This is the first draft of a story that is complete. (10/26/2020)
|“I want to say I’m surprised there’s another World War. I’d like to say humanity has learned from its grave mistakes from the last two global conflicts. But I can’t say all this surprises me. I’d be lying if I said it did. I wasn’t there to experience the first or second World War, but this I know: it’s in our nature to fight and eventually destroy ourselves. The question is, when will we wipe ourselves out completely? When is the end? They called the Second World War the ‘war to end all wars’. Frankly, I think that title belongs to this one we’re in today.”
Ian Alcantara, December 24, 2020
She looked up at the pitch black sky, barely noticing the flakes of snow coming down upon her relentlessly. It must be about eight or nine in the evening, she thought.
Only a couple hours before Christmas. This is some way to spend Christmas Eve.
The person in front of her moved forward a step, and she moved forward a step, too. She had been standing in this line for nearly an hour, taking a step forward every time the person in front of her did so. Normally, she liked cold weather – tonight, she wasn’t fond of it. Wearing only a light hoodie over a T-shirt, skinny jeans, and sneakers, she was ill-prepared for the current temperature of fifteen degrees Celsius below zero, not counting the wind chill. Her fingers were numb; she could barely feel them. She constantly curled her fingers and buried them in the pockets of her hoodie, but it provided little comfort. The cold was too much. This was no weather for standing outside for an hour.
Still, she fought not to lose hope. People who lost hope were already dead, doomed to their fates. People who’d given up would never leave this place.
It had been about four days since she was captured by the enemy invaders. She recalled being in the TD Square, the mall located in downtown Calgary. It was supposed to be just a run-of-the-mill, last-minute shopping trip for herself. She lived alone, with her family quite far away. She thought she’d pick up some presents for herself – she’d been wanting to buy a new winter hat and scarf for weeks but had only gotten around to taking the time to go shopping days ago. She knew it would be crowded and hectic at the malls a mere few days before Christmas, but she didn’t care initially; she’d been working hard all last week and she needed to get outside and treat herself after the work she did all week.
In hindsight, she wished she’d just stayed home. There were worse ways to spend Christmas Eve.
Like this. Freezing. Held captive by men who – as best she could tell – were part of a sizeable force. An army. Only an army of a large enough size could possibly have brought this city to its knees in such a short period of time.
And if there was an enemy army here, she was willing to bet the same army was elsewhere, too. Edmonton, Vancouver, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal… All the major population centres would be occupied, if not now then soon. Especially Ottawa, being the capital of Canada.
It’s an invasion. And if that patch sewn into each soldier’s vest was no trick, things are worse than I’d initially thought. If what I’m seeing is real, then we’re being invaded by a country Canada has long considered its ally.
She’d started to ponder the reasons why this ally of Canada’s was now turning its back on its friend, but before she could delve deeper into her thoughts, she felt a rather rough push from behind.
“Keep moving, will you? I don’t want those guys with guns on us to get pissed,” a female voice – more frightened and exhausted than irritable – from behind her urged.
She did not respond, but merely took the three steps she needed in order to catch up with the next person in line. She’d noticed that in her line, there were only women of age. Kids she’d seen earlier were nowhere around. Perhaps they were being herded to a different part of the camp. Men were being herded through a different tent to her left, and the two lines were separated by a barbed wire fence with wooden frames. Everyone around her was scared, that was easy to tell. Some people were visibly scared – men and women alike shivering in the winter cold, some clad in just T-shirts and pants, with no second layer of clothing. Some were crying quietly, others audibly. Still some others on both lines followed the ones ahead of them in line with just shell shock etched on their faces. They probably never expected any of this to be a reality just hours ago. They were still in utter disbelief. Who could blame them, really? Who wants to believe that they’d wake up to this grim world today? Who wants to believe they’d be alive during what probably looks like the opening days of another war, here?
Some fifteen minutes later, she came close enough to see what was going on at the front of the line. Ahead of her was a medium sized tent. Two soldiers stood on either side of what looked like a metal detector, holding automatic rifles in a somewhat relaxed manner. Their faces were concealed by black balaclavas and their heads were covered by helmets. Their eyes were visible, and they looked reasonably alert although their overall composure pointed toward them being at ease. An unarmed male soldier was patting down each woman at the front of the line. From observing this soldier, she was able to tell that the younger women were being segregated from the older ones, judging by the little snippets of conversation between the unarmed soldier doing the pat-downs and another soldier who was seated at the plastic desk by the metal detectors, a laptop in front of him. The younger women were being directed past the metal detectors and taken left at the fork in the hallway beyond. The older women in their thirties and forties were being directed to the right.
