Chapter 28: Shattered
Hopkins’s face was covered in tears, partly because of the immense pain she felt in her shoulder and leg, and partly because of what just happened.
Ever since she was a child, Ronald was always doing everything to keep Lola, her brother and their mother happy and safe, and when Hopkins decided to enlist to the Sapphirian Navy she could tell that her father was proud, even if he tried to mask his emotions most of the time. When he told her today that he was going to sacrifice himself to save her, Hopkins didn’t want to believe it. She couldn’t lose her father this way, and even though she knew deep inside that her intervention might not matter in the end, the rescue of Alpha team on the way gave her a small hope that maybe they both could come out of this in one piece. Instead, her father did exactly what he said he would do.
The difference was that Hopkins’s intervention caused so many more people to die.
Nick and Ira ran over to her and Riley. She looked at her rescuer, who was now laying on the floor unconscious. Another one who got hurt because of Hopkins’s stubbornness.
“Oh, fucking hell!” Nick shouted as he saw Hopkins’s shoulder.
She could still feel it which meant that it was still in a usable condition. The same went for her leg, albeit that one didn't hurt as much. Not that it mattered anymore...
“Nick, take a look at Riley while I treat Lola!” Ira exclaimed as she crouched down “I am not losing another soldier today…”
Hopkins turned her head around to see who else made it. She felt even worse when she realized how many more people didn’t make it. Winters, Tibor, Richards, Hauet, Jones… even Jason. They were all gone.
“Riley got knocked out but he’s alive as far as I can tell, though there’s a nasty hole in his left arm,” Nick reported.
“I’ll take care of him!” volunteered Weiss, who looked just as horrible as Hopkins was.
As much as she was angry at the world, it seemed like the plan worked. The tunnel collapsed well, and since nobody was trying to dig from the other side there was a chance the enemy thought that they had died. Hopkins tried to wipe the tears off of her face, but her right shoulder started aching as soon as she moved it.
“I wouldn’t recommend that. I think that bullet might have actually broken your shoulder.” Ira advised.
Major Jefferson walked over to them. “Does anybody know where these tunnels lead to, other than Private McConnel?”
Nick stood up from Riley. “No, but Riley’s camera is still running. The maps should be in there.”
“Clever bastard…” muttered Jefferson.
“And a brave one too…” Hopkins said. It was difficult for her to speak with the pain she felt, but a moment later she felt cold running through her shoulder, and the pain subside. The physical pain in her shoulder, at least.
She looked at Ira and saw that she gave her a dose of painkillers, similar to what Winters got to her arm back at the office.
“I’m sorry, but this is the last one I had on me. If the pain comes back, you’ll have to deal with it on your own...”
Hopkins noticed Nick walk away from Riley, clenching his fists. “God damnit…” He muttered, and then grabbed his helmet and hurled it down the tunnel. “For one fucking time I wish these bastards would give us a damned break!”
Hopkins wanted to calm him down, but she was in no position to do so. Instead, Jefferson walked over to him. “Becket now is definitely not the time to lose our heads! We only have a few hours to get to the airport, and we don’t have vehicles anymore!”
“Well if not now then when?!” he yelled back. “Half our team just fucking died and we have a traitor in our ranks!”
Hernandez stopped treating the wound on Kingsley's arm and turned to Nick and Jefferson. "Traitor? What traitor––"
“I'll explain on the way Corporal,” he stated bluntly, then turned back to Nick. “...as for you, the answer is never. If we all panic now, none of us will make it back home. Is that what you want?”
Nick remained silent.
“That's what I thought.”
Nick shook his head then punched one of the support pillars. Without a word he then walked over to his helmet and put it back on, then made his way back to Riley and grabbed his helmet’s camera.
“I hate to be that guy,” Master Sergeant Dresden said, who now had a bandage around his stomach. “…but what the hell are we going to do now? We’re in no position to take over an enemy plane.”
“We don’t have any other options.” Captain Stanley said as he tied a bandage around Bisson’s shin. “We either take that bloody plane or we’re dead.”
