The Reds

The Complete Mini-Series

- May 2023 Popular Vote Runner Up

Chapter 1

Daybreak. Moving during light hours was always dangerous. At night the Reds slept, or were too drunk to care. This couldn’t wait. Either I go now or my daughter dies.

I pull out our map. I have been crossing off buildings that we have scavenged from and marking what paths we can take with lots of cover. There is a pharmacy across the east river I have not checked yet. It was the closest thing I had to hope. I trace the path I would need to follow. Through the apartment complex on the newly named ‘Lennon Lane’. Then crawl through the attics of the business along 3rd street. Down to the sewers for four blocks and then get dumped out into the river. If I survive all of that I still need to swim across, in daylight, and not get shot. The pharmacy is two blocks past the river, two buildings down from a site the Reds have turned into a barracks.

I check my weapon, an American made Smith and Wesson 45 revolver. I only have two rounds left. Hopefully I won’t need to use it. Haven't seen 45 ammo in years. The Reds all use AKs an 9mm pistols. I have a few 9mm rounds but no gun for them.

I give my family, the two that have survived, one final look and crawl out from our hiding.

This has been our life for I think three years now. Not entirely sure. We take each day at a time.

The invasion was quick and non-violent. The Reds rolled in and more then half of our population welcomed them. I still remember the parades as they crucified the ‘opposition leaders’. My family was in disbelief. Once the Reds had taken control it wasn’t long before the food riots. They blamed people of the faith, people like my family.

I watched as my friends were executed if they did not renounce their beliefs.

I watched as our places of worship were burned and the people cheered.

Now the only way to get supplies is to swear fealty to the party and the leader, renouncing all other beliefs. That and scavenging.

In the ‘before times’ I was one of the ones that scoffed at ‘preppers.’ People who stockpiled food and ammo. Now, I wonder how they feel. Justified for being right? Or sad they were right? At his point it doesn’t matter.

I climb the windows up to the hole in the side of the adjoining building, into the apartments on Lennon Lane. As I move through the apartment complex, I am careful to avoid any creaky floorboards or loose tiles. The building has been abandoned for some time, and there are signs of scavenging everywhere. Broken glass litters the floor, and the walls are covered in graffiti.

I can hear the Reds outside shouting in their angry language. The sound of gunfire and my heart stops, my breathing stops, I freeze. I check my body for holes and find none, I breathe again. It was for someone else.

I make my way through the building and reach the stairwell. The stairs creak under my weight as I climb to the next level. As I reach the top, I hear a noise coming from one of the apartments. I draw my revolver and inch closer, ready for whatever might be waiting for me inside.

But it's just a rat. I let out a sigh of relief and prepare for the jump to the next building.

The jump is tricky. I can barely make it. If I miss I fall to hopefully my death. A broken leg and being captured is a far worse fate. The hole across the gap is barely big enough for me to dive through. I have to jump and lay flat to make it. I peek out and check for Reds. I listen for a minute. It seems clear.

I step back and sprint into the jump. I know I am off while in the air. My body makes it though the hole but my boots catch the edge. I slam down hard and bite my lips against a yelp.

I lay motionless. Did someone hear me?

I can hear my heart in my ears.

I force my breath to slow and calm myself. If someone heard, I’ll need to run.

I lie for nearly an hour until I am certain I am in the clear.

The business attics are cramped and dusty. I have to crawl on my belly to avoid being seen or heard. There are boxes and crates stacked haphazardly all around me, making it difficult to move quietly. Every time I shift my weight, I worry that the whole structure might come crashing down. I reach the end of the attics. Now I have to climb down a water spout and lift the sewer cover below.

A lite rain has started, not good. The spout will be slippery and the sewers will have fresh sludge down below. Hopefully the rain muffles my climb. As I work my way down I only loose my footing once. I hang by my hands and feel for a foothold. I make it to the alley and set to lift the manhole cover.

Another risky move. The metal cover is heavy and moving it quietly is always a strain. I ease off the cover and start to slide. It pinches my fingers against the street. I pull through the pain and ease the cover onto a pile of garbage. I peer down and am met with the familiar stench.

The sewers are the worst part. The smell is overpowering, and the darkness is total. I use my flashlight sparingly to find my way, careful not to slip on the slick, slimy floor. There are rats down here too, scurrying through the filth.

The walls are slick with moisture, and I can hear the sound of the rain runoff flooding in. I try not to think about what might be flushing down with it.

As I emerge from the sewers, I find myself at the edge of the riverbank, under the cover of a bridge. I can hear the sounds of Red patrols walking overhead, their boots thudding against the metal grating of the bridge.

I take a peek out from under the bridge and see the soldiers patrolling. The Reds are heavily armed and cruel. I can't afford to be seen by them.

I wait until the group has moved to the farside, they are chatty and undisciplined.

I slide down along the stone bank down into the water below. The cold water takes my breath away as I dive under and start swimming as fast as I can, trying to stay as close to the riverbed as possible to avoid being seen. The water is polluted and helps hide me. It also makes it hard to see and something in the water burns my eye. I only keep one open, can’t afford to be blind in both.

As I swim, I can hear the sound of the Reds walking back and forth on the bridge above me. My lungs demand air as I swim as quietly as I can, hoping they won't notice the disturbance in the water.

Finally, I make it past the bridge and into the shadow of the buildings on the other side. I slowly breach the water with my head enough to see the bridge. I pause for a moment and then climb up the bank and crouch behind a dumpster, catching my breath and listening for any sounds of pursuit.

