FIFTEEN

The dog paced around, whining and barking. After the Russians abandoned the town, beating back the German assault and charging right through, the dog had returned to the last place it saw its master. It searched through the rubble, digging away at places for a better scent. Most of the debris landed away from where the group had been. It was purely luck that it happened that way. The debris that did fall where the group was, was only a couple of large pieces of the brick building along with dust, ash, and small rocks. Both Schmotz and 257 were stuck under the debris. Covered by a large amount of brick and pebbles. Not necessarily stuck, if they tried they could have gotten themselves out, but with their injuries they could barely move under the weight.

The dog went to its master, licking at her face as it whined and barked. It nosed her with that cold, wet nose and pawed at the back of her head. As she woke up, she sputtered and spat, pushing the dog's snout away from her. She took a large breath and hissed. She was laying upon her chest, her right arm curved over her head. She twisted her head a bit so she could look up to the sky. A bright blue, with soft clouds rolling across. The sun was hanging somewhere up there, out of her view, but its rays were still nearly blinding.

The dog sat down next to her, whining again as it nosed her shoulder.

"It's all right, boy." She gave a toothless smile to the dog. Then she waved him off and awkwardly reached for the buttons on her helmet. "Hermes," her voice was hoarse, cracking every other syllable. "This is Spartan Actual. Yer' piece of shit mission is completed."

The dog barked, jumped up, and darted from the Lieutenant. Not too awfully far away from her under a pile of rocks was Schmotz, who was trying to get himself up. The dog licked at his face until he cursed, shoving some rocks off his chest. The dog bit down unto the shoulder strap of his plate carrier and yanked, dragging him across the asphalt enough that he could get up on his feet. The dog, barking, nipped at his pants then to lead him over to the Lieutenant.

Schmotz stared down at her, visor, though cracked, still over his face. The dog bit unto the Lieutenant's metal arm then to pull on her, but her rucksack was stuck upon a large piece of brick, keeping her from going anywhere. Schmotz gave a look around the area, gripping the pistol grip of his rifle and the foregrip. He was hurting, body wanting to just lay down and rest for a few days, but his mind knew better.

After they stared silently at one another for quite some time, the Lieutenant placed her hand on the back of the dog's neck. She roughed up the fur and squeezed for a moment before pushing him away.

"Stay with Smith." She gestured her hand to Schmotz. The dog barked at her, but she only repeated herself more sternly. The dog whined, dipping its head down low. "Go with him, boy. Go." She pushed the dog then to get him over to Schmotz's side.

The Lieutenant was in the right place to ask for help. She could have asked him to help her up to her feet, to get to their extraction point. However, she would do no such thing. She knew Schmotz very well. She understood how he thought. They may have only had so little time together, but for a skilled Hunter, that was all that was needed. Schmotz would have loved to kill her himself. To him, she was just some scum, a waste of space and nothing worth living. While he did not think of himself highly, that was how he thought of just about everyone he encountered. He was willing to kill everyone around him. Just like she was.

Had the positions been reversed, she would not have thought twice about it. She would have taken the dog and left without even giving acknowledgement to him under the rubble. It appeared that Schmotz was debating on leaving her behind. Leaving her to rot under that rubble. The Lieutenant could get herself out if she truly tried, broken arm or not. If she simply did her best, she would have succeeded. It could have just been the Hunter training talking.

Schmotz took a step back from the Lieutenant, though he continued to watch her. She stared right back, her head resting on the ground. She did not want to get up. She just wanted to lay there and rest. Her body's desire was overwhelming her instinctual urge for survival. She understood that if she fell asleep now, she would surely die. Yet it was so hard to stay awake, to stay moving and trying to get up.

The dog's ears suddenly stood upright and it started to bark. It bounced in place a bit before leaping over the Lieutenant and darting away. Schmotz raised his head up to see where the dog was going in such a hurry. He stayed in place however. They could still hear the dog barking. Just as quickly as it had gotten far away, it was returning. It leapt unto a pile of rubble next to Schmotz and the Lieutenant and looked over its shoulder as it barked. Its tail wagging low against the back of its hind legs.

A group of soldiers, clearly mercenaries, were running to catch up to the quick footed dog. At the sight of them, Schmotz's shoulders lowered in relaxation.

"Captain!" Sigfrid shouted. He dropped his weapon so it would lay against his chest. "Captain, they're over here!"

Meuric hurried over to the dog, right past Sigfrid, and jumped down from the rubble to check Schmotz first. With a wave of his hand, Schmotz dismissed his attempt and pointed him towards the Lieutenant who was still laying on the ground. Hudek and Alexey were next up, hurrying past Sigfrid and the dog. They were the ones to push away some of the debris and pull the Lieutenant up to her feet.

She had hissed and growled, her right hand clutching unto Alexey's arm due to the pain. There was concern amongst the men. No one knew exactly what happened. As far as they were concerned, they did it to each other. No enemy involved. The Lieutenant was completely exhausted. She kept her back straight, chin up, shoulders back. If no one knew any better, she was just an old vet stuck in the past.

Alexey had stayed by the Lieutenant's side while Meuric did what he could to treat her. He was cursing under his breath the entire time.

"Are you two okay?" Hudek asked, looking them both up and down.

Neither one said a word.

"We're going to mount a second rescue. Artyom's team is stuck between a rock and a hard place right now and Hans is leading a team to give them some slack. The issue is, we're outnumbered and there is a lot of friendly fire happening due to the German's not realizing who's on their side and who's not." Hudek's dark eyes switched between each of them as he spoke. "I hate to ask this of you, but we need you two on the front line." his tone made it sound more like an order than a question.

"Sir," Meuric spoke in that thick Welsh accent. "They can't do this."

"That's not what I want to hear, Sergeant Gwythyr. Patch them up best you can, we need to move." Hudek snapped.

