The orange rays of the dying sun filtered down through the canopy of the thick Angolan jungle, illuminating the scattered array of tents and the silhouetted soldier who stood at open flap of one of larger ones. It was a familiar sight that he saw as he gazed out over the mercenary campsite, one he had been graced with many times in the years since he'd first arrived on this godforsaken continent. He'd tried to get out once, almost three years ago now, back in '83. He'd gone legit, gotten a real job, but the jungle with had proved too strong a lure and hardly four months had passed before he was back, employed by so-and-so with the money to fight for the something-or-other cause.

The merc swiped a hand through his matted brown hair, digging his fingers into a week's worth of sweat and humidity accumulated from the stifling African heat. A shout rang out to his right, and he looked over to see a group of men engaged in another one of those deadly games that always seemed to spring up around these parts. In the jungle, you'd do anything to keep from losing your mind.

"Oi, Jackie!" The merc turned at the sound of his name. "Caught these sneaking around the edges of the camp. The General wants to know why."

Jackie O'Neal studied the scene before him. Two men were being lead at gunpoint toward his tent, dressed in standard camouflage gear with, now empty, holsters attached to their belts. The taller of the two was dark and muscular, limping slightly from a wound in his right thigh that was leaking a deep red stain through his trouser leg. The shorter was sporting what appeared to be a broken nose, with blood splattered across his face and in his short blonde hair. O'Neal gave a sharp nod.

"Bring them in, then." He turned, stepping through the flap onto the uncovered leafy ground of the tent. The two prisoners followed, along with the three armed mercenaries that were forcing them along. They were forced into the centre of the tent while the mercenaries scattered to stand guard around the edges, one reaching around to close the flap. O'Neal began to speak.

"This doesn't have to be difficult, cooperate with us and we'll let you go." That was a lie, of course. No one who knew the position of the mercenary camp would ever be let free, but they didn't have to know that. Yet. "So, who are you and what are you doing in our camp?"

The prisoners stayed resolutely silent.

O'Neal's lips quirked upwards in a cruel smile before he dropped his gaze to look them both over, trying to decide which one would be easier to crack. After a few seconds of contemplation he gave a nod to the mercenary standing opposite him, gesturing toward the brunette.

The mercenary stepped forward, pressing a rifle against the dark man's cheek and roughly jerking him backwards, leaving the blonde standing alone in the middle of the tent. O'Neal was pleased to note just the briefest flash of fear in the man's eyes. He walked up to him slowly, circling the prisoner twice before finally coming to a stop facing his back. Reaching down to his belt and taking out the .22 calibre that he kept for special situations, O'Neal cocked it once, letting the sound tell the prisoner what he couldn't see.

"You know about the spinal column, don't you?" He began. "You know it controls all bodily movement, and if something were to happen to it it'd all over, wouldn't it? But I know a bit more, you see. Knowledge from experience, so they say. Experiences like these, for example. Now if I were to get you right here, in the back of your neck, then you're dead from your chin down. Completely dead. Can't move anything except maybe your eyebrows and possibly with a lot of therapy you may learn to stick your tongue out."

O'Neal lifted his gun, aiming it as per his threat. Already he could feel his heart starting to pump faster, his blood rushing through his temples. A little voice in the back of his head that told him that he shouldn't be liking this as much as he was, but he was a merc. A killer. And what killer didn't enjoy a scene like this?

"Don't think I'm joking, here. I pull this trigger and your body's gone." He paused for just a moment, letting the silence stretch, before dropping his arm and continuing. "Then again, maybe I won't go that far. I could always get one in the lower back at the base of the spine, take out everything below the waist. Can't walk, can't move by yourself. Even this bloody jungle isn't that far off the map, we could probably get you to a hospital in time. And once they fix you up best they can, which mind you isn't going to be very well, you'll end up in one of them hospices for the rest of your life, trying not to go insane. And possibly not quite succeeding."

His voice was speeding up now, some words beginning to lisp together. He felt detached from the world, riding on his own adrenaline.

"Or I could always compromise, go for that little spot between your shoulder blades. You'll be able to shrug your shoulders, move your arms a bit, but not much more than that. Can't use your hands, can't breathe without a machine. Wouldn't you like that?"

A cold laugh broke from O'Neal's lips. This was his world. This was why he couldn't leave the jungle.

"But that's a difficult shot, that is. Who knows? Maybe you'll be lucky."

His breathing was harsh, his pulse strumming through his body. The excitement, the power, the life of a soldier, this was what he knew, all that he knew. He stepped forward, dropping his voice to a whisper as he raised his mouth to the prisoner's ear.

