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Chapter 26

It actually feels nice to be back inside a car. As fun as flying is, sometimes driving is just the way to go. Road trip! Moscow is about one hour away from the airport by car, so they have some time to rest too. Well, except for Sergey since he’s driving. And they don’t really wanna leave him awake alone, so they try to stay awake. Besides, the scenery’s not bad either. The city is slightly visible in the distance, but it’s nice to be around nature for a while. They pass through the countryside areas to get there, just grasslands and trees as far as the eye can see; the many cows graze and moo on the green grass. The silence inside the car feels a little weird, but it’s kinda good. They actually like it. It feels nice to just rest and not speak after a whole day—or more—of fighting. Just enjoy the peace. The weather actually turned from sunny to quite cloudy, though it hasn’t rained yet. Yet, the bleak-looking weather actually feels pretty nice. They don’t know why, it seems…natural.

Olivia grabs a sandwich, tuna, I believe, from the supply they brought and shares it with Takashi. There are two in the pack. “Sweetie, you want one?” she asks, handing him the other. He looks at it, starving, “Uhh, yeeess,” he answers. They eat it with great content, enjoying every bite and every wonderful taste they can feel in their mouths. Well, anything would seem wonderful after you haven’t eaten anything for a while, or in their case, a really long time. “Oh, my God. Thish ish sho good,” he says with a full mouth. She laughs at that, with a full mouth too, and nods in agreement. “Hey, you two. Do not spill food all over the carpet, please,” Sergey says to them. Swallowing, “We won’t. Relax,” they tell him. Eventually they pass beside a stream of water to their right, a river. It seems to be branching out from the lake. Though cause of the cloudy weather, the sun doesn’t gleam on the surface of the water, though the current’s still going strong. She opens her window to hear the sound of the rushing water filling the outside air as it also crashes against the various rocks along the way. “Whoooooooooo hooooooooo!!!!” she screams out at the top of her lungs. “You’re gonna hurt yourself, haha,” he tells her in a joking way. She climbs back in and says, “Well, what’s the point if you don’t have fun?” Hearing that, he decides, You know what? Fuck it!, and moves over to her side to do the same. He sticks his head and body out the window and screams at the top of his lungs, “Whoooooooooo hoooooooo!!!!!! Yeeeaaahhhhh, baaabbyyyyyy!!!!” He climbs back in breathing in and out, his facial expression showing the rush of adrenaline, feeling it. “That. Was freakin awesome.” “I told you, haha.” They both share a good laugh. And it feels nice to be able to laugh again without having to worry about some alien creature absorbing you or ripping your face off—or having a bunch of military dudes chasing you and shooting at you for that matter. Sergey and Alexandra just watch through the rearview mirror while the two young lovebirds are laughing and having fun in the back.

They continue to finish their sandwiches before it spoils or whatever it does. Though after that, they’ve kinda lost their appetite, but they finish it anyway. Waste not… Well, that’s what people say. They’re just famished. After that, a nice cold bottle of water to wash that all down sounds great. The road continues in a little spiral for a few meters before they return to a straight direction. “Wheeeeeee, hahaha,” Takashi and Olivia shout out during the spin. He then gets a small bag of chips from the bag, rips it open, and starts eating it. “Hey, I want some. May I have?” Alexandra says. “Of course,” Olivia replies, handing her another bag. “Thank you very much.” She tries to give one chip to Sergey, but he doesn’t want one… At least not right now. He’s too concentrated on his driving and doesn’t feel like anything. “Later,” he says. Anyway, the city now lies just in front of them, though it’s still a few kilometers away. But they just enjoy the moment…

Though it’s cloudy, rain doesn’t seem to pour, the clouds refusing to shed tears, as it should be a good day. Both Olivia and Takashi are actually fast asleep at the back, finally, with her sleeping in his embrace. “I hope it doesn’t rain,” the cosmonaut speaks in Russian. “Well, we can’t be sure. Though it doesn’t look that bad,” the soldier replies, in Russian, of course. “Where are we?” “Don’t worry, we’re almost there.” They’ve finally exited the countryside and enter the city district, though they’ve been seeing small houses and buildings left and right for quite a while. Thunderclouds form above and they roar signaling what’s to come. Lightning zips between them in a blue streak, reminding them of their previous visitors. But they know that that’s over, they’re all dead now. At least, they should be. Those memories mostly race through Alexandra’s mind, while Sergey is reminded of a different memory. His smile disappears slightly from his face.