She knew what the segregation was for, why the younger women were being separated from the ones in their late thirties and older. It wasn’t a nice thought. Her stomach dropped as anxiety rose, but she tried her hardest to steel herself. She knew better than to panic at the first signs of trouble. Panic made the conditions ripe for bad decision making. Until she reached a better understanding of her situation, she needed to just play along. There were no other choices.
Eventually, it was her turn to be at the front of the line.
“Step into the machine,” the soldier seated at the desk ordered, jerking his head toward the metal detector.
She did as she was told, obeying when she was told by the soldier conducting the physical inspection to place her hands on top of her head. She bit her lip and fought every urge to resist as the unarmed soldier took his time patting her down for valuables or anything of note, though she had nothing of the sort. No purse, no jewelry, not even a cellphone. A few times the soldier placed his hands in places that under normal civilized circumstances would be considered assault and were grounds for arrest. But those circumstances no longer applied here.
After over a minute of being inspected, her wrists were zip-tied behind her and was made to face the soldier typing away on the laptop.
“Name?” he asked curtly, not looking up at her.
She thought about faking a name, but it seemed these soldiers were verifying the identities of each prisoner for its records, and if they were bothering with this much, they must have somehow hijacked information – confidential ones about Canadian citizens, permanent residents, maybe even refugees – from the Canadian federal government itself. If she faked a name, she had a feeling she’d be singled out for being a mystery and being singled out here would do her no favours. It would be better to remain as unremarkable as possible.
“Christina Valentine,” she answered, her voice shaking a bit as her body did the same from being in the cold for too long.
The soldier at the laptop tapped some keys for a moment, then looked up at her face. After a second, he waved a hand toward the inner areas of the processing tent.
“You’re clear,” he grunted.
The soldier on pat-down duty looked her up and down, his eyes glinting with a hint of malice. He glanced over at his colleague on records duty.
“Where do you say we should bring this one? She could use a little meat on her bones, don’t you think? Nice face, though. I’d give her a 6 out of 10.”
The soldier sitting in front of the laptop looked up from his work and sounding somewhat annoyed he snapped, “Well, she’s above a 5 and clearly younger than middle age, right? Where do you think? Quit holding up my line, Troy. We’ve got a shitload left to process.”
“This way, you,” the soldier named Troy barked at her, shoving her toward the left fork in the hallway.
She obeyed and stepped through a tent flap, finding herself in a cordoned portion of the grounds that the soldiers were now using as a detainment facility. The area naturally had no roof, so the area was no warmer than the one where she’d stood in line for an hour.
She sighed tiredly and followed the stream of girls her age to the arrangement of cages that littered the area.
It had been three days since Christina Valentine had been captured by the soldiers and imprisoned with countless others in the grounds of the Calgary Stampede.
She had spent the better part of three days locked up in a steel cage with four other women around her age. The cage was not meant to house people and was designed to comfortably hold two medium sized animals at most, meaning Christina and her companions – both the ones within the same cage as her as well as the hundreds of other women in the numerous other cages set up within the compound – were packed into places like sardines in a can. The cage she was held in was so compact that two of the occupants needed to position themselves in such a way that these two people were squatting with their feet together and their knees to their chests so the other three occupants could sit comfortably, or at least as comfortably as they could in such a tight space. Christina thus far had volunteered to squat for hours on end, for as long as she could bear the position, all so her companions could be as comfortable as possible. For the most part, the others were cooperative in taking turns assuming the uncomfortable squatting position for each other’s sakes. For most of the previous two nights, Christina had to sleep – after much difficulty in falling asleep – in this position, her back to the freezing bars of the cage. She’d wake up in the middle of the night in the dark, her legs numb and asleep, at which point one of the others would urge her to sit while they shouldered the burden of squatting. Christina refused to give in at first, but the discomfort was too much to bear; she relented and took every opportunity to extend her legs.
The perpetual cold didn’t help matters. During the day when there was sun, the temperatures remained low but was not too punishing. Come dusk however, the cold would turn bitter, especially for all the prisoners like her who remained practically inert in their cages. With their blood flowing minimally because of inactivity, they felt colder much faster. During the first frigid night of their detainment, Christina suggested to her cellmates that they ought to conserve and share warmth. Thanks to this, all five of the cage’s occupants still had all their fingers and toes, as they resorted to holding each other tightly when the temperatures dipped to lower levels. Christina quickly learned to accept the presence of the others’ hands and feet against her bare torso and under her shirt. There was no malice here, no intent for perversion. They were all in the same dire situation, and desperate times meant desperate measures. She understood that the most out of all of them. They were just trying to survive.