"Maybe I'll miss, and get you right through the heart."

There were several moments where all that could be heard in the tent was the merc's ragged, almost panting breaths. Then O'Neal stepped back, aiming his gun once more. "Last chance to walk out of here as a whole man."

He allowed the silence to ring for just a few seconds before pulling the trigger.

The gunshot cracked through the tent, followed by a scream of pain as a bullet from a gun dropped at the last moment tore through the back of his left knee. The prisoner fell to the ground, blood flowing freely onto the foliage.

"Tell me what I want to know, and you may be out of here with your other knee intact."

The prisoner cursed, but did not talk further. O'Neal simply shrugged, raising his gun again.

A second gunshot took out the right kneecap, praying red across the tent. The merc regarded his victim obtusely, watching the man twisting on the ground in pain. He could drag this out, make the prisoner's last moments an agony that may or may not wrench some answers from his dying throat depending on how well trained he was, but the sight of the other prisoner in the corner of his eye made him pause. With neither room nor time to work on two men, perhaps it would be better to cut down on the baggage first.

"Stubborn bastard, aren't you?" he said in an oily tone. "Maybe your friend here will have a bit more common sense." And with a third and final gunshot he ripped through the soft tissue of the brain, sending the man sprawling on the jungle floor, half his face missing.

O'Neal took a deep breath, raising a hand to wipe the sweat out of his eyes as he surveyed the unmoving body before him. His pulse began to slow and his heart dropped as he looked down at the evidence of yet another life that he had taken. With every high came a low, and the adrenaline that was filtering out of his system was now beginning to be replaced by another feeling that he ruthlessly suppressed. He was a human being, a member of a race built for war. Killing was just another part of life, and anything he felt afterwards had no place in the heart of a merc.

Calming himself, O'Neal turned to face the second prisoner, consciously stopping a frown from marring his features as he found the man standing casually at the edge of tent, looking completely unfazed by what he'd witnessed.

"He," he indicated to the broken man on the ground, "got the easy way out. I could have made it worse." He moved forward, carefully making his way around the body. "And unless you talk, I will make it much, much worse, for you. Do you doubt it?"

"Not at all." The prisoner's tone was frighteningly conversational, as if discussing the weather instead of his own possible mutilation. "I'll talk. Just get them out of here first." He gestured towards the other mercenaries.

A look of barely concealed surprise flashed across O'Neal's face. After the resistance previously displayed he was not expecting such a quick surrender. But, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he nodded to the men. "Leave us. And take that away, will you." He waved his hand at the dead body.

The two mercenaries standing guard moved to the body and began to drag it toward the tent flap, while the one restraining the prisoner looked at his charge disdainfully. "Don't you even think about escaping, you're in the middle of our camp and Jackie here-"

"Is quite trigger-happy and armed to the teeth. Yes, I am very well aware," the prisoner interjected as the mercenary as he lowered his rifle and followed the others out of the tent. As soon the three live men and one dead one were out, he walked over to the flap and zipped it shut once more, wincing slightly as he shifted his weight onto his injured leg.

"Look mate, you don't mind if I take a seat, do you? Leg's giving me a bit of a hard time." His eyes fell onto a small wooden stool in one of the corners.

"Go ahead," the merc replied warily as he pulled out his own chair and sat down. The prisoner seemed completely unintimidated by the whole situation, though that may not be an indication of anything more than the girth of his acting skills.

With a grateful sigh the prisoner lowered himself onto the stool. Sitting with a small grimace, he looked up at the mercenary.

"Liverpool, isn't it?"

"Eh?"

"Liverpool docks," the prisoner said. "Your accent, isn't it? Evened out by years out of the country, but not quite faded away."

The merc narrowed his eyes, not quite sure what his interlocutor was getting at.

"I'm from England too, myself" the man continued. "But, may I ask, how on Earth did you get from Liverpool to the jungles of Africa?"

"No, you may not," O'Neal drawled. "As much as I'd like to sit here discussing my life history, I've got a job to do. You said you'd talk, now talk."

"No need to be unfriendly," the prisoner hastened, actually looking taken aback for the first time this evening. "I said I'd answer your questions, and I will." He shifted on the stool with groan before looking up at the merc with innocently inquisitive expression. "I must confess to some degree of curious leanings regarding your kind. Perhaps we can make a deal? I answer your questions, and you answer mine."

The merc scoffed. "Or how about you answer my questions, or you get the treatment I told your friend about?"

The prisoner quirked a brow. "Surely you'll at least a sate a dying man's curiosity, Jackie?"

