- May 22, 2021
No Place to Die
Stevevis was just arrested for killing the Prime Minister of Titania. He was marched through the streets like a dog, walked to his own slaughter.
In a glass cage, with a bag over his head, he was treated with disdain from the Titanians he tried to protect. He was in a fishbowl, where only his imagination could inform him of how the people cursed his name, how they desecrated his prison as they called out for his blood.
Stevevis was sure that after this Titania would no longer allow those of Sector 13, the once proud country of Amendia, to become honorary Titanians like him. That’s the true shame he felt boil inside of him. He thought he could lead by example, and make Titania see what his people could be, but now he believes he has only made it worse.
The sound of the container opening spooks him, but he calms almost immediately, knowing that his end is about to come. They’re about to march him into a courtroom, and while he can hope for a fair trial, he does not expect one.
Everyone is silent as he is forced to march in darkness, with this black hood over his head. The end awaits.
They sit him down, and they pull the hood off his head.
Stevevis is met by shadows, which is only the next step over from what he experienced with the hood on. Then the lights turn on.
Row by row, lane by lane, the abandoned stadium is filled with light, and the refugee camp that lies in it is revealed to Stevevis. But so are his… saviors, in their spiral masks, their combat gear, and guns.
He’s been taken by the terrorist force of Amendian rebels. Oh god, he thinks to himself, they’ve only made it worse for Amendia.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” he asks them, their formless faces, their genderless masks. Their white swirls into the black, an abyss, there’s no actual person to reply to him.
“You all think I did it,” he mutters, and hangs his held down low.
I’m a hero to terrorists, I failed to protect Asale, and they think I did it on purpose… I’ve empowered them. The more people they will bomb, the more people they will kill, the more they will hurt… that’s on me now.
“No one here thinks you did it, Steve,” one among them says, and they make room for him. His mask is a swirl of green, white, and orange, the colors of the Amendian flag.
His mask is only over his face, but he reaches over his head like a helmet.
Stevevis realizes who he’s talking to… the leader of the Amendia Liberation Army, the ALA…
The leader, he chuckles as he says, “It’s been a long time, Steve, you said you’d recognize my black ass anywhere.” He speaks as if he were an old friend as he takes off his helmet. When Steve sees what lies under the mask, he is shocked.
“This is no place die, my friend,” Krist tells him, and holds out his hand.
What feels like a lifetime ago, Krist and Stevevis fought for the freedom and protection of Amendia, side-by-side on the front lines. They were a part of the same multipurpose assault squad, a group of soldiers with varying skills.
Even before Titania invaded, they had been brothers in arms for years, hunting down spies, killing pirates on the Aegean Sea, protecting the borders and saving refugees. By the time they were skulking through the ruins of an Amendian city bombed by Titania, they were already brothers.
Stevevis was the squad’s leader, and despite the fact he was walking through soldier infested territory, nothing frightened him.
He led three soldiers through the city carefully but quickly. Titania bombed the city with a biological weapon that turned its people mad. They could be attacked by one of their own at any moment. It infuriated Stevevis’s men, but he knew that to lose control and crack under the burning rage could mean death for each and every one of them.
He wasn’t much for fear, he was more worried about making it to their destination in time than being killed by one of their infected.
And that lack of fear was put to the test as footsteps came rushing at them from the wreckage of the building. Stevevis and his front squad couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from, not until it was nearly too late for them to do anything.
From their side, a man with blackened veins and mangled arms came at them with snapping jaws. He leapt from a story up, and Stevevis was still raising his weapon when the assailant was taken out.
A bullet passed through the assailant’s head before Stevevis or the front squad could pull off a shot.
Krist was their resident sniper, and after over a hundred years of movies pretending that silencers were actually a thing, the Amendian military actually made them. They never heard where the sniper came from, but Stevevis knew where Krist was planted.