I can hear the Reds shouting to each other, but they seem to be moving away from my location. I shake off the water and start to make my way towards the pharmacy , keeping to the shadows and staying out of sight.

The building is an old brick structure with boarded up windows and a rusted metal door. It looks like it has been abandoned for years.

I circle around to the back of the building, where there is a small alleyway. I peek around the corner and see a group of Reds patrolling the street in front of the pharmacy.

I wait for a moment, trying to come up with a plan. I know that I can't take them head-on, so I need to find another way inside. I notice a small window in the back of the building that has been smashed in. It looks like it could be big enough for me to climb through. The window is high, hopefully I can jump and reach.

I make my way over to the window and jump up and grab. My hand hits glass and pain shoots through my arm. I pull myself up, straining against the pain. I peek inside. The pharmacy is a mess. The shelves have been overturned, and there are empty pill bottles and medical supplies scattered everywhere. It looks like the place has been looted multiple times.

I climb through the window and land on the floor inside. I can hear the sound of my footsteps echoing through the empty building.

As I make my way towards the medicine aisle, I notice that the shelves are nearly empty. I feel a sense of despair starting to sink in. Was this all for nothing? Would I have to risk my life again to find what I need?

But then, as I turn the corner, I notice a door that leads to the back office. Maybe there would be something useful there.

I push open the door and my heart sinks at the sight. There's a body on the floor, the lifeless eyes staring up at me. It's clear that he's been dead for a while, and the room smells of decay.

But then I notice the supplies scattered around him. Antibiotics, bandages, and painkillers. It's as if he knew that he was dying and wanted to make sure that his supplies went to someone who needed them.

I quickly gather up what I can, stuffing the supplies into my bag. As I turn to leave, I take one last look at the body on the floor. I feel a sense of sadness, knowing that he had probably died alone and forgotten.

But then I remember my own family, and I know that I need to keep going. I turn and leave the office, determined to make it back to them.

I quickly bandage my injured hand with the supplies I found on the dead man's body, and take a dosage of the painkillers. The throbbing pain in my hand starts to dull, but I know that I can't stay here for long. I need to get back to my family and fast.

As I start to make my way towards the exit, I can't help but feel a nagging sense of doubt. What if there's more supplies in this building that I could use? I take a deep breath and make a decision. I'm going to search the rest of this place, no matter what.

I make my way up to the second floor and start to explore. Most of the rooms are empty or have been ransacked, but then I hear a soft snoring coming from a room at the end of the hallway. I approach slowly, trying to remain quiet.

As I push open the door, I see a Red sleeping on a cot. He's holding an AK and a 9mm pistol close to him. My heart races as I try to formulate a plan. If I can take his weapons and supplies, it could make all the difference for my family.

I remember seeing a bottle of chloroform on a a shelf, and an idea forms in my mind. I quietly return down below and find the bottle. I pour some into a bandage and make my way back up to the sleeping Red. I gently place the cloth on his nose and mouth and his snoring stops, he has fallen unconscious. I quickly take his weapons, ammo, and any other supplies I can find, including food rations and a small bottle of vodka.

I crawled out of the pharmacy, making sure to avoid being seen by the Reds on the street. With my newly acquired supplies and weapons, I felt a sense of relief and hope, knowing that my daughter's life was now in my hands.

I swam back across the river, my injured hand throbbing with new pain. I can almost see the germs swimming into the wounds. I climb back up the bank and into the sewers, back to the business district. As I climbed up the pipe to the business attics, I tried to move as quietly as possible, not wanting to draw attention to myself.

As I crawled through the attics, I made a misstep and lean on a rotted bored. I fall through the ceiling. The sound echoed through the building, and I knew I had made a grave mistake. I quickly got up and started running, hearing the sound of boots pounding on the ground and shouting behind me.

I turned around a corner and saw three Reds. They reached for their weapons. I had no choice but to fight. I raised the AK I had taken from the sleeping Red in the pharmacy, aimed at the nearest one, and pulled the trigger, the first red fell.

The sound was deafening. I kept firing and swept my aim, hitting another Red in the shoulder. The third one had taken cover, I knew I had to finish them off quickly before reinforcements arrived. I sprinted and fired at close range. His body folded over backwards.

I approached the first two Reds who were still alive, their breathing ragged and labored. I could see the fear in their eyes, and I knew that they knew they were about to die. I raised my weapon, and with a sense of determination, I pulled the trigger twice. The two Reds souls journeyed to hell.

I quickly gathered their weapons and any supplies they had on them, knowing that I couldn't afford to waste any time.

As I reached our home, my heart was racing. I was so close, but the anxiety inside of me kept growing. I could feel the sweat trickling down my forehead as I tried to keep moving forward. I reached the front door and fumbled with the lock, my hands shaking with fear and anticipation. It took me longer than I would have liked to get the right combination of knocks and pauses, but finally, I heard the distinct sound of the deadbolt unlocking from the other side.

My wife opened the door, and her face was a mixture of sadness and worry. My heart sank, and I knew that something was wrong. I immediately asked about our daughter, but before she could answer, she pulled me inside and locked the door behind us. I could tell from the look on her face that the news was not good.

She took my hand and led me to the bedroom, where our little girl lay motionless on the bed. My heart shattered into a million pieces as I saw her lying there, so still and lifeless. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I had failed her. I had failed my family.

