OPERATION ELANOR TIME REMAINING 00:46:41
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Sparek gathered some bloodied papers and found them mostly irrelevant items documenting court appearances. They’d become brown with crusted blood.
The surroundings were deafeningly silent. All except for the respiration of the form of Lt. Blake. His laboured breathing rattled the nerves. Something inside his throat clicked at the apex of each breath.
Clara and Yuri were poised in their respective positions whilst Harved saw to Blake. Amongst some piled trash Sparek discovered discarded clothing. Considering the amount of bodies piling their choking stench in the room this wasn’t at all surprised and he held some notion that it was possible to find Blake’s own items here – being a member of the Union Office of Intelligence, Blake would not have carried distinguishing clothing or a uniform but wore the clothing of civilians. That meant he had no form of identification in his possession that would have given away his true identity. The colonel held up a small shoe that was too small to be an adult’s and tossed it aside.
Harved tapped him on the shoulder plate. “Sir?”
“There’s nothing I can do for him. The wires and pipes won’t accept any outside meddling and even if I get a solution into him his heart is in too poor of a condition to get it around his body quickly enough.” He angled himself towards Blake but still spoke to Sparek. “He can’t be moved. He’s there for the rest of his life.”
Blake looked over with bloodshot eyes that saw nothing.
Clara piped up. “Is there more to it than what we’re seeing?”
“He’s blind and deaf,” nodded Harved. “All he can do is feel. As for speech,” he paused. “I took this from his mouth. It’s amazing that he managed to say what he said to us.” He produced a rusting caltrop without looking away from Blake. Sparek grimaced. This entire room was a nightmare, but none of it was the regular Mandate MO. Who were these people? “There’s more. The top of his esophagus has been replaced by a machine that regulates his breathing. It’s expanding his lungs to a hundred and ten percent capacity.”
“It’s stretching his lungs?”
“Too much, colonel. I suspect that they’re flaring and sore inside.”
Sparek rubbed his jaw. “Right. We can’t take him with us. You know what that means.” Harved nodded and Sparek looked to Clara, whom had moved over to the main doorway. She’d taken to peering through the slightly ajar door. She suddenly looked alarmed. There was reason to be.
The doors crashed inwards. Clara just narrowly threw herself aside from them and rolled to her feet. Several figures ran over the threshold. Six boiler suits, two in fatigues and one in a tanned leather bodysuit, all stained, ripped, torn and in desperate need of maintenance. More hostiles. They were running from something. One held its severed arm in its other hand. The others had what might have been wounds.
Clara and Yuri didn’t hesitate, dropping two by taking one’s head and putting a bullet in the temple of another respectively. Sparek’s rifle pumped into his shoulder and he loosed two rounds into the chest and jaw of another. He saw their eyes open wide, each one of them, in some brutal mixture of surprise and hate. Not of fear. The three in the front immediately dropped into what cover they could find – overturned bodies and the vandalised remains of furniture. Two of the assailants – a boiler suit and a fatigue – pushed over a heavy wooden table. One demolished body fell away from it but the one beneath it remained in place, nailed and pegged by what remained of its limbs. It sagged at the hip for the gravity that pulled at it.
Clara remained unnoticed somehow, and she drove her blade into the ribcage beneath the shoulder blade of the one in the bodysuit. Sparek heard a meaty thud behind him. He turned, expecting Harved to have had his thorax blown apart. Above them, Yuri chose his shots carefully. From that distance he didn’t need his scope, yet his first few shots only succeeded in knocking blood and balance from his victims below.
Sparek chanced a glance to Harved. His chest was covered in blood and his face was speckled red. The medic looked to Sparek’s impression before looking down to his thorax. Sparek risked a few snap shots, a quick burst of rounds that splintered the wood and caused an animalistic yelp from something in the barricaded table.
Sparek scrambled to Harved who patted himself down through the damp reddened clothing beneath his armoured bodysuit. His hand stopped at his chest. ‘It’s not- it’s not me!’ His eyes scanned a panicked Sparek. He hadn’t been hit either.
Clara slashed away another corpse from her before she was noticed, and used her latest victim as a shield. By the shrieks that came from her cover it was obvious that she hadn’t killed her. Her comrades ended her life for Clara. Clara took the opportunity to push the woman’s body into another of the imposter Mandates.