No one said anything for a while after that. It took a few minutes for Nick to find the maps that he was looking for. “Alright, I got it. We’ll need to head east until the fourth intersection, where we will have to follow the northern route marked by an orange line.”
Kingsley walked over to him after Hernandez bandaged his wound, and then took a look at the map. Hopkins noticed that Nick pressed the record button on the camera again, to resume the recording.
“There is also a bunker of sorts not too far from here.” mentioned the Aftonian Captain. “Maybe we can find something useful.”
Ira looked at the two. “Some medicine would be a good start because I’m out of everything.”
“Ammo would be great too,” Hernandez added.
Hopkins looked back at the collapsed tunnel, while the others were discussing the things that they should keep an eye out for.
“Is it possible that somebody’s still alive out there?” asked Hopkins.
Nobody answered. Dresden stared at the tunnel for a while, then replied in a disappointed tone. “They are as good as dead if the NAF is still there…”
Major Jefferson took a look at Riley’s map as well, then spoke up. “I think it’s time we get going. The further we’re away from this graveyard, the better…”
Ira helped Hopkins up, but she didn’t want to leave. Not yet. Not for a while.
“Come on Lola…” Ira said softly. “…he’d want us to move on.”
Hopkins, as much as she didn’t want to, looked away from the entrance.
“Goodbye dad…” she whispered.
It took the squad around ten minutes to find that bunker which Kingsley mentioned, and it looked more like a utility building than anything else. A utility building that had a few benches outside along with the age-old green-cross sign that indicated a medical facility, along with a garage nearby.
As for Hopkins, she still felt horrible. Ira made a splint for her right arm and her leg, which kept her from damaging them further. She was otherwise fine, and she could walk mostly, but that didn’t stop Nick and Ira from staying with her, in case she needed anything. Riley was being carried by Bisson and Dresden while Jefferson and Stanley were at the front with Hernandez and Kingsley. Weiss was hanging back from the others, not saying a word to anyone.
“I'm telling you that it's not me,” continued the argument Kingsley. “...you know as well as I do Major that the ASF classifies and clears our operation logs a week after they're sent in to make sure that nobody can steal them."
“And I'd like to believe you, Captain,” the Major said “...but the fact remains that somebody from our team was leaking. And it couldn't have been Brown considering that he was shot to death. I apologize but for the safety of our team I have to ask you to hand over your weapons.”
Kingsley stared at Jefferson and Stanley and their unlocked guns for a while. Eventually, he shook his head and reluctantly handed over his assault rifle and grenade launcher. “...can I keep my handgun at least until we clear this building?”
Jefferson and Stanley looked at each other, then back at Kingsley. "Just don't make me regret it," Stanley said in a low voice.
Kingsley saluted them mockingly, and he along with the combat-capable soldiers stacked up at the building’s door. Hernandez kicked it open and they charged inside. They could hear a lot of movement from the inside along with lots of talking, but a few minutes later Hernandez, Stanley, Bisson and Kingsley all came back out, even if Stanley did seem a bit irritated.
“It’s clear, and it seems like we’re in luck,” Kingsley announced. “This was probably some kind of morgue, and there are two stretchers here that we could use, along with a first aid kit.”
“Luck’s a strong word, but it’s a start…” said Ira. From what Hopkins could tell, she felt just as bad as she did, since she was unable to save Winters and the others. A medic’s nightmare.
All of them walked up to the building, while Hopkins sat down to a bench near the entrance so that she could get a quick rest. Nick did the same. The others went to take a look around inside, so the two of them were alone for a bit.
“I’m so sorry…” Hopkins said once everyone else was away, and her tears started rolling again.
Nick shook his head and leaned closer. “You don’t have to be sorry for anything. We all knew that this was going to be risky, but that small flicker of hope blinded us.”
Hopkins wiped her face. She couldn’t tell anymore if those were tears or sweat, and for a while, they sat in silence.
“I know you probably don’t want to talk about this,” Nick said sometime later, “…but I’m sorry about Brown. I didn’t know him too well, but he seemed like a good man.”
“He was…” answered Hopkins, while doing her best to not tear up again. Nick putting his hand onto her working shoulder helped somewhat.