It was the next morning and the soldier had just woken up from his sleep. “Captain, we need to go,” Andrei told him from the other room. “Yes, right,” he replied. The others were all ready and prepared to leave this place for good. He got up, but was still trying to get his bearings. The light from outside shone to his eyes, blinding him even further. He quickly put his hands over his eyes, trying to shield it. Everyone was talking amongst themselves in the other room, quite loudly in fact. Their uniforms now crumpled and in disarray with small tears here and there. They’ve already surrendered; they had already lost, so nobody cared. The loudness bothered him a little as he had just woken up. He grabbed his rifle, holstered it, and walked out. “There he is, the man of the hour. Are we ready to go, captain?” the mayor spoke. Sergey didn’t really catch that, or rather he did but refused to actually answer. He had one arm against the door paneling, and wiping his eye with the other, trying to fully wake up. “Well, captain?” the mayor reiterates. He shook his head and told him, “Yes…yes, we are. So please shut up and let’s go.” He was still a little cranky. “Men, any disturbances last night?” “A few, but nothing we couldn’t handle, sir. A few of them did attempt to enter, but we took care of it.” “Very good, sergeant. We will be right down to proceed to the extraction point. Out.” “Everything okay, boss?” his friend asked. “Yes, yes. Everyone! Let’s go! Time to go!” With not much time left, they head out towards the elevator. Unfortunately, there were only four elevators and they won’t all fit at once, so they had to go down with a few first, and then the rest would have to follow behind. Ding! They fitted however many they could into the elevator and went down. “Men, I’m heading down with the first group now. Andrei will follow with the second group after.

“Is everything still clear out there?”

“Yes, sir. Not a peep from any of them since last night.”

“Alright, good. Keep me posted.”

Ding! Reaching the lobby, he unloaded all the people and hands them over to his men before going back up to pick up the rest. Ding! “Alright, guys! Come on!” he yelled. Everyone entered and thankfully there was no one left after that, no need to waste anymore time going back. Finally done with that, the soldier quickly got them all into one group again and didn’t waste time doing that either. “Come on, people! Let’s go!!” he screamed. Suddenly, thunder roared above them as rain clouds form. Sergey slowly looked up, having a frustrated expression. He was just, Really? Now? Really?? Though it wasn’t raining…yet. “Captain? Captain Markovic, can you hear me?” command spoke. “Yes, sir. Loud and clear.” “Alright, we’re ready, captain. Please make your way to the extraction point as soon as possible. Command out.” Right… he thought to himself. “Okay, people! Let’s move now!!” Not having much of a choice, they moved on and headed for the village of Alkhan-Kala where their salvation awaits. As they were walking though, rain started to pour, just drizzling at first, but eventually it would turn big. But they continue on with determination and confidence.

“Sergey? Sergey??” Alexandra snaps him out of it. “Huh?! What is it??” he blurts out. “We’re almost there,” she tells him, still speaking Russian. “Yes, I know. I’m paying attention,” he tells her—not really—shaking it off. “Were you? It seemed like you were staring blankly into nowhere. What were you thinking about?” The smile then disappears completely as memories come flooding through his mind. Images of explosions and people dying are among them; he can hear screaming in his mind. Confused, “Uhhhmmm, are you sure you’re okay, comrade?” “Uhh, yeah. Yeah… I’m fine,” he tries to shake it off and puts a smile back on. “What? I’m fine, really,” he reiterates with a laugh. “Okay, alright,” she says with a smile, shrugging it off. “We’re here.”