Yuri swore something harsh and skillfuly caved in the brow of an enemy who just barely exposed himself to shoot at Clara.
The remaining lot of the enemies put up a stubborn fight. Clara couldn’t get near them and even Sparek, Harved and Yuri were pinned. Sparek saw another trooper, then another, and another, drawn to the noise to join in the fight. Flecks of wooden shards were punched away from their fixings as the colonel and the medic hid from the pinning fusillade behind their diminishing cover.
The fire increased. The almost staccato rhythm doubled in measure before abruptly stopping. The silence seemed unbearable. Sparek resolved to tentatively peer through a sizable gap in the bloodsoaked wood.
A familiar face – long hair and a scruffy, unkempt beard.
“Saethwyr,” he muttered. Harved looked up at Sparek’s exclamation, confused. Sparek picked himself up from the floor. Shards of wood fell away from him. He grinned slightly, but realised just what it was that the imposters were running from.
Four rifles were suddenly aimed at him. One sword edge was suddenly against a throat. Clara had grabbed Adrian at almost the same time the rifles were raised. She didn’t take kindly to Sparek being threatened regardless of whom it was.
She took the blade away from his jugular after the fireteam came to realise just whom they were aiming at. “Stand down, you lot. I don’t need a gun in my face just as much as you guys don’t need a bayonet up your arse,” Sparek laughed. The tension, just like their body language, had deflated. They’d noticed the remains scattered amongst the room. One or two pairs of eyes fell upon Lt. Blake’s crucified form.
“Typical,” finally piped up Ezral. “Always on your arses.” He was chewing on an unlit cigar. It wasn’t even cut. Sparek could see Clara scowling at the thing. Sparek grinned broadly, but his face quickly turned sour.
“They were running from you,” he levelled.
“Best be running from the stuff we just pulled. Surprised to see us?”
“Yes. You had your objective. You got caught.”
“Took it, but there was a squad sat on it. Lucky we took them out.”
“I think luck is the word,” put in Pwcca. Sparek looked to Pwcca, Adrian and Saethwyr in turn.
“You’re also lucky to have these guys on the team.” He turned away before Ezral could retort. He was right. The members of the 9th Marines were excellent at their jobs. Luck really was on their side and Sparek knew it.
Ezral went on “sir, permission to speak freely?” Sparek returned a look and noded his consent. Ezral continued. “These aren’t Mandate. I’ve never seen this unit before.”
“We know. We’ve had our fair share of them too.”
Between them there was a short discussion despite the time constraints. Amongst them was the mention of their uniform, their barbaric practices and the gaunt man. What confused them the most was that they had expected the Mandate rebels yet found these strange troops; why then would they burn the Mandate name into corpses?
Sparek suddenly remembered the one gunshot in the gunfight that mattered. He looked to Harved.
The medic was stood up. He glanced over to the remains of Blake. The back of his head had exploded and had sent fragments of bone, grey matter and visceral gore in a telltale cone that angled up the walls. A quick calculation was all Sparek needed to tell that it wasn’t a stray shot that took Blake’s pitiful existence from this bleak wall.
Harved looked away from Sparek. He was looking at the new arrivals. The colonel looked at him. It was obvious what had happened. What was he to do though? Sparek knew that there was no other way to end his life. “Harved.”
He looked to his name being spoken. “Sir.” It wasn’t a question. Harved knew what Sparek was addressing.
Harved nodded to him. It wasn’t a specific order, but Harved had gotten the job done and the carved mess of flesh and bone was perfectly dead now. The clicking continued though, and his chest still heaved, but Harved assured them that there was no life left in that corpse. Blake was dead but machines continued to breathe and pump his blood around his body for him. The shock of his brain being blown out would have been too much for his nervous system to handle.
Blood continued to gush through what remained of the arteries and the tips of the veins ran dry. Capillaries ceased to be.
Everybody had the same question on their lips.
Everybody turned and looked up at the voice on the balcony above them who was sitting, watching them all, and asked that for that one detail in his thick accent.
“Where do we take ourselves next?”
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OPERATION ELANOR TIME REMAINING 00:39:59
– By Kier Sparey
© Kier Sparey 2014