Charlie Don't Surf

rating: +3+x

April 11th, 1990

"Come on, lazy bones," Iris said, lightly punching Hollender's arm, waking him up from his nap.

"Bugger," Hollender muttered.

Hollender groggily sat up in his seat, his vision adjusting to the bright sunlight. Squinting through his eyes, he saw the rows of fold-out seats of a Chinook helicopter. Down the ramp, he saw dozens of agents dressed in black-and-green uniforms jogging with heavy equipment and driving several olive-green Jeeps down the landing strip.

He looked to his left, spotting Iris standing above him. Her deep red hair was tied in a bun, and she wore a pair of dark red-tinted sunglasses. In each gloved hand, she held an M4A1 carbine fitted with a suppressor, laser sight, and ACOG scope. She lazily tossed one at Hollender, and he caught it with both hands.

He looked down the ramp of the helicopter, and past the airstrip. He saw a dense forest of pale trees that looked like the colour had been stripped from them, leaving a neutral palette of browns and greens behind.

Hollender stood up in a daze, holding onto the helmet that was in his lap.

"Welcome to Russia, Chief," Hollender heard from behind him.

He turned his head and saw their pilot, Queequeg. He was wearing a flight helmet with a dark-tinted visor. A coffin was printed onto the front of the helmet, with slick angelic wings sprouting on either side. A tube connected to the mask, running down to a rectangular box hanging on his chest. He wore a light outfit that was tinted olive-green and wore a floating collar around his neck. Hollender looked down, spotting the Colt-1911 holstered in a strap under his armpit.

Hollender, Iris, and Queequeg walked down the ramp, and Major Stone appeared followed by a squad of six agents.

"Alright everybody, let's move it out," Stone said into his headset radio, waving at a group of jeeps that was passing by.

As Hollender stepped off of the Chinook, he was blinded by the harsh sunlight. He covered his face with his hand and waited for his vision to adjust.

The Jeeps stopped next to Stone, allowing the soldiers to get in. Iris ushered Hollender towards a Jeep in the back, and they slipped into the back two seats while Queequeg sauntered away to a Blackhawk on the other side of the runway.

"Wait!" Reed yelled, hopping out of the Jeep.

Hollender darted his eyes and saw the recruit. He wore a similar outfit to Hollender's, just not as weathered, showing that he was brand new. Reed's dark skin looked glossy in the bright light, shining off of his bald forehead.

He dashed a couple of feet away and stopped, kneeling on the cracked pavement of the runway. He pulled a small digital camera out of a bag dangling next to his waist, raising it to his eye.

His smile widened, "First mission together!" and clicked the shutter button, snapping a picture of the dozen agents sitting on the jeeps. Several of their legs dangled off of them.

Reed took a moment, looking down at the camera before his smile instantly returned, and he gave a thumbs up. He ran back to the Jeep and jumped on, dangling his legs off of the back of the jeep, sitting in front of Hollender.

"We good to move, Oliver?" Hollender said into his radio.

"All present and accounted for, Charles," Stone said, giving a thumbs-up to Hollender's driver.

"Alright. We're green on Operation Snake Den," Hollender jolted back slightly as the Jeep began to move.

The convoy of three Jeeps drove off the tarmac and passed through a tall chainlink gate onto a dirt road through the woods. The sunlight passed through the gaps in the trees overhead and shone onto the faces of the recruits as they looked around with wonder.

Dallas sat in front of Hollender, facing outwards to the woods. He wore a Boonie hat and a jungle camouflage shirt with the sleeves rolled up. On each arm, he had black neoprene sleeves and fingerless gloves. He had several bags and a canteen tied around his waist, with a holster for a Colt-1911 tucked in-between two packets on his right hip. His pants matched his shirt, with black kneepads splattered with dirt and shiny black boots that reflected the sunlight.

He rolled his balaclava above the bridge of his nose and took a cigarette out of a small red and white cartridge. Placing it between his lips, he raised his metallic lighter and flicked the spark. He closed his eyes and inhaled, holding for a moment before exhaling a trail of smoke.

He opened his eyes and slowly looked at Hollender silently before returning his gaze in front of him to the woods.

Private James Reed excitedly turned to Hollender, "Colonel, you think you could hold onto this?" He said as he retrieved a photograph of the group from his chest pocket.

