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Author's note: Forward: The story is inspired by PUBG, The Long Walk by Steven King and Dark Souls.

“You are jumping in 15! Are you ready to die, American?” I could barely hear the bulky Ruskie over the grumbling noise emanating from the rusted AN-22. “I asked you a question!” As he yelled I felt his massive hand crack my jaw as he brought it against my face. I stared into his cold eyes and didn’t say a word. The past 15 years of service to my country has gotten me immune to pain, immune to his taunts. The only fear I felt was of what I will have to do once my boots hit the ground. It’s truly amazing what the human mind can withstand in the moment of violence. I keep telling myself I have another option, but the killer in me won’t pull the trigger, won’t give up that easily. The Russian decided to interrupt my thoughts:

“I see you choose to ignore. It is, how you say, A-OK? You are scrawny, small, weak. I doubt you survive ten minutes.” I kept staring. He may not know who I am, what my role was… is in the war. But I do. Even if I have to kill everyone on the godforsaken island, I will walk away. “No quip, no American wit? Very well, I’ll make sure to piss on your corpse when they pull it out of the dirt.” Still not getting anything from me, he moved on to the younger soldier to my left. This guy, had to be no more than 22, probably got captured during his first deployment. But he was big, looked athletic, maybe he could prove to be a decent ally in the coming fight.

“Don’t try to get in my head, you commie fuck!” The young man spat it out in a thick Brooklyn accent before the Russian officer could even get out a taunt. “When I’m done here, I’m coming back, and I will rip your fuckin’ throat o…” Before he could finish, the ‘Commie Fuck,’ removed his Grach pistol and used it as a club to open up a jagged gash on the side of the young New Yorker’s head.

“Still have anything to say, Jersey Shore?” The Red piece of shit had a grin on his face nine miles long, “Or does the Snooki have your tongue?” Brooklyn looked up, none of the fire in his eyes had diminished:

“I’m from New York, you prick, my pizza doesn’t taste like a gumba’s ball sack.” I tried to stifle a laugh but failed miserably. I could see the hate bubbling up in the Russian’s eyes, but before he could retaliate the intercom started crackling and a pleasant female voice washed over us:

“Attention, today’s match will be made up of 25 two-person teams. Please look at your seat number. There will be an index card with your teammate’s number on it. Please go ahead and in an organized fashion, find your partner for today.” After freely wandering around the rickety plane, I found myself staring at the man from Brooklyn, and him staring back.

“I guess you’re my new best friend,” he held out his hand, “Lieutenant Luca Bandoni, 75th Ranger Regiment.” I took his meaty hand in mine and shook lightly:

“Marik Kistich, I...” I trailed off. Did it matter if this man knew what I did? Odds are we both end up face down in the mud, our bodies riddled with holes. I guess it didn’t matter anymore. “…I work for the Company.” I saw the look of surprise and then confusion on his face, he leaned close and whispered:

“CIA huh? I thought the orders were if you guys get captured you take a little cyanide pill and bam, no info for those Red-fucks.” I put on a sly smile:

“Sometimes, orders are pretty outlandish and it’s easier to just pretend you’re an ops admin who got lost heading back to HQ.” Luca laughed:

“Oh man, so what’d you do? Steal a few patches and hope for the best?” My grin slowly subsided as I recalled my past actions:

“Some private from Missouri or Michigan or somewhere, was tasked with driving me to a FOB ten clicks west of the Eastern Front when our truck came under attack. He was killed immediately, took a 7.62 through the skull. I was able to take control of the truck and get some distance before it died on me. I switched clothes with the kid, thank God rigor mortis didn’t set in yet.” Bandoni looked at me with a bit of compassion and said:

“We gotta do shit to survive, I’m glad to know you’re willing to do what it takes.” Willing to do what it takes. Yea, I can’t tell you how many deaths I’m responsible for, I can’t tell you how many men, woman and children I have killed in the name of American Imperialism, but I can tell you no matter how impossible the situation, I always end up with a pulse and a few bad memories. Before I could delve further into my pained thoughts, a short, skinny redhead with a face full of freckles and acne scars waved me over:

“Hey, look guys, we’re…we’re not even combat trained. Like we…we both only fired our weapons at basic. Hell, I don’t even know how to use a parachute…” I looked at who he was referring to as “we.” Next to him was a rather hefty fellow, sweating bullets and barely able to keep himself from crying.

“What the fuck do you two bullet sponges want from us?” Luca asked rather menacingly, “In the end no more than two people are making it out of here. You want us to keep you alive long enough so you opportunistic cowards can shoot us in our backs?” He was right of course, the only people we need to look out for were each other. The kid looked at us and in an even more pathetic voice pleaded:

“Please, just switch up with us, we may have to kill each other, but at least if we trade partners, Cappy and I will have a chance of seeing home again.” I saw the pain in his eyes, the begging, while his fat partner, Cappy, just stared at the floor. They were already dead. I looked at Luca and he shook his head once. “Well then, fuck you!” the kid spat out, “if I see you down there I won’t hesitate!”

“Good. If you want to see home again, you shouldn’t,” as I said this, the kid sat back in his seat looking dejected, despite his emotional outburst. I don’t think there is a part of me left that would help the kid, and it looked like Luca had his motivation to stick with someone a bit more resilient then a ginger twig and a weeping fat body. I wish I could look around and still see these men and woman as my allies, but all they are, is fodder getting in the way of my possible freedom. As I again found myself lost in the dark vacuum that is my mind, I noticed something I couldn’t pass up. I turned to Luca and whispered:

“So, the scumbag who smacked us around, notice where he is standing?” As I said this I subtly nodded my head in the direction towards the back of the plane, where’d we be jumping out. I saw a smile, almost evil, creep onto Luca’s face:

“You thinking we take him with us?”

“In a way. He has a chute, but he also has a combat knife in his boot. Maybe I distract him, you gut him? Or vice versa?” Luca’s smile turned into a devilish snarl:

“I’ll gut.” I nodded once and sat back in my seat, waiting for our turn to jump. There was no doubt in my mind that Luca, with the hate behind his eyes and his muscular frame couldn’t handle disemboweling the oblivious Russian. It is only moments before I make my jump 10,000 feet to the ground, but as is my tradition before risking my life, I let my mind ponder on my past experiences.

I remembered when someone, maybe an instructor at the Farm, or a fellow agent, once told me the best way to survive is to think of home, remember what you are fighting for. Heh, it’s a difficult task when all you have is a slew of ex-wives, parents who disowned you, and siblings who look at you like a stranger. The only reason I survive is truly because I know no other way. I don’t think I fear death anymore, maybe because it eludes me in times of its certainty or because I simply do not crave life any longer.

The funny thing is I never planned on this life, I just got the offer after I finished my studies at Colombia. A man in a non-descript black SUV asked if I wanted to ‘serve’ my country. Being the only conservative patriot in my graduating class I took the man up on his offer. Look where that landed me, in a rickety old plane about to land on an island and forced to kill my own countryman.

“Ok, you rats! Are you ready to shed some blood?!” the Russian asked, sporting an air of arrogance mixed with excitement. “Line up, two lines, next to your partners!” Luca and I got up slowly, no rush to be closer to men we will have to kill. The Russian grabbed hold of a piece of rope jutting out of the wall while the bay door slowly creaked open. I could feel the wind rushing past my face and barely heard my own thoughts. I turned towards Luca and I saw a look of pure determination on his face, he was ready to kill.

We inched closer to the edge watching as our soon-to-be-enemies made the plunge, the Russian mad with glee was laughing manically as each duo jumped. We were two groups from the front, the skinny redhead and Cappy were about to go over. I could feel the fear resonating off of them, the redhead closed his eyes and leapt. Cappy just stood there, now openly weeping. “Please, Please no. I have a family, we have money, please anything!” He cried out, but the Russian just smiled a toothy smile:

“I count to three and you jump, or I put bullet in your brain.” Cappy started shaking, I saw as he lurched forward, vomiting the contents of his stomach all over the boots of the Russian officer. In a flash, the Russian’s smile soured and he removed his pistol from its holster. The following boom was thunderous, resonating through the thin metal cab of the AN-20. The bullet entered Cappy’s skull, spraying the line with blood and bits of flesh. Cappy’s lifeless body collapsed to the floor and the Russian unceremoniously kicked it out into the open air.

“Next,” he said, as if he didn’t just execute a man in cold blood. The two in front us had to grab hold of the walls, to not slip in what was left of Cappy’s brain on the floor. They made their jump and we heard our call. “Look who it is, my favor…” I didn’t let him finish, I put all my weight into a head-butt aimed directly at his nose. I felt as the bone cracked and a geyser of hot, coppery blood erupted on my face. Before the son of a bitch had a chance to register what had happened, he felt his own knife puncture his soft stomach. Luca twisted the steely blade and yanked it sideways, spilling the Russian’s hot innards on the floor. I grabbed hold of his pistol and yanked it out of the holster. I knew Luca and I wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving the three guards rushing towards us with fully auto AKs, but I felt starting with a weapon may give us an advantage.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. We don’t want those Ruskie’s knowing who we are!” Luca yelled as he made his dive out of the plane. I took one look back at the Russian, who was currently trying to put his intestines back inside of himself, flipped him the bird and made the jump.

.....

I remember the first time I jumped, the wind rushing into my face, the euphoric feeling of enlightenment as I soared through the heavens and the thrill that one mistake could lead to certain death. But today was not jump-training at Fort Benning, nor was it the jump with my ex on our third date, it was a jump into a life or death fight.

As I was freefalling I angled my way towards Luca and when I was within distance I gave him a solid tap and pointed in a direction. My plan was simple, push out as far as we could and keep distance from the other participants. Luca acknowledged my plan with a thumbs up and we continued our decent.