He pulls up the car just before the steps leading to the lakeside walkway/park. He didn’t even bother with the parking, just pulled up, turned off the engine, and stopped. “Guys, wake up! We’re here.” They find it very hard to wake up. Can’t really blame them though, they’ve been flying and fighting non-stop since this all started. Being tired is kinda a given. Sergey and Alexandra exits the car and can feel that moisture in the air. “Ohhh, that is very nice,” she says. The soldier knocks on the window, asking them to wake up once more. “Come on, guys! You were the ones that wanted to go.” Takashi rubs his forehead. That was one of the best naps he’s ever had and they had to go and ruin it. Oh well… “Liv? Come on, we’re here. Time to wake up.” “Hmmm, just five more minutes, sweetie,” she says softly in a sweet manner. He can’t really move since she’s hugging him and won’t let go. “I thought you wanted to see the lake?” She sighs, “Right… Alright, let’s go.” She gets up and stretches her arms, though not really comfortable in the cramped environments of a car, but still… He opens the door and gets out first before doing any stretching. It feels more comfortable out here. Like always with waking up, they’re still trying to fully wake up and snap themselves out of it. Good thing it’s a pretty cloudy day, so the sun doesn’t blind them with its vibrant light. “This is the place? I don’t remember it being like this last time,” he tries to remember. “Well, this is probably a different area to the one you were in before,” Sergey explains, “come, let us explore.” They go up the wooden steps to reach the lakeside area. It’s still beautiful and magnificent, even though the sun’s not really up. It’s still shining, but kinda blocked by the grayish clouds. At least it’s not raining…yet? They don’t really know why they wanted to go here, but it doesn’t really matter does it? They’re here now and they should enjoy it. Maybe it’s the proximity to water. Lakes and oceans always have a certain attraction to it; with the moisture it brings to the air and the sound of its water flowing, or crashing against the walls. They head straight for the edge, skipping all the other stuff for now, and lean against the railing for a while. Well, there isn’t really other stuff around anyway. It’s a park; it has benches and grass and a few trees, a place that’s meant to relax.

They stand close together, she in his arms, and they look out to the city beyond. Some of it’s still destroyed from the invasion, but it’s still an okay sight. “So what do we do now?” he asks her, “I don’t really know what to do now that everything’s over. I guess I’ve gotten used to all the fighting and missions. Not that I miss it or anything. This is actually nice.” “Yeah, it is,” she replies, “who says we have to do anything? Why can’t we just enjoy the moment right here, right now?” He chuckles, “Right. Still need to get used to that.” “You are,” she chuckles herself. But then her smile slightly disappears. “You know, we still haven’t remembered much of our past. I mean our memories are still…fragmented? It’s still not complete,” she says. “Well…we can’t really do anything about it, can we? So like you always say, don’t worry about it too much and just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the ride, right?” “Haha, right you are. See? You are getting it.” Sergey just hangs back, watching them enjoy themselves and finally relax. They deserve it after all they’ve done. They didn’t ask for this, didn’t ask to receive these powers or to be heroes and save the world. But they faced it with a smile, most of the time, and open arms. Suddenly Alexandra punches his arm. “Hey, stop staring blankly and stop thinking too much,” she says in Russian. “I’m not. This is…just something I need to do. Okay?” he tells her. “Alright. Just…don’t get lost in it. Cause it’s easy to do so when you’re contemplating.” He nods, taking her advice, and walks off alone to another part of the park, not too far. He can’t help but think about that fateful day, the memories keep flashing over and over. Leaning against the railing, looking at the distorted sunlight, he remembers again.

After walking a few distances, they eventually reached the snowy part, meaning that they were getting close to the village. As they walked through the somewhat thick snow, it was actually quite random, some parts being thick, others not, they started to see small houses around. The group started to separate a bit and became wayward in the cold. After a while, they reach kinda like the town square of the village. The soldier’s radio clicked and buzzed. “Captain, before we proceed with extraction, I need you and your team to meet with our operative there. She’ll debrief you,” they told him. Then suddenly, two armed military men came out of the houses and asked him to hand over the package to them. “Your mission is now done, captain. Go with your team for debriefing,” command spoke again. “Now wait just a damn minute. With all due respect, sir, I wish to see this mission through to the end. Requesting permission to do so,” he told them. “Negative, captain! You’ve done your part. Now you will hand them over to those men and go to the village town hall. That’s an order!” He gritted his teeth again, frustrated with these random and incomplete orders with no explanation. But, again, he didn’t really have a choice but to comply. He motions his head to signal his handing the group over to them. He was too angry and frustrated for words. “Thank you, captain,” the colonel said. “Captain?” Andrei called, “Sergey?! Are you sure about this? Something doesn’t feel right.” “We don’t have a choice. Let’s go meet this operative,” he hastily said. He was too frustrated to think clearly. “Men, let’s move out!!” he screamed. Reluctantly, they headed over to meet this officer that was supposed debrief them. They were confused where to go though, even though it was a small village. It was probably the biggest building there, they assumed. The captain wasn’t thinking straight at that moment, so he didn’t really realize or catch that something was suspicious. His friend was noticing it though, somewhat. The building looked like it could be the village’s town hall or something like it. They didn’t really know, but it was where they were told to meet this woman, so they entered.