Hollender nodded and flashed a small smile, taking the picture and putting it in a bag on his waist. Reed released the magazine from his M4A1 and checked it, making sure it was topped up and forcefully placed it back in his carbine.

Hollender looked down, pulling the fingerless gloves tighter around his hands. He unlatched his green canteen from his waist and unscrewed the lid. He raised it to his mouth and took several large gulps of water while he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead.

He looked at his watch, 09:32 AM. It'll take another hour and a half to get there, and unlatched a pair of headphones connected to a silver Walkman on his belt, placing them over his ears. He opened the cartridge and checked that his mixtape was inside. Closing it shut with affirmation, he pressed the 'play' button and the grainy sound of Take on Me began to play in his ears. He closed his eyes and smiled.

We're talking away
I don't know what
I'm to say I'll say it anyway
Today's another day to find you
Shying away
I'll be coming for your love, okay?

Hollender opened his eyes as the vehicles came to a stop.

"We've arrived outside of Bagratashen, Charles," Dallas said, lightly patting Hollender's shoulder.

"Thanks," Hollender said, hopping off of the Jeep.

The rest of the agents slid off in unison, immediately shuffling into formation next to the group of three Jeeps. Hollender looked around as he stretched. They were in a small clearing surrounded by a dense forest, and Hollender could see the small town of Bagratashen through the gaps in the treeline.

Stone sauntered next to him, "You've got Alpha with King. I'm Bravo with Riley."

"Ding's got Charlie, yeah?"

"With Eggs," Stone said, turning and walking to a small detachment of seven agents to the right of the formation.

Iris stepped up next to Hollender, stretching her arms out in front of her. She slipped the balaclava over her face and fastened the helmet on her head, clicking the straps into place under her chin.

She patted Hollender's arm, "Good to go, Charles?"

"Yeah," Hollender said, motioning for her to move with him.

They approached the group of five operatives on the far left of the formation. Hollender glanced to his right, spotting Ding's massive body and Eggs standing in front of their squad, looking at a map spread out across the hood of one of the Jeeps.

Hollender and Iris stopped and stood in front of their squad, Hollender observed the group while they fastened their helmets to their heads and checked the ammunition in their rifles.

Iris stepped forward, moving to talk to one of the new recruits, Petra Ariti, who perched her balaclava on the bridge of her nose to take a swig of her canteen. Ariti's tan skin glistened in the mid-day sun, her eyes brown eyes looked glossy in the warm light.

Hollender looked across the group, spotting his other squadmates: Blanchet Cartier, Edward Connery, Vincent Ludlow, Leonard McMahon, and James Reed. Each one of them prepared in some different way; Blanchet was scribbling in a small leather journal, Edward slid a red cassette tape into a Walkman and placed a small pair of headphones over his ears, Leonard and Vincent were locked in an arm wrestle in the Jeep, and James Reed was taking pictures of the surrounding forest with a look of wonder on his face.

A small beep came from the radio on Hollender's shoulder, "Are we good to move out?" Stone said.

Hollender turned to his squad and raised his voice, "Disciple-1 are we green?"

The entire squad turned to him in unison and gave him a thumbs-up.

He looked down to his radio and pressed the 'transmit' button, "We are good to move it along."

"Gotcha. Disciple-2 and Disciple-3 are ready to move, just waiting for your signal."

Hollender unlatched the radio and switched the frequency to the Command Channel, "Disciple-1-1 to Vagabond, over."

"Vagabond receives."

"Disciple is ready to move out and commence Operation Snake Den, over."

"Copy that, Disciple-1-1. You're cleared to move, out."

Hollender latched the radio onto his shoulder and turned to the group, raising his voice, "Alright. Let's get out of here!"

All of the agents stopped what they were doing and got into formation, lining up in their squads with their weapons ready.

Hollender and Iris walked towards Stone, and the Major motioned the squads forward.

Stone got on the radio, "Disciple-1 on the left takes the large house, -2 swings right behind the smaller house, and -3 goes behind with -2 and to the next smaller house. The three houses are isolated from the village so they shouldn't be getting any reinforcements without us knowing about it."

Alder's voice crackled on the radio, "Rememba', we need this informant alive. He's offered us a lot of information if we can drag him outta' there."

