Personnel Expendable - Part I

rating: +7+x

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made,

I shouted out
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me

Operation Thermopylae
Day 12 - 23:52:51, March 7th, 1990
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Joint MTF Beta-1 and MTF Titan-1

"Hey, old man, turn that thing down. I can hear it from here, y'know."

Hollender quietly sighed and turned the volume down on his Walkman as he shifted his gaze across the dully lit helicopter bay. Across the grated floor of the Chinook transport helicopter was Commander Henry Parker, seated in a wall-mounted chair and leaning his elbows on his knees as he looked at Hollender. His wide, white smile pierced through the darkness. The insignia of Beta-1 was displayed on his shoulder, as well as that of the six operatives seated next to him. Several empty seats lined the walls of the cabin, folded up against the cold metal.

"Don't worry, Colonel. I'm just ruffling your feathers," Parker said, dismissively waving at Hollender and grinning.

Hollender disliked working with these kinds of people; big voice and not enough experience to match. Of course, he hadn't been in combat with the Commander yet, but from what he'd seen so far he wasn't impressed.

Hollender frowned, looking back out the window of the Chinook. Through his music, he heard the Commander and his squadmates laughing up a storm at something Parker said, but Hollender didn't care to look. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Agent King sitting in the corner of the Chinook, quietly reading her book and ignoring Commander Parker and his goons.

Outside he saw the dense jungles of Cambodia and the shining lights of Siem Reap in the distance. The stormy rain pattered against the small circular window. Hollender crossed his arms and slouched back in his seat against the frigid metal of the wall as a flash of lightning thundered in the distance. His helmet and bulletproof vest sat in the empty seat next to him, and his balaclava was splayed across the top of his helmet.

The Colonel closed his eyes, slowly dozing off despite the nearly intolerable amount of noise around him. He was interrupted by someone lightly patting him on the shoulder.

"Uh, Sir, I'm sorry to disturb you but we're almost there."

Hollender sharply opened his eyes to find Agent King, the youngest Beta-1 agent here who was pulled from MTF Omega-1, sitting at around 29 years old. She had long, braided dark-red hair, which is against protocol because agents normally had to have shorter hair, and large green eyes. She wore a lighter marksman vest and had a dark green balaclava, while the other agents had black ones. She was relatively tall compared to Hollender's 1.9-meter height. He guessed she was around 1.8 or 1.7 meters.

"Thank you, Iris, and you don't have to call me Sir. Charles is fine," Hollender said, smiling a bit.

"But the other agents have to call you Sir," Iris said, sitting down on the seat next to Hollender's gear.

"Yes, they do, you don't. You're the only one with any common sense around here," Hollender said picking up his vest and helmet and setting them down between his legs.

"Well, I greatly appreciate that, Charles," Iris said, shifting seats to sit next to the Colonel.

The two sat in silence for a few moments. Hollender peered out the window while Iris read her book.

"What book do you got there?"

"Oh, it's called Oliver Price: Something to Die For. Pretty good series, this is the tenth or eleventh book I'm pretty sure," Iris said, placing her shark-themed bookmark onto the page and closing the book, allowing Hollender to see the cover.

"What's it about?"

Iris handed the thick book to Hollender, and he thumbed through the first few pages, catching glimpses of dialogue.

"Former British Army dude joins the CIA and tracks down missing agents around the world, crazy situations, stuff like that. Finds people that don't want to be found," Iris said, gesticulating while she talked, motioning her hands around.

"So basically, you read books about your own job," Hollender said, his smile widening as he handed the book back to Iris.

"Well … yes," She said, not knowing what else to say.

Hollender chuckled.

"What, do you have a better book recommendation?" Iris said, playfully nudging Hollender in the shoulder with her elbow.

"Plenty. Read The Hunt For the Red October," Hollender said, lifting the book out of his navy blue duffle bag on the floor and handing it to Iris.

"I'll read it when we get back," Iris said, smiling and placing it neatly in her lap with her Oliver Price book.

A voice crackled over the speaker, "We'll be landing shortly. Make sure to lift your tray tables and put your seats in an upright position. Thank you for flying with MTF Beta-1," the pilot said from the front of the helicopter.

The seven Beta-1 agents in front of Hollender sat up in their seats and fastened their helmets to their heads, with several agents fastening their night-vision goggles to their helmets.

