Sergeant First Class Joseph Till felt his eyes water against the wind’s caressing breath. Even so, he retained his gaze into the late afternoon sky. The colors resembled a vulgar canvas, as if some poor bastard had been blown clean open, and some sick fuck had decided to throw his guts into the sky for display. The clouds around seemed to soak the colors into their gray forms like a sponge.
Below the Black Hawk helicopter extended the face of Kenya – showcasing warped patterns of jungles and dry fields like a shabby quilt.
This blasted country had managed to do in a week what usually took months in others: become the bane of Till’s existence. Afghanistan, Kuwait, and even the cluster-fuck of Iraq had nothing on the vast jungles of the African soil. It was a cocktail of shit mixed in one – starting with the thickest brush that would make even the most hardcore explorer second-guess their passion, tossed in with a barrage of bugs that could turn skin into bubble wrap in under a minute, all blended up with the heat, feeling as if the land itself sat in-between the crack of the Devil’s ass.
How life even managed here was a surprise in itself. Some people would call it proof of humanity’s ability to adapt and live against all odds – no, stubbornness felt more fitting; the unwillingness to finally throw-in the fucking towel and die-off already.
Fuck it, Till thought. Regardless of how he felt, he had no say in the matter. None did whoever was stupid enough to sign the dotted line for the cause. Nothing like signing away your soul.
SFC Till was in charge of an ops extraction team made up of five men including himself. One of his men even coined the name F.O.X. Tango, which reluctantly became an unofficial one even their higher-ups began to use. Why, was a mystery in itself. They were good at what they did, hell, they were the best – an elite squad of highly skilled soldiers who did what they needed to without the questions. There were no annoying inquires apposing Higher Command, no second-guessing gestures, nothing except the faultless mindset essential for a well-rounded soldier.
The Brass loved that about them. No one liked a nose sniffing in the wrong area unless it was coated with a brown tip. They did their job and in turn, it kept the missions coming and the money with it.
Their new assignment involved a rescue so-to-speak. Apparently, one of Uncle Sam’s choppers was recently shot down by enemy Somalian forces. Somalia was a cesspool for instability even after the intervention of the United Nations in their little squabble of a civil war years ago. It’s never a good idea to break-up two dogs going at it, not if you didn’t expect to get bit yourself, at the least.
The past few months brought up a new faction of Somalian extremists who began an up-rise against their government. Intel relayed the cowards took their assaults onto the general populace. In defense, the government deployed their military force to intervene but their efforts fell short against them. Word through the vine spread that an “unknown” benefactor was funding the extremists, bringing in powerful weapons never before seen on the black market.
These weapons were a game-changer and they managed to catch the interest of ole Sam. In response, a team was sent in to extract a few of those weapons, but their airship was targeted. Right from the get-go, Sam fucked up when he didn’t send F.O.X. Tango instead. If you’re gonna do something, do it right the first time. The chopper was shot before crossing into Kenya, ultimately crashing deep within its jungles. It was able to send out a distress signal moments before the crash. Since then, communication with the crew could not be reestablished.
Based off the last known coordinates, Till’s team was being sent in to do what they did best, and what should have been them from the beginning – just another simple extraction, right?
“Hey, Sarge, ETA is five minutes!” a voice yelled out against the wind’s howl.
The voice startled Till, reeling him back from the depths of his thoughts. His watery eyes felt relief upon pulling them from the airstream. They fell upon the would-be owner of the voice.
With squinting eyes, Staff Sergeant Snow peered back into Till’s. Half of Snow’s face radiated from the device in his hand. In the green glow, Till could still see the thin scar extending across his face. It etched from his temple down to the edge of his jawbone like a vandalized car. It served as a visual reminder; a mark received when Snow saved his ass back in Afghanistan. Had Snow not intervened, the blade of that Taliban shit wielding it surely would have done more than engrave him like the scorn of a pissed-off girlfriend.
Snow was his back-up when he needed it. He was his voice of reason and a brother if there ever was one. Too bad he was too stupid to get married.
“HQ says to expect a possible delay on the extraction bird!” SSG Snow continued, yelling in combat against the wind.
“What the hell for?!” Till asked, annoyed at the update.
“They said they’re short on birds, three in maintenance and the other two we’re sharing with 75th!”
Till sighed in discontent. “Aren’t we out here to clean up 75th’s shit in the first place?! And yet, they can’t even guarantee a fucking bird?”
“Afraid so, Joe!” Snow replied.
“That’s great! No fucking surprise!” Till replied. After a quick glance at his watch, he gave a gesture towards Snow.
Snow understood it. “Alright everyone, look alive! We’ll be hitting the drop zone in about three Mikes!”
At his command, the other occupants of the cabin began to move – helmets straps were tightened and magazine cartridges loaded.
Immediately sitting across from Snow was SSG Tinsley. His hulking figure counteracted to the calm scrutiny in his eyes. The giant quietly double-checked his ammo packs before returning his gaze off into the sky. His weapon sat across his lap – a M240B, a rather sizeable machine gun believable for the hands of a giant. Yet in Tinsley’s, the massive weapon’s appearance was more trivial. Tinsley was a man of few words, but was one tough son-of-a-bitch in the eyes of Till.
He was nicknamed Power Man after the comic book superhero. Who would’ve guessed a big guy like Tins would be in to them. Ironically, he seemed to share the same attitude as the character.
Next to him sat SGT Ryder nicknamed Gerber for his young, baby-like face. Facial hair was not in the kid’s future, at least not for a while. Despite his innocent appearance, he was a sharp kid, very intuitive and calculating – almost like a younger version of Till.
Ryder was aggressively jotting into a notebook, pausing only to adjust the strap of his weapon.
Leaning outside, opposite of Till was none other than SGT Jones, the wise-cracker of the team. Jones was a fucking idiot, but he was a hell of a marksman as well.
His cocky demeanor in Sniper School which involved – insulting his instructors, or pulling childish pranks often at remarkable distances, resulted in his eventual dismissal. However, his talents granted him a spot on F.O.X. Tango and a nickname as Crackshot. If not for that, he would’ve had the shortest career.
The idiot quickly hocked a wad of phlegm into the wind, watching it concede to gravity. If there ever was a wonder for the nicknames, he was it. Somehow, Jones became the unofficial creator of them, believing everything needed one. Despite the annoyance of them, the names managed to stick – except for Till. The last time Jones tried to honor Till with one, he gladly bestowed a strong nut-shot to shut him up.
The only names Till wanted to hear for himself were: Sergeant, SFC Till, or best Sarge.
“Hey, Big Sarge?!” Jones called out.
Asshole, Till thought, biting his lip. He already knew Jones had a smart comment. He glanced over to meet his goofy half-cocked smile.
