Chapter 1: Ethan
“Hey, Ethan…you okay man?” Damien says snapping me out of my stargazing.
“Huh…? Oh, yeah, I’m good bro,” I respond in dismissively as I turn my head back to the blackness and stars.
This last mission had been a particularly rough one for Hunter Two. Damien and I were dropped behind enemies and expected to infiltrate and destroy a key communication tower the Sekrid had been using to pound our forces with constant artillery fire.
We took it.
But it hit us a little harder than normal.
The small transport ship smoothly glides into the docking area of our mothership, touching down with a slight thump. I stand up quickly and walk out of ship just as the bay door touches the ground. I hear Damien’s footsteps close behind me.
I push past the small crowds of people hustling and bustling through the ship, completing their various tasks. All I want right now is silence and I’m rushing to seize it away from the masses.
I finally reach the locker room door and swipe my access card quickly across the panel, causing the door to slide open with a click. I step inside, removing my ballistic vest and tossing it to the side. I feel my heart begin to race as it becomes hard to breathe.
I pace back and forth as with my hands on my hips as the sweat starts to pout off my body. I hear the sound of the door opening behind me. As I turn around to continue my pace, I feel Damien’s hand on my shoulder. I look up from the floor to see him standing opposite me with concern on his face.
“Breathe, Ethan. It’s alright. Here, take a seat,” He says, motioning a hand to the bench.
I follow his instructions and start to control my breathing, placing my face in my hands.
“These have been getting more frequent lately. Have you talked to anyone about this, man?” Damien points out.
I pull my face out of my hands, taking a deep breath before coming to rest with my elbows on my knees. I turn my head to look at Damien.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this, Damien,”
Damien looks at me with acceptance in his eyes.
“I think it’s time you hang it up. Let me talk to Cap about this, alright? I’m gonna get you some transfer papers out of here, make sure they’re expedited,” He says, placing a few pats on my shoulder.
I sit up “What about you?” I ask.
“What about me?”
“Who’s going to watch your back?”
“Ethan, I live for this shit. You know that. I’ll watch my back,” Damien says, pointing a thumb to his backside.
I let out a long sigh “I hate feeling like this,”
“It’s been a rough few years, brother. Yours were more than most. It’s alright to say it’s enough,”
I respond with a nod of acceptance.
Damien stands from the bench.
“Take a shower. I’m sure the Cap will put you on a few more runs before he puts you into Transit status. You need the sleep,” Damien explains before turning and leaving the locker room.
I sit there with my thoughts for a moment. Thinking through the last few years in god forsaken conflict. And as the tears start to well up, I shake myself out of my mind and begin to undress.
I run the water so hot it turns my skin red, trying to sterilize myself from the grime of the previous mission. I stare down at the drain, noticing the water turning a lambent blue as the Sekrid gore washes out of my hair and off my body.
I wipe the mirror clear of the condensation that saturated it and stare at myself. I examine the scrapes and bruises scattered on my face from the previous fight.
Say what you want about the Sekrid, they hit like a truck.
I shake my head and proceed to get dressed, making a B line for my quarters before anyone can stop me in the hallway. I quickly enter my quarters and sigh a relief as I fall on to my rack.
I think on what Damien talked about. Damien is my brother, only a few years apart. We were close all through our childhood and even joined up at the same time. Our training unit saw the cohesion we had with one another and, though an obscure thing, command decided they would assign us, siblings, to a specialized two-man team. It was all a rather crazy thing at first.
Damien and I expected to go our separate ways after Basic. Then we ended up together again at Shock Troop School. Ultimately, ending up together for the remainder of our contracts.
To be honest, I don’t think I would have made it through in one piece without Damien. Though we’re extremely synchronized with our tactics, Damien has always stood out from me in terms of combat effectiveness. He always knows what move to make at the right time. Seems only fitting that he’s the higher rank out of the two of us.
I snap awake at the sound of a knock on my door.
I wipe the grogginess from my eyes as the sound rings another two times. I stand up and stagger to the door, tapping a few times on the wall before my finger reaches the electronic pad. A blue light shines as my finger makes contact with the button, opening the door.