"Sir," Meuric spoke more sharply. "They cannot continue the fight like this. L.T.'s got a broken arm, for crying out loud!"

"Can you fight?" The Captain pointed to the Lieutenant.

The Lieutenant stared up at him with those exhausted blue-green eyes.

"Yes, sir." She said with a hoarse voice.

Hudek looked over to Schmotz.

"Yes, sir." He stated, twisting off the cap to his canteen.

Hudek placed his hand to Meuric's shoulder. "We've gotta move out." He kept a straight face, disguising the way he truly felt about the situation. Hudek would rather Schmotz and the Lieutenant rest and heal after what they had been through, but the war would not allow it. They were Hunters, they could keep pushing, broken bones or not.

It had not taken very long for the rescue team lead by Hudek to get to Hans' line. They had been making pushes down the street in Augsburg, only to be beaten back by the Germans. They, too, were taking casualties, who were getting patched up and shoved back into the fight. This was unlike Hans. His desperation was showing in the conflict, forcing injured soldiers to continue fighting. Some of them should have been comatosed for stability purposes.

Hudek was shouting into his radio to get the JLTVs lined up properly in the street. He had three push forward in front of Hans' line while the other vehicles stayed back to provide fire support. Everyone, but the main gunners and drivers jumped from the trucks and hurried to join Hans' line.

"Goddamnit!" Hans snarled. "What are these idiots doing?!" He turned to the radioman, Ludwig, and shouted. "Get into their comms!"

"Sir," Hudek ran up to Hans, giving a quick salute before continuing to speak. "257 and Schmotz are here and able to fight."

Hans looked past him to the Lieutenant and Schmotz who were just behind Hudek, waiting for their orders. They seemed eager to keep fighting, but they were both exhausted and sore. The explosions all around them from grenades and artillery were no longer bothering the Lieutenant, perhaps due to the sheer exhaustion.

With a wave of his hand, Hans motioned the Lieutenant up to his side. Together, they turned to step away from Hudek and Schmotz. He had brought her to the line of soldiers who were using the trucks as cover along with whatever else they could find in the street that was actually suitable. They had to shout just to hear one another thanks to the ear-ringing explosions.

"I understand this is hard for you," Hans said to her. "You've been fighting along their side for a few years now."

"What exactly happened?" The Lieutenant asked.

"Some undisciplined grunt heard someone in Artyom's team speaking Russian." Hans scratched his scruffy cheek. Those dark eyes stared at her broken arm that had been placed in a makeshift sling of duct tape. Meuric had done all he could to keep her arm steady so it would not get injured further while she worked. Hopefully it would be enough. "We don't have comms with the United Front. I suppose they thought they were being flanked."

"Shouldn't they be used to workin' with foreigners?"

"Only Apex soldiers and the uniforms are obvious. Apex has made it impossible to get their specific uniforms with the way they are manufactured. Since we don't wear anything specific, we look like what we are. Mercenaries." Hans started his explanation. "I can only assume that since we are not recognizable to the average soldier as anyone, but the enemy, we've been targeted."

"Sir, with all due respect," The Lieutenant stared up at him. "I cannot fight my own brothers."

"Have you not killed Hunters?" Hans raised a brow at her.

"They were trying to kill me." Then before he could reply to her, she spoke again. "These men are not trying to kill me. They're tryin' ta' kill you." She pointed up at him.

"Are we not your brothers?" Hans gave a slight tilt of his head. "Are we not people who you wish to fight for? You have been here with us for two years."

The Lieutenant scoffed. "I never wanted to be here. I don't care about these fuckin' fools who blindly follow you into death just because you say there's a higher purpose here!" She swung her good arm to her side. "Yer' like a goddamned religious fanatic! You stand there and preach nothing more than nonsense! These men follow you because of their own stupidity! They don't see the fuckin' truth about you!" She was pointing at him now.

Hans placed a hand on a pouch upon his hip, the other resting upon his rifle. "Spatzi," He said with a low voice. For a moment he sounded hurt, but it was nothing more than a facade. "You could have left at any time. You could have walked out whenever you wanted. You were not held as a prisoner. We did not force you to do anything you would not willingly do." There was something condescending in his voice.

The Lieutenant stared up at him, lips parting just to purse together repeatedly. She would not admit it, but he was right like he usually was. She could have left whenever she wanted to. After a month held as a prisoner, Hans had silently released her from such a fate. She had willingly followed his orders and followed him into battle. At any day, any minute, if she so chose, she could have left. She could have taken one of the trucks and drove off. She could have even called for an extraction from Apex. Yet she did neither of these things. She stayed and fought.

This was nothing more than a psychological game. It felt as if he had experimented on her like Pavlov with his dogs. Trained her and set her free to see just what she would do. Lo-and-behold, she stuck to her training and simply did what she had been programmed to do. She had never realized it before. She felt used, like she was nothing more than a tool. For a moment, it hurt her. She hated it. Yet, she was oddly okay with it. After all, she was trained since a child to be nothing more than a weapon. Her teachers had repeated over and over again "You are just a tool. A weapon to be used to kill."

Now, however, she was questioning which side she was on. A tool can do nothing without a master, without someone there to wield it. Guns cannot fire without a finger to pull the trigger. A hammer cannot strike a nail without a hand to swing it. Tools did not question morals of themselves, or who was wielding them. No, they were simply used without question. To them, it did not matter who used them, as long as they were used. For the Lieutenant, she had switched hands multiple times. The Order, the Marine Corps, Apex Corporations, and now, finally, Hans Dietrich in his band of suicidal mercenaries. She truly did not care who used her, as long as she was used for her intended purpose.

"Why do you think you've stayed, Spatzi?" Hans stepped past her to lead her to a more covered area. They were still under fire and she and Hans had been out in the open, standing out like a sore thumb just asking to be shot. There had been bullets smashing into the ground at their feet, yet they were not flinching. To them, this was comfortable. This was the way to live.

