon. Fortunately, her armour saved her from agonising pain and certain death. She got back up and knocked the pile of debris aside, picked up the assault rifle she’d dropped and continued the fight.


    “Those rocket launchers are gonna get a bead on us if we don’t move!” Robyn shouted. “Come on, get to the lifts!”


    The three of them turned around and made their way to the other side of the lobby as quickly as they could. It was impossible to properly sprint in these mechs, so it looked more like a brisk walk. Aurora could hear the bullets bouncing off their armour very clearly. Even if she couldn’t feel them, it still put her on edge. “Those rockets are firing again!” Robyn warned.


    “Aurora! MOVE!” Newt yelled.


    Too late. Before she could turn around, Aurora felt a massive force push her forward. She suddenly felt very hot, especially around her back. Her Titan fell to the floor. Aurora heard alarms wail in the cockpit. Fires had been started, circuits fried… Titan was dead, and she would follow if she didn’t get out of here quickly.


    “Aurora! Are you still alive?” Robyn shouted.


    “Yeah! I’m okay, but I can’t get this suit off me!” Aurora replied.


    “Hang on! Newt, cover me!” Aurora couldn’t see anything that was happening, nor could she hear anything over the constant drumming of gunfire. It was dark under the mech. She’d managed to disconnect herself from the cockpit so that she was now lying on the floor instead of being suspended in the air. She was quite literally buried under the Titan. Suddenly, light flooded Aurora’s cage as the mech was pushed aside, miraculously leaving her unharmed. She saw Robyn standing there, she’d literally picked up the Titan she had been buried under and threw it aside. “Get up, and watch yourself! Your armour’s gone!”


    Mel cut in, with a slightly raised voice. “Guys, I think Kratos knows what’s up. He’s sending more soldiers down to you via the stairs!”


    As soon as Mel said that, Aurora knew what would have to be done. It was a very stupid decision, but it was probably the best one. “You two need to get up there, now!” she shouted. “I’ll keep these guys at bay. Get to the lifts!”


    “Are you insane? You won’t last a minute by yourself!” Newt shouted.


    “A minute is all you’re going to need, stop wasting time and GO!” Aurora screamed. She ran towards the nearest form of cover, a simple table. She flipped the table on its side and hid behind it while reloading her rifle. She looked up and saw Robyn and Newt just standing there. “What are you waiting for? MOVE!”


    “I won’t leave —” Newt started, but Robyn cut him off.


    “Newt, she’s right! We have to go!”


    He seemed to hesitate, and then looked at Aurora again, dead in the eyes. A stupid thing to do right in the middle of a battlefield, but he did it regardless. “You’re leaving this building in one piece! That’s an order!” he shouted, and then he beckoned to Robyn. “Come on!”


    Aurora watched them, watched them turn around again and walk to the lifts. Rockets and bullets flew past them, but they were left unharmed. She couldn’t help but painfully realise that it was highly unlikely she’d survive this fight. But at least if she died, it would’ve been to help Newt and Robyn.


    She couldn’t see them enter the lifts because at that moment, shots started embedding themselves into Aurora’s makeshift cover. She steeled herself, and with a deep breath, she uncovered herself and let loose.


    ~


    Robyn was almost certain that they’d just lost another good soldier.


    She and Newt stood in the lift that now climbed the height of the building. It was incredibly awkward, two fully armoured and equipped elite soldiers standing casually in a lift with elevator music playing. She couldn’t hear the gunfire anymore, and she wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. “Mel, update,” Robyn put her radio on.


    “Kratos is moving. He’s walking up the stairs, probably on his way to the roof.”


    “Does he have anybody with him?” Newt asked.


    “Nope. It’s just him.”


    “Probably too good to be true,” Robyn said. “We’re on our way to floor 160. What kind of forces are waiting for us?”


    “Floor 160… give me a second,” Mel paused for a while, then spoke again. “Odd. There’s no movement on floor 160. None at all.”


    “That is weird,” Newt looked over at Robyn, a slightly worried expression on his face. “Are we walking into a trap?”


    “We’re about to find out,” she replied as the lift doors silently slid open to reveal floor 160. At least, it would have if it hadn't been pitch black.


    The only light available was that from the lift. "Night vision goggles on," Newt murmured. Robyn was aiming down her sights, ready to shoot at any surprises. She assumed Newt was doing the same.


    "Wait, standby." Robyn froze as Newt gave the command. She waited for further instructions until he spoke again, "My night vision's dead. Yours?"


