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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, '11, 3:51 am
Anna´s next mission would be an important one, so, though being already a full-fledged officer, she would not be the leader this time, as she had become used to be in her last missions. Some anonymous calls revealed that there was a clandestine drug and explosives laboratory disguised as a paper factory in the outskirts of Zema. That shouldn't be a very dangerous job, but there were some risks. Besides, the higher officers would never trust a mission involving seizing large quantities of illegal drugs and explosives to rookies. They had already experienced many rookies and even some higher officers defecting to the criminal side. So they assigned the task to Captain Stevens, the friendly officer who had the sympathy from Anna. He chose Anna as the second officer plus Richard and Lizzie as the rest of the team, as part of their training. The mission was being dealt by military as usual. The central government on Palma had issued an order that any criminal group should be treated as terrorists, as they were betraying the public peace and order, so even the easiest missions started being dealt by the military.

The night before the mission, Anna started feeling an awkward feeling, as if something was oppressing her heart. She tried to dismiss the unpleasant feeling as caused by some ghosts of her past. She went to bed early, anxious. Lizzie joined her an hour later. Lying on the bed in front of Anna's, the girl noticed her friend was still awake, unable to get any sleep.

"Anna? Are you still awake?" Lizzie whispered with her childish voice.
"Oh, Lizzie? Yes... I am... I've been thinking about our next mission."
"Me too. You know, Anna, I can never relax before these missions. Sometimes I wonder if I'm already ready for becoming a full-fledged officer." Lizzie bit her lower lip. "You know, I have just three missions left as a cadet. Depending on my outcome, I'll finally graduate and become a second lieutenant. But I don't feel myself ready at all..."
"Well, Lizzie..." Anna was a bit embarrassed because she had joined the academy after her friend and had not only graduated, but also had been promoted to first lieutenant. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm ready..."
"Come on, Anna! You were always the first volunteer for every mission. No wonder you have already graduated."
"But, Lizzie..." Anna stared at her friend with a very serious countenance. "That doesn't mean I'm not afraid. This mission, for example, makes me feel uneasy."
"Why, Anna? Do you know something that I don't know?" Lizzie was worried.
"I don't know... I think it is just that I'm not feeling well today... don't worry, Lizzie."
"Alright..." Lizzie bit her lower lip again. She was unsure if it was the right time to come out with the personal subject she had in mind. "Anna..."
"You know... it will be the last cadet mission for Richard. He has been postponing it, but now it is time."
"Really?" Anna was not in the mood for having a personal conversation, but Lizzie was her best friend and, technically, her only real friend, so she tried to show interest.
"Yes. Once he graduates, he intends to return home."
"I see. Your parents live far from here, don't they?"
"Yes, they do. It will be awkward, to be here without him. I'm so used to his company... I think if it was not his presence here, I'd have quit the academy at the first difficulty."
Anna rolled her eyes. "Come on, Lizzie, you are not weak as that."
"I know, Anna... still, it will be hard... I don't know if I'll make it..." Lizzie was looking down, sad.
"Lizzie! Hey!" Anna clapped her hands to get the attention of the girl. "Don't be stupid! You'll have only two missions left after this one. Volunteer immediately for the easiest ones and then you can graduate. Your record is not so poor, is it?"
"No, I have already the mandatory expert mission, plus a bunch of intermediates."
"So this one tomorrow will make it enough missions for you to graduate. You can take the silliest ones just to fill your record."
"That is true..." The girl was smiling. "Thanks, Anna. I don't know what I'd do if it was not you."

Anna rolled her eyes again. She liked her friend very much, but her silliness sometimes irritated Anna, specially when Anna was not feeling well. Lizzie had already been in missions with Anna and performed very well. She had even saved Anna's life twice during missions and once more during training. Though it would always be dangerous, there was no reason for Lizzie to panic. Besides, she was the most good-hearted person Anna has ever met. She could not be really irritated with the girl. Lizzie was her only real friend. She had helped her so many times that Anna would always be thankful. If it wasn't for Lizzie, she would probably not be there.