“We’ll get through this….” he said, although he did not sound that confident. “…somehow.”
About half a minute later Kingsley walked out to them, with Hernandez and Bisson at his side.
“I’m sorry for interrupting, but the Major wants to speak to you two.”
“Tell him to wait,” Nick replied harshly.
Kingsley nodded. “Alright, let me phrase that differently. Corporal Hernandez?”
Bisson and Hernandez raised their guns and pointed them at Hopkins and Nick. Hopkins didn’t understand what was going on.
“What the hell are you doing?!” shouted Nick at the Captain.
Hernandez spoke up. “In the name of the New Azuno Federation, the two of you are under arrest for killing numerous soldiers of the Federation, and for the destruction of Blackfortress’s GCSA tower!”
Hopkins’s heart stopped beating. She was in no shape to fight but every single bone in her body told her to kill all of these people or die trying.
“Aha,” said Nick as he got up from the bench. "Well... here’s what I think of that!”
Nick pulled out a small grey handgun from his back pocket and fired it at Kingsley. The vest absorbed pretty much the entire force of the bullet but it did send the Captain staggering back, which allowed Nick to kick him in the stomach. Before Hopkins or Nick could do anything else, Hernandez kicked the gun out of Nick’s hand and head-butted him. He staggered back and couldn’t dodge the Corporal’s punch which ended up knocking him down to the ground. Hernandez unlocked his rifle and shoved it inside Nick’s mouth.
Hopkins attempted to jump up and tackle Hernandez, but he got hit in her face with the butt of Bisson’s rifle and found herself down on the ground as well, along with some of her blood from her now bleeding forehead.
“You two are certainly brave, I give you that,” said Captain Kingsley. “But if you want a ride out of this damned city then I suggest you cooperate because otherwise, you’ll end up like your father.”
Hopkins felt the rage take control of her body. She pulled the knife out from Hernandez’s boot and slammed it right into Kingsley’s feet. The Aftonian shouted in pain, then kicked Hopkins in the face with his other leg.
Her vision became blurry and she didn’t remember what happened afterwards.
When Hopkins woke up, she was lying tied up on one of the stretchers next to Riley, and her head hurt a lot. Jefferson, Stanley, Ira, Dresden, Weiss, and Nick were all sitting tied-up on the floor. Riley was still out, with his helmet sitting on a box in the corner of the room.
She quickly concluded that Jefferson and Stanley were ambushed when they entered the bunker, and Stanley probably had a gun aimed at him from behind when he came out to ensure the rest that it was safe to go in.
Other than them, there were six NAF soldiers in the room. Three of them were unknowns wearing the standard dark grey and green NAF armor, while Bisson, Kingsley, and Hernandez were wearing their Sapphirian and Aftonian gear.
“Glad to see you’re up Corporal. Hernandez suggested we break your other arm as well after that stunt you pulled, but I’m hoping that won’t be necessary.”
Hopkins looked straight into the captain’s eyes. “Screw you… and your false concern… you murderous psychopath!”
Kingsley looked offended. That’s exactly what Hopkins wanted.
“Murderous psychopath? I killed two people on this entire island, and two incompetent artillery operators who were ready to tell everything about our plans to your Lieutenant. How many people did you kill?”
“One too few,” she sneered back.
Kingsley shook his head. He was about to retort when Jefferson spoke up.
“How about you tell us what in the world you want, instead of ruining the corporal’s life even more?”
The captain smiled, then pulled out a picture from one of his pockets. On it, was the storage device, that Riley found. “This. And since dear Private McConnel here didn’t have it, I assume he passed it to one of you.”
Major Jefferson shook his head. “What in the world do you need the Danuvee’s black box for?”
Everybody in the room, including the NAF soldiers looked at the Major. Kingsley seemed surprised.
“Huh. I certainly didn’t expect you of all people to know what that thing is, much less what’s on it.”
“You NAF guys always make the mistake of considering your enemies ignorant. This is what caused your defeat in Grarrak and in Dravin city, and it is what will cause your defeat here.”
