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Chapter 24

She sets the shuttle on course for Earth. Even though being in space was more fun and calmer than she thought, she’s excited to return. It should be nice to step foot on the planet and feel gravity again, the normal way. Well, there’s really no “normal” way, is there? Everything’s relative. “Okay, guys. We are about to reenter atmosphere. Strap in and prepare yourselves,” the cosmonaut informs them. Takashi is still resting against the wall, sitting on the floor. “Baby, come on. We gotta sit down,” she tells him. “I am sitting down,” he says, still tired and not in the mood.” “Haha, come on.” “Oookaaayyy.” “Come on, guys!” Sergey shouts to them, having already sat down. They each take one of the seats and strap in the damn seatbelts, cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. The electrical systems get a little haywirey again, but it’s just a glitch like before, so she dismisses it. It’s too late now anyway. The shuttle starts to rumble and burn as they finally enter the atmosphere. “Hold on, guys!!!” The exterior layer breaks up a bit, small pieces only, but it’s holding up. “Arrrreee yooouuu surrreee we’re okayyyy???!” Olivia asks. “We--eee ss--hhould b--b-beee!!” she replies. They’re coming in fast, they have to be to make it in one piece, and even that’s not a guarantee. “This is it, baby!!!! Hahahahaha!!!” Andrei screams, half-crazily. They can finally see the clouds in all their white fluffiness.

Things should start to calm down right about now as they’ve successfully reentered. “Alright, ladies and gentleman. We have made it past the difficult part,” the cosmonaut says, “we should be landing soon.” The system continues to briefly glitch again, causing her to get a little frustrated. “Ay, come on. Just hold on a little longer,” she says to it. They’re almost there anyway, so she dismisses it. It’s just a glitch after all. “Where are we landing again?” Olivia asks, still shaking off that part. “Moscow International Airport. We are going to use their landing strip. It should be enough for a ship of this size.” “Oh, okay,” she replies, not really caring at this point, too tired. They’re both just glad that it’s all over, finally. “What should we do after this?” she asks him. He chuckles, “I don’t know. After all this craziness, I’m pretty much down for anything. Dinner’s on me, tonight.” “Hahaha, it’s a date.” They’re finally coming up on the airport visible in front of them, though they’re coming in from a different direction and angle. She needs to turn the shuttle around to be in the right position. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Please hold on as we are about to make a landing soon,” she announces. She activates the landing gear and begins to descend a little, while turning to get to the right position. Takashi knows that thump anywhere. The sound of the landing gear going out, the sort of hydraulic sound that it makes as it does so; the sound it makes as it grinds with the air… He clenches the seat handle tightly and braces himself, taking a deep breath. His muscles tense up a little. He doesn’t really know why, but he hates planes and flying in them, always has. It just makes him nervous and anxious. Yet he has no problem flying around on his own. Well, that’s a different experience, a different feeling, I suppose. She grabs his hand to calm him down a bit. Though that’s something she remembers. “Why do you hate planes?” she asks. “Shut up, just… Please, let’s just get this over with,” he replies. She laughs, “Okay,” enthusiastically, trying to be cheerful. They’re still pretty high up, still turning, though they can already see the ground below. “Sorry, guys. We have to circle around. From this direction, the tail wind is too fast. I would not be able to control the shuttle. Just hold on, we will be there soon,” she explains. Seeing Takashi freak out over this brings back another memory from the past.