    She tried flicking the visor on, but nothing happened. "Also down. Mel, what's going on?" Something wasn't right. They'd tested their equipment before leaving, so it should have been working now. "Mel?"


    No response.


    "Something is definitely wrong, we've lost Mel," Robyn said. "Stay frosty." This was like something out of a horror movie. All of their tech and communications going down, crawling around in the dark with no sense of direction… it put Robyn on edge.


    "Wait," Newt said again, but this time he held a sense of panic with it, "I can't move!"


    "What do you mean, you can't—" Robyn started to speak before she was abruptly cut off by the sound of her mech powering down. It refused to budge as Robyn tried pushing against it with a forced grunt. "Mine's down too!" Every single part of the mech, including the small parts surrounding her trigger finger had shut down.


    "You've wasted my time."


    That wasn't Newt's voice. Robyn went into panic mode and desperately looked around for him, but to no avail.


    Suddenly, the lights came on. Robyn squinted as it penetrated her now disabled visor and into her single eye. She turned her head as much as the mech would allow her, turned towards the direction that the new voice came from.


    She found herself staring into Michael Kratos' cold, dead eyes.


    "You've put me at a major inconvenience, Commander," he murmured throatily, still glaring at Robyn.


    She could see Newt now. He had also been frozen in place, and his assault rifle now lay on the floor. However, at some point he must have taken his handgun without Robyn noticing, because he was now holding a Desert Eagle aimed directly at Kratos. He couldn't fire it, though. "I told you that I wouldn't be far," Newt said.


    "Mmm… yes, you did," Kratos slurred. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by gunshots and the yells of Newt. Kratos shot his hand to Newt's and slipped his finger into the trigger guard. He kept firing shot after shot, hitting nothing but the wall.


    "He's immobilized me!" Newt cried. A few gunshots later, his handgun only registered a small click. "I'm out of ammo!"


    "You made a terrible mistake coming here," Kratos said as he took the Eagle out of Newt's hand and placed it inside the coat he wore. "You will die here, tonight. I'll make sure of it."


    "I don't care if I die. What matters is that you do," Newt snarled. "You've claimed lives that were close to me. Miguel, Reid, the rest of my unit—"


    "They all conflicted with each other," Kratos interrupted. "Reid only cared about his own gains. That's why he dismissed most of your team at London. Miguel, my poor friend, he fought for the sake of others. You should be grateful, Newton. I've saved you a lot of trouble."


    "You—" Newt spat. "I'll kill you! I swear to God, I'll kill you!"


    "I'll die one day," Kratos said shortly, "but it will not be by your hand. I bid you farewell."


    Kratos turned around and headed towards the stairs. Robyn watched him leave, watched every step he took until she was certain that he was out of earshot. "Newt, try to release the grip on your mech."


    He shook his head in sorrow — he tried anyway, he was still stuck in the suit. "No chance, I can't move an inch."


    "Try," Robyn coaxed. "Hit the release on your arm. Come on, you're supposed to be strong."


    "I am strong."


    "Then prove it!" Robyn hissed. She probably didn't stand a chance of getting out of here alone, but if Newt let her out…


    He was struggling. Robyn could see that in his face. She saw the gritted teeth, the look of determination and the steel of a warrior. Slowly, his right arm reached for his left forearm, getting tantalizingly closer with each second passing. She could've sworn she felt Newt's heartbeat as well as her own.


    Tap. Newt made it to the console.


    Tap. He hit the screen again, and his mech suit collapsed and fell backwards while he staggered forwards. "Oh God, I—"


    "No time! Try my console!" Robyn said impatiently. Newt rushed over to her and tapped frantically on the screen on her forearm. It didn't release her, but displayed a single word on the screen: DENIED.


    "It's not working!" Newt exclaimed.


    "Can anyone hear me?" A familiar voice suddenly cried out on the radio.


    "Mel! What the hell happened?" Newt demanded. Robyn was glad to hear Mel.


    "An EMP was set off through the entire building. But I've got no time for that, you've got massive energy and heat spikes headed your way!"


    "What the hell does that mean?" Robyn shouted. But she could hear them. Consecutive blasts, moving up the building — they were getting closer and closer. "NEWT, GET TO COVER!" she shrieked before the entirety of floor 160 was swallowed by fire.


    ~


    I'll kill you.





    I'LL KILL YOU!


    Newt opened his eyes, and immediately wished he hadn't. Ahead of him lay pure destruction. The windows had all shattered. The walls and floor were crumbling. But the most damage had been done to Robyn.


