The hours seemed to come and pass as if someone was hastily turning the hands of time. Night had fallen full and bitter cold upon the now silent scene of the recent chaos. Although I
could not see outside, I knew what wreckage lay so close by yet so far behind. I envisioned men’s bodies littering the ground, Russian soldiers scavenging their bodies for useful information
and components. I chanced a look at Cook, who had passed the time staring at the wall straight ahead of him in the wide and dimly lit cavern we had come to rest in. He had gone through a
full pack of cigarettes by this point, and was still going strong. Something was off, although I could not put my finger on it. I decided to chance at replacing my chip, which was
amazingly still tucked within my palm in my vice-like grip from when I first ripped it from my own head. Letting up on my grip and looking at the thing, its outward appearance seemed a bit of
a surprise at first. It seemed to have a bit of a life of its own. Every once in a while it would give sort of a surge of life-like energy and light, emitting a soft yet rich golden light
which illuminated the immediate surrounding area of the cavern. I pictured the surges as a sort of sub-human breathing, the chip sustaining its own life while emitting light and providing
super-human capabilities for another. I thought of the sheer genius of the thing itself, although I knew nothing of how it worked. I imagined all the wars and destruction of the
past. A crazy thought occurred to me: What if all the chips were infused with souls of past fallen soldiers? A chill ran down my spine that had nothing to do with the sub-zero
temperatures of the night.
“What crazy thing are you thinking of now?” Questioned Cook. He had this way about him, a near telepathic ability where he could tell when someone was in deep thought, and sometimes what
it was about. My pale blue eyes met Cook’s, grey and piercing, although strangely comforting.
“Nothing really, I was thinking about chancing again with my chip, seeing if the audio attacks are gone yet.” This was not a
total lie. It had been, in fact, what had prompted me to gaze at the chip in the first place.
“Not a bad idea pretty boy,” said Cook with a tone of interest. “But hold on; let me be the guinea pig for this
one. Your head’s taken enough for one day.” Cook could be noble when it was most needed. His fingers procured his own chip from seemingly thin air (it was hard to tell in the dim
light of the cavern) and brought it coolly to the right side of his head where the metal sidings of the receptor slit protruded slightly from his scalp. “Cheers,” he said as a tiny click
sounded, meaning the chip had connected. All at once, his body seized up in pain, and a jolting arm ripped the thing out of his head once more. He cursed in frustration. “They still
got the frequency broadcasting on override!” He let out a sigh of disappointment and looked briefly to the floor, raising his eyes upon his next words.
“Alright pretty boy, time to learn stealth.”
Being without the chips meant that our armor would be too heavy to move efficiently in the night, and as the frequency was still
broadcasting, that meant the Russians were still actively controlling the area outside. They had taken the ground and had not yet given it up. I had to strip many layers of my outside
armor, leaving behind bits and pieces I deemed least vital and less cool looking. I stopped once my body felt to be its normal weight again; not that of the crushing armor I had known in the
time spent in the cavern. All that remained was my left shoulder pad, curving elegantly down my upper arm and giving me adequate protection from high shots and my knee and elbow pads. I
felt as one of the black ops members. Cook hadn’t needed to ditch any pieces of armor, as he already wore few enough that he could manage without enhanced strength. It also helped that he
was strong enough to move in a full suit without any help. Both of us deciding we were sufficiently prepared for nighttime movement and sneaking, we gathered our weapons and headed to the
mouth of the cavern, Cook finishing a final cigarette, as the red glow would be a dead giveaway in the nighttime darkness.
“On my signal, follow me. Stick close but maintain intervals, and for God’s sake stay low, boy!” Cook thrust me to one
knee, mirroring his own position. “Better,” he said, glancing out towards the pitch blackness, the only light being what was caught from the moon and reflected in the snow. “Mess up and
we’re both screwed, got me?” He didn’t even wait for a response. “Let’s roll”
The frigid night air filled my nostrils and pierced my lungs. I had been trained to withstand drastic cold and extreme
conditions. Still, my skin seemed to contract at contact with the open night. We crept silently as shadows blended with the night. We approached a bend in the hillside which was home
to the cavern. Cook was barely visible in the darkness, and I nearly slammed into him, only barely stopping myself inches from my partner.