He turned around and gave him a thumbs up, one that Krist could see through his scope. He shook his head and called his friend an idiot. “What would he do without me?”
Krist’s spotter asked him, “What the hell am I doing here?”
He told her, “To keep me from shooting that dumb hat off DelCastias’s head.”
“That’s over 5,000 meters,” she pointed out.
“So was the infected I just killed.”
“Fucking shit,” she cursed in amazement.
“Don’t be so surprised, my record is 6,000 meters with this rifle, but the record is still 7,347 meters. Some smuck on the western border made it.”
“Why do you have that memorized?”
“Because I’m gonna beat it.”
Krist wouldn’t get the chance that day. The mission was to survey the enemy encampment in the city. Stevevis still blames himself for this fuck up.
Intel said that the enemy had stationed vechicular weapons at the center of the city, and the squad didn’t think that made much sense the deeper into the city they ventured. All of them knew that should be where the most infected are.
And they was right.
But it was too late.
“Fall back! Fall back!” Stevevis had ordered his men, and they tried to, but the infected horde did exactly what hordes do. They overwhelmed, and they swarmed.
The bullets were drowned out by the infected’s teeth. After losing a man they’ve been running at breakneck speed and shooting for miles to get back to Krist’s new sniper spot, and the extraction point.
From atop their building, Krist continued firing without a spotter, and the spotter called in the extraction. “Helicopter inbound in five minutes,” she told Krist.
“That idiot better hurry up,” he muttered.
“Stop firing, just run!” Stevevis had to order his men. This isn’t a normal warzone, he knew better. There’s no point in firing on the horde of thousands, they just had to make sure they were ahead of the horde, and they were always a bit less than a block ahead save for a few close calls.
One of which cost Stevevis’s man his life.
So Stevevis keeps telling them to run.
The extraction point was still a mile away, and Stevevis’s soldiers were tiring. He grabbed one by the shoulder and tried to drag him along, “You’ve gotta keep going, come on move!”
“I can’t, I can’t do it, Sergeant.”
“Yes you can, yes you can.”
“Damn it, Steve, don’t trail behind,” Krist cursed to himself, doing his best to cover the squad, but for every infected he killed there were three more.
“They’re not going to make it, Lieutenant,” his spotter told him.
Krist growled through his teeth, and turned to question his spotter, “Where is the damn-”
“-of course,” he grumbled as the sound of the hovercopter snuck up on them.
“Will it wait?” his spotter asked him.
“They will when I tell them too.”
Stevevis half-dragged his man, and like any loyal soldiers, the rest slowed together. The infected were gaining, or better yet, they were on them.
Stevevis was being covered by one man using his LMG for something other than suppressive fire. One of the few times for him. The other was ahead, trying to shoot at the infected falling from the pillars of the broken buildings.
“Captain!” he called to Stevevis. “We need to find higher-”
“-Oh shit,” the soldier cursed as he turned around to see the horde burst from the building walls beside him.
“Private!” Stevevis called to him as the horde descended on him. Stevevis never forgot the screams the private made. He never stopped screaming as they tore into him, ripped the skin off his bones and the limbs from his body, not until they tore out his throat.
“What do we do, Captain?!” his gunner asked him, because all in all, they were fucked.
Stevevis knew that they couldn’t outrun them, so he made a split second decision. He ordered his gunner, “Cover me into the building!”
To their right, the front of the building had collapsed. It was rubble for them and the infected to climb. The infected were better at going down then up, and the missing roof might mean the hovercopter can get them, but Stevevis didn’t expect it at this point.
They were going to put down as many of the monsters as they could to spite Titania, and to help the infected souls meet their own kind of freedom.
Stevevis threw his injured soldier over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and pulled out his sidearm. He just shot around him as his gunner covered his back. With a horde, he didn’t have to worry about missing.
They climbed their way up the mound of rubble, with the moon beating down on them as the infected climbed over each other to get to them. Stevevis reached the top with his injured soldier, but his gunner was only halfway.