"Could it be the human desire for a sense of belonging?" Hans glanced at her. "You've never been treated better than you have here. The men here care about you. Some of them may go as far as to say they love you." A soft smile formed upon his lips. "Hell, they want you here fighting with them. Don't you think because of that, you have stayed here?" He stopped now to turn and face her. "To speak the truth, Spatzi, you belong here with us."

"The hell makes you think I belong here more than at Apex?"

"We have the same idea, Apex and I. The idea of Post-Traumatic Stress….It is honestly tedious. Being shellshock is completely natural. I believe it weeds out who belongs and who does not. Despite what you went through nearly a decade ago, you are still willing and able to fight. You lost a lot back then and you have never been happier than when you are being shot at." He pointed at her. "Look at you. Look at them." He paused for a moment so she could. "You are standing here with bullets flying around you and you are completely still. You seem to be unaware of the dangers. Everyone else is ducking behind cover trying not to get shot." His smile grew to something wolfish. "Out here, doing your job, is where you belong. It's where all these men belong."

"I have all of this with Apex. What yer' sayin'. You offer me nothing different than Apex. Yet Apex still has more to offer."

"What's that? Benefits? Education? You really think you need, or want any of it? Your bank account is never lower than ten thousand. You aren't doing this for any of that. You're doing this for the sake of killing. If you wanted to upgrade your cybernetics, you could afford to do that ten times over."

The Lieutenant squeezed the butt of the AK over her chest. "Sir, you are speaking nothing more than nonsense."

"You enjoy being here, Lieutenant. It's why you've stayed." He said. He gave a wave of his hand. "You can leave if you want to. I won't stop you. No one here will. I will say, however, that you love it here. Fighting here with us. These men look up to you. They want your leadership, or guidance. When they found out you and Schmotz were heading into Munich alone, most of the men volunteered to go with you. I would have allowed it as well had I the men to spare. You want to question why we exist. Why we have no sides, but our own. Yet you refuse to see the truth about it. You believe the same thing we believe. The same thing the Order believes. The Order taught you, Spatzi, yet you won't acknowledge what it has to say. Maybe that's why you are an Alpha? You lost your ability to feel and to see. You're just a machine, Spatzi." He shook his head. "What I'm saying is, someone has to do this. Someone has to be neutral, yet still doing something. The United Front and the Eastern Alliance are both in the wrong. Apex is in the wrong. Everyone is."

"Are you seriously going to preach to me about rights and wrongs?" The Lieutenant cut him off.

"Not in the sense you don't understand. This war has no real point, yet it still has to happen. There are too many humans on this planet and war is here to keep the population in check. People must die for people to live. As cruel as it is, this is the way life is. There is no such thing as a premature death, only a necessary death. If humans were more like wild animals, then they would understand. Death is a beautiful tragedy." He placed a hand upon the Lieutenant's shoulder. "We are not mercenaries per say, we are just necessary weapons more than willing to do what others cannot. We are the middle men for Life and Death."

257 watched him for a few moments before giving a light shake of her head. She understood what he was saying, but his last words stuck in her mind.

"So, that's what you are. Middlemen." She snorted, shaking her head. "So stupid. I don't give a rat's ass whatcha' got to say, Dietrich. I ain't fuckin' fightin' for you."

Hans scoffed. "You will fight, Lieutenant."

"Naw." She planted her foot into the ground. "I ain't fuckin' doin' it."

"You wanted to fight for Wilhelm!" Hans stated. "Remember that? Over a year ago? You fought me to get a chance to rescue Wilhelm."

"William's dead."

"What about the others? Vinzenz? Schmotz? Arty and Alex are stuck out there, surrounded by the enemy!" He pointed towards the onslaught. "I need you and Schmotz with a small team to break through to them. I understand you are injured, Lieutenant, but if you are able to do it, then lead these men to rescue Artyom and his men."

The Lieutenant was a sucker when words like that were thrown at her. She may have been just a machine, but anything with a conscience could appreciate being needed. She would have crossed her arms over her chest, but with a broken arm, she rathered just holding unto the AK over her chest.

"I ain't doin' it." She stated. "I ain't fuckin' fightin' my own brothers to save a bunch of worthless traitors." Before he could speak, she started up again. "Ya' think this is some sort of game, don't you? Ya' think you can say whatever you want and it'll convince me to do shit I ain't wantin' ta' do! It's fuckin' bullshit, man. Yer' fuckin' bullshit. This shit ain't gon' keep fuckin' happenin'. I ain't yer' fuckin' dog. Back the fuck off." She swung her arm once again.

"Here I thought you were able to see the light." He shook his head. "You really are just a pathetic piece of trash, aren't you, Seven?"

"How about you fuck off and crawl back under the rock you came out of? Piece of trash? Look in a fuckin' mirror, you shithead." She snarled.

"Ooh, did I hit a nerve? Grow up, Lieutenant. You're how old? Thirty-five? Thirty-six?"

"Well, ain't you nothin' more than a li'l Nazi-scum thinkin' he's all high and mighty over there leadin' a bunch of fools to their deaths over nothing more than his own selfish fuckin' desire for power." She scoffed. "Boy, aren't you the messiah everyone's been waitin' on! Oh, please, please, let me follow you to my imminent death! Yer' Christ reborn!"

Hans stared at her in complete silence listening to her go on about what she believed he saw himself as. With arms crossed over his chest, he shook his head. "You truly are an idiot, Lieutenant."

"If Arty and Lexy die out there, it is no one's fault, but yers' and theirs. I'm no part of this. I'd sooner kill 'em than save 'em."

"Then what are you going to do, Lieutenant?" Hans leaned down a bit to place his face close to hers.

The Lieutenant was quiet for a moment. She soon reached up to the side of her helmet with her right hand to click on the buttons to not only activate the microphone, but to switch her channel over to the one she would use to contact Apex headquarters.

