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Chapter 17: Friend or foe
Hopkins


“Bravo, this is Alpha!” sounded off PFC Tibor in Hopkins’s radio. “…we’re fighting back but we need assistance!”

Hopkins was about to answer but Patterson was faster. “Don’t worry Alpha, Charlie is on their way!”

“Charlie?” asked Tibor. Even through the radio, Hopkins could hear the confusion in his voice.

“You’ll see. Bravo out.”

Patterson then turned towards Captain Stanley and his two soldiers, who introduced themselves as Private Dolores Hauet and Specialist Martin Bisson. “Is there anybody else locked up in here?”

“No one else I’m afraid” replied Stanley “…though don’t you worry champ, these two are more than capable of giving the backup your other half needs.”

Patterson nodded and then turned towards Jefferson. “Should I lead them to the others?”

“No need, I’ll do it,” Jefferson replied. “You three check out the rest of this section and then RV with us at the prison’s entrance.”

“Understood. Good luck!”

Patterson and Jefferson saluted each other, and then the four soldiers began running towards Alpha’s position. Patterson then changed his rifle’s magazine and turned to Hopkins and Nick. “Let’s go people!”

Ever since their attack on the prison began, something has been constantly nagging Hopkins’s mind. It wasn’t until they ran into Captain Stanley’s men that she had finally realized what it was.

Fear.

Fear, yet not for herself.

The more she thought about this feeling, the more she remembered that she had been feeling this since she separated from Bull. A few hours had passed since then, and even though the soldiers in that squad were much more capable than her, Hopkins was worried sick that by the time she’d return, it would be much too late. She kept hoping that they were not at the SAM site when Big Sister bombed the site, but there was no way to know for sure.

As Patterson was about to bust down another door that was leading to the security checkpoints, he took notice of Hopkins’s distractedness. “Corporal, is everything alright?”

“Uh… yes?” she lied, rather unconvincingly.

Patterson and Nick looked at each other, and then back at Hopkins. “Then keep your mind clear and focused. We can’t afford distractions,”

Hopkins nodded, and as soon as she got into position, Patterson kicked in yet another door. She expected to see heavily armed soldiers or mercenaries to be waiting for them.

Her expectations were correct, but she hadn’t considered the possibility of them being dead.

Just like the main cellblock, this part of the prison was filled with bullet holes, cartridges, and the general smell of gunpowder mixed with blood. As Patterson slowly made his way forward, Hopkins noticed that most of the mercenaries either had a knife in them or two bullet holes right above each other.

“I doubt this was Stanley…” remarked the lieutenant. He then picked up his radio. “Charlie, we ran into another group of dead mercs at the security checkpoints. Was it your handiwork?”

“Certainly not, but this would explain the gunshots we heard before your artillery strike.”

“Gunshots? You mean there’s a third party here?”

“That seems to be the case Lieutenant.”

Patterson put away his radio and then spoke up in a low voice. “Simmons….”

Nick and Hopkins both raised their heads. “What makes you think it’s her?” asked Nick.

“Other than the fact that these guys have knife or Lockbuster wounds? There simply isn’t anybody else on this island who could put up such a fight.”

Hopkins heard the dampened sound of a gunshot somewhere close by. Patterson gripped his rifle and then sounded off. “Alright, new objective. We track down that agent!”

Hopkins put one of her hands on her hip. “That wasn’t really part of the plan, sir.”

“No, but neither was an Esmosian government agent showing up. Besides, I think she did our work already.”

Hopkins turned to Nick to see if he agreed with the Lieutenant or not.

He just shrugged. “Pretty sure Charlie and Alpha can handle themselves. Lead the way, Cole!”

Hopkins wanted to retort with something, but Patterson and Nick dashed off before she could say anything. Instead, she just groaned up. “At least wait for me!”

The Esmosian, or at least the gun’s owner, fired off a few more shots while Bravo was running towards her location. On the way there they ran past a few seriously injured enemy soldiers, but since none of them were in any condition to fight, Patterson just ran past them once he kicked away their guns, which Hopkins approved of. No point in killing them if they weren’t a threat.

The security section of the prison was mostly a mix of offices and armories, with a few staff rooms and CCTV controls here and there. Most of these rooms seemed to be abandoned as well, but the dents in the doors and the occasional cracks and bullet holes led Hopkins to believe that the locals put up just as much of a fight here as anywhere else in the city.