Needless to say, their predicament was dehumanizing. Prisoners were let out of their cages at most for thirty minutes per day, during late morning. Even then, they were allowed to stand close by their respective cages, and each group of women were monitored by a soldier armed with a rifle to make sure no one prisoner tried anything to escape or stir a conflict of any sort. After the half hour was up, the guards would bark at the prisoners to enter their cages once more, then locked the doors afterward. They wouldn’t open again until twenty-four hours later.
Christina had so far managed to need to go to the ‘bathroom’ only twice so far, and she was lucky to have both times be during those brief moments when prisoners were allowed outside of their cages. Her cellmates weren’t as fortunate, having to ‘go’ while they were confined in the cage. Much as the smell and mere proximity of bodily wastes disgusted her, Christina did not complain, at least not audibly. To be fighting with her occupants would make their situation deteriorate exponentially. If they were going to pull through this, everyone imprisoned in the camp would need to cooperate and support each other, not tear each other apart. Christina, appointed leader of the five within her cell by default, had managed so far to keep her immediate companions empathic and cooperative, but she wondered for how long. The longer they were subjected to inhumane living conditions, the harder it would be to resist infighting. She knew better than to start or contribute to a fight amongst her fellow prisoners, but chances were the others with her didn’t have the same degree of self-control and discipline she did at this point. She knew it would only be a matter of time before the other girls turned on each other, including her. Christina knew she couldn’t blame them for doing so. She would do the same if she hadn’t received the conditioning she had received.
As if living that way wasn’t scarring enough to the mind and soul, the past two evenings guards would take one girl from each cage and lead them away to the central building of the summer park’s grounds – the building known as the Saddledome, where most concerts performed by national and international musicians used to take place. Cold, hungry, and emotionally alone, these girls would be forcibly taken from their cages, even from the literal grasp of their cellmates, and herded at gunpoint to the largest building in the park. These women would e taken at around nine in the evening, after a meager dinner of a small loaf of bread or a tiny can of cold soup was served per cage. As best as Christina could tell, selection of which girls were removed was random. The first girl from her cage to be taken during the second night of their captivity was a twenty-two year old girl named Barbara Brown, perhaps the most level-headed person in the cage, next to Christina. She would often volunteer with Christina to squat in the cage so the rest could sit. Christina liked her the most and talked to her the most as well during their imprisonment. In just a couple of days, she was able to learn that Barbara was a fresh graduate of a nursing program at Mount Royal University, lived with her boyfriend of four years who was also captured, owned two Bichon-Shi Tzu puppies named Allie and Beatrice, loved swimming and skiing, and had been holding an on-call job position as nurse at Foothills Hospital for a month and a half. Unlike most girls taken that night, Barbara calmly went along with the soldier who ordered her out of the cage. Christina, knowing whatever was going to happen was going to be bad, had started to rise to volunteer to take Barbara’s place, but the soldier harshly commanded her to sit back down, aiming his gun at her. Barbara at the time had just stepped out of the cage. She looked back at her cellmates, eventually catching Christina’s gaze. She flashed them all a faint smile. “It’ll be fine,” she assured them in a tone Christina was sure she was pepping up a bit on purpose for hers and her cellmates’ benefits, “It’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.”
Out of concern and mounting anxiety, Christina stayed up until dawn for her friend to return. By the first early hours of the next morning, before the sun even showed, she noticed that most of the girls taken from their cages were returned, all escorted by guards. To her growing dread, she observed that the girls who returned were all in varying stages of what appeared to be trauma. A significant number of them had bruises on their faces and necks, and Christina was sure they had more that didn’t show. Some of the ones who returned were weeping, but quietly, as if they’d been crying more audibly for hours but were just now too exhausted to cry any harder. Fewer others just came back in a state of shell shock. Christina was truly horrified at how these women seemed devoid of emotions or words for whatever happened to them in the Saddledome. It was as if these poor women had been stripped of everything that made them human, everything that made them unique individuals each with their own backgrounds. Christina knew then and there, what these girls had gone through while they were at the Saddledome. She realized what Barbara was still probably being subjected to at that moment. Christina seethed with anger at her captors for everything they had done to her and the countless others in the camp with her. They had no right to keep people in cages like animals. They had no right to use women as toys to satisfy their sick carnal needs. They had no right to be here, in a country where they did not belong.