Commander Parker stood up and fastened his black poncho around his shoulders, and it reflected in the dim lights. Hollender and the other agents stood and fastened their ponchos as well.

The Colonel felt the ground shift below him, and he stumbled backwards with Iris into the seats of the helicopter.

The large ramp of the Chinook began to lower, and Hollender immediately heard the pouring rain. As the ramp lowered further, Hollender saw the outline of a man, and as the ramp lowered further, the MP5 sub-machinegun attached to a sling over his shoulder.

"Charles!" The voice called out cheerily.

"Adler?" Hollender shouted over the rain.

"Good to see you, mate! Get ovah here!" Adler said, waving at Hollender and stepping up onto the ramp, getting out of the rain.

The Colonel walked forward, Adler's facial features becoming more apparent in the dim lighting. Micah Adler had a thin face and messy blonde hair with wild blue eyes. His thin mutton-chops and moustache glistened with a thin layer of water. He took his helmet off and slicked his wet hair back with his other hand while droplets of rain trickled off of the tail of his poncho.

Hollender extended his hand and Adler grasped his forearm firmly, shaking it several times as the rain flew off of Adler.

"Good to see you, mate. Been too fuckin' long," Adler said, smiling to see Hollender.

"What's it been, three, four years? How've you been?"

"Been good. Toppling GOI, messing with these Air Heads. Cambodia is absolute bollocks, I'm afraid," Adler said, motioning for Hollender to walk down the ramp with him.

The agents of Beta-1 followed the pair, slowly moving down the ramp.

Hollender peered out across the area. They were in a walled-off area, with several canopies set up in the empty space and Overwatch agents huddling under them. They had bright fluorescent lanterns set up on tables with maps and bulky, blinking monitors laying across the plastic fold-out tables. They all stared at the Colonel as he stepped into the rain with Adler.

"Over here, let's go," Adler said to the Beta-1 agents, signalling towards the largest of the three canopies set up.

The agents shuffled over, stomping through the muddy dirt as the rain continued to pour down on them. Under the canopy, a projector displayed the text, "Operation Thermopylae" against the weathered brick wall. In the centre, two tables sat together with MP5 sub-machineguns and a pair of Glock-19s. Ammunition and suppressors were spread out across the table, with the weapons in the middle of the tables, suppressors on the left, and magazines of ammunition on the right.

Adler waited for all of the agents to gather around the table before moving to the side closest to the projector.

"Welcome, lads. I'll be your resident spook for this ride. Lieutenant Colonel Micah Jennings Adler, but just call me Adler," he said smiling.

Adler pressed a button on the projector and the slide changed, displaying a top-down image of the outskirts of Siem Reap. To the left side of the slide, there was a green circle drawn around a building surrounded by a brick wall, and another blue circle drawn around the building immediately across the street. On the right, a green circle was drawn around the compound that the team was currently in. Red lines were drawn going from the compound down a road and into the street to the building circled in green.

"As you can see here, we'll be moving along these routes from the compound to the target building," Adler said, tracing the lines leading to the building, "Me and the Overwatch pencil-pushers tracked Hammond to this building. Who're the two marksmen on this team?" Adler said, looking across the group.

"Agent King and I," Agent Dietrich stated as he handled the olive-coloured M82A1 sniper rifle in his hands, inspecting the large suppressor idly.

"Great, you two'll deploy in a couple minutes to provide overwatch in the blue building right here. You'll tell us what you see so we can move in," Adler said, pointing to the building circled in blue, "You'll be on the third floor of this apartment building, Room 313. And don't worry, we already cleared out the floor so you won't get any civilian interference. There's a Brown Toyota Corolla parked outside for you. Additional ammunition is laid out on the table," Adler said, pointing to the table.

Iris and Dietrich started grabbing their weapons and ammunition, placing them in the pockets of their vests and slinging the sniper rifles over their backs.

"Come on DD, let's go," Iris said, stepping away from the group.

Dietrich grumbled, "I told you to stop calling me that."

"You love it," Iris said cheekily, slipping her Glock-19 into the holster on her thigh.

Before Dietrich shifted away, he said, "Rules of engagement, Sir?"

Adler turned to face him and smiled, "Personnel expendable."