“Word of mouth says you’re joining the club for forties,” he said, tossing a thumbs-up.
“Is that what’s going around?” Till replied, glancing over to meet the guilty smile of Snow.
“So… I was wondering what you had in mind?” Jones continued. “What’s Big Sarge gonna do on his special day?”
The question seemed to draw the attention of everyone else, even Tinsley withdrew his mind from the clouds.
“Don’t know, might just spend the night with a bottle of Jack,” he replied reluctantly.
Jones issued a groan of disappointment. Surprisingly, everyone else complied with the same notion.
“Come on, Big Sarge, you can do better than that. Look, hear me out,” he said, leaning in close for everyone to hear. “We all got leave coming up after this mission. I say we do it big and hit up a great spot in Brazil called Muy Loco Calientes. They got the best drinks and most importantly, the best female strippers.”
“Nope, forget it,” Till quickly shot back. “I’m not hitting up a titty bar for my birthday. Most importantly, I’m not going to any of the ones associated with you.”
Everyone groaned in discontent.
“Come on, Sarge,” Tinsley interjected. “I can’t lie, that doesn’t sound like a bad move. You gotta do something fun for your birthday. You’re only forty once and in our line of work that means a lot.”
Several other agreements followed around. Till’s gaze slowly went around the cabin, peering into all the eyes trained on him.
“I’m game,” Ryder replied when he met his.
Jones was nodding still housing his goofy smile across his face. Till felt a hand on his shoulder from Snow, who issued a nod as well. After another minute, he gave a long sigh.
“Fine,” he conceded. “But under one condition…”
In praise, everyone passed around high-fives and fist pounds. The cabin gave a minor shake when the helicopter halted in the air, hovering above the ground.
“… I want to hear less shit from your mouth today, Jones. Got it?”
The Black Hawk slowly made its descent to the ground. From there, the men quickly hopped out, forming a perimeter around the bird in the dirt clearing. A hurricane of dry earth was thrown into the air by the propellers, creating a thick wall of dust. Immediately, after vacating, the bird took off into the air again.
The steady tempo of its blades released a cadence echoing like an audience applauding in sync. Eventually though, the clapping noise faded, leaving the men to the calm sounds of the jungle around.
“Comms check, this is Till, how copy?” Till said, adjusting the small intercom piece in his right ear.
“This is Gerber, that’s a clean copy,” Ryder replied soon after.
“PM, here, that’s a good copy as well,” Tinsley said.
“Crackshot, I’m good and ready, Ladies!” Jones followed.
“Taskmaster responding, that’s a green on all comms, Fox Lima!” Snow finished up.
“Copy that, Intel reports possible enemy traffic in the area,” Till began. “So let’s keep chit-chat to a minimal. Target estimated at 15 miles due East. EENT is at 1900, so make sure we move with a purpose,” he went on. “Eagle Eye, this is Fox Lima. Toms have set, I repeat, Toms are set, how copy?”
It took a second before a deep voice distorted by static answered, “That’s a clean copy, Fox Lima. You’re green to go.”
Till looked over to Snow and quickly flashed three fingers followed by two. Snow nodded and spoke over the intercom:
“Okay, PM, take point, Gerber wedge it off to my right. Jones you got six. Brush is deep so I want heads on a swivel.”
The team came together forming a makeshift triangle facing the jungle tree line.
Even now in the late afternoon, the sun was still present lingering like the last guest who couldn’t take hint at the end of a house-party. It didn’t help either that every cloud seemed to avoid the flaming ball of misery like the plague.
Before them stood the boundless city of trees, acting as conveyors to their world. Their splintering, wooden bodies appeared dry and ragged. Many of them had bark peeling in layers like molting skin.
Till gave a quick notion, signaling the team to move forward into the thick brush. The bushes and branches mocked their attempts to move with subtlety – announcing every notion of movement with a snap and harsh sway.
The team pressed onward though, enduring a lengthy trudge through the vegetation slowly eating away at the time.
Two hours in, they grew close to the edge of the jungle. Tinsley quickly threw up his fist signaling for the team to halt. Immediately everyone froze, raising their weapons and assuming a position.
“What do you see, PM?” Till asked, leaning up against a tree.
“We got two Sierras ahead – facing away. Both are armed with light weapons – AKs,” he answered.
“That’s a positive idea on Sierras?” Till asked.
There was a slight pause before he heard an answer, “Yeah it’s them alright. And Sarge–”
Before he could finish, several men sprang from the brush, each holding an AK-47 and yelling in Somalian tongue. The numbers seemed to be around seven, maybe more, all surrounding Till and his men. The Somalians’ hollers seem to elevate, probably for them to throw down their weapons. Yet, Till had not given such an order. His team had their weapons up, each trained on a target before them ready to fire if commanded.
Finally, Till spoke up softly, “Alright, Ryder, you’re up.”
At his words, Ryder let his weapon hang to his sling. With his hands up in a surrendering pose, he began speaking out, matching the Somalian men in language. A few of the men exchanged confused looks at each other; no doubt surprised they had a translator among the group.
Till had no idea what Ryder was saying, but they always had the same strategy for dealing with these types of situations. Ryder was fluent in several languages and always crafty with his words. He was a cunning bastard, again reminding him of himself minus the linguistic skills. The plan was always to get their assailants to call forth their leader.
If Ryder felt like the conversation was going well, he would keep his hands firm in the air. However, if he felt it was heading south, he would twitch his hands; it was subtle to the untrained eye, but to the team it meant open-fire.
Ryder’s hands remained firm for now. He continued to converse with the men, making slow advances to them. At every word he issued, the men would return an angry response.
The skinny bunch of Somalian men appeared like nothing more than average townsfolk – men who probably picked up a gun not long ago. Each of them had a chain link of ammunition across their chest. They were all sweating profusely, reflecting faces like cheap action figures. They wore a red bandana either on their heads or on their arms, a symbol most likely of their organization.
Till had his weapon trained on the big one arguing with Ryder. His face held a twisted snarl with eyes glaring like a bull. His weapon was pointed a mere foot away in the face of Ryder. Inside, Till craved the brute to give him an excuse to drop him, but Ryder had not relayed a signal.
Finally, after another minute of the argument, the big guy called back to the others. Till could see the brush dancing and flailing from someone approaching. Emerging from it was a young man appearing no older than Ryder. With a confident stride, he made his way up to the big Somalian still holding Ryder at gun point. Immediately, he began talking to the man as if irritated at the request to being summoned.
He seemed to badger the big guy until abruptly holding up a hand to gesture silence. He glared quietly at Ryder before speaking out in a strong accent.
“Who the hell is in charge of this pack?” he demanded. “I know it is not this little mouse before me.”