She stayed awake all the way to the late morning, when the same guard who took Barbara away the previous evening came to unlock her cage. As soon as the door was open, Christina burst out of the cage and confronted the guard, who was bout twice her petite size. She barely noticed the muzzle of the man’s rifle rising to level with her face, his eyes showing a mixture of surprise and momentary fear. Clearly, he didn’t expect this girl standing at five feet tall and of gentle frame to outright face him like this.
“Where’s Barbara?” Christina demanded, fuming, her hands curled into fists at her sides.
“Who?” the soldier blurted quickly, trying to inject some aggression into his voice, although Christina was at this point swimming in it.
“Where is she?” Christina growled furiously, taking a step forward and forcing the soldier to back up a step.
“Christina,” Sarah Mason, one of the three remaining girls from her cage, grabbed Christina by the shoulders and attempted to restrain her, “Christina, you need to calm down. They’re all looking this way. They’ll shoot you dead. Please, please, just walk away.”
Upon hearing the reason coming from Sarah, the soldier Christina was glaring at seemed to gather a degree of confidence. He inched the muzzle of his rifle to about a few millimetres from Christina’s forehead. He charged the charging handle of his assault rifle.
“Better to listen to your friend there, bitch,” he snarled. Christina’s eyes darted to his trigger finger, seeing it resting upon the trigger and easing itself into the guard, “Back the fuck up. Or else go ahead, come closer. Give me an excuse to put one between your eyes.”
Christina clenched and unclenched her hands slowly. She knew she could quickly disarm this guy, take his rifle, and kill him where he stood in less than two seconds. She wanted to do it.
“Your friend Barbara wouldn’t suck me off, bitch, so I blew her pretty little brains out,” the soldier went on tauntingly, clearly enjoying how much he affected Christina now.
Christina’s blood boiled. She knew she could kill this guy now. She’d just made up her mind to do so when the hands on her shoulders squeezed her harder to the point the gesture was painful.
“Christina,” Sarah hissed into her ear with utmost urgency, “Don’t. Don’t do it. You’ve got everyone pointing their guns at you. They’ll shoot you if you do this. Just let it go. Christina, please. Please don’t do this.”
Christina maintained eye contact with the soldier for several seconds, wanting nothing more than to take his gun from him and kill him with his own weapon. She was sure she could do it. She was quick; it would only take a split second.
After a moment however, her rationality crept in. She took a step back, letting Sarah pull her a couple more away from the soldier. She looked around to see that Sarah was right: everyone had their eyes on her. The prisoners were watching the scene timidly, their postures rigid and tense, as if they were afraid that if Christina attacked the guard they’d be punished too for her actions. Christina counted at least half a dozen other nearby soldiers aiming their rifles at her as well. She gave a heavy sigh of frustration, looking down slightly, trying to hide the tears that were starting to come.
“Smart move,” the man whom she’d confronted taunted her one last time, “Next time, I’ll fucking kill you where you stand, bitch.”
It took a minute before tensions were defused somewhat. Sarah kept holding Christina, rubbing her back to comfort her as Christina continued to fight back the tears that wanted out. Sarah said nothing as Christina’s emotions finally got the best of her and trickles of tears slipped past her shut eyelids and began rolling down her cheeks.
The afternoon and early evening that followed was a blur to Christina. During the nearly twelve hours that came after she learned that Barbara Brown was dead, she did not speak at all to her companions. At dinner, Sarah Mason tried to urge her to eat some bread, even offering Christina her share, but the girl remained silent and still, not reacting to anything around her. Sarah stopped trying to get a reaction from her after an hour of on-and-off one-sided conversations but left a chunk of bread and about a fourth of a tin’s worth of stone cold chicken soup beside Christina.
For the first time in several hours, Christina lifted her head to look up at the sky. By then, she guessed it was around nine or ten in the evening, around the same time Barbara was taken away the previous night. It would only be a matter of time before the guards returned to pick which women in the camp they were going to have their way with this time. Which of them would be next to suffer? Sarah Mason? Bonnie Trevor, the 20-year old blonde sitting farthest from her on the opposite end of the cage? Or would it be Olivia Munn, the youngest among them who’d confided in them that she was actually only seventeen years old?