O'Neal scowled at the familiarity, then paused to consider the prisoner's request. The man did not seem to be frightened by him, or at all affected by the ordeal. And there was the fact that, as much as he hated to admit it, he wasn't sure how he'd take to torturing two men in one day. The merc gave a sigh. Perhaps persuasion was the way to go in this case, he'd play along.

"I was raised on the docks, like you said. Worked there when I was older. Always wanted to get out, though, ship came along one day asking for some temporary help so I signed on and jumped at first port. Turns out it was here."

"So you decided to become a mercenary?"

O'Neal scowled again. "Grew up among the bad sorts, didn't I? Started stealing as soon as I could walk, knifed a bloke when I was a teen. Wasn't too big a step, jumping into merking." He hardened his gaze, staring into his captive's dark eyes. "You still haven't answered my question."

The edges of the prisoner's lips quirked up in a small smile. "Fischer. Ryan Fischer, pleased to meet you. I'd go over and shake your hand but, you know." He indicated to his leg.

"Alright Mr. Fischer then-"

"Agent Fischer, actually," he corrected. "MI6."

"MI6!" A smirk curled the merc's mouth. "Aren't you boys taught to hold your tongue against anything?" But as soon as those words were spoken O'Neal allowed the smirk to fall away again, suddenly wary. If this man was MI6 he must have been trained for situations like this. And the merc certainly wasn't unacquainted with the tricks some prisoners pulled during interrogation. "You know, that's a damn decent point. Why are you talking?"

Fischer simply shrugged. "I said I would, didn't I? I'm a man of my word." It didn't escape O'Neal's noticed that the actual question was left unanswered.

"Well anyway, what's your lot doing here? Why were you in our camp?"

The agent shook his head ruefully, ignoring the merc's second query. He allowed himself to contemplate for a few moments before beginning, "Tell me, what's it like?" He leaned forward on his stool. "What's it like to be a soldier for hire? Selling yourself and your gun to the highest bidder, always changing sides, never having any loyalties?"

O'Neal stared at the man who looked up at him over the bloodstained floor of the tent for several seconds before snapping his gaze away abruptly. "War will always happen," he said coldly, "and both sides always think they're right. What difference does it make which 'right' I fight for? And what difference do I make whether I decide to sit back and watch or cash in the action?"

"Do you really believe that?" Fischer replied quietly. The merc snorted.

"I know it."

The agent looked away, hesitating just a little before turning back to the previous question. "It's nothing complex, really, why we're here. There are certain political powers in England which would benefit from an end to this war, and what better way to end a war than to get rid of the ones who fight it? MI6 was assigned a relatively simple task: locate and disable the soldiers."

The merc frowned. Now they had a group of MI6 agents crawling through the jungle to look out for. This was going to be fun to explain to the General. "Great, a new lot of people to kill," he muttered.

"Do you ever thinking about them?"

"What?"

"The people you've killed, do they ever bother you?"

It only took a split second for O'Neal to growl, "Of course not." He stood up, turning away from the agent. "Can't do that out here in the jungle. Can't dwell, can't let yourselves remember. Not if you want to stay sane."

"I do, you know," the soft voice said from behind him. "I think about them, I remember them. And sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's the only thing keeping me sane."

The sun had set now, disappearing beyond the horizon as shadows crawled into the camp. The merc walked over to the edge of the tent where a lamp stood on the ground, turning it on and letting the dim light spill into the canvas bound room. He sat down again and turned back to the agent. He had a job to do.

"Where is your camp?"

"I don't know," Fischer replied with a shrug. "We had it set up about fifteen kilometres east of here, but my partner and I were due to report back hours ago. They would have moved by now."

"Where is your next designated site?"

"Spontaneously decided while on the move, I'm afraid."

O'Neal cursed under his breath. "And why the hell is that?"

"To eliminate the security risk, I'd imagine. To make sure that if one of our men were to, say, get captured and interrogated, he cannot give the group away."

The merc glared at the lightly smirking agent. "Bloody hell." He sat back down with a sigh and a pointed look to the man opposite.

Lit by the muted light, Fischer's face was set a completely indecipherable expression. "Where and when - your first kill?"

O'Neal swallowed twice, harshly. "Nineteen," he replied eventually, "at the port after I jumped." His mouth twisted into a travesty of a smile as he continued. "Just as well, I guess. Caught a passing merc's eye, he got me my first job. Would have starved otherwise."

"Who was it?"

O'Neal shrugged. "Some dirty local who tried to rob me. I broke his neck."

Fischer shifted in his seat. "We have a word for that, you know," he said. "It's called self-defence."

