IV. Revolutions

06:15 December 25, 2021

Odessa, Ukraine

The sun glimmered on the horizon as smoke billowed from the rooftops of the buildings. Cities and villages throughout Ukraine had been leveled and what remained were the ruined infrastructures of the buildings and debris, layering the ground, surrounding what still stood standing. Gunfire echoed in the backgrounds and awakened the soldiers sleeping in the rubble of a ruined church.

"How's that for an alarm clock?" A woman arose out of the shadows and kicked the men still sleeping until they could muster the strength to rise. "Come on you lazy bastards, the deals about to go down," a cigarette hung loosely in her mouth as she spoke, but her tone was cold and stern.

She made her way past her subordinates and exited the front door of the church. When she exited the building, she firmly gripped the handle of her SCAR-L rifle and swiveled in a semicircle to check if the streets were clear. Knowing that the men would take a few minutes to fully awaken and prep, her instincts told her to do a perimeter sweep while she waited.

The debris crunched under her military boots like gravel as she paced around the only structure that one could consider intact. The soot that smeared her face matched her sable hair; and the black tactical vest and combats she wore completed the trifecta. The kevlar was heavy for the morning, but necessary at all times; and the gauntlet that wrapped her right forearm weighed her down but provided endless tactical efficiency. She had grown accustomed to the inconveniences of war and the ongoing one between the Ukrainian Liberation Movement and the Allied Republic of Ukraine was about to end. Unfortunately there would be no victors, as she had recently learned of the meteorites that had impacted across the globe in thE past few hours. From what she could gather from local chatter and obscure news reports was that the world had gone dark while her outfit slept.

Once she reached the front of the church, she tossed the butt and instantly relit a new cigarette. As the cigarette ignited into a warming orange, she realized that her hand was shaking sporadically, most likely as a result of the cold. There wasn't anything that she feared now, with the world about to end why were they even going to do this deal?

"Hey, uh, cap'n?" a man clad in tattered combat gear made his way to her, his eyes fixed on the floor.

"What is it Michealson?" she wasn't sure if her men knew about the situation that had plunged the world into darkness, but she would bring them all to comfort if it was the last thing that she did for them. They had remained loyal to her for years, and her bond with them had grown stronger each time that they had evaded death.

"Well it's just that…. We were wondering w-what we'd do about this whole apocalypse thing…." Michaelson gained the courage to make eye contact and held his gaze firmly, but he couldn't hide his slight stutter.

So they knew, and were scared, all of them. These were the men that had stood by her in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia, and more importantly here. Now was different though, they had been at risk of death during those wars, but now death was guaranteed. Even worse, at the hands of something none of them understood. She questioned her decision, now more than ever, would she go forward with the deal or simply tell them to find their holes and be at peace? She stood still and turned her head towards the rising sun. How beautiful it was, shining through all the thick of the smoke and breaking the horizon to provide them with daylight. It was like the sunlight was in a waltz with the fog of war, neither one leading, just moving together.

"We're sticking with the plan, deal's still on. I know what you heard, I did too, but let's go and make this last one, then we'll figure out what to do," she gave him a grim look, almost like she doubted they would survive the coming days.

"Understood ma'am. We're with you 'till the end," His face returned to an unwavering mood and his serious attitude returned as he saluted her.

"Drop the salute Michaelson, you know we don't operate like that, and don't call me cap'n," she waved him down and turned to the road.

"I just figured that you deserved some kind of praise Sam, I mean after everything we've been through-"

"Don't wanna hear it. Get everyone together, we gotta get moving," she began walking towards the caravan of vehicles they had hidden in the destroyed bar that they used to frequent before the invasion.

"Yes cap'n!" Michaelson rushed back to the other men and told them to get moving.

Sam turned her head in disgust at his comment and pulled open the tarp in the back of the military truck to reveal the load of prisoners huddled against one another, bound together in shackles. None of the captives seemed to notice her, they all continued staring into blank space as if her presence was meaningless, all of them, except one.

