A year had passed since my encounter with the group of Reds turned deserters in the woods. Life had continued in its relentless struggle, and my wife and I had managed to survive, thanks in part to the supplies I had received from those Reds that strange day. But the war still raged on, and the Reds' grip on the city had become sloppy and violent.
I sat alone in the dimly lit corner of a small, out-of-the-way pub, nursing a cup of coffee to ward off the biting cold outside. The room felt alien, the walls had been untouched by the war. The patrons were a mix of weary souls seeking refuge from the never-ending conflict or the blistering cold. Their faces etched with exhaustion and resignation.
But what caught my attention, as I sipped my coffee, was the stranger who had entered the pub a few moments ago. He was dressed in a clean, tailored three-button suit, an outfit that seemed wildly out of place amidst the practical survival clothing worn by the rest of us. He exuded an air of confidence, his hair was clean and in place and he looked…. clean.
I had received a note in one of my stashes, offering to meet in this very pub. The note was cryptic, offering little explanation but promising a chance to change the course of the rebellion. I had little to lose, and curiosity got the better of me.
How did they find my stash and know to leave the note?
As he approached, the stranger didn't hesitate to light a cigarette and took a long drag, his eyes never leaving mine. The nearby patrons all turned at the sound of the lighter. Cigarettes were all but forgotten in this war torn land. I could almost fell their envy.He looked like a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted.
"May I join you?" he asked flawlessly but accented in my native tongue, gesturing toward the empty seat across from me.
The note had directions how to proceed.
“I think my cows won’t survive the winter,” I said.
“At least the corn can resist the snow,” the man replied.
I nodded, my voice cautious but curious. "You're the one who wanted to meet?"
The stranger sat down, exhaling a plume of smoke as he did. "Indeed, I am. I've been following your efforts against the Reds for some time now, and I must say, I'm impressed with your resourcefulness. That bit with the blimp," he kissed his finger tips, “chefs kiss. You are clearly a man with training and resolve and we want to support it.”
I leaned forward, my curiosity piqued. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
He leaned back in his chair, taking another drag from his cigarette. "I am an agent from a country far from here, one that has no love for the Reds. Don’t bother asking wich one, I wont tell. We've been monitoring the situation in this city, and we believe it's time to offer support to your cause."
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. Foreign aid was something that the rebels had only dared to dream of. "Support? What kind of support are we talking about?"
The stranger's eyes bore into mine. "We can provide weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, and even training for your fighters. We have resources at our disposal that could turn the tide of this war."
My heart raced at the possibilities. The thought of finally having the means to stand up against the Reds was tantalizing. But I knew there had to be a catch. "What do you want in return?"
“What?” the man smiled. “Can’t we just care about the plight of the rebels?”
“If your country cared,” I replied. “You would have sent an army, not a man in a suit.”
He took a long sip of his coffee before answering. "I see. Well, we want your help with a mission. There's something we need, something that only someone with your skills can accomplish."
I leaned in, my curiosity growing. "What kind of mission?"
The stranger leaned forward, his voice low and intense. "There's a secret facility, a research lab hidden deep within the city. The Reds have been conducting experiments there, experiments that are a grave threat not only to your people but to the world. We need you to infiltrate this facility and retrieve the research data they've been hiding."
“Why not send your trained men in?” I ask.
“You are a local,” he replied. “Plus you already have knowledge of the city. And-”
“And,” I cut him off. “If I die, your country stays in the clear.”
“I see we are of a common understanding,” he said.
My mind raced as I considered the enormity of the task. The risk was immense, but so was the potential reward. "And what's in it for me?"
The stranger smiled, a hint of a sly grin playing on his lips. "In addition to our support for your cause, you will receive a new identity, a passport, and safe passage out of this city for you and your family once the mission is complete. You'll be free of the Reds forever."
It was a tempting offer, one that held the promise of freedom from the oppressive Reds and a chance to secure a better future for my wife and I. But I also knew that the path ahead would be perilous, and the secrets hidden within that facility could change everything.
