Chapter four – The first mission
So, I tried to cut this into two chapters, I really did, but then one chapter would be really very short or I’d have to cut at a very annoying time… I’m sorry. T.T
After my actions on that day, my authority was not challenged again.
Not out in the open, at least. All four of my squad members took care in what they said when I could hear them – which was almost always. The feeling of distrust remained, though, and I could see it in their eyes whenever I gave them the order to do something. Especially Derek was making it very obvious.
Other than his behavior, though, there was nothing to look down upon in terms of his military capacities. He was an exceptional soldier, disciplined and with quick judgment in dangerous situations, both according to the records I had about him and what I saw from him during training.
And we trained a lot. The Colonel had decided that, even though our squad was assembled now, we needed time to get used to each other before he’d send us off into battle. I was to test their ability to work together and learn more about their personalities, before we would be allowed to leave the grounds.
Seeing how it was an order, I did as commanded and tried to find out more about my underlings. It was of variating difficulty with each one, although they all seemed not all that interested in sharing their backgrounds with me. I wasn’t that eager, as well, and so nothing really happened.
‘Afternoon, Captain,’ Tybalt greeted me, as I emerged from the eating quarters one late afternoon. I nodded back and he quickly raised his hand to his head, trying to look more formal even though he wasn’t in his uniform.
‘At ease, Tybalt. Training hasn’t started yet. You don’t have to be formal yet for another hour.’
He let down his arm again, looking at me sideways, with his head a little tweaked, as if he was guessing what his limits with me would be.
‘So… captain. Seeing how we’re still off duty, would you mind if I asked you something? You know, to get to know my captain better and all.’
‘I’ll allow it,’ I responded simply. A mischievous smile appeared on his face and he casually leaned against the wall, looking a lot more comfortable with the situation than he seemed to be just a few seconds ago.
‘So, how come that a beautiful woman like you ends up as captain of the special forces?’ he smiled. ‘I mean, it’s not exactly a common sight in our country to have a woman this far up into the military ranks. Don’t you think there are occupations that are a lot less risky to make a career in?’
My eyes narrowed as I stared at his face for a few seconds. Was he mocking me again? No, not this time. He seemed sincere…ish.
‘Every career has risks at some point,’ I said, with a low voice. ‘Do you not agree with me on that point, mister Tybalt?’
‘Of course,’ he said, still smiling. ‘But would you not agree with me that the army is a place where it’s exceptionally easy to get in harm’s way? I wouldn’t want beautiful features like that to get damaged because of something that is traditionally a man’s job…’
‘You’re out of line, soldier.’
‘Sorry, sorry. I just spoke my mind. I didn’t mean to offend the captain.’
Something about the way he said that really made me doubt just how sincere he was. It was still talk off-duty, though, so I decided to let it go and shrugged.
‘Just make sure you’re at the training grounds on time, soldier. We start at seven p.m. sharp.’
He smiled at me again, before turning around and walking away. I looked at Tybalt until he disappeared around the eating room corner. The information in his file rose to the surface of my memory again. He was an excellent tactician, but, as the report dryly stated, with a bit of an ‘attitude’. What exactly that attitude was did not get mentioned, but I could make a pretty good guess for myself. In the few weeks that I’d known him, he’d already flirted with five of the women working at the counter and the infirmary, of which two of them had given in to more than flirting.
I was just about to head back to my barrack, when the pager in my pocket started to beep. My eyes narrowed when I took the thing out of my pocket. A mission. And the little light in the middle was flashing orange, which meant it was urgent. The Colonel needed my squad ready for battle immediately.
‘Tybalt!’ I yelled, running around the corner with the pager still in my hand. He was still there, and turned around with a surprised expression on his face when he heard my voice.
‘Get the men together. You have ten minutes, meet me in the briefing room when you’ve got them all. We’re going on a mission.’
‘You came quick,’ the Colonel complimented me, as I walked into the briefing room, with the rest of my squad behind me. A tiny vein was pulsating on the left side of the Colonel’s head, which meant that something was about to go very wrong.
‘A vampire has been sighted near the outskirts of Bridgeport,’ the Colonel started. ‘The report came in little over twenty minutes ago.’
The men frowned.
‘How bad is it?’ I asked.
‘The local police have fired at it, and, as a response, it has mortally wounded two of them and has run into the woods with the bodies. They were still alive when it took them, but that is only a matter of time. The woods are too big for a regular squad to search in. However, a large-scale operation would draw the attention of the civilians and the media, and if they find out what we’re hunting, there will be panic throughout the entire town.’