You’re one to talk, Till thought. He walked up slowly lowering his weapon, keeping it tight in his hands. “I am, SFC Till. I take it you’re the man in charge?”
Several of the team took a glance back at the situation, but kept their weapons trained on the men around them.
“I am Odour, leader of the Twisted Bantu,” the man answered. “This is my land. Tell me why you American Pigs are in my jungles and why I shouldn’t slaughter you like such?”
“We’re simply passing through?” Till answered.
“To go where? Why are you here?”
“Sight-seeing,” Till mocked, “heard the Kenyan jungle was a hell of a spot to tour. I had to see it for myself.”
The man’s face was solid like a statue before issuing a false laugh. Afterwards, he took out a pistol from his side, aiming it. Till immediately complied with his own weapon. The notion sparked a domino-effect forcing some of the Somalians to aim their weapons at Till. In turn, Tinsley adjusted his angle to a few of those men. Snow’s weapon however, remained in place.
“Do you think it is wise to mock the leader of the Twisted Bantu?” Odour continued. “My men could slaughter all of you right here and now.”
“Is that so?” Till retorted.
Without warning, a red dot appeared on the man’s left shoulder. It flashed a few times in his eyes before settling back over his heart. He glanced down at the dot.
“Just give me the word, Big Sarge,” Jones whispered over the intercom.
“Hold that shot, Jones,” Till relayed.
These assholes thought they had Till’s team ambushed, but Jones always kept a sharp eye out. It was not unlike him to purposely linger behind to post up. His signal had always been three blank receivers over the comms – a sharp beeping noise from turning the comms on and off. If they all heard the sound, they knew to be on high alert.
“So, Odour, was it?” Till began. “I suggest you tell your men to stand down. Unless of course, the ‘Bantu’ have other assholes lined-up to take your place. In any case, we’ll be more than happy to send them your way as well.”
Hesitation was not a factor for Tinsley and Snow when it came to a firefight. It would only take seconds for them to mow down the targets near them. As for Till, he had a choice between dropping the big guy or denying Jones a pleasurable shot on the self-pronounced leader.
The man flared his nostrils, glaring intensely back. Eventually, he gestured for his men to lower their weapons.
“So now what, Sergeant?” the man questioned. “Are you going to slaughter me and my men?”
“Why not, Joe?” Snow spat. “Serves these civilian killing bastards.”
This didn’t seem to sit right with the man. His eyes ensnared with anger, more than before. “Who has told you this? We are the Twisted Bantu, the fighters of the people against the government!” the man erupted.
“Bullshit, you’re the scum killing the people! You expect us to believe the government is attacking their own?” Snow shot back.
“Yes!” the man replied. “Those spineless cowards began taking our women and children, doing God knows what to them. When the people began speaking out against it, they claimed we were trying to overthrow them and began firing on us. I witnessed their soldiers open-firing on a group of unarmed protesters. After that, we knew what we had to do.
“We formed the Twisted Bantu to protect ourselves.”
“Sarge?” Jones asked on the comms.
Till was quiet for a minute before lowering his weapon. “Stand down, everyone.”
Tinsley immediately complied, lowering his. Snow was hesitant at first but eventually conceded as well. The red dot faded from Odour’s shirt.
“Odour, you said the government is the one attacking the populace?” Till repeated.
“Yes, I give you my word,” Odour answered.
“You’ve crossed paths with them in a firefight?”
Odour gave a confused expression as if his pride was on the line. “Of course, I have killed thirteen of those cowards.”
“In these fights, have you ever come across any powerful weaponry you couldn’t handle?” Till went on.
Odour’s eyes flashed with the utmost amount of subtlety, but Till caught it. “I’m not sure what you mean,” the man finally answered. “I know nothing of what you say.”
Till exchanged a glance over to Snow who returned a soft shake in disapproval. It was clear he was aware of Till’s intentions. However, they were running low on time and daylight.
“About three hours ago,” Till started, “a chopper went down from Sierr- … Somalian soldiers. You tracking the whereabouts of that?”
Odour took a minute to converse with the large man in Somalian tongue. Till in turn exchanged a glance towards Ryder, who nodded. After conversing, Odour returned to English.
“My men did see such a craft. American, no doubt?” Odour asked.
“Yeah,” Till answered.
“So, that is why you are here,” Odour answered. “Your chopper should still be there, assuming the government filth hasn’t reached them first. You need help to find this craft, yes?”
“No,” Till rejected. “We know how to find them. We just need to know if any government soldiers are posted up along the way.”
Odour shook his head. “No no, it is easier to show you. It would be too difficult to explain Kenyan lands to those unfamiliar with her. I can show you, take you there.”
“No,” Till stated more firmly. “This is an American operation.”
“Really, Sergeant? Well I cannot guarantee where the soldier scum are posted then. I’m sure you’re short on time.”
Till glared at Odour as a thin smile grew on the man’s lips.
“And what do you get out of this?” he asked.
The smile grew wider. “Oh I simply wish to help my new American friends.”
“So now we’re friends?”
“Yes, why not? How does it go? ‘The enemy of my enemy, is my friend?’ It would be a nice trade-off for these ‘powerful’ weapons, wouldn’t you say?”
“I thought you weren’t aware of these weapons?” Till reminded.
Odour simply extended his smile. “This is a chance to help each other out. The choice is yours, Sergeant.”
“I don’t know, Sarge,” Tinsley said over the comms. “Do you really wanna trust these fools?”
“Snow?” Till questioned with a look towards his way.
Snow was silent for a minute before responding, “It’s your call, Joe.”
Till gave a long sigh. “Jones, make your way back.”
“On it, Big Sarge. See in you two,” Jones relayed.
He glanced up at the smiling Odour. “Take us, there.”
It was clear to Till that Odour knew more than he was portraying to him. More so, he was not completely sold on the idea that the Somalian government was the one attacking the civilian population. Sure it could be true as well, but in the event that it was not, Till was going by another saying: ‘…keep your enemies closer’.
Odour led them out of the congestion of trees and into a bare field. The field was vast, spotting arid soil, sprouting a dry bushes among the open area like a balding man. They soon came upon a village thriving with people: There were children playing with a poorly inflated ball, women carrying baskets of supplies, while some elderly folk simply sat around lazily.
The village itself was mainly made up of shacks of wood heavily consolidated into one area. The mass collection of shacks reminded Till of the cities of Iraq.
Out from one cluster-fuck to enter another, he thought.
A few of their feeble frames held thin cloths acting as curtains or even makeshift doors. Like poorly constructed webs, clotheslines stretched from the shacks decorated with an assortment of garments. A few chickens annoyingly scurried in between the heels of passing people, picking at treats seen only by their eyes.
“It is because of us, villages such as these can live their days in peace,” Odour brought up suddenly. “We provide them with protection and food.”