The gunner got stuck halfway up the mound, and that was the end of him. He shot down as many as he could, cut a few in half with the bullets chewing out of his gun, but he couldn’t shoot in every direction.
When the first infected sank its teeth into his shoulder, he was still firing, screaming and raging into the night. All Stevevis could do was watch as his soldier was slowly overcome, one bite of flesh at a time, until the gunner pulled a pin on his belt.
Stevevis heard the sound of the gunner’s screams over the ringing of the ears, but it was the fire that spread amongst the infected that was all he could see.
Tens, and then hundreds of bodies started burning in seconds. They slowed in their climb over each other as their bodies started turning to ash, but there were too many for even the fire to snuff out.
One by one, once again, they started climbing up that mound.
Stevevis pulled out his rifle, and made sure it was turned to auto. At that point, what did he care for accuracy? He was going to hit something.
So he lined up his shot, and pulled the trigger.
The bullets that washed across the horde in front of him were certainly not from Stevevis’s rifle, but for a moment he believed it. His hearing still wasn’t all there, he couldn’t hear the spotter screaming as she used the hovercopter’s turrets to disintegrate the horde.
Stevevis was in shock as he watched the monsters, the poor monsters in his mind, die like flies.
And then a hand was on his shoulder, and the soldier Stevevis had carried all the way up the hill was on someone else’s.
Krist stood in front of him, and held his hand out to him as the fire and bullets rained down behind his back. It was nothing less than hell on earth and all Stevevis could see was Krist’s ash covered face looking down at him.
When Stevevis took his hand, Krist told him, “This is no place to die, my friend.”
“It’s been too long, Steve,” Krist tells his old brother in arms, as they stand outside the abandoned stadium, walking through the rumble. The front collapsed during the war with Titania years before. Now they have to climb over the stone just to get in.
Krist has lived here with his insurgents for a long time, it doesn’t bother him like it does Stevevis. He even jokes, “You know it’s funny, if you had told me years ago that I would live in a hockey stadium, I would have smacked you,” and after a long swig of his beer, he groans, “I still fucking hate sports.”
Stevevis is still in shock to learn that his old friend is the leader of a terrorist group, one he’s been fighting. It’s their work he’s been framed for, or at least he thinks there’s a good chance.
But yet, he knows this man. They know each other better than either of their families ever did.
“It’s a futbol stadium, Kaden,” Stevevis corrects him, calling him by his last name like he used to.
Krist smiles, and laughs. He knew what kind of sports stadium it was, he just wanted his friend to correct him, and to smile as he does it. Stevevis tries… he tries to smile, but he can’t do it.
Stevevis sets the beer down, the sound of the glass meeting the stone catches Krist’s attention.
“What have you done, Kaden?” Stevevis asks him, a look of pity and remorse that makes Krist’s blood boil. He can’t understand it.
“What?” Krist asks him, because he doesn’t recognize the look in Stevevis’s eye at first. He’s seen it before, but not towards him.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Krist questions him, but Stevevis isn’t answer him. He cannot answer the man that stands before him. He has become exactly what Stevevis chose not to become when Amendia was taken over so long again.
And then Krist recognizes how Stevevis feels.
“We saved you,” he says, but he whispers, “I saved you.”
Stevevis isn’t fazed, but Krist is. Krist jumps down from his rock and runs up to stand in Stevevis’s emotionless face. “They were going to have you killed for an assassination you didn’t commit!”
“It doesn’t matter, I deserved to die,” Stevevis tells him, not a bit of remorse for Krist or himself.
“Steve,” Krist lets out, a mournful gasp for the guilt he realizes his friend holds.
“I swore I would protect him,” Stevevis admits, and only in this failure do his eyes falter away from matching Krist’s. His guilt comes not because he finds himself disapproving of a man he calls brother, but because he failed to protect the one his brother calls his enemy.
