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Close to the Sun

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Chapter 5

I threw myself down into my seat in the mess hall, putting my head down against my folded arms and blocking out all the noise. It was too much, I just wanted quiet. Just a moment to myself, it didn't help that I've had a headache that hasn't gone away for at least a good week.

"Yo, Rus," I hear Sera's voice approaching, over the last few weeks we'd run a few more operations that were more successful than our last, and unlike everyone else, she seemed to become very friendly toward me. I had mixed feelings about it.

Wait- Rus? That's the best she could do. Rus? That makes me sound old.

I tilted my head up, my mane partially acting as a white curtain as I peered into her eyes, and she almost flinched at my gaze.

"You look like hammered shit."

"Thanks, Squad leader. I'll take that into consideration," I huffed looking away from her, maybe I misread her seemingly faux friendliness.

"That's not what I- Look, you really should get something to help you sleep."

I squinted at her.

How does she know I'm having trouble sleeping?

"Who said-"

"We all sleep in the same place Icarus. Just... Don't let it become a liability."

There's the military bullshit.

"Did we ever get any intel on that guy who killed Ryder?"

Sera nodded leaning in close and dropping her voice low, "Let's wait until we're out of the mess and back in our barracks, this information is high-level clearance."

I put my back down feeling a pit in my stomach. There was the feeling again. This didn't sit right with me; we had an opponent who is an experienced combatant, willingly violent, armed, and dangerous, seemed to have easy access to military-grade weaponry, and indiscriminately killed civilians. I almost shuddered thinking about the massacre inside the diner, so many innocent lives taken at the command of one person. Yet here we were talking about how this information was only accessible to people with a certain clearance level. I felt like this should be public knowledge so that people could keep an eye out for him, this could save lives. Or at the very least someone could kill the guy. I could feel hatred clawing its way back into my mind. There was no way that this was right, people would die due to valuable information being withheld. Granted, I was in the business of ending lives, but I only killed who I was paid to kill and kept ordinary people out of it. I have standards, professionals have standards. This monster left nothing to chance, I was still convinced that we were lucky that our pelican hadn't been shot down.

That's The House's way, isn't it? A few souls are worthy of sacrifices. And I'm part of the problem now. Fucking dammit.

"You not gonna eat?"

I looked back up with a cold glare, meeting a concerned look, "No ma'am, squad leader."

"Meet back in thirty mikes, don't be late."


I trudged into the barracks feeling sluggish and sick. I bypassed the bunks and walked through a set of double doors in the back of the room which outlet into a brightly lit hallway, I continued straight past the door that led to the armory and through the door at the end into the mission brief room. I was instantly bathed in blue light as I crossed the threshold of the door, all conversation stopped at the same moment. There were more people in the room than I would have expected to be present. Sargent Kovich in a chair near the front only offered me an over-the-shoulder look, my squamates mostly ignored my presence, but Miranda of all people rose from her seat at the front and intercepted me.

What is she doing here? What is this?

"What gives- Squad leader," I restrained my irritation as I realized that once again, I was out of the loop, "You never told me that we would have people sit in-"

Sera crossed her arms, "I also told you not to be late. This isn't personal, but I need everyone to be one hundred percent for operations. Miranda's going to look you over, you're sitting this one out."

"You can't be serious-"

"As a damn heart attack. Miranda."

Miranda grabbed my forearm and moved me toward the hall, "Best not to argue."

I allowed myself to be herded out through the base and back to the medical bay, the room was just as plain, bland, and empty as I'd left it. I couldn't even say I was surprised at this point, every single time I'd trusted anything I got burned. This was just another to add to the collection. I made my way over to the bed I'd occupied the first time I was here and hopped up, taking a seat.

Miranda took my chin in her hand and brought a flashlight up to my eyes, shining a soft light moving side to side, "I should've checked the first time, but it's my fault that I missed it."

"She can't just sideline me like this."

"She's your commanding officer, she very well can- Follow the light with your eyes- If it's any consolation, this wasn't her call. Came from our local eggheads."

"Really. The scientists pulled me from the mission?"

"They said it was important. Your squad leader expressed concern about your seemingly worsening condition-"

I pounded a fist into the railing of the bed, "She said she wasn't going to tell anyone!"

She flinched away from me, a soft click sounding from her end of the room. Her hand was behind her back with steel in her eyes I'd never seen before, down where I slammed my hand the metal bar on the bed was bent almost completely off the frame tilting the entire bed toward the floor. Even the tile beneath the bed support seemed to have visible cracks.


I was standing, I didn't know when I had stood up, but I was on my feet.

"I'm... I'm sorry," I began taking deep breaths, calming myself, and pushing myself back up onto the bed. "She told me it was confidential. I fucking trusted her."

What the fuck was that? I just-

The click sounded once more and Miranda slowly approached, holding her hands toward me in a way like a surrendering motion.

"Icarus, I'm going to need you to trust me," She drew closer to my right until her hands rested gently on my hand. I began to calm down a bit more, it seemed like the only one here who actually looked out for me was her. "I need you to lay down for a bit, just sleep for a little. You'll feel better and I'll have something for you. Do you have anything else you need to tell me?"

I sighed conceding; I didn't have much choice but to trust her, she was the only way whatever the hell was hounding me would go away.

"I've been haven't been able to keep food down. I don't know why. I been having real bad headaches and throwing up at night."

"Do you think you might know why?"

"This is going to sound ridiculous," I hung my head in mild shame, there was no way I would have thought that I going to tell a doctor, a female specifically, that I was having bad dreams as an adult. Yet here I am. "Ever since the city op where Ryder was killed, I've been having reoccurring nightmares. About the guy who killed him."

I looked up at Miranda, expecting some type of amused smirk or a look of disapproval but she seemed to be just watching my face carefully.

"It's never the same place. A high rise, the base, a forest- It's always the same events. I wake up in a firefight, I can't get my bearings- The injuries I sustained are always different, I had a severed limb in one but the most recent was severe burns on my hands."

I lifted and stared at my hands. I could still visualize the third-degree burns, no fur- just reddened, bubbled up, burned skin. I swore I could feel the tingle of burns and fire.