Another gunshot sounded off as she was pondering, this time from one of the nearby control rooms. The door was wide open, and without saying a word Hopkins and the others pressed themselves against the wall as they sneaked up to the doorway. Patterson didn’t do a countdown this time, and as soon as Hopkins caught up, the three of them bolted into the room.

Much to Lola’s surprise, Agent Simmons was actually standing there, with a double-barreled Lockbuster revolver in her left hand, and a rather unusual sniper rifle on her back. The CCTV control room had a large desk in the middle, along with a window at the back that looked down to one of the cellblocks. There were also a few pictures and posters on the walls, but Hopkins guessed that the old mercenary lying dead in the middle of the room was most likely not part of the décor. Simmons was about to turn around and probably leave the room when she noticed the three soldiers standing in the doorway.

She jumped in her surprise and then spoke up without putting away her weapon. “Damn it! You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that!”

Nick scratched the back of his head. “Not sure I’d call blasting our way through a prison with an artillery and a dozen soldiers the sneaky approach…”
“You could have said “hi” at least!” she said as she put away her pistol. “…would have saved me from a heart attack.”

Hopkins and Nick did the same, but Patterson was still holding his rifle. “That rifle on your back… is that a LAIR by any chance?” he asked rather sternly.

Something changed in the agent’s stance, but Hopkins couldn’t quite tell what it was. “An older model, but yes. You can give it a try once we’re out of––”

“You see, I’m asking this,” Patterson interrupted. “…because Sergeant Schmidt just so happened to lose his arm to one of those railguns…”

Hopkins felt her heart speed up as Patterson gripped his rifle more firmly. The Lieutenant seemed to think that Simmons had something to do with that unfortunate event, but Hopkins wasn’t quite certain of that…

She suddenly remembered Kingsley’s story.

“…which so happened to be wielded by an Esmosian sniper in a sand-colored armor…”

Patterson unlocked his rifle. “…who then ran away and was never seen again.”

Simmons jumped back right away and rolled across the CCTV control table as Patterson readied a shot, almost too fast for Lola to see. A moment later the agent kicked the table towards the three of them, and then tossed something grey right at Patterson. He managed to deflect the object with his rifle, but before he could fire at Simmons the grey thing exploded in a white flash.

Hopkins was quick enough to turn away from the flashbang, but Patterson and Nick were not so lucky. As soon as Simmons got back up to her feet, she jumped out the window at the back, which was followed by Patterson cursing loudly. “After her!”

Hopkins didn’t hesitate for a second and she jumped after the Agent. Her landing didn’t go as well as she had expected since she landed on her side instead of rolling, but in spite of the pain, she was able to get up and dash after Simmons. She proved to be a lot more agile than Hopkins would have thought, but Hopkins sure as hell wasn't going to let her run off after what just happened. She needed answers.

As they ran through corridor after corridor, Hopkins’s radio turned on. “All soldiers, especially the ones from Rhino platoon,” said Sergeant Schmidt. “Patterson just reported that the Esmosian insurgent who offed Rockfield and took my arm off is trying to escape from this prison! Anyone who shoots her will get an APC for free!”

Hopkins shook her head. What the hell is he thinking?! She wasn’t sure what had gotten into Patterson and Schmidt but them wanting to kill one of their few allies in Blackfortress wasn’t just a bad idea. It was a horrible one.

Luckily for them, she wasn’t the only one who thought that. “Belay that order” Jefferson ordered. “we have more important objectives here!”

“Screw you Major! I’m not––”

Hopkins changed the frequency on her radio and did her best to catch up with Simmons. She and the Major might have been the only ones who didn’t want to kill their ally.

After crossing another corridor, Simmons jumped into a stairway and then smashed the door in after her. Hopkins dashed after but as she tried to bash open the door, she bounced back from it. She cursed whoever had made that door, and as she stood up, she realized that the area looked familiar.

Hopkins quickly made her way up to the corridor where the Major spotted the dead civilians and the mercs as they entered the building, and as soon as she got there, she saw Simmons running past the dead bodies. There was a five-meter difference between the battle ground’s and the corridor’s height, but instead of thinking about the risks, Hopkins took a chance for once in her life and jumped through one of the open windows.

Simmons was close to her window when she did, and to Hopkins’s luck she ended up falling right on top of the Esmosian. She kicked her off from herself much too fast, but before she could run away Hopkins drew her pistol.

“Stop right there!” she yelled.

Agent Simmons turned around and drew her revolver in the same motion.

Both were aiming at each other now. Hopkins could see the weak points of Simmons’s armor, but if it boiled down to a firefight it was almost certain that one of them would end up dead, while the other would get seriously injured.