At the airport, he was already worried and a little stressed at the prospect of getting on board a plane. “Hey, relax,” she said to him. He calmed down a little, “Right…relax.” He took a deep breath. They were waiting at the gate for boarding, which was only a few more minutes away. “I think this is gonna be fun,” she told him. “Yeahaha, should be. Why did we pick Moscow again? It’s soo far, which means a long plane ride.” “Haha, why are you afraid of flying again?” “I don’t know, I just…I hate planes, okay? It’s not really the flying.” “Attention, passengers, Gate 17 for Flight 42 to Moscow is now open. I repeat, Gate 42 for Moscow is now open. We will now begin boarding for the Moscow flight. Passengers please have boarding passes ready before the gate. Thank you,” the announcer announced. “Oh, shit,” he said. “Please try to relax. Come on.” The line was a bit long and they decided to wait until most have passed through. It wasn’t like they were rushing anyway. Most of them were Russian, going back home to see family and friends, but there were a few other nationals too, mostly Americans. “Come on, let’s go,” she said seeing that most people have gone in. She grabbed her blue denim jacket and backpack, put the jacket on over her white Japanese hamburger t-shirt, and went in line. Takashi, trying to calm himself down and relax, got up more slowly. He put on his green, military-style jacket over his light green chemistry t-shirt, and then grabbed his bag. He took another deep breath before joining her in line. It was like everything started to warp slightly, his reality. Everything seemed to be against him, plotting his downfall. Well, not really that different from his experiences in his life, but somehow it was. It being midnight didn’t help at all, with everything dark outside. She held his hand to try and relax him. And for a while, it worked. Looking at her gave a little reprieve from that feeling. “Good evening, guys. I just need to see your boarding passes,” the gate attendant said. “Huh?!” he was shocked from her voice. His mind was wandering. “Uh, I need to see your boarding passes,” she repeated herself. “Yes, of course. Here you go,” Olivia gave both of theirs, “Sorry, he’s a not a fan of flying, haha.” “It’s alright, we get that around here from time to time. Sir, I can tell you that it’s completely safe.” “Haha, I’m sure it is,” he replied. “Alright, here you go. Enjoy your flight.” “Thank you.” With that out of the way, they entered.

They had to go through that long corridor that leads to the door of the plane where they were greeted by the cabin crew. Finding their seats was no big deal, though with the cramped space and lots of people, it made it difficult and annoying. After putting their bags on top, they took their seats. The captain announced their flight plan and they prepared for takeoff. The takeoff was unnerving for him too. He kept holding Olivia’s hand tightly, shaking. And eventually they were off the ground. “Sweetie, relax. Everything’s gonna be okay,” she told him. “I know,” he said, still worried, “just let me handle it, okay?” She chuckled, “Okay,” shaking her head. And pretty soon the plane was on its way to Moscow.

They were already hours into their flight. Olivia checked her TV screen for their flight path, checking how much longer they’ve got. “See, only 2 hours left,” she said. “2 hours… Great,” he replied, “why is it still so long??” It also didn’t help that the weather outside was pretty bleak, with rain and thunderclouds about. Maybe sitting at the window seat wasn’t such a good idea for him. It didn’t seem like a good idea, even though it was his decision to do so. He was surely regretting it by then. “Why don’t you watch a movie?” she grabbed a magazine from the seat pocket. “I don’t know, it feels weird with the tray open. When are they gonna take it??” “Relax, they’ll be here. Just calm down.” She turned around to see the cart was actually behind them on the corridor, just a few minutes away from their seats. “See, it’s coming.” “Yeah, they may look close, but it takes them awhile to actually get here, just so you know.” She stopped reading, turned to him, and grabbed his hand. “Baby, relax. Please?” she smiled. He looks at her too, and then nods, calming down. Suddenly the plane started shaking, encountering a minor turbulence. “Ohhhhh, shit!” The cart shook a little bit too, but it’s just another day at the office for the flight attendants. They practically experience this almost everyday, it became second nature. “It’s just a turbulence, completely normal,” she tried to calm him down. He slowed down his breathing and relaxed. “I know, I know. I’m…I’m fine,” he smiled. “Okay.” She resumed perusing through the in-flight magazine. He looked out the window again and saw the lightning zipping by through and among the clouds. They were sitting at the window seat near the left wing of the plane, and of course his mind, at his heightened state, saw the illusion of the proximity of the lightning to the wing. What if it actually hits it?? We could fall, he thought. That obviously didn’t help with his current state and he closed the shades to avoid seeing it and calmed himself down. He took another deep breath.