"I..." Lizzie bit her lower lip, as she always did when feeling anxious. "I don't know... if I should tell you that..."
"Now that you have already started."
"It is serious... Anna..."
"So tell me." Anna was impatient. She wondered if it had something to do with the mad man who was Lizzie's abuser and lover.
"Well..." Lizzie sighed deeply. "It is just that my brother Richard confessed me that he is somewhat unwilling to return to Piata."
"Isn't it what you want? Why are you so upset by that, Lizzie?"
"I'm not upset... it is just that..." Lizzie cheeks were red. "It is just that... he will not stay for me."
"Oh, I shouldn't have opened my mouth. Forget about that, Anna." Lizzie looked down once more, avoiding Anna's stare.
"Alright, so don't say it. I don't know why I still lose my time with your foolishness, Lizzie..." Anna had lost her patience.
"Uh..." Lizzie took the blow of Anna's harsh words in a hard way. She was oversensitive. Her eyes became wet. "Sorry... Anna..."
"It is fine. Now let me try to get some sleep."

Anna closed her eyes. She could notice by her friend's voice that she was crying. Though she hated that her friend was always oversensitive, crying for no reason, she couldn't help feeling bad when that happened. Lizzie was so sweet; to see her crying broke Anna's heart.

"I don't... want to lie... to you, Anna..." Lizzie was fighting back the tears. "You know... Anna... how much I love you... you are my best friend..."
"Oh, Lizzie, don't cry..." Anna's tone was compassionate.
"I'll tell you... it anyway... I can't hide it... from you..."
"Alright, Lizzie, calm down." Anna got up and walked to Lizzie's bed, where she seated by her friend's side, holding her hands.
"Thanks, Anna..." Lizzie smiled at Anna, while wiping out the tears from her eyes. "I know I'm silly... sorry... I didn't want to make you angry... at me..."
"I am not angry with you, Lizzie. Now, just tell me."
"It is just that... my brother... doesn't want to leave Zema... because he wants... to stay closer to you..."
"Me?" Anna was surprised.
"He told me... he wanted to ask you out... one of these days..."
"Really? Richard told you that?" Anna was unusually excited.
"Yes... Anna... he did."
"I never thought you brother had these things on his mind..." Anna was so surprised that she was not paying attention to Lizzie anymore. Why didn't he tell her that before? He never thought Richard had any interest on her apart for being his younger sister's best friend.
"Oh, Anna, how could you never notice?" Lizzie was somewhat surprised at Anna's surprise. "Have you never seen the way he looks to you?"
"I've never noticed anything, Lizzie."
"Do you think my brother would not be interested in the blonde bombshell who happens to be his sister´s best friend? Oh, Anna, you are too pretty to go unnoticed.” Lizzie shyly laughed at her own comment.
“Are you sure? Well, you know, I´m not good at connecting with people...” Anna was feeling embarrassed. She had occasionally talked to Richard, specially during the days Lizzie was in the hospital, recovering from the shoulder injury, but she was not intimate with him. He seemed to be a nice guy, as his personality resembled a bit his sister´s, though he was more mature. Anna considered him handsome as well. He didn't resemble his ugly sister too much.
“Yes, I am. He confided me. Well, you know, the main purpose of having an ugly younger sister is to flirt with her pretty friends.” Lizzie chuckled playfully.
“Oh, Lizzie, you are a beautiful girl...” Anna didn't know what to say.
“Ah, Anna, I know I'm not a beautiful girl, but I don´t care. Am I a good friend?”
“Of course you are! The best of the friends!” Anna hugged Lizzie.
“That is enough for me.”