"I stumble away following Sera's voice only to watch him kill her. We fight, but no matter what I do I can never beat him. He always is a step ahead, always blindingly fast- It ends the same. He kills me with that cursed fucking katana. The pain is always so real, I know it's just a stupid dream, but the pain lingers like- like a-"

"Phantom pain," Miranda offered.


I finally flopped backward on the bed only able to see her at the edge of my vision, "I don't think you can fix that, Doc."

"You might be in luck," She left my sight and the room for a minute before returning with a bottle of what sounded like some kind of pills or something. I sat up, confirming that she'd reentered holding it up for me to see. She stepped over to me, "Open up. This should help with the sleep issue and can suppress some of those nightmares, not all just some. However, if there are any side effects when you wake up you need to let me know. Okay?"

"I got it."

I put out a hand receiving a small tablet in my hand, giving it a skeptical stare. There was no way something this small would kick my sleep problem, but I was already trusting Miranda this far. I dropped it into my mouth and swallowed, nearly gagging as it went down.

Probably should have asked for a drink to go with it-

I felt my whole body fall back, falling...


I slapped on my helmet and gave it a jostle to secure it, the pelican lurched to the left and I rose to my feet grabbing my rifle from its usual location from the overhead netting and glancing around the hold. It was unusual for it to look this empty, but I had a job to do even if I was the only one.

This is still odd. I just got back from an impromptu medical stay, but she said I was the only one with the skills to pull this off.

I patted the mag, seating it properly and giving the charging handle a nice pull rewarding me with a sharp chik-chik.

"Hocus, pop the hatch," The bay doors opened, and I darted over to the edge sitting and letting my legs hang off.

I lifted my left forearm, messing with the screen until my objective appeared. I really needed to figure out how to work the thing effectively.

Retrieve intel from the enemy encampment. That's a bit vague. I probably don't have the clearance for better scouting. Fucking bullshit. I would say that sounds easy, but I haven't had an easy mission yet.

"Hey, Icarus," Hocus near shouted in my comms, "I'm dropping you near the last known location of the intel, we couldn't pinpoint it exactly but it's somewhere down there. The only thing in the area is an old military training installation that could be getting used as a base of operations by that guy who killed Ryder-"

"That demon is here?"

Hocus chuckled, "Interesting nickname you have for him- Why? Looking for a little payback?"

"Retrieving that intel is my only mission."

"Sure. I doubt it though, that place hasn't sent for help and their all-clear signal is still being sent. I'd still give it a look to be safe."

There was a dim light from the moon that was vanishing from sight, if I had to guess, sunrise had to be soon. Below, seemingly infinite spanning miles of zoomed by only tree-lengths below looked like a murky sea of pointed black waves. It almost made me nauseous to look at.

"We're flying low-key, Snowball, drop zone incoming," I chose to ignore the nickname Hocus bestowed on me, "Thirty seconds!"

I scooted forward holding my sniper tight and securing Sera's sidearm.

"Any advice, Hocus?"

"Stay frosty, good hunting. Greenlight. Goodbye, Icarus."

I leaned forward and fell out silently, plummeting toward the inky blackness just hoping I didn't land on anything sharp. The snapping of tree branches filled my helmet and rattled around until I hit something that was hard and soft at the same time, drifting down until I gently landed on my back, or at least gently compared to how fast I must have been falling. I didn't even realize I had closed my eyes until I opened them once more, the visor was blacked out, and my HUD still showed up however meaning that no vital systems were damaged. I reached up to my head with lots of resistance and turned on my night vision before rising to semi kneeling semi-sitting position getting my hands ready on my sniper, from what I could tell I had landed in a body of water deep enough to cushion my fall somewhat.

Must have made a shit ton of noise though. On your toes now.

It didn't seem that deep as I could hear the water lapping against the top of my helmet just from a crouching position, that or I was lucky enough to land in the shallow end. I took a moment to steel my nerves before emerging from the water just enough to poke the scope and barrel of the rifle around. There was a thin fog that hugged the water and refused to dissipate. On the far end was a small dock for tying up rowboats but the lake was empty on all sides thankfully. All alone the last thing I needed to do was get into a firefight. Securing the sniper to my back, I waded out into the water as quietly as possible treading water as it seemed like I wasn't even moving. I fought every urge to panic as my head bobbed over and under the water level, I forced my movements to remain steady and slow. It wasn't long before I was less than half a tree length from the dock.

"I'm tellin' ya," I stopped swimming and allowed myself to sink just below the surface muffling the sound, "You're hearing shit, ain't nothing out here."

I laid myself horizontally across the bottom, plants caressing the edges of my visor. I wasn't under the wooden dock but just far enough away to see the moon just over it, then a chupa with an Assault Rifle with a finger carelessly on the trigger as he stared into the water. With the night vision, I could make out the annoyance on his face, disheveled clothing, and wild mane.

This dude looks out of it. He's got a weapon, he's gotta go.

He then turned away with his arms out in annoyance, I almost shot up quickly resurfacing and slowly reaching for my left hip with my right hand. I grabbed the handle of my combat knife, carefully sliding it out of the sheath and flipping it around so it pointed downward in my grip, I hugged the shadow rising a little further out of the water.

"See? Nothing!"

"But that pelican," Another voice sounded off from further away.

"But nothin', Nick."

"You know what? Fuck you, Zeke."

The chupa standing on the dock, who I assumed was Zeke, snorted and scoffed cursing that person under his breath. He began to sigh and the moment he exhaled I shot out of the water grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him into the murky water. He began to fight and struggle instantly. I slipped my hand over his mouth, holding his head up catching a glimpse of his panic-stricken eyes before plunging the knife into his chest until the struggle died down and his eyes stared blankly into nothing. I rolled over, removing the knife, I released him with a push toward the bottom of the lake watching him descend slowly with blood billowing out into the water. I holstered the knife and resurfaced reaching up and pulling myself onto the dock, once I was up, I remained prone and began a slow crawl off the wooden dock into the thick underbrush. I crawled until I felt concealed enough and rose to my feet drawing the pistol from my hip.

How am I going to get back? If they don't have something I can steal I might have to just hoof it to a nearby town and call in- Assuming there are any nearby. I didn't see any lights when we were flying over.

