The First of Many

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Chapter 59

The next morning, at dusk, Hannah and the team awoke, did their final gear checks, and proceeded to their assault position.

“Overlord, this is Viper Zero-One. We are in position for assault. Request permission to engage.”

“Viper Zero-One, you are cleared to engage. Give ‘em Hell.”

"Blade, take the left flank. Shadow, flank right. Hunt and I will assault up the middle," Hannah ordered. The team set out and Blade and Shadow broke off to their positions.

“Shadow set,” Shadow reported.

“Blade set,” Blade said into his headset.

“Rosie and Hunter set,” Hannah said to her team through their comms channel. “Ok Blade, kick us off.”

Blade aimed his sniper rifle at the nearest target and exhaled, waiting for the pause between breaths before squeezing the trigger

There was a moment of stunned silence on the enemy's part, then all Hell broke loose.

“CONTACT FRONT!” Hannah roared as she opened fire with her M4. Blade threw two heartbreakers into the compound, killing two soldiers with RPGs. Shadow opened up with his machine gun and peppered with bullets a house the insurgents were using for cover.

All at once, an eerie silence fell, and the team moved forward in silence to continue clearing the rest of the compound.

Hannah and Hunter were silent as death as they worked together, the occasional puff of suppressed gunfire the only sound between them. Hannah watched him warily out of the corner of her eye. He hadn't once fired his weapon. They moved from room to room, clearing insurgents until they found their final target.

The HVT was a slender man, barely in his thirties. They couldn't see his full face, due to his headscarf. His guards had clearly abandoned him, and he cowered in a corner. His only weapon was a small knife, not even sharp.

Pathetic, Hannah thought.

The man's eyes lit with hope as he saw Hunter raise his weapon, but the last thing he heard was a low, dark laugh.

He screamed as he fell, and Hannah and Hunter shared a bloodthirsty smirk.

“Let's get you home,” she said softly.

Hunter removed his face mask, staring at her with dark, frightened eyes. “I can't,” he murmured. “They're going to kill me, Rosie. They're going to kill you too. You don't know these people, you don't know what they're capable of.”

“Overlord will understand.”

“It's not Overlord I'm worried about.”

“Who?”

“If I come back, where'll I go? The firing squad, maybe – that would be faster. Maybe Levenworth. They'll find me either way. You can't escape them.”

“I'll keep you safe.”

“They'll only kill you.”

Shadow and Blade entered silently.

“All clear,” Blade said, then stopped short, feeling the tension between the pair.

“What's going on?” Shadow asked.

“I'm the traitor,” Hunter said quietly.

"You're what?" Blade asked.

"I'm the traitor," Hunter repeated.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then-

"-YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU KILLED TEDDY!" Shadow yelled as he pinned Hunter to a wall.

“Shadow, let him go!” Hannah called.

Shadow drew his pistol and placed it at Hunter's throat. “Rosie, are you insane? This fucker killed Teddy!”

“I know,” she said. “But he doesn't... No. Let's bring him in. We can still fix this.”

“And give him more chances to stab us in the back? Who's next? Blade? You?”

“If he wanted us dead, we would be,” she answered. “Hear him out, at least. He's still our brother; we owe him that much.”

Shadow slowly removed the pistol from Hunter's throat, but kept it clenched in his fist.

“Why?” Hannah asked. “I forgot to ask you why.”

He shrugged. “It was to save us,” he answered quietly. “It was to save all of us from this damn war. This is the only way we can stop the fighting. Someone has to win, Hannah. That's the way it works. It doesn't really matter who, in the end.”

There was another moment of solemn, incredulous silence before Hannah spoke again.

“Head or heart?”

“Wait, what?” Blade asked.

“I'm going to shoot him,” Hannah said calmly, drawing her own pistol. “Shadow, put the gun away. I'm doing it myself. I promised.” she bit her lip and turned to Hunter again. “Hunt, head or heart?”

Hunter stared at her blankly. “Heart,” he said at last.

Hannah closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. Her heart lost its residence in her stomach and sank the rest of the way into her feet. Her eyes stung, but she shoved the tears back and lifted the gun.

Hunter stared at Hannah, his face grim set. “Thank you,” he murmured. “I knew you'd do it.”

Hannah sucked in another breath through constricting lungs. “I'm so sorry,” she whispered. “Please, come home with us.”

“I can't.”

“Hunt, I don't want to do this.”

“Neither do I.”

"Just do it Hannah, or I will," Blade said as he raised his gun. Hannah's hands shook as she slowly pulled the trigger. Her finger slipped, and Hannah lowered the weapon slightly.

“Goddamn it, Mirage, shoot me like you mean it, at least!” Hunter snarled.

Hannah's pistol clattered to the ground.

“How do you know that?” she growled. “How do you know my name?”

He grinned, his eyes gleaming. “Know?” he said, his voice high pitched with strain, “Of course I know! Everybody knows you, Hannah Marie Solomon. Mirage. Rosie. Rosie. Your name hardly matters, does it, 452? Have you been missing your injections again? I'll bet you noticed. You're getting weak. That's what happens to Nines who run away. They waste away to nothing, or they come crawling back and beg for more. The injection's gone, but the programming never leaves you.”

“I don't know what you're talking about, Hunter,” she said, grabbing him by the shoulders so that he couldn't back away. “Who are you? Goddamn it, Hunter, Who are you and how do you know me?”

He grinned, showing teeth blackened by a poison she couldn't recognize. “The first of many,” he rasped, laughing slightly. “I'm the first of many, number 410. Do you want to know what they want with you? Why they've done this to us?”

“Hunter, please!” she cried, staring in horror as the black tint spread to his lips.

There was a thunderous bang and Hunter slumped back, his eyes going wide with shock for a moment before they glassed over. A trickle of blood seeped from the side of his head. Shadow lowered his smoking gun, grim-faced.

“Let’s go home,” he said, face like stone.

“We can’t leave him here,” Hannah said quietly.

“He put his chips in with them, he can rot with them too. I’m not burying a traitor.”

They left him there after one last look, leaving him staring glassy-eyed at the concrete ceiling, blood slowly spreading on the floor behind his head.
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