It wasn’t a very big place and it looked just how they expected it to look. There were two wooden benches by the entrance on each side with those shutter-like things in-between the seat bars. The floors, walls, and ceiling had a bright, yet not too bright, light green coloring to it. Two more benches lay on the far wall to the left and right beyond the first ones. And that was pretty much it. The main reception table lay right in front of them, and in front of that was the female operative who was waiting for them. There were two doors right next to each side of the table that lead into the offices and record rooms. It was one of those kinda old-style wooden doors with a square window at the top-half part of it. On it was the word “Staff only” in Russian, of course. “So you’re Captain Sergey Markovic,” the woman said. She was wearing a light blue striped button-up shirt mixed with a little white in there, and had a light brown chic trousers for the pants. She had long blonde hair, though she had it tied back at that time, and a heart-shaped face with pale skin and black irises. Andrei was stricken by her looks, but tried to keep it together. She was wearing a little makeup on, but not lipstick. She hated that apparently (don’t even ask her about it) “Yes, I am,” he answered, “to what do I owe this unexpected…pleasure?” “Well, you’ve done your job, captain, you and your men. Now we just need you out of the way for a few minutes,” she told them. His expression quickly reflected his worries. “What are you talking about??” he asked her. Outside, they were rounding up the group as best as they could. “People, people, please! If you would follow us, we will lead you to the airlift! Now let’s go!” the colonel explained. “Where is Captain Markovic??” the commander asked. “Captain Markovic is no longer in charge of this mission! We are! So you can follow us to be extracted or you can stay here and die! It’s your choice!” he told them. They looked at each other, contemplating the choice. Something didn’t feel right, but they had no choice.

Even though it wasn’t snowing heavily, the weather was still really cold. Most of them were already shivering, rubbing their extremities to keep warm. With no choice, they had to accept the offer and follow. “What’s really going on here??” Andrei asked the nice lady. “It’s called ending the war, lieutenant,” she answered. “The war is already over. They surrendered and offered to help us now in exchange for safe passage. That’s why we brought them here, isn’t it?” Sergey said. “You’re right, captain. The war is over and they have surrendered. But unfortunately, you’ve been mislead about some parts of your mission. There is no extraction here, no airlift. Those men will be executed for their crimes,” she explained to them. “What??!” he exclaimed in anger. He was moving towards her, but Andrei held him back for his own good. “Sorry for the ruse, captain. But they cannot be trusted. You know this is the right way.” The military men lead them to a specified area, a long narrow stretch of road with houses on each side leading to the “supposed” extraction zone. “Please proceed to the end!” they told them. Little does the group know, the path had already been rigged with explosives and soldiers were standing by inside the houses waiting to slaughter them. Completely angry and frustrated, he scolded her, “This is wrong and you fucking know it!! Those men out there already surrendered and are unarmed!! Neither me nor my men will start shooting at unarmed civilians!” He then tried to storm off outside only to find that the whole place had already been surrounded by dozens of soldiers aiming their guns at them. She walked up to him, “Hahahaha. Oh, captain. You and I both know those people out there are not civilians, and they most certainly aren’t innocent. They’re monsters and you know it.” Boom! Suddenly there was an explosion, and gunfire. They knew then what was going on. “I know. I used to think that, but…they’re people too,” he said to her. As the words came out of his mouth, a part of himself also couldn’t believe that he was saying it. “Oh, come now, captain. They are killers and murderers. Look at how many they’ve killed, how much they’ve destroyed…” What she was saying was true. Those people out there are…monsters and killers. But they’ve repented, or somewhat… Does that count though? Does realizing what they’ve done pardon them somewhat from their past actions? Or are they just too horrific to be forgiven? These were the questions that raced through his mind. He knew what they had done, but… He didn’t know what to think.

