I took off towards the compound at a sprint, my breath frosting the chill air. Across the helipad and the courtyard, pushing through the doors into the concrete grey buildings. I hold my crossbow up to my chin and crouch down to take my bearings. Dark corridors and hard floor beneath my boots. The smell of gunshot residue and smoke. It's mostly quiet. Someone else was fighting here. Odds are only one side was left standing. I moved further into the darkness, hoping to God that Jagan or Drake wouldn't be one of the bled out corpses scattered along the floor.
Before long I found myself in a control room of sorts. It was lined with CCTV monitors and PCs were hooked up on the desk. The blood of the operator dripped into the keyboard, his face set in a mask of violence, his hand clutching a pistol to the very last. I checked the body. This guy was mafia, you could tell from the tattoos. That means he'd been working for Marissa and Jerry, and that meant the side who won were the Stalker troops. Great. I would've taken fighting some goons over a trained mercenary army any day. Though to be honest, when you've got to choose between fighting two sets of men with guns you know something's going wrong with your life. Or you're in SCIT.
I pushed the body off the desk and tapped some commands into the keyboard. The monitor began to play a full sound recording of the camera down the hall and into the control room where I sat. Rounds were flying everywhere, ricocheting off the walls, muzzle flashes puncturing the shadows. Three mercenaries, masked and goggled, filed along the hallway, squeezing their triggers rhythmically, utterly in control. Mafia dashed all around, popping in and out of doors, through corridors, waving their guns about and spraying bullets all over the place. They were panicking and the Stalker mercenaries were taking full advantage. I watched as thickly accented cries rang out; "BACKUP! VE NEED BACKUP! VE CANNOT HOLD THE-URGH!" The large mafia grunt screaming into a walkie talkie, uttered a guttural roar as three 5.56 mm rounds punched holes in is abdomen. It was a point and shoot massacre. The mercs just squeezed off burst after burst of fire, each time another man fell, each time the walls would be re-sprayed with another layer of blood so thick it looked black. The camera angle changed to inside the control room, the operator clutching his gun, sweating and breathing heavily, talking to himself and clutching a bleeding leg. The mercs seemed to glide through the body-lined corridor, with an inexorably brutal efficiency. The operator knew he had no choice but to die. The mercs paused a few metres outside the control room. One spoke aloud in english. "Surrender yourself. Spare yourself a pointless death and find us your bosses on the camera network. If you don't do it for us we'll find them anyway. Don't make us waste our bullets on you." The three mercenaries waited for a reply. The mafia operator took a deep breath. He slammed open the door of the control room and screamed with primal rage as he brought his gun to bear. He was too slow. Rounds rocked his body and splintered his bones and he jerked and shuddered backwards onto his computer consoles, his roar dying in his mouth. The mercs entered the control room. One of them got to work on the monitors searching for Jerry and Marissa, the second stood guard outside, and the leader moved over to the operator and stood over him as he slumped on the desk. The operator's chest heaved and his breath rattled as he tried to breathe while his own pooling blood saturated his lungs. "Pity," commented the merc. "Those bullets cost good money." He raised his gun and cracked it over the operator's head. The force of the blow would have easily fractured the man's skull. Once the mercs had found what they were looking for they turned around and left and the recording ended.
As if I didn't need any more reminding we weren't playing softball anymore. These guys weren't girl scouts when it came to ruthless elimination. I had to press on. Time was running out. If I didn't find Jagan or Drake soon one of them might end up like the dead guy on the floor next to me. I scanned the last half hour of TV surveillance. There! Drake showed up creeping through the shadows in corridor 7-B. That area led to the underground garage. The lower level cameras came up blank. The CCTV must be out down there. I set off heading for the underground garage.
A deafening explosion sent shockwaves through the floor as I neared corridor 7-B. That was Drake's cover blown then. I sprinted for the garage, hearing shots echoing down the walls and passages, hoping that Drake was surviving. The gunfire stopped abruptly as I slipped through the door into the cavernous space. The place was packed with ordnance and vehicles. Half of them had been totalled by the explosion and soldiers swarmed around the place. I hugged the wall, hoping its shadow would further conceal me despite my camo suit. I wasn't taking any chances with these guys. I heard some chatter start up.
"Shall we kill him?"
"Not yet, this one is SCIT. We can use him alive."
"He's bleeding pretty badly."
"Get him in the truck. If we can interrogate him before he dies at least there will have been some point in shooting him."
It's the same voice from the control room recording. I peek out at the scene and see three mercs carrying Drake. They tip him unceremoniously into the back of a waiting truck as I watch. Another three are moving around checking vehicles and weapons, looking like they're making ready to leave. The leader starts up again.
"Alright, I've gotten word from command, Stalker in chief is pulling out and Red is ordering the retreat. We've got what we came for apparently so we're taking off. Red also wants to interrogate the SCIT agent personally and maybe Stalker himself will watch so we're taking him with us. My squad will take the truck, second squad, salvage what you can and follow behind on snowmobiles or something."