    The good news: she was no longer imprisoned in her mech.


    The bad news: she was bleeding out.


    Even worse news: she was still conscious.


    Newt tried getting up, but he immediately collapsed when agony crawled up his arms. He tasted blood. He felt like he was burning. His eyes watered from the smoke, and his coughing sent streaks of excruciating pain through his entire anatomy. He wasn't sure if he was breathing.


    He crawled towards Robyn. She was lying on the floor. Some of her hair had been burnt, what remained of it was stained in blood. Something was embedded in her, it had penetrated her stomach or something.


    Get up, dammit. Help her!


    He brushed whatever pain he felt aside and forced himself to stand. He collapsed a few times, but with great perseverance he finally got to his feet. He limped towards Robyn, and then he could see the situation. Part of the mech's shrapnel had stabbed Robyn just above her waist. She was critically injured.


    "Robyn…" he tried to speak, but his voice was destroyed.


    "Leave me!" Robyn choked out. She was in obvious pain. Tears flooded her eye. "If he gets away, this all would've been for nothing!"


    "But—"


    "Go! NOW!"


    Newt didn't have any weapons. He didn't have any strength, and he didn't have any support. Two words danced around in his mind. Give up.


    He couldn't. He couldn't give up. If he gave up, it would be like Robyn said. All of this would've gone to waste. With one last sorrowful and agonising glance at Robyn, he turned around and ran as fast as he could up the stairs, chasing Kratos.


    "Mel!" Newt only had to call the name to get what he wanted.


    "He's on the roof. It looks like he's waiting for a helicopter!"


    "He won't get it!"


    "Faster!"


    In a matter of seconds, he'd made it. He was now standing on the roof of the tallest building in the world and facing Michael Kratos once again. He could see the glow of the flames behind him, and his Desert Eagle hanging loosely in his hand.


    "You've lost, Newton," Kratos yelled as something appeared in the sky behind him. A helicopter, like Mel had guessed. "Admit defeat, and I may spare your life."


    "No." Newt was almost gasping now, but he kept snarling. "If there's one thing you need to know about me, Michael, it's that I will never surrender."


    Kratos aimed the handgun at Newt. He didn't flinch."You have chosen death, then. Your—"


    Another explosion interrupted his dialogue. Kratos whirled around and saw what Newt saw. The helicopter that had been coming to collect Kratos was now suddenly trailing flames and spiralling uncontrollably, and it was heading into the direction of the roof. It crashed into the side of the building on Kratos' side, causing him to dive forward and hit the ground. He dropped the Eagle, it slid across the roof in Newt's direction.


    He couldn't run. He would fall if he tried. He had to limp over there, very slowly. He took a step. Kratos was already regaining his balance.


    Second step. Kratos was on his feet.


    Third step. He was also walking towards the gun that lay on the floor.


    Fourth. With a sinking feeling, Newt realised that Kratos was moving much faster than him.


    Fifth. Newt collapsed.


    He crawled to the gun. It was within arm's reach. He just had to stretch. He felt around for it until his hand wrapped around the familiar shape.


    And his hand suddenly flared with pain as Kratos stamped on it with all the strength he could have possibly mustered. Newt yelled in agony and released his grip on the gun. That was all Kratos needed to reach down and take the gun from his hand again.


    Newt looked up at Kratos as he stood up and aimed the gun directly at his face. Kratos' expression showed no remorse or sorrow. Just pure hatred and fury.


    "Goodbye, Commander Newton."


    He pulled the trigger.


    The gun went off.













    And the shot that followed pinged harmlessly against the floor near Kratos.


    Newt couldn't believe it. A second ago, his eyes were sealed to embrace death. Now, he watched Kratos struggle to wrestle with a woman, a woman with black and green hair, with most of it either burned or covered in blood. Somehow, miraculously… Robyn had made her way up here to help Newt.


    The shrapnel that was in her abdomen was no longer there. Now it was in Robyn's hand, she wielded it like a weapon.


    She should not be alive. She should NOT BE ALIVE.


    Watching Kratos and Robyn fight in melee combat was intense. Robyn was a trained elite soldier, but it appeared that Kratos could fight too. Whenever Robyn threw a punch, he blocked it. However, their little wrestling match did not last long.


    The next few seconds, Newt saw in slow motion.


    Kratos kicked Robyn away from him, dazing her.


    He armed himself with the Eagle once again, and aimed it at her.


    BLAM.


    BLAM.


    BLAM.



    Three consecutive shots.

    All of them hit Robyn.