“And what do you get in return?” Till asked.
Odour smirked. “We ask nothing in return, except quarter for my men if we need it and information on the government cowards.”
“Seems like a fair trade-off, almost too fair,” Snow retorted.
“What are you saying? That my men and I have ulterior motives?” Odour spat.
One of the trailing Somalians threw a mean glare towards Snow. Till shot one as well.
“We are here for the people. We are the people,” Odour continued.
“We understand that,” Till interjected.
“Yes, we know you have the people in mind. That’s also the reason why you want to get a hold of those ‘powerful’ weapons as well, right?”
Odour returned a twisted face in confusion. “I told you, I do not know what you speak of.”
“Cut the shit. Your eyes gave you away twice already,” Till retorted, getting impatient.
Odour scoffed. Tinsley and Ryder kept a close eye on the Somalian men who grew tighter in pace to Till. Jones remained in the rear with his own pair of escorts.
“Fine, we have seen these weapons, so what? I want the weapons to protect these people. Is that too much to ask?”
“I suppose not,” Till replied, “but before I guarantee anything, I want to know everything – about the weapons, about what’s happening to these people, the government, everything.”
After another salty glare, the man eventually complied.
“About seven months ago, a young Somalian woman was walking home after fetching water from the river,” he started. “The water was for her family – her two sons and her sick mother. However, she never made it home that evening. When several villagers attempted to find her…”
His words began to trail off.
“Did they?” Till inquired.
“Unfortunately, they did. Not without discovering a horrifying truth,” Odour went on. “They found the woman lifeless and stripped of her clothing. She had been defiled – her breasts had been cut off, her hair shaven, and stab wounds were all over her body. When asked around, nobody saw what happened to her.”
“That’s sick,” Ryder stated, overhearing.
“Sick?” Odour scoffed. “That is only the half of it. The same thing began to happen to more people, even small children.”
“The people attacked,” Till began. “Any chance there was a family or friend connection between them? It’s possible someone had a grudge.”
“That is the crazy thing,” Odour answered. “This happened to random people, sometimes villages miles away from each other. Like I said before, we tried to take our pleas to the government to help us solve what is going on. What did they do? They ignored us. After several more days, we stood out in front of the President’s office hoping he would hear us there. What was his reaction? He had his soldiers line up in front of his office as if we were terrorists or something. Then one day, they open-fired on us killing seven unarmed people.
“After that day, we swore to them that we would protect ourselves with or without their help. They took that as an act of rebellion, stating that they would wipe out any who brought forward the same fruitless accusations. On that day, they declared war on us. We understood that this was the only true way to get our voices heard,” Odour stated.
“And you’ve been fighting ever since then,” Till concluded.
“Yes, and those bastards have the nerve to say we are attacking our own people, calling us the cowards when they attack unfairly.”
“How so?” Till inquired.
Odour was silent.
“Odour, you ask me to believe your side, but you won’t give me all the facts,” Till continued. “I need to know the whole story. What have you seen?”
After another minute of silence, he answered, “I’ve never seen anything like it. They began to use a strange weapon with enough power to blow a hole through a man the size of a guava fruit. It is no bigger than our own weapons here. When fired though, lightning flashes as if it is the wrath from Allah himself, filling the air with a stench like hot gunmudka.
“I do not know where they get these weapons from, but they are unstoppable. Because of them, we were pushed back out of Somalia and into Kenya.”
Till’s brow furrowed. Skepticism filled his eyes. “Lightning? Are you sure that’s what you saw?”
“Yes, of course. Do you think that I am lying?”
“Well it does sound a little far-fetched. It at least explains why you’re in Kenya. Is that everything?” Till questioned.
“No, one of my men reported seeing something,” Odour continued. “He claimed there were bright lights in the sky during a shootout. He said the lights came down and literally reached out and snatched up our men as if it were alive. Tell them, Abasame,” he said, gesturing to the big guy from earlier.
The man’s earlier scowl was absent. Instead, a face resembling a feeble child was before them. He spoke with an accent even stronger than Odour’s. “It is true,” he replied, “they were there in one moment and gone in another. I only got away because – I fled.” He lowered his head in shame.
Till was silent, unable to come up with a response.
“I don’t know, Sarge. You buying all this bullshit?” Tinsley asked over the comms.
“Yeah come on, Sarge. Power’s right,” Jones said, piggybacking. “Sounds like some bullshit to me as well. The dude’s probably just butt-hurt for getting taxed by these weapons and doesn’t want to admit he’s been outmatched by ‘real’ soldiers.
“Instead, he wants to spit up some African ghost story about some ‘living’ light, the fuck? Then, he wants us to feel sorry for him too. Don’t get me wrong, it is sad, but that’s fucking life. That doesn’t mean we hand over whatever weapons we find to a bunch of pissed-off villagers. Today’s friend could be tomorrow’s enemy,” he finished.
Till could not believe Jones was actually saying something worthwhile. Even so, what if the things Odour said were true?
Odour came to halt. “I know this may be hard for you to believe, but it is the truth, I swear. I need to know if I can rely on your word. You promise that we can have these weapons and I will safely guide you to your aircraft. Know, that I am not lying. There are many soldiers posted in the area, heavily armed with these weapons. The same soldiers that shot down your aircraft because of what they do not want your country to know. They are the enemies, not us. If you run into them, they will surely gun you down no matter how skilled you think you may be. We are your only hope.”
Till exchanged a glance from Odour to Snow.
“Go,” Odour said. “Talk it among your men. I will wait.” He gestured for his men to pull away, leaving Till to his thoughts.
Till made his way to Snow signaling the others to keep watch. For a minute, Till remained silent. He felt his mouth open to speak but Snow spoke up first.
“You remember that one mission back in Afghan?” he started. “It was a simple Intel gathering mission, reconning the nearby village. It was you, me, Casey, Shepard, and Garcia. We spent the entire day out until we got to the village. And not a single soul was willing to tell us anything, too afraid to speak. That is the last thing any of us wanted to hear. We were all exhausted and pissed-off, you especially.”
Till was unsure why Snow was bringing this up, but he remained silent and listened.
“And then out of nowhere, we got hit by an on-passing convoy of Taliban,” Snow continued. “They had us pinned down in a firefight. You took cover behind a house with a mother and her eight-year old daughter. In the midst of all the bullets firing, the mother was hit, but the daughter was unscathed.
“I remember what you told me. You said as the mother was dying, your eyes both met. It was a brief, but powerful moment. Her wounds didn’t allow her to speak. Yet, through that simple encounter you were able to understand what she desired. You could read it. She wanted you to take her daughter – to get her to safety. Despite everyone’s better judgment, even my own, you took the girl with you.