Dietrich nodded and stepped away with Iris and strode to the front entrance, opening the large metal gates and closing them after they left.

Adler lifted a radio from the table in front of him, "Radio check, you receiving on 41?"

"Reading you, Sir," Dietrich said, his voice crackling and slightly drowned out because of the loud rain.

"Good to hear, out," Adler said, placing the radio down on the table, "Alright, the lot of you. Gear is on the table, we deploy in five."

"Turn the radio off. We're here," Dietrich said sternly as he turned the leather steering wheel.

Iris sighed and complied, turning the worn knob to the right. silencing the music. The sound of the rain became more apparent, drumming against the thin aluminium roof. Iris blew air out of her mouth, cupping her hands together. She turned the heater dial again and found that the heater still refused to work. Shocker.

She peered through the windscreen, studying the surrounding buildings as Dietrich maneuvered the car through the narrow street. He flipped the headlights off and pulled the car to the side of the road behind another parked car. He pressed his foot on the brake and shut off the ignition. Dietrich relaxed his hand on the wheel and patted Iris' shoulder.

"Alright, Iris. Let's get this done."

Before Iris could respond, Dietrich pulled on the door handle and pushed it outwards, stepping out of the car and onto the cracked pavement. Iris quickly followed, pushing on the door and fumbling into the street. She turned and saw Dietrich waiting for her, he looked at her and chuckled. She moved around the back of the car and joined Dietrich on the sidewalk.

Iris and Dietrich strode down the unlit street, watching the dark windows and the street ahead of them. Their feet rhythmically splashing into the puddles on the cracked sidewalk. Their rifles swung up and down on their shoulders and their ponchos trailed behind them, dripping with rainwater. Iris smelled the damp ground and the droning noise of the rain hitting the splintered pavement.

They reached the door of the apartment building. The wooden blue door was chipped and cracked, looking like it could fall off its hinges at any time. Iris looked up, noticing the bland blue colour of the building. Angkorian architecture is weird, and she pushed open the creaking door with her elbow.

Dietrich stepped in, catching a whiff of the stale air and dust hanging in the small room. To his left, a rotten leather sofa sat in the middle of the room with several tables and chairs stacked together, caked with dust. On the floor next to the staircase on his right, a small orange teddy bear sat leaning against the banister. The bear was stained and beaten with stuffing spilling out onto the floor. He pulled his balaclava up and continued up the staircase, the floorboards creaking underneath him. Iris gingerly closed the door and followed close behind.

They climbed the staircase to the third floor, and Room 313 was right next to the top of the stairs. Dietrich pushed the door open. The room was drafty and several windows had been shattered. A couch sat on the left, collapsed in the middle, with a small, shorter table in front of it. Bullet holes lined the walls, and there was a bloodstain on the wall to their left. Ahead of them, a small step down led to the balcony, and long, flowing drapes waved in the breeze. The two moved into the room and Iris closed the door behind them.

Dietrich moved further into the room, stepping down into the second section of the apartment and leaned his rifle against the wall next to the door leading to the small balcony.

"This is the spot. Get your binocs and set up over here," Dietrich said, kneeling and screwing the suppressor on his rifle.

"Right-O, DD," Iris said, taking the binoculars out of a small leather satchel hanging around her waist.

Iris moved next to Dietrich and pushed the drapes out of the way, getting a clear line of sight with the target building. It was a two-story clay building with a tall brick wall surrounding the perimeter of the compound. Iris could just barely see over the building and saw lines of rice shooting out of large plots of water.

Iris and Dietrich crawled onto the balcony, and Dietrich panned the rifle along the outside of the building. Iris laid down on her stomach and leaned on her elbows and surveyed the area.

Iris turned on her radio and placed it in between Dietrich and herself, the small screen of the radio turning green.

"Juno-Actual, this is Juno-1-3, please come in."

"Copy Juno-1-3, this is Juno-Actual. Whaddya got?"

"I see four guards at the entrance, and one … no, two guards patrolling the outer wall. Two more guards stationed on the second floor from what I can see through those small-ass windows. I can only see one entrance, and that's right in the front. The roof is obstructing my view of the back, there might be another entrance."