“Considering that in an hour the whole city center will be vaporized along with the airport, with your nation being framed, I find it quite hard to believe that. Now, I’d love to continue this thought exercise, but I’ve got a plane to catch so let me make myself perfectly clear.” Kingsley looked at Hernandez and pointed at Weiss. The Corporal aimed his gun at her. “You either tell me right now where that device is, or I’m going to send Weiss right after her friends.”
Weiss’s facial expression turned into one of pure rage, but before she could do anything Jefferson spoke up.
“The least you could do is point the gun at her yourself instead of ordering somebody else to do it,” said Jefferson.
“Speaking from experience, eh?” Kingsley replied.
A few tense seconds later the Major sighed, but it wasn’t him who broke the silence.
“Daniel has it.” lied Nick. “Riley gave it to him back at the City hall because other than Hopkins, Daniel knew the most about that kind of tech.”
Kingsley nodded. He looked at Weiss, who was ready to burst from her anger. “See, that wasn’t so hard!” he said, before signaling the Corporal to put his gun away. “Now, I would love to take you guys with me, but after what Hopkins did, I worry about my personal safety. I’ll send a team to pick you up and take you out of the blast radius. Bisson, Brett, and Farid will stay here to provide company until then.
“I have just one last question,” Dresden asked suddenly.
The captain turned back.
“What the fuck did you do this for? You’ve been with Rhino even before Grarrak…”
Kingsley smiled. “Grarrak was a turning point for me. As for today, let’s just say that there are things on our planet that our governments are ill-equipped to deal with and that the NAF is the only one that seems to realize that.”
“Care to fill us in on that?” Ira asked.
Kingsley once again smiled, similarly to how snakes did, and then left the room with Hernandez and another soldier and closed the door. The NAF soldier named Brett nodded at his partners then he too walked outside after locking the cell door to cover the main entrance. The other soldier that stayed in their room other than Bisson was apparently Farid then.
Hopkins let out a long sigh. “This day is just getting worse and worse...”
“At least we’re still alive,” Ira replied in a surprisingly calm voice.
Nick decided to change topics. “Major?”
“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but if I would have had to guess who the traitor in our ranks was, I would have voted for you or Stanley.”
Stanley and the Major both looked at Nick. “I certainly appreciate your trust, Private.”
“Well he wasn’t too far off,” Stanley added, nodding at Bisson. “...you’d think that someone who signed up to protect the city wouldn’t be so quick to betray it, but alas...”
Bisson shook his head but didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, I thought you were one of us!” Dresden said “Why in the world would you willingly work with the people that kidnapped your damned neighbors? The people you signed up to protect?!”
Bisson stared at Dresden angrily, but he ended up holding his mouth. Some time passed by in silence, which was broken by Farid calling somebody on his radio. When he finished, he scratched the back of his head, which seemed weird to Hopkins as he was wearing a helmet that covered his entire head. He then looked out through the door’s window. Bisson gave him a questioning look, but Farid just shrugged.
“Something wrong, soldier?” asked Hopkins.
“Nope. Just waiting for Brett to come back.”
“Why, you’re scared of us?” Nick replied.
Farid just stared at them. “You killed most of our force in less than a day, of course I am! But, since I have this nice rifle here, I can shoot my fears into little pieces.”
Another few minutes of silence followed, apart from a car rolling out of the tunnel, and another one arriving.
“Huh, I didn’t expect them to arrive this soon…” said Bisson.
“Yeah, they were certainly fast,” said Riley.
Pretty much everybody was startled by Riley’s sudden comment, including Hopkins. But what made the situation stranger, was that Riley managed to untie himself. Farid raised his gun and aimed it at Riley.
“Don’t you fucking move!” he yelled.
Bisson turned towards him as well. “McConnel, hands in the air!”
Riley jumped off from the bed and looked straight at Bisson, not raising his hands.
“I don’t know what you were promised in exchange for betraying us,” Riley said as he slowly took a step forward. “…but some part of you must realize that this is wrong!”
Both of them unlocked their rifles, but Bisson lowered his gun a bit.
“Don’t listen to that idiot!” Farid said. “…remember the commander’s offer!”