The cart finally arrived at their seats and offered to take their tray away. “Yes, please,” he said. “Thank you,” she said. She stowed them away and asked them if they would wanna request something else. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked. “I would like some peanuts, thank you,” Olivia told her, “baby?” “I would like some peanuts too, thank you. And, uh, I would also like some milk, please.” “Of course, sir. I will be right back.” “Thank you.” Finally he could put his tray back up, making it a little bit more spacious again. He could finally stretch his legs again without having to worry about hitting the tray and knocking the food over or something like that. He felt free-er. “Oh, finally. That feels good,” he said, “haha, getting peanuts on a plane. Like in the movies, huh?” “Hahaha, I guess so. I’m glad you’re more relaxed now.” He actually wasn’t, not really. “Yeah well, distractions help. But in the end, they’re still just distractions. Once it breaks, once it unravels…everything comes flooding back, and then you feel everything again…” he told her. “True, but it doesn’t have to. Distractions help us to forget about it for a moment, but it’ll still be there. Don’t just get rid of it or forget it. You have to…accept it. Accept that it’s a part of you. And then you let it go. Acceptance is a very powerful thing,” she explained. “Yes it is. Ohh, I know. Trust me. Too bad that’s something I can never do.” “That’s what you think…until you do it. When you accept who you are, you’re gonna be happy, you know?” He looked away, trying not to think about it. (Thinking about it usually just makes it worse) But he knew she was right, he could feel it. Yet somehow he still couldn’t do it. He wasn’t ready. The stewardess finally came back with their peanuts and a glass of milk. “There you go, guys. Is there anything else I could help you with?” she asks. “No, that’s okay. Thank you.” “Alright, enjoy.” He was happy to finally receive his milk and peanuts, but that meant he had to lower the tray again. “Great,” he said sarcastically. “What’ve I been telling you? Don’t think about it too much. It’ll only worry you. Just let it flow.” “That’s nice. Right…” He opens the bag and quickly starts eating it. “Slow down,” she said. “I’m sorry, they’re really good. And it helps with the…with the nerves, you know.” After finishing, he took his time drinking the milk, enjoying it. He then turned on his TV screen to see what’s on. He doesn’t really watch anything during flights, the few that he has, he usually just flips through the screen over and over trying to not be bored. This flight was no different. He flipped through the many options and just saw what’s there. Even if he did watch something, he wouldn’t have really watched it watched it. The constant loud background noise always makes sure that you basically can’t hear anything through the headphones. The brightness is never right and is always too high. But hey, it’s good to pass the time it seems. Though that time, he passed on that. He felt tired and would rather sleep, which he did, giving the now empty glass to a passing stewardess and closed his tray back up. Covering himself with the blanket, “Wake me up when we’re actually closer,” he told her. “Haha, sure. Sweet dreams.”

The shuttle’s rumbling snaps her back to the present. She turns to Takashi to see him still trying to calm down. The rumbling does not help at all. After turning around, the strip is now directly in front of them and in the right position. “Alright, here we go!” Alexandra says. And again, he grabs hold of Olivia’s hand, tightly. He’s anticipating it, waiting for it, when the wheels make contact with the ground. Thump!! “Oh, shit!!” he shouts. His grip on her hand tightens even more. She turns to him, but just smiles, happy, enjoying the moment. Even though it’s starting to hurt a bit, she’s okay with it. Coupled with the air brakes deploying, it makes that kinda grinding sound as it hits the air. Oh, he doesn’t like that. Not one bit. After a few seconds, they finally slow down to normal ground speed. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Moscow.” He’s still shaking and breathing quickly. “Baby? It’s okay. We’re here. Haha, can I have my hand back now?” she tells him. He turns to him, still shaking a little, “Right, sorry.” “It’s okay. Calm down, it’s over.” He nods, “I know, trying. Just give me a minute.”