Christina was exhausted. Her stomach growled angrily but she didn’t feel like eating. She was back to squatting and her legs were numb again. She was numb inside now as well. Wasn’t this how the body dealt with extreme stress and loss? Emotions just turn off, because if they didn’t she’d go crazy and lose herself? Shock, disbelief, that slow despair starting to catch up to her… She wanted to believe this was all just a bad dream, that she’d open her eyes to find herself lying in a warm bed in her condominium in the northwest part of the city. She wanted to feel hope, but though it was there within her, it was weak. Flickering. A flame that was on the verge of dying.
The sound of the cage door being unlocked and opened snapped her from her state of limbo. The other girls close to the door instinctively inched away from it.
A large, heavy-set soldier with only his eyes visible in a sea of dark uniform and gear, aiming a rifle with an attached flashlight shone his light at the back of the cage, directly into Christina’s face.
As she held up her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding light, the soldier right outside the door spoke.
“You, in the back. The one in the white hoodie. Get out and put your hands on your head.”
Christina rose from her squat and maneuvered herself toward the cage door. On the way out, she felt Sarah take her hand hold her tightly. When Christina looked at her, she saw that Sarah’s eyes glinted with tears that she was trying not to shed.
“Christina,” she whispered faintly, her voice coated with dread. Christina knew she was worried for her, but also she knew she was worried about how the remaining three girls would hold up if Christina never returned.
Christina dug deep inside her and found the strength to give Sarah a brave little smile.
“It’ll be okay. I’ll be okay,” she nodded slightly, yanking her hand from Sarah’s as gently as she could.
She stepped out of the cage, obeying when the soldier about three times her size ordered her to place her hands on top of her head and turn away from him. Christina heard him lock the cage door behind her again and waited for further instructions. She expected her arms to be tied behind her with zip-tie, same as the rest of the girls who’d so far been to the Saddledome the previous night.
What she didn’t expect was a beefy arm suddenly winding itself around her throat tightly, cutting off her access to air in seconds. She tried to get the arm to release her, scratching and pulling and hammering at the arm with her fists, but this soldier who had her in a chokehold was much too strong for her to fight off. Christina heard the girls from her cage – Sarah the loudest among them – yelling and screaming for the soldier to let her go, but their voices rapidly faded as the lack of oxygen overcame her. The edges of her vision began to darken until the darkness completely swallowed her and she passed out.
When Christina opened her eyes next, it took a moment for her blurry vision to refocus. When she could see more clearly, she took stock of her surroundings.
She couldn’t move any of her limbs. Her arms were upright above her head, wrists held together by what felt like rope, and she was dangling from it. Her feet were not touching the floor. Her ankles were bound together by a similar material as the one her wrists were secured with.
She was in a small room that was lit dimly by a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling by a couple wires. The bulb itself hung from a mere few inches from her light arm, so she could feel the heat coming off it on her skin. Her hoodie had been removed, and upon quickly looking around the room she had to guess was a janitor’s closet (there was enough room for maybe four average-sized people to comfortably move around in it), she found no trace of it. With a feeling of fleeting relief, she realized she was still wearing everything else apart from the missing hoodie.
A door she hadn’t immediately seen was in front of her opened, and a soldier with a more average build than the one she assumed strangled her stepped inside. He was still clad in his uniform but no longer carried a rifle. A quick look at his right thigh showed he was still armed with a handgun. Her eyes tracked upwards and she also noticed a knife sheathed in a scabbard mounted on the soldier’s upper left arm.
When Christina looked up at the soldier’s eyes, she recognized the cold, ghostly gray in them, triggering a roaring rage within her. This was the same man who’d claimed he had killed Barbara Brown.
As she struggled against her bonds, the soldier peeled off his balaclava. For a moment, Christina was stunned to see a rather young face behind the mask. This man could arguably have been under the age of eighteen. He looked to be the age of a senior in high school, much younger than she’d expected. The soldier had a pale complexion, long brown hair that was partly plastered his head from being flattened by him wearing a ski mask, a pronounced nose and prominent cheeks. He looked to be clean shaven with a little five o’clock shadow noticeable just along his jawline and chin.
“Remember me, bitch?” he gave her a nasty, malicious smile, walking over to Christina and locking the door behind him.
He undid the Velcro straps of his bullet-resistant vest and tossed the vest onto a shelf on the wall to the left. Then he undid the buttons of the upper part of his uniform, dropping it to the floor seconds later. He untucked his white undershirt from his pants and unsheathed his knife, holding it up and brandishing it in a half lazy, half elaborate manner in front of Christina.
“Not so tough now that you’re all alone away from your friends, are you?” the man taunted, walking a circle around Christina. “I’m gonna fuck you up in all kinds of ways tonight, you little bitch. I’ll teach you some fucking respect.”