Hollender's team jogged next to him and Iris. She turned to them, "Check your thermals, Air Head snipers could be anywhere in this treeline."

Petra replied, "Yes ma'am," and Reed gave a thumbs-up.

Hollender raised his arm, signalling for his team to follow him as he stepped into the dense forest. His M4A1 carbine bounced up and down on his back as he stepped over fallen trees and small streams.

He adjusted the sling over his shoulder and pinched the bridge of his nose, sliding the balaclava on his face to be more comfortable.

Hollender motioned left and right, directing the squad to spread out as they moved through the forest.

Petra and Reed descended into a shallow riverbed and Reed lost his footing, slipping on a rock. Petra caught his arm and hoisted him up, holding him for a second before releasing him, "Careful, James," she chuckled softly.

The group began a slow incline up a hill towards the small, rural village of Bagratashen. There were three isolated homes at the top of the hill, all connected by the main courtyard in the centre. Each home was a two-story building, with several small windows on each side. The paint on each building looked to be salmon, once upon a time. Although several portions of paint had eroded and the dark grey stone underneath was visible.

Around him, the thin, greyish-brown tree trunks stood tall and the light shone down through the canopy, illuminating patches of the forest floor and Hollender's team as they moved. Each step Hollender took crunched and he looked down at the hundreds of dead, brown leaves on the forest floor.

Hollender heard faint voices in the courtyard and immediately raised his hand, clenching his fingers into a fist. All of the agents behind him immediately stopped, freezing like deer in headlights.

Hollender slid to his knees behind a rotting log, pressing his chest to the ground. He leaned around the log, peering towards the courtyard on the hill, spotting two men dressed in green and brown. They wore ballistic helmets and olive-coloured balaclavas. One of the soldiers had a bulky brown backpack with an antenna peaking out of the top of the bag while the other wore a pale-green ghillie suit.

Hollender plucked the radio from his shoulder, "Disciple-1 has encountered two Charlies in the courtyard."

Stone's voice appeared on the radio, "Right, we've just come up on your North-East. Think I see a marksman in our building on the second floor."

Hollender pressed the 'transmit' button, "Ding, whaddya got?"

"Nothing so far, we're just behind Stone."

"Try to wrap around further North so you and Disciple-2 aren't grouped up," Hollender whispered into his radio.

"Copy that. Disciple-3-1, out."

Hollender clipped the radio back onto his shoulder and motioned for the team to move right. He lifted himself off of the floor, crouch-walking to the right to avoid the gaze of the two soldiers.

The Colonel heard someone scuffling behind him. He turned his head and saw Corporal Cartier moving towards him and he stopped and waited for him to catch up.

"Boss, I caught a claymore on the sweeper back there. Watch your step," Cartier said, moving away behind a tree.

Hollender gave him a thumbs-up and stepped forward into a dried-up stream. Hollender heard a muffled 'click' behind him and was immediately thrown on his face as a blast of orange light enveloped the surrounding area. His ears rang and heard shots of gunfire zip by above his head. Hollender breathed heavily, the dirt and dead leaves pressed against his face as he heaved himself onto his back, grasping his rifle and checking his surroundings.

Hollender looked to his right, spotting Stone's squad opening fire on the soldiers in the courtyard. The suppressed shots of their rifles were muffled by Hollender's still-damaged hearing. He shook his head, brushing the dirt off of his face as his hearing began to return.

Hollender heard Ding's frantic voice on the radio, "Charles, can we call in Tailwind Squadron to provide support!"

He groggily responded, "Negative, negative. We cannot risk hurting the informant. Encircle them on the North, I'm moving North-East to assault the main building," Hollender said as he peeked over the ridge, spotting a marksman suppressing the agents behind him.


"Charles, you alright?"

Hollender darted his eyes to his left, spotting Iris crouched down next to him.

"I'm fine," Hollender said as he coughed, "Can you take out that marksman up there? Second story, far right window," Hollender said, heaving.

"Don't worry, I've got you," Iris said, sliding next to Hollender patting his shoulder lightly, slowly angling her M24 Sniper Rifle on the ridgeline.