Alexandra follows the path of the road to the docking area and stops. But of course they don’t dock, it just feels better to be closer. I suppose it does. She unbuckles herself and heads back to the rest. “We have finally arrived. Shall we go outside and celebrate?” she asks them. “Yes, please. Let’s go outside,” Takashi says. “Da, let us egress,” Sergey adds, unbuckling. “Oh, by the way, you guys can take off your EVAs now.” She herself is wearing the standard orange cosmonaut suit underneath, the Russian flag on her left shoulder and the Roscosmos logo on her upper-left chest. She then opens the door and activates the slide. Andrei and Sergey jump out and slide down first. “Woooooo hoooooo!!!” they yell out. Olivia then walks up with Takashi. “Are you okay, my friend?” she asks him. “Yeahaha, just…just need a few more minutes,” he answers. “If it’s okay, I think I’m just gonna carry him out,” Olivia says. “Of course. See you guys on the ground.” She then slides down, “Whooooooo!!!!” “Alright, come on. We’re gonna levitate out, okay?” “No2, it’s okay. I wanna slide down. Should be fun,” he says, smiling. “Are you sure?” “Yeah, let’s do it.” “Okay. You first.” “No, together.” She nods and they hold hands before jumping out and sliding down. “Woooooo hoooooooo!!!! Yeah!!!!!”

It feels nice to hit that asphalt, to feel gravity and step on the ground again—well, technically it's not the ground ground, but close enough—and the feel of the wind on their faces, the breeze…also amazing. “Lucky the blizzard didn’t hit this part of town, huh?” Olivia says, “otherwise that landing would’ve been, well, impossible.” “Yes, I agree,” Sergey nods. “There was a blizzard??” the cosmonaut asks. “Yeah, the aliens changed the weather on a certain part of the city to slow us down. They made it snow and caused a blizzard,” Takashi explains. “Shit,” she replies, it’s unbelievable. Takashi grabs Olivia by the hip and pulls her over. “So where to now, boss? Hahaha,” he asks jokingly and gives her a kiss. “Hahaha, I don’t know. Anywhere but here, I guess. It’s too bad about all these people who died though. And it wasn’t even because of the aliens.” “Yeah. When you’re fighting scary alien creatures, you forget that humans can be evil too,” Takashi adds. “Do not worry, my friends. We will rebuild…we have to,” Andrei tells them. “Let us go,” Sergey says. After much deserved pats in the back, they start walking to find an entrance to the terminal. But the shuttle then has another bout of electrical malfunction, bigger this time, causing all manner of rumbling to it. “Ah, what is wrong with her??” the cosmonaut asks. She runs back to check the wirings underneath, maybe it’s still damaged. The shuttle rumbles faster, it looks like it’s gonna explode. “Argh!!” she exclaims having been electrocuted. Andrei runs over to help her up and gets her out of there. The others join in to help, taking her off his hands. He turns back to try and fix it himself. But the rumbling then suddenly stops and everything inside shuts down. “Well, at least it stopped,” Takashi says. “Andrei, you okay?” his friend asks. He nods gently before turning around to give him a ‘thumbs up’.

“You alright?” Olivia asks her. “Yes, I am unharmed,” she replies. “You sure? That looked like a nasty shock.” “I am fine. Just, damn, that hurt like a son of a bitch, haha.” Her right hand is a little burned, but she’ll be okay. She stands back up and says to Sergey, “What is wrong with your friend?” They all turn back to him to see what she means. He’s just standing there looking all weird. “Everything alright, man?” Takashi asks. “Yes, I…I just felt strange for a mom--- Arrgghh!!!” I can’t even begin to describe the shock that they feel and are now expressing by what just happened all of a sudden. Something has pierced through his chest with a surge of electricity. “Andrei!!! NooooooooooO!!!!!!” Sergey screams for his friend. A bundle of electricity appears behind him from the shuttle, forming into the queen. Andrei starts to dissipate and is finally absorbed, in front of their very eyes, transforming to electrical energy flowing through her tentacle. It then steps out from underneath the shuttle into the open, its height concealed by it, now standing upright, tall, huge, and furiously in front of them. They did just destroy her ship.