"Hermes, this is Spartan Actual," She began, clearly staring up at Hans. "I've gathered substantial evidence over the group of mercenaries known as the Middlemen. I'm ready for extraction at coordinates four-eight point three-six and one-zero point eight-eight."

She lowered her right hand down from the helmet, placed her hand to Hans' chest and pushed him out of her way as she stepped past him. She headed back out into the open, leaving Hans only a little stunned where he stood. He honestly could not believe she would return to Apex after having been with them for two years. She had shed blood with them and saved countless lives, yet she was still painfully loyal to Apex.

Hans turned to face her, watching as she stormed off. She headed right back out into the open where the bullets had been flying. Schmotz was nearby, in earshot of their conversation and he could only watch. Even he was confused to what happened. He knew the Lieutenant wanted to return to Apex, but he did not expect her to not fight with them. If she would not fight, then what point would there be for him? Sure he would get to kill, but even he did not want to kill his own. Despite his views, even he drew the line at murdering fellow Germans.

A lot of the soldiers had heard the conversation, at least they heard the Lieutenant refusing to kill comrades. They, too, began to question what they were doing. Jasper had looked up from his patchwork on one of the men. Even he could not believe the Lieutenant was not going to fight. A lot of the men stopped whatever they were doing, firing, patching up, talking. They just stopped, ducked down and watched.

Everyone did what they were told to do, especially if it was Hans giving them the order. The Lieutenant, though she may not have liked it, followed her orders the best. She truly was just a dog, but she was the best dog anyone was able to know. She was smart and courageous. She may not have been very charismatic, but she gave a reason to do their jobs. She motivated everyone. They had all seen her risk her life to save theirs. They had all witness her injured and still fighting on, not for her sake, but for theirs. She was selfless. That was why people loved her. That was why everyone put up with her bursts of anger and her violent habits. She was a pain in the ass and though she could be easily hated, loving her was worth every ounce of sweat and blood.

To see her refuse to fight changed a lot. A lot of men put their weapons down. If she would not fight, then why should they? Hans did not realize how much she was looked up to. No wonder she never lost her position at Apex, or even in the Marine Corps. Her repulsive nature had been so far on the spectrum, it honestly became charismatic. Hans was even attracted to her because of it. He could not deny it, even if he would not admit it. He wanted her to fight with him. She was one of the ones he could truly trust to pull him out of the shit if the worse were to happen.

Seeing others drop their weapons and stare up at Hans as if he had all the answers, a few men stood to question. Jasper was first up and hurrying to Hans.

"Sir," He said, rubbing his latex-gloved hands together to try to wipe some of the blood off. "What are we doing?"

By this point, only the main gunners on the trucks were still firing, though they too were stopping.

Hans was quiet. Normally he would have something to say, but it appeared the Lieutenant won the hearts of his own men. She openly protested, but not to convince anyone. She simply spoke her mind to Hans and Hans alone. She was not one to intentionally waiver anyone's minds unless it was to keep them alive.

Santiago was next along with Samuel.

"The li'l lady's right, boss." Santiago said. "Ain't we supposed to be on these guys' side?"

Hans glared at him.

"What are we going to do if the Lieutenant won't fight with us?" Samuel asked quietly.

"If we do not return fire, then they will certainly kill us. Right now, they see us as the enemy. This is self-defense. You don't have to like this, but this has to be done." Hans said. He looked amongst the three men before him, speaking loud enough for the others to hear. "We are doing this to protect ourselves and to rescue our brothers whom are trapped. I'm not happy about killing the men we are trying to assist. This is not what we came here to risk our lives for. Either we and our brothers die, or we kill a dozen men to save everyone."

"Schmotz and L.T. snuck behind a battalion though, didn't they?" Samuel asked. "Couldn't they sneak through the Germans and extract Arty and the others?"

Dragoslav picked himself up from the dusty street, letting his rifle hang against his chest. He quietly approached the Lieutenant, surprisingly light footed for a man of his size.

"Little Poručnik," those blue eyes watched her carefully where she sat on a sandbag, lighting a cigarette. "Why will you not fight?"

"Because, Dragon," She scowled, looking away from him. "I will not kill my own brothers in arms if I can help it."

"But Lexy and Arty will die if we do not rescue them." His thick accent made it nearly impossible to understand his English.

"That ain't my fault, man." She pulled the cigarette from her lips, knocking some of the ash off.

"Yet you can stop it."

She looked up to him in silence.

"Maybe you are right all along." Dragoslav shrugged. "Maybe all this is miniscule. I would like to return to my wife. I have not yet met my sons."

"If that's what you want, then why are you here, man? Go home." She waved him off. This was not the sort of conversation she cared for. Talks of home and loved ones. Alpha Hunters did not have family, or anyone to care for. All Alphas knew was war. They were incapable of loving.

"This war affects all of us." Dragoslav sat down on the sidewalk next to her, adjusting his rifle over his lap. "I love my country and wish it to be as it is. I don't want to be Russian. I am Serbian."

"I get that, but why are you fighting here then? Following this sham of a man?" She gestured to Hans who was still talking to those around him. "That's why I need to go back to Apex."

"Is it him who is a sham? Or is it you, Lieutenant?" Dragoslav raised a brow. "Are you not our sister? Our brother in arms? Artyom and Alexey love you dearly, yet you will not rescue them like they have you."

She thought for a moment. Finished her cigarette, then got up. She stuffed the used up butt into her dump pouch and looked down to the dog. She looked back to Dragoslav, then to her broken arm. A nod or so and she stepped around Dragoslav to hurry past the front line. She ran down the sidewalk, keeping herself low. He had convinced her to at least try to rescue the stranded team of soldiers.

However, her jump to action was caught by everyone around her. Hans shouted at her, but she either did not hear him, or she simply did not listen. Dragoslav was up with a glance to Hudek and Hans before he turned to run after the Lieutenant. With a quick order from Hans, Schmotz was also on the move with Meuric close behind.