The merc scoffed before wrenching his gaze away. He was to interrogate this man, get all the info he could then take him out. But despite knowing was he should be going, he couldn't stop himself from asking, "And what about you?"

The agent's jaw tightened, his first outward sign of discomfort since he'd been forced into the tent. "Twenty-four," he said in a clipped tone. "International heroin bust. I shot the one of the dealers." He took a deep, shuddering breath.

"The first of many, I supposed," the merc replied, the coldness in his voice sounding just a touch forced. The agent nodded.

"And for you?" Fischer found his gaze again, once more looking into his eyes. "How many?"

At that question the merc snapped his head around, a growl ripping from his throat as he forced down the flare of self disgust that erupted inside him. Killing was second nature in the jungle, and there were two things you could do about it. You either let the lives you took slip past you without regard, or you kept the count as a badge of honour. But no matter how many times he told himself to let it go, he could never quite forget his own total, and he could never quite bring himself to take pride in it either.

"All these questions about the people I've killed," he hissed. "Are you so eager to be one of them?" But even as he spoke the words he knew it was the same as all those things that he constantly told himself about his choice of life: a defence mechanism.

The agent simply looked at him, watching as the anger seeped out of his face and the fight out of his body. Finally, O'Neal slumped in his seat.

"Sixty-seven," he said hoarsely. "Sixty-eight including your partner."

Neither man spoke. Silently, Fischer stood and limped over to the merc. "Forty-two for me," he said softly. "And I'm not any more proud of it than you are."

And then suddenly, the anger was back. "Not proud of it?" O'Neal snarled. "What makes you think I'm not proud of it?"

"Because I know," came the reply. O'Neal stood abruptly, staring straight into the agent's deathly calm face. "Do you want to know why I talked?" The merc only nodded.

Fischer leaved closer. "I talked to you because I saw something in your eyes when you killed my partner. Jackie," he dropped his eyes, taking a deep breath, "I saw regret. You have a chance, you can still get out."

"Don't you think I haven't tried?" The merc shot back. "Oh, I've tried alright. Went to the city, got some security work, left the jungle, but I couldn't stay away. I can't get out, this is who I am. This is my life"

The agent shook his head. "No, it's not. Go home, Jackie, go back to England. You can start a new life, a better life."

Hearing those words articulated so casually, the merc snapped. With a roar of anger the ripped his gun from his holster and grabbed the other man's shoulder in a vice-like grip, forcing him to his knees. "And what makes you think you're so much better, Fischer?" He growled, tightening his hold painfully. "Your job isn't so different form merking, you know that? We both live to fight, get paid to kill, only for some reason you're clean. Authorised, Legal. Does having society's badge of approval really make a difference?"

The agent's voice was choked and barely a whisper, but nevertheless it remained steady despite the murderous gleam in his captor's eyes and the gun barrel that dug into the sensitive flesh of his throat. "I think you already know the answer to that."

A single gunshot rang through the mercenary camp, followed by a hurried scrambling as soldiers sprang from their tents, congregating at the source of the noise. Inside the large tent lay a second pool of freshly spilled blood, seeping out from underneath a fallen man. The inhabitant of the tent stood to the side, a smoking gun in his hand.

"I got all I needed."

One of the other mercenaries stepped forward to address the interrogator. "You want some help with that, Jackie?"

O'Neal shook his head. "Nah, there's no immediate danger. You guys go back to sleep, I'll clean up here and report to the General tomorrow." He waved the men off as they turned, a few nods here and here, to make their way back to their sleeping bags.

But they never did hear that report, for the next morning they woke to find Jackie O'Neal's tent empty, completely bare except for the telltale blood on the ground. The body had been removed, drag marks pointing clearly towards the edge of the clearing and into the densest part of the jungle. In a line of work and a part of the world where disappearances were nothing no strange occurrence, the mercenaries payed little heed and trusted in the claim of no immediate danger. By the end of the day the vanishing merc had already dropped out of common conversation.

Meanwhile, seven-and-a-half thousand kilometres away two men were disembarking from a small private plane. The first was dark, sporting a white bandage around his jaw where something, perhaps a bullet, had scraped past, nicking the skin and drawing blood. The second was looking around with a wonder comparable to a man seeing an old friend for the first time in years, his dirty brown hair tied back to reveal a face deeply tanned by years spent under the glaring sun. The two made their way into an unmarked car which drove through the city, dropping them off at the headquarters beside Vauxhall Bridge where they entered and were met tersely.

"Mr. Curwen, My name is John. John H. O'Neal, and I'd like to work for you."