I frowned at that explanation. The forest next to Bridgeport wasn’t a tiny park you could just stroll through. It was very large, and the chances of a vampire slipping past us was much bigger than I liked.
‘This is your chance to prove yourself. The other squads of the Forces are already out on different missions and won’t be back before it’s too late. I need you and your squad to track the creature down, find it and kill it. Do not, under any circumstances, let it into the city. Do you understand?’
‘I understand,’ I said. ‘We won’t disappoint you, sir.’
I turned around to the men and looked at each of their faces. Our future as a squad was depending on this mission and they knew it.
‘Tybalt, we’ll need someone to direct us when we’re out there. Take a helicopter. We’ll be relying on you to help us find the vampire. Can you do that?’
‘Good. Yurick, Hao and Derek, we’re heading to the outskirts. We’ll be going in blind, so I want you to pair up and cover for each other. Derek, you’re with me.’
He scowled for a bit, but in such a way that the Colonel, who was watching from behind, couldn’t see him.
‘We’re going in with full night equipment. Don’t forget to bring anything, or it could be the last thing you’ll ever forget. Are you ready?’
Tybalt and Yurick nodded, with Hao adding:
‘Any time, m’am.’
‘Good. Let’s move out.’
And that is how it happened. While Tybalt broke himself off from the squad and headed towards the helicopter pad, we made our way to the place where the army vehicles were parked. Bridgeport was only a short drive away, and the army had a special shortcut through the mountains. Time was ticking away rapidly, and I knew that, if we didn’t get to the forest in time and found the vampire, it would either slip away without a trace or reach the residential areas. And if that happened, it was all over.
Within a few minutes, we’d reached the edge of the forest. There was an eerie glow hanging over and between the treetops, that made my skin tingle all over. And not in a good way.
I pulled the nightvision-goggles over my head and gestured for the others to do the same. Then I reached to the pocket on my uniform and pressed the buttons of the device in there, to fine-tune my connection with the helicopter hovering above us.
‘Tybalt, can you hear me?’
‘Loud and clear, captain.’
‘Good. I want you to keep in contact with me at all times. Use your equipment to scan the woods for heat sources. Anything that’s bigger than a child’s body needs to be reported, all right?’
‘Understood. But, captain… we’re going to use heat sources to search for a vampire?’
I knew what he was hinting at.
‘No. We’re using heat sources to search for the bodies. If it’s wounded, it won’t part with its blood sources until it has fully regained its strength. We’re going to track down the bodies to get to the vampire.’
I nodded to myself and then turned around to the three men that were with me. Their eyes were barely visible from the shadows cast by the moon, but I could see from their body language that they were nervous about the upcoming mission.
‘Listen. I know that all of you still have your doubts about fighting alongside a female captain. That is something I can’t just take away from your minds, and I’m not going to try.’
I slowly looked from one man to another.
‘But this is a situation where doubt towards your comrades could prove to be fatal in battle. And the most important thing here is our lives. I’m going to need you all to trust me for this mission, even if you have doubts. Trust in the fact that we’re going to fulfill this mission as we’re supposed to. I know that you’re capable enough to have my back out there, and I need to you to have that same faith in me. Can you do that?’
Hao nodded and so did Yurick, after a slight hesitation. Derek took more time to come to an agreement in his mind, though, and it was time that we did not have much of. I was just about to open my mouth again when he shrugged and turned away from me a little.
The plan I had, was risky and full of holes. Because the lack of men I had at my disposal, we couldn’t hope to corner the vampire in these giant woods. The same problem came with guarding the entrances to the city, and tracking a cold-blooded vampire in the middle of the woods was nearly impossible. Our only hope lay with the officers it’d taken with him. If we could reach them before the vampire disposed of the bodies, we had a shot at finding it.
A twig snapped in the dark night, underneath Yurick’s army boot. The men flinched and pointed their guns at random points around us, ready to shoot at mere trees and bushes.
‘Easy,’ I muttered. ‘I know you’re nervous. But don’t shoot at nothing and alert the vampire. When it’s near, we’ll know.’
Yurick nodded and lowered his weapon, but kept looking around with an alert expression on his face. The others followed his example.
‘Captain,’ the soft voice of Tybalt sounded from the communication device in my pocket. ‘I detect heat sources north of your position.’
‘Two. Human-sized. But they’re fading slowly.’
I raised my arm to my squad and gestured forward, leading my team past the trees and rocks of the tightly-packed woods. It was too quiet around us. There were no animals around, no small creatures to make the sounds that were normal for a forest at night. The only thing we did hear was the wind, howling around in the treetops.