"Gotcha, 1-3. We'll move in from the North-East and sweep around the wall, Juno-1-4 will take out the guard patrolling on the right and we'll stack up on the entrance. 1-2 and 1-4 will sweep around the back in case there's a backdoor. We're approaching the compound now."

"Right-on, Sir. Ready for you to move in."

"Alright, Operation Thermopylae is a-go."


Hollender looked up, seeing Agent McIvor's gloved hand extended across the cabin of the 1987 Toyota Van LE, a half-empty pack of Marlboro sitting in his hand.

"We're almost there. I'll take one after the mission," Hollender replied.

"Ah. You've got a point," McIvor said, recoiling his arm back into his lap.

Hollender glanced to the left of McIvor, spotting Agent Ridley. He held a black Remington Model 870 Express Pump-Shotgun in his hands, eyeing it up and down, tracing his left hand along the barrel.

McIvor looked over and Ridley lifted his head, "I like to keep this for close encounters," Ridley said smugly.

"Too right, mate," McIvor responded.

Ridley returned his gaze to his weapon, pulling three bright-red shotgun shells out of a square plastic box sitting on the floor of the van and inserting them into the chamber of his shotgun.

Sitting on McIvor's left, Semenov pulled his sleeve up past his wrist to check the time on a beaten-up watch. It was grey, but it looked like it had been black once upon a time.

Hollender leaned forward, "Semenov, why don't you replace that watch with the standard MTF one?"

Semenov unclipped the watch and dangled it in front of him, "My fiancé gave this to me. Very special."

"Good on you, mate," Hollender responded, leaning back in his seat.

From the front of the van, Auger called out to the rest of the team, "Pulling up to Team-2's Corolla now, gents," he said, turning the black van off the side of the street behind the Toyota Corolla.

Sitting in the passengers' seat, Commander Parker inserted a magazine of 9mm ammunition into his MP5 sub-machinegun and flipped a dial on the dashboard, turning the headlights off.

Hollender coughed and pulled a black glove over his left hand, and then right. He looked out of the back window, seeing the red tail-lights of the van glow a deep red as they pulled to a stop.

"Alright," Hollender said, pulling the black balaclava over the bridge of his nose.

He glanced behind him to check the team. sitting next to him, Agent Brecht quickly leaned down and took a sip from a tall glass bottle of Coca-Cola before pulling his balaclava up above his nose.

"Let's move, Beta-1," Commander Parker said, pulling his balaclava up over his nose.

Hollender and Ridley pulled on the black handles of the back doors, pushing them open in unison. They filed out and strode to the sidewalk, ignoring the rain as it pattered against their heads and the wind blew against their bodies. They lined up next to the van on the sidewalk and pulled the night-vision goggles over their eyes.

Commander Parker strode in front of the group and raised his hand in the air. He motioned for the team to follow him and they immediately darted across the large street to hug the side of the buildings as they approached the compound. Hollender and Parker led the group forward down the dark street with their rifle raised in front of them.

To his right, Hollender noticed that there were several stores and small abandoned apartment buildings that had turned over furniture and a thin layer of dust blanketing every surface. The buildings that had large windows at the front were now shattered, and rain was falling into the front of the stores through the open window frames.

Hollender stopped two buildings down from the compound and took the small radio from his pocket and raised it to his mouth.

"Juno-1-2 and Juno-1-4, go on ahead of us and sweep around the back."

Lieutenant Kozlov and Agent Brecht passed Hollender, inching forward and peeking around the corner. The darkness providing good cover for them. Hollender saw them slip around the corner and raised his hand to motion the team behind him to move forward.

The team moved up to the corner, Commander Parker kneeled next to Hollender.

"We're lookin' good here, what'do you think?" Parker said quietly.

"I agree. I can see Kozlov and Brecht down there, can you?"

Parker peeked around the corner before letting out a small chuckle.

"Ah, they got 'im," he said. Hollender could see the corners of his eyes wrinkle beneath his goggles, smiling as he watched Kozlov drag a body over to the corner and quietly moved it into an abandoned building as Brecht watched his back.

Kozlov turned his head and gave an 'OK' sign to Hollender and Parker.

Brecht spoke into his radio softly, "Juno-Actual, Juno-1-1, come in please."

"Copy Juno-1-4, this is Juno-Actual. What's up?"