Once we were low enough we ripped our shoots cords, feeling the slight pull on our harnesses. “HEY!” Luca shouted and waved towards a group of warehouses. I turned in my harness and saw multiple groups pulling their cords and floating in different directions, hoping they didn’t land where we were going. I started scanning the ground, looking for places Luca and I could scour for weapons, food and the gear we would need for the coming days. Eventually, I saw a warehouse at least one hundred meters from our initial planned drop point and I started aiming my chute steadily towards it, with Luca following close behind.

I felt my knees buckle slightly as I made my running landing. I quickly removed my chute and watched as Luca landed roughly twenty yards ahead of me. We both sprinted into the warehouse and started scavenging. “Oh shit, son!” Luca proclaimed. I looked over to see him holding an M16A1, it looked like it hadn’t seen use since the Vietnam War. Luca disappeared from view as he bent down to pick up more supplies. “I got two, nope, three mags of 5.56. 20 round mags though and this fuckin’ thing is fully auto.”

After hearing Luca’s admonishment of his weapon, I was silently hoping that the other teams were also getting stuck with vintage firearms. I started getting a bit worried I would not have anything useful, except for the 9mm I currently carried, until I spotted the gleam of metal in the corner of the warehouse. I made my way over, careful to take a quick peak outside before noisily looking through the container. As I reached in the pried open box, I immediately felt a rush of frustration come over me. The shine of metal I saw was from the hook part of a three-foot crowbar. “You find something good?” Luca asked.

“No. Crowbar and I still have the nine I took from our friend back on the plane.” I again took a peak out of our current cover and gathered our surroundings. Sparse vegetation, open field with no other buildings around and just large patches of forest dotting the edge.

“You check your fanny pack yet?” Luca yelled down to me. He was now on the top floor of the warehouse, looking under plastic tarps and poking through half open crates. It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about until I looked down at the small satchel strapped to my outer thigh. Before boarding the plane each participant was given the “Fanny pack,” as Luca so eloquently dubbed it. We were given strict instructions, of course under the penalty of death, to not open our packs until we landed. I quickly unzipped the small container and found two electronic devices and a rolled up piece of paper. I put the devices back in for a moment and read the note:

Participant,

You have been bequeathed with the great honor of entertaining the people of the Reborn Soviet Republic. Those who survive are granted full immunity for their crimes against our great nation and sent back to their country of origin. For this match you are blessed with the gift of a partner. Each member of your team has a GPS and a communicator. Just simply speak the serial number of your partner’s microphone into your own and once you both do, you will be connected to each other only. The GPS will periodically remove an area of the map. If you are caught in an area that has been removed, you will have a short period of leeway before one of our Wardens comes to remove you from the competition. There are no rules, except survival.Bold text

“You read it yet?” Luca asked, rather vehemently. “‘You are blessed,’ the fuckin’ nerve of these commie-shits, they threw us on an island and are telling us to kill each other. How the fuck are we blessed? Because we get a new bestie to die with?” I let out a small chuckle:

“It’s just for show, these pieces of garbage just want it to seem like an honor. It’s all a fucking game to them.” I read aloud my serial number with Luca following suit, once we were connected, we peeked at our GPS devices.

“Looks like we are right on the edge of where we need to be, but what the hell is a Warden? You think they mean soldiers?” I asked, and Luca looked as puzzled as I was:

“Well, we have weapons, so I doubt they are gunna send their guys to get fragged by a bunch of POWs. But who the fuck cares, let’s just avoid that as best we can.” I nodded in agreement, right now our main concern needs to be gear. “Look about half a click south,” Luca pointed to my GPS, now wrapped by its leather band to my wrist, “there is a cluster of buildings, behind those trees.” I studied the map, looking at the space between myself and the next scavenging site.

“Nothing to hide behind on the way, but we landed pretty far from anyone else. I think if you cover, I can make a run for it.” Luca looked at me and nodded. Few words needed to be spoken, he understood the risks I was willing to take.

Luca started climbing to the top of the warehouse, wanting to make sure he had a visual on me and the space I’d be running through. “Ok,” I heard Luca’s gruff voice on the mic, “This is the best I can do for now, just get to the houses and keep me posted.”

“Heard.” I started running at a full sprint, hoping I didn’t catch the attention of one of the other “competitors.” I was roughly 50 yards from the buildings we saw and started to think my little run wasn’t all that dangerous, when Luca crackled over the mic:

“Marik! You got a team inbound from the left, uh one has a rifle and the other…a machete I think. Once you get to the houses, you got maybe two to three minutes before they are on you.” I’m tough, but I win fights based on my intelligence, not my strength or combat prowess. If two armed men were closing the gap on me, I needed to set a trap and quick.

“You said rifle on one of the guys, but the other, no gun of any sort?” I asked into the mic, hoping Luca hadn’t lost faith in me.

“I didn’t see anything, but I could be wrong. I’m 300 yards away looking down shitty American made iron sights.” Fuck. If he was wrong my trap will end up getting me killed and leaving Luca out to dry. As I second guessed my plan, I made my way around the small tree line and was able to finally catch a glimpse of the buildings. If I wasn’t pumped full of enough adrenaline to run a space shuttle, I would have felt a bit uneasy seeing a bunch of Houses sitting abandoned in the middle of an empty island.

The homes stood in a small cluster, seemingly centered around a broken granite fountain. The house directly in front of me was painted a brownish-yellow, with chips of the ugly paint peeling off and exposing cracked aluminum siding. I made my way around it, realizing it will be hard to hide in a place filled with so many holes. I scanned the next three houses quickly and settled on a house opposite of me. It was two-stories instead of one like the other homes and didn’t seem to be as dilapidated. As I finalized my decision I heard Luca whisper through my mic:

“They cleared the tree line, you safe?”

“Yea,” I responded, “going off comms, I’ll let you know when it’s clear to head my way.” I wanted to sound confident, last thing I needed was my partner losing conviction and leaving me to die. As inaudibly as I could I hopped through a broken window on the opposite side of the tree line. I took a look at my surroundings and saw the perfect place to lay my trap. The bottom floor had an open layout, with a small bathroom in the back corner. I walked in and smiled to myself. To my right was a large shower stall and when the door opens, it completely blocks the stall from sight. The toilet stood opposite of the shower and would be the first place any would-be looter would see. I gingerly placed my stolen pistol on the toilet, doing my best not to bang the metal frame on the porcelain toilet. Once the pistol was placed, I took a step into the shower, readied my crowbar and waited.

.....

It’s hard to believe how much my life has changed, how much I have changed. I remember feeling ideologically superior about humanity and their inherent good as I sat in my International Morals class at Colombia. The professor, of course a mega-progressive who identified as three different genders, was arrogantly proclaiming the human race no longer deserved to think for itself, that we needed a class of open-minded intellectuals leading it. I was so heated, but I knew if I opened my mouth, the petty tranny would probably fail me.

The most ironic part is the past 15 years have led me to agree with the crazy bitch. Well maybe not outfit our country or world as a Geniocracy, but definitely the fact that people are complete shit. Only humans could think sending 100 men to an island to kill each other was a fantastic way to entertain and keep your country passive. But in reality it wasn’t necessarily about the bloodshed for me, it was the fact that humans repeatedly made the same mistakes, generation after generation. If a species can’t stop annihilating each other, does it even deserve life? This, this is my justification for killing so many, and for the lives I will be ending in the coming days. I firmly believe humans do not even deserve anything anymore, that they are truly a despicable cause to stand for. I know it’s odd that my job is find the truth and protect my nation, but honestly, I only do it because I know nothing else.

My internal soliloquy was broken up by the sudden noise of the front door opening and muffled male voices I could barely make out:

“Gear-check, man.”

“I got an M1911, Ak-47 and a machete, you?”

“FN FAL, no pistol or blade.”

“Fuck, alrite this is the last house here, I’ll check upstairs, you got downstairs.”

“Works for me.” I heard the first voice make his way upstairs as the second’s footsteps started approaching my hiding spot. I closed my eyes and steadied my breath, anticipating the perfect kill. I watched, almost in a trance, as the door swung open. “Oh hell yea!” my target exclaimed as he briskly made his way to the toilet. He picked up the Grach, and inspected it. Watching his every move, I slowly lifted myself to a standing position and carefully edged closer to a killing distance. I lifted the crowbar up, positioned it slightly sideways and then swung with every ounce of my strength. The sharp, hooked end landed exactly where I aimed, right into the man’s soft neck. As soon as I contacted, I placed my foot on his back and ripped the crowbar backwards as hard as I could, tearing the man’s jugular, carotid and vocal cords in one fell swoop. He was dead in an instant, with almost no noise to arouse suspicion. I quickly made my way to the edge of the walled stairs and waited for his partner to arrive. The ultimate goal was to take him down without a shot, risking that no other team would come to the area.

“Hey! You find anything?” I heard the second man yelling down the stairs, “I found a nice pair of boots, warm jacket and a friggin’ Kevlar vest.” If I could feel pity anymore I would, this man is beginning to feel hope and a chance of seeing home again. But alas, it’s him or me and that’s always been an easy decision. “Hey, you hear me?” I moved back towards the bathroom, trying not slip in the pooling blood. These men have just met each other, and I doubt the living one would recognize his partner’s voice.

“Yea, got a pistol!” I yelled up to my faux partner. It felt like an hour until he responded:

“Ok, nice. Grab what ammo there is and let’s get the fuck out of here, I got a creepy feeling ‘bout this place.” As he was speaking I could hear as he moved towards the stairs. As quickly as I could I made my way back to the wall. I listened as each step creaked under the man’s weight, trying to quickly surmise how I would put this man down without creating a havoc. “Oh shit, I forgot I found one more jacket if you want to come up and grab it,” the man said from about halfway down the stairs. Fuck, this guy was a real team player.