Lola was acutely aware of which one she would be.

“Corporal, I don’t want to kill you,” warned Simmons. “...but if you try to drag me to your men so that they can kill me for something I did years ago, I will!”

“I have orders agent,” retorted Hopkins as she got up from the floor. “and right now, I might be the only one who doesn’t want to shoot you on sight! Just put down your gun and we can––”

Simmons shook her head violently. “Damnit Corporal, are you seriously spouting that military bullshit?! You honestly think that locking up one of the few non-mercenaries here for her past is the correct thing to do?!”

Hopkins’s radio turned on again. “Hopkins, what’s the situation? Did you get her yet?”

Simmons unlocked her pistol right before Hopkins did the same.

“Don’t do it.” scowled Simmons.

With every passing second, the atmosphere got tenser. In the next minute, Hopkins would either shoot and possibly kill somebody for something that they did so many years ago, or she would disobey a direct order from one of her superiors, and probably lie about it afterwards. Whatever she did, it was going to be a bad choice. As she was trying to decide quickly, she suddenly remembered Captain Brown quoting an old book during her first mission;

When you are caught in the open, the only sensible thing to do is to charge through the field of fire as quickly as you can.

Hopkins stared at Simmons for a few more moments, and if her heavy breathing was any indication, she was probably just as hesitant to shoot her as she was.

“Corporal, you there?” asked Patterson again.

She released a long sigh and then reached for the radio. “She threw a flashbang at me and then disappeared into the vents.”

Hopkins could hear the sigh of relief that Simmons let out as she lowered her gun.

“Damn it…” replied Patterson. “All right, no problem, you did your best. Get back to the main cell block as soon as you can.”

“Right away, sir,” she responded, and then holstered her gun. She then turned to Simmons. “You should hide out somewhere until we leave. We have a T-Croc patrolling the area.”

Simmons nodded and then holstered her weapon as well. “I really appreciate this, Hopkins,” she said with a genuine smile in her voice. “Is he going to be a problem though?”

Lola wasn’t entirely sure who Simmons was referring to until she heard somebody coughing. She turned around and saw Nick standing there with his shotgun.

“Hello,” he said rather casually. Hopkins tensed up.

“…hi. This is not––”

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured Hopkins, and then put away his shotgun. “I came here to defuse the fight, but it seems like you took my idea.”

Hopkins suddenly felt both embarrassed and relieved, but she didn’t get much of a chance to think about those feelings before Simmons walked up to her.

“Before you two leave, take this,” she said as she handed a flash drive to Hopkins. “These mercs were using this place as a sort of command center, and I found a bunch of logs on the computers.”

Hopkins took the Pendrive from the agent’s hands and then looked back at her with a smile. “Thank you.”

“Least I could do. Now get moving before they catch us!”

Simmons patted Hopkins on her shoulder before she ran off. Nick walked up to her once the agent was gone. “So… how did it feel to disobey an order for the first time?”

“Horrible! Frankly, I don't want to do this ever again...”

Nick chuckled. “First time always sucks. Now the second one on the other hand…”


*

“Why in the hell would you even give that order Sergeant?!” shouted Jefferson at Daniel while they were traveling in the back of the truck.

“She killed Rockfield, she crippled me for life, and on top of that she fought for the New Guard in Grarrak!”

“Rockfield is––”

“I don’t care if he is alive or not because he ceased to fucking exist apparently! If anything, you should be ecstatic that we found another one of those assholes,” ranted Daniel.

Hopkins, along with Jefferson, Schmidt, and Patterson was traveling in the back of a prison transport truck that Alpha team had found after the fighting was over. Originally, they had seven people when they arrived, but now the squad’s size grew to 13 with Jefferson’s and Stanley’s team. They couldn’t fit in the T-Croc anymore, so Corporal Richards figured that they may as well take two of the prison trucks since they had some armor plating and barred windows, making them the closest things to military trucks.

The fact that the major, Schmidt, and Patterson have been arguing ever since they drove away just made the truck feel more like a prison, however.

“That does not give you the right to assign bounties on people’s heads!” Jefferson retorted loudly. “Especially on someone who just single-handedly killed dozens of the enemy!”

Daniel got up from his seat. “She is the enemy!”

Hopkins finally had enough and pushed the Sergeant back into his seat. “Would you cut it out already?!” she yelled.

Daniel did not say a word, but he looked just as angry as he was a second ago.