    She went down.



    She did not get back up.








    Newt stared at Kratos. He didn't even look at him, he was still staring at Robyn. That was the distraction he needed.


    Nothing else mattered to him. All he could think about was spilling blood. Fury blinded his thinking.


    KILL HIM.


    He got to his feet quickly. The adrenaline rush meant he couldn't feel the pain. He charged at Kratos, who turned around just in time to see a soldier gone mad headbutt into him.


    KILL HIM.


    He reeled. He staggered backwards, towards the edge of the roof. Newt brandished his two knives as Kratos stared helplessly at him. "Please…" Pathetic. He was pleading.


    Newt had waited too long for this.


    KILL HIM.


    "This is for my soldiers that you killed."


    Newt shoved the first knife into Kratos' stomach. He groaned in agony, deep agony, but remained standing.


    "This is for Aurora and Robyn."


    The second knife plunged into his chest. Kratos let loose a horrible noise and coughed blood. By some miracle he still stood, but he was right at the edge now.


    "This," Newt grabbed Kratos by his collar and brought his eyes to meet his. He wanted to see this.


    "This is for Wolf."


    Newt let go of Kratos. He had no hope of somehow fighting back as Newt mustered all the strength he had in him. He would not fail this time.


    With one final roar, he forced his foot into Kratos' torso. He stumbled backwards, but he had nothing to land on. With the most terrible cry Newt had ever heard, he fell. He fell down one hundred and sixty-three floors, and Newt watched. He kept watching until he couldn't see Kratos anymore, and he still stared down, the roar of the flames below being the only sound.


    He felt nothing. He'd won. But at what cost? Robyn was dead. Aurora was dead. He had won this battle, but lost everything else. He felt useless now. Part of him wanted to follow Kratos, wanted to fall down one hundred and sixty-three floors and die.


    "Ahem."


    Newt didn't turn around.


    "Newt."


    It wasn't Robyn, it was….


    Newt turned around to face Aurora.


    Her face was bloodied. Scars lined every single part of her face. Her expression said boredom, but her eyes screamed death. "Did you get him?" she asked.


    Newt nodded slowly. "Yes. I got him."


    Immediately Aurora turned around and put her hand to her ear. "Mel. Target eliminated, I repeat, target eliminated. Requesting immediate medivac."


    Newt didn't stick around to hear more. As soon as Aurora turned away, he fell to his knees. He collapsed for what must have been the fiftieth time today, and blacked out.



    ~
    She opened her eyes.


    Having two eyes again felt good.


    She blinked a few times, testing out the configurations to make sure they were okay. Her eyes darted around the room, detecting white walls and ceiling. Once she was confident that the new eye was functioning properly, she looked up at her Newt.


    He seemed dead, almost. His smile was quite obviously fake, and his eyes boasted trauma and bloodshed. Scars and burns dotted around his face, and he had quite a nasty cut on his lip. Despite these, he tried broadening his smile. "How's the eye, Robyn?" he asked gently.


    Robyn was lying in a hospital bed. She had been brought here about six hours ago. The doctors had told Newt that they were absolutely baffled that Robyn had survived a stab wound and three gunshots, and she had to agree. Robyn was a real fighter to have withstood all that. Everything still hurt like hell, but at least she was alive. She had bandages and surgery everywhere, and she was pretty much unable to move. That was okay. There wasn't any rush.


    "Where's Mel?" she asked hoarsely.


    "She's on her way here with Aurora now," Newt replied. "The doctor says he can discharge you after seven weeks."


    Robyn groaned. "Too long," she said.


    "Yeah, it's long. But I'll be here for those seven weeks."


    "You will?" Robyn asked, confused.


    "Yeah. Turns out you get a lot of time on your hands when you're not hunting down terrorists," Newt shrugged. Robyn laughed, and immediately regretted it when her ribs flared with pain. "Cool down, Robyn. You're still in a hospital, dummy."


    "Don't call me a dummy," Robyn gave a small smile. "You're terrible at flirting."


    "I've been told."


    ~


    "Why are you still alive, Aurora?"


    Mel and Aurora were travelling in an unmarked and inconspicuous Toyota, driven by one of Aurora's agents who had been paid extra to keep quiet. They were on their way to meet with Newt and Robyn at the hospital, but Mel wanted to hear answers before they arrived.


    Aurora sighed. "I don't know. Pure luck, I guess. And a ton of training."


    "What's gonna happen to Hellbringer, now that Kratos is gone?" Mel asked. It was a genuine question.


