Hades took a very deep breath. His eyes fixated on the doorknob; his lips pursed with determination. As one raised leg ready to bust the door open, he clenched his muscles and readied the momentum. Then he delivered the force.
Brack! The brittle woods crumbled under Hades’s kick and the door swayed open.
Cold had begun consuming the higher ground Hades and his team were currently occupying. Far toward the western horizon, behind the tip of one mountain, the sun was slowly descending. Its orange radiance was getting ready to hide behind the thickening fog. There was some green in this rock-and-ice valley; grim and grey with streaks and patches of trees decorating the hillside.
His helmet's face shield slit open, letting his ears free to the open air. A robust humming reverberated from the valley, which Hades figured coming from a fully armed chopper with fully armed men, and definitely not from singing birds. He grunted: their pursuers had sent for back-up, with some heavier artillery for sure.
“Come!” he yelled. Hades rushed back to a limping figure wearing thick coat who his squadmate, Leeno, was helping. “We don’t have enough time to find the entrance. Let’s bunker down in there.”
‘There’, whose front door Hades kicked open not a minute ago, was one of many abandoned shacks in an abandoned village somewhere on Earth-Terra’s Northern Burma. Its roof was punctured with holes. The wooden beams were dried and cracking, crumbles of its concrete fillings gathered on the floor, and its windows were hanging by the very last effort of rusted hinges. And if one was to really pay attention to this house, along with many others, one can see the bullet holes also plaguing them.
It didn’t seem like a strong enough fortress, more like a shabby execution site.
“I wish you had found a better place, cadet,” said the limping man, called Haz. “But this’ll do for now.”
“Oh I’m fucking sorry, Four Seasons is closed today,” said Hades as he grabbed Haz’s other arm onto his shoulder. “Leen, you good?”
Leeno, his helmet was open like Hades’s just as he wore the same all-black tactical suit like the rest of the squad, jerked his head to his partner. As if the question was an alien enquiry, he took a second to process and finally answered with a nod. From his unfocused gaze and distracted response, Hades concluded Leeno was still in shock from the attack.
The door creaked as the men barged in. “Alright, stay here and have some water,” Hades said to both men.
Once again, he dashed away. And once again, he found another limping man carried by his other two squadmates.
Beyond them, about one kilometre away, black smoke was rising higher and higher onto the sky.
The chopper Hades heard was making its way towards that very direction, where the Interversity squad and another party were having a shoot-out. An explosion has ended the firing, just as Hades’s side won that round.
“Leader-cadet?” Hades asked another squadmate, called Bertrand, though he knew the answer already. Not too far behind them, he saw a motionless body lying on the ground.
Bertrand shook her head.
“This is what happens when they send cadets to do an experienced field operative’s job,” said the second limping man, Chaleed. He tried spitting at Hades, but failed and the saliva drooled down his jaguar-skin mantle. “You are fucking worthless.”
Hades ignored the insult, choosing to approach their dead leader instead.
“Maximillian,” called Reiner Staman, the last of Hades’s remaining squadmate, who held Chaleed’s other arm. “Where are you going?”
The humming was becoming a more pronounce whirring. The chopper and more militia were fast approaching. Hades pulled one blaster and checked the power pack. There was still a couple of shots left, strong enough to kill if he had to.
“Hades,” Reiner called again. “What are you doing?”
“You go on ahead,” he said to Reiner. “I’m going to redirect our trail.” Hades walked to his squadmate’s corpse.
Hades gulped the bile down his throat as he stared at the dead cadet. The bravest when they started the assignment, but the first one to fall to a headshot.
A powerful bullet from a powerful rifle had gone into the helmet from the back and through to the front.
Hades did a stupid thing by squatting down and opened the cracked face shield, revealing the indifferent stare of Suwarni’s dead eyes with a hole on where her nose once was. Hades involuntarily leapt back from the first corpse he ever saw. And as it is very well known, firsts always leave distinct mark in one’s life journey.
He wiped his short, sweat-drenched black hair over his head. His nostrils flared. Panting, his finger instantly tapped into the hand tablet on his left forearm, allowing the armour’s system to order his helmet to spray cooling mist around his face. With a pant every three seconds, he snatched the small tumbler dangling from his hip and chugged in the water before gargling and spitting the liquid on the cold, rocky ground.
Hades heaved once or twice more to fill his lungs with clean air. He burped out the nauseousness. And then he inhaled another lungful, releasing it rather more slowly this time. He repeated the exercise for a few more times while resisted the urge to fall asleep.
When he’d regained some kind of will, Hades returned to the corpse of Suwarni. The noseless body still stared back at him. The sharp eye-lashes hung tightly on each lid. Below the hole, the twisted tongue rolled out of a gaping mouth.
Hades shook his head and the helmet shut on, pulling sleek shield over his face and neck, and he did the same to the corpse.
Had Leeno watched her death? Hades pondered as he dragged Suwarni's corpse and navigated through fenced property and more pale walls. Is that why he’s so distraught?
And is this my response to a death?
On an intersection where crowds seemingly used to gather, he dropped the corpse and tapped into its tablet with his own. Hades activated the hidden explosives all over her armour after a series of swiping and tapping the device.
Two taps later, he finished the procedure with shifting the control switch to his tablet.
He got up, looked at his leader’s dead body for the last time, and dashed away once again.
Hades would always remember the first corpse he ever saw. He would remember another soul he’d failed to save. These kinds of things were rarely forgotten.