“After a long strenuous fight, and by the grace of God, we managed to kill every – last – one – of those bastards. After it was all clear, there it was. It was you and that girl. The other villagers either fled from the scene or were shot in the crossfire. She was a quiet one, but somehow even she knew and simply remained by your side.
“You gave her water, hell even bits of your MRE when she was hungry. You even carried her when she couldn’t walk anymore until we finally returned to the refugee camp. And as if the story wasn’t strange enough, you were able to reunite her with her father. By some miracle, he was already there trying to make future arrangements for his family.
“My point, Joe, is that despite what others think, you’ve had your moments. All from what I’ve seen, you seem to always know the right choice. Your gut instinct has served you fine up till now. We’ve been through hell and back together, and I’ve never abandoned you during any of your decisions, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I here with you to the end,” Snow finished. “Let’s just try to keep my good looks intact this time though,” he joked.
Till was only able to cough up a light chuckle. He felt a few tears tease his eyes, but immediately choked them back. He gave Snow a simple nod, placing his hand firm on his shoulder.
“What’s it going to be, Big Sarge? Jones interjected. “I can’t lie, Taskmaster has ‘me’ tearing up a little over here, and I’m catching mostly static.”
The smile grew wider on Till’s lips as he shook his head at the comment. “Everyone bring it in, we need to make sure Mr. Odour is on the same page as us.”
Snow smiled back, rendering a nod of approval.
“There are several enemy encampments: here, here, and here,” Odour noted on the map.
The crumbled paper radiated under their red lens flashlights. The map was barely holding together appearing like a used napkin salvaged from a trash bin.
The cruel heat was now gone along with the sun. In its place was a kiss of coolness that caressed the skin.
“Under the cover of night, we should be able to move undetectable,” Odour stated.
“We got five miles to cover and a lot enemy traffic,” Till added. “So, NVGs (night vision goggles) on and keep noise to a minimal. Odour have your men remain in the rear since none of you will be able to see.”
“I will only bring one of my men, Abasame,” Odour replied, gesturing to the big Somalian from earlier. “The less movement from us, the better.”
“Sounds good,” Till agreed. “Ryder, when we get closer, I want you to try and establish radio contact with Sierra Five team.”
“Tracking, Sergeant,” he replied.
“I don’t wanna sound pessimistic, Sarge,” Tinsley began, “but it’s been four hours since the crash, and we haven’t heard a word from Sierra.”
“And?” Till fired back. “Regardless what we think we’ll find out there, we have a mission to complete. You’re the last person I’d think would back out now.”
“I’m not backing out, Sarge.”
“Okay then, let’s move out. We got brethren out there waiting for us.”
From there, the team made their way out.
With Odour’s guidance, they hugged the tree line of the jungles only entering when applicable. They passed by several areas containing soldier encampment – spotlights from their roadblocks scanned the perimeters about like a prison tower.
When they were about a mile out from the area of the crash site, Ryder attempted to make radio contact.
“Sierra Five, this is Fox Tango, I repeat, this is Fox Tango, how copy?” Ryder relayed.
The radio only returned an eerie streak of static. Ryder attempted the call again with more firmness, but the same results were received.
Regardless, they pressed forward, entering the tree line again. Through their goggles, they kept a sharp eye out for any movement.
After a seemingly endless trek, a faint light began to appear ahead of them. The light was flickering poorly like a weak pulse.
“Sarge, I got eyes on possible crash site,” Ryder said over the comms.
“Copy that, approach with caution,” Till responded. “Maintain concealment until we’re all on line.”
“What is it?” Odour whispered.
“We might be coming up on the crash site,” Till responded.
The men pushed forward until they all came upon the supposed site. Crouching in the trees, their eyes glanced ahead.
Before them, they saw a vast clearing of trees from the aftermath of the helicopter crash. Several trees lay crushed or toppled with a large gaping hole revealing the initial entry point. The bird itself was like a metal carcass, lying in a twisted heap split in three pieces.
The cockpit’s nose was buried deep into the ground where it managed to press a large mound of dirt up against the front windows. The second piece, the cabin, was split from the cockpit, but sat flat directly behind it. The tail had snapped off completely. The remnants of the rotor hung by a thread – the edges appeared charred from where it received fire.
Small fires kindled around the site, providing minimal lighting to the carnage. Several metal cases lay spilled from the helicopter like the torn innards of a feeble prey.
“Good Lord,” Jones managed to say. It was the closest thing anyone had to say at this moment.
“I got no eyes on any of the crew. There’s zero movement,” Snow brought up.
“Eagle Eye, this is Fox Lima,” Till relayed on the comms. “We have reached the objective. No visual on Sierra Team yet, how copy?”
The same deep voice spoke behind the static, “Copy that, Fox Lima. Proceed with caution.”
“Ryder?” Till started.
Ryder nodded and attempted the comms again. “Sierra Five, this is Fox Tango, I repeat, this is Fox Tango, do you copy?”
There was no response, but the static voice of Ryder could be heard echoing near the cabin wreckage.
“There’s a radio in there somewhere,” Till stated. “We need to get a closer look.”
“Those cases?” Odour brought up. “Those must be the weapons, yes? Now is our chance.”
He quickly began to stand, ready to rush the area until he was harshly yanked down by Till.
“What are you doing?” Odour quickly spat.
“You don’t do anything until we’re sure the area is clear, got it?” Till snapped.
Odour returned a glare before looking away in discontent.
“Okay, Snow you’re with me,” Till stated. “Tinsley and Jones keep eyes out. Ryder, you got eyes on Odour. Make sure he keeps his head down.”
Odour flashed another salty glare.
With their weapons ready, Till gave the command and Snow was the first to bound forward. He quickly reached the cabin, posting up in it. After a second, he gave the clear for Till to move next. He immediately assaulted forward, joining Snow near the cabin.
“We’re clear,” Till rendered back to the team. “Snow, what do you got inside? Any signs of the crew?”
“Negative, there’s nothing in here. It’s completely empty.”
Till peeked inside for himself. The scene appeared as Snow relayed. The cabin was empty aside from the clusters of dirt and bits of cracked metal.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked. “Ryder, try the comms for them again.”
Ryder complied, issuing the same statement from before. From their new angle, they could now hear exactly where the radio signal was being received. The signal was coming from one of the weapon cases next to them. Till slowly reached over to it, unhinging the lock, and raising the lid.
Immediately, a foul smell forced its presence into the air. The putrid odor caught both of the men off guard. With eyes watering, they forced a look inside, viewing a horrendous sight. Inside, they found the mutilated remains of a man. Holes could be seen plastered throughout his body. At first glance, they appeared to be stab wounds. Yet on closer inspection, the small chasms seemed to have a cleaner incision, almost as if they were drilled. It was like finding the fucking special collection of Jeffrey Dahmer.