Artyom fired several shots out of the broken window before he was forced back into cover by a barrage of bullets. He hissed under his breath, looking over the men he had with him. Eight total with five wounded. The medic, Yuri, was wounded as well, but he had to treat the others. Artyom, Alexey, and James were the only ones able to fight. They feared that any minute now the Germans would bust through the open doors and windows and effectively swarm them like ants. They were pushing closer with each second.

"Kapitan!" Alexey shouted from across the room. "I need ammo!"

"Take Volk's PK!"

Peeling himself from the wall, Alexey hurried over to the wounded on the opposite side. He knelt down upon one knee, placing a hand to Volkov's chest. As he grabbed up the magazines from the wounded soldier's plate carrier, he was grabbed by the arm.

Volkov coughed, blood spilling from the corners of his mouth. "L-l-Lex…" He struggled to speak. His voice hoarse and sounding as if it were causing his throat to bleed with each syllable. "Lex...D-don't...don't let me die out here."

Alexey stared at him for a moment before returning his grasp. "Don't worry, brother." He ran a hand across Volkov's cheek to his hair. "You'll get to come home with me."

"L-Lex…" Volkov squeezed his arm. "Why...why are we here?"

Alexey was unsure what he could say. His chapped lips pursed as those blue eyes watched Volkov. He was losing hope. He had been laying there for over an hour now, barely remaining stable. He had been shot in the chest. He was lucky to have been wearing a steel plate. However, the bullet had still lodged itself into his sternum. He was severely injured and if he would not get any real medical treatment soon, he was bound to bleed out and die a very slow and painful death.

Alexey could only squeeze his wrist. "If not us, then who?"

"Lexy!" Artyom screamed. He was ducking behind the wall once again. This time they could catch a glimpse of the Germans getting too close for comfort. Artyom had given up shouting about friendly fire a long time ago. It was a simple matter of life or death now since the Germans would not listen to them. It was understandable. However, it was an issue that could have been avoided had the proper precautions been taken.

Alexey let go of Volkov now to gather up the magazine and rifle. Large, square-shaped drum magazine that could hold two-hundred rounds of ammunition. The rifle itself looked a lot like an old school AK. It was much longer by about a foot and had a bi-pod permanently attached just behind the muzzle brake at the end of the barrel. A holosight mounted towards the rear with a polymer stock and pistol grip just to make the weapon lighter.

Volkov grabbed Alexey again before he could leave. "Lex, p-please."

"Help is on the way," Alexey said to him trying to sound as reassuring as he could. "We will get you out."

Then he was up and rushing over to the doorway next to Artyom. He knelt down, setting the PK angled at the doorway. He checked the chamber and then laid down.

"Don't let them any closer." Artyom ordered.

"Da, ser!"

"James!" Artyom looked over to the other side of the building. "Status!"

"We're clear over here, sir!"

"Take Lexy's old position!"

"Yes, sir!" James picked his rifle up from the windowsill and turned, rushing around the wounded to get to the other side. He could barely set his rifle down before he took fire. Once he set himself up with his bipod, he pressed on the trigger for small bursts of fire.

"Yuri!" Artyom called, peeking around the window once more while Alexey fired. With the enemies suppressed, he was able to better assess the situation outside.

"We're good over here, sir!" Yuri had been too busy treating the wounded. The five men laying, or sitting against the wall had been moaning and groaning. Two of them were crying out in agony, writhing where they were placed. There had been enough blood pooling unto the ground from all the injuries that it formed large puddles over the concrete. It was like a small flood. Just enough to damage the floor had it been carpet or even wood. There was a risk of slipping and Yuri had certainly fallen several times as he rushed from man to man.

He had given morphine to those he could stabilize, but those who were fading in and out of stablization could not receive a dose. Morphine could cause someone to enter shock, which would cause death. With the old form of using syrettes, the dose could not be controlled. If he could, he would have given everyone enough to ease the pain, especially the ones who were screaming.

Artyom leaned around the window once again, firing off a few precise shots to nail two Germans. Then he went back around the corner to look to the unguarded windows. He did not believe they would last much longer. The smart thing to do was to take the able-bodied soldiers and retreat. If they were clear on one side, they could simply rush out and away from their own encirclement. However, that left the idea of five lives that could have been saved to be left to the wolves. He was not sure what was worse: Imprisonment, or death. So what if they would be alive if they were to be subjected to the torments of torture? Could Artyom truly live with that on his conscious?

In a short while, Alexey shouted that he was out of ammunition and needed to reload. Artyom took it upon himself to lay covering fire for the circumstances. As he did so, he had taken a shot in the left arm, the one mostly in the open. Nearly shoulder height, the 5.56 round ripped through his shirt and into his flesh. The compulsion upon its median send a burst of air ripping through the muscles and skin. It had gotten dangerously close to the main artery within his arm, and though he would live, using his arm was nearly out of the question. His skin had been deeply bruised from the inside out, blood draining from both sides of his arm down his elbow.

Artyom leaned backwards, his arm forced from the pistol grip of his AK and out to his side. Then it dropped and he cringed. He backed hismelf from the window and back to the wall. Their he leaned upon his right shoulder with a hiss. He had high pain tolerance, but even the smallest amount of pain would draw his attention from the situation for a split second

"Medic!" Alexey shouted, looking up to Artyom. Sure, he could live, but he still needed treatment and the last thing the squad needed was their leader being taken from them.

Yuri looked up and over his shoulder to see Artyom's bloodstained arm. Quickly, he got to his feet and rushed to the Captain. Artyom only pushed him away and waved him off.

"They need you more. I'll live." With that, Yuri turned and hurried back to the severely wounded.

"Captain!" James screamed over the gunfire. "They're pushing hard!"

"Keep them ba-"

"Captain!" The Lieutenant shouted as she cimbed through the unguarded window. To keep to her usual self and not let on the illusion of her exhaustion, she made a joke. "You have an open sector!"