“Well if it isn’t my favorite wonder twin. Get dressed. We have watch together,”
I run a hand exaggeratedly down my face in annoyance. I hold a finger up as a silent ‘give me a minute’ before closing the door. I quickly throw my uniform on and strap my service pistol to my left thigh before opening the door again.
Jake still stands there, looking at me sarcastically and tapping on his watch. I roll my eyes and step out of my quarters, beginning to walk the halls with Jake.
“Why the hell did I take this stupid watch. I don’t even have to do watches,” I wonder out loud.
“Because…you were being a good guy and letting Sanders spend an extra off duty with his wife in sick bay. Besides, you get to spend a day with your old pal, Jake,” He explains with a cheery tone.
I sigh “I guess,”
Jake places a hard smack on my shoulder “Don’t be such a downer. It’s just a watch,”
“I hate watch,” I say, trying to remain in my bad mood.
Jake shakes his head at me “Alright Debbie, I’ll let you wallow in your self-pity,”
I look at him with a grimace “Bitch,” I say bluntly.
He lightly chuckles “Jackass,”
A smirk forms on my face, lightening my mood.
Jake was here a couple years before this ship became my duty station. We met at the chow hall one day and hit it off. After that we’d make daily appointments to sit down and bs during lunch and dinner, whenever I wasn’t out on an op at the time. Usually when I’d come back, we’d always have a beer or two the next night in celebration of me keeping my head.
Jake had already been in five years by the time we met. He used to do the same thing I did and so it made it easy to talk him about everything I’d experience planetside. He said he took a rather large piece of shrapnel during a mission one time and that’s why he was repositioned as security detail.
He always seems to walk fine to me, but I don’t press the issue too much with him. I can see that he gets agitated whenever I bring it up.
Jake and I wander the maze of hallways that trace the entire length of the ship. We’re supposed to look for anything that looks unusual, but let’s face it, nothing ever goes out of the ordinary on the Hercules.
The Hercules is what we call an attic ship. It sits at an empty, fringe area of space, serving as a port station for various operators that come and go in transit to a new mission. Damien and I were some of the lucky few that were actually stationed here. It hasn’t seen combat in ages and essentially acts like a glorified space station where business runs as usual.
A security watch usually just consists of walking around bullshitting for eight hours until you’re relieved, where the next two people resume your previous activity.
Which is exactly what Jake and I did.
Time passed rather quickly between the stupid jokes and the boredom antics and before I knew it, Jake and I were disarming ourselves and preparing to turn over to the next shift.
I lean my shoulder against the wall as Jake turns his sidearm over to the armory supervisor. The supervisor does a quick visual inspection of the pistol and places it on the workbench.
He motions towards me “You got something for me?” He asks.
I rotate my arm towards him and tap the patch on my shoulder a few times. He looks and nods before taking the pistol Jake returned and placing it on one of the racks.
I notice Jake staring at me with a raised eyebrow and a coy smirk.
“…What?” I ask, giving him the answer he wants.
Jake waves his hands at me “Ooo, look at me, I’m Ethan Blake, big bad special forces guy. I get to carry my gun on me at all times,” He says before giving a joking smile.
His antics cause my bad mood to break the rest of the way and I can’t help but to laugh and shake my head at him.
“You’re an idiot,” I state plainly.
“You hang out with me, so what does that make you?” Jake responds rhetorically.
“Wh—” I’m cut off by the sound of a loud crash in the distance and the feeling that the ship had just shifted majorly to the right.
The jerking of the ship causes Jake and I to stumble over. My shoulder crashes against the wall, a jolt of pain shooting through my arm. Jake stumbles to one knee and catches himself before he collides with the wall himself.
I rotate my shoulder around as I stand up, ensuring there’s no serious damage.
“What the hell was that?” I ask aloud.
“Nothing good. Spencer, I’m gonna need a rifle,” Jake commands.
“On it, boss,” The armory super says as he lifts a standard issue rifle off a rack and tosses it into Jake’s hands.
Spencer proceeds to lay out a number of magazines for Jake as well.