From the cover of the thicket, I could make out a campfire not too far away with tents and tarps set up. I advanced on it as quietly as I could manage at a painstakingly slow pace, closer and closer until I was just outside of the firelight. I turned off the night vision. From what I could see, there were three tents and I counted four in each except for the last one. Their weapons leaned up against a rock near the campfire. I rolled my eyes at their carelessness.

One's missing. Probably a perimeter guard- wait, the guy I killed was the guard most likely. Where's the-

I ducked down as a figure quietly walked back into the camp facing away from me with their arms crossed, the guy looked distracted, and I was at the advantage. I slithered out from my cover, flicked the safety off, stood upright, and crept up behind him. I was close enough to breathe down the back of his neck.

I felt a grin and couldn't help myself, "Boo."

I clamped a hand over his mouth and pressed the pistol to his temple, I tilted his head back just enough to give him a decent view of my visor. Weirdly enough, it was easy as he was near my height. His hands instantly moved to a surrender position.

"You know you really should have checked on Zeke, Nick. Now here's what's gonna happen. I'm going to uncover your mouth and you're going to tell me exactly what I want to know. Only speak when I tell you to. If you even look like you might try something stupid, I'll kill you. Sound fair?"

He paused before nodding carefully. I sighed.

Three, two, one...

I let him go, both hands on the pistol and taking a step back with it pointed at his skull. This was unknown territory now; I was trusting a hostage not to do what hostages do.

"Turn and face me. Slowly."

He complied, keeping his hands up. With him facing me I could see the fear on his face, his sky-blue face illuminated, and his brown eyes shone with a tremble.

"I'm looking for your base. Where is it?"

He swallowed and spoke in a low trembling tone, "I-it's over west from here."

"How far?"

"About two miles with patrols and camps every quarter mile."


"Only the guard towers, everything else was stripped for scrap."

I loosened up slightly, "Vehicle situation."

"A few warthogs, I think. I-I don't know I haven't been there in days."

Holy shit. Alright, got more than I thought I would get out of him. I thought that only worked in the movies.

I wanted to just walk away, but there was something bugging me. There was something about the sound of his voice that put me off when I pointed the pistol at him. There was a question that refused to leave me.

"How old are you?"

"I turned sixteen last week."

Fuck- That's why it felt wrong, I was holding a kid at gunpoint.

I lowered the weapon away from his face and began to walk past him, "If I even think you lied to me-"

"You'll come back and kill me?"

"Hope you didn't lie to me, for your sake."

I marched off into the brush leaving the kid behind me, I felt almost sick. It felt wrong, but I had to do it to get the information. I growled to myself; I knew that it violated my own moral code even if I didn't know it.

I'm not one of them.


I crawled prone forward on the ledge, reaching for my sniper and swinging it around in front of me. It had taken longer than I was comfortable with finding a decent vantage point and by now a light rain had begun to pick up, but I refused to go in blind. I flicked on the night vision and zoomed in. From the hill I had a clear sightline on most of the old base, the kid was truthful, but I doubted anyone would lie with a gun pointed to their head. Just like he said, the two guard towers still stood with a sentry posted in each, and judging from the unholy amount of chupas I had to dodge on the way I could only assume more inside. However, what he failed to mention was the fact that the entire base was elevated off the side of a cliff face.

Fucking why? Why did it have to be a fuckin' mountain? What possessed them to- No wonder why it felt like I was going uphill the whole way here.

I couldn't see any external guards patrolling the walls, I shot my eyes back to the installation. There were multiple tower-like structures, I could only guess the place was much bigger on the inside. My main issue was how I would get inside, then the idea came to me. I felt self-hatred well up, it was a terrible idea but my best bet.


Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!

I gripped the tower tighter, hugging myself to the structure. By this point, I could hear the sentry a good thirty feet above me cough and mutter about being stuck on guard duty. I dug in tighter as a gust of wind threatened to push me off, this had to be one of my worst ideas.

Climb the guard tower in the rain, fucking brilliant idea brainiac. Stupid HADES, stupid anarchist motherfuckers, stupid rain, why not snow-

I looked up and met eyes with the guard in the tower his eyes reflective in my night vision, the look of utter confusion on his face would have been hilarious had I not been hanging on for dear life. I shot my right hand down to my hip.

"What the-" My trigger finger was faster than his brain as I blew it out the other side of his skull and painted the ceiling of the guard tower with a well-placed shot between his eyes, his body limply fell forward and toppled over the guard rail and hitting the ground below with a soft thud.

"Dumbass," I growled hauling myself over the railing and then throwing a glance over at the other tower.

The other guard must not have heard the gunshot because he was still looking in the opposite direction, I thanked my lucky stars for suppressed weapons. I got low and made my way to the other side of the post accidentally peeking down the ladder. It was a long way to the ground. Now that I was inside the compound, I could see just what I was dealing with.

From my position in the guard tower at the front gate, the closest building was the barracks, past there was an armory and what I figured was a motor pool as a few chupas milled around inside taking cover from the rain as it began to pick up slightly. Between the more significant buildings were office trailers, some of the buildings had lights on inside and others did not. Only the motor pool was brightly lit with floodlights with the garage doors wide open like metal awnings, just like the kid said there were three warthogs sitting there under careful watch by armed guards. I wasn't getting out that way without a shootout or dying in a hail of gunfire. Further past that looked like something that could be a command or communications center, but the base seemed to extend past that. I shook my head.

I don't have time to creep around this place. If I'm gonna do this, it might just have to be a straight sprint and hope I have a way out. Actually...

I looked down at my wrist and the screen on my left forearm lit up dimly, I turned off the night vision and began going through the interface finding an option for a motion tracker. It was the first I had noticed it and seemed enticing.

I don't have time.

I shut off the interface and slid down the ladder of the guard tower, sprinting by the other tower and past the barracks using the rain to cover my footfalls. They couldn't see me in the dark, but my eyes were adjusted, I could navigate unseen. Even so, I gave the motor pool a wide berth not wanting to be caught in the floodlight and risk having my mission end abruptly. I slipped by with ease. I was coming up to the command center in a low crouch, still wary of my surroundings. Suddenly the door opened, light spilling out into the night from the doorway, I dove to the ground. Two chupas wearing various parts of red and blue army armor walked out having a debate.

"Really? You never thought about it?"

"Thought about what?"

"You ever wonder like- what the hell we're even doing here?"

"No, I'd rather the boss not dismember me."