Bisson kept his finger on his rifle’s trigger, but Hopkins could tell he was thinking. “The NAF gave me a pretty irresistible offer you know. What do you have that can top that?” he asked.
“How about your goddamn soul?” Stanley asked harshly.
He stood up from the ground, and Bisson’s gun turned to him from Riley. Stanley seemed completely unfazed.
“Martin, honest to god I have no idea what they offered you,” he started “…but what kind of a man willingly opens fire on his own people? On civilians?! You know you’re better than that!”
Farid turned to Stanley. “Old man if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m going to blast both McConnel and––”
Hopkins didn’t see Riley charge forward, but what she did see was him knocking over Farid. Bisson immediately turned towards him but before he could fire, Farid ended up kicking Riley in the stomach and threw him off from himself. He quickly reached for his gun, looked down the sight…
And his head exploded.
Before Farid had a chance to fire, Bisson discharged his rifle at him. From that range the bullet not only went right through his head, but it also splattered blood across the room. Ira and Hopkins both got startled, but the others were just looking at Bisson surprised.
“There you go Martin!” said Stanley proudly. “...I knew you were better than that.”
Bisson didn’t say a word but instead, he threw his rifle away and immediately started untying Captain Stanley. “I can’t even begin to apologize, sir,” he said, “…but I didn't have much of a choice. I know I betrayed you all and I’ll do my best to help out.”
“Help by untying the others,” Riley ordered as he wiped Farid's blood off from himself.
He quickly untied Hopkins while Bisson handled the others.
“Not that I mind your assistance,” Jefferson said as he turned to Bisson. “…but why in the world did you help them in the first place?”
He shook his head. “They took my sister on the first day of the occupation, Major… Kingsley said they’d release her if I held my mouth shut and kept them up to date on Alpha’s movements. I shouldn’t have believed them but…”
“Hey, as long as you bury a few of these assholes we’ll call it even,” Nick said.
“Heh, I’ll do my best. But frankly, what I want is to find where they took her and everyone else more than anything.”
“Well you’re not the only one,” added Riley.
Riley quickly picked his helmet back up as well and double-checked if the camera was running.
“Awesome, we’ve got evidence against Kingsley too.”
Ira walked over to Riley. “You seem damn well for somebody who was unconscious for over ten minutes.”
“Yeah I actually woke up quite fast, but I figured I’ll just rest while you guys do the walking for me.”
Ira shook her head but she was smiling.
It sounded like somebody was running around outside their cell, but after two gunshots he or she stopped moving. Then somebody smashed the door open on the outside of the building and made their way to their cell’s door.
“Stand back everyone!” shouted a woman.
Something exploded on the other side and the cell door flew right out of its frame, taking part of the doorway with it. Outside the door was agent Simmons, with her signature revolver and a few high explosive grenades in her hands.
“Seems like I arrived a bit late,” she said as she stepped inside.
“Better late than never, missy,” said Dresden as he finally got untied. Afterwards he walked over to Bisson and smacked him in the face. “And that’s for what you just pulled! Sister or no sister, you don’t do that shit!”
The man gripped his jaw but didn’t retort in any way. “…yeah, I deserved that.”
Ira walked up to the front of the group. “Okay, I’ve got a million questions right now, but I only really need the answer to one of them.”
“Ask away,” Simmons replied.
“Where is Kingsley going?”
“Probably the airport.” Bisson said. “the plane that landed there was for him.”
“We have a way to properly track him though,” Nick said smugly.
He pulled out a small screen from one of his pockets, and on the screen was a GPS map of the city that was showing a green dot moving. Hopkins raised her head.
“That grey handgun… you shot Kingsley with a tracker gun, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and it worked spectacularly!”
Hopkins felt happy, which was a nice change. “You’re much smarter than you look.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Simmons clapped her hands together. “Alright people, we need to catch the traitor’s plane, and I think you can figure out why.”
Jefferson raised his head. “How big is that plane?”
“It’s a standard Sapphirian cargo aircraft, a Bloater-2c I think. Should be more than enough for all of us, if we can take it.”