My wife told me that she had passed away only a few hours ago, and there was nothing anyone could do. She had been in so much pain and suffering that it was almost a relief to know that she was finally at peace. But still, the pain was unbearable, and I felt like I had lost a piece of myself.

I sat down on the edge of the bed and took my daughter's hand. It was so small and fragile, and yet it had brought so much joy and happiness into our lives. I knew that I would never forget her smile or the sound of her laughter. But the pain of losing her was almost too much to bear.

As I sat there with my wife, holding our daughter's hand, I knew that we had to keep going. We had to keep surviving, even though it seemed impossible. We had to keep moving forward, even though our hearts were broken. And most of all, we had to keep fighting, even though everything around us was trying to tear us apart.

I sit there in silence, staring at the ground. My mind races with thoughts of all that has happened, the loss of my daughter, the constant struggle for survival, and the anger I feel towards the Reds for what they have done to us.

And then, something inside me breaks. It's like a switch has been flipped, and a new realization comes over me. I have a newfound purpose, a new goal. I look at the weapons I've just acquired, and I know what I have to do.

I vow to become an agent of vengeance. To bring fear to the Reds, to make them regret what they've done to us. They may have taken everything from me, but I still have the strength and the will to fight back. I will give them no nights of rest, no moments of peace.

I know what I have to do, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I look at my wife, and I see the sadness in her eyes. Then I see fear join the sadness. She knows what I'm capable of, and she knows that I won't stop until justice is served.

I turn to her, and I speak with a newfound strength in my voice. "We will not be victims anymore," I say. "We will fight back. We will make them pay for what they've done."

She slowly nods, more tears forming on her face. "I know you will," she says.

Chapter 2

My legs grew numb as I lay on this dusty floor. I force myself to stay awake. Laying still and breathing shallow makes consciousness elusive. I can’t fall asleep, I snore and snoring gives my hiding spot away.

I watch them trough a hole in a board. There are four of them, they have been drinking for hours and only one has fallen a sleep. How much more can they drink? I find myself willing them to pass out, I am running out of night.

When the last one is finally snoring, sprayed out on the floor, I wait a little longer. I let twenty more minutes pass and let them get fully involved.

I slide the boards I had loosened earlier to the side and ease down into the room. The familiar stench of body oder and stale alcohol surround me. I inch down to the one on the floor. The back of his neck is exposed. I know just where to press the knife in so he stays asleep forever. This is not my first time doing this. Since the death of my daughter I have lost track of how many Reds I have sent to eternal judgment.

I finish my work and am collecting their weapons and wears when a new sound rattles the windows. Magnificent light floods the streets below. I crouch next to the window and find the source of light and noise. A mechanation from history hovers above the buildings. A dirigible, visions of Nazi Germany flood my mind. The Reds are way past bad optics I suppose. A realization hits, this is here because of me. They think the angel of death has descended on the city and is reaping. I push down a smile, I can’t afford to get arrogant. I watch the bloated device float in defiance of all laws of science. The array of lights flooding the streets, exposing the broken city below.

My mind clicks, light. Light is my enemy. Darkness hides and helps. The dirigible brings light wich makes my mission far more difficult.

I have to take a long way home, avoiding the searchlights of the new sky decoration. As I crawl through long unused buildings and sewers my mind formulates an idea.

I have to bring down the dirigible.

This does more then re-blacken the night. It will be a morale blow to our enemy while also being a singular event the other resistance fighters can rally around.

I reach my home and my wife is asleep. I lay next to her and find myself to excited to rest. Plans and questions flood my mind. How do I bring it down? How can I get aboard?

My thoughts continue until the sun rises. Light leaks in through our broken and boarded window until it finds my wife’s face. Her beauty glows through the dirt and sadness. She has lost more then I have and shows greater strength each day.

I crawl out of bed and heat up some of the instant coffee I acquired recently. I select a ration from the pile. I can’t read the angry language so it is always a guess. Hotdogs and a red sauce. I set the coffee and food on a plate and prepare to enter the bedroom. I only wish I had a waiters costume to complete the scene.

I stop at the door. A costume. That’s an idea. I look enough like the Reds. I have plenty of access to the uniforms from the clean kills.I leave the food next to my wife and sit in silence as I watch her sleep.

That dusk i am out and crawling again. I have one planned target, recon on the dirigible. I need to learn how to gain access. I make my way to my favorite spot in the city, the remains of our old church. Most of the rectory and front area have burned. The bell tower survived and offers a view of the city that goes unobstructed for nearly a mile in all directions. Only the apartment highrise to the north is taller.

The bell tower is not an easy climb. The stairs for the first thirty feet burned with the rest. I have to climb torched wood and ashy hand holds until I reach the remains of the stars and can walk up the last hundred feet. The bell house atop the tower has become my base of operations. I store weapons and other acquired items here. The cramped living space my wife and I occupy can not house such treasures. I reach the top and find my partner, Brianna. She, like most children anymore, is an orphan who I found crawling through the same crawlspaces I frequent. She had been hiding for months after witnessing the Reds execute her parents. Now she lives up here and helps me recon.

“Hey boss,” she says as I pull myself up. “Can you believe that thing?” she points to the dirigible that dominates the northern sky.

“Hey,” I reply, “yeah I watch it pull in last night. What do you think?”

“I have never seen anything like it,” she says.

“It’s a problem,” I say. “We are going to watch it and see what we can learn. You up for a mission?”

She jumps to attention and salutes, “yes sir!”