The orange rays of the dying sun filtered down through the canopy of the thick Angolan jungle, illuminating the scattered array of tents and the silhouetted soldier who stood at open flap of one of larger ones. It was a familiar sight that he saw as he gazed out over the mercenary campsite, one he had been graced with many times in the years since he'd first arrived on this godforsaken continent. He'd tried to get out once, almost three years ago now, back in '83. He'd gone legit, gotten a real job, but the jungle with had proved too strong a lure and hardly four months had passed before he was back, employed by so-and-so with the money to fight for the something-or-other cause.

The merc swiped a hand through his matted brown hair, digging his fingers into a week's worth of sweat and humidity accumulated from the stifling African heat. A shout rang out to his right, and he looked over to see a group of men engaged in another one of those deadly games that always seemed to spring up around these parts. In the jungle, you'd do anything to keep from losing your mind.

"Oi, Jackie!" The merc turned at the sound of his name. "Caught these sneaking around the edges of the camp. The General wants to know why."

Jackie O'Neal studied the scene before him. Two men were being lead at gunpoint toward his tent, dressed in standard camouflage gear with, now empty, holsters attached to their belts. The taller of the two was dark and muscular, limping slightly from a wound in his right thigh that was leaking a deep red stain through his trouser leg. The shorter was sporting what appeared to be a broken nose, with blood splattered across his face and in his short blonde hair. O'Neal gave a sharp nod.

"Bring them in, then." He turned, stepping through the flap onto the uncovered leafy ground of the tent. The two prisoners followed, along with the three armed mercenaries that were forcing them along. They were forced into the centre of the tent while the mercenaries scattered to stand guard around the edges, one reaching around to close the flap. O'Neal began to speak.

"This doesn't have to be difficult, cooperate with us and we'll let you go." That was a lie, of course. No one who knew the position of the mercenary camp would ever be let free, but they didn't have to know that. Yet. "So, who are you and what are you doing in our camp?"

The prisoners stayed resolutely silent.

O'Neal's lips quirked upwards in a cruel smile before he dropped his gaze to look them both over, trying to decide which one would be easier to crack. After a few seconds of contemplation he gave a nod to the mercenary standing opposite him, gesturing toward the brunette.

The mercenary stepped forward, pressing a rifle against the dark man's cheek and roughly jerking him backwards, leaving the blonde standing alone in the middle of the tent. O'Neal was pleased to note just the briefest flash of fear in the man's eyes. He walked up to him slowly, circling the prisoner twice before finally coming to a stop facing his back. Reaching down to his belt and taking out the .22 calibre that he kept for special situations, O'Neal cocked it once, letting the sound tell the prisoner what he couldn't see.

"You know about the spinal column, don't you?" He began. "You know it controls all bodily movement, and if something were to happen to it it'd all over, wouldn't it? But I know a bit more, you see. Knowledge from experience, so they say. Experiences like these, for example. Now if I were to get you right here, in the back of your neck, then you're dead from your chin down. Completely dead. Can't move anything except maybe your eyebrows and possibly with a lot of therapy you may learn to stick your tongue out."

O'Neal lifted his gun, aiming it as per his threat. Already he could feel his heart starting to pump faster, his blood rushing through his temples. A little voice in the back of his head that told him that he shouldn't be liking this as much as he was, but he was a merc. A killer. And what killer didn't enjoy a scene like this?

"Don't think I'm joking, here. I pull this trigger and your body's gone." He paused for just a moment, letting the silence stretch, before dropping his arm and continuing. "Then again, maybe I won't go that far. I could always get one in the lower back at the base of the spine, take out everything below the waist. Can't walk, can't move by yourself. Even this bloody jungle isn't that far off the map, we could probably get you to a hospital in time. And once they fix you up best they can, which mind you isn't going to be very well, you'll end up in one of them hospices for the rest of your life, trying not to go insane. And possibly not quite succeeding."

His voice was speeding up now, some words beginning to lisp together. He felt detached from the world, riding on his own adrenaline.

"Or I could always compromise, go for that little spot between your shoulder blades. You'll be able to shrug your shoulders, move your arms a bit, but not much more than that. Can't use your hands, can't breathe without a machine. Wouldn't you like that?"

A cold laugh broke from O'Neal's lips. This was his world. This was why he couldn't leave the jungle.

"But that's a difficult shot, that is. Who knows? Maybe you'll be lucky."

His breathing was harsh, his pulse strumming through his body. The excitement, the power, the life of a soldier, this was what he knew, all that he knew. He stepped forward, dropping his voice to a whisper as he raised his mouth to the prisoner's ear.

"Maybe I'll miss, and get you right through the heart."