I rolled my eyes at the stupid conversation turning my gaze to the door, they'd left it wide open. I bolted inside and shut it quickly.

So far, so lucky. Maybe now the motion tracker...

I took a deep breath and began sprinting down the hall, this was a sprint now and I couldn't stop or get stuck anywhere. As I ran, I noticed bullet holes and blast damage as well as blood painted on the walls illustrating a story that I could piece together myself. I advanced up the first stairway ramp I could find until I hit the top floor. It didn't help that all these metal halls were identical, at least until I passed the first signage I noticed. Although the paint seemed faded on a wall in front of me read out ‘Comms Center'. I cut a corner hard almost losing my balance but maintained my footing, as I pelted aimlessly through the hall, I swore I could hear a voice. I drew my pistol in stride and rounded another corner, an armed guard was patrolling the hall walking away from me. I bolted past him, putting a round through his head without breaking stride.

Nah, that'll take too long.

I finally slid to a halt in front of a door with a crudely painted radio on it, it didn't take an expert to know that wasn't The House's handiwork. I stepped inside, hunched over, and released a breath I didn't know I had been holding. Once I recovered, I lifted my head to take it in. What probably had been a wonder of technology was reduced to its barebones as countless consoles were destroyed and the wires ripped out, some of the terminals were riddled with bullet holes and spattered with old blood.

"Damn," I checked my wrist-mounted interface, holstering the pistol.

I wasn't a technology guy, but it looked as if my interface had a connector piece. If the intel was anywhere in the room, I was going to have to plug in somewhere to get it and hope that the device just does the rest of the job. I bypassed a pillar in the center of the room that held a large red lever, more than likely it was just an alarm. I tediously checked all the consoles getting antsier and antsier the longer this was taking.

Come on, come on.

I spotted a port that wasn't damaged or shot to hell. The moment I plugged in my interface lit up bright before showing the word ‘downloading' and a process bar, in my helmet a new visual element appeared. A semi-transparent sonar with ‘25m' over it began to scan but marked nothing other than the dot in the middle which I assumed was me.

I knew it would have taken too long. Easy pe-

The sonar showed a red dot slowly approaching, I cursed under my breath. I hadn't seen anyone the entire time I was running the halls and now someone wanted to show up. I couldn't just disconnect; it could corrupt the intel.

Come on, come on.

The dot came closer, slowly but surely as the download neared eighty percent. Closer, ninety-two. Closer, ninety-eight. The dot was at the door.

The moment ‘download complete' flashed on the screen, I disconnected and whipped around, pistol pointed square at a chupa who stood near the middle alarm pillar with a mug full of some hot liquid that gave off a thin fog. His rifle was clamped under his armpit. He clearly didn't expect anyone to be here as he looked genuinely surprised. His eyes darted to the alarm, then to his own rifle.

"Don't. Even. Think about it," His arm shot out and I unloaded a single shot.

Time seemed to crawl as I watched the body fall... Right onto the alarm, managing to pull the lever in a last dying act of defiance. The lights turned red, and the claxon horn blared through the whole base.

"You've got to be motherfucking kidding me! It's never easy- no, where's the fun in that?"

I hurdled the body; tumbled through the door and took off pistol in hand, I navigated wildly, the alarms made it hard to focus. I rounded a corner a group of armed chupas sprinting my way shouted and raised their guns, in a split-second decision I shifted my weight back dropping onto my butt and sliding. I folded my left arm under my shooting arm to counterbalance the handgun and opened fire dropping all three, I popped back up to my feet scooping up one of their Assault Rifles in stride before holstering my pistol.

No need to burn through my ammo.

I felt like I was on autopilot as I flew down the winding halls, I could hear shouts all around but couldn't see anyone. I turned a corner with guns pointed, I turned on a heel narrowly avoiding the gunfire. I fought to force the word 'trapped' out of my mind.

I need to focus! I need to get outside.

I tightened my grip on the rifle as I began to clear my head and focus on escape, I returned down the way I came, going down the flight of stairs I had entered through only to stop after hearing shouting from the lower floor. I ran through the stairwell door into the middle floor with heavy footfalls hot on my heels.


I ran harder, ducking my head as gunfire erupted in the hallway. I hit two more turns, I desperately needed to find an exit and as if an outside force understood my wishes, I turned another corner to spot a window at the end of the hall. It wasn't ideal but I wasn't going to be stuck in here hunted like a rat. I pumped my legs harder as I neared the window that was larger than it appeared, raising the AR and shooting the middle portion of the glass. I lowered my shoulder and jumped.

The glass exploded into millions of shards and for a few moments I was weightless as rain and glass flew with me almost levitating, I was deaf to the noise, the glass glittered quietly.

The sound was violently jammed back into my head as I bounced off the muddy pavement, separating me from the commandeered AR and leaving me to regain my bearings. Ringing filled my head for a few moments. I forced myself to my feet, grabbed the AR, and looked around moving toward the center of the road. All the lights were on now. I looked around spotting what looked like a landing pad a good distance away, however, there was no cover from where I was to there. There was no way I could make that run; I could vaguely make out the shape of a pelican resting on it.

What was that?

I froze, I swore I heard a growl of some type. The growl sounded off again, this time closer as if it was approaching.

"Is that a-" A warthog screamed as it rumbled up the road eyes hungry as the driver floored it at me, I tucked the rifle under my arm and took off.

No matter how hard it felt like I was running, I could feel the headlights glaring down hungrily as they roared closer and closer. I took a chance and dove to my left, watching the warthog thunder past. I shot back to my feet once more and chased it opening fire. The vehicle swerved, crashing into one of the small buildings. I closed the distance on the driver dumping a few rounds into him and keeping it moving, the last thing I needed to do was stop. The landing pad and the pelican sat dormant ahead of me, the only thing that separated me from it was a walkway and a flight of open stairs... And the handfuls of guards posted at it.

At least twenty chupas began to file out of the stairs from the pelican, I glanced over my shoulder and could see the mob coming with the remaining two warthogs in tow.

It's now or never.