A young tanned girl whose face was blemished by smoke and dust stared at her with wide eyes, curiously frightened of their coming destination. Her eyes were pleading to Sam for an answer and the innocent face couldn't hide the deep fear within. A shadow of a memory creeped into Sam and for a moment she felt the same fear that the little one was plagued with, but she quickly shoved her emotions aside. Chances were that once they made the deal with the ULM the girl would be placed into the growing sex trade like so many unfortunates before her. It was sad, but Sam's consciousness had been ridden of guilt for committing such crimes long before she became a mercenary, the world was unfair, and some had to suffer for the scale to remain balanced. Sam knew that lesson better than anyone.

Sam's company, fully prepped and ready for action, formed a circle around the vehicles and stood at attention. They stared at her, some with little emotion and others with a hinge of doubt about their position.

Sam garnered her voice together in preparation to motivate her men, one last time, "Look guys, I know how some of you feel about the world's end, but listen to me. If we're going to die today, then we're gonna make it one bloody day worth living for! So let's finish this and raise some hell!" Her voice echoed through the men and they returned her chagrin with their own cries of approval. After all, none of them wanted to die in a boring way.

She stared at each one of her men and gave a look of warning, her voice became sullen, "I am warning each of you, be prepared for anything. The people we're confronting today may have intelligence of the ongoing situation and may strike out at us. If there is a deviation from the plan, or if something feels downright suspicious, let your comrades know by giving us the signal. Watch the backs of every man next to you and he'll do the same for you. And if I decide that the deal's off, then we're breaking away, no holding back. Let'em know that if the world's gonna end, we're gonna be the last one's to go!" Another roar of energy filled the air, her men were prepared for war now and would take their dedication to the grave.

"Now move your bloody arses!" Sam motioned her hands towards the vehicles holding the prisoners, knowing that she had struck a chord in the hearts of her men.

The mercenaries clambered onto the three military trucks, setting themselves down next to the prisoners. Sam boarded the truck that the child was on and took the passenger seat. Once she sat down, she unconsciously turned her head towards the girl and their eyes met. The child's face lost all curiosity, replacing it with a look of helpless fear; she knew that these people weren't the good guys. Upon the realization, tears began to pour down her tarred face; as the stream formed, the tears gathered the dirt of her face, nearly turning black once they fell from her chin. Not a sound though, tears and shakes of fear were coursing through the girl, but she didn't make a single sound.

Sam almost decided to call the whole operation off and go AWOL, but she couldn't let her men down. Her heart ached at the site of the young one in such panic and confusion at the happenings that she was surrounded by.

The powerful growl of the engine reverberated the car into operation, snapping Sam out of her empathetic gaze and she turned her head around refocusing her attention to the task ahead of them. She opened her arm gauntlet with a click and a holographic projection of the region opened to envelope her view. Waving her hands around the hologram allowed her to manipulate the map, making it smaller to create a 3-D model, giving her awareness of the geography in the meeting place.

"This way, Mikael" Sam pointed to the trail of the road on the map and tilted it towards the driver. He nodded his head in approval and pressed the gas pedal to begin their mission.

Sam could feel an odd presence hovering behind her and when she nodded her head around she found that the little girl was staring in awe at the piece of technology in front of her. It seemed that dread had left her mind and the holograms distracted her enough to prevent panic. A slight smile broke out across Sam's face as she could tell the child's mood had been lifted. Questions began to arise in Sam's mind about the fate of the little girl. Maybe she should just call off the whole deal and take the POW's to a shelter to allow them their end as free people. Or Sam could sneak the little girl off the truck upon arrival. Every scenario she could dream up was unlikely and she quickly shook her head to escape her sympathetic feelings. No she had been in a similar situation at around the same age before, and she had never had any help from the people that had beaten and tortured her, so why should fortune favor this girl. A sigh relieved Sam of her emotional dilemma and she shut off the gauntlet returning her face forward.

The near non-existent roads made for a bumpy ride and when the convoy arrived at the small farm village, Sam could tell that the whole company was nearly ill. They parked the vehicles at the edge of a clearing in the center of the village and prepared for the meeting. The men unloaded themselves and formed a perimeter around the vehicles, as was their protocol. Sam leaped out of the seat and onto the charred and grassy ground without complication, while her men dragged the prisoners out of the vehicles. The POW's were shoved into a group and motioned to move towards a hut that would accommodate them as the business talks proceeded. Once they were all inside, Sam saw that the young one had found her way to the window and was staring in wonderment at the mercenary captain.

