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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Look By Chris Brecheen (Part 5)

The Look  
By Chris Brecheen

Continued from Part 4

Part 1

“I don’t remember,” I lied.  

A few days later, we got into an iffy situation a little south of Vienna.  We were supposed to interview this religious leader of a small town.  Erik was bent out of shape about security because there were twice as many people at the rendezvous as we agreed to over interlink.  The religious leader and his group kept showing me this room of kids on rusting cots suffering from typhoid.  The whole group kept looking at me like I was a riddle to be solved.

Seeing the kids kind of messed me up though.  I felt on fire.  I had to show the world what this stupidity was leading to.  I had to get this story.  I had to make sure they had water.

Intel also knew there was an insurgency somewhere close—local platoons kept getting hit with IEDs and random opportunity fire, and a number of tanker trucks had been seized.  Officially, the rebels weren’t supposed to have footholds that far north, so brass was downplaying the security risk, but after a while, you learn to tell the stink when you’re standing in a pile of propaganda.  Erik wanted to call the whole thing off, but I pressed him.  If I let the liaisons call the shots, they would take me on an idyllic tour of the U.N. triumphs.  Sometimes you had to take a chance to get the story.

The story.  Not a story.  Not their story.  I thought about that for a moment. 

“I’m going to try to show the people what’s happening here,” I said.  “The world needs to know.”  
I felt Erik’s steel blue eyes on the back of my neck.  I pulled out my hand-comp and programmed it to record straight to an interlink file I could transcribe later.

“We want to make sure you tell about how non-combatants keep getting killed,” the religious leader said.  “We have a list of atrocities.  You will show list, yes?”

“I understand,” I said, holding up the hand-comp.  “I intend to.  I just ask the questions."

I heard Erik snort derisively—just loudly enough that I could hear it.   

Fuck him.

“The children?  You will show them?”

My stomach roiled with the need to help those kids.  They hadn't done anything to deserve any of this.  “Yes.  I'll do anything I can to help them.”

“We were told you would help us if we showed you children,” he said.

I noticed Erik straighten slightly at that his eyes began shifting around the room to the extra men.  I felt a tingling in the back of my head, but I only nodded. 

One of them said something to the other in Czech.  The leader nodded and turned to me.  “And you will tell about how we are just wanting water.  We do not like insurgency.  We are for U.N. but water situation is much terrible.  Delay in shipment makes it much hard for us to keep some in village from listening to rebels.  You will be...how is the word....sympathetic?”

“We should go,” Erik said.  “Lots of interviews to do.”

I paused.  The air clotted in my lungs.  My tongue felt like a bag of sand slung to one side of my mouth.  I swallowed but it was only an action--there wasn’t anything to swallow.  Looking back, I did a thousand things wrong.  I should have realized why they were showing me kids.  I should have keyed in that they only would have been speaking Czech because every U.N. soldier deployed over there knew at least a little Hungarian.  I should have realized what Erik was doing why he was talking about other interviews when we had only the one scheduled for the day.  I should have paid more attention.  Instead, I felt like I had something to prove--to show him he was wrong.  

“Well, I need to talk to lots of people,” I said. “That's true.  The whole truth means different voices.”

“We really should go, Qasim,” Erik repeated with a much colder tone.  “I'm due back at H.Q. to check in today.  Winters gets pissed if I'm late.  She'll send a damn brigade to find me if we're even late.”

“I don’t want to tell this story with bias,” I said, ignoring him.  “Of course I’m going to show these kids, but I'm not here to take sides."  I paused.  Swallowed.  Took a breath.  “Even for these kids.   If there are other victims, I'll show them too, and if turns out you missed a water shipment because a rebel IED took out your scheduled tanker truck, I’m not going to leave that part out.  We know you've had past sympathies to the northern rebels and--”

The leader recoiled like I’d smacked him.  The voice spoke again in Czech over the last of what I was saying—a clipped, short sentence.

I guess Erik understood Czech because the sentence wasn’t even done before he sprang into motion.  

His arm reached around my shoulder and chest like a steel beam and he yanked me back so hard that the recorder flew from my hands over my shoulder and shattered behind me.  Walls, floors, and ceilings all shifted locations in my vision as I toppled, but I still could see everyone in the room start pulling guns.  A couple were sonic drivers, but most were old sluggers that the insurgents favored.  Erik jumped forward as he pushed me back and he dove into the middle of them.

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in that room.  I don’t really know myself.  I was on the floor and what I did see happened so fast that it was a little bit of a blur.   He must have had adrenals and maybe even implants because what he did was incredible.   It was like an action movie.  He started the fight with only a buck knife he’d managed to conceal, and without a moment’s hesitation he took on eight guys with guns.  He kicked a chair into someone’s face from five meters away and threw his knife through a another’s eye socket before they even started shooting.  He spun and dodged, he got them to shoot each other, killed guys with bare-handed neck twists, and got guns away from some of them to use on the others.  

What I do remember clearly is that when someone started shooting at me, Erik exposed himself to get between us.  That’s when he took the first bullet.  After that, the mistakes dominoed. He got shot again and again.  Implants and adrenals can keep you going for a few seconds despite wounds, and they can erase any sense of pain, but nothing can keep muscle and tissue shredded by a bullet from losing reflex speed.  I honestly believe he could have methodically taken out that whole room without getting a scratch if it weren’t for me, but diving to cover me, he took the first hit, and then another....and then another.  The elegance with which he dispatched the first men degenerated.  By the end he was plodding forward toward his final opponent, and a determined, steady, repeating discharge of a sonic pistol rang out as he fired again and again into the man’s head.

When it was over—and the whole thing only took a few seconds—all the stims and implants in the world couldn’t keep him alive.  Erik looked around the room one last time, looked toward me to see that I was okay, and then he just sort of nodded and toppled backward.  I heard one long, gurgling breath that didn’t end but just sort of kept sucking and bubbling and sucking and bubbling weaker and weaker and weaker until it faded into silence.  And that was it.  

Erik Hoffman was dead.

Ever since that day, I can’t do this job.  Nothing makes sense to me.  Everything I expected died with Erik Hoffman, and here’s why: when he was fighting, dying, and even etched into his face after he died--lying there in a pool of his congealing blood--I could see it right on his face: The Look.

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  1. Can I swear?

    If not: that was fracking awesome. Holy shizzle I wish I could write even half as fiddling good as you just managed to defecate out as a first draft to be polished.

    You, sir, make me green eyed with jealousy.

    I hate you and love you in equal measure. And I have only typographical errors to report like a missed speech mark here or full stop there.

    Damn you! *shakes fist*

    It's very good.

    1. Oh please do swear. Some of my menus even have swear words in them. It's like a swearing mandatory zone.

      As warm and fuzzy as your comment made me feel, I should make sure I'm honest that this isn't a first draft by a long shot. It's more like a fifth. I just know copyediting is my weakness, and I had a lot of issues formatting this as a five part thing from a word processing document. So there are going to be mistakes.

      I figure why not take full advantage of the medium though, if I'm going to use it.

  2. I enjoyed the story. Is this something that you want editing feedback on?