“I didn’t forget. But they’re paying for all their actions now, believe me. I saw it. This…this is not the right way,” he continued. Andrei and the rest of his men listened to what their captain had to say, which made them question it and themselves too. Morality is a very complicated thing. “Well, that’s very touching, captain. But still the fact of the matter is, you’re not in control here. I am,” she asserted herself. Sergey lifted himself up and changed his expression. He got out of his slump and knew what he had to do. “Maybe you’re right,” he shrugged his shoulders and curled his lips. Turning around, he signaled to Andrei by motioning his head. The lieutenant slipped a grenade in his hand. “What are you doing, captain?” she asked. Looking all serious, but at the same time confused, “I have no idea,” he said. He then released the pin from the grenade and threw it into the middle of the soldiers outside. “Grenade!!!!” They all ran and jumped out of the way. Boom! The explosion caused enough confusion and distraction for him and Andrei to run to the slaughter. “Hey!! Stop!!!” the soldiers screamed at them. But their senses were still distorted by the grenade, making them unbalanced and dizzy. The sergeant watched over the woman while the rest watched over the soldiers to make sure they didn’t do anything. The two friends hastily ran to the fray, but by the time they got there, it was already a slaughterhouse. Those who survived the explosion were being shot to death with a hail of bullets. “Nooooooooo!!!!!” he yelled. He ran in trying to save as many as he can. “Sergey, wait!!” his friend said to no avail. The captain started shooting the soldiers one by one, wounding them only, not killing. He was conflicted about shooting his fellow soldiers. After all, they were just like him, just following orders. But how could he save both groups without harming the other? That only added to his worry and the growing conflict within him. It was a losing battle anyway though. Most of the officers had already died, including the mayor and the commander. Looking at all their dead bodies, bloodied and covered with bullet holes and/or scorch marks, only brought back to his mind the horrors that his war has caused. He grabbed the mayor’s necklace that was exposed from her lifeless body and ripped it off, clutching it tightly, tears coming out of his eyes.

The snow was painted red by their guts and intestines and collective blood that they could barely see the white anymore. Some were torn in half by the sheer force of the explosion. It was definitely a horrible and gruesome sight to behold, and one that would stay with him for many years to come. They both did what they could to save them, but eventually it didn’t matter. They grabbed whoever they could to put them to safety and wounded many Russian soldiers—their own—to stop them from shooting, but there was just too many. It was too chaotic. People were running and screaming and bullets were flying everywhere in all directions. They tried to run across through that minefield and through all those bullets. Andrei noticed that his friend was about to stumble upon one of the explosives and tackled him out of the way just in time. Boom!! Their ears were ringing from being so close to the explosion. “Thank you, comrade,” he said to him. He nodded to reply. They picked themselves up to continue. “Sir, Captain Markovic and his lieutenant are delaying our progress! They’re rescuing the enemy!” the kill squad commander reported. “Well then take them out of the picture!!” command told her, “but do not kill them unless you really have to.” “Understood.” They were busy rescuing the officers, but he knew it was a losing battle. They couldn’t keep doing that. One of the soldiers spotted him and sneaked up to get a kill shot. “Got you,” he said aiming his gun. Bang! Sergey turned around in shock as the soldier fell down, dead. Andrei had spotted him and shot first, saving his friend once more. That was twice now in one day. The captain nodded to him, acknowledging. He didn’t wanna do that, but that guy was about to kill his friend, so he responded in kind.