“I am not interested in freedom,” I replied. “Only vengeance.”
“Ahh,” sighed the man. “An Idealist.” He leaned forward. “Let me sweeten the pot. I can give you a weapon to take in with you.”
“What sort of weapon?” I asked.
The man leaned back and raised quickly opened his hands and softly said, “poof”
“How much ‘poof’?” I asked.
The man thought, “half a mile.”
That is a lot of dead reds.
“I agree,” I said. “How do we start.”
Two weeks had crept by since the clandestine meeting in that dimly lit pub. The agent, in his crisp tailored suit, had handed me a waterproof package, containing the bomb and a sheaf of detailed instructions.
Under the next new moon, I ventured into the devastated streets. The city was a bleak canvas of destruction, where once vibrant neighborhoods now lay in ruins, and the air was thick with the acrid scent of smoke and death.
I knew these streets as well as I knew my wife’s body. Each curve i could walk blind. I knew where to go to avoid the patrols and what ways gave the most cover. I was now a creature of the night, at home in darkness and silence. Distant gunfire punctuated the eerie silence, a constant reminder of the perilous world I navigated.
The research facility was in the old jail converted to house prisoners and hide the experiments they were running. I did not know of the more sinister design of the facility until I had read the briefing from the agent., The agent's guidance led me to a manhole cover, a dank and grimy entrance to the city's sewers. I removed the heavy lid, straining to remain silent, revealing a foul abyss below. The stench of decay and filth hit me like a physical blow as I descended into the subterranean underworld.
Crawling through the cramped, filthy tunnels, I could feel the muck and grime seeping into my clothing, clinging to my skin. The darkness was oppressive, and the echoes of dripping water and distant rumblings added to the disorienting atmosphere. Rats scurried away at my approach, and I tried not to think about the countless horrors that lurked in the shadows.
I finally reached the access point to the facility. It was a small, unassuming grate that led to a series of maintenance tunnels. Slipping inside, I found myself in a labyrinth of pipes and conduits. My heart pounded in my chest as I followed the agent's instructions, my senses on high alert. This was new territory for me. Unexplored area I had dared not come before.
I soon came upon a metal door and push it open slowly. It’s metal squealing in protest. Inside a chamber with rows of showers, the cold tiles glistening with moisture. It was here that I would need to execute the most delicate part of my mission. Inside one of the showers, a technician was showering, his back turned to me. I could hear the steady stream of water, the sound masking my approach. He was humming a song as he scrubbed
I crept closer, my heart pounding in my chest. As the technician shampooed his hair, I lunged forward, wrapping an arm around his throat and clamping my hand over his mouth. His muffled cry of surprise was drowned out by the cascading water.
Struggling to maintain control, I wrestled him to the ground, my training taking over. In a matter of moments, I had subdued him, rendering him unconscious. I dragged him back to the maintenance tunnel and tied and gagged him
I knew I couldn't linger in the filth of the sewer any longer. The scent of decay and muck clung to me, and it was a dead giveaway. I stripped and stepped into one of the showers, I turned the faucet and let the hot water wash over me. The dirt and grime of the sewer slowly washed away, and I couldn't help but feel a sense of renewal, both physically and mentally.
I had not had a hot shower in years. I cleaned my body and watched as the mud flowed down the drain. I had to fight to find the will to leave this luxury. Eventually my will and desire for vengeance won out.
Dressed in the stolen technician's uniform and clutching the access keys, I ventured further into the facility. The corridors grew narrower, and the air became denser with a sense of confinement.
Dimly lit hallways, adorned with chipped paint and echoing with the melancholic whispers of the past, seemed to converge endlessly. The occasional iron-barred door, remnants of its former life, served as a reminder of the facility's origins. I shuddered as I walked through one such door, picturing the countless souls who had suffered within these cold, unforgiving walls.
Following the map given by the agent I continued down a set of stars into the underbelly of the jail. I was unsure how the agent had such detailed layouts of this facility.