"We've got a back door here. Large metal doors, pretty thick from the looks of it."

"Copy that, hold one," Hollender said, leaning down to Parker.

"Commander, what do you think?"

"I'm thinkin' we nab the other guard when he comes around and opens the gate for us," Parker said, speaking softly to Hollender.

The Colonel lifted the radio to his mouth, "Juno-1-4, what do you think about grabbing the other guard when he comes around the corner so we can enter through the back?" Hollender said.

"Doable, Sir. I'll have it done in a jiffy. 1-4 out," Brecht said, his voice fading from the radio.

Hollender and Parker waited for a few moments.

Iris' voice crackled over Hollender's radio," 1-4, you copy?"

"I copy, 1-3. What do you have for me."

"Target is coming around your corner in a few seconds."

"Gotcha, thanks 1-3,"

A few moments later, Kozlov's voice spoke over the radio," Juno-1-1, do you receive? Target has been captured,"

Commander Parker held the transmit button on the radio strapped to his vest strap, "Affirm 1-2, we're heading over now. Juno-1-3, Juno-2-5, watch North-East, we're moving around the back,"

"Copy all, Commander," Dietrich said, relaxing his hand on the sniper rifle.

Parker raised his hand and motioned for the team to move behind him. They quickly crossed the street and hugged the side of the brick wall, swiftly following the wall around the corner to meet with Lieutenant Kozlov and Agent Brecht.

Hollender rounded the corner right after Parker and saw Agent Brecht with the Clear Skies guard in a chokehold, Brecht's tactical knife pressed lightly against the agent's throat and his hand locked behind his back.

The Clear Skies guard had a light grey vest with half a dozen pockets with light blue sleeves and black gloves. An empty sidearm sleeve on his left thigh and the 9mm pistol lying on the ground indicated a textbook takedown. He wore a black gas mask with a ballistics helmet and he was soaked in water. He squirmed slightly as Brecht forced him to his knees.

Parker stepped forward towards the agent. Hollender and Adler stayed behind as the other Beta-1 agents filed in behind the two.

The Commander squatted down to eye level with the guard and ripped the gas mask off of his face. He was a young man, no older than 23 years old. He had short black hair that had been messed up and light blue eyes. His long face was pale and squirmed as Brecht held the knife around his throat.

"Tell me, son… what's your name?" Parker said, looking at the gas mask and then tossing it on the ground.

"Cole, Sir," the guard muttered.

"Tell me, do you fear death?"

"What I think doesn't matter, Sir."

"Sure it does. How about you do something for me, and I let you live?" Parker said, grinning under his balaclava.

"Yes, Sir," Cole responded.

"Can you tell your buddies to open that door for me? Any funny business and you're not making it to daylight."

"I'll open it for you," Cole said, staring directly at Parker with a blank expression on his face.

Parker stood up and Brecht released Cole, sheathing his knife. The Commander stepped aside, allowing Cole to step in front of the door.

Cole knocked on the door and a small slit opened, another guard with a gas mask appearing.

"Keep your mask on, GC-4152/1. I've already had to tell you once," the guard said.

"Yes, Sir," Cole said back, stepping aside to clear the entrance.

Brecht pulled Cole aside and pushed him to the ground as several locks could be heard unlatching on the other side of the wall. Agent Brecht pulled the Glock-19 out of the holster on his thigh and aimed it at the door. The soldiers all raised their rifles in unison, pointing their MP5s towards the door. Parker pulled the tactical knife out of the sheath on his chest and readied himself, taking a deep breath.

The door opened and the guard appeared, showing immediate confusion for the split second before the Commander grabbed his arm and pulled him to the wall, grabbing the sub-machinegun out of his hands and pinning him to the wall with his arm pulled behind his back and his face pressed to the rough brick.

Sitting on the ground, Cole reached for the tactical knife strapped to Brecht's thigh-strap. With the agents' attention trained on the new guard, Cole plunged the knife into Brecht's side, right under the armpit. Brecht grunted in pain and thrashed away, turning to Cole and kicking him in the face. He hit Cole's face with his rifle and then shot him in the head twice, his body collapsing on the wet, cracked pavement of the sidestreet.

The agents turned to Brecht while Parker pierced the Clear Skies guard in the neck with his knife, pulling it out sharply and wiping the bloodied blade on his uniform. The bloodstain streaked across Parker's left thigh as the rain pattered against his clothing.