There were several moments where all that could be heard in the tent was the merc's ragged, almost panting breaths. Then O'Neal stepped back, aiming his gun once more. "Last chance to walk out of here as a whole man."

He allowed the silence to ring for just a few seconds before pulling the trigger.

The gunshot cracked through the tent, followed by a scream of pain as a bullet from a gun dropped at the last moment tore through the back of his left knee. The prisoner fell to the ground, blood flowing freely onto the foliage.

"Tell me what I want to know, and you may be out of here with your other knee intact."

The prisoner cursed, but did not talk further. O'Neal simply shrugged, raising his gun again.

A second gunshot took out the right kneecap, praying red across the tent. The merc regarded his victim obtusely, watching the man twisting on the ground in pain. He could drag this out, make the prisoner's last moments an agony that may or may not wrench some answers from his dying throat depending on how well trained he was, but the sight of the other prisoner in the corner of his eye made him pause. With neither room nor time to work on two men, perhaps it would be better to cut down on the baggage first.

"Stubborn bastard, aren't you?" he said in an oily tone. "Maybe your friend here will have a bit more common sense." And with a third and final gunshot he ripped through the soft tissue of the brain, sending the man sprawling on the jungle floor, half his face missing.

O'Neal took a deep breath, raising a hand to wipe the sweat out of his eyes as he surveyed the unmoving body before him. His pulse began to slow and his heart dropped as he looked down at the evidence of yet another life that he had taken. With every high came a low, and the adrenaline that was filtering out of his system was now beginning to be replaced by another feeling that he ruthlessly suppressed. He was a human being, a member of a race built for war. Killing was just another part of life, and anything he felt afterwards had no place in the heart of a merc.

Calming himself, O'Neal turned to face the second prisoner, consciously stopping a frown from marring his features as he found the man standing casually at the edge of tent, looking completely unfazed by what he'd witnessed.

"He," he indicated to the broken man on the ground, "got the easy way out. I could have made it worse." He moved forward, carefully making his way around the body. "And unless you talk, I will make it much, much worse, for you. Do you doubt it?"

"Not at all." The prisoner's tone was frighteningly conversational, as if discussing the weather instead of his own possible mutilation. "I'll talk. Just get them out of here first." He gestured towards the other mercenaries.

A look of barely concealed surprise flashed across O'Neal's face. After the resistance previously displayed he was not expecting such a quick surrender. But, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he nodded to the men. "Leave us. And take that away, will you." He waved his hand at the dead body.

The two mercenaries standing guard moved to the body and began to drag it toward the tent flap, while the one restraining the prisoner looked at his charge disdainfully. "Don't you even think about escaping, you're in the middle of our camp and Jackie here-"

"Is quite trigger-happy and armed to the teeth. Yes, I am very well aware," the prisoner interjected as the mercenary as he lowered his rifle and followed the others out of the tent. As soon the three live men and one dead one were out, he walked over to the flap and zipped it shut once more, wincing slightly as he shifted his weight onto his injured leg.

"Look mate, you don't mind if I take a seat, do you? Leg's giving me a bit of a hard time." His eyes fell onto a small wooden stool in one of the corners.

"Go ahead," the merc replied warily as he pulled out his own chair and sat down. The prisoner seemed completely unintimidated by the whole situation, though that may not be an indication of anything more than the girth of his acting skills.

With a grateful sigh the prisoner lowered himself onto the stool. Sitting with a small grimace, he looked up at the mercenary.

"Liverpool, isn't it?"

"Eh?"

"Liverpool docks," the prisoner said. "Your accent, isn't it? Evened out by years out of the country, but not quite faded away."

The merc narrowed his eyes, not quite sure what his interlocutor was getting at.

"I'm from England too, myself" the man continued. "But, may I ask, how on Earth did you get from Liverpool to the jungles of Africa?"

"No, you may not," O'Neal drawled. "As much as I'd like to sit here discussing my life history, I've got a job to do. You said you'd talk, now talk."

"No need to be unfriendly," the prisoner hastened, actually looking taken aback for the first time this evening. "I said I'd answer your questions, and I will." He shifted on the stool with groan before looking up at the merc with innocently inquisitive expression. "I must confess to some degree of curious leanings regarding your kind. Perhaps we can make a deal? I answer your questions, and you answer mine."

The merc scoffed. "Or how about you answer my questions, or you get the treatment I told your friend about?"

The prisoner quirked a brow. "Surely you'll at least a sate a dying man's curiosity, Jackie?"