    "I don't know. I'll have to tell Markus about Kratos, and he'll either pat me on the back or slap me on the back. Either way, I think Hellbringer's disbanding. There’s no need for it anymore.”


    “That’s a shame,” Mel said, and she meant it.


    “I might enlist in the Army, I’ll probably never leave the fighting behind. You should join me,” she looked over to Mel.


    “I’ve been in the army before. Great place to be,” she nodded. “Yes, I think I will come with you. Can’t leave the fighting behind.”


    Aurora gave her a mischievous grin. “Good choice,” she said.



    Three Months Later


    Newt stepped out of the car first. He wasn’t particularly looking forward to what was about to happen, but he knew it had to be done at some point.


    He went around to the passenger’s seat and opened the door, he took Robyn’s hand as she stepped out. She was wearing something that Newt had never seen her in before: a dress. It was plain black and it looked almost too long, but it wouldn’t matter. She looked beautiful.


    Mel and Aurora now left the car from the back seats. Once they stepped out, the four of them walked towards the cobblestone path. Autumn’s leaves littered the ground in front of them, and they crunched whenever somebody took a step. They walked silently, nobody attempted any form of communication. They kept walking until they reached the graveyard.


    Newt had visited war graves before, but he had never expected that he would have to visit those of his own soldiers, his own friends. He kept walking, and the others followed him. He kept walking until he reached the seven graves at the corner of the yard. Each stone had its own inscription on it, to which all four of them paid respects.


    ~


    RIP

    Kiro Nakamura

    16/04/2104 – 26/05/2121





    RIP

    Autumn “Kapaia” Lloyd

    23/04/2104 – 30/05/2121

    Body Unrecovered




    RIP

    Minchi Juko

    17/05/2104 – 22/06/2121

    Body Unrecovered



    RIP

    Ethan Jyung

    02/01/2104 – 22/06/2121

    Body Unrecovered



    RIP

    Blythe Sailynn

    24/04/2102 – 22/06/2121

    Body Unrecovered



    RIP

    Adrian Fletcher

    13/02/2105 – 22/04/2121

    Body Unrecovered



    RIP

    Sakura Naganohara

    11/02/2103 – 22/06/2121

    Body Unrecovered


    ~


    “What’s next in your story?” Newt asked Robyn.


    The two of them were back at Ark Angel HQ, packing their things and getting ready to leave. Mel and Aurora had left them at the graveyard, mentioning something about enlisting in the Army. Robyn hadn’t been paying much attention. She was more focused on getting out of here.


    “I’m going back to America,” she said simply. “Britain is… too nice.”


    “You’re too nice,” Newt shot back randomly.


    Robyn gave him a questioning look. “Shut up.”


    “You’re still too nice.”


    “To you, maybe,” Robyn shrugged as he walked towards her. “Maybe I should get more strict with you.”


    “I wouldn’t mind that,” Newt said.


    “Then please, in the name of God, get your damn boot off my heels,” Robyn suddenly snarled.


    Newt jumped back, now glancing at the dirt stain he’d made on Robyn’s footwear. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “When are you leaving?”


    “Well, the plane takes off in like an hour,” Robyn shrugged.


    Newt gave her a surprised expression. “And you just decided to leave now?” he asked in disbelief.


    “I’m fast. I’ll make it.”


    “Um, no. You won’t. I’m driving you there,” Newt was already moving to get his car keys.


    “Newt, I—”


    “Get in the car!” Newt shouted as he bolted out of the door and into the sunlight.


    Robyn sighed. “Idiot,” she mumbled to herself as she gathered her remaining bags and followed Newt through the door. Newt was an idiot, but he was an adorable idiot.


    ~


    “Gate 22, right?” Newt asked as they walked through the airport. They moved quickly, now that Robyn only had about twenty minutes to get to her flight.


    “Slow down, we’ve got time. See, it’s right there!” Robyn pointed at the massive sign that read 22. She didn’t really believe what was happening right now. She was going back home, back to the States. Maybe she could find her old friends again and take them out for drinks, maybe even a movie. If luck really was on her side, her mother and brother would still be living in the same house they had been for most of their lives. If that was so, she could go back to them, and they could be one whole family again. But when Robyn thought about it, she realised she was leaving one thing behind.


    She turned back to Newt. “You could come with me, you know. We could be together, for real.”


    Robyn thought she saw something flash in Newt’s eyes. He just stood there staring at her, in some sort of daze. “Hey, dummy. I’m talking to you.”


