Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
The sun had passed its peak, and Steve’s shadow began to grow. It trailed behind him as he exited the graveyard. The rusted metal door slammed violently behind Steve due to the howling wind that had passed through the soulless town. Steve covered his mouth and squinted his eyes. The gritty sand flew erratically towards him as he descended the hill.
The sand brushed against his face. His face felt as if it was being pricked by hundreds of pins all at once. He crouched behind a trashcan and waited for the wind to pass, hoping it would shelter him from the wind’s wrath. It’s no wonder everyone stays indoors here, Steve thought as the harsh wind howled so loudly it drained out all other sounds.
A few minutes later, the dust settled, and Steve reached the base of the arid hill. He had to walk barely under a kilometer to reach the nearest terminal, but he needed to do one last thing before he left. At the base of the hill, was a deserted shebeen. The sign hung lopsided by a wire above the entrance. As Steve ascended the steps leading to the entrance, the wooden floors creaked loudly. It was as if they would give way any moment and he would fall through the floor.
The bell rang as he opened the door. The shebeen was serviceable. The tables were well kept, and the wine was neatly stored. It seemed the most activity this town saw was in this very building. The serving counter needed some cleaning, and the bar stools could have been better kept. The most surprising feature, however, was how ancient it looked. It seemed as if this was taken out of a museum. Everything was made from oak with the exception of a few pieces of furniture. It was either imported from the 19th century, or it was designed by a passionate historian. With the lack of trees, Oak was incredibly expensive. More than silver perhaps.
Steve walked in between the tables and sat at the bar. He helped himself to some wine. Wine was wine; it didn’t really matter where it was from or how old it was to him. Suddenly, from the corner of the shebeen, something rattled his eardrum. He recognized that noise anywhere he went. His ears were programmed to listen for it. The unsheathing of a knife.
Steve’s nervous hand slithered its way to his knife in his back pocket. His other hand retrieved his pistol from its holster. He looked into the wine glass. The reflection revealed a man in a fedora gradually approaching him. He was surprised at how silent he was considering the floor creaked even if a mouse were to walk over it. Steve slipped the knife out of his shallow pocket slowly.
In a burst of energy, he leaped off the barstool like a cat and thrust it into his assailant’s path. The man jumped high over the stool. He instantly disarmed Steve and pinned him to the table. One hand wrapped around Steve’s throat, the other suspending the arm with the pistol in the air.
“Oh… It’s you,” the man said before releasing his grip on Steve.
Steve grasped his throat and took in a few deep breaths to nourish his lungs with oxygen. “You didn’t have to choke the life out of me, you know…”
“I’m a spy. I’m paranoid. It’s what’s kept me alive,” he chuckled. “Besides, we agreed you’d come here in the evening. I wasn’t expecting you here now. Nobody over here is awake at this point in the day. They’re a bunch of nocturnal bastards.”
Steve dusted himself and frowned at the wine stain on his white shirt, “Alright Jim, you got the intel?”
Jim, a spy of the Alliance who had been in deep cover for four years, hauled out a flash drive and waved it in the air.
“As promised,” he said handing it over to Steve.
“And you haven’t been compromised?” Steve asked raising an eyebrow.
Jim averted his gaze for a moment, “Yeah… About that… That’s why I wanted to meet in person. I need to be extracted. I’ve been compromised.”
“Sigvald?” asked Steve.
Jim nodded in approval, “I tried my best to get here unnoticed, but we need to leave here as soon as possible just in case I was followed.”
Steve nodded and grabbed his pistol and his knife off the table. He quickly sheathed the knife and holstered his pistol. Jim drew his coat over his shirt and adjusted his fedora.
"I agree. The telepo-"
Bang! The bullet passed Steve narrowly and shattered the wine glass on the table.
Steve darted to a table and flipped it over to provide cover for himself and Jim. Another gunshot rang in their ears. One gunshot came from in front of them, another to the right, and another to their left. Jim flicked a switch on the inside of his fedora. It expanded like an umbrella and solidified into a shield.