Parker shifted his attention to Brecht and pushed through the group to reach him.

The Commander turned to face the medic, "Shit. Wallcroft, get Carter out of here."

"Right on it, Sir," Agent Wallcroft said, kneeling down to Brecht.

"I'll give you a hand. Colonel?" Parker said, asking Hollender for orders.

"I'll take the team inside. Get Brecht to safety," Hollender said, peering through the metal door.

"Got it. Let's move Beta-1," Parker said, lifting Agent Brecht to his feet.

"Rest of you, with me. 1-2, 2-2, you take the left and move around the side of the building. 2-3, 2-4, take the right flank and connect with 1-2 and 2-2," Hollender said motioning for the team to move forward into the rice paddy.

"Yes, Sir," Kozlov said, pushing forward next to Hollender.

"Alright, let's move, let's move," the Colonel said, pushing into the left side of the rice paddy towards a small stack of crates.

Hollender gingerly stepped into thigh-deep water. He glanced down and saw the murky water wrapping around his feet as he quietly stepped forward. He walked in a crouched position, watching the dark windows of the building in front of him with the agents following him, spreading out across the field.

There were two larger windows next to the second-story balcony, and the rusty railing clung onto the edges of the balcony. Remnants of salmon-coloured paint stuck to the side of the building, revealing the clay foundation beneath it.

On the ground, a small gravel path encircles the building. Dim lights shine over two entrances on either side of the building.

The sound of the agents was masked by the constant buzzing of the rain against every surface. Hollender reached the crates and motioned Lieutenant Kozlov's team forward. Through the rain, he saw a Clear Skies agent, completely unaware of their presence. Lieutenant Kozlov grabbed the garrote wire from his pocket and grasped it tightly, Corporal Semenov following right behind him.

He moved towards the lone agent and swiftly pulled the wire over his head and around his neck. He pulled on the garrote, forcing the agent to the ground as he tightened the wire. A moment later, the soldier stopped struggling and went limp in Kozlov's arms. The Lieutenant pushed him aside, and Semenov pulled the corpse back behind a stack of crates sitting next to the gravel path.

Kozlov and Semenov stopped at the door. Kozlov moved to the left side of the slightly rusty metal door while Semenov waited at the right side. The Lieutenant waved at Hollender and unlatched a pouch on his waist, pulling out a long tube with a small, round camera on the end and placing it under the doorframe. Hollender moved up further to the Lieutenant and crouched behind Semenov.

"How's it looking?" Hollender said, lowering his voice.

"I'm picking up two contacts with the wand," Kozlov said.

"Where are they?"

"One is sitting on a leather couch to the left, other is leaning in a doorway talking to them on right,"

"You got breaching charges?"

"I do, Sir," Semenov said, looking over to Hollender.

"Alright, we'll gather the team here and push in with King and Dietrich providing sniper fire if our friends get antsy. Semenov, get those charges ready to go in two," Hollender said as he unlatched the radio.

"Yes, Sir," Semenov said, moving in front of the door and retrieving a small, circular dish-shaped explosive from his chest pouch.

"Juno, this is Juno-Actual. Come to the left-side entrance for a breach. 2-3, and 2-4 will stay at their current positions and 1-3 and 2-5 will stay in the apartment," Hollender said into the radio.

Each agent replied with a "Yes, Sir," and in one minute had stacked up at the metal door with Hollender, Kozlov, and Semenov.

"Auger, get a banger ready," Hollender said, looking over his shoulder at the Captain.

"Copy that, Sir," Auger said, unstrapping a flashbang from his chest and gripping it in his left hand tightly.

Hollender took a deep breath, looking at the agents in front of him. Semenov held the small rectangular detonator in his gloved hand, with his finger resting right next to the red trigger. In the back, Agent Adler watched the flank, pointing his MP5 ahead of him, focusing on the rice field and back entrance. The breaching charge blinked a light red, daring Hollender to give the order.

"Steady," Hollender said.

The Colonel heard Auger pull the pin on the flashbang, tossing the pin on the ground.

"Blow it," Hollender said, pressing the butt of his rifle into his shoulder.

