Chapter 11: Brutal

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"What was the other squad looking for?"

"We thought that the Russians were harboring American criminals. Really sick bastards that might have some knowledge they weren't supposed to, I think it might've been secret missile production sites. We never got the data, but the recon team did find something out. The Russians had intercepted a secret communique that a squad of slavers was going to hit a Japanese colony. The Russians passed it along to the Japanese, but both of them decided not to do anything about it because the colony was technically outside their jurisdiction. When we pulled the squad out, I presented the data to my superiors, told them we should defend them, or, for fuck's sake, at least send them some kind of warning." Here, Enzo paused, as he'd heard something.

Stern froze up as well. They waited, positioned on either side of a grille that overlooked a main corridor. They were now in hostile territory, well, it was all hostile at this point, but the research labs were extremely hostile.

The sound went away and, after a moment, they kept going.

"And they didn't send a warning?" Stern asked.

"No. They felt that doing so might tip their hand to the fact that they were the ones that had pulled the black op. See, we'd already pissed off Russian by grabbing some of their mining operations via dubious legal loopholes, as well as the fact that there was a big scandal going on at the that time. An American corporation had sold faulty parts to a Russian medical organization and, as a result, a bunch of civilians died...they felt that we couldn't afford another 'scandal'. To be honest, I think they were just pissed off at the colonists."

"Why?"

"I've noticed a kind of 'they made their bed, let them sleep in it' policy that the governments have towards those colonists that want to strike out on their own, free of government rule. All of the governments have that policy, it seems. It's so fucking high school...so, I walked. I was so pissed, so sick of it all. I even tried to make a deal, let me and my crew go on 'leave' and deal with the problem on our own time. They told us no, flat out. Me and about three quarters of my squad just straight-up walked the fuck out of Spec Ops."

"That seems a bit rash for a little colony," Stern said after a moment.

"Maybe it was, but it was everything. The way they were questioning everything, the way it became less about doing some real good in the galaxy and more about covering the government's ass. The way the megacorps seemed to be having their fingers in fucking all of it. We walked, went and protected the colony. Gave them warning, helped them set up defenses. We fucking broke those slavers, sent them all to hell."

"And you never went back."

"Yeah. We struck a deal with Spec Ops, they let us go, we don't say shit about their operations. Obviously we didn't trust them, we all got new names, new IDs, new faces. And that's the story of why I'm a fucking bitter mercenary," Enzo said.

"How'd you get the arm? Lee mentioned you were hitting the morphine pretty hard," Stern said after a long moment.

"That's an entirely different story. That is the reason I'm a bitter human being," Enzo replied.

They both fell silent as they turned a corner in the vent shaft and spied something up ahead. Whatever it was, it seemed to fill the vent, top to bottom, side to side. Enzo was in the lead and he felt terror shudder through him at the idea of being trapped in a vent with...whatever the fuck it was. He knew it was alive, the dim light that played across what might have been a face gave that much away. And...it began moving.

"Shit, we need to get out, now," he said, hunting for an exit.

"But we aren't there yet!" Stern replied.

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