“The Prime Minister,” Stevevis tries, and fails to put into words… “and I failed…”
“Failed?” Krist can’t understand, because he refuses. He smiles at his friend and takes him by the shoulder. He tries giving him a smile to confuse him, trick him, make him realize something Krist believes to his very core. “Steve, what you did… not saving Asale… it was perfect!”
And Krist believes this at his core, terrifying Stevevis’s own. “What?”
“Don’t you see?!” Krist exclaims, beginning to speak as if someone’s violent death should be something to be happy about. “With that military genius out of the way, our rebellion has a chance! Our home, our country, Amendia has a chance!”
Stevevis can’t believe what he is hearing. He knew that his friend was loyal, but to go so far, to be so unaccepting of loss. He asks Krist, “At what cost?”
“Cost?” The word is strange to Krist in this context, but here lies the difference between them. When they lost the war, after they survived the monsters and lost every part of their home that they had, Stevevis moved on and found something new. Krist didn’t.
“We’ve already lost everything! Our people, our homes, our names! They call us Sector 13! Amendia is known by a goddamn number, Steve, how can you not see why what has happened had to happen?! Don’t you want-“
“Of course I want to see Amendia freed!” Stevevis screams in Krist’s face, truly hurt by the insinuation that after years serving and fighting for Amendia, he doesn’t want the best for her.
But the way Stevevis shows it, is by trying to show what an Amendian can still be today, even under Titania’s control, and that is a show of respect that men like Krist do not recognize.
“Then why do you look at me with hate?” Krist asks him.
“Because you do it without honor, you don’t do it for love of our country, to redeem Amendia’s, you do it out of hate, through murdering people in their sleep…”
Stevevis stops himself. He’s always known, always, but he forgets.
They may be terrorists, killers, monsters to some, but they are people, and they formed because people on the other side behaved with the same level of evil. Stevevis believes, truly that there has to be another way, and he’s trying to relate that to Krist in his words, “I want to change the world like you, change Titania, but I won’t do it like you… I’m going to lead by example, I will show them they cannot break us by being better than them at their own game!”
Krist is not having it. “My friend, by playing their game… you become one of them.”
“They have so many games, Kaden, you play the right one and you can be better, but play the wrong one…” Stevevis sees the hate in Krist’s eyes, he sees the hate he has for everything and everyone of Titania. “Well, you’ve already done that.”
And so does Krist. They both understand now, that they cannot go back.
And Krist takes the first step away. He turns his back on Stevevis, and Stevevis does not raise his hand to stop him. They both have a mission, and they both know that the mission is the most important thing. So Krist swallows up everything he feels, and shoves it deep, deep down, where it must stay.
“What now?” Krist asks his dead brother.
Stevevis tells him, “I go back.”
For a moment what Krist holds tries to fight it’s way back up his throat. “They’ll kill you.”
“Maybe so,” Stevevis admits, letting his mission overcome him, and throwing nothing away, shoving nothing down. He only accepts the truth, and what will be. “Probably, but…” he changes his mind, chuckling over his ill-fate even, because it is one he prefers, because then, “I’ll win, I have to win, they’ll know the truth when the true monsters show themselves.”
That’s when Stevevis, unknowingly helps Krist take the plunge, and lock the door behind him. With a cold tone, and temper, “And who are they?”
Stevevis holds back no blows. He stares into the back of Krist’s head, because they both know the other knows who ‘they’ are, but only one needs to say it. “The ones who really killed Prime Minister Asale.”
Krist’s mouth forms a fine line.
“I see, so you chose death in the arms of the ones who pillaged and raped us.”
Stevevis shakes his head, and takes the first step away from Krist, and Krist makes no move to stop him. “You make it sound as if we wouldn’t have done the same to them, as if we haven’t,” he tells the old sniper, and begins walking away.
Krist stops him with the words, “Maybe we will find out,” and Stevevis stops, “or maybe it will be just me.”