“Alexandra, where are all the weapons?” Sergey asks her. “Inside the shuttle…” she answers. “Shit!” “What do we do?” Olivia asks quietly. It then gives a loud roar, sparking electricity as her tentacles spring outwards. The shuttle behind it explodes in sparks from her energy in an excellent fireworks display. “Run…RUUUNN!!!!” It starts rushing to them. Takashi motions his hand and levitates a nearby luggage car and throws it at her, slowing her down a little, but not by much. Seeing it ineffective, he quickly runs the other way to join the others. He jumps and tries to fly, but is too weakened and tired to do so, only succeeding to levitate for a few seconds. It smashes the car away and continues its pursuit of them, no hesitation. They enter the airport through one of the doors and hastily run up the escalator heading to one of the waiting areas. It smashes through the door, shattering the walls and nearby window and jumps up to their floor. “Guys, just go. We’ll hold it off,” Olivia says “Nooo!!! We stick together!!!” Sergey disagrees. “Goooo!!!” As it approaches, she jumps and punches it in the face with an energy burst. Takashi follows through with several of his own, successfully knocking her back a few meters. Olivia then slams it back down to the lower floor. She crouches at its chest, and they have a stare down, “Why won’t you just die?” she says. It just growls at her. She gives it another good punch to the face, but it grabs her and throws her to through the ceiling in retaliation. Takashi grabs and leans against the glass railing, tired. It roars at him and uses its tentacles to rip the concrete from the walls and throws it at him. He dodges it, barely, as it breaks the railing and falls down. It jumps up and stands menacingly over him. “Well, what are you waiting for??!?!?!” he yells at it. It grabs him and picks him up. He psychically head butts it, sending out an energy wave. Course he was too tired for that to actually do anything. Olivia then emerges from the ceiling, smashing through it, and rams the queen, sending them all through the glass door and into the waiting area. Takashi slips from the queen’s grips and flies off at the last second to avoid being crushed, landing on his back at the lower corridor. He looks up then lowers his head, breathing a sigh of relief.

Sergey and Alexandra already went down the set of escalators at the waiting area, heading further into the airport to the main area. Sergey and Alexandra reach the main area and, feeling tired, decides to rest on one of the row of chairs available. “Do you think they made it?” the cosmonaut asks. “Do not doubt them, they are a very tough bunch,” he answers, having faith in them. They can hear the booms and crashes from their fight from here. But they’ll be okay; at least that’s what he’s hoping. They have to be. You two better make it here, he thinks to himself. “So what do we do now? How are we supposed to kill that thing without our weapons?” she asks. “I do not know, Alexandra,” he replies. He’s still reeling in from his best friend’s death. Even now he still can’t believe that he’s gone. For the first time in a long time, a tear flows from his eyes to his cheek. Unable to hold it in anymore, he eventually bursts into tears. It’s hard seeing a friend lose a friend. The cosmonaut doesn’t know what to do, so she just sits there. Though she doesn’t wanna just do nothing either while her friend is in distress. But what could she say?? “Sergey? Sergey! Listen to me, my friend. I can see that it is very hard, seeing him die like that. But we have to focus right now. He would not have wanted us to give up. He would have wanted us to finish the mission and kill that, that thing…and save the world. I am sorry, I am not very good with this. But what do you say? Shall we finish this for Andrei?” she extends her hand to him in an effort to get him back. He’s fighting it with everything he’s got, trying to snap out of it. He knows that that’s what they have to do, and he knows that they have to finish this. Instead, right now he’s reminiscing his time with Andrei when they were in the Russian Armed Forces.