Anna stayed some moments, embracing Lizzie, thinking of what the girl had just told her. She knew that Lizzie was not really beautiful, as she had slightly buck teeth and freckles, which usually turned the guys off. Her body was not attractive as well, just plain. The only guy who seemed to be attracted by her was that mad officer. But she was the best of the friends and had a beautiful, pure and serene smile. That was enough for Anna. She knew Lizzie would be a much better wife than herself for any man. Anna had all her own demons to battle against. She was cold and hardly connected with people. She was so hard to connect with people that she utterly ignored almost all the other girls in the military academy, as she considered all them all stupid. Sometimes she got tired of Lizzie as well, but Lizzie was so good to her that she couldn't help loving the girl. As for her brother, well, she didn't know him very well. He seemed to be a nice guy and was even good-looking, but she was unsure. She needed to know him better. And she didn't consider herself a good girl to date, as she couldn't connect easily. She had traumas of her past. She had committed crimes. Definitely, she was not ready to date any guy.

Soon after, the girls went to bed again. Lizzie was much calmer and slept well. Anna, though, was not feeling well. She still felt that oppressive feeling in her heart. She prayed to her God, hoping it was just some silliness of her own mind. Despite almost being killed twice, Anna never felt that way before a mission, so she couldn't guess the origin of that bad feeling. She really hoped it would be only foolishness of her own mind.

The next day, things went smoothly. The girls didn't have anything to do in the morning, so they spent the morning concentrating for the mission. Anna was the loner kind. She preferred to not talk to anyone before the mission. She stayed at a corner, meditating. Lizzie was exactly the opposite. As much as she tried to leave Anna alone, being alone only made her feel more anxious. She wanted to talk a bit, but she respected her friend. Despite her anxiety, she usually performed well on missions. She never had killed anybody in action, though, and she hoped she would never kill anyone. Her refusal to shoot put her on unnecessary dangers, but she preferred that way. For Anna, killing was part of her job. She would not kill without a reason, but sometimes it was needed and she would not feel remorse.

After the lunch, the girls started getting ready. As second in command, Anna debriefed Lizzie again, giving her details of the mission. They would arrive at the paper factory by the evening, seize any guards that were left taking care of the clandestine drug factory, secure the positions and call for reinforcements, to take away the drugs and explosives found, if needed. According to the anonymous calls, the factory would be mostly empty around the sunset hours, as the guys would work mostly at late night. Some guys would stay there during the day, pretending they were working, just to dismiss the suspicions. It was not supposed to be a hard mission, though there was always risk of some gunfight, so they should be prepared.

Two hours before the sunset, Anna and Lizzie reunited with Captain Stevens and Richard. Anna felt awkward in being together with Richard. Though she tried to concentrate, she would pay more attention to him than she was comfortable with, just to try to catch any hints that he was really interested in her. Captain Stevens, always friendly towards the lower-rank officers, greeted them warmly and gave them the last instructions about the mission, trying to reassure them everything would be fine. After the instructions, they followed to the armory to get their weapons ready. Captain Stevens and Richard armed themselves with plasma rifles and swords. Lizzie armed herself with a plasma gun and a dagger. Anna loathed guns, so she armed herself with two deadly slashers and two daggers. She was much more comfortable with the slashers and no one ever doubted her skills, as she was considered the deadliest slasher fighter the military academy has ever seen. They picked up their weapons, their bulletproof vests and helmets and wore them.

The group then followed to the paper factory, at the outskirts of Zema. The paper factory was placed in a strategic block, with many other factories and few people passing by. Though their activities were illegal, it seemed to the few passersby as an authentic paper factory, not an illegal drug and explosives factory in disguise. People paid even less attention because papers were outdated technology; few people still used it. By the time the group arrived at the paper factory, the street was almost deserted. As planned, the group hid themselves by the walls of the nearby factories. Anna was ordered to sneak in and overpower any guard. It was her specialty. She walked, crouching, by the factory large iron gates. She climbed the gate in a spot that was not visible by the guard who stayed inside, watching for any suspect movement.

The guard was lazily resting in his observation post. He was carelessly looking for any strange movement, but nothing could be seen on the streets. He heard a noise behind him and before he could turn his head to look who or what caused the noise, he felt a sharp blade pressing his neck. He immediately released the gun he was holding and raised his arms. Anna instructed the man to slowly lower his left arm. As he did it, Anna handcuffed him, pushed his right arm down violently and handcuffed the free arm as well. The man was immobilized. She captured his rifle, opened the front gates using the control panel on the observation post and radioed to Captain Stevens, saying the entrance was cleared.