I charged forward; the nearest guard leveled his rifle at me, only dropping the rifle when I shot him in the knee. He cried out and dropped down to that same knee, I planted my foot on his back and leaped toward the crowd landing on the shoulders of another. I lowered myself like a bird opening fire on everyone near me until he fell to the ground taking at least seven down, I rolled over and held the guy I had landed on over me as a meat shield. They mercilessly fired at him, much to my own surprise. I didn't think they would shoot one of their own guys. I sprang up, throwing the corpse onto the nearby guys knocking down some and causing the others to stumble back. One of the guards who hadn't been knocked over regained his footing, I pulled my trigger and the AR clicked defiantly telling me it held no more bullets. I cocked my arm back and launched the empty firearm like a tomahawk, clocking the guy in the face and dropping him. Another began to stand up I closed the distance, delivering a swift kick to his head, took his rifle, and sprayed down the remaining guards. I discarded the gun and thundered up the stairs and into the cargo bay of the pelican. The cockpit door refused to open.

No, no, no!

Without thinking, I punched the door handle and bent the door off the frame using every ounce of my strength. I slipped through the gap I made; I secured my sniper on the nearby console and threw myself down into the seat taking my helmet off, and setting it down.

Let's hope I learned something from Hocus.

I began flipping switches, panic rising as engines revved and yelling grew louder. I flipped one switch and the pelican let out a deep whoosh of life.


I pulled up, feeling the pelican begin lifting off.

"Shit, this is just like the flight sim video games."

I felt a giddy giggle escape my lips as I turned it around taking one last look at the base, right before I punched it out of there, I swore for a split second I had spotted a pair of glowing golden eyes.


The sun was out now the rainstorm was long gone; I'd been flying for a while now at this point. I could understand why Hocus liked flying; it really cleared your head which is what I needed after that shitshow of an operation. I needed a break and a hot shower.

The pelican's radio beeped and began to speak, "Unidentified pelican, you are in restricted airspace. Identify, over."

"This is Unidentified pelican," I responded picking up, "This is Specialist Icarus, under the command of Sargent Kovich. I have the intel and just need to be guided back to the base for delivery. Over."

"Standby for confirm, stay on the current flight path."

I rolled my eyes; it wasn't like I knew where I was flying anyways.

"Repeat on last, you said Icarus?"


"Intel was recovered?"

"Yeah, that's what I was sent to do."

"Good. Activate Recovery protocol. That's one less loose end."

Did he say loose end?

Alarms blared as a missile lock warning appeared on my screen, I hung a hard left and an explosion rocked the ship.

"You motherfuckers!"

Why did I trust them? I'm a fucking idiot! I'm not one of them.

The pelican barely flew straight now, the left side wing showed up as damaged on the display, but I was still maintaining altitude.

I tried once more with the radio, "Friendly fire! Cease fire on Unidentified-"

The cockpit rocked with a second explosion, my face rushed toward the console and the lights went out.


I glanced at my sword, raising it and meeting the reflection of my yellow eyes in the thicket. The sword pristine, my eyes bright, fur midnight. I slowly crawled forward, using my nose to point me in the right direction. Using the tip of the blade, I nudged the foliage aside. There sat a pelican, blasted into the dirt and the nearby greenery ablaze. The back hatch door was wide open.

A House pelican by the looks of it and is it not only crashed, but the doors are wide open. Not a good sign, someone might have looted it already.

I leaned forward, an armed chupa in heavy armor jogged past my natural cover over to the pelican not bothering to look around. He smashed the shattered glass as he stepped onto the hatch walkway, one hand resting on his pistol the other grabbing a radio from his hip. I broke cover quietly almost slithering on the ground, never taking my eyes off the HADES soldier. There was feedback from his radio, I froze, sword raised, and pointed at their back.

"This is Command," I moved to the side toward his blind spot as he focused on the voice from his radio, "What's the status on target?"

I could see scorch marks on the hold, leaned further looking past the soldier, and saw a body motionless laid over the controls in the cockpit.

"Crash site located," He scoffed, "Pelican is grounded for good. Bastard flew pretty well for not knowing how."

"Target is KIA?"

"Roger. No survivors."

"Wouldn't hurt to double-check. Report back to the rendezvous when you're finished, bring the body."

I was mere feet from him now. He released the radio and my sword plunged straight through the body armor, I reached and wrapped my arm around his throat and squeezed tightly. I grinned as I could feel his terror set in, I could feel the life drain from him as his struggles faded to light movements than to nothing. I removed my blade, pushing the soldier to the ground with a loud clatter of his helmet rolling away. The chupa was sky-blue, navy-blue mane matted down from the helmet. I flicked the blood from the blade onto the ground and wiped what remained off in the crook of my elbow.

How do these novices even get these House jobs? Aren't they supposed to be warriors? I wanted a fight. He didn't even make sure he was alone.

I scoffed, reaching back and returning my katana to its sheath. I stepped on his body and heard a noise.

"P-" It sounded like he was trying to speak.

I crouched down to look him in the eyes drawing my sidearm from my chest holster, there was dire panic in them, "Huh, you're still alive. Impressive. Go ahead, beg for your life."

"P- please-"

"Mm. That sounded genuine. Could really feel the pain..."

I pressed the gun to his skull.

"What do you think, Quai? Should we let this scum bleed out?"

The soldier looked confused.

"No," I nodded at the voice, "I think you should give him mercy."

"Did you hear that? It's your lucky day, Quai said you deserve mercy."

I felt him relax slightly under my foot that was still pressed on his spine, the panic in his eyes subsides.


I unloaded three rounds into the back of his skull, flicked the safety, and holstered the pistol.

"Mercy, on your soul."

Alright. What's in the hunk of shit?

I threw a careful glance over my shoulder, scanning the artificial clearing and tree line. If there had been anything nearby, it was scared off by the gunshots. It was dark inside even though it was only past midday, wires hung haphazardly from the ceiling and sheets of metal all over the place. I felt irritation poke at me as glass crunched under my feet. I lumbered into the hold, running my hand along with the upper netting above the seats looking for anything salvageable. My hand contacted a box and something metal.


I pulled them down, a small box of ammunition for a pistol and a canteen. A decent find given the state of the vehicle. I drew my other sword, the short sword across my lower back, and cut down some of the nettings, knotting it around the small ammo box making a small makeshift bag, and securing it to my waist with the canteen hanging off it. I put my sword away and turned my gaze toward the cockpit.