Auger stepped to the side of Hollender, and Semenov decisively pressed the trigger. After a split-second delay, Hollender's vision was blinded with a bright flash of the breaching charge and the metal door flew to the ground with a thunderous shake. Auger threw a perfect overhand toss into the room, landing the flashbang in-between the two hostile agents.

Hollender heard the bang, and the team rushed into the room. As Hollender stepped in, he locked onto the agent in the doorway, holding his head in his hands as he attempted to stumble away. Hollender squeezed the trigger of his MP5, releasing a short burst of bullets, penetrating the back of the Clear Skies agent's head. Before the agent hit the floor, Hollender had the other agent in his sightlines in the holographic scope of his MP5. He pressed the trigger and another volley of sub-machinegun fire connected with the head of the agent who had been sitting on the couch. He toppled forward onto a flimsy wooden coffee table and blood began to seep from the new hole in his head onto the table, spilling onto the dusty red carpet.

Hollender glanced to his right and saw Parker move through the archway. He heard the suppressed shots of the MP5.

"Coming out," Parker said, striding out of the room.

The other agents spread out across the two rooms. Agent Wallcroft moved to the back of the living room and kneeled, training his MP5 at the top of the stairs.

Parker moved to Hollender, who was standing next to the couch, reloading his sub-machinegun. The Colonel flipped his night-vision goggles up as the dim lights illuminated the rooms. The other agents flipped their goggles up in unison after him.

Hollender's radio flashed green, and Iris' voice crackled through, "Colonel, the guests upstairs are aware of your presence."

"Thanks, Iris," Hollender said. He turned to the rest of the team, "Prepare for trouble, lads. 2-4 and 2-3, get in here. Friendlies inside."

The demolitionist, Aaron McIvor, opened the door. Emile Ridley could be seen leaning over him and the two filed into the room and Ridley placed a door wedge on the ground in front of the door before turning around and moving further into the kitchen. Hollender looked through the archway after him. There was a wooden island in the middle that had been splattered with blood. The black and white checkered floor was covered in muddy footprints and grime. Hollender glanced to the left, spotting the door next to the staircase. He quickly moved to the door, unlatching it and pushed it open with the muzzle of his MP5. A staircase appeared, leading down into the basement. Crude wall-mounted lights illuminated the descending narrow wooden steps. They emitted a wan glow, and several moths danced around the flickering beacons of light.

"Alright, Beta-1. 1-1, 1-2, 1-5, and 2-4 will go up top. 2-1, 2-3, and Adler will take the ground floor. 2-2 and I will take the basement. That good?" Hollender said, moving to the basement door with Corporal Semenov.

The team all agreed and moved together to follow his orders. Commander Parker moved behind Wallcroft and leaned over him, aiming towards the top of the stairs. Kozlov and McIvor followed, pressing their shoulders against the wall. Captain Auger stepped into the kitchen from the back door, standing next to the island. Ridley and Agent Adler moved to the other side of the island, waiting for the signal.

"Go, go, go!" Hollender called, stepping down the first step.

Like a well-oiled machine, the entire team moved in unison, spreading out across the building. Agent Wallcroft moved up the stairs, watching the front, while Parker, Kozlov, and McIvor followed, watching behind him up the stairs for enemies.

Adler led the way through the kitchen, with Auger and Ridley following on his left and right flanks, moving into the next room.

Hollender could hear the muffled gunshots from the ground floor as Adler rounded the corner into the next room. The Colonel led Semenov down the steps, small roots sprouting from the dirt walls that surrounded them. Ahead, the path split in two directions. Hollender hugged the wall, holding his rifle upwards as he peeked around the left corner. Semenov hugged the other wall, peaking on the right.


"Clear here!"

The two agents leaned into the hallway, aiming their rifles down in front of them, and crossed the claustrophobic corridor to the other dirt wall. Hollender and Semenov crouched down in unison and glanced around at their surroundings and Hollender noticed the several metal crates sitting in the hallway. On both sides of the corridor, there were doorways leading to other rooms, two on Hollender's side, and one on Semenov's side.

"On me," Hollender said, slowly moving forward around a crate.

Above him, Hollender could hear the muffled gunfire and glass shatter in a symphony of chaos.

Hollender stopped at the first doorway, motioning for Semenov to move next to him. He could hear the voices of people around the corner.