It was near the end of the second Chechen war in the North Caucasus Region. As part of the Russian Ground Forces, Sergey and Andrei were sent in to the city of Grozny, along with their regiment, to deliver the final blow to the separatist movement. Russia was already winning against them, having already taken back control of most of the region. Speaking in Russian, “Why looking so gloom, my friend?? We’re about to win this war! Let’s rock,” Andrei said to his friend. Sergey still looked as serious as ever wearing his light green camo military uniform, a standard of the Russian Ground Forces. Over it he wore a dark green flak jacket. Though he wasn’t wearing a helmet, instead was wearing his usual bandana. “Sergey, what’s wrong??” “Hmmm,” he snapped out of his contemplation, “oh, nothing. It’s just this war…it’s caused nothing but thousands of unnecessary deaths and destruction.” Andrei leaned forward to his friend, “Well, that’s why we’re here, right? We’re gonna stop all that. We can’t change the past, but…we can make sure that it stops here and doesn’t continue further.” Hearing his friend’s speech did snap him out of his slump as the signal lighted up. “Alright, men!!! This is it!!! Get ready!!!” he yelled to his unit. The helicopter landed in the middle of Zavodskoy City District and the ramp opened for them to deploy. “Aaaarrrgggghhhhh!!!!” they screamed as they ran out. As soon as the helicopter took off, it wasn’t even far above the ground yet, it was immediately shot down by a rocket launcher and explode. “Nooooooooo!!!!!” the captain screamed for his fallen comrades. Immediately they encountered plenty of insurgents shooting and yelling at them. They took cover behind the plenty of debris scattered around the area. “What’s going on?? I thought they surrendered!!” Andrei asked. “It doesn’t matter! Shoot them!!” he ordered. The city was basically a wasteland now because of the war, what with thousands of civilian casualties and hundreds of destroyed buildings. They successfully managed to pick them off and finally advance. “Command, we are advancing!” he updated. “Roger that, captain. Head over to the Grozny City Towers, you know your mission. Over.” “Command, wait. There are still lots of enemy soldiers about. I thought they told their forces to stand down?” “….just follow your orders, captain. Remember the mission. Over and out.” “Yes, sir,” he said, annoyed. With that, they made their way there, paving a way through the chaotic and random militants along the way. On the way, they passed many victims of the senseless violence and destruction. Many houses, buildings, and apartments were also destroyed, reduced to rubble. Seeing all that firsthand brought about those mixed feelings again for Sergey. He didn’t know what to think or feel. But he was a soldier. He had his orders and had to follow them. Though that doesn’t mean he was indifferent to everything. He still had a conscience. But he couldn’t think about it too much. Like his friend said before, all the more reason for them to finish this as soon as they could. He shook it off and focused on getting to their objective so they could end it. He was dead set on it. Though he didn’t know what they were really there for. If he did, would he have done things differently knowing full well what the consequences were?

As they approached the towers, they were surprised by the lack of resistance in this part of town. Only a few actually fought back, the rest either let them through or were just sitting down out of the way, talking and smoking. “Just go through that gate, we’ve been waiting for you guys” one of them even said. He was confused by what that meant, but continued on. Parts of the towers were already destroyed and one of them was burning, engulfed in flames. Though the main tower was relatively unharmed. At the entrance gate, they were surprised to find that the mayor and the military commander were already waiting for them, alone and unarmed. Of course they were suspicious of their motives, not releasing their sights on them. Sergey and Andrei approached them carefully, “You monsters. This ends today,” Sergey said. “Of course, captain. As per the agreement,” the mayor told him. “Then why didn’t you tell your forces to stand down??! They kept shooting at us and destroyed one of our choppers! Killing a few good people.” “Yes, unfortunately not all of our men agreed to the terms. A few of them defected and formed their own scattered group. But I’m sure it was nothing that you couldn’t handle,” the commander spoke. “Urgh!” he stepped closer to him, angry and pressing his gun to the commander’s cheeks. “We cannot control them. They’re a bunch of delusional maniacs.” “Like you?” “Captain? Captain! Let him go,” command spoke to him, “that’s an order, captain. Remember your mission.” He grit his teeth before finally releasing him, reluctantly. “Now, captain. Tomorrow morning you and your team will give safe passage to the mayor and all the high-ranking officers and escort them to the nearby village of Alkhan-Kala where an airlift will be waiting. Is that understood, captain?” they explained. “With all due respect, sir, you should just send an airlift here,” he suggested. “That area’s too hot for extraction. As you’ve found out, some of the militants are still active. Just do as you’re told, captain.” “With all due respect, sir, you should’ve warned us about the defectors too.” “We didn’t know too, captain. Now I suggest you stop wasting time with this chitchat and focus on protecting yourselves and the package. That’s an order. Command out.” “Yes, sir,” he held his tongue. “So what are we doing?” Andrei asked him. The captain looked at him before turning to the mayor, “We have to get inside. Start walking, now,” he told them. The thought of working together, worse, protecting the very people who caused all this mayhem and chaos disturbed him. He didn’t like it one bit, but what could he do? He had his order and his mission.