The horror did not end there. The man’s genitalia had been removed along with what appeared to be both his hands. His hair had been clean-shaven too, allowing for a clear sight at his twisted face. Even his eyelids were missing, showcasing a disturbing glare to match his wide-open mouth, frozen in a scream of terror.
Shockingly, there was no trace of blood anywhere in the case. With that level of carnage, the damn thing should have been fucking over-flowing, filled to the brim at the least. Yet, the corpse before them lay empty like a hollow shell.
“What the fuck is this?” Till mouthed, covering his nose with his sleeve.
The voice relay from Ryder continued, revealing the radio mic sitting next to the man’s head.
“Jesus, they’re all like this,” Snow retorted, opening up a second case to the side.
“What’s going on, Sarge?” Jones asked over the comms.
“Yeah, what you see?” Ryder added.
Till was speechless, painfully eyeing the body with horror. His hairs prickled up the more his eyes traced across the mutilated features. Despite the inflictions, they appeared as if they were conducted in some manner of care. The amputation of his hands and even his genitalia did not appear like it was torn by talons or fangs. No, the cuts were clean, almost surgical. This thought sent a subtle shiver through him.
“This isn’t right, Joe,” Snow started. “Someone did this and put these men in here.”
On cue with his words, heavy gunfire suddenly erupted from behind – the tree line directly across from the team. The chopper’s metal hull reverberated from the sparks of white crashing into it. Immediately, Till and Snow took cover behind it. In response, Tinsley and Ryder returned fire to the opposite tree line.
Jones peered through the scope of his rifle to the other side. “Sarge, we’re looking at heavy forces, about ten to twelve! I don’t wanna sound drastic, but y’all need to get your asses out of there ASAP!”
“Thanks, Jones! We’ll try and keep that in mind!” Till yelled out against the metallic composition playing in the background. One shot made a quick ricochet past his head. “Eagle Eye, we have received heavy enemy fire. I repeat we are receiving heavy enemy fire!” he relayed on the comms.
There was no response, only a heavy cry of static.
“Don’t worry, Sarge. We’ll clear you a path in a minute!” Tinsley stated.
The giant crouched high and let his M240B machine gun go wild into the tree line. Several opposing figures dropped instantly after being hit from the barrage of bullets.
Jones caught sight of one of the soldiers hiding, attempting to aim at Tinsley while he was still firing. He made a quick adjustment on the scope of his weapon and eased back on the trigger, dropping the assailant.
“Woo! One down!” he bellowed out. He quickly adjusted for another target and fired. “Down goes another!”
“Almost clear, Sarge!” Tinsley barked, pausing to reload his weapon.
The enemy shots seemed to lighten up. Till took the time to glance back at the enemy tree line to confirm it. He gave a nod at Snow ready to provide cover-fire. Yet, a strange rumbling began to occur.
The ground began to vibrate – it almost felt like the entire floor was going to collapse. The vibration began to escalate, shaking the air around as well. Till felt his entire body quiver as a low hum eased into the air, growing louder with the trembling.
Before he had time to think, a blinding light tore through the sky. The intensity of it forced him to instantly rip his night vision goggles from the blinding blur. From his side, he could tell Snow did the same. At first, he thought it was just a spotlight, a flare maybe. Yet the light was abnormal. It looked different; it felt different.
It gave off a pulse like the steady cadence of a heartbeat. The hum from earlier now had elevated to a sharp whistling noise as if something was spun around with immense swiftness. He held his hand up to the sky, hoping to obscure any of its blinding gaze. It was like trying to stare at the sun completely lighting up the night sky. He tore his hand away to witness the spectacle in its entirety, inviting all consequences – he desired to see it.
When his eyes made contact, he initially thought he was viewing a star. It gave off the same appearance. It was as if one of the many diamonds above had fallen, gracing them with its presence. As his eyes stared into the light, the sonancy of the world slowly drifted into a calm mute. The effervescence of the light grew in sync, greedily swallowing the world. Nothing else mattered but its fluorescent presence.
Now under its radiating spell, Till could see that the source of the light was from a simple orb. The light rendering from the meager ball of energy was dimming in and out in cadence to its pulse.
He was frozen, standing in admiration at the blazing spectacle with a smile forming on his lips. He felt warmness inside, a true feeling of pure euphoria. His arms lightened, allowing his weapon to fall carelessly to the ground.
His legs found the means to move without his will and began carrying him forward. As they did, he felt a yearning dwelling inside, a yearning to be blessed more from the beaming comfort. He craved to wholly swathe himself in its fervency. He took a step and levels of happiness grew inside him. With another step, the euphoric levels elevated even more.
He anticipated more until he was abruptly tackled to the ground by Snow. Immediately, the harsh tones of the world screamed its way back. Bullets ricocheted off the metal wreckage just moments from where he was standing.
“Joe?! Joe?! Are you alright?!” Snow hollered to Till. His voice gradually fought against the dull ringing in Till’s ears. Eventually, the ringing did fade. “Come on, Joe. Get a hold of yourself!”
Till’s eyes slowly adjusted from with the white blindness. His eyes slowly focused until they met with the ridged edges of Snow’s face. The first thing to catch his sight was the scar on his cheek, teasing him of yet another moment his ass had been saved.
“I-I’m good,” he managed to squeeze out rubbing his eyes.
“Sarge, you good over there?” Ryder asked over the comms.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he repeated once more.
He glanced over to see his team still holding down cover-fire.
“If you’re up to it, Sarge, we got your back!” Tinsley hollered.
“Or not, it’s your choice,” Jones joked. “Take your time, I’m getting my body count–”
Before he could finish, the orb above shot down a beam of light over Jones. He immediately froze in mid-sentence. The smile from his lips was gone, and his entire face appeared emotionless. Jones stood up calmly. He seemed unaware of anything around him anymore.
A few bullets whizzed dangerously close by him. Yet, he remained frozen in place. Finally, he began walking out, stepping into the open. The entire time his eyes held a glazed look. Tinsley noted this and attempted to reach his location, but the bullet storm increased their presence around him, forcing him to remain behind cover.
“Jones what the hell are you doing?! Get behind cover!” Snow yelled. “Jones?! Jones, Dammit!”
Till had lost his voice and simply watched in horror. He had an idea of the feeling Jones must have been experiencing from that light. Embodying its warm touch was something truly indescribable. It was a feeling only comprehendible if under the same spell. To be detached from it felt in comparison to detaching one’s own arm. It was like parting with energy that made him feel whole.
Jones was now completely in the open. For a second, it appeared to Till as if he had shifted his gaze onto him. It was hard to tell under the brightness but he thought he caught a slight grimace of fear in Jones’ eyes. It was as if he knew his coming fate.