“I’m good!” I called back, “Uh, found a hoodie in the shower.” Possibly the worst excuse I could come up with, but it was something.

“Odd, whatever, Ruskies ain't known to be too privy to the norm,” the soon-to-be-dead competitor said. I again heard him start heading down the stairs, taking his sweet time. Once I heard him getting closer to the bottom of the stairs, I swung around hoping to catch him with the crowbar. Twang! The metal crowbar connected with his shin, I could feel the reverberations up the shaft of my weapon. “Fuck!” he yelled, so much for keeping it quiet. He tumbled down the stairs landing face first on the bottom step. Before he could react any further, I brought the crowbar down on his head, feeling it crack under the crowbar’s weight. I brought it down three more times, sending bits of bone and blood to splatter against the wall and my face. Breathing heavily, I turned my mic back on:

“Both are dead, you are clear to come here.”

“Holy shit,” Luca replied, “you must be the real deal, I pegged you for dead.” I laughed aloud and retorted:

“I may not be as young and fit as you, but I make up for it in experience. But I do have some weapons, I’ll get up on the tree line and give you cover.” I ran back to where my first victim perished and grabbed the FN FAL. Ak’s are great weapons and all, but I needed something with a bit more control. Luckily, the man not only had the rifle, he also had an ACOG scope and of course he was holding my Grach pistol. I grabbed all I could, booked it to the tree line and advised Luca to start trucking it.

As Luca started running towards my position, I used my scope to spy on the open expanse, looking for any sign of movement, when something caught my eye. Roughly two football fields to Luca’s left, I saw light refracting off something on the ground, it took me a second, but I realized I was looking towards another sniper. I took a breath and pulled the trigger twice, the loud bangs sounded like thunder claps on the abandoned, silent island. As my weapon settled back down to focus on where the sniper lay, I saw that the gleam was gone. I was positive the shots didn’t connect, but it sure as hell scared the man away. “What the fuck was that?!” Luca yelled as he got to my position, “You trying to fuckin’ cap me, man?!” I gave him an annoyed look, but calmly said:

“Sniper was looking this way, I scared him off.” I saw Luca’s face redden and take an apologetic look:

“Sorry brother, nerves are on edge.” I nodded slightly and signaled for him to follow me. I led him over to the two-story house where I had just ended two men’s lives. Luca took one look at the carnage, and said softly, “Jesus, I spoke to these guys on the ground…both of them Marines, they had wives, kids at home…” I hope one day a sentence like that could fill me with guilt, but today wasn’t the day:

“Their dead, so we can live. Get geared up and let’s move out.” Luca looked up at me. It seemed that the gravity of what we must do to survive had finally dawned on him. He swallowed deeply, closed his eyes and almost whispered:

“How the fuck could you kill them so… easily? I mean these guys, they were on the same side…fuck, just ignore me.” I looked at him, and he knew I couldn’t ignore this, so in one quick move I pulled my 9-millimeter out and placed it gently against his head.

“Luca, to me the choice is simple, if you aren’t willing to do what it takes then you are just dead weight.” I put an emphasis on dead, making him think killing him was my goal, even though I planned to do no such thing. The fire in Luca’s eyes reignited:

“Put the gun down, old man, or I’ll break your arm and shove it up your ass.” I smiled as I lowered my weapon:

“I wasn’t gunna kill ya kid, just needed to make sure you weren’t shell shocked into submission.” Luca took a deep breath and grumbled:

“All right, you asshole, I’ll keep my shit together, but you can pay for my enormous therapy bills when we get out of this.” I laughed out loud and pointed towards the recently dead marine lying at the bottom of the stairs.

“Ok, I grabbed what I could from the guy in the bathroom, this one is all yours.” The kid gave me a disgusted look, but he knows this is my way of making sure he is true to his word. He leaned over and gingerly pulled the rifle off the man’s shoulder and grabbed the pile of clothes and Kevlar lying next to the corpse.

“You need a jacket or anything? Gunna get cold, well if we are still in the northern hemisphere,” Luca asked. I looked at him and said:

“Yea, there may be another one upstairs, I’ll go get it.” Luca seemed to still be getting his shit together and nodded once as I made my way up the stairs. As I got upstairs the stink of new blood was subtly over-taken by the scent of rot. This island is clearly used frequently, judging by the random bullet holes and explosion-scorched Earth, so it was no surprise to me I could smell the leftovers of a few long-dead American soldiers.

The upstairs was the opposite of the bottom floor. Where the bottom was open and airy the top seemed be made up of only bedrooms and thin hallways. The first room I entered held the jacket I was looking for. Unlike the weapons we have been finding, the jacket was a newer model and made from waterproof gortex. I slid it on, enjoying the feeling of wearing something besides a ratty white t-shirt. “Feels good wearing something that doesn’t smell like piss, eh?” I asked into the mic.

“Yea, if I make it out, my one request is to have these clothes burned,” Luca responded, seemingly back to form.

“If?” I asked.

“When,” Luca retorted. If there is anything I have learned, it’s a positive attitude is half the battle.

“Luca, I’m going to make a quick sweep up here before we move on, check the GPS and see where we want to go next.” Luca grunted in acknowledgement and I made my way through the rooms. As I got to the last door, a strange feeling of dread washed over me, supposedly the same feeling the Marine had before I killed him. I shook it off and nudged open the door. As I peered inside, the smell of rot became overpowering. There were no bodies, but someone died here and from the aromas infiltrating my nostrils, they died ugly. But I walked in anyway, my curiosity and strong stomach prevailing, and I started taking in the room. The old purple carpet was faded and clearly has been cleaned repeatedly, the white walls more of the same. The most interesting, albeit most worrisome part, were the three deep drag marks in the wall, as if some massive animal was trimming its claws. “Luca, I got something weird up here,” I said in the mic, “Looks like something besides a human killed some folks up here.”

“Huh? I’m coming up.” I heard as Luca’s big frame clambered up the stairs. “Where you at?” I popped out the door and gave him a nod, and he made his way over. “What. The. Fuck.?” Luca asked, confused about my discovery. “Looks like a fucking Velociraptor came in here.” I walked up to the marks and ran my hand through them, truly realizing the size and power of whatever made them.

“Maybe that’s what they mean when the say ‘Wardens?’ Maybe they release some sort of attack-animal?” Luca gave me a condescending look and said sarcastically:

“Yea, Boris and his attack bears come out of hiding the minute we are out of the zone.” I gave him a dirty look, but decided an argument wasn’t the best direction to go in:

“Well, let’s just hope we don’t run into whoever or whatever did this.”

“Agreed, and sorry, I’m not known to be to enjoyable to be around. Only person who has ever liked my sarcasm is my wife.” I looked up at him and quickly understood what his motivation was. If I was a fatherly figure or ever tried to be someone’s mentor I’d say something like, ‘You’ll see her again,’ instead all I said was:

“Let’s just keep the personal shit to ourselves, heard?” Luca, as if already expecting the emotionless response nodded curtly and started moving down the stairs. “You find a place to head to?” I asked, trying to distract us from our mild in-fighting. Luca waved me over to look at his GPS and said:

“See the whole ‘playable’ area is a circle, and the areas outside the circle are where you get killed or taken or whatever. We are right on the edge and need to move southeast-south, only issue, it looks like our choices are open fields or areas heavily laden with buildings. The other issue is here,” Luca put his finger directly on a large channel that separated us from where it looked like the circle would be closing on, “Looking at the scale, it’s about half a mile wide and I doubt we are going to want to swim that.” I looked at my GPS trying to find some route to the island.

“Two bridges, one in the North the other in the South, only issue is they make great choke points,” I said, “I think I saw vehicles all over the place and if there are cars, there may be boats, let’s not lose hope yet.” Luca nodded in agreement and we set at a quick pace towards the channel.

.....

“Stop,” I hissed. Luca halted in his tracks and got himself into a prone position.

“What is it?” he whispered, “People up ahead?” I turned around and nodded. Even though he was the soldier, I volunteered to take point due to the fact our present circumstance wasn’t as distracting to me. I low crawled my way behind a wide Aleppo pine and signaled for Luca to follow suit.

“I saw two guys about 50 meters ahead of us, moving in the same direction about 10-15 yards apart. I think it would be best to avoid them for now, and just wait until they are further away.”

“No. We take ‘em down now, quick and clean, less to worry about later,” Luca whispered. I wasn’t sure if this was strategic planning or his desire to prove himself as a valuable team member, but I decided to humor him:

“Ok,” I said handing him my rifle, “Look down the sights and spot them, once you do, tell me the game plan and I’m in.” Luca took the old rifle and scanned the area in front of us for a few moments, pausing intermittently and taking mental notes.


“Ok, we kind of got lucky here. Between us and them there are a dozen or so more of these trees. If we move fast and quiet and use the trees as cover, we can catch them off guard.” His simple plan could work, but the one worry I have was the multiple gun shots.

“Interesting plan, but how do we not draw anyone ou…” THWACK, THWACK, THWACK. Three rounds ripped into the opposite side of our tree, splintering bits of wood outwards and into the ground next to us. “Fuck, looks like the saw us first!” Luca leaned around the corner and fired a few rounds in the general direction of the incoming fire:

“Ok, ok I got eyes, one is flanking left, your side and I got other providing cover. I’ll run right, you lean out and take out the tango moving to flank, Heard?” I was taken aback but was truly reminded this young man was a Ranger and at least had some of his shit together. I handed Luca his M16 and took back the FAL. “All right, send some rounds down range and I’ll make a break!” I whipped around the corner and saw my target immediately get behind a tree, so I inched further outwards and sent some rounds towards his partner's direction while Luca took off to the right. The fusillade of bullets striking the trees and ripping through leaves sent a surge of adrenaline through my body. The feeling of your life being ended abruptly by a well-aimed shot or an unlucky piece of shrapnel sent careening into your exposed flesh truly awakens the animal inside. Luca made it to cover and my target popped out and fired one round before going back behind cover. To me, that means this guy was scared.