“Tonight we watch and learn,” I say. “Tomorrow we get close.”

We spend the night observing the dirigible. It doesn’t move, it just hovers and shines lights on the surrounding city. A tether and a ladder attach the behemoth to the apartment building. The Reds must have set up a check-in on the top floor.

We meet again the next night with plan on moving closer. We need to see what the staff of the dirigible dress as. We have one problem. The near buildings are much shorter and offer little in ways of observing the top floor. We have to find a vantage point and wait for someone to climb the ladder.

We embarked on our journey through the city, venturing further north than we had in weeks. Every step we took was calculated, our senses heightened, as we weaved through the labyrinthine streets, alleys, and decaying buildings. The tension in the air was palpable, as if the city itself held its breath, anticipating our every move.

The dirigible's searchlights continued to slice through the darkness, making our task of remaining unseen even more challenging. We had to be agile and adaptable, navigating through shadowy corners and narrow passageways, always on high alert for any sign of the Reds.

There were several close calls along the way—moments that made our hearts race and our muscles tense with apprehension. We would freeze in our tracks, hidden in alcoves or behind crumbling walls, as squads of Reds patrolled dangerously close. Their footsteps echoed in the desolate streets, and the faint glow of their flashlights cut through the darkness like menacing eyes.

We held our breath, praying that the darkness and our silence would shield us from their scrutiny. The moments stretched into eternity as they passed by, oblivious to our presence. Each near encounter served as a stark reminder of the constant danger we faced, the ever-present threat of discovery and capture.

At times, we were forced to backtrack, taking longer routes or finding alternate paths to avoid heavily guarded areas. We moved like shadows, our movements fluid and deliberate. We learned to blend into the backdrop of destruction and decay, becoming one with the desolate cityscape.

The nights were treacherous, filled with uncertainty and the constant risk of confrontation. We relied on our heightened instincts and the unspoken trust between Brianna and me. We communicated through subtle gestures and glances, our actions synchronized as if we were bound by an invisible thread.

There were moments when the Reds seemed to be closing in on us, their patrols growing more frequent and their presence more pervasive. We found ourselves crouched in abandoned buildings, hidden beneath debris, waiting for the opportune time to move again.

After several nights of stealthy exploration, we discovered a derelict building that provided an unobstructed view of the ladder. Its crumbling walls and broken windows offered the perfect cover for our surveillance. From this hidden perch, we could observe the comings and goings of the Reds, studying their routines and search for that singular detail that could be key in our mission.

From our hidden vantage point, we spent three consecutive days meticulously observing the access ladder that anchored the dirigible. With unwavering focus, we studied the patterns of activity, noting the frequency and timing of the operators' movements. It was a tedious and demanding task, but we knew that these vital details would be the key to our success.

As we watched, patterns began to emerge, slowly revealing the routine of the dirigible's operators. We noticed a consistent shift change every six hours, accompanied by a brief period of reduced activity. This window of opportunity became our focus—an opening we could exploit to advance our plan.

But it wasn't just the timing that we observed. We also paid close attention to the uniform worn by the operators. Through keen observation, we discerned that they wore a distinct, specialized uniform, different from the standard Reds' attire. It was marked by a logo—a symbol we hadn't encountered before, crossed arrows fronted by an unblinking eye.

One of the operators was close enough in size and stature to me for the uniform to fit. We named him ‘Bob’ and waited for him each night. On the fourth night we caught a break, we could see Bob walkin the streets after his shift.

We followed, creeping through the city's streets, our every move shrouded in the secrecy of the night. Our eyes were locked on the prize ahead—Bob and his uniform. The wind whispered secrets in our ears, guiding us through the shadows as we closed in on our mark.

With the stealth of a seasoned hunter, we mirrored the operator's steps, our senses attuned to the rhythm of the city. The streets held their breath, as if aware of the cat-and-mouse game being played in its darkened corners. We were the cunning foxes, closing in on our elusive prey.

Through winding alleys and forgotten passages, we tracked the Bob's trail, our instincts sharpened by months of navigating the underbelly of the city. Each step brought us closer to toppling the oppressive regime that had cast its dark cloud over our people.

Bob moved with purpose, his presence a symbol of the regime's grip on the city. But we moved like phantoms, our very existence hidden in the folds of the night. We were the rebels, the voices of dissent that refused to be silenced.

Finally, Bob reached his destination—a run-down apartment building, a stronghold of secrets. We watched from the shadows, our hearts pounding with anticipation. It was time to make our move, to claim what was rightfully ours.

With a deft hand, Brianna picked the lock, the tumblers yielding to our touch. The door swung open, revealing a world cloaked in darkness and intrigue. We stepped inside, our senses heightened, every creak of the floorboards echoing through the stillness of the night.

As the door swung open, I slipped into Bob's dimly lit kitchen, my senses heightened, aware of the imminent danger that awaited. There, in the flickering shadows, stood Bob, welding a knife with an unsettling glimmer in his eyes. Before I could fully comprehend the situation, he lunged at me with a ferocity fueled by desperation.

In a graceful dance of survival, we engaged in a deadly one-on-one confrontation. Bob's knife sliced through the air with lethal intent, its sharp blade aiming to pierce my defenses. I moved with agility and precision, my body an instrument of calculated response. Sidestepping his initial assault, I countered with a swift, well-placed strike, while pulling my knife from my boot.