"We're low on men," Artyom smiled at the sight of her, quickly seeing Schmotz, Dragoslav, and Meuric right behind her.

"Dragon, with James." The Lieutenant immediately order as she hurried to Artyom. "Whale, treat these guys." Then it was just her and Schmotz with Artyom.

"It is wonderful you are here, Lieutenant." Alexey glanced over his shoulder.

"That it is." Artyom raised his left hand a bit. "Is this all there is?"

"This is more than expected." The Lieutenant shrugged.

Artyom eyed her, especially the duct taped arm. "Your mission did not go so well?"

"We're here and that's what matters." The Lieutenant dropped her hands down to her sides. "A'ight, look," She said, cutting to the chase. "We're clear at the east. Major's got them pushed back pretty far. I don't think he can hold out much longer. We have no southern exit. We gotta move the wounded. We'll be over run."

"Moury and Yuri can take the wounded out." Artyom suggested.

"Whale!" The Lieutenant turned her head to look over her shoulder. Meuric had immediately looked up. "Can you and Smirnoff handle the wounded?"

"We'd have to move one at a time. These men can't walk."

She looked back up to Artyom. Then past him, out the window. "Think we can hold here a bit longer?"

"We will hold until all of them have escaped." Artyom sounded confident. Determined.

She knelt down next to Artyom, placing the AK-15 on the window sill. With the butt of the rifle against her shoulder, she slipped a finger over the trigger.

"Yuri, Moury!" Artyom turned and shouted over the gunfire. "Head out the east side, move south. Hans' team will provide cover fire for you."

Without a word, Yuri and Moury moved to the least likely to survive, picked one up by the arms and slung him over their shoulders to hurry out. They moved as quickly as they could while carrying the extra dead weight of a screaming man bound to see his life flash before his eyes as his death came ever nearer.

"Hang in there, Sergey." Meuric said, patting his chest as he and Yuri both dragged him through the window. Yuri was using his free hand to hold an I.V. bag up so the saline would drip through the tubing and into the syringe lodged in Sergey's arm. "You're going home."

Sergey could only cry and curse. The pain was too great for him to even comprehend. His muscle would not move on his command. Everything came to him in brief flashes of brightened lights and colors. It was as if whenever he blinked his eyes remained shut for abnormally long periods. When they were opened, the colors had been washed away and the light was so bright he could barely make anything out. That and the ringing deafening him disoriented him. He was stuck between wanting to die and wanting to live. If he died all the pain would go away. If he lived, he could see his beloved, that beautiful woman back in Moscow that was waiting for him to come back.

As they made their way down the sidewalk, Hans and Hudek both stood out of cover to wave their arms both in a form of greeting and urgency to direct them the safest route. Hans placed a hand to Hudek's shoulder then, giving him the signal to help the wounded while he turned around to give new orders for better covering fire.

Once Sergey was handed off to Jasper and Rubio, Meuric and Yuri hurried back to the others. Once inside, they rushed to Koenraad to pick him up along with Michiel.

"Sir!" James suddenly shouted.

"What is it?" Artyom replied.

"They're co-" He stopped in mid sentence just to say something else. "Grenade!"

It felt like all other sounds ceased to exist. All anyone heard was the heavy clanking of the fragmentation grenade hitting the ground a couple of feet behind James. It had been thrown through the window and just over his head. Now it was bouncing against the concrete.

"Move!" Artyom screamed. "Move!" The only place they could go that could give them any form of protection was out the very windows they were fighting through.

However, before anyone actually moved, before the grenade even stopped bouncing and rolling, Schmotz jumped to action. He dropped his rifle against his chest and turned to scoop the grenade up from the ground. Grenades had a detonation fuse of about 5 to 12 seconds on average. They often varied due to materials. The same fuse could burn out in a second when it could also take twenty. What he did was considered absolutely stupid. Risking his own life and those around him to pick up a thrown grenade just to toss it back where it came from.

That was exactly what he did. He hurried back to James and chucked the grenade back through the window. The Germans screamed and darted off to the sides, leaping out of the way as the grenade detonated before it even got near the ground.

James leaned against the wall, staring wide-eyed at Schmotz. He soon slipped down to his rear, cradling his rifle against his chest.

"Holy shit…"

Schmotz held unto his rifle, leaving it resting upon his frame.

Artyom and the Lieutenant stared at one another and even Alexey. They were in awe. No one was trained to do something like that. It was stupid. It could kill an entire squad. Grenades were unpredictable once the spoon was released. Yet it worked out in their favor and ended up killing a few Germans who could not get out of the way of the rocketing shrapnel.

"Smith!" The Lieutenant shouted.

He looked over to her in silence.

Though she had something she wanted to say, it left her mind when she went to say it. Instead, she remained silent and looked back to the oncoming Germans. They were getting far too close. It was turning into a fist fight through the windows. The Germans were forcing their way inside and with the machine gun now out of ammo, they could very easily get in.

When they finally broke through, they came in like charging bulls. Every single one of them cried out as they used their rifles as bats. The Lieutenant was forced towards the wounded, not wanting to risk further injury with a broken arm. She unholstered the pistol from her thigh and opened fire. Precise shots into shoulders and chests. She let the others take the brunt of the attacks, getting up close and personal with the German soldiers.

Artyom displayed his strength by throwing the much smaller men around like rag dolls. The only thing that made this battle difficult was the amount of numbers. The Germans swarmed them like locusts. There were just too many for them to keep track of. They could hold out only for a moment more. Most of the wounded had been moved from the area. One was left. He was choking and shouting, trying to get the others to hurry up.

"James, move!" Artyom yelled.

As soon as he could, James pulled from the fight and joined Meuric and Yuri at the back. The building had been taken over by the Germans and if they stayed any longer, all of them would have died.