“Alright pretty boy, here comes the tough part. The part where there’s a legitimate threat.” Cook’s tone was dead
serious despite the humor in his words. “Around this bend is the field we fought in earlier, the trenches aren’t too far away. Closer than you thought, right?” Cook peered around the
corner to the battlefield of a few hours ago where barbed wire, trenches and towers had been placed feebly to help hold the line against the Russian march. He quickly reeled his head
back. “They got the whole place patrolled, spotlights and snipers in the towers. Take a look, but make sure you aren’t spotted!” I approached the corner as Cook stepped back to allow
me to take a look. The sight that met my eyes was gruesome. The bodies of US soldiers, Alpine company and the Fourth Regiment alike, dotted the snowy ground, little heaps of darkness that
once sustained life, personality, beliefs and thoughts. The victorious party had made itself at home and cleaned up their portion of the dead, however left that of the opposition to the
scavengers. The Russian soldiers were turning the dead over, taking money, ammunition, anything they wanted. I was so intent upon watching the enemy turn over my comrades that I barely
noticed the spotlight creeping up to our position, until I heard a shrill voice behind me shout, “Down, pretty boy!”
Cook’s cry had not been in time, and the spotlight had caught me dumbfounded, gazing upon the scene of the battle from earlier in
the day. Rapid machine gun fire opened up and barely caught my elbow as I snapped into attention and flew behind the hill cover once again. Every light in the area began searching the
position, finding the intruders. All guns were fixed upon this point. The faint barks and howls of search dogs, intent upon finding human blood, reached our ears.
“Follow me, now!” Shouted Cook, sprinting now into the open desolate snow-covered ground, abandoning his rifle where he had
been crouched moments ago. The area was lit brightly with search lights. Whistles and gunfire echoed from every corner of the Russian encampment, bullets streaking just behind and barely
to the side of Cook, who was now dashing for dear life to a nearby trench. My legs acted of their own accord as I too ditched my rifle and drew my pistol in pursuit of my much more experienced
partner. Bullets did not fear me as they did the wild man a few yards ahead of me. I felt a shot graze off my shoulder pad, nearly knocking me off balance completely. I barely
stumbled into the pit ahead of me to meet an enraged and adrenaline-pumped Cook. His eyes those of a mad man, he drew his knife from its case strapped to his left forearm and pressed it to his
bare left palm, squeezing hard as he slid the blade smoothly along his own palm. He wiped the blade off in the snow before replacing it in its case and tightly closing a fist to pump out more
blood and let it slip gracefully into the snow.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, wildly confused. I knew the acuteness of the dogs’ sense of smell.
“Shut up, I’m saving both of us!” Replied Cook as he quickly snatched my bandana and wrapped it around his still bleeding
palm. He then reached into the pocket on his vest and pulled a small baggie of a substance as white as the snow around them. “They’re getting closer, I can hear their footsteps,” said
Cook as he removed the rubber band from the top of the baggie. “You never know when this stuff helps, be it work or pleasure,” he said through a snicker as he sprinkled the powder over his own
fresh blood in the snow to his right. “Cocaine’s one powerful drug, any dogs that come to sniff this will get just a touch more than they bargained for.” My jaw hit the floor. No
words would materialize upon my tongue. Cook then formed a neat line upon his finger and snorted the stuff down in one go. “Let’s go, we don’t have much time before they get
here. Follow me!” We set off down the trench system, following its winding curves and intersections with an instinctual bearing of Southwest, the direction of our encampment, in
mind. Every once in a while we would hear hurried footsteps or distant barking in the distance. A few times we heard whistles and excited whoops followed by the swift cracks of gunfire,
only to be followed by the silence that meant it had been a false alarm. The base was on edge. There were enemies in its bounds and every Russian army member deployed there was determined
to be the one who found them and savored the last kill of the day. As we came to a tunnel in an approaching hill, we heard chatter inside. It was rapid Russian, none of which Cook or me
could understand. Cook stopped a distance from the entrance and listened. “Sounds like about four of them, maybe five. Still got your pistol?” I held up the compact handgun for
Cook to see. “Ditch it, that’ll only get us spotted, unless you have a silencer on you.” Cook grabbed the weapon and pressed it into the snowy siding of the trench, covering it again and
smoothing over the sides with the now freshly falling snow. We were each sprinkled with flakes, making us appear as phantoms in the night stalking through the camp. Cook procured a second
knife; this time concealed in his boot, and handed it to me. I examined and admired the thing. It was perfect in length and weight for close range combat.