She peered through the scope, adjusting the rifle on the leaves and dirt. She clenched her first against her chest for a moment and released, gripping the barrel of the rifle. She exhaled and pulled the trigger, firing a 7.62x51mm round toward the sniper in the building some 40 metres away. Iris slinked back down into the depression, nodding to Hollender and pulling on the bolt.

Private Reed, Ludlow, and the Field Medic, McMahon appeared in the trench. They crouched down next to Hollender, providing fire on the forces on the hill.

"McMahon, what's Cartier's status?" Hollender said.

"KIA, Sir," McMahon replied, lowering his rifle in defeat.

"Shite," Hollender said, providing a moment of silence, "Reed, Ludlow, McMahon. We're flanking around the right so we can wrap around and hit them from behind," Hollender said, moving behind the three recruits through the dried-up stream.

Bullets whizzed over their heads as they moved right around the buildings. Hollender flinched as bullets landed against the dirt above him.

The five agents dashed through the stream, keeping their heads down as they ran. Hollender could only hear his muffled breathing and the shots grazing the air above him as he ran. Beads of sweat trickled down the side of his head and he wiped them off hastily.

Hollender stopped.

He turned towards the houses on the hill and looked to the teammates to his left and unlatched the radio, "Disciple, Disciple-1 is advancing to the houses on the North-West side. What's your status, over."

"Disciple-3 is moving to hold their attention, over," Ding said over the sound of gunfire.

"Disciple-2 is continuing with the plan. We're moving North-East to the furthest building, over," Stone said.

Hollender looked above the trench. He saw Stone's squad moving up the hill on the other side, trading fire in a shower of bullets.

"Copy all. Good luck, out," Hollender said as he began to dash through the riverbed.

Hollender's hearing faded in and out. He could hear his shaky breath as he jumped up and down over roots and dead, brown leaves. He could feel the droplets of sweat forming at the top of his forehead, sliding down to his brow. The light-

He suddenly tripped. As he flew forward, time seemed to slow down and he could see the thick root he tripped over.

"Fuck," Hollender thought as he planted his chin into the dirt.

Hollender's vision was fuzzy and his head spun. He pushed himself up and he felt someone pulling on the straps of his vest from behind. He was pulled to his feet and glanced behind him, spotting Iris and the other recruits right behind him.

"On your feet, lazy bones," Iris said, Hollender's hearing still faded.

He simply grunted in return and darted through the riverbed, watching where he was placing his feet more carefully.

He turned, facing the upwards slope of the hill and the dimly lit stone houses above. Hollender motioned to his left and right, signalling the group to spread out.

He took several deep breaths and pressed his thumb on the 'transmit' button, "Over the top, let's go."

He lept over the ridge, landing in a pile of dead leaves and rushing up the side of the hill. He darted his eyes to the left and right, spotting Iris next to him with her rifle bouncing on her back and the other recruits struggling to climb up the steep terrain.

He reached the wall of a building and pressed his back against the hard stone and watched as the other agents reached the wall, standing behind Hollender as he inched his way to the corner of the building.

He peered around the corner, spotting several soldiers dressed in green-and-black fatigues and light armour. They had gas masks dangling around their necks and dark green balaclavas covering their faces. Their helmets were black with netting, covered in fake leaves and moss.

The soldiers were set up at sandbags facing outwards towards Ding's squad. one soldier was on a turret emplacement, Hollender figured it was a DShK Machine Gun, and there was a soldier replacing the ammunition while another rattled off several rounds, shaking up and down as the Machine Gun spat out round after round.

Soldiers rushed back and forth between several emplacements, tossing spare magazines to other soldiers and setting up additional defences where Hollender's teams had found holes in defences.

Hollender brought his head back around the corner and turned to his squad, "I count about 15 Charlies, most of 'em on the left side at the sandbags. Entrance to our building is behind them," Hollender said, looking around. He spotted a rusted metal ladder, leading to the roof of the larger stone house.

He turned his head back to his team, "Iris, Reed, head up to the roof and provide fire while we move through the courtyard," Hollender said, pointing to the ladder.

Iris nodded and turned, climbing up the first rungs of the ladder while Private Reed stood at attention and swiftly saluted Hollender, turning and climbing up after Iris.