It was too quiet.
Our target was near.
‘M’am,’ Hao whispered, and pointed at something to our right while he removed the goggles from his head. I turned my head in the direction he was pointing at and frowned. My goggles detected two heat sources, lying on the ground. They were not even half that of a normal living being. That could only mean one thing- we’d found the officers, and they were no longer alive.
‘Move in,’ my hand sign commanded the men behind me. Hao and Yurick slowly moved forward and stopped near the two men on the ground, checking their pulse. A short shaking of their heads confirmed what I’d already guessed earlier. They really were dead. Drained of all of their blood, probably.
But where was the vampire?
I took off my own goggles and frowned. Had it already left to find a new blood source? Were we too late? If we couldn’t track it via the human bodies, there was no way to track it at all.
Had we failed our mission?
The few rays from the moon that shone through the treetops were suddenly stopped from falling on the ground in front of my feet. All my senses sharpened itself and I looked up at the night sky, to the green and brown tree branches-
And saw something squat in the tree just above us.
‘HAO! GET BACK!’ I yelled, grabbing my weapon just as the creature came crashing down on my soldier. Her claws tore right through his protective armor; Hao let out a scream and I heard something crack as he fell to the ground. The vampire ripped off the clothing around his neck to reach his veins-
The bullet went straight into its back. The creature screeched, in such a high tone that it hurt my eardrums. It quickly rolled away from Hao and turned around, to change the subject of its attack.
‘Got you, vampire,’ I whispered. ‘You gave us some trouble to find.’
By now, both Yurick and Derek had grabbed hold of their weapons, as well. Three guns were pointed at the pale-skinned creature, who slowly rose up from the ground. To the left, I could hear Hao groan faintly. His arm was hanging in a weird position and blood was dripping down from his head, but at least he was still alive.
And then I realized which vampire this was. It was the same one that the Colonel had shown us during the briefing. This one had been dragging humans away and eating them for months already. But after tonight, it wouldn’t be doing that anymore.
I raised my weapon and pointed it at its head, when-
Before any of us had the chance to react, she sunk down again and all of a sudden made a jump for Yurick. The bang of three fired guns sounded a microsecond later, but it wasn’t enough. The vampire screeched again and then roughly threw Yurick aside, slipping past us in the opening that was made. And then she took off, running faster than I’d ever seen any human run.
‘Fudge!’ Yurick yelled.
‘Yurick, stay with Hao! We’re going in pursuit! NOW!’
‘Four fudging bullets and that thing still won’t die?!’ Derek screamed, turning around and joining me as I ran after the vampire as fast as I could.
‘It has just fed! It’s basically invincible, unless you aim for the head!’
‘I WAS AIMING FOR THE HEAD!’
It took me about ten seconds to realize what the creature was doing. The wounds we had caused were bleeding badly, and if it didn’t find another feeding source soon, the blood loss would kill it. So when the trees in the area started getting less and I heard a car pass by in the distance, my panic level raised tenfold.
At this rate, it was going to run straight into the city.
‘Go left! There’s a curve here, we have to cut it off before it reaches the city!’ I yelled, slightly out of breath from running so hard.
‘It’s too fast! We’ll lose sight of it!’ Derek protested.
‘We won’t! It’ll circle back and go after the car!’
I was pretty sure Derek was about to swear at me and go his own way, but strangely, he obeyed. His heavy footsteps were just behind me as we ran up the hill as fast as we could, while the vampire disappeared to the right.
‘I swear, if we lose it because of your twisted sense of direction, I swear I’ll go to the Colonel and-‘
And then the vampire was right in front of us.
It stormed at us like a mad bull, teeth bared, and swung its claws around to rip right through us.
‘DON’T LET IT SLIP PAST!’
Derek and I braced ourselves and when the vampire reached us two seconds later to break through and reach the city, we grabbed its shoulders with all the strength that we had. It hissed and screeched and dragged us along at least four meters before Derek finally hit it in the stomach with his boot, kicking it back.
‘Take that, you blood-sucking leech!’
‘Secure it!’ I yelled to Derek, as I saw the vampire lose its balance from the kick. Derek nodded and proceeded to kick at its legs, swooping them away from under it. The vampire fell to the ground with a loud THUD and Derek was on top of it right away, twisting its arms behind its body to keep the creature from getting up again.