Without warning, there was an ear-deafening screech in the air. Several gaping holes exploded in streaks of light over Jones’ figure completely tearing him to shreds.
“It is them! It is the weapons!” Odour’s voice bellowed, but it was faint up against the screams of this newly introduced menace.
Abasame shook his head in fear in reminisce of his earlier encounter and took off into the darkness. The notion surprised Odour.
“Where are you going?!” he yelled out at the man. “You coward! Get back here, now! Coward!”
Till was still in a daze and lying without strength. He was ready to close his eyes and drift off until he felt his body being torn from the ground.
“Let’s go! Move your ass, Joe!” Snow barked at him.
Pushing him forward, the two of them scrambled from the wreckage, no longer adhering to the rules of bounding. With these new found weapons, it did not matter anymore. Streaks of screaming light continued to whiz past their heads like the wrath of a cloudburst. Thunderous crashes echoed into the air when the attacks met with trees in a spark of fire.
With the tree line a few feet away, Snow shoved Till forward while leaping into cover. Tinsley managed to run over to the two, dodging two oncoming blasts.
“Sarge, we need to get the hell away from here now!” he barked.
Till was still a bit incoherent. Before words could leave his lips, the beaming orb sent down another ray, this time subjecting Ryder.
“Ryder!” Till yelled out.
Snow and Tinsley spun around from his cries to meet the horror. Ryder stood up in the same manner as Jones, but instead of the blank stare, his face twisted into fear. He began screaming out loud no longer afraid but in horrifying pain.
He threw his head up against a tree, repeating the action over again. Even through the chaos around, they could still make out the sickening cracking being produced. After a moment of shock, Tinsley and Snow rushed in to subdue him, but the light enveloping Ryder was like a hot cloak, burning their skin upon touch.
Ryder continued to bellow out in pain. His vocal chords began to crack from the intensity. Tinsley could not take it anymore and made another attempt to subdue him, embodying the pain of the light. He managed to bear-hug Ryder’s feeble form. His skin began to singe, forming large boils, burning away bits of his flesh. Regardless, Tinsley held on tight. Even so, Ryder fought back with a strength unlike his own in the giant’s arms.
Ryder’s pain-driven cries sounded inhuman. Abruptly, he managed to slip free. Before anyone could react, he reached for his weapon on the ground, aimed it into his mouth and pulled the trigger. A loud pop went off and the lifeless form of Ryder fell to the ground.
There was no time for them to mourn. The light quickly retracted from Ryder’s body, reforming itself. It now took on an appearance resembling a ghostly hand. Without hesitation, the blight promptly slithered towards Odour like a snake. Till made an attempt to push Odour away, but the light quickly expanded, swallowing them both.
His skin was subjected to the burning grip of the beaming spectacle. The experience was different from before. The sweet euphoria that had melted his heart earlier beyond measure was not present this time. Instead, there was an excruciating pain like a fire was searing his face and arms. He could literally feel his skin being singed off his bones.
In response, his mouth opened to scream out his agony but his voice was absent – stolen from him. Instead, he felt his lungs consumed in a fiery haze of heated needles jabbing at all angles. He could feel his eyes start to roll back against his will.
From there, a rapid image was appeared in his mind and then it dissipated. It was too quick to comprehend, but then it appeared again. Then again for another second, but he was able to see it this time. More flashes came after, each slowly meshing together providing a full distorted picture.
He found himself kneeling in a chamber glowing in the familiar bleachy color he now grew to loathe. He was not alone though. He was surrounded by strange figures. Their forms were dark and obscured by the light, almost teasing an illusion of their presence, but they were there indeed.
Although their faces were empty, he could feel their unseen gazes upon him. It was like they were glaring at him, detesting him. It felt like their raw emotions had taken form. He could literally feel the embodiment of their hate – feeling like talons slowly drag across his skin.
Although no words were spoken by the beings, he could perceive their thoughts within his own. They were reeling his mind with images. He was subjected to horrendous sights – he saw people, many screaming frantically and in agony as metallic instruments penetrated or carved without mercy into their flesh. He saw images of Somalian officials in suits gazing into their own spectacle of lights from orbs above.
There were images of soldiers attacking villages – some transporting children and women into warehouses. Another set revealed a strange metallic case opening up in a claw-like manner – inside were stacks of oddly shaped armaments being taken by soldiers. The images escalated in rate, all the while, the illumination around grew brighter, consuming everything.
Till had lost all notion of anything else around. He could feel his very essence reeling from his form. What was to become of him? Would he now only exist in a vast pool of nothingness, an imprisonment orchestrated by his bright tormentors until his very form ceased to exist? He did not know. Regardless, he was powerless.
Unexpectedly, the white blindness was torn from around him as his sight reverted back to the dark jungles. He found himself on the ground with an arm gripping his shoulder. Upon rendering a confused gaze, he recognized its owner to be Tinsley. The rest of Tinsley was laying over an unconscious Odour. The way they were on the ground suggested he must have tackled them and somehow the notion was enough to release them.
The perpetrating ray of light made a snake-like retract upward until it faded with the orb. At that moment, Till felt a fire erupt within him. He immediately rolled to the side and began vomiting uncontrollably. This notion brought him minor relief. Afterwards, he began to feel the pain surging across his face and arms. It felt as if he had been shoved into an oven and roasted alive.
“Joe, are you alright?” Snow asked running up to him.
Till felt very weak. His eyes shifted over to the grinning face of Tinsley.
“Sorry, Sarge. I couldn’t let them take you too,” he said.
Till returned a feeble smile back, but their celebration was cut short due to the enemy soldiers still firing around their area. Their numbers appeared to have increased and they began to push forward now that their “aerial support” had abandoned them.
Till could barely stand after Snow helped him off the ground.
“We are leaving now!” Snow ordered.
“What about him?” Tinsley gestured to the unconscious Odour.
“Is he alive?” Till asked weakly.
Tinsley gave a quick pulse check. “Yeah, unfortunately.”
“Then bring him. We don’t leave anyone behind.”
Tinsley picked up the man, slinging him over his shoulder. Immediately after, they retreated from the site. Their pursers remained vigilant, trailing them and firing blindly. Till passed out a few times along the way until eventually blacking out for good.
When Till slowly opened his eyes, he found himself lying in a bed. The steady rhythm of a beep was lingering in the background. His eyes traced around the room. It was fairly small, showcasing only a single chair. The walls even the ceiling was a bland white color.
White, he thought. Why did it have to be fucking white?
He noticed his arms had been heavily bandaged. The tight constriction around his face gave the assumption that it too was in the same predicament.
The door to the room opened, revealing a middle-aged man with thin spectacles and neatly combed hair. He was sporting a white lab coat and held a clipboard in his hand.