Hollender motioned the team behind him, and they crept along the side of the building to the opening into the courtyard. Looking up, he spotted Iris, positioning the butt of the rifle into her shoulder, bracing for recoil. She glanced at Hollender for a moment.

He took a deep breath and exhaled. Looking back to Iris, he pulled his hand into the air and brought it down in a fist. Reed flashed an 'OK' sign and patted Iris' shoulder. Hollender slinked to the corner, watching the unknowing Clear Skies soldiers. He pressed the butt of his M4A1 carbine into his shoulder and his breathing became louder in his head.

Hollender heard the blast from Iris' M24 sniper rifle and he rounded the corner, raising his carbine and firing at the soldier positioned on the DShK turret. He fell forward onto the barrel and slinked off, lifelessly falling to the ground. As the soldier next to him spun around in surprise, Hollender squeezed the trigger, releasing a burst of fire into the head of the soldier.

Next to him, Hollender heard the shots from his teammates and saw Clear Skies soldiers fall in unison in front of him. As Hollender continued into the courtyard along the wall of a building, the large, worn wooden door flew open, and Hollender locked eyes with a Clear Skies soldier.

The soldier wore the same blood-red beret as that soldier from Cambodia and had a similarly-designed badge. Their eyes widened as Hollender's figure appeared.

Hollender raised his rifle at the soldier, but he kicked Hollender's weapon aside, stepping closer.

He had all-black clothing and a vest. With a gloved hand, he reached to his shoulder, he unsheathed a machete from a leather pocket and brought it in front of him.

If I lunge first, I leave myself exposed to his attacks. I need to wait for him to make the first move, Hollender thought, as he started sweating bullets.

The soldier performed a swift downwards slash, aiming for his clavicle. Hollender sidestepped and rotated next to him, throwing him off. The soldier immediately shifted to Hollender's new position, staring him down as Hollender moved further back into the building.

The soldier executed another downwards slash, followed by an upwards jab. Hollender stepped to his right, but the upwards slash pricked his bicep. Hollender jerked back and collected himself. He backstepped and retrieved his knife from the sheath on his shoulder. Sidestepping from another jab, Hollender retorted with a slice of his own, slashing the arm of the soldier.

"Fuck!" The soldier spouted angrily as he advanced on Hollender.

Hollender followed up with another downwards attack but was countered by the machete. They locked blades, and Hollender pushed with all of his might. The soldier grunted in return, pushing down with all of his force. Hollender looked down and kicked him in the shins. He fell to the floor, dropping the machete and it clattered on the floor.

Hollender kicked the machete behind him and pointed the knife at the soldier, "You're comin' with us, mate," Hollender panted.

The soldier placed his hands behind his head in defeat.

Hollender looked around, noticing the electrical cables flowing through the room and under doors on opposite sides of the room. Several portraits hung on the wall of what Hollender guessed was the family that previously occupied the house. The black-and-white photographs illustrated generations of the family, with several portraits hanging on the walls. Worn furniture sat around the floor, and a dusty, red, threadbare rug sat in the middle of the room. A small set of stairs rose to the second floor of the house, and several muddy footprints trailed up the stairs.

Hollender turned to the sound of thumping boots. Stone and Dallas appeared with Iris following close behind.

Stone glanced down at the soldier and scoffed, "We've secured the two houses outside. This is the last building to clear," He said as he reloaded his carbine.

"Good, good. What's the friendly casualty count?" Hollender responded.

"Four KIA, including Cartier," Stone said, lowering his head.

"Damnit," Hollender said, clenching his fist as he watched one of Stone's soldiers silently handcuff the soldier on the floor.

Ding entered the room, "Secured a perimeter, Boss."

"Good. Ding, you take the right door, Stone takes the left. Execute with extreme prejudice," Hollender stated, picking up his carbine and reloading it, sliding the magazine into a pocket on his vest.

"Copy that, Charles," Ding said, chuckling as he moved to the doorway with his team right behind him.

Stone moved to the left door and waited for Hollender's go-ahead.

Hollender moved to the base of the stairway and wiped the sweat off of his forehead.

"Go, go, go!" Hollender shouted, motioning up the steps.