The scent of antiseptic and decay hung heavy in the air as I approached the section of the facility housing the research labs. The dull hum of machinery and the occasional murmur of scientists deep in their work formed a discordant symphony that resonated through the corridors.
As I slipped into the bustling laboratory area, I couldn't help but marvel at the stark contrast between the sterile environment and the dank mess of the floors above. Scientists, oblivious to my presence, darted from station to station.
I moved pass a set of double doors into the next chamber. The sight that greeted me inside the laboratory was a grotesque tableau of suffering and horror. Rows of beds, like macabre hospital wards, stretched out before me. In these makeshift beds, emaciated and pallid figures lay in various states of agony. Their sunken eyes bore the torment of endless torment, and their frail bodies were contorted with pain.
Blood-soaked sheets and curtains, stained with the remnants of unspeakable procedures, painted a grim picture of the inhumane experiments that had been conducted here. Some of the patients were missing limbs, others were devoid of eyes, and a few had had their tongues cruelly removed. The stench of illness, despair, and death hung heavy in the air, making each labored breath a testament to the cruelty that had transpired within these walls.
They were experimenting on the prisoners.
Stepping carefully through the chamber of horrors, I approached one of the patients, a frail and trembling figure who met my gaze with eyes filled with fear and despair. In my heart I vowed that an end to the pain was on the way, that their suffering would not be in vain.
As I continued to investigate the laboratory, my heart ached for these victims, and I vowed to do everything in my power to bring their tormentors to justice.
The next room was the data storage room. Filing cabinets lined the walls, each one holding a trove of classified information. The agent had been specific—the files I sought were labeled "Project Perseus." but in the foul language of the Reds.
I began rifling through the cabinets, pulling out files and scanning them for any mention of the elusive project. Time seemed to both crawl and race as I meticulously combed through the documents, my heart pounding with the knowledge that every passing second increased the chance of me being discovered and killed, or worse, used as a test subject.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I found it—a file marked "Project Perseus." I carefully extracted it and place it in my coat.
My objective found, my mission was far from complete. My thoughts turned back to the suffering souls in the makeshift prison. They deserved their freedom, and I couldn't leave them to perish in the impending explosion.
I retraced my steps, back to the chamber of horrors, my heart heavy with the sights and sounds of suffering that surrounded me. These souls were past saving, only death would be a relief. I needed to find those still whole.
Ascending the stairs, my heart pounded like a relentless drumbeat, each step echoing my urgency. I had to find the keys to free the captives, and time was slipping away. The lone guard patrolling the corridor ahead presented my best chance. As I approached, I kept my movements steady, just another staff member doing his job.
Drawing nearer, I could see the guard's weary expression, a testament to the horrors he had likely witnessed. My eyes darted to the keyring dangling from his belt, the salvation for my people.
I had to get close enough without arousing suspicion, and the moment came when he passed me by, close enough for me to act. In one fluid motion, I lashed out, connecting with his nose driving it into his brain, he is dead before his body hits the floor. I loosen the keys from his belt, my heart thundering in my chest.
I tried the keys on the nearest door, my trembling hands betraying the urgency of the situation. The locks resisted my first few attempts, but on the fourth try, a satisfying click echoed through the corridor. I pushed the door open slowly, revealing a gaunt figure huddled in the dimly lit cell.
The prisoner's eyes widened with a mix of hope and disbelief as he saw me. "You... you're not one of them," he whispered, his voice hoarse from despair.
"No," I replied, my voice barely above a whisper. "I'm here to help."
With trembling hands, the prisoner rose to his feet, he struggled to support his frail form. We pulled the guard into his cell and the prisoner quickly exchanged clothing.
Once dressed we raced cell to cell freeing prisoners. Our group grew and would draw attention soon.
We had to move quickly. The prison break would undoubtedly draw the attention of the facility's guards and personnel. I knew that my mission wasn't complete yet.
I turned to the prisoner now dressed as a guard and handed him the map from the agent, “take this and lead the rest down to the showers. Crawl out through the sewers. They headed off as I set to my last errand.