“Luca,” I said over the mic, “My guy is nothing to worry about, give me cover and I’ll take him out and then we pincer the last one.”

“Ok! …covering,” I heard as Luca let loose a burst of fire from his old rifle. I immediately ran, arching left around my target, hopping tree to tree as Luca distracted his partner. The enemy combatant came out of cover twice, each time not firing. It was only a moment before I was completely to his left, with him unaware. I took aim down my scope, held my breath and pulled the trigger. My fellow POW collapsed immediately, the large caliber round piercing the side of his head and sending bits of him to the forest floor.

“Mine’s down, what’s the status on your guy?” I asked into the mic.

“Guy has me pinned pretty good, whatever he has is full-auto and I’m down to my last mag.”

“Shit, ok flank further right, I’ll pop a few shots in his direction!” I laid prone and aimed back down my sights, the man’s pine was at least four feet wide, making it impossible for me to get a clean shot. But I had to distract him for a second, so Luca could move. “You ready?” I asked into the mic:

“No, there is only cover by a tree directly in front of him, I’ll have to move left instead.” Fuck so much for a pincer attack:

“All right, I’ll try to flank to his left. You go no further than in front, hopefully, he finds you to be the better target, so I can get a shot. But I’m ready, start moving,” I responded. I switched my rifle to full-auto and let off a burst of fire towards the tree and Luca immediately moved to his right, finding cover behind a bullet-riddled spruce. Like I expected, the man turned his rifle in my direction, trying to see where the shots came from. Before I could say anything, Luca sprinted full tilt towards the soldier’s tree, the dead marine’s sidearm in his hand.

At the halfway point between the two warriors cover, Luca’s target made the intelligent decision to engage the enemy he could see, but as he moved to fire he exposed himself and gave me the opportunity to send rounds careening towards his head, forcing him to lurch forward and in Luca’s direct line of fire. Luca raised his M1911 and took aim at the man’s head and to his credit my fellow POW looked Luca right in his eyes and nodded his head once. Luca, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. It always seems that the gunshot that kills a man was the loudest and this one was deafening.

I made my way over as the soldier slumped to the ground, while Luca dropped his pistol and sat down against the tree. “Get up,” I growled, “everyone on the island heard this fight and I bet they would love to get their hands on our shit. Luca violently punched the ground:

“Fuck you, old man, not everyone is perfectly fine with killing their brothers,” Luca spat out at me. I walked quickly up to him and yanked him to his feet by the collar:

“Do you want to see your fucking wife again? Huh?” I grabbed him and shoved his face in the direction of the man he just killed, “Look goddammit! This is what you have to do to fucking live! This is what it takes to see your family, and if that doesn’t seem fair, get the fuck over it, because that’s our truth now, that’s our fucking reality!” I finished my rant by pushing him away and busily looking through the dead man’s belongings. As I got my hands on his Steyr AUG and his roughly six magazines of 5.56, I heard Luca start approaching me. Before I could turn I felt his meaty hands grab me by the back of the neck. With little effort he lifted me up and slammed me face first into the ground. I immediately tasted dirt and blood and saw stars run across my eyes. Without missing a beat, Luca sent a painful kick to my midsection and I felt the wind rush out of me. I stayed down momentarily, silently hoping he was done.

I then got myself up to my knees, coughing and sputtering as I felt Luca send a wad of spit on the back of my head. Thinking I was done, Luca turned and went to pick up his dropped weapons. I spit out a gob of blood and a bit of tooth while pushing myself off the ground.

“You hit like a bitch,” I grumbled as I dusted myself off. Luca turned and charged me, his eyes filled with the fire and rage I saw back on the plane, but this time I was ready for his burly frame. As soon as he was in arms reach, I dodged to the right and brought a right hook across his face, his momentum and my hit sent him careening towards the ground. Before he had a chance to rejoin the fight, I pounced on his back and grabbed him in a choke hold. “You done?!” I yelled at him.

“F…F…Fuck YOU!” he choked out, while sending three quick elbows to my already bruised rib cage. I rolled off him, feeling searing hot pain shoot through my midsection. Luca rolled over and grabbed for my throat, with no other option I sent a hard kick into his genitals, making him double over in pain. We laid there for a short period of time, both of us feeling our injuries. I turned to him and asked:

“Hey, why hasn’t anyone found us and killed us yet?” Luca, moved to a sitting position, hand still cupping his aching testicles.

“Probably because they heard you kick people in the nuts...” I let out a burst of laughter:

“Had no choice, man, you were beating the shit out of me,” I said hoping I kicked the aggression out of him. Luca stood up and reached his hand out and said:

“Listen, I’m not good with this, but if I get to see Tessa’s face again, it will make it worth it. But in all reality, you are the only person on this island I’d be ok with killing at this point.” I took his hand and smiled:

“If I had a dollar for every person that I worked with that openly wanted to kill me, well I’d be a rich man.” Luca snorted and said:

“I believe it. But back to your question, I think it’s a bit suspect that no one has come to investigate all the gunfire.” As I pondered over our unheard-of luck I realized quickly why we were not in another gunfight.

“Luca, look at your GPS…” The map was slowly shrinking, revealing that we had maybe five minutes to get to a safe area, which, by the map scale was half a kilometer. “Fuck, it’s gunna take more than five minutes before we get safe,” I pointed out.

“But we still need ammo and these guys seemed loaded,” Luca responded. I took a deep breath and said:

“Ok, so whatever is out there, probably won’t kill us immediately. I’m thinking we grab what we can and book it. We run fast enough, I doubt we will get ganked for being a little late.” Before I even finished, Luca was running towards the man I killed, clearly no longer wanting to face the one he ended. I finished picking up the AUG and the five magazines left scattered around the carcass and saw that he had a backpack. I shimmied it off his shoulders and was lucky enough to find a long-range scope, some medical equipment and a hand grenade. These guys must have landed somewhere a bit more heavily laden with weaponry. I gathered what I had and waved Luca over, thinking he would stop and at least to discuss where we should run to, instead, he just took off towards the safe area. I rolled my eyes and followed suit.

After about five minutes at a full sprint, the fear of being stuck out of the safe zone dissipated, as the logical fear of other people waiting for stragglers set in. “Luca,” I crackled through the mic, struggling to talk and breathe correctly at the same time. “We are getting close, maybe running full tilt out in the open isn’t such a good idea?”

“Looks like there are houses to our right, we’ll be fin…” Before he could finish his sentence, automatic gunfire erupted from behind us and shred the ground around our feet. Both of us started zig-zagging, hoping the shooter had terrible aim. I felt as the rounds punched by my head and saw them pound the ground in front of us, Luca suddenly made a sharp turn to our right and dove behind a thick concrete wall that wrapped around the outside of the housing unit. I rapidly made my way to him and lunged over the wall, feeling the rounds puncturing the thick concrete.

“How far till we reach the zone?!” I yelled through the incoming gunfire.

“Looks like only 100 meters are so!” Luca screamed back. Fuck, we were out of time and under some serious fire. I popped out for half a second and immediately a fullisade of bullets erupted in my direction.

“Fuck! We’re pinned! Crawl left, I’ll crawl right, and, on my signal, we unload. Whoever he aims at, the other runs!” Luca nodded his head once and started crawling at a fast pace towards the left end of the wall. “1,2,3!” I shouted. Simultaneously, we popped out of cover and rained fire in the direction of the shooter. When I finally got a good look at our new friend, I realized who it was. The fucking ginger. He was marching towards us in full-body armor carrying an M240 bravo. He was still 150 meters away, but with the large caliber machine gun’s effective range being almost 900 yards, that didn’t help us much. Without a scope, it still seemed he recognized us and decided he hated me more. He let loose another barrage of rounds, this time directly at me, and as he did so Luca sprinted the 100 meters we had left till the safe zone. The ginger seemed disinterested in my partner, and kept his munitions pointed at me.

“Ok, 100 meters back there is a ditch,” Luca yelled through the mic, “I can give you some cover, but my 20 round mags are gone in half a fucking second!” I breathed deeply, wishing now I just snapped that ginger twink’s neck back on the plane.

“Luca, don’t waste your ammo. I’m pinned, but this retard couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and he has to reload soon, cover your six and I’ll take care of carrot-top.” I checked my rifle, making sure I had a few rounds left in the magazine, and I closed my eyes as shots started ripping through the concrete wall. In a flash, I stood up and let loose a few misplaced rounds in the kid’s general direction and started a zig-zag run back to the ditch.

“You’re a fuckin’ nut case, Kistich!” I could barely hear Luca over the sound of the .308 blasting away the earth at my feet and the large caliber rounds zipping by my head, but in seconds I made the distance and landed next to Luca with an audible thud. “Holy shit, you got any bullets in you?” I felt my body and looked for any excess holes, and luckily found none.

“Nope, looks like the God of War is still on my side.” Luca grinned and stated:

“So, you gunna kill baby-face or are we…” Luca stopped mid-sentence as the shooting abruptly stopped, thinking the kid was reloading I popped up onto the ridge of the ditch and aimed down my recently recovered high-power scope.

The kid had just reached the wall and was indeed reloading, I held my breath as I leveled my sights. The FAL wouldn’t punch through his armor, but a shot straight to the head may still kill him, just by sheer concussive force alone. But before I could make the fatal shot, something strange started occurring behind the kid and was moving steadily towards us all. The relatively clear day was quickly consumed by deep grey, almost black clouds. The ginger stopped what he was doing and finally took notice of the strange occurrences happening around him. He removed the heavy helmet adorning his head, leaving it unprotected. The stormy clouds slowly but surely reached the spot on the GPS that marked the edge of the unrestricted area. In moments, only a few feet in front of me was a darkened land, encompassed in the black clouds. As I was observing, Luca popped up next to me looking himself.