“Ditch the table! Get behind me!” yelled Jim.
Steve kicked the table away from them to cover the windows, “We need to get them inside the bar!”
“We need to force them inside! Duck behind the countertop!” Steve screamed.
Jim and Steve vaulted swiftly over the countertop. Wood chips flew past them as the entire shebeen was ruthlessly destroyed by a relentless barrage of blaster bolts. The gunshots stopped. The shebeen fell silent. Steve strained his ears trying to gather what his unknown attackers were doing.
They have to be after Jim, right? Steve thought.
One man approaching the door, Steve observed.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Another walking quickly to the left window.
Tap, Tap, Tap.
Last one running to the right window. Three men, two guns, one probably armed with a knife.
Steve lifted up three fingers to Jim. He then pointed to the entry points of each of them. The bell rang as the door creaked open. The cracked windows shattered as the other two entered the room as well. Their footsteps became louder. The wood began to creak.
Wait for it… Steve thought as he raised his open palm to Jim.
The creaking became louder. They could now hear the breathing of their attackers. Their breaths were heavy. Steve could almost smell their foul stench. Steve looked down at his gun. Fuck! Only two bullets, he cursed.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Suddenly they fired another series of gunshots haphazardly throughout the shebeen. Steve and Jim shut their eyes, praying none would hit them. Some pierced right through the counter they hid behind. The wine bottles shattered, and their contents dripped down the shelves. The shards flew across the room. Multiple shards cut into Jim’s body. Blood seeped out of the cut and ran down his face. He glanced at Steve.
“Don’t… Take deep breaths…” mouthed Steve.
Wait for it…
Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap.
The shooting stopped. The shells fell to the grown clattering on the wooden floor. Then the resounding thud of three magazines hitting the floor reached their ears. Steve closed his hand.
In one swift motion, Steve and Jim jumped over the table. The first man reacted quickly. Before Steve could draw his pistol, he grabbed Steve’s arm. Steve’s wrist clicked. He yelled in pain, releasing his firearm. He kicked the man in the chest sending him tumbling backwards. Steve threw his knife into his attacker’s skull. It struck him between his brows causing him to collapse to the ground with a thud.
He rolled across the floor and pushed a bar stool into the second assailant’s path. He staggered. Jim punched him in the gut. He flipped his own knife in his hand and slit his assailant’s throat. Blood flowed violently as the man clasped his throat.
Jim heard a gun click. It certainly wasn’t Steve’s. He snapped his head in its direction. The last man had his gun barrel barely a meter from Jim’s face. Steve dashed for Jim’s shield.
“Jim!” he shouted as he threw the shield across the room.
He caught the shield barely in time to block the speeding bullet. The man buried several more rounds into the shield. It was barely holding up. The shield wasn’t built to sustain heavy fire. Jim rushed forward using what remained of the shield as cover to close the distance. He grabbed the man’s arm by the wrist. The man’s arm struggled with Jim’s as several bullets were shot randomly.
Jim winced. He released the man’s arm and instead swept his leg. The attacker dropped to the ground landing on a protruding glass shard on the floor. He screeched in pain. Jim twisted the gun out of his hand. He planted his foot over the man’s neck. Aiming the gun at the man’s head, Jim hesitated for a second, looking the man in the eye. He used the back of the gun to knock the man out.
Jim lifted his foot off the man’s neck. He breathed a hefty sigh of relief. He walked over to the countertop and picked up his shield which transformed back into his fedora. With all the dents it had, the fedora didn't fit snugly on his head as it once did.
Jim jumped out of his skin as Steve buried the remaining two bullets of his gun into the man Jim knocked out.
“You didn't have to kill him,” Jim said.
"One less SEKT agent in the field is always a good thing for us,” Steve replied.
“You’ve grown rusty, I see. The last time I saw you fight; you’d have taken these folks out in a matter of seconds,” teased Jim as he tried to clean up the bodies.