"D-don't leave me!" Volkov screamed. "Don't leave me!"

"Iva!" James tried to get to him, but Meuric stopped him.

"Pull back!" Artyom ordered. "Pull back!"

"Smith, Dragon, move yer' fuckin' asses!" The Lieutenant was standing between the medics and Volkov now. She continued to fire her P226, having to struggle with reloading it with a single hand.

Schmotz and Dragoslav slowly pulled back as Meuric, Yuri, and James jumped through the window to return to the main team.

"Seven!" Volkov cried. "Seven! Help me!" He was lying there, barely able to move. He writhed on the ground, trying to get himself up, but all he could manage to do was lift his head up by inches. As his heart pumped faster due to his rising stress levels, his blood flowed even quicker. At this rate, he would be lucky to survive.

Firing, Artyom and Alexey pulled back from the openings. The Germans charged through, clambering through the windows and the doorway. They stopped for a moment next to 257 to grab her shoulder to get her to move.

"Idti, idti!" Artyom ordered as he pulled himself into a full retreat.

257 still hesitated. She wanted to help Volkov, but she would be killed or captured in the process. Despite his pleas, his crying for rescue, the Lieutenant turned away and followed Alexey out of the window to catch up with Artyom. They rushed down the street praying they would not be shot in the back.

"I want everyone to load up. The wounded are already in the trucks." Hans said, looking to Artyom and 257. There must have only been a few because there were a lot of dead bodies laying around them. Too much for comfort. Over half of them lay dead, or dying in the street. They begged to be saved, to be taken away from this hell, but all of their cries were ignored.

"Sir," Schmotz stepped up to Hans. "Let me provide covering fire for your escape. I'll distract them."

"Nein." Hans shook his head, placing a hand on Schmotz's shoulder. "I need you to keep the Lieutenant safe. Make sure she gets in one of the trucks."

A bullet cracked into the ground at their feet, beckoning them to look up.

"Sniper!" James screamed as he ducked into one of the trucks.

"Move!" Hans gave a firm push to Artyom's shoulder to get him to move. "Los, los, los!"

Everyone who was not already in a truck turned to get into one. They were already lined up and ready to blast their way out, it was just a matter of getting into them. There were a couple of shots and then a final third one. The roar of the rifle echoed through the street.

"Lead's been hit!" Veselko shouted.

The Lieutenant stopped in her tracks and turned around. Near the rear of the line Hans was leaning against the passenger door of one of the trucks. Blood had been splattered over the window, sideview mirror, and the door.

"Medic!" Veselko forced his door open from behind Hans and jumped out of the JLTV to aid him. "Medic!" He screamed again.

Jasper was hurrying over to him from the rear of the line. 257 had practically tripped when Schmotz tried to stop her from running back. She fell against the much larger man, gripping his upper arm. Schmotz held onto her, wanting to force her into the truck. Soon, though, as Jasper fell to his knees next to Hans, she shoved Schmotz out of the way and rushed to get to the downed Major.

She slid upon her knees in front of him and crawled over to Veselko, pushing him out of her way with her left shoulder.

"Hans!" She looked to the wound upon his shoulder as Jasper ripped open his plate carrier.

Blood was almost gushing from the wound. Hans sat there, his head against the truck. He was wheezing from the impact, struggling to catch his breath. It took him a moment to see who was around him. His vision blurred from the loss of blood. He could recognize Jasper and that curly blond hair. Then there was the familiar touch of 257 upon his good shoulder.

"Clean the wound. His artery's been hit." Jasper said, handing 257 a cloth. She Immediately got to work, dabbing at the blood around the wound. Jasper poured water from his canteen unto the shoulder which caused Hans to cringe and hiss. Then he grabbed a pair of medical pliers that served the purpose of gripping and holding.

"Just leave me." Hans said, pushing the Lieutenant back.

"Hell no." She replied. She shoved his hand back to the ground and continued to clean the blood. "Jasper, do somethin'!"

"I'm working on it! Damn it! There's too much blood, I can't see the artery!"

Each of them cringed as bullets hit a little too close to home. They ducked their heads down, 257 shielding Hans' head.

"Lieutenant." Schmotz stood behind her, not even worried about the incoming fire. "We have to go."

"He's right." Hans coughed. He raised his hand again to place it to 257's cheek, the blood smearing upon her skin. "Spatzi, you need to go."

"Fuck you. It ain't happening." She shook her head, glaring at him from behind the slate visor.

"I got it!" Jasper shouted. "Ves, help me get him into the truck. We can move."

"Hans!" The Lieutenant stood up as Veselko stepped in front of Hans.

Schmotz took hold of her shoulder and pulled her back. "Let's move, Lieutenant."

"3...2...1…" Jasper counted down to when they would both pick Hans up. The rear door was opened from the inside and they both pushed Hans inside to lay down on the seats. Jasper crawled in with him and Veselko climbed unto the outside once the door was shut.

Schmotz pulled on the Lieutenant getting her to head to their truck and get inside. Once everyone was loaded in, or on the vehicles, they took over, speeding down the street and around the corner to get away from the Germans.

Resting on a hill overlooking the highway that lead from Augsburg to the south was a squad of men. They had set up camp a day ago. There were a couple sitting around a fairly small fire roasting some form of carcass on a spit. They were laughing, chewing on a few small pieces that had been freshly sliced off the roast. Another man was crouched down nearby, shirtless. A steel cup of fresh water rested upon the grass in front of him. He had been busy brushing his teeth for the first time in a couple of days. They had been on a journey for the last week, driving across most of Germany to get to where they were now.

Two men were lying atop the hill. They were not at its peak, but a few meters down from it on the side that faced the main highway to and from Augsburg. Weapons rested in the grass next to them, but they were not intending on using their rifles. One had a pair of binoculars that he was staring through.

"I spy a convoy of victors coming out of Augsburg." He said as he watched the line of six JLTVs blaze out of the town.