“Let me gear up and find Damien. I’ll link back up with you ASAP,” I say to Jake as he loads a magazine and charges the bolt.
Spencer lays down a couple of radios and Jake tosses me one.
“Channel three. I’ll be on it,” He states simply.
I nod my head and hurry back to my quarters. I stop for nothing as I run through the hallways, making turns left and right, weaving my way back to my desperately needed equipment. As I turn one of the final corners, I’m made aware of exactly what’s going on here.
I come to a near screeching stop as I see Sekrid soldiers open fire on a group of research personnel directly in front of me. I quickly dive to the left, behind the safety of a corner as the rounds flash by me. Sweat begins to bead down my face and my heart rate quickens, causing my breathing to follow.
I quietly pull my sidearm from my thigh, racking a round into the chamber, throwing off the safety. I recalibrate my breathing and focus my mind on the task at hand. I turn my head around the corner so that only an eye is peeking down the hallway. I notice that the group of Sekrid commandos has shrunk, leaving three left, laughing and joking as they point at the dead bodies of my shipmates.
I return to my previous position, clenching my jaw in anger.
I reach up and key the mic on my radio.
“Sec Lead. Copy,”
“Copy you, Jaeger,”
“We have Sekrid,”
“You heard me, man,”
I hear the sound of a sigh over the mic “Shit. Well, it was only a matter of time. What’s your position?”
“Research hallway. Five tack two-three tack niner,” I relay.
I glance around the corner once more, noticing the Sekrid heading my direction.
“Stay there, I’ll be there shortly,” Jake orders.
“No time Sec Lead. Do your job and evacuate civvies. I’ll start mopping these lizards up. Gotta go,” I say quickly before switching off the radio and rounding the corner at a full-blown sprint.
I know that my pistol doesn’t have nearly enough power to punch through the Sekrid body armor, let alone their hide. The only option I have is to get up close and personal. The Sekrid soldiers notice me and raise their rifles. As they open fire, I fall into a slide, firing a few rounds myself into the ceiling lights above them to distract.
The lights flicker and glass falls over their heads and shoulders, causing the commandos to flinch, opening them up to my attack. I place a hard kick in the center commando’s groin, forcing him to double over. I raise my pistol and deliver a well-placed shot into the top of his head, lambent blue spurts into my face.
I roll left and before I’m able to recover, the Sekrid on that side takes hold of me, lifting me effortlessly into the air. He runs me to the nearest wall and slams me hard against it. I feel my head ricochet off the hard surface, causing my vision to flash and my mind to daze.
I come to as the Sekrid raises his sidearm to my face. My heart stops briefly as I jerk my head to the side. There’s a sonic ring as the gun fires, placing the stray round into the wall behind me. I take hold of the commando’s arm and swing my legs around it, rotating myself into a jerking twist to gain leverage.
The Sekrid does a full flip, landing on his back on the floor. I notice the remaining commando move towards me. Before he can cease my assault I quickly move into a kneeling position, still maintaining my leverage on the primary commando.
I rotate the commando’s wrist with prejudice, what follows is a sickly crackle of bones dislocating and snapping underneath flesh. Removing my boot knife from its sheathe, I end the commando’s life with a swift penetration of his skull.
His body goes limp. I jump up from the floor and face off with the remaining Sekrid. He glares at me before tossing his rifle to the side, pulling a much larger knife than mine from the back of his belt. We circle around each other, anticipating the impending confrontation.
I notice the commandos hand twitch before he suddenly lunges at me, slashing his large blade across my body. I step backwards, narrowly dodging the killing blow. I feel the hot sting of the blade’s cut across my chest. I flip my knife in to a reversed grip and charge the Sekrid head on.
He reactively pulls his blade back and thrusts it forward as I bring mine down from overhead. The sound of contact echoes and the two of us stand like statues.
My hand trembling, I look down to discover that the Sekrid has missed me, save for a slash on my ribs. I look up into his eyes and watch as the life slowly drains from them and he falls to the floor. I let the knife fall from my hand, realizing that it’s unmovably embedded into his skull.