With that, he gathered with Andrei and his men and conveyed to them the plan. The tower area was too big and wide to cover with only ten men, so they would cover the front and main entrance while Sergey and Andrei stay with the mayor and the officers inside. “There are only a few defectors, low-level. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Sergey explained, “understood??” “Yes, sir!!” they answered. “Good, let’s do it!” They took positions around the entrance while the captain and his friend escort the good mayor and the commander inside. Inside, the lobby interior was unharmed and still looks amazing to their surprise. It had a big crystalline chandelier in the middle of the room with a round table below it, decorated with an assortment of flower arrangements. On the left side was the reception desk and office, while at the far back on the corner-right was a gathering area for waiting guests filled with comfy armchairs and tables with complimentary drinks. There was also a window to view the towers’ small garden in the back. They went past all that and headed straight for the elevators to the left of the waiting area. He pressed the button to call it. “Still beautiful, right? This whole place used to be beautiful like this,” the mayor spoke. “Yeah, until you guys came along and destroyed everything,” Andrei said. “We know what we’ve done, Lieutenant. That’s why we’re doing this. It’s enough. I actually look forward to the day where we don’t have to shoot at each other anymore,” he expressed his regret. “Get us out of here, captain, and we will do what we can to try and give back what we took. To rebuild,” the commander told them. Ding! The elevator bell rang. They entered and headed for the top floor. All of the high-ranking officers were held up there. From the top, they could see everything, providing a bird’s-eye view of the city. The place wasn’t bad either, from the carpeting to the walls and decoration… Not a bad place to stay in, if you could look past the overturned tables, barricaded doors, and rearranged furniture. The outside was no different, what with it mostly destroyed or in flames. They led the soldiers to their private suite where some of the officers lay. There was a dead body on the floor to the side, covered but you could still see the bloodstains. Another one was directly in front of the other one. “What happened here?” the captain asked. “Like we said, not everyone agreed to this surrender. And one of my friends had to pay the price for our ignorance,” the commander said with a regretful tone, “lots of people did.” Only then that the soldiers realized that maybe it was genuine. They really have regretted this war and all that it had wrought upon their country and people. Though a little doubt remained, it was then that they realized that these “monsters” were human too. Even with all the evil they’ve done, they were paying for it then.