They then regrouped and continued on together. But it wasn’t for long as one of the soldiers finally tackled him, knocking him down. “Sergey!!” Though Andrei couldn’t do much to help his friend as countless soldiers had already surrounded them. He had no choice but to lay his weapons down and surrender. It was over. Their chances of success were already slim since the beginning, and they knew it. Even the people they rescued eventually died from their wounds and/or from the cold shortly afterwards. But he felt like he had to do something. It was over. “It’s over, captain,” command spoke to all of them. “Ah, you hear that? Now why don’t you lower your weapons before I charge you and your men with treason, sergeant,” the operative said to him. “It’s alright, men. Stand down,” their captain spoke through the radio with a defeated voice, “it’s over. There’s no need for anymore bloodshed.” With that, they lowered their weapons and let them go. “Thank you, captain…and sergeant.” She then walked out with them to meet the others. Sergey and Andrei were kneeling, putting their hands up to the air. “Well, well, well… How did you think it was gonna go down, captain? This isn’t a movie or a novel… You’re not the hero. You’re not even a hero. You’re a soldier, and a damn good one. Try to act like it,” she told him, “you’re lucky I’m not charging all of you for treason right now! You wounded some of our men, impeding their jobs, and your lieutenant here even killed one.” “He was about to kill my friend! I couldn’t let him do that!!” Andrei defended himself. She turns to him, “Yeesss… You’re right there. That was his fault. I’ll give you that. Believe it or not, we actually had orders not to kill you unless we really, really need to. Command seems to like you guys, so you’re all free to go now,” she walked away, “you can come with us with an airlift back to the city or you can stay here! It’s up to you!”

The soldiers then let them go and followed her back to the airlift, leaving them to this now snowy white wasteland. Well, a bloody wasteland now, from all the blood and bodies and intestines covering the ground and snow. “Sergey, what do we do?” Andrei asked him. Feeling terrible and defeated, he said to him, “Now…we go home. I really don’t want to walk, so let’s go with them.” He then started walking in their general direction to the chopper. He felt a mix of sadness, confusion, and a little indifference. He didn’t really know what to feel… He only knew that this day, this moment, would haunt him for the rest of his life. Andrei and the rest of the men followed behind. Seeing their captain, their leader, like that didn’t really affect the men though. Sure they felt a little sad, but nothing too big or complicated. The same couldn’t be said for Andrei. To him, Sergey was more than just his captain. He was his friend, his best friend. And seeing his friend in such a state left him feeling desolate and defeated too. But there was nothing else they could do but move on and let it go. And there was nothing left he could do but stay by his friend’s side until he pulls through this. He will. He knew Sergey like the back of his hand. They were best friends after all. But maybe, he was wrong about this one. Maybe… Having to walk through the red snow and through the piles of bodies didn’t help at all either. “Ahh, captain. You decided to join us after all. You made the right choice,” she said. At that point, all that was racing through his mind was strangling her, choking her, shooting her, or any kind of killing method that he could possibly apply. His face was serious and angry, looking like a desperate man with nothing left to lose. She noticed this and kinda dared him to do something, staring him down. But luckily, Andrei came behind and grabbed his shoulder. “You alright, my friend?” he said. This made him calm down a little, and they entered and took a seat. “Let’s go!!!” she ordered the pilot. And lift off. They were on their way back.

Andrei leaned down against his knees and tapped his friend’s, trying to cheer him up. Sergey tried not to contemplate too much, what happened had happened. But of course, it wasn’t that easy. He turned to the woman and realized that they never got his name. “Hey. Hey! I never caught your name,” he said. “Well, I didn’t give it, captain,” she replied. Of course she said that, he thought to himself. “Hahahaha, it’s Anastasiya,” she finally gave it. “Anastasiya? That’s a beautiful name… for a bitch,” he spoke that last part quietly. They eventually passed above the city again, just in time to see Russian forces kill of the remaining insurgents and defectors. Though a few remained, having already escaped the city. The soldiers then walked to the central part of the city and planted the Russian flag, signifying their victory in the war and reclamation of the city and country. “Long live Mother Russia!” Anastasiya said proudly. Sergey actually gave a smile to that. No matter what, Mother Russia is still and will always be his home and country. So even though he hated her guts, he still felt proud for that. And that, of course, made him even more confused about his mixed feelings. He took out the mayor’s necklace and looked at it. He thought that that’ll be a sorta memento for him to remember what happened there on that day. He clutched it again and held it close to his chest while looking out over the destroyed city.
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