Our struggle unfolded in a symphony of martial prowess, the rhythm of our clash resonating through the kitchen. The metallic clash of our weapons filled the air as we maneuvered and countered, each movement a testament to our honed skills. I remained focused, my mind attuned to every subtle shift in Bob's stance, anticipating his every move.

We circled each other, our eyes locked in a deadly duel. With quick footwork and deft parries, I evaded Bob's relentless attacks, turning his aggression against him.

Bob fought with unwavering determination, his movements fueled by a mix of fear and desperation. But I remained calm and composed, channeling my training and experience into precise strikes and calculated defense. Our bodies moved as extensions of our will, each motion fluid and purposeful.

The struggle intensified, both of us fully committed to the fight. We exchanged a flurry of blows, each strike landing with less prescions as our bodies tired. The room became a battlefield, the air charged with a blend of adrenaline and the clash of steel. It was a contest of skill, where every action held consequences.

And then, seizing an opening, I unleashed a decisive strike. My empty hand connected with resounding force, sending Bob stumbling backward, his grip on the knife loosening. Sensing the opportunity, I pressed my advantage, swiftly moving to incapacitate him. Bob threw his knife and I ducked as it nearly struck my head. I weaved back in and rose in an uppercut directly into Bob’s chin.

As Bob fell to the floor, unconscious, I exhaled a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. The immediate threat had been neutralized, but my triumph was overshadowed by the grim reality that unfolded before me. My gaze shifted to Brianna, who had silently suffered in the chaos of the fight.

My heart sank as I saw the trail of crimson staining her clothing, the thrown knife embedded in her chest. Panic surged through me as I rushed to her side, cradling her delicate form. The gravity of the situation weighed heavily on my shoulders as I assessed the severity of her injury.

With trembling hands, I applied pressure to the wound, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood. Time seemed to blur as I fought against the inevitable, my thoughts consumed by the urgency of the situation. But despite my efforts, the life slowly ebbed from Brianna's fragile frame, slipping away like a wisp of smoke.

I turned to Bob. I stemmed my anger as I removed his uniform. Once he was naked i drove my knife into his temple. One more Red off to judgment.

I scavenged the apartment for any useful items and loaded my bag. I carried Brianna away from this and returned to our church. In the darkness of the next night I burred her in the grounds.

I returned three days later to our observation post. I had Bob’s uniform and identification. With trepidation in my heart, I reluctantly donned Bob's uniform, concealing my true identity beneath the facade of an enemy operative. The fabric clung to my body, a stark reminder of the dangerous game I was about to play. As I made my way towards the dilapidated apartment building that served as the base of operations for the dirigible, a sense of unease settled within me.

The building stood as a crumbling relic of better days, its once grand architecture marred by neglect and decay. Broken windows stared back at me like empty eyes, whispering tales of forgotten glory. It was a stark contrast to the opulence I had expected, but perhaps that worked in my favor, a shroud of disguise amidst the ruins.

Each step I took towards the entrance was laden with tension, as if the very air around me crackled with anticipation. The guards, positioned at various checkpoints, scrutinized those who passed, their watchful gazes lingering on each face. I held my breath, praying that my disguise would shield me from their prying eyes, that they would not recognize the face of a man they considered an enemy.

As I approached the first checkpoint, my heart pounded in my chest, threatening to give away the ruse. I averted my gaze, trying to blend into the throng of workers and operatives bustling about, each with their own purpose and agenda. The guards glanced at me, their eyes scanning my uniform, and I held my breath, hoping against hope that they would see nothing amiss.

Miraculously, I passed through the first obstacle unscathed, my heart beginning to regain its rhythm. But the tension remained, a persistent companion as I weaved my way through the labyrinthine corridors of the decaying building. Each encounter with a guard brought a fresh wave of anxiety, the fear of exposure clawing at the back of my mind.

The building itself seemed to conspire against me, its worn-out floors creaking under my footsteps, its peeling wallpaper whispering secrets of the past. I moved with calculated steps, like a shadow in the night, always mindful of my surroundings. The tiniest misstep could spell disaster, unraveling the delicate thread of my masquerade.

As I approached the final checkpoint, the stakes grew higher. The guards stood with an air of authority, their eyes sharp and attentive. I fought to maintain composure, my mind a whirlwind of thoughts, desperately hoping that my disguise would hold true, that my true identity would remain concealed.

Time seemed to slow as I passed through the last hurdle, the guards' gazes glancing off me like water off a duck's back. Relief washed over me as I passed through the final checkpoint, my heart pounding in my chest. I continued down the hall until Ifound myself in an unexpected room. It was a hidden cache, a treasure trove of weapons concealed within the dilapidated walls. The tension in the air escalated as I beheld the array of deadly armaments, each one capable of turning the tide of battle.

Amongst the cache, my eyes widened with both awe and trepidation as they settled upon a pair of rocket propelled grenade launchers. These formidable weapons, capable of unleashing destruction upon the enemy, held the potential to be the turning point in my mission. The weight of their power hung heavy in the air, both a blessing and a burden.

Caution became my ally as I approached the weapons, their sleek design gleaming in the dim light. I carefully inspected them, feeling their cold metal against my fingertips, the promise of their explosive might echoing through my thoughts. It was a double-edged sword, for while they offered a means to strike fear into the hearts of my adversaries, their presence would undoubtedly draw unwanted attention.

A plan formed in my head, I only needed on more item. I found it in a cabinet, rope. I put my plan into motion.