The cockpit was somehow in worse shape than the rest of the ship. More disconnected wires, the screens were shattered outward, the front glass was practically gone except for large remaining shards that still stuck to the frame. That was when I laid eyes on the body slumped over the controls, the armor they wore was different, but I could recognize it anywhere.

Freelancer Specialist.

I'd had my crack at killing some like them but never had the chance to interact with one. I stepped in, the chupa covered in blood that I could only assume was their own. The metallic scent was so strong I could almost taste it. Despite the condition of the craft, the chupa and his armor were intact. I looked over his shoulder and at the helmet resting on the dashboard. I turned my head even further; a sniper was secured to the wall next to him. I could only assume that was his rifle.

He'll need that.

"Hm," I stepped close, leaning over the body and pressed my fingers to his neck, "If you could be a Freelancer and The House wants you dead, you could be useful. What say you, Quai?"


I was satisfied with that answer and even more so when I not only felt a strong pulse but his light ragged breathing.

That idiot, this guy wasn't dead, poor fuck was just knocked out. He's in one piece. A bit bloody too, but-

"Glad to know you see it my way... And still alive. We'll be great friends."

I grabbed his shoulders, leaning his head back and carefully placing the helmet on his head until it fits tight. Flipping him over, I threw him on my shoulder and grabbed the rifle walking both out of the burning pelican. I took one last look over my shoulder before walking into the tree line.

What a way to stray from your path.

As darkness fell, I laid the armored Freelancer down near a fallen log, I'd camped there the previous night and it would be perfect given my situation. The moon shone brightly enough to cast enough light to see. I placed the rifle down next to him before moving his arms, so they rested on his stomach.

"You're very concerned for this male," Quai piped up.

"Not concern, I just don't want him to die before I can get my hands on him," I huffed walking off from the fire pit. "Is it so wrong to save another life, Quai?"

"No. It's not the action, but the intent."

I waved off the voice and marched out in search of firewood. When I returned, the armored chupa was sat upright with the rifle in hand and helmet thrown aside. I watched closely as he noticed me in the moonlight, his red eyes wild and unfocused as he breathed in a panic. His tail lashed as the barrel of the rifle swung towards me but swayed unsteadily back and forth. I began to approach him.

"S-stayy bac-ck," Alabaster chupa squints his eyes as if he's in pain, slurring his speech and constantly adjusting his hands on the sniper.

"You should put that down before someone gets hurt," I continued my approach only smirking when the gun clicked harmlessly. I reached into my makeshift net bag holding up the loaded magazine, "You think I'm leaving a concussed guy with a loaded weapon? Now, calm down. Trust me, if I wanted you dead, you'd still be in that pelican with that soldier."

He seemed to calm down, "Who'rrre you?"

I fixed the stone circle and threw the wood in, making quick work of setting it ablaze. I sat down on the soft dirt near him patting the spot next to me, gently pushing the rifle out of his weak grasp. Instead of moving closer, the smaller chupa flopped over onto my lap with a weak grunt. Head and eyes focused on the fire as it burned brightly, reflecting in his blood-red eyes.

"You may call me Aries," I patted his off-white breastplate lightly, "It's what I'm known as by my allies. What about you?"

The pause was so long I'd wondered if he'd fallen asleep, "Icarus."

"How about I just call you ‘Stray'? You've strayed from your path... Also, it's just easier."

"S' fair."

"You know, I saved your life. You owe me."


He'd brought both his hands up to rest on his stomach.

"How about I tell you a story? That way we aren't strangers, at least not entirely."

"Whoa's a sec, I dun wanna hear your life story-"

"You don't have a choice. Not in your state at least. I'll only tell one. I'll tell you about how my parents died, I feel that's personal enough. You'll tell me if it's too much. Now, it was a while back-"


I was a kid when it happened. I won't lie, my family was wealthy. Like, own a vacation home, wealthy. I was a private school kid; I didn't have standout grades and I did all kinds of extra shit after school. Fencing and sword stuff one day, gymnastics another. I was active. My parents, my mother loved that I kept myself busy with ‘valuable ventures'. My father had plans for my future, he wanted me to be an officer. A military drone. Of course, at that age, I had no way of knowing that. I had got anything I asked for, I was a spoiled little bastard. Emphasis on little, I was a short shrimp for my age.

The day it all went wrong was the day my parents discovered me talking to Quai and Raq.

I had gotten home after practice; my parents weren't home as they'd told me they had business to attend to, and so did I. I rushed up to my room to start up on my homework. Like any other day, I went to the desk in my room. I had tons of things on my mind, schoolwork mainly, what I'd learned in my private lessons, some boy I had a crush on. Mindless stuff.

I'd sat down and Quazi burst out angrily, "Raq you can't give him these ideas, surely you know he can't conduct himself like that."

"You would say something like that," Raq had shouted back, "Protecting those who don't deserve protection. What does he gain from that? Whose side are you on? He doesn't need to be like everyone else, those kids mess with him every day. For what? His tail having a blue stripe. All he must do is just run them through with the sword. It'd be their last mistake."

I clamped my hands against my head, their arguing always gave me intense headaches as they were unbearably loud. They helped me make choices, choices I made every day. But it had become more common and more irritating. But that day I'd had enough.

I stood up from my chair and shouted, "If you keep this up, I'm not going to listen to either of you! I'm not going to hurt anyone, what would I gain other than trouble?"

I turned toward my bedroom door, and it turned out that my father was standing in the doorway as I had started shouting at them, my mother was peeking over his shoulder. They cornered me in my room and interrogated me. Being a child, I told them what they wanted to hear, and I was told to never do it again. As if I had any control over them. To the credit of my younger self, I had tried. For weeks I refused to speak to Raq or Quazi, they didn't like that. For those weeks their anger and discontent built up. After the third week of the deafening noise in my head, my mother found me on the floor of my bedroom crying my eyes out begging for the voices to stop.

That had been the last straw for my father. The first thing the next morning it was a silent car ride to the hospital.