“So what’s the plan then, captain?” the mayor asked. “We’re gonna stay here for the night while command prepares the airlift. Then tomorrow we take you to the village of Alkhan-Kala where you can be safe,” he answered. “Are you serious?? We still have to wait one more night??!” one of the officers said. “Unfortunately, yes. These are not my orders. There’s nothing we can do,” he explained, “don’t worry, we will protect you guys until then.” Reluctantly, they agreed—as if they had a choice in the matter anyway. Being a suite, the room was quite big and luxurious. The bed alone had more decorations than the flowers or the room itself. It sleeps two comfortably. And then of course you’ve got the TV area, the dining room, the balcony and the small patio. Holy shit. They even have an extra bed or two for guests. Well, not really, but technically it was their tower at that time and they could do whatever they want. “You two can sleep…wherever you want, it doesn’t really matter,” the commander told them, “we should rest for tomorrow. Are you sure your men can handle everything downstairs?” “They’ll be fine. They’re the best,” he said to him. He nodded, trusting the soldier. Sergey then went out to the balcony to look down. “Men, is everything quiet?” he radioed them. “Yes, sir. No activity so far. We’ll keep you posted,” he replied. “Roger that. Over and out.” When he came back inside, Andrei was kinda flirting with one of the women commanders. Really?? was all he could think of. He cleared his throat. “Captain,” he saluted, “I was just talking to our lovely young friend here.” She had long black hair and was wearing full military outfit, clothes, and skirt. She was clutching her beret, nervous of what could happen. And him flirting with her did not help. Her face was white and clean, covered in fading make-up. “Well, that’s enough talking for today. Focus,” his friend and captain said. “Yes, sir.” It didn’t look like he was getting anywhere anyway.

As they went away, Andrei motioned a phone call to her and she just looked confused. “Okay, that’s enough. What’s wrong with you??” “Hahaha, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, right?” he replied. “This is no joke, Andrei. We’re still at war, and we have a mission. So can you please get your head out of the gutter and focus?” Sergey told his friend quietly. Andrei’s expression went away and he got a little bit more serious. “Sorry, boss. Was just fooling around. I know why we’re here. I’ll shape up, promise.” “Just…” he sighed, “I just need you on this, okay? We’re still in hostile territory. I just wanna make sure that everyone makes it out alive.” “We will,” he grabbed his friend’s shoulder, trying to reassure him. He was pretty tense. Well, being in the middle of a war would make a person tense, but this was a little different. He was battling his own demons that day, his mixed feelings about the war and these people. And how the hell are they supposed to protect 50-something men and women?? His face was quite tense, trying to keep it together. “Hey, Sergey. We can handle this. We always do,” he smiled at him. The captain nodded, regaining his composure and confidence.

At nightfall, most of them had already fallen asleep. The lieutenant was feeling pretty tired too, but he couldn’t leave his friend alone to stand watch. Sergey was standing by the window, looking out as the glow of the moonlight shone in. The full moon was big and bright, its alluring glow attracted his attention. “Captain? Captain??”

“Hmm?! Yes, sorry. What is it?”

“I think we should get some rest too. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

“I know, but we still have to make sure that everything’s okay. What if they come back while we’re asleep??”

“Then the men will handle it. Like you yourself said, they can handle it.” Sergey was obviously very tired too, he really wanted to accept his friend’s offer, but…some part of him still felt uneasy. “Men, any activity at all?” he radioed them. “No, sir. Been quiet all night. A few of us were thinking of hitting the hay, actually. Two of us will be up of course. We’ll take shifts,” the sergeant answered, “but it looks like there won’t be too much trouble, captain. Maybe you should get some rest too, sir?” Reluctantly, “Understood. Perhaps I will, sergeant. You guys have a safe night. And inform us as soon as anything happens as it happens. Understood?” “Of course, sir. Have a good night, sir. Out.” “So?” Andrei asked. “Alright, you’re right. Let’s go rest,” he put his arm around his shoulder. “I’m sorry if I seem very tense on this mission,” he apologized. “My friend, you don’t need to apologize for anything. It’s okay,” Andrei reassured. “It just feels weird. Everything feels weird. The war’s finally coming to an end, and here we are helping the people who started it all.” They went to the adjacent room to the extra beds. It was nice. “It is strange. But it’s just the way it is. I try not to think about it too much. We just do what we can, right?” “I guess you’re right. These two beds are extremely amazing…and comfortable. I don’t think we’re allowed to sleep here,” he said. He then quickly jumped on it and lied down. It felt good after a day of fighting and stress. “Good night, captain.” “Good night, my friend.” Andrei dropped his gun and collapsed onto the other bed too.
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