He took the bottom of Christina’s shirt, lifted it halfway up her torso, and with a swift swipe sliced a diagonal cut from her stomach to her left side. Christina let out a discreet grunt of pain. She wasn’t going to let this guy have the satisfaction of hearing her scream, or beg. She wasn’t going to show him fear. If Barbara could resist being assaulted, or tortured, or raped, or whatever else… then she could, too. She would not surrender her dignity like this. She racked her mind frantically, trying to pick and find a moment of opportunity – if and when it showed itself, she was going to take this son of a bitch out. She knew that unarmed and outnumbered, her odds of making it out of the compound were slim as a generous estimate, but she didn’t care. Anything was better than to hang here helplessly and eventually die for nothing.
The man chuckled, testing the point of his blade with a ginger touch of a finger. “Did that hurt? No? It wasn’t supposed to. That’s only the beginning of what I’m going to do to you. Now, let’s looky-looky what you’ve got going on under here.”
His fingers landed upon the waistband of her jeans, and with an unpleasant shudder, Christina looked down to see the man starting to undo the hook and eye of her jeans.
Just as she felt the pressure on her lower torso decrease, telling her that her jeans had just come undone, she sucked in a breath. Think, damn it. There’s got to be a way out of this. Don’t let this happen. Come on –
A dull boom groaned into the room from somewhere outside, some distance away. Christina looked up at the ceiling, mentally calculating how far the explosion was. If she was in the Saddledome, then she estimated the explosion was coming from an adjacent area, perhaps the parking lot close to the north gates to the park.
Her captor froze for a second, then retracted his hand from further undressing Christina. A couple seconds later, a second explosion went off, this time sounding closer than the first. At the same time this second explosion was heard, the single light bulb in the room went out, plunging the room in total darkness.
“The fuck?” the soldier in the same room as Christina blurted, sounding both bewildered and tense. Christina couldn’t see him in the pitch black room, but she could sense him moving toward the gear he had put on the shelf to her left. She heard some rustling, then a minute beep of what she assumed to be his handheld radio.
“Hey, hey!” Christina heard him barking into his radio, “What the hell is going on out there? Respond!”
“There’s—we—being attacked—unknown hostiles—requesting backup—north gate—we can’t—” came a frightened male voice from the radio. Automatic gunfire could faintly be heard in the background of the transmission, but most of it was doused in static in between words. Right after the fragmented response came through, constant static replaced the plea for reinforcements, then the radio became silent.
Before the soldier in the room with Christina could do or say anything else, the sound of a third explosion tore through the building. Christina was certain that it came from somewhere within the same structure she was in. Almost immediately, she heard some muffled yelling and screaming of some other soldiers somewhere outside her room mingling with fully automatic gunfire filling the air and drowning out everything else.
“Shit,” the young soldier cursed, genuine panic becoming clear in his tone.
A few seconds later, the room became partly visible again as the man drew his pistol and flicked on its underbarrel tactical light. He turned his back to Christina, standing in the centre of the room, just an arm’s length away from Christina. He held his pistol in one hand, pointing it at the door in front of him, while he clicked his portable radio in his other hand.
“This is Troy, does anyone read me? This is Troy, someone give me a sitrep! Goddammit, someone answer me!”
The gunfire outside the room gradually tapered off after about a minute, then everything was silent. The only thing Christina could hear by then were hers and her captor’s breathing.
Neither Christina nor the soldier named Troy said anything for another several seconds. Christina’s heart thumped loudly in her ears. Was this an early rebellion? Were there rebels outside the building, storming the detainment camp? The odds were not likely. She found it profoundly fantastical to think of a large enough number of civilians finding enough armament and being knowledgeable enough to attack a detachment of soldiers in what she assumed to be a fairly fortified facility. Besides, judging from how the second explosion she’d heard had apparently coincided with the power going out, she had to guess the second detonation was deliberately set off to kill the power to the compound. That meant that whoever was attacking the detainment facility was coordinated – too coordinated to be some rag tag rebels. These people on the offense were tactical and calculated. By the sounds of things, they were winning too, at least here in Stampede Park.
“This is Troy,” Troy’s voice trembled slightly, his breathing now ragged and rapid, “Anyone… are you still out there? What the fuck is going on?”
There was no response from any of Troy’s colleagues. The room – the whole building, even – was quiet. Only the distant sounds of gunfire from somewhere else within the compound could be heard.