It was nice that day, sun shining, clear sky. This hospital was not the one I'd gone to all my childhood, the road wound up a long-secluded path. My father stopped the car right around the front, we were met at the door by my new doctor. Doctor Pherrah McCloud. He didn't have the caring look that you'd imagine doctors or nurses would have, he stared at me like a slab of meat as we approached the doors. He was a pudgy tan chupa, his eyes as black as night I could swear there were no iris. Only pupil and white space. There was a firm handshake between my father and the Doctor before I was nudged into the hands of one of the nurses that had accompanied the doc out. I was marched inside, past the front security desk through white halls that all looked the same, and into a room. Dr. McCloud hadn't accompanied me, just the two nurses who seemed to smile at me menacingly. The taller orange one handed me a white jumper and told me to change clothes while the other pink one stood blocking the door. This confused me, I couldn't understand why I couldn't keep my school clothes. When I expressed my discomfort, they merely responded by telling me that they were here to help me and ‘Just doing their job'. Like a good child, I did exactly as they asked. It fit loosely as if it were made for someone else and I just happened to fit somewhat.

They led me down a series of corridors to a normal-looking examination room, having been to a doctor before I just hopped up and sat down on the table. On the other side of the room were a sink and polished wood drawers. I had been having my doubts, the place and the doctor seemed creepy but at the time I'd chalked it up the unfamiliarity. That didn't mean I was calm, especially when the doctor walked in. He didn't speak to me as he picked up a file resting on the countertop, on the edge of the manila folder I could barely make out my own name as he read in absolute silence. I felt my senses wander. The ticking of the clock above the door, the dripping of water from the faucet that wasn't turned all the way off. The longer I sat in silence, the more unbearable the noises became.

"You're not up to date on your shots," I snapped to attention as he began to approach me with a syringe in hand. "As far as I can see, you only need one so let's get this over with, boy."

I was deathly afraid of shots; I had been for a long time. Making past doctor visits... Troublesome. I had begun to explain this, but the doctor seemed dead set on getting this shot out of the way, pronto. He didn't care to hear or flat out didn't care about what I had to say. The moment he got near me, I grabbed his wrist and held it away from me. He brought his other hand around to force me to lay flat. In a moment of terror, I managed to bring my feet up and not only kick the doctor in the face but send the syringe skittering across the floor. He stepped near the door and pushed a button before approaching me once more, now with blood trickling from his nose. His hand moved for my neck, but I was faster, I opened my mouth and bit down on his hand as hard as I could. The last thing I remembered was his screaming and the smell of copper.

I woke up on the floor of a soft white dim room with a pounding headache, I tried to reach up to massage my temples, but my arms refused to move.

"Having fun in that restraint jacket," Raq chuckled as I scooted myself into a corner, "That muzzle looks dashing on you, brings out the smoldering hatred in your eyes. I'm ready to give you some help-"

"I don't want your help," I hissed angrily, but quietly at empty air working around the muzzle. "You're the main reason I'm here. When my parents get here, I'm going to tell them how I'm getting treated and they'll see this place isn't for me."

"You think it's that simple. You're never leaving this place, you bit that doctor- you really, really messed up. Your parents aren't coming back for you, you're the thorn in their side and they are finally free of you. If they loved you, they would have never left you here."

"They didn't leave me! They just dropped me off, they should be coming to visit in a few days to see how I am."

"Let's give this... Two weeks. You know my name if you need me."

Once more, I was left in silence. For the first time in a long time, I cried. I hadn't been particularly sad; I couldn't really understand why, if anything I was angry. But it just came out.

There was no clock in the room, no window to peek out of. No way to tell the passage of time.

After what felt like an eternity, a nurse opened the door to my new cage. The orange nurse from before, Nurse Orange. Just like before she still had a smile plastered on her face, it was upsetting to look at.

"Are you ready to come out for lunch," She asked in a sickly-sweet voice, "You slept through breakfast call, so I came to personally wake you for lunch."

That threw me through a loop seeing as I had arrived early in the morning, it implied that after whatever happened I had slept or, more realistically, however long I was unconscious for it was longer than a day.

I managed a polite smile and controlled my tone, "Lunch sounds wonderful, but I can't stand up with this thing on, I might fall."

"We apologize for that, when Dr. McCloud attempted to administer a shot, you had missed on your record, you kicked and bit him."

"I tried to tell him I'm scared of needles. I didn't mean to hurt anyone."

"I know, but as a precaution," She walked over to me, standing me up and undoing the belts on the back of the jacket but leaving the muzzle on, "The mouth restraint stays on, so you don't bite anyone, okay?"

"I understand."

At the time, I figured I was in the wrong. The doctor and nurses were just trying to keep themselves and others safe, but it was clear to me that they considered me violent. From my dimly lit cell, it was a short walk to the cafeteria, I made a mental note of everywhere we went in case of an emergency or a fire. The sight of the other patients was more than a little depressing. Some of them looked worse for wear and kept to themselves, I thought of that as a good thing. Once I was seated, I could see just how wrong I was. The once quiet room now buzzed with whispers, the patients who were grouped up only seemed to bore holes in my skin with their glares. They were talking about me. I was the new face- of course, they were. They must have known who I was, how could someone of his family's status end up here. I turned my gaze down toward the table. When a tray was brought to me, I muttered a ‘thank you', the nurse had undone my muzzle and I began to eat. It wasn't appetizing but I hadn't eaten in almost a day, If I hadn't been so hungry, I might have noticed the blue chupa that walked over to me as Nurse Orange left the room. Unlike me, he was wearing street clothes.

He was bigger than me and flicked my head to get my attention, "It's not nice to ignore other people."

"It certainly isn't nice to flick someone either," I shot back, I was more than annoyed. I already got bullied in school, a hospital was not going to be another place I let it happen.

"I couldn't help but notice that nice little jacket you've got on."

I looked away from him.

"I figured as much, Schizo."

I slammed my hands on the table rising to my feet, I couldn't understand why I was angry. I was never angry; I didn't have a temper, but I was fuming.


"I what? You better sit back down before the nurse comes and ties you up again."

I took a deep breath; I had no idea where it had come from, but I needed to control it. I didn't want to be back in that dark room again.

Hours later, we were given free time. I spent it sitting by myself, as far away from everyone as possible just watching them. There was more this time than there were in the cafeteria. There was no way I belonged here, there was nothing wrong with me.

As Nurse Orange walked past, I grabbed her attention, "Excuse me, there's this boy who was messing with me in the cafeteria earlier."

I didn't like the confused expression on her face- she smiled politely as she talked down to me, "Well, we can't have that. What did he look like?"