“The fuck...” Luca was looking down at his GPS, “Looks like the weather is fine in the area we are supposed to be in and it’s shit out there…holy shit, it feels like 60 degrees, but I can see the kid’s breath!” Luca was right, wisps of air escaping the ginger’s lungs could be seen hanging around his open mouth, as if on cue the kid shuddered violently as if beset by a chilling wind. “What the hell have the Ruskies cooked up…it’s like they made some sort of we …” Before Luca could finish his sentence a clap of thunder reverberated through my brain, almost knocking me off my feet. Within a second, a powerful bolt of lightning struck the ground near the ginger, sending him careening backwards, away from the wall. I thought that was it, and after seeing what rose from the smoldering, smoking ground I wished the lightening is what the reds created to finish us, but it was something much, much worse.

The ginger got up and dusted himself off, but he seemed to be completely ignorant of what was unfolding behind him. The smoke started clearing, and before where I only saw an open expanse of land, I caught my first glimpse of a “Warden.” The man or beast stood at least eight feet tall, his body adorned in thick black robes, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of its front, but I could tell its face was covered by a hood or shawl. It made its way toward the unaware combatant, as it did so, the beast’s arms extended outwards, revealing thick, metal claws roughly two feet long. The zing of the metal scraping along the ground caused the kid to finally turn around. His face said it all, even from my distance I could tell he was frozen in place, the dread coursing through his body. The towering monster stood over him, and in a flash all six of the beast’s blades were thrust inside the skinny ginger. Almost nonchalantly the monster ripped his massive appendages sideways, tearing the kid to shreds.

“Holy fuck!” Luca yelled as chunks of flesh and blood rained down over the monster. “Kistich, please tell me you got some intel on that thing…” Luca whispered. I just shook my head as I leveled my rifle towards the monster, unsure if it would even do anything. I pulled the trigger twice, watching as the rounds punched into the monster's back. Nothing. Just some dust from its shawl puffed out, but no pained reaction or collapsing in a pile of blood. “Really?! The fucking thing just appeared out of thin air and you decide to shoot it?! Is kill your only setting?” I gave Luca a dirty look and went back to watching the monster, but in the half second I turned away, it was gone!

I used my scope to scan the tree line and the hills beyond where the monster last appeared, but it seemed it left without a trace. I moved closer to the edge of the unrestricted area, hoping I’d find a better angle. I took aim again, looking through the scope with my right eye and keeping the left open. Suddenly, I was hit with the overwhelming stench of a perforated colon left in the sun for a few days. I closed my eyes, hoping to high heaven that the beast wasn’t near. I slowly opened them, and the only thing I saw was black.

The beast towered over me, as my whole body tensed. Fear rippled through my soul, leaving me locked in place. The head of the beast was covered in a black hood, which in turn shrouded its face in a blanket of darkness. But even though I could feel its desire to tear into me with its claws, it just stood their staring.

“Kistich! It can’t go past the boundary!” I heard Luca yelling to me, but I couldn’t move. Years of war and death couldn’t train someone for the fear you feel when a demon stares into your eyes. Logic told me it wasn’t a threat, but the shit dripping down my pants leg did. Without reason I started walking towards the monster, getting ever closer to its razor-sharp blades. My whole world was slowly turning black, the beast was in my head and I was in his. I could feel his millennia of torment as he sucked me into his eternal embrace. I knew this must be the end as my foot crossed the boundary into the darkness…

………

Soldiers always talk of killing as a difficult task, how they remember the face of every life they take. I don’t, all I remember is the first. My memory resides on that face not because of guilt or an internal memoir of my loss of innocence, but because it woke something in me. No, not some internal sociopathic demon, not some sub conscious bloodlust, just a sign that life didn’t mean much.

I was laying on top of a building, looking down at a man who was sitting at a corner booth in a quaint Belgrade café, admiring the architecture of the Krstic brothers as he sipped thick, syrupy Turkish coffee. I sent a .338 Lapua into his skull, spraying blood and brains across his meal of borek and popara. It’s hard to imagine the situation, especially if someone spends their life wrapped in the confines of suburbia like I did, but when I pulled that trigger and the 65-year-old bomb maker slumped dead in his chair, scalding his chest with his morning coffee, I knew right then and there, life was meaningless, that not much mattered. I tried to feel guilty, I tried to be a human, but nothing came of it. From that day forward, I was the go-to-guy for The Company to remove targets deemed too dangerous to live, but not important enough to be captured. It was nothing like the movies though, no crazy shoot outs, no fancy dinner parties where I spiked a target’s drink with cyanide, just a loud bang, and I went home. Granted, if I was doing surveillance it was just cheap take-out, a pack of Parliaments and a bunch of expensive recording equipment, courtesy of the American tax payer. Yea, nothing too grand, just a simple life of ending life.

.....

“Wake up, fuck head!” I felt a hard slap to my already bruised jaw as my eyes fluttered open, taking in Luca’s massive frame as he hovered over me. “You’ve been out for ten minutes, and we only have 30 left to make it across the channel! Are you with me, or should I leave you behind for our hooded friend back there?” I sat up, too quickly, dazed and trying to piece together what had happened. Reading my mind Luca answered my question, “Before you got your chance to suck off the demon, I pulled ya back and dragged your ass here.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by here until I looked around and realized we were in a rundown old basilica, rife with cracked stone columns and a crumbling timber roof, barely holding on to broken king post trusses.

“I guess I owe you one, kid,” I grumbled as I got to my feet, still shaky from my experience with the Warden, but steady enough to move. Luca grunted, knowing he probably will get the favor returned in full, now that we both knew what we are truly up against.

“Yea, well I’m not sure what the fuck happened, one second it was standing over what was left of the ginger and the next, a couple feet away. And you, you just fuckin' dropped your weapon and tried to hug the damn thing or something, what the hell was that?” I glanced up at Luca while putting a fresh mag in my rifle and quietly said:

“I’m not too sure, it was like a gravitational pull sucking me in, I tried to stop, but nothing gave. Again, thanks.” Luca grinned this time:

“It’s all right,m old man, sometimes, we get a little disoriented, that is all.”

“Eat me,” I responded, hinting my own smile, “But in all seriousness let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Agreed. Like I said before, we got 20 minutes left and about a kilometer ‘til we get to the channel. Once there, it’s a long way across, but we should be fine.” I nodded and started my way out of the worn church. Looking at the GPS, I considered us lucky. Between us and the channel was a vast expanse of woods, giving us ample cover in case we ran into another team. The Wardens may be the true enemy here, but that won’t stop other groups from trying to gank us.

.....

We were making a good pace, Luca was leading, keeping alert and looking out for potential ambushes, while I took the rear guard, just in case any stragglers came from behind. Suddenly, Luca held up a balled-up fist and pointed towards his ears. I stopped moving and listened closely.

“uggghhhhhhh…. ughhhhhhhh,” something or someone moaned ahead of us, sounding like a dying animal. Luca started creeping slowly, with me close behind. As we approached an overgrown sessile oak, we saw a bloody hand jutting ever so slightly to the side of the tree, Luca raised his rifle, but I gently put my hand on it. Whoever was behind the tree was clearly no longer a threat to us. Still, I approached cautiously, the man may be dying, but he could have a sidearm at the ready. I circled around the tree and took in a pathetic sight. The man, what was left of him, was using his left hand to put pressure on a sucking chest wound, while his partially severed right arm hung loosely to the side. He lifted his bloodied and bruised face and squinted through the few sun’s rays that peeked through the canopied forest. “Billy…is that you….Billy?” he moaned, “Daddy’s not coming home, Billy, I’m…sorry….but always know, I love you….”

“Jesus Christ,” Luca said as he came around the corner, “who or what the fuck did this to him?” I looked at the man’s barely connected arm, the point where it was amputated was cut almost perfectly clean, almost machine like. I couldn’t inspect his chest wound, the man’s broken state of mind rendered his hand immovable. The culprit behind this murder left the guy in a state of deep shock, best move would be to put him out of his misery. I removed the Russian’s pistol from the straps connected to my hip pack and pulled the slide back to make sure there was a round in the chamber. I looked over at Luca and he nodded, no protest for a mercy kill.

“So big….” The man moaned as I pressed the cold steel against his mangled forehead, “Thought it was a…,” the man paused to spit out a gob of foamy, bloody phlegm, “…boar…but it’s tusks…so sharp, tore Green down the middle. Ripped me up…pretty good…but I made it…I made it to the safe zone…just for some…” another sickly cough and more bloodied phlegm, “…pussy marine, to pop…me in the chest.”

“This fuckin’ guy gets torn up, runs almost a kilometer to get safe and then gets shot by some opportunistic shit bag. And the guy who shot him just left him here to bleed out. Fuckin’ bullshit man,” Luca spat out. With the pistol still pressed against the man’s head, I turned and looked up at Luca.

“I’m more worried about what did this too him, first the monster who almost got us and now whatever did this,” I responded as I nodded toward the dying man.

With strength returning to his eyes, the man looked up to me and said three words, “Do it, asshole.” I nodded and then felt the reverberations of the poorly made weapon shoot through my arm as the man’s head rocked back into the tree with an audible splat. He fell sideways, finally dead. Whoever Billy was, his dad was tough as nails.