"Sir!" His partner shouted. "Lieutenant Zolnerowich!"

"What is it, Corporal?" the Lieutenant stepped over the hill, crouching down.

"We got six victors moving south down the highway."

"Are they are targets?"

"Yes, sir. They're unmarked victors. I can see Vasilyev and Vaughan in two of them."

"Mykhailo!" the Lieutenant slipped out of sight. "Mykhailo! Orlov! Get the RPGs! Targets have arrived on scene!"

The two soldiers hurried to pick up their equipment and rushed over to the Lieutenant. A wave of his hand sent the two soldiers over the hill to join the scouts. Each knelt down, loading the RPG tubes and placed them upon their shoulders. The Lieutenant remained unseen on the other side of the hill, yelling at the other soldiers to get ready.

It had taken a moment to calculate where to aim, the vehicles were directly in front of the hill by time the buttons had been pressed upon the RPGs. Mykhailo's was first off, followed by Orlov's within seconds. The rockets whizzed through the air with a roar of air out the back of the tubes. One smacked into the ground only a meter from the third vehicle. It exploded into an inferno of fire and black smoke the compulsion from the detonation sending that third truck into the air so it would land on the other side of the road upon its side, threatening to roll into the ditch. The second rocket smacked into the engine of the first truck which caused a third inferno of flames and another explosion that consumed the whole of the truck. Whoever was inside would burn alive before they could realize what had happened.

"Shit, you missed!" the Corporal shouted.

"I swear, this thing is miscalibrated." Orlov snarled.

Mykhailo had already loaded a second rocket and Orlov busied himself with loading a new one as well. After a short moment to aim, Mykhailo fired once again.

"Don't fire yet." He said as he lowered the launcher down.

The third rocket rushed through the air, splicing it apart in its wake. Then it smacked just in front of the fifth vehicle in the line. The fourth vehicle's rear end lifted up and the driver lost control for a moment, but he accelerated and moved down the road, steering around the downed vehicle in the middle to keep up with the other vehicles in front. The fifth vehicle, however, lifted up at the front before coming back down with a bounce. The sixth vehicle smacked into its rear causing it to veer off the road and down into the ditch. With a quick recovery, the sixth, and final vehicle, moved down the road, also abandoning the three vehicles that had been hit.

"That's all we need. Good job, guys." the Corporal picked himself up to a knee.

"Wait until the victors have left support range. They won't be coming back." the Lieutenant said, crouching down near the top of the hill.

After a few moments, the JLTVs became nothing more than black dots in the horizon. That was when the entire squad moved down the hill. This was enough time for those still alive in the trucks to come back to reality.

257 was stuck in the passenger seat of the JLTV on the edge of the ditch. She was panting, nearly wheezing out of shock. She was bruised and battered, but she would live. When she turned her head to look up at Ludwig, the driver, she found him to be screaming his lungs out. He was stuck against the wheel, legs somehow stuck upon the pedals to keep the engine whirring to keep the wheels spinning. There were no seat belts in a military vehicle. They were a hazard. Ludwig had been lit aflame, his skin charred already. His screams were so loud it was making her ears ring. It was almost frightening. He was panicking, trying to pat the flames off his arms and face only to burn himself even more. HIs clothes were melting to his skin. It was a living nightmare.

Schmotz was in the rear seat groaning as he came to. He looked around for a moment, disoriented due to the vehicle laying upon its side. On top of him was the dog who was whining and trying to pick itself up. He watched as Ludwig forced the door open and attempted to clamber out only to get himself stuck.

The Lieutenant pulled her weapons from her chest and pulled herself up awkwardly into the center of the vehicle. She clambered onto the side of the seat as Schmotz moved to have himself adjusted with the dog in his lap.

"Smith, get up." The Lieutenant wheezed. She grabbed the handle of the rear door and pushed it open. Gripping the edges of the doorway then, she hauled herself up with one arm. She sat upon her knees on the side of the truck and reached down to grab Schmotz's hand just to help him up and out of the vehicle. She stopped him before he jumped down unto the asphalt.

"Help me get Sven." She said, grabbing his elbow. "I can't leave him."

With a growl, Schmotz leaned back into the vehicle with her to grab the dog's vest and hoist the wounded canine up. He dragged the dog down from the vehicle and helped the Lieutenant down as well. More screams were echoing out of the other vehicle stuck in the ditch. They could barely see it in the dip.

"What the fuck happened?" the Lieutenant gripped her left arm, still miraculously in its duct tape cast.

"Ambush." Schmotz pointed up to the hill. There were several vehicles rolling down with plenty of men on foot hurrying to the road.

"Their aim is shit."

"What do we do?" Schmotz asked. "Kill them?"

"Hide."

The dog growled and started to bark, but the Lieutenant hushed it and sent it down into the ditch. She looked up to Schmotz who reluctantly followed down, but it was already too late. The vehicles made their way unto the road and around, blocking them from following the dog. The men on foot rushed to hold them at gunpoint while a couple of others searched the truck in the ditch for survivors.

"On your knees!" Mykhailo ordered.

Neither budged.

"Get on your fucking knees!"

The Lieutenant looked around at them. Marking what they wore, what was painted on the vehicles, all of it was the Order. These were Hunters. There was no sense in fighting, but neither Schmotz nor the Lieutenant would kneel. Even when they dragged out Alexey and Winfried and forced them onto the ground.

"They will not fight a losing battle," Lieutenant Zolnerowich slipped down from one of the JLTVs. "Tie their hands and blindfold them."

"Fuckin' Red!" 257 spat. "Go back to the rock you crawled out from!"

Men approached them to zip tie their hands behind their backs. One used a knife to break the duct tape for 257's cast and assured she felt enough pain to keep her docile while he tied her hands behind her. Then their helmets were removed and black bags were thrown over their hands. They were lead into the back of a cargo truck guarded by two men.