What’s going on here? Who’s attacking?
Another minute of silence ticked by. Troy clicked his radio one more time.
“Hello…? Is anyone still out there? This is Corporal Adam Troy, can anyone hear me?”
When still no one answered, he threw his radio to the stone floor in frustration. “Goddammit!” he said to himself, sounding well and truly scared.
Without warning, the steel door to the outside of the room gave a tiny groan, as if someone from the outside had tried pulling on it but couldn’t open it as the door was locked from the inside.
Troy shifted his grip on his gun, straightening his right arm and now using his left hand to support his shooting hand. The door groaned again but remained silent. Another groan followed immediately after.
“Who’s there? Identify yourself! I’ll fucking shoot you, I swear!” Troy yelled, racking the slide of his pistol.
There was no answer from the other side of the door. For another moment, there was only silence. Christina tensely waited for whatever was going to happen next. Troy stood as still as a statue, clearly too afraid to go outside and check the situation.
Then suddenly, there were six consecutive high-pitched but discreet beeps from right up against the outside of the steel door. Christina recognized the sounds right away – the sound of a keypad being pressed to enter a sequence of numbers.
It was a breaching charge.
Troy seemed to catch on to her line of thinking too, but by then he was too late to do anything.
“Oh, sh—” Troy began to say, but the rest was drowned out by a controlled explosion that blew the door off its hinges and sent it flying inward. Christina flinched at the sound and would have been struck by the incoming door if Troy wasn’t standing between her and it.
The door smacked into Troy, who yelped in pain. The force with which the door hit him was not enough to seriously hurt him, however. More than anything, Troy was startled and wildly began firing into the dust where the door was only seconds ago, sending perhaps fifteen rounds out the room before his weapon clicked dry twice. He hastily inserted a fresh magazine into his pistol.
At the exact same time Troy’s new magazine clicked into place and as he moved his left hand to rack the slide and chamber a round, a figure darted with blinding speed into the room from the left side of the blown doorway. Troy was able to ready and aim his pistol at this figure but was too slow to do anything else.
The newcomer used a hand to knock Troy’s shooting arm upward, causing his already panicky shot to go completely wide and hit the upper wall. At the same time, the figure grappled with Troy so that Troy’s back was to the wall on Christina’s right. In a motion so fast Christina barely saw it, the man who breached the room drew a handgun from his right thigh holster and literally from the hip, fired two rounds that ripped into Troy’s gut. Troy surprisingly managed to thrust his shooting arm forward and point the muzzle of his pistol at the figure’s face, but the other man was still too quick; with his free left hand, he grabbed Troy’s right forearm and lowered his body momentarily while jamming the side of his own right forearm into Troy’s armpit. He lowered his body slightly to gain momentum and using his upper body, lifted Troy for a split second to flip and throw the soldier as if his right arm was a clothesline and Troy had just smacked into it at speed. Troy ended up on his back with the top of his head to the other man, who then straightened up and used a one-handed grip to deliver one last round that drilled a hole between Troy’s eyes, killing him instantly. The entire tussle lasted no more than five seconds.
The man who had just rapidly and singlehandedly dispatched Christina’s would-be-torturer holstered his pistol and reached into his coat for something. Holding up a small flashlight, he pointed it at Christina but not directly into her face.
It was at this moment that Christina was able to see what this mysterious man looked like. He stood at about five feet, ten inches tall. He had a face that was mostly visible except for the top of his forehead, which was covered with a black watch cap or beanie. He had a serious, no-bullshit expression on his face, as if he didn’t even break a sweat eliminating a threat in extremely close quarters just moments prior. He had facial features that were strikingly handsome, though his eyes were the ones that demanded Christina’s attention: dark, analytic, the eyes of someone who thrived, lived and breathed, in this kind of hostile environment. At the same time, she sensed something else within them, perhaps some semblance of vulnerability, but that she couldn’t be sure of. As of now, the big word that jumped out at her in her mind when finding how to describe this man was ‘dangerous’, though she got the feeling that word was not reserved for her. He was sporting perhaps a couple days’ worth of stubble above his upper lip, the sides of his face, and along and under his jaw and chin. His facial features had clear signs of some Spanish, maybe even Asian heritage. If Christina had to guess, he was around the same age as her too.
The man looked Christina over briefly, then lifted his eyes again to meet hers.
“Christina Valentine?” he asked, surprising Christina with the lack of an accent in the way he spoke. His accent resembled that of most born-and-raised English-speaking Canadians.