"John was always more of a fighter than me," laughed Steve. "As long as my mind is still sharp I'll be useful."
A half-bald man in an apron barged into the wrecked shebeen, “What the hell happened here?”
“There was a break-in, sir,” responded Jim confidently. “We tried out best to preserve your establishment. We’ll call the police to file a report, but we must be on our way.”
"Preserve my establishment? This is hardly preserved," the man scoffed. "And these folks didn't even steal anything!"
At this point, the entire town stared at the two men walking off, covered in blood. They had all awakened from their mid-day nap to see what had happened. Steve and Jim did the best they could to avoid eye contact. Jim lowered his fedora and wrapped his trench coat around himself. The abandoned town was speechless. Never in their dull life had they thought they’d have something valuable enough to break into.
“SEKT really wants you dead,” chuckled Steve.
“After what I stole, I’d assume they would,” replied Jim. “On that flash drive, is a full biological analysis of the bioweapon I told you about earlier. I had to sneak under Sigvald’s nose to get that data.”
“And that made SEKT desperate enough to try and assassinate an Alliance member outside of an Abandoned Region. And what’s worse is that nobody’s going to bat an eyelid. That concerns me…”
Jim furrowed his eyebrows, “why? We have the upper hand now, right? Those three are dead, and the data is safe with us.”
Steve shook his head, “you’re not getting my point. SEKT now know they can operate outside the Abandoned Regions and mask their operations like assassinations as burglary, theft, or crime in general. This incident will be reported as a common burglary that was thwarted by two unknown men. No investigation and no questions asked. Sigvald now has free reign to mobilize all his agents and do whatever he desires and mask it as a crime syndicate.”
“We can report these incidents as assassination attempts, right? That’ll get the authorities on his case, and we’ll get increased security in our private lives.”
“But that begs the question of why a handful of supposedly random citizens are being targeted for assassination. The last thing I want is for anyone to ask that question. It's up to us to protect our own.”
“But surely, he can’t target every agent. He doesn’t have a dossier filed on everyone,” asked Jim.
“Exactly, which means he’s only going to target specific individuals. Individuals who have caused him trouble and interfered with his operations in the past,” Steve said.
“And who might those be?”
“Myself, you (now that you've been compromised), and the infiltrators. We’ve all got a massive crosshair on our heads now. Not just on the battlefield, but everywhere we go. And not just us, but everyone we care about, agent or not, is in Sigvald’s scopes,” Steve replied as he cleaned his knife with his sleeve.
Jim and Steve arrived at the teleporter. At this point, a dark, grey cloud had eclipsed the sun and the sky had darkened. The two men’s shadows that had once starkly contrasted with the dry earth faded. Faint sounds of thunder echoed through the sky. The clouds began to flash as lightning jumped from cloud to cloud.
Steve and Jim looked up as the first drops of rain fell from the sky and onto their faces. Then the drizzle became a violent shower. It soaked their clothes and the blood dripped off them and pooled on the floor. It soaked into the dry ground turning the golden brown sand a few shades deeper with a hint of redness. The deafening thunder cracked like a whip and a bolt of lightning struck the ground in the distance. A gust of wind swiftly blew past Steve and Jim. It howled as it did before.
"There is a silver lining to all this, I suppose," Steve said. "I have a feeling this bioweapon is the only thing Sigvald has left to achieve his mission. If we stop this, we stop him."
The two inserted their cards into the teleporting machine and vanished from sight.
Just some things I wanted to know about this chapter...
1. Is the beginning too slow? Should I lengthen or shorten the descriptions for Steve's journey down the hill and into the shebeen?
2. This is the first action sequence I've written that isn't fast-paced. What do you think of the tension (if there was any) during or before the fight? Where and how can I improve?
3. What did you think of Sigvald's plan to hide his operations as a common crime? Do you think it makes sense?
4. Lastly, is there anything you feel was missing from the chapter? Something you felt was unnecessary?
Thanks for reading and reviewing!