He cautiously stepped up the staircase and he heard his team creaking up the stairs behind him. Hollender peaked over the top step, spotting a wooden door immediately in front of him with a hallway stretching out of his view to the left. He inched his way to the corner and peeked around, spotting two more doors at the other end of the hallway with a small window casting a beam of light onto the worn, wooden floorboards.

He quickly shifted to the far wall, pressing his back against the torn, red wallpaper. Eggs pushed to the other side of the door, checking the door handle to see if it was locked. He carefully edged the brass doorknob but didn't hear the click. He recoiled his hand and shook his head to Hollender.

The Colonel cupped his left hand and motioned it down, signalling Eggs to plant a breaching charge. Hollender saw the corners of Eggs' eyes wrinkle under his balaclava in satisfaction as he reached into his satchel. Pulling out a strip of three cylindrical charges connected by a wire, he pressed the top one on the door, then the middle one, and knelt down to secure the final one on the bottom of the door.

Eggs looked up at Hollender and gave him an 'OK' sign while the Colonel checked the agents behind Eggs, Ding, Stone, and James Reed. Hollender nodded at the group, and they nodded back, signalling that they were ready.

Hollender looked back to Eggs, who had stood up and cautiously held the black, rectangular detonator in his hand, finger resting right off of the bright green trigger. Hollender and Eggs nodded at each other, and he turned away, recoiling his body against the wall.

Hollender heard the faint click of the trigger, and a split second later the door collapsed in a flurry of wooden shards. They pattered against Hollender's back like a hailstorm and he instinctively turned, rushing into the room and swinging right as Eggs turned left. A Clear Skies soldier dressed in a green-and-black camouflaged outfit was holding their head, groaning as Hollender raised his red-dot sight on his head and squeezed the trigger, firing a burst of 5.56×45 millimetre ammunition.

The Clear Skies soldier toppled over onto a stained glass table before slinking off, knocking a plastic chair to its side as he fell lifelessly to the floor. Hollender heard several suppressed shots to his left, and darted his eyes, spotting Eggs and Ding eliminating two more Clear Skies agents.

"Clear!" Eggs shouted, lowering his M4A1 carbine.

Hollender gave a sigh of relief, lowering his carbine in unison with the rest of the squad. The mood instantly shifted, as Hollender could tell his squadmates were free to relax. Relax, but stay on guard.

Hollender turned around, spotting their target. In front of him, was a fairly chubby man, Hollender guessed mid-forties, maybe late forties on a bad day. He wore dirtied khaki pants and a worn denim jacket. His face was bloodied, and his right cheek was swollen as a small trickle of blood dripped from his broken nose and over his black moustache. He sat on a wooden crate, his hands ziptied behind his head.

He spoke in a gruff Russian accent, muttering in Russian before speaking to Hollender, "Thank goodness, I was being smacked around like a pig," he said as Stone sauntered behind him, cutting the ziptie with his combat knife.

"Yevgeniy Borodin?" Hollender said.

"Yes, Sir. That's me. I was about to lose hope that-"

"You have our information?" Hollender cut him off.

"Of course I do, Sir," Borodin said, patting his chest.

"Information's probably compromised if they had their way with him before we got 'ere," Dallas said, standing behind Hollender.

"Nonsense, my friend. I can assure you that they did not have time to thoroughly search me."

Hollender sighed and rubbed his chin, "Come on then, reinforcements are probably on their way."

The Colonel stepped out of the room, checking the corner of his eye to find Borodin following closely behind like a dog.

"Iris, you copy?" Hollender said, holding the radio in his hand."

"Always, what's up?"

"Objective complete, we're getting out of here."

"Gotcha, out."

Hollender stepped down the stairs and latched the radio back onto his shoulder, pushing the front door open and stepping out. He looked across the courtyard, spotting the dozen bodies of the Clear Skies soldiers.

He heard a faint groan on the ground next to him and he looked down, a Clear Skies soldier stared back, heaving and sputtering as a small pool of blood collected around his torso. Hollender stood still, peering at the soldier in guilt, looking into the eyes of the soldier. Domingo walked next to him and looked at the soldier for a moment before unholstering his M9 pistol, firing a round, connecting with his face and he topped backwards, lifeless.

"Bloody Nora, Ding."

"What?" Ding said, holstering his pistol and walking away.

Hollender looked to the body before turning away, walking through the alley he took before, Finding Iris and Reed climbing down the ladder.

