The sky overheard Tabriz, had taken on a deep red hue that softly painted the black clouds as though carefully brushed in by an invisible and yet careful artist. The red bled out from the clouds, chasing away the blue in the sky. A series of flybys were made by fighter jets, each one ending in an earth shattering explosion that reverberated around the area the soldiers lay in wait.
Ahead, huge mushroom clouds could be seen in the aftermath of the explosions, rising up into the sky. Soon they would rain down their ashy contents and make the entire place difficult to breathe in. The destruction of the city was evident, all around. The charred remains of skyscrapers that stood in the heart of Tabriz were all that was left of the beautiful structures that once stood here. And still the fires weren’t satiated. They licked and lapped the iron structures, melting them slowly and oxidizing the air around them until they rusted and weakened. One too many had finally succumbed, crumbling in a red powdery smoke and sending dangerous shrapnel tumbling to the ground beneath them.
The last of the bombers banked east and west respectively, and swooped away towards the horizon. It signaled the end of the aerial attacks. Master Sergeant Mitchell checked his watch and turned towards Sergeant First Class, Michael Stanton.
“0800 hours, Sergeant Stanton. You’ve got two hours to sweep through before the fly boys come back bringing more rain. Move! We’ll monitor your progress from the rear and give you updated intelligence as you proceed.”
Sergeant Stanton turned to the team of twenty soldiers all crouched in various positions behind him.
“You heard the MSG, boys! Let’s move!”
The men chorused a sir and with that, they advanced in on their target – a corporate building, held by terrorist forces. Intel told them there were civilians inside being held as hostages. Their mission was simple, kill the terrorists and bring the civilians out alive. No pressure. As they advanced on the deserted street keeping close to the shadows and the sides of the buildings, a hail of bullets was unleashed on them. They crouched down behind any structures they could use as a barricade. Michael Stanton shouted out his orders.
“Offensive fire from the left! Elevation, twenty degrees. Branley and Stead. Take him out!”
“On it, SFC!”
The loud and violent boom of their automatic rifles, echoed through the deserted street and soon the hail of bullets stopped. It was followed by an audible thud.
“Target’s down sir. Literally.”
“Good shooting. Let’s move!”
As they continued their advance they continually faced surprise attacks and traps sprung by their enemies, but the Special Forces soldiers were always up to the task. They effortlessly fell into positions and switched their offensive and defensive formations to neutralize the threats they faced. All the while, keeping the front advancing.
Michael Stanton ducked under a stream of bullets from a hostile who was crouched behind a car. The stream soon died down, and a rifle barrel rested on Michael’s shoulder. He looked behind him to see Sergeant Seth Govan crouched low with his rifle rested on Michael’s shoulder and aimed at the hostile.
“I’ve got your back, SFC.” Seth said.
The hostile peeked up to open fire once more and his head snapped back as the shots from Seth’s rifle sent three bullets slicing through his skull.
They continued their push forward, and were closing in on the corporate building which looked worse for wear. At least it was still standing.
“They keep coming out the wood work!” Seth screamed as the company once more, ducked behind cover to avoid another rain of bullets on them.
“They’ve got the positional advantage on us!” Michael yelled back in response. He picked up a large phone that had been clipped to his suit and pushed a button at its center, before putting it to his ears.
“MSG do you see what I see sir?”
I do. Suppressive fire coming in.
Soon they could hear a chopper overhead. It slowly drifted down until it was level with the floor of the building, the terrorists were shooting out from. The chopper opened fire, cutting down most of the hostiles.
Move in, Stanton!
“Sir! Men, we go in on the count of three! Three! Go! Go! Go!”
Everything happened quickly. They were in the building, after running through a curtain of bullets draped down from above. A few of them had been dropped and some of the men fell back to get them out of the line of fire.
“Activate your visors!”
A gleam of metallic liquid crawled up their faces and soon the green pulsing lights of their visors cut through the darkness. They could hear shouts and orders in Persian. The bullets flew by them, making a whistling sound as they did. Michael and the rest of the Special Forces team, dropped into crouches and opened up retaliatory fire on the terrorists. One by one, they were cut down. They moved quickly amidst the chaos. Concrete pillars exploded and sprayed pulverized cement unto their faces. The cross fire ripped apart cabinets and tables, sending splinters flying dangerously close to them. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. Michael shifted and twisted at every sound. His eyes closely inspected any dark corner where a terrorist might hide.
“Missed any shots today, Eagle eye?” A soldier yelled at Michael Stanton.
“Not yet, Jones.” Michael responded.
“Neither have I.” Jones responded. “Just might beat your record today.”
The company moved up the stairs and a group of terrorists opened fire on them. However, the Special Forces were highly trained to deal with a multitude of situations. They maintained their calm and their aim was true. The terrorists tumbled down the stairs one after the other.
“Stead’s hit!” Seth Govan said. “Move him back and call in to the MSG for a medic.”
A few soldiers responded to Seth’s orders and the rest of them charged up the flight of stairs, until they got to the floor the hostages were being held in.