“You carry two knives with you?” I questioned in a joking tone.
“Three,” replied Cook, as he pulled back his vest to reveal a third knife strapped to his bare chest. “Whatever helps you
sleep at night, right?” I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright pretty boy here’s the plan. The guards in there are most likely doing a standard watch duty. I’ve come to know the
Russian army basic encampment setup, and a bunker like this is usually pretty close to the exit. They’ll be armed and ready, yet most likely a little chummy, meaning they won’t be expecting
this, judging by the amount of gabbing they’re doing in there. Two guards on the doorway, one on either side. I’ll take the one on the left and you get the right. Improvise from
there. Ready? One…two…three!” On that count, Cook slid from the trench wall and glided through the doorway, with me close on his heels, swift shadows of death coming to reap the
I reached around into the room lit yellow by a field lantern hung on the wall and grasped for the guard I knew to be here. My fingers met with the throat of the unsuspecting man, and I reacted
from instinct. I threw a punch with my knife hand, impacting with my fist instead of my blade, stunning the man for an instant. My mind froze. I was never in combat like this
before. The door guard seemed to know what he was doing better. The man’s angry brown eyes and scruffy jaw line made him appear to be at least forty, an experienced fighter. He
swiftly head-butted me, throwing me off my guard. The Russian struck my temple with the stock of his rifle and took aim at his opponent and chambered his rifle. My eyes looked up to peer
down the barrel of the weapon as I braced for the worse. Then I saw the fierce appearance of Cook dash forward and grab the guard by the wrist, twisting and breaking it with ease. Cook’s
eyes were like those of death himself, his scowl reflecting every wrinkle etched into his face, emphasizing the severity of his intentions. The guard let out a shriek of pain as Cook’s blade
punctured him twice in each arm, immobilizing him on the spot. Cook then swung around to deal with the assailants behind him. Everything seemed to happen in half speed. He ducked low
and thrust his blade into the stomach of the first man, twisting the knife and grasping the man’s forearm as he elegantly rolled him over his shoulder, slicing along his torso the whole way until
the guard laid a bloody heap on the ground. The second man hesitated at this sight, giving Cook just the opening he needed. He struck swift and cleanly to the soldier’s neck, not once but
three times, ensuring his kill as he planted his boot to the man’s chest and threw him to the floor in one fluid motion. He then turned slowly with the greatest composition to the guard who
had thrown me off initially. The man was clutching the four clean puncture wounds on his arms, yet remained defiant and ready to fight. Cook threw a jab with his knife for the man’s
chest, which he blocked and countered with a swift kick which caught Cook right under the chin. Cook reeled back onto the ground and spat blood onto the snowy floor, looking even meaner and
more dire than before. He rolled up and feinted another jab at the soldier, reeling his left hand around for a roundhouse punch to the man’s jaw. This threw him back a bit, and as Cook went
for the kill the man regained his composure in the last second, stopping Cook’s knife mere fractions of an inch from his neck. The two struggled, pushing with all their might at each
other. My hand seemed to save Cook by its own choice. I rolled onto my hands and knees, grabbing my knife which lay where it had fallen after the soldier had head-butted me. I slid
the knife quickly at the back of the man’s ankles, bringing him to his knees as he hollered in pain. Cook seized the opportunity to approach his now totally immobilized opponent. He
looked coldly into the man’s eyes for a moment, then spat into his face before snapping his neck like that of a chicken. He wiped his knife off on the uniform of one of the now five dead men
in the room before replacing it into its case as I stumbled to my feet, still woozy from the combat I had just seen and that of earlier in the day.