    “Huh? Oh, sorry,” Newt shook his head violently. “Would you want me there?”


    “You kidding? ‘Course I want you there,” Robyn smiled, “but if you’d rather stay here, I’ll support whatever decision you make.”


    “I hate it when you give me the choice,” Newt groaned, and Robyn laughed out loud. “In all honesty, I’d love to come with you. Really. But something tells me I should stay,” Newt shook his head.


    “Gut feeling, huh?” Robyn asked. He nodded. “That’s okay. We can make it work.”


    “It’d better work. I’ll be sad otherwise,” Newt smiled.


    “Don’t be sad,” Robyn scolded in mockery, and she would’ve said more if Newt hadn’t bent down to kiss her.


    There it was again. That electrifying sensation that raced through her blood, her heart, her brain; she loved this. She felt so much stronger now. Robyn put her hands around Newt’s face as she returned the kiss. She didn’t want to leave this moment, she knew Newt was enjoying this as much as she was.


    And it was over. Newt broke away, and Robyn was left standing with her bags. “You’ve got a flight to catch,” Newt remarked.


    “Yeah,” Robyn’s eyes wandered beside her.


    “Call me when you land, okay?” Newt said.


    “Yeah, I will.”


    “In that case, have a safe journey home.”


    They both smiled at each other. Robyn now realised she didn’t want to go, but she felt like she had to. Gut feeling, she supposed. After a moment of hesitation, she turned around and walked towards the gate barrier. She could feel Newt’s eyes on her. She knew they wouldn’t leave her until she was miles away. As the air hostess checked her ticket, she glanced back at Newt. He was still standing there, a bright smile on his face. She’d never seen such a genuine smile before. The hostess handed the ticket back, giving Robyn a friendly nod and smile.


    She brought herself to turn around one more time. Newt was still there. With a small smile, she gave a wave to him. He returned the gesture. Now satisfied, she faced the tunnel leading to the doors of the plane. Taking a breath in, she walked through.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2019
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  2. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Legendary Partier Elite+

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    Ahhhhh loving this so far! Your writing style is amazing!
     
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  3. Wolfy

    Wolfy Heroic Partier Elite+

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    I love how you added the backstories with certain individuals ;), can't wait to see what happens to the characters!
     
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  4. Bori

    Bori Heroic Partier Elite

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    neato!
     
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  5. Slimez

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    Ayyy My Boi Adrian goin hammm
     
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  6. HelloColdWorld

    HelloColdWorld Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite

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    Looking forward to more!
     
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  7. Slimez

    Slimez Hyper Partier Elite

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    Ummm @Spirits you okay? You haven't done anything on the story for a while...
     
  8. Wolfy

    Wolfy Heroic Partier Elite+

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    He was probably busy.
     
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  9. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Chapter 2 out now!

    I'm pretty busy with school and other stuff so I may get chapters out pretty late. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten ;)
     
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  10. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Legendary Partier Elite+

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    Aaaaaa loving it!
     
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  11. Wolfy

    Wolfy Heroic Partier Elite+

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    That ending is killing me, I blame you Spirits.
     
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  12. Slimez

    Slimez Hyper Partier Elite

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    Chapter two ending. Spirits I am gonna stab you so hard

    Um... @Spirits did you die again?
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2018
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  13. crayondrippings

    crayondrippings Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Cant wait to see everyone appear! <3
     
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  14. Wolfy

    Wolfy Heroic Partier Elite+

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    If there were a better line then this, SO HELP ME! Great chapter Spirits!

    Cries in gay - God I love my husband
     
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  15. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    so uh I forgot to bump the thread after posting but clearly someone else already did that rip

    anyway chapter 3 out now!

    (No I did not type chapter 4 the first time get off my back)
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2018
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  16. HelloColdWorld

    HelloColdWorld Moderator Staff Member Moderator Elite

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    The story is so good! You’re an amazing action storyteller and I’m loving Robyn’s characterisation, brava!
     
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  17. Bori

    Bori Heroic Partier Elite

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    Finally got to read the story! It's amazing <3 can't wait to see Minchi aha-
     
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  18. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Legendary Partier Elite+

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    Melody's characterisation is just as I imagined it when creating her character! Brilliant!

    Also the chapter out is 3, not 4
     
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  19. Spirits

    Spirits Heroic Partier VIP+

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    Chapter 4 weeee
     
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  20. GlowingLights

    GlowingLights Legendary Partier Elite+

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    Melody's attempt at Japanese made me laugh so much. Another great chapter
     
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