The sun was shining a glistening orange as it rose to greet the day. Sam glanced at the watch on her left wrist, it was 06:46, and the terrorists were a minute late. Many radicals considered the ULM to be a terrorist organization and Sam couldn't argue with the facts, they had started the war and never seemed to show any form of restraint regarding innocents. Heck, they were buying slaves. That didn't matter, as treacherous as it sounded, Sam and her company were loyal to the highest bidder.

"Mikael, Michaelson, Donovan, get into your positions, we might have some trouble headed our way," she waved them to the barn and nearby shacks.

The village was as abandoned as one would expect of a warzone, but something in her gut told Sam they were in for a fight. Sam began staring off in the direction she predicted the other party to arrive until the convoy of vehicles was in sight. There were five en route to their position, they'd have superior numbers, but Sam and her men would have the advantage of preparation and undoubtedly, skill. She did a check on all of her men, glancing at each of them and nodding, they returned the nods as a sign that they were unphased by the coming men, they've all dealt with these situations before. This was just another day at the office.

In her final check, Sam's eyes crossed paths with the shack and she noticed the little girl was still staring at her in admiration. Sam turned her head down in shame when she realized the look the child was giving her. All she could think was how she wanted her to stop looking at her like she was a "good guy." Did the girl really have no idea what was about to happen to her? Sam couldn't help it, the young one brought back painful memories of her past captivities, she had to be strong for her men and for her own dignity. She returned the child's gaze, but instead of giving a blank expression, she gave it back with a smile of comfort. The child's face lit up and she forgot about her situation, she smiled, revealing two missing teeth. How young she must be.

The military vehicles pulled into the middle of the clearing, two large passenger trucks and three Humvees. The Humvees parked on opposite ends of the clearing with the trucks between them and the middle Humvee, forming an arrowhead. A man exited the Humvee in front from the passenger side, he appeared to be the leader. He wore a red beret and was clad in a NewTec body vest, highest quality in the market. The man had a belt of grenades across his midsection and brandished a .44 magnum on the left side of his waist, nearly covered by his green camo combats. However the firearm was tilted halfway to the right, as if he were right handed. Sam could see he had a hidden P226 holstered in his boot, it wasn't very well concealed, a problem easily dealt with. From his appearance he was in his late 30's maybe 40's, judging by the wrinkles on his face, and his somewhat nonchalant gait and the way he carried himself indicated to Sam that he was experienced, but not necessarily skilled in combat. He was one of those veterans who, once given a high-ranking position became lazy and relied on his subordinates to perform the dirty work, making him a less threatening warrior, but a more cruel man. He made his way to the open space between their vehicles with two of his personal bodyguards at attention. One of them held a large armored suitcase that seemed generic, like the ones in all those action movies. At least it was present in the few Sam had ever seen in her life. She handed her rifle to Kruschev and walked towards the opposing leaders position, armed only with her Colt .45 1911 at her side. When she came to a halt the man pulled out a cigar and took his time setting it afire with an expensive metal lighter. It was an obvious show of power and how he felt in control of the coming events. Once the man had taken a few puffs of the fine tobacco, he opened his mouth to speak in a gruff and aged voice.

"Do you have package?" he put the cigar in his mouth, waiting for a straight answer.

"Do you have what I asked for?" Sam snapped back at him with a full range of attitude. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

The man waved at his subordinates who removed the truck covering to unveil loads of NewTec weaponry and gear that would keep Sam and her men alive and in much better shape.

"And the case?" She nodded her head towards the soldier.

"Ah yes, your payment for emptying Odessa," the soldier handed him the case and he opened it, revealing stacks of Hryvnia.

Sam glanced at the case for a moment and disappointment crossed her face, "That's three-hundred thousand less than our deal," she stared at the man, dead eyed.

The man nodded his head back and forth, mockingly, and smoked more of the cigar. "You see, situation has changed. The world has changed, men and I must, deal with larger picture."

"By undercutting us three-hundred thousand? I know what you're talking about, this whole burning world scenario, but what use will Hryvnia's be if the world's barren?" She could tell the man was set on his decision, and nothing would budge him.