Captain Stevens invaded the factory, followed by Richard and Lizzie. Lizzie was a bit reluctant, but her brother gave him a reassuring smile. She had joined the military on her father insistence, following the steps of her brother. Though she didn't loath it, it obviously was not her first choice, as she wanted to be a doctor, but she resigned to her fate and she hoped she would be able to study medicine after graduating. If it was not her brother's support and her friendship with Anna, she'd certainly have quit a long time ago. But now she was getting used to the job. She hoped to graduate soon and be able to serve her planet, though she was still uncomfortable with the idea of having to shoot, and eventually kill people, even in dangerous situations.

The group entered the large court, which served as garage and platform for loading and unloading materials. It was deserted though. Carefully, they worked in a group, advancing slowly to the main factory shed. They advanced very slowly, checking whether there were some sign of guards hidden. Captain Stevens and Richard checked their flanks while Lizzie and Anna protected the rearguard.

As they reached the door, Captain Stevens opened the large and rusty iron door. The factory shed seemed to be deserted. It was dark inside, but not completely dark, as faint lights of the sunset breached in the large building through windows and glass panes on the ceiling. Captain Stevens and Richard stepped into the building, turning the flashlights mounted on their rifles on. They examined the large room, but all they could see were large boxes and some machines. The factory disguise was not an amateur job. Among the machines, there were paper manufacturing machines, giving credibility to their claims of a regular factory. For a moment, Richard wondered if they were not mistaken, but Captain Stevens ordered them to advance. The girls followed suit. Lizzie was somewhat anxious, but smiled to Anna, who was cool, completely comfortable with the dangerous situation.

The group advanced slowly, fearing an attack by hidden guards. They checked carefully every corner of the large factory, though their position was not safe in case a sniper was hidden behind one of the large wooden and steel crates or somewhere in the roof. There was a steel platform on the left side of the room, that could be accessed by a steel ladder. Captain Stevens, fearing that it would be a good spot for a sniper to be hidden, ordered Anna to climb the ladder and check behind the steel wall that separated part of the platform from the main room. While they covered her position, Anna climbed the ladder with great agility. She knew she was in a great danger. If there was a guard hidden on the platform, her head would be exposed to a fatal shot before she could climb the ladder and secure a position on the upper platform. Captain Stevens was sure that if there was such a threat, there was a good chance that Anna would end injured, but she was his only option. He and the cadets were much less agile than her, so if there was such a threat, they'd certainly be killed, while Anna stood a chance of avoiding being hit.

The moments of tension ended when Anna finally made it to the platform. There was no sniper in sight, but there were some hidden rooms behind the steel plates, so Anna motioned with her arms that she would check them. Captain Stevens gave his approval. He and the cadets reorganized themselves in a triangle position. They advanced carefully, but there were no signs of people inside the factory. Anna advanced through the platform and soon she was invisible behind the steel plates. The oppressive feeling in her heart returned full-force. She wondered what could it be, as she usually was very cool during the missions, but this time she felt a strange anxiety, almost a fear. She tried to dismiss the feeling, to not put the mission on risk. As she had just stepped into the protected corridor, the sudden lights being turned on startled her. The factory shed was completely illuminated. She retraced her steps and looked back to see what had happened.

Anna caught the glimpse of the situation and her heart started racing like mad. On the ground level, her companions were surrounded by a dozen or more heavily armed bandits. The bandits ordered them to drop their guns and lay down on the floor. The three captured officers acquiesced. Though Anna was hidden, she was less than ten yards from her companions, so he could see the scene perfectly from there. She also could hear the bandits talking, as they talked out loud and laughed of the captured officers.

“Oh, look at these fools! They fell on our trap!” A bandit laughed.
“Yeah, these officers are a bunch of idiots. That is why we must get rid of them.” The other bandit, who seemed to be the leader of the group, was serious.