O'Neal scowled at the familiarity, then paused to consider the prisoner's request. The man did not seem to be frightened by him, or at all affected by the ordeal. And there was the fact that, as much as he hated to admit it, he wasn't sure how he'd take to torturing two men in one day. The merc gave a sigh. Perhaps persuasion was the way to go in this case, he'd play along.

"I was raised on the docks, like you said. Worked there when I was older. Always wanted to get out, though, ship came along one day asking for some temporary help so I signed on and jumped at first port. Turns out it was here."

"So you decided to become a mercenary?"

O'Neal scowled again. "Grew up among the bad sorts, didn't I? Started stealing as soon as I could walk, knifed a bloke when I was a teen. Wasn't too big a step, jumping into merking." He hardened his gaze, staring into his captive's dark eyes. "You still haven't answered my question."

The edges of the prisoner's lips quirked up in a small smile. "Fischer. Ryan Fischer, pleased to meet you. I'd go over and shake your hand but, you know." He indicated to his leg.

"Alright Mr. Fischer then-"

"Agent Fischer, actually," he corrected. "MI6."

"MI6!" A smirk curled the merc's mouth. "Aren't you boys taught to hold your tongue against anything?" But as soon as those words were spoken O'Neal allowed the smirk to fall away again, suddenly wary. If this man was MI6 he must have been trained for situations like this. And the merc certainly wasn't unacquainted with the tricks some prisoners pulled during interrogation. "You know, that's a damn decent point. Why are you talking?"

Fischer simply shrugged. "I said I would, didn't I? I'm a man of my word." It didn't escape O'Neal's noticed that the actual question was left unanswered.

"Well anyway, what's your lot doing here? Why were you in our camp?"

The agent shook his head ruefully, ignoring the merc's second query. He allowed himself to contemplate for a few moments before beginning, "Tell me, what's it like?" He leaned forward on his stool. "What's it like to be a soldier for hire? Selling yourself and your gun to the highest bidder, always changing sides, never having any loyalties?"

O'Neal stared at the man who looked up at him over the bloodstained floor of the tent for several seconds before snapping his gaze away abruptly. "War will always happen," he said coldly, "and both sides always think they're right. What difference does it make which 'right' I fight for? And what difference do I make whether I decide to sit back and watch or cash in the action?"

"Do you really believe that?" Fischer replied quietly. The merc snorted.

"I know it."

The agent looked away, hesitating just a little before turning back to the previous question. "It's nothing complex, really, why we're here. There are certain political powers in England which would benefit from an end to this war, and what better way to end a war than to get rid of the ones who fight it? MI6 was assigned a relatively simple task: locate and disable the soldiers."

The merc frowned. Now they had a group of MI6 agents crawling through the jungle to look out for. This was going to be fun to explain to the General. "Great, a new lot of people to kill," he muttered.

"Do you ever thinking about them?"

"What?"

"The people you've killed, do they ever bother you?"

It only took a split second for O'Neal to growl, "Of course not." He stood up, turning away from the agent. "Can't do that out here in the jungle. Can't dwell, can't let yourselves remember. Not if you want to stay sane."

"I do, you know," the soft voice said from behind him. "I think about them, I remember them. And sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's the only thing keeping me sane."

The sun had set now, disappearing beyond the horizon as shadows crawled into the camp. The merc walked over to the edge of the tent where a lamp stood on the ground, turning it on and letting the dim light spill into the canvas bound room. He sat down again and turned back to the agent. He had a job to do.

"Where is your camp?"

"I don't know," Fischer replied with a shrug. "We had it set up about fifteen kilometres east of here, but my partner and I were due to report back hours ago. They would have moved by now."

"Where is your next designated site?"

"Spontaneously decided while on the move, I'm afraid."

O'Neal cursed under his breath. "And why the hell is that?"

"To eliminate the security risk, I'd imagine. To make sure that if one of our men were to, say, get captured and interrogated, he cannot give the group away."

The merc glared at the lightly smirking agent. "Bloody hell." He sat back down with a sigh and a pointed look to the man opposite.

Lit by the muted light, Fischer's face was set a completely indecipherable expression. "Where and when - your first kill?"

O'Neal swallowed twice, harshly. "Nineteen," he replied eventually, "at the port after I jumped." His mouth twisted into a travesty of a smile as he continued. "Just as well, I guess. Caught a passing merc's eye, he got me my first job. Would have starved otherwise."

"Who was it?"

O'Neal shrugged. "Some dirty local who tried to rob me. I broke his neck."

Fischer shifted in his seat. "We have a word for that, you know," he said. "It's called self-defence."

The merc scoffed before wrenching his gaze away. He was to interrogate this man, get all the info he could then take him out. But despite knowing was he should be going, he couldn't stop himself from asking, "And what about you?"