My journey through the maze-like facility led me deeper into the heart of darkness. My mind held the image of the map and the signs, still in my native tongue form before the occupation, led me to my goal. I arrived at the ominous entrance to the facility's boiler room.
The door creaked open, revealing a dimly lit chamber filled with monstrous machines, hissing pipes, and the rhythmic thud of the massive boilers. This was the pulsating heart of the facility, the source of its power.
I could hear the alarm claxons above. The prison beak had been discovered. I can only hope they made it out.
I carefully removed the bomb from the waterproof case. I pulled the instructions from the agent out. My hands trembled slightly as I began to set the timer. I gave myself twenty minutes, more then double what I needed to escape.
With the timer set, I stashed the bomb below the central boiler, where it would cause the most damage.
As I sprinted through the facility, my footsteps echoed through the labyrinth of corridors. The distant screams of alarms and the pounding boots of the Red guards grew louder as I ascended. My heart raced, and every breath felt like fire in my lungs.
Turning a corner, I came face to face with a Red guard, his rifle raised and yelled in his angry language. There was no time for negotiation, only action. I held up my stolen ID card and walked slowly to him, he turned at the sound of a yell.
I lunged at him, and a desperate struggle ensued. My years of survival in the war-torn city had honed my instincts, and with a burst of adrenaline-fueled strength, I managed to disarm the guard, sending his rifle clattering to the ground.
With no time to waste, I left the dazed guard behind and continued my frenzied dash through the facility.
As I neared the showers I stopped. The way back was blocked by a group of Red guards converging on my position. There was no turning back. I had to improvise, and my only option was to evacuate through the front door.
I calmed myself and slowed my breath. As I approached the front door, I could hear the distant sounds of chaos and sirens. The facility was in utter turmoil, and the guards were occupied with the prison break. This was my chance.
Guards were ushering out the civilians. I flowed into the crowd and out into the streets. I made my way to the sewer man-hole cover I had entered before.
Time stretched out. I ad no idea how powerful the bombe may be, but I know I needed to move ‘half-a-mile away.’ My internal clock had hit ten minutes. I need to start running now or risk being caught in the blast.
I could her their voices and I yelled down into the blackness, “run, there is a bomb. Run until you are a mile away.”
I hear them clamber up the ladder and I help them, one by one, up to the street.
“Run,” I yell. “Get away, don’t stop.”
With the last one up I run. An elderly prisoner has fallen. I pick her up and carry her in my arms. I run. Visions of my wife flash through my head.
Is this where I die? To a bomb I set in motion.
With the elderly woman in my arms, I continued to run through the war-ravaged streets, desperately seeking refuge from the impending explosion. The sounds of chaos and panic reverberated around us as the city reacted to the prison break.
As we turned a corner an idea sparked in my mind. There is a bank near here, the bank's vault, a place designed to withstand all manner of disasters, could potentially shield us from the blast. It was a risky gamble, but with time running out, it seemed like our best option.
I reached the bank's entrance, my heart pounding in my chest as I pushed open the heavy wooden door doors.
I pushed open the weathered doors of the abandoned bank. Inside, the atmosphere was eerie, with dust-covered furniture and shattered windows bearing witness to the passage of time and neglect.
I approached the heavy vault door, my heart pounding in my chest. I began to examine the complex locking mechanism. Dust and cobwebs clung to the dials and handles, but miraculously, the door still appeared functional.
I spun the wheel, revealing the entrance to the bank's vault. The vault was a cavernous space, its walls lined with countless open deposit boxes and ransacked shelves. The once valuable paper strewn to the floor.
With the elderly woman still in my arms, I rushed into the vault, followed by the few other former prisoners who stayed with me. The heavy vault door creaked shut behind us, sealing us in a world of concrete and steel.
Time seemed to slow as we huddled together in the dimly lit vault, waiting for the inevitable explosion. The sounds of the outside world were muffled now, and all we could do was hope that the vault's sturdy construction would hold true to its reputation.