‘Can’t… keep this up long…!’ he gasped, trying not to fall off when the vampire started wiggling and tossing around with so much strength that I could see all of Derek’s arm muscles tense up to keep it down. I nodded and took out my weapon again, pointing it straight at its head this time.
‘Your feeding spree ends here, monster,’ I whispered. ‘Go back to the hell that you came from. And don’t ever come back.’
It looked up at me, its glowing eyes turning red from rage.
And then I pulled the trigger.
‘You are hereby honorary soldiers of the Special Forces association. Wear your title with pride!’
I stood right in front of the Colonel, with my squad minus one behind me. Our hands were behind our backs and our chests high and proud from our Colonel’s words. We’d fulfilled the mission with just the five of us, something no one had ever done before.
‘I knew you could do it,’ The Colonel smiled, lowering his voice a little, and smiled. ‘You’ve always been a skilled fighter, Raven, but this time you’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations. You can expect missions on a weekly basis from now on, be sure of that.’
‘Thank you, Colonel,’ I said, bowing my head in respect.
‘I have you to thank, really. It was a most impressive accomplishment. Congratulations on fulfilling your first mission, captain.’
He saluted, and we quickly did the same. The afternoon sun shone on my head warmly as I realized what this meant. We were finally an official squad. We were going to go on missions frequently from now on. We’d see a lot of vampires… and I’d get closer to my goal.
A few moments later, we were dismissed. The Colonel walked over to the nearest building and disappeared inside, and Yurick and Tybalt started a discussion about helicopters. I hadn’t slept at all since yesterday and was feeling really tired, so I headed back to the barracks.
I reacted to the male voice and turned around. Derek was running towards me, his nightvision goggles still on his head- just like the rest of us.
‘Wait! Don’t leave yet.’
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘I, uhh… wanted to say something to you,’ he said, looking very uncomfortable.
‘I noticed that. What is it?’
He gulped and looked around him for a few moments, like he was searching for someone else to say what he was trying to tell.
‘You were pretty good out there,’ he finally said, with eyes looking everywhere but at me. ‘Not what I’m used to from women, you know? Maybe I was a bit… harsh in the beginning.’
He slowly turned away from me, until I could barely see his face anymore.
‘I guess… I’m sorry.’
And then Derek walked away.
At the last light of day, I stopped at the large barracks and climbed the stairs up and into the building. A slight push against the door made It swing open, and I walked inside.
There he was. Hao was sitting by himself, near the far end of the room, with his back turned to the door. His uniform was cast off at the edge of his bed and he was wearing casual, much softer clothing.
As I approached him, I noticed a piece of paper and a pen holder with many pencils on the table in front of him. Pencils were scattered across the table, but the paper itself was still blank, as if he didn’t know what to do with it.
‘Hao,’ I said, getting his attention right away. ‘How is your arm? I thought you were supposed to let it rest.’
‘I am… m’am,’ he said, quickly adding that last bit. ‘I’m not lifting anything or doing pushups like normal. My arm will be fine in no time.’
‘Then what are you doing with the pencils?’
He looked me over with his dark brown eyes for a few seconds, as if he was debating whether to tell me or not.
‘A letter,’ he finally muttered. ‘To my sister. I’ve been at it for a while now.’
‘I see. She must like that. But why haven’t you written anything down if you’ve been at it for some time?’
‘I’m trying, m’am,’ he said softly, almost as if he was ashamed. Why would he be ashamed?
Then he tried to grab a pencil and it became clear to me. The cast around his upper arm was halting him in his movements so much that he could barely lift his arm high enough to reach the table. I saw Hao struggle to take a pen, finally grab hold of it and then it fell right back out of his hand when he tried to bring it back to the paper.
‘Don’t force yourself,’ I said softly. ‘It’ll take time before you can use your arm like that again… if you want, I can write it for you.’
I don’t know why I said that. It just came out of my mouth, by itself. I normally never got this personally involved with soldiers, or anyone else for that matter. It was a mistake to say and I was just about to take it back, when Hao turned his head and looked me straight in the eyes.
‘You’d really do that, m’am?’
He looked… different than normal. Trusting? No, that wasn’t the right word. More vulnerable, maybe? I didn’t know what it was, but it made me reconsider all my previous thoughts.
‘…Yes. Yes, I would.’
A smile broke through on his face, and he rose up from the chair. I took his place as he dropped himself on the bed, careful not to move his wounded arm. It had to hurt more than he was letting on. His sister had to be pretty important to him.
‘Thank you, m’am.’
‘So who do I address it to?’
His smile got wider.
‘Meena… her name is Meena.’