He turned and got into the back of the truck while his subordinates got in the front. The engine fired up. I used the sound as noise cover. I had to move now or Drake was dead. I took aim as the garage exterior doors opened and the truck began to pull away. The three who remained were saddling up their snowmobiles. I brought the nearest one's head into my crosshairs and fired the crossbow. The steel bolt fizzed through the air at almost a hundred metres per second, silent and deadly. He dropped with a dull thud and not a cry escaped his lips. His two teammates looked around at the sound of his fall, confused. My crossbow's repeater pulley system had redrawn the string and allowed me to load another bolt before they'd even realised he was dead. My second bolt stuck the target in the chest and sank straight through flesh and bone into the internal organs. The final mercenary dived for cover and reached for his weapon. I ducked behind more parked vehicles as bullets started flying, sparks lighting up around me as the rounds rained down. The fire stopped just for a moment. That was my opportunity. I'd only have a second while he was out of cover and reloading before he ducked down then popped up with a full clip to shoot me with again. All or nothing. I spun out from behind my cover to give myself a clear shot. I twisted around in a falling dive as the merc pushed his next magazine into place. His eyes swam into view down my scope through his goggles as he raised his gun to fire. I pulled the trigger. The bolt punched through his skull between his eyes and lodged, one end protruding from each side of his head as he collapsed on the floor.
No time to congratulate myself on a fine shot. I legged it after the truck which had just pulled out of the garage. I was glad the terrain was poor, the snow and ice on the mountain would slow down the truck as it tried to move along the track. Still it was picking up speed. I ran faster, pushing my legs as hard as they would go, my lungs burning, my muscles screaming out, the adrenalin throbbing through my veins. You can't let them go Foster! You can't let them take him! It was pulling away. Faster, further. I couldn't keep up. It would enter the treeline and I'd lose it and with it a member of my team. No! NO! Come on! Then, absurdly, miraculously, Jagan appeared running through the trees away from the base.
"JAGAN!! JAGAN! KILL THE DRIVER! KILL THE TRUCK DRIVER!!"
He turned his head at the sound of my voice and took just a moment to register my command. He aimed his weapon and fired. Point and shoot. He emptied his whole clip into the windscreen and the truck screeched out of control and barreled through the forest and eventually crashed into a tree and stopped. I ran to catch up with it and Jagan ran with me once he reached me.
"Where the fxck have you been Cover? What the hell were you thinking taking off on your own like that? I should court marshal you into the afterlife. You'd be on toilet duty for the next hundred and fifty years if you hadn't turned up right now!"
"Hey, Foster, I had it planned. You tracked me right? That was the whole idea. You'd never have found this place without me. Once the helicopter landed I hid and then things started blowing up so I ran for the trees and here I am."
"Well, I guess I've gotta say good job you were coming this way. Drake's in that truck, and badly injured too. We're getting him out."
We both sprinted the rest of the way toward the truck as the rear doors burst open. The last merc stumbled out, pistol in his hand Drake held hostage. Human shield situation.
"Put down your weapons or I kill your man."
Jagan and I kept our guns trained on him.
"Are you going to try and shoot me? Risk killing your own man while I can just shoot all three of you like helpless animals?" He snarled the last word with hatred on his tongue.
"Foster, Jagan!" Drake called out, hoarse and weak with blood loss. "Forget me! Take him down! Don't let them get any information from me! Shoot me! Shoot him through me!"
"Shut up!" The merc leader jabbed his gun back at Drake and eyed us slowly, guessing whether we really would shoot both him and Drake.
I aimed my crossbow.
"Drake I already told you. We put our comrades first here. Any member of SCIT is more important than the mission. And for the record, you are a part of SCIT."
I pulled the trigger. The bolt flew true and ripped a hole through the merc's gun hand, tearing his weapon from him. I dashed forwards, closing combat distance quickly in case he had another weapon. He shoved Drake at me and I was knocked off balance. Jagan was frantically trying to get a clear shot but the merc was too close to me and Drake and moving too much. The merc swung at me with his uninjured hand and knocked my bow out of my grip. He tackled me to the floor and threw punches, his heavy blows shaking my jaw and chest as I bucked and rolled, kicking, clawing, and scratching in the snow. I twisted and fought but he shifted position and pinned me in a headlock. Now I was the hostage, Jagan couldn't shoot with this position and Drake was in no condition to fight. I could feel the pressure tightening in my chest, my airways being crushed, my limbs becoming weaker. Desperately I scrabbled around for something, anything that would help me, save me. My hand found a crossbow bolt. I drew it, gripped it hard, the cold steel squeezed in my palm, I lifted it and stabbed backwards. He gasped and his choke loosened momentarily. That was enough. I spun round and flipped him over. I stabbed with the bolt again and again, the impact wounds deep and ragged as I pierced his chest cavity repeatedly. Finally, I collapsed on the ground, panting. It was over. Jagan and Drake were both safe. I wasn't dead. All we had to do now was meet back up with the rest of the team.
Jagan and Drake both came over to where I was lying. Jagan offered me a hand to pull me up.
"Drake's been shot but looks like they removed the bullets and stopped the bleeding. We should be thankful that they wanted to keep him alive."
"Yeah, Mr. Lewis... Um Foster. Thanks for that." Drake looked apologetic but relieved. To be honest I was pretty relieved. I hate it when I nearly die.
"Heh. Don't get used to it Drake. In SCIT, we don't do heroics but someone had to save your sorry ass didn't they." I grinned and laughed. "Come on, let's get out of here. I found some pretty interesting stuff about Red Stalker on that computer database too but we can discuss that later. We should find Dani, Beth and Crow. If they've got Marissa and Jerry that's grudge match of the century and I don't want to miss the fireworks."