In the suffocating darkness of the abandoned bank's vault we could feel the explosion.
As the vibrations reached out bodies, a collective gasp escaped our lips. The force of the blast reverberated through the walls of our shelter, a small sample of the destruction that had just taken place outside.
After the initial shock subsided, we huddled together in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. The elderly woman clutched my arm tightly, and I could feel her trembling with fear and exhaustion. The others, too, were in a state of shock, their faces illuminated only by the feeble glow of a flashlight.
The hours passed slowly, marked only by the soft sounds of whispered conversations and the occasional cough.
“We will stay here tonight and tomorrow,” I said. “We will go our separate ways in the cover of the following night.” I turned off my light to save the battery.
As the night wore on, fatigue and anxiety gnawed at us. The elderly woman, overcome by exhaustion, had drifted into a fitful sleep, her head resting on my shoulder. In that moment, I couldn't help but reflect on the incredible journey that had led us here, to this vault of despair and hope.
We had no sign of the passing time save for my watch. The whole world was darkness. When the day had passed and the new night had cast its cloak across the land I decided to open the door.
I turned the massive wheel of the vault door, the rusted mechanism protesting with a screech. With collective effort, we pushed the door open, revealing a cityscape that bore the scars of conflict.
The city we emerged into was unrecognizable, a nightmarish landscape of destruction and desolation.
The once-familiar streets, buildings, and landmarks had been reduced to rubble and ash, their former existence erased by the merciless force of the explosion. It was as if a malevolent hand had swept across the city, leaving behind only devastation in its wake.
We stood there, our faces pale in the dim light of the moon, surveying the grim tableau of destruction that stretched out before us. The blast radius, a mile in every direction from the prison facility, had turned the heart of the city into a wasteland of twisted metal, shattered concrete, and charred remains.
As we ventured further into the ruins, the full extent of the tragedy became apparent. The streets were littered with the remnants of Red bodies. The air was heavy with the acrid scent of burnt wood, concrete dust, and blood.
I had to fight to hide my smile.
In the distance, the prison facility itself was barely recognizable, a grotesque skeleton of its former self. The walls that had once held prisoners were now reduced to jagged fragments, and the guard towers lay in ruins. It was a grim testament to the havoc we had wrought in our bid for freedom.
Three days later I am sitting across from the well-dressed agent in the dimly lit pub, my frustration and anger simmered just beneath the surface. The events of the past days had left me weary and disillusioned, and I had little patience for half-truths and empty promises. The agent thumbed through the documents I had brought.
"You told me the blast radius would be one-half of a mile," I said, my voice edged with anger. "It was double that, and the devastation is beyond anything I could have imagined. People died, innocent people."
The agent, his expression unreadable behind his polished façade, leaned forward slightly, his fingers drumming thoughtfully on the table. He finally spoke, his voice low and measured.
"Sometimes, in the fog of war, the situation changes rapidly," he said, his words offering little consolation. "I assure you, our intentions were to minimize civilian casualties."
I clenched my fists beneath the table, struggling to keep my emotions in check. The agent continued, "But let's not dwell on the past. We have more pressing matters at hand."
I leaned in, my eyes locked onto his. "You promised aid to the rebels," I reminded him. "I held up my end of the bargain. Now it's your turn."
The agent nodded, acknowledging my demand. "Indeed," he said, exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke. "We are prepared to provide the rebels with the necessary supplies and support.”
“And my credentials?” I asked.
The agent slid a yellow envelope across the table, “two sets of papers to get you out of this country and into ours.”
With a nod of acknowledgment, I pushed the credentials into my pocket. "I'll be leaving then," I said, a sense of weariness settling over me.
The agent's response was curt but final. "Go. And remember, we may call upon you again in the future."
A surge of frustration welled up within me, but I knew better than to voice it. The agent represented a larger, shadowy force that moved in the shadows, indifferent to the individual lives it impacted. The rebels, like me, were but pawns in a greater game.