The Colonel whispered, "Flash and clear," and unholstered a flashbang from his waist pouch.

Semenov nodded and slowly edged around Hollender, pointing his submachine-gun towards the door.

Hollender quickly pulled the pin of the flashbang. He looked towards Semenov and nodded slowly, looking back towards the doorway.

"Banger out," the Colonel whispered.

He underhand-tossed the flashbang against the wall, landing in the middle of the room. Hollender heard the shocked sounds of the people inside and heard the bang.

He rushed into the room, with Semenov following close behind. Three Clear Skies agents were stumbling around the small break room. Hollender pulled the trigger, sending one of the agents stumbling onto a chessboard that was set up on top of a green plastic crate. Semenov leaned to the right of Hollender, shooting another agent in the neck twice. He fell on a dusty brown couch, his legs splaying out across the dirty floor. Hollender and Semenov locked onto the last agent, who attempted to lay under the flimsy table in the middle of the room. Hollender and Semenov shot him in the head simultaneously and moved into the room.

"Mikael, this way," Hollender said, bumping Semenov's shoulder with his hand.

"Affirmative, Sir."

Hollender looked around at the small room. The brown couch was now covered in blood, and chess pieces were scattered across the floor and some crates against the wall on the right. The single overhead light dangled from a wooden beam stretching across the ceiling and going through the walls on either side.

"Let's go, on me," Hollender said, turning and moving towards the door.

The Colonel peeked around the corner and saw that the hallway was clear. He motioned for Semenov to follow him and together they moved to the second doorway. Hollender didn't hear any voices and peered around the corner, seeing abandoned bunk beds in several rows and a leather trunk sitting at the foot of each bed. Hollender leaned further around the corner and didn't see any hostile agents. He bent down and looked under the beds, seeing only the dust and dirt beneath.

"Alright, come on, other side."

"Got it, Sir."

The pair moved down the cramped hallway, passing several crates labelled 'Fragile - handle with care' and made their way down the corridor.

A pair of Clear Skies agents jumped up from behind crates next to the far doorway, aiming their AK-9 assault rifles at the two Foundation agents. Hollender threw himself onto the ground in front of a crate, while Semenov crouched and ran forward, trying to reach cover behind another crate. The Commanding Clear Skies officer aimed at Semenov and fired, spraying a fury of bullets in his direction. Two bullets hit him in the bicep and clavicle, sending him falling to the ground in pain and he landed behind a crate. Hollender leaned around the crate, seeing the two agents at the end of the hallway. One of them had a dark red beret and a pauldron, signifying that he must've been the leader. The Commander had a thin ghillie suit on, covering his shoulders, back, and thighs while the other was a simple grunt, wearing a grey kevlar vest with a ballistics helmet and gas mask.

Hollender waited until the pair had to reload and made a quick dash for the crate behind Semenov. When he reached the crate, he leaned around it and squeezed off a burst of bullets at the Clear Skies agents, connecting with the grunt in the chin and neck.

"Mikael, you broken?"

The Corporal winced, "I'm good," he said, getting up and crouching.

Hollender flinched as several bullets collided with the crate he was crouched behind.

The bullets momentarily ceased plastering Hollender's crate and he peeked around the corner to see the Clear Skies Commander pulling the pin of a grenade.

Hollender swung around the corner, levelling his MP5 and pulling the trigger as the Commander drew back to throw the grenade at the Colonel, hitting the Commander in the forearm as he tossed the grenade, throwing it against the wall next to Hollender and onto the floor between Semenov and the Colonel. The Clear Skies Commander stumbled back and ran through the doorway at the end of the hallway, holding his arm against his chest.

Hollender swung his MP5 onto his back, "Mikael, move it!" Hollender shouted as he ran around a crate laying on its side.

Semenov rushed to the other side of the corridor, and the grenade exploded where he had been a moment ago.

Hollender's body was thrown to the ground as he was covered in dirt and dust. He saw the wooden support beams twisting and cracking above him, hearing the muffled sounds of the tunnel beginning to collapse on itself. His ears rang and he could only hear the muted sounds of his breathing as the ringing strengthened in intensity. His eyes watered as dust fell from the ceiling, carpeting everything nearby. His vision became clouded as more dirt piled on top of him.


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