“Well trained, these ones,” murmured Cook as he spat out another bloody wad, this one containing a tooth. “That’s our way out.” He gestured to the exit of the bunker. It was a
latched door, apparently explosive-proof and had a fingerprint scanner on it. “Let’s play find the officer,” he said as he and I began to search the dead for any signs of significance or
special notification. It was more than likely the commanding officer’s fingerprint we needed. The man who Cook had first taken out (I hadn’t even seen Cook’s first two kills) wore neatly
painted red stripes on his right shoulder pad of his armor and a small symbol that resembled a triangle made of red stars on his left breastplate. Cook grabbed his hand and dragged the body
over to the scanner, placing the dead officer’s fingertip onto the scanner. The door made an electronic beep and opened smoothly for us. “Time to go home,” Cook said with a smile and a
backwards glance towards me.
The walk back to base had been relatively peaceful, aside from the brief sprint from the entrance to the few trees that dotted the landscape between the Russian encampment and our
own. Thoughts dwelled in my head, thoughts of little baggies of white powder. I looked to the man trudging ahead of me, the man I admired so much for his fearlessness and combat
ability. It had been a massive shock to me to think that one of my biggest influences had been hiding a cocaine addiction. Was that the real reason he refused to be promoted or join up
with black ops? Maybe his radical behavior was not only a side effect of, but a way of covering up this new-found secret. My head swam and my body ached all over. I could’ve sworn
that even my blood hurt. Trying to think of Cook as less than a hero was difficult to say the least. I recalled the cavern and Cook’s strange behavior, and how now he seemed back to his
normal self. It had been many hours since either of us was alone at that point. Maybe Cook had simply been feeling the effects of going sober for the first time in a while. The
cocaine had in all honestly helped us escape the dogs though; the dogs would have surely caught up with us, had their noses not been powdered.
“So I’m guessing you’re all shut up because of what you saw back there.” Cook’s voice gave me a start after the regression into my own mind. I took longer than usual to reply.
“I’m no stranger to combat. You think I’m still scared of a little blood?” My voice faltered at this attempt at a joke.
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about. Listen Carson,” the mere fact that he had used my real name, not some ludicrous nick name, was enough to put me on edge from the start. “You
know I’m a good guy. You’ve seen the things I do for you and the other guys. If word of this got out, I’d be screwed. Make sure that doesn’t happen, alright?” Cook stopped
walking and waited for a response. I stood dumbfounded at what he had just taken in. I didn’t honestly know what to say. In an instant Cook drew his blade and threw me into a nearby
tree, pressing the blade to my neck. “Alright punk, there’s two ways I can go about doing this. I can either trust in you, or I can rip your throat out right here and leave you to bleed
out like a pig. I like you kid. Don’t screw that up.” Tiny beads of blood had begun to appear on my neck. I had to act fast.
“Alright, I promise! I won’t breathe a word about it! Just let me go!” My voice was strangulated by fear’s choking grasp. Cook was suddenly more menacing than any enemy I had
ever faced. My hero, my idol was pressing a blade to my throat to cover up a dirty little secret.
“Good. There’s a reason I keep you around. You could be useful with some careful instruction. Remember that.” At Cook’s final words, the knife slacked slightly and I scrambled
to the floor and caught my breath. “Now hurry up, we want to make it home before lunch.” I hadn’t even taken notice to the sun rolling up over the horizon, bringing a dull glow of what
would normally be a glorious sunrise. The fighting had plagued the sky with haze and filth in much of the world. Beautiful sunny skylines weren’t something you saw anymore, not even in
the remote wilderness of Alaska. We continued on our way to base to recuperate and find out what became of our comrades. It wasn’t until almost noon that we arrived back at the
encampment. I nearly collapsed into my sleeper pod after removing my armor, falling asleep the moment my eyes shut.
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