Stevevis turns around, wishing he could convince Krist to give up this life, but he knows the sniper better. “I’m sorry, Kaden.”
“I’m sorry too, Stevevis,” and he makes no move to stop him, “I’m sorry too.”
Stevevis was captured on sight, and thrown in a cell of his own.
Titania left him to rot there for months, looking for a lawyer to represent him. Whether they were searching for one who would be willing to lose such a public case, or one to properly and honestly represent him, Stevevis doesn’t know.
All he knows is that he’s finally grown a beard, and he hates it… that and that his lawyer seems nice.
Today is the day where they’ll give him his sentencing, at least he thinks. They don’t tell him much, and when his lawyer does come he doesn’t pay much attention. He wonders if they would execute him immediately or later. He thinks later, that they’ll want to make a spectacle of it, but he also worries that he’s just being hopeful.
The jailer or whatever he’s called comes to open the cell. He tells him, “It’s time.”
The walk is a blur, since Stevevis stopped properly eating a long time ago. The world around him sets in when they walk him into the courtroom, in front of everyone.
Courtrooms in Titania are not the intimate affair that they are in Amendia. There is much more than just the family, the press, and the jurors… much more.
It’s a public event, the crowd sits in a stadium larger than the sports arenas in Amendia, with nothing but a glass dome overhead.
For lower profile cases, this place is not where they are given their sentencings, but this is for the Prime Minister’s killer. He warrants it more than the serial killers, mobsters, and terrorists who stood in his place before him.
And of course the crowd is cheering as well.
The path is a long bridge, with a long walk, in front of a demeaning crowd. For a moment he wonders if Titania is really what Krist believes it to be. Despite how Stevevis has fought and protected them, they still treat him like dirt without remorse, cursing his name as if he were the greatest of all villains.
Stevevis refuses to believe it, he knows that this is a hyperbolic representation of the place he has made into his new home. These people are excited, distraught, and angry, but most importantly, they do not know him.
As they try to throw ripe fruit and shit at him, he reminds himself that none of them are his neighbors, none of them are people he’s worked with or fought alongside…
None of them are the Prime Minister he called friend, and none of them are the terrorist he thought same of.
Standing in the middle of the stadium, in the arena of law, he awaits the state’s punishment, knowing that it is for the better cause.
The judge’s face appears on a massive screen in front him, looking down as if he were the voice of God himself, and passes judgement just the same.
“Stevevis, DelCastias, on account of the evidence and eyewitness testimony given to us, I find you-”
The bullet passes right through Stevevis’s temple, and the arena is beside itself.
The horror, the screams, and the face of God looking aghast… it’s a revelation no one will ever forget.
And from where the bullet was shot, on a building 8,000 meters away, setting a record to never be reported, lies Krist.
The end of the gun still smokes, and his eye is still watches through the scope. He watches as the body falls off the platform.
Krist is beside himself, but he must not show it. He is alone, but still he must not show it, not to the world, or else it was wrong of him to do it.
He sits up, thinking about it all… how everything will go. He can picture it now, the chaos unfolding, no matter what the judge’s sentence was going to be. Amendia, Sector 13, will claim that Titania has murdered another of their heroes, and hundreds will join the Amendia Liberation Army the next day.
Thousands the next month.
Even more by the end of the year.
Titania will claim it as a rebellious Sector’s refusal to accept their law. That they claimed the life of a man before he can hear the results of his fair trial, and the monsters that were made to crush Amendia will rise again.
And blood will spill, but the only blood that Krist can think about he spilled himself.
Krist stands with the rifle on his shoulder, and the helmet that marks him as the leader of the resistance in his hand.
“That was no place to die, my friend, no place…” and he cannot finish. Instead, he puts on the helmet, the spiral swirls of green, white, and orange as it declares its worth of his friend’s blood. “It was for hope… for rebellion.”
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