“Can’t we get Patterson to deal with it?” asked Ira, scratching her shoulder as she did.
Simmons shook her head. “They had to take a detour with the civilians since they got ambushed. Last I heard, they managed to push them back, but the NAF was still following them.
“It’s going to be close then. We only got like what, an hour and forty minutes until the explosion?” Nick said.
“Yes. Which is why we need to go now. Is there anything here you want to take?” replied Simmons.
“There are a few ammo crates stashed in the back,” Bisson mentioned. “It wouldn’t hurt to load up.
“Before we go, I have one last question,” Hopkins asked, turning to Major Jefferson.
Agent Simmons looked at them both.
“Major, how did you know so much about what Kingsley was looking for and the NAF itself?”
Major Jefferson looked at Hopkins, then Simmons, and then took out a badge from his uniform’s inner pocket and passed it to Hopkins. It was the badge of the Global Intelligence Service, with Troy Jefferson written on it.
Nick’s and Hopkins’s eyes widened when they saw that badge. “Wait, you’re a spy?” Nick asked.
“The branch Agent Simmons and I work for is treated a bit differently than the rest of the intelligence agencies, but yes, in practice. My employment with them is not considered treason, however. That’s all I’m saying for now.”
Nick shook his head. “And how much do you know about the NAF then?” he asked.
“Not much more than you do. We had a run-in with them almost a year ago and we found out that they were part of the insurgent operations in Grarrak city and the bombing that started the Gredrurgian separatist movement, but that’s all we knew up until today.”
“I think I had enough plot twists for one day…” remarked Nick.
“Amen to that!” replied Riley.
Hopkins grabbed her weapons, and along with Nick and the rest, they walked out to the vehicle Simmons managed to steal on the way here. Jefferson borrowed Simmons’s radio and briefed Patterson on what happened, who seemed quite frustrated when he heard about Kingsley. Hopkins perfectly understood his frustration and rage.
They got into Simmons’s truck. Riley, Weiss, Ira, Bisson, and Dresden got into the back of the truck, while Hopkins and the rest got into the front. When they began driving, Hopkins caught sight of the Major wiping his face.
“You okay, sir?” she asked.
He didn’t answer for a while. “I just want this whole thing to be over… I knew that this mission was going to be hard, but losing Brown and the others at the tower… I’m not sure how I’m going to tell about this to their families.”
Hopkins lowered her head. “Probably the same way I will…”
Nick put his arm around Hopkins’s shoulder. Any other time Hopkins would have pushed him off, but after what happened with her father, she needed somebody to give her moral and considering the circumstances, physical support. As she had learned today, Nick could provide both, even if he did seem to be a bit too forward with her.
“The situation is grim indeed, but until the remaining citizens are off from the island, we must not give up,” Stanley said confidently.
“I agree,” Nick said. “those people are counting on us.”
The four of them didn’t say much until Nick turned to Simmons. “Agent?”
“Yeah?” she replied without looking away from the road.
“What are the chances of Kingsley having the deactivation codes for that bomb in the city hall?”
Simmons sat still for a few moments as she thought up an answer. “It’s possible… but even if we managed to catch him in time, we would still have to make our way back to the city hall, in order to deactivate it.”
“Not if someone was already there.” Nick suggested, “We have radios, we could ask somebody from Alpha to stay at the hall.”
Hopkins suddenly looked at Nick. “Nick, if somebody went there right now, and we didn’t get the codes from Kingsley, that person would be dead long before they managed to leave the city!”
“And besides,” Major Jefferson added “…who would be willing to risk their life like that? I can maybe see Patterson volunteering for this, but you’d need a full squad to deal with any enemy soldiers that might try to stop you.”
“Look,” Nick continued “I understand how risky this is, but if we even have a shot at saving the city then we have to try it!”
Hopkins pushed Nick’s arm off of herself. Nick was trying to do precisely what Hopkins did and she wasn’t about to let that happen. “No, we do not! That’s precisely what I did with Captain Brown and look how that ended! Half of Alpha squad died!”
“Enough!” said Jefferson. “This is something that we should discuss with everyone.”
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