“We get it, you hate her,” Hopkins continued. “but you can’t just reassign the entire squad just so that you can fulfill your personal vendetta!” She then took out the flash drive from one of her pockets and showed it to Daniel. “…especially when the person you’re trying to kill is helping us!”

The Sergeant examined the flash drive and grumbled something under his thin, ginger mustache.

“What’s on it?” asked Patterson.

“Recordings, logs, video files…” Hopkins answered, still staring at Daniel in her hanger. “…pretty much everything from the prison’s computers, according to Simmons.”

He nodded approvingly.

Jefferson spoke up once again. “Anything you want to say, Sergeant?”

Daniel handed the drive back to Hopkins. “No.”

Hopkins was about to put it away when the Sergeant took out a small computer from one of his pouches. It was pretty much a larger wrist terminal, which, amongst other things, had a USB 6.2 slot. “Let’s see if she was actually legit.”

Hopkins sat back to her seat, and as soon as everyone came over to her side of the truck, she plugged the flash drive in. Once the terminal detected it, Hopkins began looking through the files.

There were numerous CCTV recordings which they were all going to go over later, but what caught her eye was a folder dubbed “communications”. She opened it, and then a window came up which asked for the password.

“Any tips?” she asked.

Patterson and Schmidt both suggested a few but none of them worked. Hopkins figured that they’d try to crack it later until Jefferson spoke up.

“Azuno maybe?”

Hopkins opened the folder again and typed it in the password.

It opened.

She looked at Major Jefferson in her disbelief.

“Whoa. How’d you guess it?”

“A few of those prison guards had a green symbol on their armor that looked a lot like our planet.”

“We found one of their flags too,” added Patterson “in Riley’s old office.”

Jefferson blinked. “Why did he have a flag like that?”

“It was in his old partner’s hidden room, who we killed shortly before we went in there,” Patterson explained.

The major shook his head. “And you don’t find that even a little bit suspicious?”

Before they could go down that line of thinking, Hopkins spoke up. “No, we don’t, because we have enough things to worry about without being paranoid about a traitor in our ranks.”

Patterson looked away for a moment before he turned back to Hopkins and told her to look through the folder.

Most of the audio files only contained general orders, like “search point A” or “burn everything in point B”, but the one with the earliest timestamp turned out to be a lot more interesting.

“This is Operative Captain Bolt. The takeover went smoothly, and even though we’ve suffered causalities we still have more than enough manpower to defend the city. We rounded up the civilians inside the City Hall and the surrounding area, and we’ve been transporting them, group, by group using the mineral transport trucks. Black Harbor has been fully taken over as well so we should be able to transport a few thousand people from the city to Section Bermuda and our other outposts in a week. The rest will be taken to the other outposts.”

This wasn’t good. The timestamp said that the video was recorded two days after the takeover, so by now a rather large number of the population was moved out. What was worse, was that if Black Harbor was taken over by this group, then they could park and load submarines there without anybody knowing.

“We’ve started upgrading the city’s defenses and we restarted the SAM sites. When the Aftonians attack three days from now, we will be ready for them.”

“So they actually knew we were coming…” Jefferson growled.

“The Jammer on the GCSA tower has proven to be quite effective as well. However, if by some miracle the Aftonians manage to take it out, they will have another surprise waiting for them. Operative Sail managed to rig up a fifty-kiloton nuclear device inside the Steelhorn nuclear power plant. It should be strong enough to level the city center and everyone in it. If the Aftonians prove to be unbeatable, we will detonate that thing at the press of a button.

Everybody picked up their heads when they heard that.

“They have a nuke?!” exclaimed Daniel as he grabbed his head.

The others were shaking their heads in disbelief.

“More importantly, with the recordings that Trevor and his colleague took during the takeover and attempted to push through the jamming numerous times to warn the rest of Azuno, we can easily make it look like that the Aftonians blew the place up to defeat us. Once that’s done, the New Azuno Federation will––”

Patterson seemed to have heard enough and slammed the terminal’s screen to stop the video, startling Hopkins in the process.

“Lieutenant!” she exclaimed in her surprise.

“Sorry Corporal.”

“At least warn me next time…”

All four of them were sitting in silence for a while as they tried to process what they just heard. Hopkins couldn't even decide what to say as hundreds of thoughts raced across her mind.

Eventually, Major Jefferson was the one who broke the silence. “Gentlemen, get your gear ready. We’re besieging the city center.”

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About the author

Commander DuctTape

  • Hungary

Bio: I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.

At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!

Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military

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