I took the rocket propelled grenade launchers in hand, feeling their weight and power. I slunk through the hallways and found an abandoned room with a broken out window. With a calculated precision, I secured the rope firmly to the furnace, ensuring it would bear my weight when the time came. The plan was set, the daring gambit that would put everything on the line.

Heart racing with a mix of excitement and apprehension, I approached the window, gazing out and up at the looming presence of the dirigible. It floated in the night sky, its illuminated form casting an eerie glow over the surrounding landscape. The time had come to strike back, to unleash chaos upon those who sought to oppress and control.

With the rocket propelled grenade launchers slung over my shoulders, I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. This was a high-stakes game, a daring act of defiance that required both skill and nerve. As I gripped the weapons tightly, my mind focused on the task at hand, envisioning the precise trajectory needed to strike the dirigible's vulnerable points.

Summoning my resolve, I leaned backwards out the window and aimed both rocket propelled grenade launchers towards the sky, eyes locked on the distant target. I steadied myself, finding solace in the tension that coursed through my veins. And then, with a controlled squeeze of the triggers, the grenades propelled from the launchers, hurtling towards their intended mark.

The explosion tore through the night, a deafening roar that echoed through the desolate cityscape. Flames erupted from the dirigible, its once steady course now faltering under the assault. But there was no time to revel in the victory, for the mission was far from over.

A another thunderous explosion filled the air, flames engulfing the dirigible as it plummeted towards the ground below. Chaos erupted, a cacophony of noise and destruction that served as a testament to our defiance. But amidst the chaos, my attention turned to the rope tied securely to the fixture, beckoning me to safety.

Taking a final glance at the smoldering wreckage of the dirigible, I leaned all the way out the window ledge, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Gripping the rope tightly, I propelled myself into the void, descending the side of the building with a controlled descent.

As I descended, the tension in my muscles eased, replaced by a surge of exhilaration. The cityscape passed in a blur as I made my escape, my body moving with practiced ease. The ground rushed up to meet me, and with a final burst of strength, I landed firmly on the pavement below, the echoes of my triumph reverberating through the night.

The chaos served as cover. My uniform a cloak of invisibility. I was just another Red fleeing the destruction. Returning to my vantage point, I sought solace in the aftermath of destruction I had unleashed upon the dirigible. The behemoth had crashed down through the apartment building, crushing several stories. A sense of grim satisfaction washed over me as I surveyed the scene before me. The once-proud vessel and Red stronghold now lay in ruins, engulfed in billowing smoke and licking flames. Dozen more red sent to final judgment.

I leaned against the remnants of a crumbling wall, taking in the sight of chaos and devastation. The night sky was illuminated by the flickering glow of the fire, casting an eerie ambiance over the desolate surroundings. It was a symphony of destruction, a testament to the power of resistance and the price of freedom.

A bittersweet smile tugged at the corners of my lips as I reflected on the significance of this moment. The oppressors had been dealt a blow, their symbol of control reduced to a smoldering heap of wreckage. The air crackled with an electric energy, a potent reminder that even in the darkest of times, a glimmer of hope could ignite a flame of revolution.

As I stood there, absorbing the aftermath, a sense of renewed purpose washed over me. The battles may be far from over, but in this moment, I had struck a blow against the forces that sought to suppress us. It was a small victory, but it carried with it the seeds of change, fueling the fire of resistance that burned within those in the city that could see.

I closed my eyes, allowing the cool night breeze to wash over me, carrying with it the whispers of freedom. I though of Brianna. One more gone to soon in this world so full of hate.

With a resolute determination, I turned away from the scene, leaving the wreckage behind me. The path ahead was still uncertain, fraught with danger and sacrifice. But as I ventured forth, I carried with me the knowledge that the flames of rebellion had been ignited, and they would burn bright until the day freedom reigned once more.

And so, with my head held high and my heart aflame, I moved forward, ready to face whatever challenges lay in my path. The destruction I had caused was but a testament to the strength of our collective will. We would not be silenced, we would not be defeated. The fight for justice and liberty would continue, fueled by the flickering embers of hope.

Chapter 3

Each step burned more than the last, the biting cold gnawing at my feet with merciless intensity. The boots I had "acquired" from a Red soldier offered little protection against the freezing temperatures and the snow that had seeped into them. The icy wetness had settled in my socks, finding its way to my very nerves and sending waves of pain up my spine..

It had been six long and arduous months since the blimp incident. In the immediate aftermath, there was a surge of violence as the people rallied, emboldened by the glorious explosion and awe inspiring wreckage. Under the leadership of a now defected Red Colonel, rebels fought back against the occupying force with something they did not have before, coordination. For a brief moment, it seemed as though the tides were turning in our favor.

Our triumph was short-lived. The Reds swiftly regrouped and retaliated with a ruthless display of force. They moved in like an unstoppable juggernaut, unleashing their tanks and planes to quash any semblance of rebellion. Buildings suspected of harboring rebels were reduced to rubble without hesitation.

As the winter settled upon the land, nature joined the fight against the Reds. The occupying force found itself ill-prepared to contend with the harsh realities of the season. Their supply lines faltered, stretched thin over the vast expanse they sought to control. The biting cold and unforgiving snow hindered their progress, sapping their resources and weakening their resolve.

With each passing day, the Reds faced a growing dilemma shared by all occupying forces throughout history – they had underestimated the power of nature. The shortages became increasingly dire as food supplies dwindled, and desperation swept through their ranks. Desertions soared as soldiers abandoned their posts in search of sustenance for themselves and their loved ones.