“Marik, give it to me straight. Do you or any folks at ‘The Company,’ have any intel on this shit, I mean this is big. If the Ruskies are cooking up homicidal monsters, I feel like the American government’s spies should have at least a fuckin’ clue!” I understood his anger and his frustration and responded as calmly as possible;

“I don’t know. Shit is compartmentalized, people in the CIA could have known, people in the DIA could have known, doesn’t mean I’d be privy to it. I’m SAD, Luca, wet work, I don’t normally fuck around with top level shit. My team, we just killed people, most of the time we didn’t know if they were a terrorist or a fucking soccer mom that saw too much.” It was almost hard to be completely honest with someone. My own parents and siblings had no idea what I did, hell, no one outside of my unit knew what I did. But it is the truth, I’m just a cog in the great American espionage wheel.

“Fuck, then how do we stop these things?!” Luca was starting to lose control, that ferociousness I respected on the plane, now started to become a liability.

“I don’t think we can, you saw what happened when I shot it. I think our only goal now is w…” Before I could finish my sentence both mine and Luca’s GPSs started to vibrate. I looked down and a notification ribbon crossed the screen:

Only 10 contenders remain.

“Fuckin’ kidding me…There were 50 guys on that Plane!” Luca exclaimed. He shook his head in disgust as another ribbon crossed the screen:

22 removed by fellow competitors
18 removed by the Wardens

“Jesus, I guess some part of me hoped no one else had to get killed by those things, but 18? God, the fuckin’ Ruskies are gunna pay for this shit.” I decided snapping at Luca to calm the fuck down was not the best way to get him focused and that rage under control, so I turned to him and as tranquilly as possible and said:

“Luca, if we want our revenge we have to survive. The only option is winning this fucked up game, getting back to the frontlines and beating the Reds. We can do this, we have already proven we are some of the toughest motherfuckers on this island, and we are not gunna let the commie’s pets distract us from our one and only goal, survival.” Luca looked at me, I could tell my words had an effect:

“Huh, didn’t think you could say something so, not dick-ish and actually motivating. But again, you’re right, you may not be touchy-feely, but we wouldn’t have made it this far without your semi-stable mentality.” I gave Luca a surprised look, I was sure this kid was going frag me by the end of our journey.

“Thanks, kid. We’ll get out of here, but seriously we have to fucking move.” Luca grinned and said:

“Yes boss, anything for you!” I cracked a smile and started my jog towards the channel, feeling relieved that my partner was calm again.

.....

“Alright, so I don’t see anyone on the opposite shoreline, but what I do see is a boat. Now, driving something with a loud engine would probably draw some fire or give some dickheads the chance to ambush us, on the other hand, we can avoid swimming in 40-degree water and possibly fuckin’ up the bulk of our gear. What do you think, Luca?” I asked as we laid prone, staring across the wide channel. Luca motioned that he wanted to take a look. I handed him my rifle and he started his own scan.

“Yea, I'm down for the boat. We can handle ourselves in a fire-fight if we’re warm and have rifles, but not cold and defenseless.”

“Sound logic, so know how to drive a boat?” Luca gave me a puzzled look:

“I was assuming you did…” I grinned and stated, slightly arrogantly:

“Of course, I do, it’s pretty fucking easy.” Luca gave me a dirty look:

“Asshole.” I laughed and motioned towards the boat. We were about 100 meters away, in a thicket of bushes on top of a grassy knoll. While keeping a close watch on the boat, I wasn’t paying attention to the rocky ground beneath our feet. Suddenly, I stumbled over a small pile of lime and immediately tumbled down the slope. As I was spinning and rolling, I felt sharp lime slice up my barely protected arms and legs. When I finally smashed into the rocky beach head below, I looked around and saw I had landed at the mouth of a small alcove, a few feet from a boulder, good cover if we needed it. I could feel a plethora of cuts and bruises forming on my aging body. “Karma is a bitch, aint it?” Luca yelled down to me, I could feel his smirk all the way down here. Luckily, I received no serious injury, just a few more scars to add to the collection.

“I’m fine by the way, you insolent little prick,” I said to Luca as he gingerly made his way to me.

“Insolent little prick, huh? I’m sorry, Dad, did I hurt your feelings?” I brushed myself off and gave Luca the finger.

“No, but I do have some limestone in my ass, you want to pull it out?” I said with a smile. Luca put his hand up, gesturing he wasn’t interested in removing anything from my rear end.

“Who knew, you can actually be fun!” Luca exclaimed. Good. He is in good spirits, meaning he accepted our role finally or he is deflecting with humor, either way it makes our job easier.

“On rare occasions,” I said with a slight grin. I bent over to pick up my rifle, when out of nowhere, I felt a sharp push to my already bleeding behind. I landed with a thud, feeling more rocks shred up my forearms and knees. “The f…” I felt a hand clasp over my mouth as I tried to speak, muffling me instantly. The hand slipped off my mouth and I turned to see Luca pointing toward the massive bolder at the edge of the alcove, he slid behind it and I followed suit. “What is going on?!” I asked, with a bit of disdain in my voice. Luca just pointed to the boat. I looked through a small space between the base of the hill and the boulder and saw that as we were fucking around, another group was closing in on the boat from further down the beach, I’m assuming they didn’t see us because they were not shooting. “Good call, want me to take them down?” I asked as I gestured towards my rifle.

“Uh-uh, you will take out one, but the other may be smart and take cover, let’s just wait until we both have clear shots.” Kid is smarter than I give him credit for. I kept watch as Luca checked his weapons and got them at the ready. The two men were closing in to the boat and I took aim, as Luca swung around the corner. “You got left, I got right. On my count. 3…2…”

BANG BANG BRRRRPPP BANG

Semi-auto and automatic gunfire erupted from the hill Luca and I recently vacated. Rounds started pinging the boat and the two men we were watching quickly took cover. “Shit,” Luca said, “Now we’re stuck in the middle of a gun fight.”

“Yea, but neither side knows we’re here, let’s just stay hidden and whoever wins, let’s take them out, understood?”

“Yea I got you.” I laid prone again, making sure I didn’t poke out of cover. Luckily, the slight shade from the hill mixed with the darkening sky made us almost invisible to the warring parties. I motioned to Luca to focus upwards, and I’d watch the ground team. At this point, we needed the boat. I took a quick glance at the GPS and saw that the area we were in was not going to be in play. Judging by how much the circle shrunk each time, we would need to be halfway across the channel before we would be safe. I gestured toward the GPS and Luca understood, we didn’t have much longer to stay passive in this skirmish.

This wasn’t the first time I spent being the third-party to a desperate battle, probably won’t be the last. The two soldiers on the hill were green as hell or barely ever fired a weapon. They had the higher ground and the surprise, yet this is turning into a prolonged fight, and if I’ve learned anything, advantages in gun fights don’t last long. Almost on cue, one man on the ground team provided covering fire for his partner as he flanked left. The runner made it to an out-cropping of boulders, giving his team two fields of fire to rain on their higher-up enemies. The hill team seemed flummoxed and sprayed bullets in unison, forcing the whole team to need to reload at the same time. The lack of intelligent decision-making gave the group on the ground the chance to move.

The trained soldier who stayed behind the boat now ran to the right side of the hill and dove behind a small hillock, propping his weapon on the top. As if reading each other’s minds, the two marksmen started their attack, catching the team on the hill in a crossfire. I heard a scream and looked back to see one member of the hill team roll down to the bottom, right into our small cover. The man, lay there holding his gut, and loudly screaming in pain. He did not seem to notice us, staying focused on his mortal wound. Luca looked at me as if to ask what we should do, and my response was to shrug my shoulders. If we kill him and his screaming abruptly stops, the winners of this fight would find us, if we let him live, the winners will want to come finish him. It was a no-win situation.

“Pleas…Please help, it hurts so bad….” The dying man finally noticed us, reaching his hand out towards Luca. Luca looked down at me and then took the man’s hand.

“Man, we want to help you, but we’d fuck ourselves royally if we get attention down here. But we will stay with you and make you last longer than the guys who did this, that’s the best we can offer. With tears staining his cheeks, the man grimaced and nodded, fully accepting his fate.

In rare form, I scooched over and put my hand on his shoulder. I’m not sure why I did it, it just felt like the right move. Luca seemed as perplexed as me but seemed happy with my decision to show some humanity.

We heard a few more rounds go off and heard another man cry out. Looks like the ground team won, and it was finally time to join the fight. For a few tense moments, we didn’t hear anything until:

“Let’s go find where the first one dropped. I’m runnin’ low on 7.62 and I think he had an AK.”

“Roger that, damn they set us up with some real bitches this time. You think anybody left even knows how to shoot?” the other said with a laugh.

“Hell, I was surprised those idiots knew which end the bullets came out of,” the first man retorted, failing to stifle a chuckle. “Ahh, shit looks like we got about two minutes to get in the boat, fuckin’ Wardens are closing in.” Luca turned to look at me and whispered:

“What the fuck…these guys have done this before? What the hell are they, ringers?” I shrugged my shoulders, but it seems the Russians didn’t want any POWs to make it home, they sent out a bunch of American traitors to make sure not a single true-allied soldier made it off the island. But frankly, I didn’t give a shit. These pieces of trash were going to pay.

“Luca,” I whispered as I picked up the fallen soldier’s AK-47, “I’m going to put this in front of our cover, get closer to the base of the hill and try to stay out of sight.” I quietly placed the weapon and sprinted full tilt to the opposite side of the hill in which the traitors were walking down. I slowly made my way back up the rocky incline and watched as the two men closed in on the weapon. I found myself laying prone again, almost in the same spot as before. This time though, I could take both in quick succession.

“Looks like I was right! This asshole had an AK, guessin’ his corpse dropped back here.” The enemy soldier started making his way around the cover, within a moment, he would find Luca and our dying friend. I chose to aim for his waiting partner and leveled my sights on his chest. At this range, my rifle would puncture most vests and if not, it would still knock the piece of shit out. I whispered into the comms to make Luca aware:

“Luca, you got a bogey coming to you, looks like he doesn’t even have his weapon u…” Before I could finish my sentence, I heard the familiar sound of an M16 and saw as my AK toting enemy flew backwards, with fresh wounds opening on his arms, legs and torso.