Anna climbed down the platform in a stealthy way and hid herself behind a steel crate. She was very near from the group now. She studied the possibilities of an attack on the bandits, but they were too many and she would put her companions' lives in jeopardy. She was destined to watch the scenes unfold before her eyes, powerless to act. It was to her as if the time was passing in slow-motion, as she could recall every word, every movement of the people involved in it. The one that seemed to be the leader pointed to Captain Stevens.

"That must be the leading officer. Hey, you." He grabbed the arm of his companions who was holding a small rifle and pushed him towards Captain Stevens. "Finish him."
"No, please... spare us... we didn't mean to kill you..." Captain Stevens tried to reason with the bandits.
"Save your excuses for the devil!" The leader kicked him in the head. "Finish him now!"

The bandit who was ordered to finish the officer stepped closer to the captain, dislodged his helmet with the rifle's barrel and pulled the trigger, aiming at the captain's temple. The bullet opened a hole in the captain's skull, sending some fragments of his skull and brain flying in the air. Soon, a large pool of blood was formed around his head. He died instantly. Some of the bandits laughed at the scene.

Lizzie let out a scream of fear and shock. Anna was shocked too, but suppressed her scream. Anna was even more shocked than Lizzie. She wanted to do something, perform a last stand against the bandits, but she was paralyzed with fear. She sweated and shivered in terror. That could not be happening again. People that she loved being mercilessly murdered in front of her. And she was again unable to do anything. She couldn't believe that. She just couldn't believe.

One of the bandits stepped on Lizzie's head after she let out the scream. "Shut up, witch, you will be next next to die!" But then the leader of the band turned his attention to Richard. He ordered the guy that had executed Captain Stevens to proceed the same way with Richard. The man didn't hesitate. He dislodged Richard's helmet, aimed at his temple and pulled the trigger. Richard didn't react. He was very frightened and he knew he would die, but he somehow had some hopes that the bandits would not murder his sister if he did not react. His skull burst with the impact of the bullet, sending fragments of his skull and brains to the air. His face was frozen in an horror-stricken countenance. He had died too.

Lizzie let out another scream in terror and started crying. Anna could see from her hiding place that the girl was trembling in fear. Anna was also trembling in fear, more shocked than before. She couldn't believe Richard, who was smiling at her five minutes before, was a dead man now. She wanted to do something, but she was in shock. Tears started falling from her eyes. She was completely useless, powerless to stop the brutal murders. She had failed as an officer. She had failed as Lizzie's friend.

The bandits were laughing again. Anna could not believe how people could laugh after killing the others. She had killed people before, but she never had rejoiced their deaths. Though she seemed to be a cold-blooded woman, with no remorse, only she knew how much remorse she felt for killing people. The leader of the group bid the man that had executed the two men to continue his task, but the man hesitated.

"What will we do with the girl?
"Kill her. She is a damned cop as the other guys are." The leader answered.

Some men of the group were uneasy. They were bandits, even murderers, but many were not comfortable with the idea of executing a woman, regardless of her having the same position as the men they had just murdered. Some still had a misogynist view that they should abuse the woman, not really caring if she was attractive or not, as they saw it as a better punishment and they considered women as possessions of men. But the leader of the group had already made up his mind. He took a hand cannon from one of his companions by force and started kicking Lizzie´s head to remove the helmet from her head. Not that it would be necessary, since the force of the hand cannon shot would kill the woman no matter what helmet she used.

“Damn! She is a cop like the others. I´ll show you guys how it is to be made, your bunch of cowards!”

The man kept kicking Lizzie's head, who moaned in pain. She was somewhat in shock, trembling and crying. Anna was in shock too. She couldn't take her eyes off her friend. She was paralyzed in fear. She wanted to do something, to throw her slashers at the scoundrel who was harming Lizzie, take a last stand, even knowing she and her friend would die anyway. It would be better than see her friend mercilessly killed in front of her. But she couldn't, she was paralyzed with fear. Something that had never happened to her before. She realized that she was not a mighty machine of solving military missions. She was just a woman.