“Ready?” Michael asked Seth.
“Let’s do this.” Seth responded.
They both kicked down the door and immediately opened fire on the hostiles they had identified, through their visors. The screams of the hostiles, cut through the air, louder than the gunfire. The smell of death was everywhere and it was all Michael could do, to keep his focus. His body felt like a jackhammer as the jarring recoil of the automatic rifle, transferred that force through his bones. His teeth rattled uncontrollably but he kept his focus on shooting down all the hostiles. Soon, the firing had ceased and all that could be heard was the moaning and crying of the hostages.
“Everybody stay down. No sudden movements. We aren’t here to hurt you.”
Michael picked up his phone and called Master Sergeant Mitchell.
“Floor’s secure sir. All hostiles are down and we’ve got fifty civilians in here.”
Good job officer Stanton. We’ve got them via your video feeds. Move em out boys.
Michael Stanton studied the hostages and his eyes fell on a girl who appeared to be no older than fourteen years. She was staring back at him with an intensity that was a bit unsettling.
“Jones. Some of these hostages might still be uptight. Repeat what I said to them in a language they understand and start leading them out with that one.”
He pointed at the girl who had been staring at him earlier.
“On it, SFC.”
Jones repeated Michael’s message in Persian and made his way to the girl. He took her hand gently and helped her up to her feet.
Michael watched as he cajoled the girl and she started slowly walking with him. A little boy tugged on his shirt. Michael turned around and bent down.
“Hey there little buddy.”
The little boy smiled.
“Are you, American Soldier?”
“Yes I am. And we are here to help you. Can you tell your folks that? Let’s get you out of here nice and easy.”
“They scared. They say you have demon with you. He help you win.”
Michael gasped in amusement.
“Well… what demon?”
“They say his name, Horus. Cos he never misses. They say the only way to kill him is to surprise him with a bomb and…”
One of the hostages had covered the boy’s mouth and dragged him to his side. He scolded him in their language and the boy drooped his head between his knees.
“Hey let him talk!” Michael snapped. “Who is ‘they’”?
The boy looked at him wide-eyed in fear.
Michael got up.
“Jones! Get in here and… Wait… shit! Jones!”
Michael ran out of the huge office room towards the stairwell. He turned around the corner and saw Jones leading the girl downstairs.
“Jones get away from her! It’s a trap! They want…”
The explosion tossed him back into the room. His chest felt like it had been hit by a battering ram. The ringing in his head made his vision dance and swirl. Michael doubled over and threw up. He could hear screams and noises. Hands wrapped under his armpits and pulled him back into the room. He felt a cloth used to beat down his boots which had caught fire.
“You’re gonna be alright, SFC.” Seth said, crouching beside him.
“Jones is gone… sir.” Seth said as his eyes sadly fell to the ground.
“They wanted me, Seth. I almost led that girl out, myself.”
“It’s not your fault sir.”
Officer Stanton! What’s going on!
Michael picked up his phone and held it to his ear.
“IED sir. It was on a girl. Jones… Jones is dead sir.”
There was silence on the other end. Michael could hear the breathing of the Master Sergeant on the other end and suddenly he had an uneasy feeling building up in his stomach.
Have you identified any others?
“No sir. There’s no way to.”
Exactly. There might be hostiles mixed in. Execute them all.
Execute them, Sergeant First Class. That’s an order. I cannot risk an entire military base for them. We’ve retrieved enough hostages for the day.
“Sir some of them have kids! I cannot do that sir.”
“You are disobeying a direct order from your superior. I am holding my position here. Execute them now or so help me God, I will send rain on that entire building with you and your men in it. You’ve got one minute to comply.”
Tears ran down Michael Stanton’s face as he looked at the little boy who was staring at him in wide-eyed fear. He looked at his men and then back at the hostages. An old man got up and began talking rapidly in Persian. His eyes were filled with anger and hate.
“Sit down!” Seth Govan yelled, but the man would not yield. He tossed his robe over his head, revealing a bomb strapped around his waist with a rip cord as the trigger.
“No! Don’t do it! You’ll put everyone here in danger!” Michael yelled. His head was ringing.
“Sir, your orders.” Officer Branley said.
Tensions were beginning to rise and Michael found himself hyperventilating.
“Ready your guns!” He said.
The hush and cries of the men, women and children, ripped his heart to shreds. He looked at the little boy who had talked to him earlier and saw that they were both shedding tears of pain.
The old man started running at them.
Horus startled out of bed, screaming.
“Hey! Easy there. Easy.” Meghan said.
There was a sweat film on his forehead and he breathed rapidly.
Meghan gently placed a palm on his chest and eased him back into a lying position on the bed.
“It’s alright, Miki.”
“Don’t call me that.” Horus snapped. His entire body was in agony.
“I understand. I’m just glad you are awake. Let me get Ketra.”
She got up and walked towards the door.
“You don’t understand anything.” Horus said. “You never will.”
Meghan nodded rapidly and stepped out of the room. When the door closed behind her, she fell to her knees and sobbed silently.