And so, I, too, had to adapt. As the Reds' pillaging extended beyond the city's limits, I ventured into the woods to forage and hunt for survival. The very same woods that once served as a picturesque backdrop for family holidays now became my refuge and my battlefield.

Despite the hardships, there was a quiet beauty in the snow-covered landscape. The white mantle glistened under the pale winter sun, adorning the trees and the forest floor like a delicate tapestry. Silence hung in the air, broken only by the soft crunching of snow beneath my feet, a rhythmic cadence in this frozen symphony.

As I moved cautiously through a thick cluster of trees, a sudden movement caught my eye. A massive shape emerged from the shadows, its hulking form unmistakable. It was a bear, its fur thick and lustrous, its eyes focused on me and a snarl escaped its bared teeth. My heart raced, and a primal fear gripped me as I realized I stood face-to-face with one of nature's most formidable creatures.

Instinctively, I froze, not daring to make any sudden movements. I slowly raised the stolen AK and readied to fend for my lif. The bear stood its ground, observing me with a steady gaze. The tension hung thick in the air as we both assessed each other, trying to decipher the intentions of the other. It was a standoff between predator and prey, survival instinct pulsating through our veins.

But then, as if by some divine intervention, I caught a glimpse of movement behind the bear. A small cub emerged from the undergrowth, its eyes wide and innocent, unaware of the danger that loomed nearby. The bear's attention shifted from me to its cub, and its body language softened, its defensive stance relaxing.

In that moment, a wave of understanding washed over me. The bear and I shared a common goal – the search for sustenance in this unforgiving winter. The desperation for food was etched on both our faces, and I realized that the bear, like me, was simply trying to survive.

I kept my eye and AK trained on the bear, I lowered the nad on the AK’s barrel and reached into my backpack and withdrew a pair of racoons I had managed to shoot earlier. I had never had racoon meat and did not feel it woul db a loss. I hoped bear liked it. I carefully tossed the racoons to the bear’s fet. The bear's eyes locked with mine, assessing my intentions, and then its gazed shifted to the offering. Sniffing the bodies It tentatively took the food, its powerful jaws gingerly grasping the offering.

As the bear and I shared that moment, a silent pact was formed. We had both been thrust into a world consumed by conflict, where survival meant venturing into unfamiliar territories. Our paths had crossed, not as adversaries but as fellow creatures struggling to navigate the chaos.

With the bear and its cub satisfied, they turned and disappeared into the snowy wilderness, leaving me with a renewed sense of awe and respect for the power and resilience of nature. In that encounter, I had glimpsed a different side of the war-ravaged world – a fragile connection that reminded me of the shared struggles and the innate goodness that still existed amidst the chaos.

Moving away from the direction the bears went, I continued my journey deeper into the snow and cold.

As I walked deeper into the wilderness, leaving the bear and its cub behind, a sense of unease settled upon me. The landscape grew eerily silent, and a foreboding presence lingered in the air. In the distance, a shape began to materialize through the haze. It was unmistakable—an imposing Red tank, its steel hull gleaming with an air of menace.

The tank appeared abandoned, its metal exterior weathered by time and the harsh elements. Yet, there was a certain air of readiness about it, as if it could still roar to life with a surge of power.

Curiosity and exhaustion battled within me. The prospect of finding refuge for the night, shielded from the biting cold and treacherous terrain, enticed me. I cautiously circled the tank, studying its exterior for any signs of damage or hidden dangers. Its tracks were intact, and the machine guns mounted on its turret remained untouched.

As I closed the distance, a thought crossed my mind. Testing the tank's response seemed like a prudent move before seeking refuge within its metallic confines. I bent down and picked up a handful of stones from the snowy ground, each pebble feeling cold and solid in my grip. With a hint of trepidation, I aimed and tossed the stones, one after the other, towards the tank's hull.

The stones bounced off the tank's metal surface, creating faint clinks and thuds in the silent air. For a moment, nothing happened, and I questioned whether my actions had been in vain. But then, to my surprise, a low, metallic groan emanated from within the tank. It was as if the dormant machine had stirred, responding to the disturbance.

My heart skipped a beat as I considered the implications of this unexpected response. Could it be that the tank still held some semblance of life? Was there a possibility that it could be brought back to operational status? The prospect filled my mind with a mix of excitement and caution. If I could restore the tank's functionality, it would not only provide refuge for the night but also grant me a formidable advantage in the war-torn landscape.

Driven by curiosity and the faint glimmer of hope, I approached the tank's open hatch. The interior revealed a dimly lit cabin, displaying the signs of neglect and time. Snow-covered control panels and faded buttons adorned the dashboard.

Though the tank appeared to be abandoned, a flicker of possibility remained. I began to examine the controls and instruments, my hands tracing the faded markings and my fingers hovering over the buttons, almost hesitating to awaken the slumbering machine. As I deliberated, a surge of determination washed over me. I would attempt to revive this mechanical behemoth, to harness its power and turn it into a refuge that would keep me safe through the night.

After more time then I could afford to spare I gave up on reviving the tank. None of the buttons and switches responded to my repeated efforts. The sun was setting and the deathly cold of the night approached. I closed hatch, it’s clang echoed across the landscape scaring birds from their pirch.I do not what had caused the noise before. Perhaps it was the last moan of a dying battery.