“Who wants to know?” she answered back, deflecting the question, playing it safe until she could confirm this guy wasn’t an enemy. He certainly wasn’t dressed like the soldiers who walked about the compound normally. Those men wore standard dark camouflage fatigues, wore matching balaclavas, and did not carry backpacks. This guy was clad in clothing that could be easily mistaken for civilian winter wear. He wore a dark gray windbreaker that was totally unzipped to show a rather unusual-looking bullet-resistant vest underneath it that looked like it was made of a thinner material than the ones worn by Troy and the enemy soldiers running the camp. This unusual vest was dark gray and matched the colour of his windbreaker, whereas Troy’s and the others’ were tan. This guy wore an arctic-camouflaged shemagh around his neck, and for bottoms he was sporting what appeared to be dark pants made of some tough fabric that wasn’t quite black in colour but had flecks of white along the upper leg portions, like powders of snow. He was also wearing winter boots that bore a black and white design that made them appear like bulky sneakers from a quick glance.
Definitely not one of those grunts she’d been seeing the last couple of days. And definitely not on their side, either. The dead body laying on the floor with a bloody bullet hole between its open eyes was ample proof of that.
The man ignored Christina’s counter-question and looked away slightly, tapping an earpiece in his right ear.
“I’ve found her. Archer, prep for exfil. Goliath, disengage and meet with Archer, make sure the south gates are down so as many detainees have a chance at getting out. Hold the south gate with the truck and don’t let any of those bastards through. I’m going to bet they have alternate comms than the ones we’ve just knocked out, so reinforcements will be here any minute. I want us to be ghosts and a cloud of smoke before that happens. I’m on the way to the RV point, three minutes out. Be ready for a quick exit.”
The man turned back to Christina, who was now almost completely certain who this guy was with just from listening to him speak into his communication device. He drew a tactical knife that was sheathed in a scabbard mounted on the right breast portion of his windbreaker. Christina noted the rather unorthodox way he carried his knife on him; it was oriented diagonally on his chest, with the handle pointing toward the base of his neck and the tip of the blade pointing toward his upper right arm or right elbow.
He cut Christina’s ankles free first, then cut her down from her suspended position. Christina managed to land on her feet but nearly lost her balance; she was suddenly aware of how weak she felt now. Her head swam in dizziness and disorientation for a moment as her hunger mounted.
“We’ll be moving fast,” the guy who released her said, digging into his one-strap backpack and pulling out a fleece jacket before tossing it to Christina, who caught it in midair. “Stick with me and don’t stop for anything or anyone.”
Christina put on the jacket and zipped it up to her neck. She looked back up at the man who was just finishing up securing his bag to his body again.
“Things must be really bad if the C.O.S. activated you guys,” Christina mused aloud, rubbing some life into her wrists to stimulate blood circulation, “Who are you, exactly?”
The guy drew the same pistol he’d used to shoot Corporal Troy only a minute or two ago. He ejected the current magazine, stowed it in his vest, and slammed a fresh magazine home. Twirling the gun on its side in one hand, he extended his arm to offer Christina the weapon, the pistol’s grip facing her. Christina promptly took the handgun from him.
“You requested a transfer months ago to another team operating in this area, and we’re it,” he replied simply, pulling out another pistol from the holster on his left thigh, doing a brass check to see if he had a round in the pipe.
Christina looked down at the weapon she was given, which she nearly immediately identified as a modified Hecker Koch HK45 semiautomatic handgun, chambered in her calibre of choice: 45 ACP. A custom recoil compensator had been installed at the muzzle, and the custom night sights mounted on the slide glowed bright red in the semi darkness. A compact XD300 laser-light module was mounted as an underbarrel attachment. She power racked the slide by grasping the back end of the slide between the meaty part of her hand and every finger apart from the thumb, pulling it back briskly then letting the slide go to chamber a round from the fresh magazine. It felt good to hold a weapon again.
Her new companion, now holding what appeared to be a long-slide Walther PPQ handgun, started to move ahead and take point, but Christina interrupted him as she followed him out of the room and into a dark hallway where the bodies of several enemy soldiers were lying on the floor in pools of blood.
“You still haven’t told me your name.”
The guy paused and looked at Christina over his left shoulder for a second. He started to walk forward again after, and Christina followed closely behind him, turning 180 degrees to watch their six o’clock so she needed to walk backwards carefully.
“Welcome to Shadow Team”, her newfound ally answered in a voice of lethal calm that she took some comfort in hearing, “Call me Knight.”