"That is good question, but I return to you one. If I have no use for it, then what good does it do you. In fact, this should not be discussion, if you do not take what we offer, then you get nothing. Men and I have use for supplies, but you seem ok without," he slammed the case shut and began to turn around, but stopped when he saw Sam's face.

"Colonel, I could just as easily skewer your men and strangle you to death," Sam's face had morphed into a bloodthirsty grin and she was brimming with the sense of a killer.

"If such were case, my men would open fire and eliminate you and your soldiers. I am sure such unfortunate circumstances want to be avoided," he returned his attention towards her, but it was almost like he didn't believe she would do it, "Besides, what happen to phrase, honor among thieves?"

"The problem with that is the honor of thieves is only returned if honor is presented, you've shown none," Sam pointed an accusing finger at the Colonel's face, causing him to slightly flinch.

"Men and I have no time for this, your accusation is unfriendly and will be taken as act of hostility if you speak in such tone again!" The Colonel was yelling and the veins on his forehead were popping, he was angry and was about to make a big mistake. "If you no like deal, you can just as easily walk away and no harm done!"

"You know these deals never end like that," Sam calmed down, she looked at the shack where the prisoners were being held and once again her eyes connected with the young child's.

She was afraid again, not because more men had shown up with guns, but because she could see the tension of the events outside and what could result from a single movement. The danger was apparent to all of the prisoners, but the little one was the only one who showed it, the others had no will to live and didn't seem to care where fate would take them. But this girl, her bright, innocent eyes and her little smile were in the hands of Sam now. A wave of responsibility and empathy hit her and she decided to make the most rash decision in her career as a mercenary.

Sam returned her attention to the Colonel's eyes and they stared at each other for a few intense moments. The Colonel's eyes widened as he realized what was happening, and for a split second he looked at Sam's 1911.

With lightning speed and unnoticeable ease, Sam drew her firearm and everyone else moved in slow motion, because the next few seconds belonged to her. The arrogant Colonel had made five critical mistakes that would lead to his timely death. Number one, he had failed to send a competent reconnaissance team that could hide properly from her men. They now laid dead and their positions taken by Sam's mercenaries, who would release two shots towards the craniums of the men behind the Colonel. Second, upon their arrival, he had brought his entire unit of men into the center of the clearing, any competent officer would know that this was the kill box, maybe he trusted his recon team too much. Third, he had brought a hand cannon to a battle of speed. Sam's firearm was nearly up and aimed at the Colonel's forehead by the time he had just grasped the handle of his revolver. Fourth, he had placed a right-handed holster on his left, this wasn't an action movie and there was no chance he would be able to draw remotely as fast as Sam would. The fifth and most vital mistake, the Colonel had initiated a challenge of superiority. By acting powerful, smoking his cigar, being late, turning his back on the agreement, and threatening them, the Colonel had virtually signed his own death warrant. There was one creed that Sam had lived by ever since her escape from imprisonment. Nobody fucks with me.

Sam pulled the hairpin trigger, the barrel recoiled and a .45 caliber bullet found its resting place in the center of the Colonel's head. His bodyguards went down almost immediately after and two RPG projectiles collided with the Humvees on each side of the field. The vehicles ignited into violent explosions, surrounding the soldiers with a shockwave of heated energy. Sam's company opened fire on the militiamen, eliminating nearly half of them by the time they realized what was going on. The ULM soldiers returned fire, but Sam's men had already taken cover and couldn't be targeted. The snipers, Mikael, Michaelson, and Donovan continued firing on the men who couldn't pinpoint their positions, dropping them like it was open season.

After firing, Sam sprinted towards the Colonel's falling body, catching him and removing two grenades from his corpse. She dashed away from the body and ran headfirst into the firing line of the middle Humvee, whose gunner had just prepared cocking the .50 cal. Sam moved at breakneck speed like a lion who knew its prey's fate was sealed. She got within range and tossed one of the frags at the open hatch of the gunner, leaping to the side just as the twat had begun firing. None of his shots found their mark, but the grenade collided with the man's face and entered the interior of the Humvee. The gunner had one second of panic as he screamed and tried to escape the vehicle before it was enveloped in flames.