I flicked on my flashlight, casting a warm glow that illuminated the dim interior. Setting up my small cooking station, I prepared a simple meal, the aroma of the beans mingling with the scent of metal and machinery. The heat radiated from the camp stove, gradually thawing the cold that had seeped into my bones. It was a small comfort amidst the harsh realities of survival.

As I sat there, huddled in the commander's chair, I contemplated the tank's potential. Though my attempts to revive its systems had failed, the thought of utilizing it as a waypoint, a safe house and a storage space for my wood expeditions, crossed my mind. The tank's formidable size could provide a sense of security and stability in this tumultuous world, a place where I could regroup and plan for the challenges that lay ahead.

With my meal finished, I settled in for the night, finding some respite in the worn upholstery of the commander's chair. The familiar creaking sound accompanied my movements as I adjusted myself, making myself as comfortable as possible within the limited space. As exhaustion washed over me, the tank became a temporary refuge from the harsh realities of war and survival.

The gentle dripping of melting snow within the tank's interior created a soothing, rhythmic melody, lulling me into a restless sleep. Dreams of a time before the conflict, of peaceful moments with my wife, mingled with the present realities, creating a bittersweet tapestry within my mind.

As the morning light began to cast its gentle glow on the snowy landscape, I was roused from my winter slumber by a faint sound in the distance. At first, it was barely discernible, a mere whisper carried by the wind. But as I listened intently, my senses sharpened, and I recognized the distinct sound of approaching footsteps, accompanied by angry voices.

My heart skipped a beat, and adrenaline surged through my veins as I realized that the sounds might belong to a group of Reds. They were getting closer, their presence an imminent threat to my safety and solitude. Quickly, I gathered my belongings, stashing them away in my worn backpack, my mind racing with thoughts of escape and evasion.

I peered out of one of the tank's port holes, scanning the surroundings for any sign of the approaching Reds. In the distance, I spotted them, a small group moving with purpose, their military uniforms contrasting starkly against the white expanse of snow. Had the followed my trail in the snow?

I watched the group of four Reds draw nearer. Their worn-out uniforms and haggard appearance spoke volumes about the hardships they had endured. They seemed disheveled, their faces etched with fatigue and disillusionment. As they approached the tank, their actions caught me off guard. They hurled stones at the tank's exterior and spat on the Red crest, displaying an unmistakable disdain for their former allegiance.

A glimmer of hope flickered within me. Could these be deserters? Was it possible that they had grown weary of the relentless conflict? With caution and a tinge of desperation, I contemplated the idea of reaching out to them, of forging a connection born out of shared suffering.

Summoning the courage to take a chance, I raised my voice from inside the tank, hoping it would carry across the distance. "I am peaceful," I called out, my voice trembling with uncertainty. "Are you deserters?"

The group paused, their eyes scanning the surroundings, searching for the source of the voice. A moment of tense silence hung in the air, as they swept their weapons. They spoke to each other in their angry language Then, one of them, a tall gray eyed soldier, stepped forward.

"Yes," he replied, his voice weary but tinged with a glimmer of relief. "We are deserters."

“You speak my language?” I asked.

“Some,” the gray eyed one said. “Come out so we can see you.”

“Put your guns down first.” I said.

The gray eyed one and a dark haired one talked back and forth then they all slowly put their AKs in the snow.

“Ok,” gray eyes said. “Now your turn.”

I opened the hatch slowly and raised my rifle butt first out and placed it on the tank. I showed my hands and carefully exposed my head.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” said gray eyes. “Who are you?”

“Just a man looking for food,” I said. “Who are you?”

“We are going,” gray eyes said. “No more food in the city.”

“I have food,” I said and pointed to bag. “May I?”

The dark haired one said something to gray eyes who spoke back.

“Slowly,” said gray eyes.

I reached back and pulled out four Red ration cans and tossed them to the feet of the red. The memory of my encounter with the bears flowing through my mind.

The dark haired man grabbed the four cans and handed one each to his companions. They greedily tear odd the lids and eat the contents.

“Thank you,” said gray eyes between bites.

“May I come down?” I ask.

Gray eyes waves me down.

I strap my rifle to my back and slide down the tank. These Reds do not seem a threat. More pathetic then dangerous.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“To his house,” gray eyes points to the dark skinned short man. “They have a farm and food. You want to come?”

The offer strikes me. Kindness from a Red? I ponder this. Food sounds good.

“I can’t,” I say. “But thank you. I have family still in the city.”

Gray eyes looks at dark hair and they talk back and forth. Dark hair turns to the other two and says some words. They pull out magazines for the AKs and offer them to me.

“For me?” I ask.

“For the food,” says gray eyes.

“These bullets might be used to kill your comrades,” I say.

Gray eyes spits on the ground, “If they want to stay and fight they can die before starving. We go away and find food.”

I take the magazines and put them in my bag, “thank you.”

“Go,” says gray eyes. “Care for your family, we go look for ours.” He offers his hand.

I accept and return the shake. Dark hair nods to me and the other two wave as they continue past the tank.

With a mixture of gratitude and curiosity, I watched as the deserters moved past the tank, their weary forms disappearing into the distance. The encounter had been unexpected, and their act of kindness and shared struggle had left a lasting impression on me.

As I stood there, contemplating my next move, I couldn't help but feel a sense of duty toward these deserters. They were searching for food and survival, just like me and the bears. And just like the the bears they were only a threat when forced. More would abandon the Reds and each day would bring us closer to an end to the struggle that was still years away from ending.