I collect myself for a moment before continuing my run to my quarters. Upon arriving, I nearly crash through the door as it opens. I turn on the lights and look up to see the barrel of a gun in my face. Damien realizes it’s me and lowers it.
It’s then that I witness what he’s been through.
A mixture of glowing blue and dark crimson paint his face. His clothes are torn in various places and I notice a patch of blood on the left edge of his stomach.
“The hell happened to you?” I ask surprised.
“Sons of bitches came through the fucking galley bulkhead when I was in the middle of dinner,” Damien shakes his head. “All those people. All those damn people,” He says, thumping down on my rack, holding his face in his hands, still clutching his sidearm.
He looks at his hands, noticing the blood on them that transferred from his face and frantically begins wiping the rest of it from his forehead and cheeks.
“You good, brother?” I ask simply.
“Yeah…yeah I’m good,”
“Then get your shit together. We need to go find Jake, “
Damien stares at me for a moment before standing up, checking his rounds remaining, and shaking the tired from his body. I give an approving nod and gather my gear. I quickly put on my ballistic vest and remove my rifle from the far corner, inserting a magazine and charging a round into the chamber.
I run my fingers over the self-engraved nickname ‘Jaeger’ for luck before taking my place next to Damien at the opposite side of the door.
We both take a tactical stance as I lift a hand to the door’s opening mechanism.
“Ready?” I ask.
Damien gives me a silent nod.
I tap the button and the door slides open. Without delay, Damien and I turn out of either side of the door, our weapons trained down range. I feel tap on my shoulder and instinctively move ahead to the nearest corner, quickly turning around it.
“This area looks clear,” I point out.
“I recommend we pick up the pace to Jake then,” Damien adds.
I turn the radio that Jake gave back on and key the mic.
“Sec Lead, Jaeger,”
“What the fuck took you so long?” I hear blurt over the mic.
“Sekrid were all over. Had to deal with them, what’s your location?”
“Hangar bay. I’m trying to keep everyone hidden, but Sekrid are searching,”
“Copy that. We’ll be on you ASAP,”
I turn the radio off again and turn to Damien, concern on my face.
“We need to double time,” He says.
Without response I turn and start running towards Jake’s position. I hear Damien’s footsteps close behind me. My vision tunnels as my focus narrows.
I’m not losing another friend to this war.
As I round the final corner leading to the hangar bay, my eyes gaze upon a one-sided firefight. On one side, Jake is covered behind large metal crates, blind-firing his weapon.
On the other side sits a squad of Sekrid, ever advancing, albeit slowly on Jake’s position.
I look at Damien over my shoulder as he catches up to me. I wave a hand in the direction of Jake’s position and run inside. I take cover behind one of the various ships and take advantage of the element of surprise. I take a deep breath in and aim around the corner, focusing my sights on a Sekrid soldier. I exhale and squeeze the trigger, firing a burst of rounds.
I switch my sights to another Sekrid, and then another. Three of them fall before the commandos notice my presence and start firing on my position.
Damien resumes my fire as I take cover, allowing Jake to have relief.
Jake and I look at each other, I motion a hand “Let’s go!” I order through the gunfire.
He steps out from his cover and I notice him double take something. He looks back at me. I stare at him confused for a moment before he darts off towards the Sekrid commandos.
“What the fuck is he doing?!” Damien calls out.
I look around the corner and watch on as Jake runs toward a female researcher and a young child.
“Goddamn it,” I say to myself as I step out from behind cover entirely.
I advance forward, letting loose a hail of bullets, trying to cover Jake the best I can. It’s not long before I’m forced to take cover again behind a set of crates.
I watch as Jake reaches the civilians and begins to lay down suppressing fire as he urges them to run. It’s as if time slows as I witness the round enter through Jake’s chest, causing sparks to fly as it bursts through his chest armor. Then once again as it exits through his back. He falls backwards and lands with a metallic thud, lying lifeless. I duck behind the crates, my brain processing the what I just witnessed.
I feel the rage slowly build until it boils over. The last thing I remember seeing is red before blacking out.