"Blue. White shirt, black vest, pinstripe black and white pants."

"If I see him, I'll speak to him."

She didn't believe me. I could feel it, I could sense it. Her eyes had been exactly like her smile, polite. As if not to anger me. I had spent the rest of the free time watching Nurse Orange, pacing back and forth waiting for her to find and talk to the boy but she never did. I felt an immense fury that refused to subside, even as night fell, and I was brought to my bed in a large room with other patients. Just like every other room, it was painted white. I didn't sleep that night.

The next morning Nurse Orange yelped in surprise when she turned on the lights and I was pacing the floor.

"What are you doing out of bed," She asked in a shaky tone.

"I wasn't tired," The thought came before I'd said it, but it came out more hostile than it did in my head. "I wouldn't sleep fine so I just."

"You gave me a fright is all, could you please wait by your bed while I wake the others?"

I walked toward it, but I felt like I was fighting something the entire way. I didn't want to wait by my bed. But I did it anyway. The rest of the week was like that, more and more I became more irritable and rebellious. More and more, I could tell that everyone was talking about me. Why I didn't join in activities. Why I refused to talk to anyone other than the blue chupa who messed with me every day. I searched each bed for him every night and couldn't find where he slept. It irritated me. The fact that he got away with it and the nurses let him.

But the week ended, and the day came, I sat in the visitation room and waited. I waited... and waited. My parents never showed up. Not even a phone call. As if they'd forgotten me. The nurses must have sedated me to get me out of that room because once again I'd woken up in that dimly lit, soft white cage. Raq had been right. Under the guise of wanting to ‘help' me, my parents had deserted me. Everything had become clear, and the clarity hurt.

"Still think they're coming back for you," Raq's voice floated around the room.

I forced myself to an upright position, shaking my head working my jaws to loosen the muzzle.

"I was telling you the truth then, and the truth isn't always what you want to hear. They hurt you, but we can hurt them worse. All you must do is follow my plan, okay? No questions, just do as I tell you and you'll be free as a bird. You could even go see that boy again."

I perked up; he had my complete attention. He knew what to say, he knew what I wanted. I wanted to make them hurt like how I did.

I was let out of the room later, the nurses offered me sympathies, but I ignored them. This was their fault. They allowed me to use the bathroom and while I was washing my hands, I caught my own gaze in the mirror. I could only see a scowl looking back at me, there was only anger in my eyes. I tore myself away from the mirror and started on Raq's plan. For the next week, I began collecting things and hiding them in my restraint jacket sleeves. They never allowed me to take it off, at this point I was being restrained two to three times a day for violent outbursts or not following instructions. They never checked it either. At this point, I was not only being kept in solitary but I was also forced to take medication that I was told would ‘help me calm down'. I made sure to throw up the pills when they weren't looking, there was no way they meant to help me in any way. I couldn't trust them.

By the week's end, I was ready to carry out the plan.

Nurse Orange opened my cell door, this time with Dr. McCloud in tow. I didn't move, I sat still in my corner of the cell with my head down, but I watched them carefully.

"It's time for your daily dose, boy," The doctor said allowing the nurse to go first, undoing the jacket straps.

I slid my ‘party starter' down the sleeve as the restraints loosened. The moment my arms were free, I slid the knife I'd stolen from the kitchen a few days ago out of my sleeve and across the nurse's throat. The doctor's face changed from boredom to terror as I was on my feet and closed the distance, jamming the knife as deep as it could go into his neck. I ran to the door and took a moment to look back at my handiwork, they wouldn't hurt anyone anymore. From there, I ran down the identical corridors until I hit the front doors and sprinted down the road, focused on the next part of the plan.

By the time I arrived home the sun was setting, I called it home, but the place had never seemed more foreign. The front door was unlocked, which wasn't unusual in the neighborhood I had lived in. People weren't worried about theft. I crept through the halls; I'd once had sweet memories in these halls, now bitter ash. I slithered up to my room, untouched as the day I was thrown in that prison. I hurried over to my dresser, grabbing a scarf from the top drawer. I would need something to just in case it got cold, I couldn't stay but there was the plan. The plan needed to be finished. I turned toward my bed, above it hung my katana. I was always told it was too big for someone my size, but I had a feeling that I'd eventually grow into it. I grabbed the blade from its perch as the front door creaked open.


I recognized my mother's voice; I must have left the door open. I hopped off my bed with a thump and hid as she rushed up the stairs. The moment I could see her in my bedroom doorway I ran the sword through her midsection.

Words can't describe the look of despair and betrayal in her eyes, but she had betrayed me first. I pulled the blade away and she crumpled to the floor, I made my move to walk away.

I closed the front door and hid behind it, waiting for my ‘father' to return home. It wasn't long before he did, but he didn't deserve the quick death my mother had received. That was mercy, something he wasn't worthy of. The chupa walked in and I knocked him out with a blow to the head with the flat edge of my blade. I dragged him into the kitchen. I don't really remember what I'd done but when I was running away, the house was engulfed in flames. That just left, the boy from my class. All I had wanted was just to talk to him, Raq promised me that and so I went out to his house. I climbed up the side up to his window, sneaking in and sitting on his bed. Sword laying across my lap, I sat and waited. It felt like mere moments before he walked in, I expected a smile, a look of joy- anything other than that horrified look he gave me.

He made a move to run, and my body reacted faster than my mind, in a swift motion I had cut him clean across his body, splattering myself in his blood. It wasn't part of the plan. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

I leaped out of his window, making a mad dash for the woods. The plan was virtually a success, save for the end. I made everyone who hurt me hurt more.


I ran my fingers through Icarus' mane, "That's how they died. A house fire. I'd caused it. I can only hope my mother was already dead. I never did return to my childhood home. No need. I've got a new flame to keep me going. Quite the sad tale, albeit short. Some things just weren't worth remembering, ya know? You might wonder what the takeaway is from this- Parents suck. Trust no one. Everyone is out to hurt you. Life and death balance on the edge of my blade-"

I waited for his response and only heard light snoring under me. I didn't really expect him to stay awake through the whole thing, but I did feel better. I stared into the dying fire, once it went out, I'd have to get him moving again.

Once he's got his senses, he's going to resist.

"Sleep well, Icarus. Helluva bedtime story, eh, freelancer?"

Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.

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