Almost instantly his partner turned around, but before he could get the drop on Luca, I sent one bullet careening into his chest. He quarter turned abruptly from the punch of my high caliber rifle and collapsed in a heap. I watched as Luca made his way out of the cover, handgun extended. The man he had shot had turned to his stomach and was crawling to his dropped weapon. Luca walked by him and stomped on his outstretched hand, crushing whatever hope he had left of leaving the island. The man turned to Luca with a bloody smile before Luca sent a kick to his wounded midsection. He moved to put the man down for good, but I crackled over the mic:

“Leave him, for the Wardens, I want to watch him suffer.” Luca looked up and gave me an evil grin and a thumbs up. The dying man’s cocky smile disappeared quickly as he realized the turn of events.

“Come on, man, show some fuckin’ mercy! You know what those fuckin’ things do to people?!” Luca responded:

“If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll bleed out before it gets here.” The man looked dejected and attempted to get up. A bullet had torn through his bicep, causing him to collapse as he put pressure on his destroyed arm. He cried out in pain and frustration, realizing that his wounds had completely disabled him.

I made my way down the hill and went to check on the man I had shot, while Luca took anything of value off his dying partner. I edged closer to the fallen soldier and suddenly he stirred. I rushed over quickly and kicked the man in the face, sending spittle and a few teeth into the sand. He recovered much quicker than someone who took a boot in the head and a round to the chest should and attempted to grab his sidearm. I decided no more games and put two more rounds his chest from my Grach, hearing the distinct thud as the bullets hit his vest. He groaned loudly, and I pounced on him. I sent two punches to his face and turned him over. “Luca!” I yelled, “grab something to tie him up with, we’re gunna have us an old-fashioned, make-shift, CIA black sight interrogation.” Within a moment, Luca came over with the man’s partners shoelaces, and expertly hogtied our new hostage. “Our buddy?” I asked, regarding the soldier who had fallen behind our cover. Luca shook his head, giving me all the information that I needed.

Luca holding the hostage, and I, made our way into the icy water, feeling the chill rise through our body. Luca carelessly threw the injured man in the back of the boat, as I got in the driver seat. Luca sat down next to me as I turned the key and pushed the throttle forward. As soon as the boat started, the GPS vibrated, signifying that the circle was closing. I revved the engine and propelled us out into the channel.

.....

Once we made it to a safe area, I had stopped the boat. We were about 200 yards off the coast of the beach and through my scope I could see the incapacitated traitor struggling to crawl towards the water, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. Like before, the sky behind him started to darken, stopping the dying man in his tracks. I moved my scope up to the hill and saw movement coming over the top of it. The beast that came over the hill, was more monstrous, more grotesque then anything that could be from Earth. The demon was shaped like a spider, but it had the face of a human perched on its hairless thorax. Its eight legs quickly drove itself to the fallen man, even at this distance I could feel the fear radiating off him. The beast then perched itself on its back legs exposing a stomach arrayed with gore stained teeth. It used its front legs to grab the man and shove him in its open stomach, closing with an audible snap. I watched as the beast seemed to “chew” the man to pieces, spitting out parts of bone and clothing as it did so.

“Jesus..” I said as I watched the hideous beast eat the man alive.

“Oh, he can’t help you now, asshole,” I heard the prisoner say, “Those things, they don’t die and if you’re not careful, you could be the next…ummphhh” Before he could finish his sentence Luca gave him a kick to his stomach.

“Shut up, fuck face, you’re in for a real fun surprise. When Mr. SAD here gets to you, you’re going to wish you were with the Wardens,” Luca spat out, his words teeming with hate.

“Special Activities Division? How the fuck did you end up o…ummphhhh,” Luca stopped the man again, but this time with a back hand to the man’s already bruised face.

“Nod if you understand what shut-up means,” Luca said coldly. The beaten man gave Luca a dirty look and nodded curtly, signaling he would comply. “Marik, how much time we got?” I looked at the GPS, and judging by the past few of the circle’s moves, I gave Luca my answer:

“Hour tops, but we should aim to get a foothold on land within 20-25 minutes, which is just enough time for me to get this shit-bag talking.” The man looked up, finally realizing Luca and I weren’t the competitors he was used to. I hate to say it, but I relished in the terror I saw pass across his beaten face. “I would give you some sort of cliched speech about the easy way or the hard way. But, to be honest, we are going to kill you and I most definitely will make it painful.” The man looked up at me and said:

“How about this, I tell you whatever you want to hear, and you just do me the honor of making it quick?” I let out a cold laugh and retorted by shooting him in the knee with my Grach.

“Fuck! Motherfucker, goddammit!” As he lay there bleeding, I removed the crowbar from my waist band and brought it down on his other knee. “Ahhhh, fuck…” he screamed, “What, what the fuck do you want to know!” I smiled and asked:

“Who are you and why are you doing this?” He winced as Luca wrapped a belt around his upper thigh, attempting to staunch his bleeding knee. He took a breath and said:

“Me and Grollings, the guy you let get eaten back there, we got captured a few years back. The Ruskies gave us a choice, be their ringers in this “competition” or a bullet in the brain. We made the only choice we had, and judging by your Machiavellian attitude,” the man gestured towards his knees, “you would have done the same. And me? My name is Staff Sergeant Rickles, Marine Raiders.”

“Fruckin’ yut, should have guessed by your handiwork. We also ran into a guy, after getting mauled by a Warden, he made it all the way to the circle, yet he still ended up gut shot and bleeding out in the forest, you have anything to do with that?” I asked.

“Grollings. He hit the guy once and his gun jammed, so we just said fuck it and kept moving.” In a flash, Luca send a right hook into the man’s face.

“Guy had a fucking kid, you piece of selfish shit!” Luca yelled; I moved quickly and pulled Luca back, I still had some questions.

“I’m glad we established you’re an asshole, but I have another question.” Before I could ask, the man interrupted:

“Don’t bother, we don’t fucking know. They never told us what they are or where they come from, just that if we do our job right, we will never have to deal with the Wardens ourselves.” I looked at the man, he had no reason to lie, no reason to protect his captors.

“Ok then. Why did you seem surprised that I was SAD?”

“Ha! Because, they only bring non-combatants to the island and occasionally an infantryman or a Ranger. But never SF or CIA. They want you all to lose to us or the other ringer teams. And before you ask why, probably because they don’t want anyone actually making it off the island.”

“I thought as much, but still going to win just in case. And last one, is anyone watching, or is the purpose of this island for something else entirely?” The man paused for second, wincing again at the sight of his shattered knees, then he took a deep breath and said:

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I believe that this is a testing facility or something, not sure what for, but I doubt the Russian people are out there celebrating a bunch of POWs getting slaughtered every month.” I considered the man’s words silently, pondering over the revelation he had shared. I stood up and said:

“Thanks, you cleared up a lot of stuff for us.” My prisoner nodded once, and I calmly shot him in the head. Before slumping over, I saw a look of surprise on his face and then he was no more. I gently picked up his corpse and threw it off the side of the boat.

“Wow, that was sudden, huh?” Luca asked. I gave him a puzzled look and said:

“I had no more questions, so I shot him. I mean, what else was I gunna do?”

“Good point,” Luca responded, “Just, ya know, signify you are going to do it next time.” I managed a small grin and replied:

“50/50 shot that happens, sorry I can be a bit, methodical.”

“Yea, that’s the word, anyway, I’m going to get this boat moving. And I call dibs on his pants, mine are soaked.” I laughed and said:

“Fine, but I get his boots.”

.....

It took 15 minutes to get our boots on land, and Luca decided he didn’t want to freeze again and grounded the boat. “Alright, so it looks like we only have about a kilometer of total area left,” Luca said while looking at his GPS, “that means we will be hard-pressed not to run into anyone.” I nodded in agreement and checked my gear. I gave Luca the AUG and all its 5.56, leaving me with just my FAL and about 80 rounds of 7.62. If we played it right, that’s all we would need.

Vrrrrrrr, Vrrrrrrrr,” our GPS’ started to buzz and across the screen flashed a familiar banner:

Only 5 contenders remain
25 removed by fellow competitors
20 removed by the Wardens

“Fuck me, looks like we were part of most of the damage,” Luca stated.

“Yea and there is one team that’s half gone due to a Warden,” I replied. “We have a choice, lookin’ at the GPS I see that where this circle will close to next and we can either go post up or wait on the fringes, what do you think?” Luca pondered for a moment before replying:

“Man, after seeing those fuckin’ things, I do not want to be close to them again. Let’s go post up, get hidden as best as we can and hope no one else has the same idea.”

“Works for me,” I responded, “let’s just focus on moving quick and quiet and we should be fine.”

“10-4.” We started off towards a large cluster of trees, doing our best to stay hidden. We knew our chances of not being discovered were slim, but we were willing to do whatever it took to avoid the Wardens. As we closed in on the area I thought would be the final safe zone, we spotted two of the last three competitors.

“Luca, you see them?” I whispered.

“Yea, I got eyes on them,” Luca responded. The two men were barely visible, laying prone on the edge of an open expanse, clearly waiting to ambush anyone that came their way. One of the men, seemed to be occasionally watching his team’s six, searching the blanket of forest where Luca and I hid. I laid as quietly as possible on the pine and leaf filled ground and took aim at the lookout. “You going to take the shots?” Luca asked. I thought for a moment and decided it would be better to wait. There is another person out there, if we shoot, he will know where we are.