Sam rolled in front of the truck that had the NewTec gear in tow and fired two shots at the windshield; the glass shattered and the blood that stained it confirmed her kill. She turned towards the second truck, pulled the grenade pin, and rolled it under the vehicles chassis. The explosion decimated the ten men that surrounded it, and the nearby outliers were left trying to roll the flames off their bodies as they screeched in pain.

The gunfire settled, the only thing left audible were the screams of those slowly roasting on the grass. Eventually those died out and the bloodstained arena fell silent.

"Sound off!" Sam attentively glanced around as her men declared their presence.

The men exited their cover to reveal their position, while others began sweeping the field for any survivors.

"Kruschev, unload the gear from this truck and hand it out, we've just struck gold mates! Markov, let the prisoners out," Sam looked at the window where the girl still stood staring in awe at the deadly performance she had just witnessed.

As the POW's exited the shack, Sam made her way towards the child and brought herself to her knees. The kid's mouth was still open and her eyes remained fixed on the death artist in front of her.

"Chin up love," Sam gently pushed the girl's mouth up and closed it. "Speak any English?"

The girl made no movement to speak, but she stared at Sam and her gaze of admiration returned.

"Don't look so surprised dear, I've been doing this a long time. In fact it's been a bit too bloody long, maybe it's time for a change," She looked at the beautiful young lad in front of her and couldn't help but feel ecstatic that her fate hadn't been doomed as a spoil of war. The thought brought an uncontrollable smile to the brim of her mouth.

"How would you like to come with me?" She knew the girl couldn't recognize her speech, but Sam offered the kid a gentle hand as a sign of comfort.

The girl looked at Sam's hand, almost frightened to touch her, but the heartening glow and happiness of her face convinced the child that she was with a friend. She placed her hand into Sam's and was given a kiss on the forehead by the black clad mercenary. The burning flames of the battle chased the remaining shadows away as the sun broke day, finding its place in the sky.

"Clear out!"

The yell of one of her men broke Sam from her moment of peace and she turned around just in time for a bullet to enter her stomach. Her men opened fire on the single gunman who had exited the passenger seat of the remaining truck, and he fell to the ground in pieces. He must've been cowering in fear; the thought crossed her mind as Sam cursed in rue at her carelessness and she collapsed to the crimson grass. Michaelson and Kruschev rushed to her side, placing pressure on the wound and trying to keep her conscious.

"Bloody hell, how daft of me. Don't think that's ever happened before eh Michaelson?" She could feel her body going into shock, but refused to show any signs of weakness to the men or her new friend.

"Nope never happn'd like this before cap'n," he appeared calm, but Sam could still see the franticness in his eyes and movements.

"I trained you well, but don't give me any of that shaky shit soldier. If I'm gonna die it's gonna be with you at your best, understood?"

Sam tilted her head towards the young girl whose face was distraught with distress. She didn't make many movements, but sadness was flowing from her eyes and Sam could see it. Suddenly, the girl moved towards Sam and grasped her hand. The gesture was more than anything Sam could ever expect out of her life as a paid killer and it was the first time anything had made her happy in a long while. They shared a moment of amity that nothing would take from Sam, especially not a single bullet to the abdomen.

"If I don't make it-"

"You'll make it cap'n I swear," more of the men arrived and surrounded the scene, offering their assistance to their fallen leader.

"I'm saying if I don't Michaelson, promise me you'll look after this little lad right here," Michaelson glanced at the child holding her hand, she solemnly stared at Sam's failing body.

"I swear to you cap'n, I'll protect'er with my life."

"Thank you," as she said the words, tears fell from her face and blood spurted from her mouth.

Sam was prepared to return to ash has humans had first arisen; her eyes began closing and her vision fading. She was feeling a tinge of sleepiness, but a sudden ripple in the fabric of the earth shook her. Her eyes opened and she knew trouble was coming.

"Get out of here!" She struggled to speak and warn them, but it was all she could muster.

"Calm down cap'n! We're here!" None of them had felt the shake, and their vision was tunneled on their fading leader.

Without any sign of warning, an orange blast of light consumed the men surrounding her, disintegrating them into millions of particles. Sam could feel the people's presence vanished, and when she felt that the girl's touch had evaporated, she closed her eyes in preparation for death to take her.