"Good shooting back there," Hollender said, unlatching his helmet.

"Nice fall back there," Iris chuckled as she turned to him.

Reed snickered as he climbed down the last rung of the ladder.

"Always quick with the jokes, aren't you, Sergeant," Hollender smiled dryly, holding his helmet under his arm and tugging at the balaclava, revealing his messed-up hair. He quickly combed his fingers through his sweaty black hair.

"It comes, naturally, Colonel," she smiled back sarcastically, taking a swig from her canteen.

Hollender leaned into his radio, "Queequeg, what's your ETA?"

"Don't worry, Chief. I'll be there in… aroundabout three minutes."

"I'll buy you a drink if you can get here in two."

"You're on, mate," Queequeg chuckled.

Hollender and Iris walked down the hill, with the team and Borodin following close behind, all having different conversations.

"Wanna know something?" Hollender said, turning his head to Iris as he stepped over a dried riverbed.


"I heard Delta-1 got an AI unit to assist them. Maybe we'll get one."

"What's its name?"

"Stark, pretty sure. Captain's been preoccupied so he hasn't been able to chat much."

"I'd be interested to meet this 'Stark' sometime."

"I'm sure you'll get your chance, they're heading over here for an operation in a few weeks."


Hollender heard the distant blades of the helicopter rapidly approaching. He looked up, spotting the helicopter through the clearing in the tree canopy. He quickened his pace to a light jog and his teammates copied his actions, with the stubby Russian man stumbling behind. The helicopter blades chopped through the air like a knife through butter, and it slapped against Hollender's body as he moved towards the helicopter, ducking down as he ran. Queequeg's new co-pilot, Carson McCarthy, opened the large cabin door, allowing Hollender and his team to enter.

Ding shouted at Hollender from outside of the helicopter, "Charles! We'll meet you back at base!" he said, waving as he, Eggs, and his team walked away.

"Seeya, Sir!" Eggs shouted, waving to Hollender.

Borodin nervously approached from behind Ding's team, fumbling into the cabin. He struggled with the straps on his seat, eventually managing to buckle himself in. Hollender unbuckled the straps of his vest and pushed it into the meshed pocket under his seat. Iris removed her vest and placed it under her seat, stretching out once she had removed the heavy vest.

McCarthy handed bulky headphones to everyone, and Hollender put his pair on, relieving his ears of the blaring helicopter with the soothing voice of Queequeg.

Hollender turned to Borodin, "Borodin, give me the intelligence."

The man scratched his stubbled chin and reached into his denim jacket and pulled out a folded paper packet. He outstretched his hand to Hollender and he reached to grab it, but Borodin pulled away at the last second.

His expression turned grim, "Do I have your word that my family will be brought to France like I was promised by your supervisors?"

"Yes, Yevgeniy. We don't go back on our promises."

Borodin gingerly handed the packet to Hollender, and he safely tucked it away in his vest.

Hollender switched the frequency on his radio and spoke, "Stone, Ding. Any problems?"

He heard the garbled voice of Stone, "Negative, Disciple-2 is safely aboard Whiplash-1-2 and heading back to base."

Ding spoke up, "No problems on our end, Charles. Eggs and my team are good."

"Good, I'll see you when we get back then."

"And don't you forget that you owe Queequeg a beer," Ding chuckled.

"I didn't forget, Ding," Hollender smiled, "Alright, stay safe. Out."

I think it's time we stop
Children, what's that sound,

Everybody look, what's going down?

Hollender sharply opened his eyes as Iris shook him violently.

"What, what is it?"

"Don't be dozing off on me, now," Iris said playfully.

"Bloody Nora, that's it?" Hollender chuckled, rubbing his eyes.

He pressed the pause button on his Walkman, silencing his copy of For What It's Worth and took his headphones off, placing them in his lap.

The gruff German voice of his commanding officer, Brigadier General James Richtenburg, stuttered into his ear, "What's your status, lad?"

"Green, Sir. Minimal casualties and operational success. Package is safely aboard and en route to the outpost as we speak," Hollender said, eyeing Borodin.

"Good, good. Beer's on me when you get back," Richtenburg said with a hoarse cough.

"Copy that, Sir," Hollender said with a smile.

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