“No, let’s just wait for the other guy to show and then take them.” Luca gave me a thumbs up and laid prone behind me, covering our asses with his bullpup rifle.

“Marik, you think the Ruskies will actually let us go if we win this?” Luca asked. I breathed deeply, the same question ran across my mind, but I did my best to dismiss it.

“In the end, does it matter? Right now, that looks like our best bet to survive, so may as well win and find out, right?”

“Yea, you’re right. I just hope we didn’t kill a bunch of brothers for nothing.”

“Me too, but let’s focus on the now, heard?”

“Heard,” Luca responded. As we laid there waiting, I kept my scope aimed at the head of the man looking in mine and Luca’s direction, when seemingly out of nowhere a shot rang out, smacking my would-be target in the temple. He slumped over, dead as his partner attempted to return fire in the direction where he thought the shooter was.

The still living soldier dove quickly behind a large tree trunk, as a round ripped off a neighboring tree’s branch. “Well, I guess we didn’t have to wait that long,” Luca said. I signaled for him to stay put as I set out on a flanking mover to catch the hidden shooter off guard. Over the comms I said:

“Luca, get a clear shot on the guy that’s pinned down. Once you do let me know, I’m going to find the other shooter.”

“Understood!” As I was low crawling towards where I thought the sniper was hiding, I caught a glimpse of movement directly ahead of me. The sniper had started to flank at the same time I was, and he was set to run right into me. I stopped moving, trying to utilize all my senses to pinpoint exactly where he was. The thick layer of pine needles and tufts of grass covered both of us from the others line of sight. I closed my eyes and heard rustling from my right. I still couldn’t make him out, until I realized, he was wearing a ghillie suit, full-body camo that made you invisible to the untrained eye. The son of a bitch was probably one of the ringers, some SF sniper sent here to wipe us all out.

Luckily, he still hadn’t seen me, staying focused on the team he had already attacked. I posted up on my knee and let off a magazine load into the enemy sniper’s direction, hearing the thuds as my shots connected. I heard the man groan once and I scooted over to find him bleeding out from a large caliber round through his neck. Luca, perfectly following suit, unloaded into the last enemy warrior, killing him instantly with a barrage of lead. “Got him! Your guy down?” Luca asked into the mic.

“Yea, man, he’s down.”

“Holy shit, we actually did it…” Luca said, sounding amazed. I started towards the clearing, waving Luca to follow me. Looking at the GPS, the clearing was where the circle will move next. As we got to the center, I sat down, finally able to relax after today’s trial. Luca, plopped down next to me, putting his hand out and stated:

“You may not want to hear it, but thanks.” I looked at his hand for a moment and took it firmly into mine.

“Wouldn’t be here if it….”

“Well isn’t this sweet?!” Luca and I snapped our heads up and watched as a platoon of Russian soldiers emerged from the woods, carrying state-of-the-art AKMs and wearing heavy body armor. The speaker, an old, weathered warrior, walked in front of his team, an ancient Tokarov strapped to his hip. He started to slow-clap and said:

“Congrats gentlemen, you are the first team ever to defeat our planted men. It’s too bad though, if you didn’t kill my man on the plane, I’d let you both go, but you shed Russian blood on Russian land, as foreigners we would generally give you a summary execution, but I’m feeling nice today.” The Russian removed his side arm and threw it in front of Luca and me. “Whoever is left standing can go home, the other, well, he can be a snack for one of my friends.”

As he finished his sentence he gestured toward the tree line. I looked and saw many of the Wardens lining up, as if waiting on line for an all-you-can-eat buffet. I watched as the spider monster licked its stomach mandibles and as the giant boar, with what seemed to be tusks made of steel, sharpen its appendages on an exposed stone. The tall demon in the black robes stood behind them all, silently waiting for the next person to butcher. Other monstrosities, the like I wouldn’t have even dreamed of were circling around the clearing, waiting in earnest for the opportunity to tear us to pieces.

“If we are going to kill each other, tell us then, what are these things?” I asked, I didn’t want to risk dying without knowing what the hell was happening here. The old Russian smiled, showing a mouth full of crooked, stained teeth.

“I think not, this is, how you say, none of your business. These fine specimens and the Kremlin have a deal and one of you dying is part of that deal, so please carry on or we shoot both of you.” Before he had a chance, I dove in front of Luca, grabbing the worn pistol as I simultaneously stood up and pointed it at him. Luca’s face said it all.

“Go on. Fucking do it, it’s who you are, right? It’s all you know?! Pull the fucking trigger!” I smiled at Luca as I turned the gun on myself. I placed the barrel in my mouth, tasting the gun oil and steel. Luca’s face changed, and he made a move towards me as I pressed the trigger, when out of nowhere I heard:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they're red, white and blue
And when the band plays "Hail to the chief"
Ooh, they point the cannon at you…

“Is that…Creedence?” Luca asked as I took the gun out of my mouth. Even the beasts seemed taken aback by the sudden onslaught of the old anti-war song.

The old man turned to his men and started screaming orders in Russian. Luca looked at me with the biggest smile I have seen in a long time and pointed over my shoulder. I turned around to see two Blackhawk helicopters, flanked by a squadron of Apache gunships. The Apaches were making short work of the Russians on the ground and doing their best to be out of reach of the monsters flanking the forest.

Luca stood there dumbstruck, too surprised to even understand that he was saved. I watched as the old Russian was trying to find cover, but his time was up. I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him backwards, smiling as he fell on his ass. Luca walked up and sent a kick to his mid-section, as I clubbed him with his own weapon. We beat him for a few moments before I stopped Luca.

“Whoever just saved us, they’re probably going to want to keep this asshole alive, you know, to torture.” Luca snarled and said:

“I hope they let us kill him.” I looked at Luca and said:

“Hopefully, after this, they send us on some R&R.” Luca calmed down again and before I knew it, pulled me into a hug. I mildly reciprocated as we felt the rotors of a Blackhawk above us. The chopper pulled into the clearing and delicately landed, just feet from us. We looked over as a group of men exited the chopper, clad in black uniforms and carrying a range of high-end weaponry. The last person to exit had a massive frame, standing around sixz and a half feet tall, with a burly white beard hanging off his face. He made his way to us and I could see he was chomping on a cigar and spitting pieces off to the side. I immediately recognized the cocky gait and giant frame. Captain Marsdale. The Vietnam War relic decided to pick us up himself. Granted, no one really knew which department he worked for or what he did, but most SAD guys have run into him once or twice at Langly.

“Gentlemen!” he yelled over the roaring choppers, “May I?” He asked as he gestured towards the broken man on the ground. He reached into the ancient Russian's pocket and pulled out a small tablet pressing down on a few buttons. Within seconds of the tablet being used, unholy screams erupted from the forest. The beasts seemed to automatically turn and run, leaving us without the feeling of impending doom for the first time today. The Vietnam Vet removed his sidearm and shot the old Russian in the back of the head, “That’s for shooting down my bird outside of Khe Sahn, you fuck,” he grunted out, sending bits of cigar into the dead Russian's open wounds. He turned back to us and yelled over the rotors, “Kistich, I didn’t think you had much of a chance, but you did a damn fine job.” Marsdale reached out his and I ignored it.

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about?” Marsdale, not a man who is used to insubordination, decided to ignore my lack of respect and said:

“You know how you need to get inoculated before going to a new country? Well, when the Company decided to ship you off to Kiev, I made sure one of my men put a tracker in your shots. On top of that, we had our doc handle your Company-paid-for cataract surgery a few months back. Thing is, we slipped in a nice little lens that live plays everything you see, courtesy of our friends at DARPA. Then, we may have had one my guys tip off a bunch of Russian partisans about a truck carrying a VIP. Wasn’t much of a surprise to me that the mercs found a dead kid in a suit and a living 40-year-old battalion clerk. Lucky for you, the partisans may have been legally retarded.” A wave of mixed emotions washed over me, confusion, anger, frustration, being a few, but I had one question for the old SEAL:

“Why me?” The seasoned killer took another chomp out of his cigar and pondered for a minute. I saw that Luca was still dumb founded, not totally understanding the current situation. I put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, letting him know that we were indeed safe, and just in case I had the Tokarov at the ready. Marsdale sighed loudly as he pulled the masticated cigar out of his mouth:

“Total clarity? Wanted to recruit you. I’ve read reports on you, met you a few times and decided that I’d like you on my team. I generally don’t take folks who weren’t in the military, but boy are you one tough summbitch. I mean you killed two armed men with a crowbar, watching it on the monitors, the whole team cheered. Real impressive shit, son. But in all seriousness, Special Agent, you need to understand one thing: Our mission is more important than the people who have died here and we will stand by that fact.” I’ve heard it all before, in SAD, from SF guys, even from the regular soldiers I have met. But what makes this asshole’s mission so important? Before I could ask, Luca spoke up:

“You guys fight shit like those monsters, don’t you?” Marsdale, seemingly taken aback by Luca’s astute observation, turned to him and said:

“Damn, thought you were mute or a tard, but yea something like that. Nice guess, kid,” Marsdale took another massive, sloppy bite from his Cigar, sending bits of tobacco into his snow-white beard, “But enough. I answered more than I had to. Get on the helicopter, before the Ruskie’s device stops working and we all become dinner.” I was more confused than at the start of the conversation and angrier then I have been in a while, I took a deep breath and decided throwing a punch wasn’t worth getting stuck on the island or my ass kicked by a guy who should of died in the sixties. Luca shrugged his shoulders, still in shock and got on the chopper.

As Marsdale took his seat next to me, I grabbed the Tokarov by the barrel, reaching over to hand it to him. He put his hand up and said:

“Keep it, it’ll be a reminder of why you fight. You look like you need one.” I nodded once and got into my seat, letting my eyes close as the helicopter took off.



Written by Baron Fist
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