The leader of the group finally kicked the helmet out of Lizzie's head. He aimed at her temple and started the procedure to shoot, which took some seconds for the gun he was using. There was an ecstatic silence in the room. Lizzie was in shock. She knew she would die. She was trembling, crying. And, though not particularly religious, she was silently praying for Anna's safety. All she wished for was that Anna was not discovered by the group of bandits and managed to get out of that place in safety, as she was hopeless for herself. Fool as Lizzie was, she was not fool enough to believe a miracle would save her.

Anna was watching the scene and her shock made her hallucinate a bit. In her mind, she could see Lizzie staring at her begging for help. She wanted to help, but she couldn't. That couldn't be happening. That just couldn't be happening. Not to Lizzie. Not to the most good-hearted girl she had ever met. Not to the one that had saved her live before. Though Lizzie was much more emotional than her and was not so efficient during the missions, she had saved Anna's life not only once, at the expense of serious injures. And Anna was unable to do anything to save her life. She was in shock, paralyzed, in terror, doomed to watch her best friend be mercilessly murdered in front of her eyes.

The bandit finally managed to shoot the hand cannon. The force of the shot was so strong that the recoil or the cannon made him fall back. The massive bullet smashed Lizzie's skull, sending skull fragments, brains, blood and chunks of her auburn hair flying. Her sweet hazelnut eyes fell from their sockets, her teeth were sent flying away. Her front buck teeth were sent flying in Anna's direction, hitting the steel container she was hiding behind. Anna's heart almost stopped with the shock. She just could not believe her eyes. The deafening sound of the cannon, the head literally exploding, its parts being scattered all over the room, the terrifying aspect of Lizzie's face after the shot, everything would be imprinted in Anna's mind forever. These images would be a recurring nightmare. That shouldn't have happened. Not with Lizzie. Of all the people in the world, the girl was the one who deserved it less. Anna couldn't stop crying. Once again, all her loved ones were killed and she was unable to help them.

After some seconds of silence still, the bandits started laughing and clapping their hands, as if the result of the last shot had produced a work of art. The bandit leader was stunned for some seconds, but then joined his companions in mocking the girl´s death. The laughter made Anna angry, very angry. She just couldn't believe how they could be so heartless. She had killed before, but it was in desperate situations. She suffered so much for having to murder people. How could they laugh? How could they laugh at the death of her dear friend? How could they laugh at the death of such a good-hearted and innocent girl? That was too much for Anna. If she was not in shock, she would fight them fiercely and kill all that were laughing of her friend's death. But that would not bring Captain Stevens, Richard or Lizzie back. She would never see Lizzie again. Never see her sweet smile again. Never hear her childish voice again. Never hear her laughter again. Never feel her love again.

The bandits left the place, leaving it deserted. From what Anna could catch from their conversation, they were leaving the factory for good. The anonymous calls were only a trap to kill some cops, as they intended to deactivate the false paper factory and take their drug and explosives business somewhere else. After almost an hour, crying silently, in shock, Anna managed to get out of the container. She stood up, crying, looking at the scene. Then, she called the reinforcements with the bad news.

“Please... help us... bandits killed them... killed them... help...” Anna' s voice was so charged with emotion that the officers didn't really understand the situation, but even so they sent the reinforcements. Fearing facing strong opposition, high grade officers were sent to the abandoned building, but they didn't not find anyone. In fact, they did find the guard Anna had captured still handcuffed. Either the large group of bandits didn't notice him or they didn't care. Arriving at the scene, the officers realized that there was no danger, the building was abandoned. Inside the factory shed, they found the corpses of Captain Stevens and Richard. They also found the horrific result of Lizzie's murder, with blood, flesh and bone fragments scattered for several yards on the floor. Besides, they found Anna, lying on the floor, with her head on Lizzie's chest, sobbing bitterly. She had to be dragged from the place, still in shock, not being able to mutter anything else than her beloved friend's name.
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