The agent's jaw tightened, his first outward sign of discomfort since he'd been forced into the tent. "Twenty-four," he said in a clipped tone. "International heroin bust. I shot the one of the dealers." He took a deep, shuddering breath.

"The first of many, I supposed," the merc replied, the coldness in his voice sounding just a touch forced. The agent nodded.

"And for you?" Fischer found his gaze again, once more looking into his eyes. "How many?"

At that question the merc snapped his head around, a growl ripping from his throat as he forced down the flare of self disgust that erupted inside him. Killing was second nature in the jungle, and there were two things you could do about it. You either let the lives you took slip past you without regard, or you kept the count as a badge of honour. But no matter how many times he told himself to let it go, he could never quite forget his own total, and he could never quite bring himself to take pride in it either.

"All these questions about the people I've killed," he hissed. "Are you so eager to be one of them?" But even as he spoke the words he knew it was the same as all those things that he constantly told himself about his choice of life: a defence mechanism.

The agent simply looked at him, watching as the anger seeped out of his face and the fight out of his body. Finally, O'Neal slumped in his seat.

"Sixty-seven," he said hoarsely. "Sixty-eight including your partner."

Neither man spoke. Silently, Fischer stood and limped over to the merc. "Forty-two for me," he said softly. "And I'm not any more proud of it than you are."

And then suddenly, the anger was back. "Not proud of it?" O'Neal snarled. "What makes you think I'm not proud of it?"

"Because I know," came the reply. O'Neal stood abruptly, staring straight into the agent's deathly calm face. "Do you want to know why I talked?" The merc only nodded.

Fischer leaved closer. "I talked to you because I saw something in your eyes when you killed my partner. Jackie," he dropped his eyes, taking a deep breath, "I saw regret. You have a chance, you can still get out."

"Don't you think I haven't tried?" The merc shot back. "Oh, I've tried alright. Went to the city, got some security work, left the jungle, but I couldn't stay away. I can't get out, this is who I am. This is my life"

The agent shook his head. "No, it's not. Go home, Jackie, go back to England. You can start a new life, a better life."

Hearing those words articulated so casually, the merc snapped. With a roar of anger the ripped his gun from his holster and grabbed the other man's shoulder in a vice-like grip, forcing him to his knees. "And what makes you think you're so much better, Fischer?" He growled, tightening his hold painfully. "Your job isn't so different form merking, you know that? We both live to fight, get paid to kill, only for some reason you're clean. Authorised, Legal. Does having society's badge of approval really make a difference?"

The agent's voice was choked and barely a whisper, but nevertheless it remained steady despite the murderous gleam in his captor's eyes and the gun barrel that dug into the sensitive flesh of his throat. "I think you already know the answer to that."


A single gunshot rang through the mercenary camp, followed by a hurried scrambling as soldiers sprang from their tents, congregating at the source of the noise. Inside the large tent lay a second pool of freshly spilled blood, seeping out from underneath a fallen man. The inhabitant of the tent stood to the side, a smoking gun in his hand.

"I got all I needed."

One of the other mercenaries stepped forward to address the interrogator. "You want some help with that, Jackie?"

O'Neal shook his head. "Nah, there's no immediate danger. You guys go back to sleep, I'll clean up here and report to the General tomorrow." He waved the men off as they turned, a few nods here and here, to make their way back to their sleeping bags.

But they never did hear that report, for the next morning they woke to find Jackie O'Neal's tent empty, completely bare except for the telltale blood on the ground. The body had been removed, drag marks pointing clearly towards the edge of the clearing and into the densest part of the jungle. In a line of work and a part of the world where disappearances were nothing no strange occurrence, the mercenaries payed little heed and trusted in the claim of no immediate danger. By the end of the day the vanishing merc had already dropped out of common conversation.


Meanwhile, seven-and-a-half thousand kilometres away two men were disembarking from a small private plane. The first was dark, sporting a white bandage around his jaw where something, perhaps a bullet, had scraped past, nicking the skin and drawing blood. The second was looking around with a wonder comparable to a man seeing an old friend for the first time in years, his dirty brown hair tied back to reveal a face deeply tanned by years spent under the glaring sun. The two made their way into an unmarked car which drove through the city, dropping them off at the headquarters beside Vauxhall Bridge where they entered and were met tersely.

"Mr. Curwen, My name is John. John H. O'Neal, and I'd like to work for you."


The MI6 headquarters are located next to Vauxhall Bridge in London. Christopher Curwen was the chief of MI6 from 1985 to 1989.