“Good afternoon, SFC Till,” he said with a warm smile.
“Afternoon? It’s the middle of the night,” Till managed to cough up.
“Indeed it was when they brought you in. You slept most into the next day, today that is,” the man replied, checking the clipboard at the end of the bed. He began jotting notes onto it.
“Where am I? Who are you?”
He attempted to sit up, but was met with a sharp pain that seemed to pulse everywhere without a clear origin.
“You shouldn’t move,” the man brought up. “Here, try this.”
He pulled out a remote from his pocket and clicked a button. In response, the bed’s higher portion began to rise. About a quarter way up, it halted.
“I’m Dr. Keller and you’re safe,” he finally answered. “We’re at McCarthy-Eisenhower Base.”
Safe? Till thought. Immediately his mind sparked with worry. “Where’s Snow and Tinsley?!”
The doctor held up a hand. “Relax, they’re here as well, recovering just the same.”
He gave off a sigh of relief. “What happened? How did we get here?”
At that moment, the door opened again, this time entering was a man fully dressed in uniform. The man wore a sharp suit, crisp in its edges. His chest was decorated with ribbons and metals that met to his shoulder – the shoulders themselves held three golden stars across them.
He had silky gray hair neatly combed to the side. His beady eyes almost sunk within his wrinkling face. They lightened up as he drew closer.
Till recognized the man. “General Irons. Afternoon, Sir,” he said, issuing a weak salute.
“As you were, son,” the man said in a firm voice. “SFC Till, I understand you and your men went through quite an ordeal out there and I’m glad you were able to return to us safely.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sorry to say that the mission was a failure.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the General said. “There will be plenty of missions in the future. Right now, I think it’s important you just get your rest.” His face held a false wrinkle smile.
“If you don’t mind me asking, sir? What happened out there?” Till inquired.
“Why, your men, SSG Snow and SSG Tinsley, was it?” the man answered. “They were able to haul you over to a neighboring Kenyan village. The villagers hid you there where it was possible to call in a MEDEVAC. We came as soon as we could.”
“What about Odour?” Till brought up.
“Who?” the General inquired with a confused face.
“There was an unconscious Somalian in our company,” Till clarified. “He was helping us.”
“Oh?” the General replied, rendering a quizzing glance to the doctor.
“Yes, the Somalian I’m afraid did not make it,” the doctor spoke up. “He suffered from massive three-degree burns and severe cerebral trauma. He died an hour after bringing him here. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, that is very tragic,” the General added. “I understand that along with Sierra Five team that we lost two fine soldiers from your team as well.”
Till felt his eyes fall to the bed. He was hoping their deaths had been a part of some twisted nightmare – that they were alright and recovering in another room like the others.
“Well, I’ll let you rest now,” the General said, heading for the door.
“There’s just one more thing, sir.”
He halted, returning a subtle face of irritation.
“What happened out there?” Till asked again.
The elderly eyes of the man squinted hard. “I just told you what happened. What’s the confusion, Sergeant?”
“Not about that, Sir. I meant… we saw something out there, something unnatural,” Till started. “Whatever it was, it did something to me, to all of us. And the weapons we saw, they – they weren’t of this world.”
The General’s eyes lit softly before easing into an annoyed look. “Son, I think you should really rest up now.”
“No, sir, I’ve rested enough! Our intel was wrong!” Till barked. “The Extremists aren’t the enemies, the Somalian government is! They’re somehow in league with some… some unknown beings, not of this world. I don’t know. Look, I know how this sounds, but you have to believe me, sir!”
“SFC Till, do you have any idea how idiotic you sound right now?” the General replied. His eyes seem to conjoin with his words both cutting deep without remorse. “Would you believe you? I’m going to pretend these crazy accusations are in response to your medications,” he continued. “Hell, you should be more concerned with your condition, son. Then–”
His words abruptly fell flat when he noticed the confused look upon Till’s face.
“You do know of your condition, right?” he inquired. “You didn’t tell him yet?!” He shot at the doctor, startling him.
“I-I was going to, General, before you arrived,” the doctor replied weakly.
“Tell me what?” Till asked, feeling an eerie chill fall down his spine.
The doctor cleared his throat before answering, “I’m sorry, Sergeant but you have cancer.”
Till stared blankly at the man for a moment.
“I have w-what?” he asked, his voice cracking a bit. His eyes remained fixated on the doctor’s.
“Cancer, Sergeant,” the doctor answered solemnly. “Terminal, I’m afraid.”
“I h-have cancer?” Till repeated.
“Yes,” the doctor confirmed again. “In fact, you all do. Although, SSG Snow and SSG Tinsley don’t have it as bad, you, I’m afraid have skin, lung and a large mass in your frontal lobe. Not to mention, you suffered from two-degree burns covering over seventy-five percent of your body.”
The doctor’s words seem to fade into a dull ringing, welcoming a soft numbing in his head. Till slowly let his head fall back into the pillow, closing his eyes. The word “cancer” lingered in his mind, echoing like a void cavern. An unwavering chill began to envelope his body, gradually consuming his form with every passing second.
“Sergeant?” a muffled voice called out. “Sergeant?”
The voice tore Till away from his trance. He immediately opened his eyes, now filled with a fire. The sorrow was draining from him. In its place something else was slowly brewing – anger.
“How long-” he started softly. He bit his lip, rendering a deep breath before continuing. “How long do I have?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. Could be months, could be weeks. We’ll need your permission, but with it, we can start the chemo-therapy now and hope for the best.”
Hope for the best? That was his fucking response? Those words never sounded so fucking empty. So that was it? After everything he had been through – after all the missions, all the encounters where he barely avoided the icy clutches of death, she would have him now – of all things, fucking cancer.
Till turned to face the General again, but he was gone. The bastard managed to squeeze-out without another word – no fucking surprise though.
When Till mentioned the “beings” and the weapons, he recalled the expression of the General. It was the same subtle expression Odour had given before. He wasn’t fooling anyone. The fucker knew what was going on – the amount he knew or for how long was undetermined. There was also the words he spoke earlier – ‘there will be plenty of missions in the future’.
He said them without a second-thought – like dismissing a broken cup, knowing there’s another to replace it. How many lives did it take before he became numb to it all?
Out there, a foreign nation was offering their people to being experimented on in exchange for advanced technology. The American government whether they were involved or not, caught wind of this trade-off. They opted to gain these weapons and God knows what else for themselves. No surprise for the good ole U.S of fucking A. We never did like to concede to second-place, to being out-classed.
Till and his men were mere pawns in a bigger unseen game. His team was not the first to being used in this game, and they certainly would not be the last. There would be plenty of Hot Shots, plenty of fresh bodies to fill their place, all willing do to their job without asking questions.