by Martin Grise
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The first time that Augusto did this mission was even more confusing for him than falling in love. The informant had put the key in the lock, and the team followed him into a room lit by a single dim overhead light; it was another empty concrete room with another door on the opposite wall and a band of black paint around the walls at chest-level.
They crossed the room halfway. The informant suddenly dropped to the floor, and the room roared. Small holes had been cut in the walls, difficult to see against the black paint in the dim room. The shooters aimed low at first, to avoid the body armor. Augusto’s legs collapsed, and in the moment he raised his MP5, a bullet smacked him in the upper lip — the first time he’d seen a muzzle flash from quite that angle.
He slowly opened his eyes in an overstuffed sofa in a quiet room in the barracks. His kit was neatly stacked on the floor in front of him. He could hear men speaking in the hallway outside. It is a bad omen, he thought, to have a dream like that just before leaving. It was understandable, though.
Augusto joined the team on the loading dock and quickly noticed that everything was playing out exactly as in his dream: the same words from the major, the same shifting and feet-tapping of his men. He had heard of people experiencing déjà vu; psychologists explained that, sometimes, the brain processes information so quickly that it mistakes what is happening in the present for memory, creating the illusion that one has seen all of this before.
All through the mission, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen this before. He didn’t dare express the thought to anyone; he might be relieved of his command and someone else sent to rescue Marcela, an unthinkable proposition.
When he entered the stronghold behind the informant, his heart was pounding in his chest. He was certain he was about to be killed, but didn’t know what else to do but proceed with the plan.
They crossed the room halfway, the informant suddenly dropped to the floor, and the room roared.
* * *
When he awoke on the sofa in the barracks, his heart was racing, and he suddenly wanted to vomit. Luckily, he had long since learned not to eat before missions. He did not dare rise from his seat. No one can dream things that way, he thought. This can’t even happen if you’re psychotic. It must be real. What the hell am I gonna do with this? For the first time in his life, at age forty-six, he wanted to break down in tears.
What’s all this madness in my life lately? First his safe, insulating sociopathy failed him. Now, even the Arrow of Time couldn’t fly straight.
Wait a minute.
Falling in love with Marcela was almost as impossible as surviving death. How many miracles could a man experience? Maybe they were both the same miracle. His mind raced through murky theories of reincarnation, interconnected universes, and divine intervention.
Maybe it was his love for Marcela that kept him from passing on, despite the infallibility of death.
No, that’s stupid, he thought. How many millions of men have died in battle despite their intense love of wife and family? They were beyond count. He had known a couple himself.
But there’s never been a love like yours for Marcela, a love that cures a personality disorder. Well, how do you know that? How do you know that nothing like this has ever happened? They’d lock away a man who’d make the claim; you’d never have heard about it. And he couldn’t avoid the intuitive leap that Marcela and his incidental immortality were related.
* * *
There was a knock at the door, and Augusto jumped out of the sofa.
Okay, calm down, he thought. What’s my objective? There could be only one. He opened the door.
“Forming up on the loading dock, sir,” said Caio.
“Be right there.”
He gathered his gear. Be practical, he thought. Officers are eminently practical people. The only practical thing to do is go and do the mission again, if it really was again. If you tell anyone what happened, you’re off the mission. It doesn’t matter if this is a dream or a psychotic break; it’s all you’ve got to work with.
He went back and started again, saying nothing of his experience. Everything went exactly as it had before, every word, every gesture. He thought it over during the van ride. It was logical to assume that he would be killed again if he followed the informant into the ambush. He’d have to kill the informant before that happened, an idea that gave him considerable satisfaction. This death and rebirth scenario did give him ample opportunity for revenge.
He suddenly wondered if everyone else on the mission was experiencing the same rebirth as his. He scanned the men’s faces, but they seemed no more nervous than the previous two times. But, after shooting the informant — then what? The plan hinged on the informant’s taking them to the hostages. Could he find them without the informant?
The informant had told them the women were in the basement but, given his betrayal, was that really true? If I’d been leading the terrorists, Augusto thought, I’d have moved the hostages to another location before luring the police into the building.
If Augusto and his men avoided the ambush, would the terrorists kill the hostages? No, that wouldn’t make any sense. Why lose the assets? Marcela must still be in the building, or else he wouldn’t reincarnate to return; that seemed as sensible as anything else at the moment. He tried to think of something to tell his team to explain killing the informant. Nothing came to him. I’ll have to brass it out, he thought. I can do that.
This time, after killing the informant, he led the team through the building to find the basement and the hostages. He and his team were killed again, despite the captain’s tactical skills. Avoiding the ambush had put the enemy on the alert, although they didn’t know exactly where the captain had led the team.
* * *
Augusto awoke on the sofa and began again. On the fourth attempt, the entire team was killed when the enemy hit them from the front and rear simultaneously. He woke up back at the barracks. On the van ride back to the building, he concocted a plan to cover the rear flank by laying down tear gas in a stairwell while setting up an ambush to eliminate the group to the front. That worked, but then he sprang a boobytrap under a loose floorboard that charred the entire team.
Because the explosion killed him instantly, he had to do it twice before he figured out the cause. He avoided that hallway and tried another route, looking for a way downstairs. He thought of calling in FLECHA to clear the building. No, that might trigger the killing of the hostages. We can clear the entire building ourselves, if I can learn where everyone is.
The terrorists had turned the building into a sort of carnival haunted house but, instead of mirrors, it contained a confounding maze of industrial equipment and ductwork, metal catwalks, tight corridors, and tangled cables, and when the goblins jumped out, it was literally heart-stopping.
Being shot was always disturbing. The sensation of the slugs pulping flesh and smacking bone, followed by a burst of pain. But dying itself was only a relief. Anyway, Augusto knew what would happen. He would wake up and start again. His afterlife was clear. He was, in an odd way, immortal, but not by his own choosing; he would prefer Marcela to this sort of eternity.
He memorized the paths he used and tried to avoid or defeat the last thing that had killed him. He developed shorter routes or found ones with less resistance. He knew the inside of the building better than the inside of the barracks. He finally found the metal doors leading to the basement, and was killed by the two men who opened the opposite door.
That, he figured, was death number twenty-six. They owe me a pile of medals at this point, he thought on the next van ride. That and a fat pension. And what happened with the informant? Did he get an even better offer from CV? Guess I’ll find out when I finally finish this. And finish it I will.
* * *
When he pushed open the metal doors, he saw a hole in the concrete floor, roughly-hewn, with a ladder going down. Clever bastards, he thought. They’ve bricked up the stairway, with only this access to the basement, to make it harder to find. The ladder descended into complete darkness.
Augusto patched the Bluetooth-enabled infrared scope on his gun to his goggles, lay down on the floor, and lowered the gun into the hole like an inverted periscope. There were two men standing in a dark hallway, and the disfiguring bulk on their heads told the captain they were wearing night-vision goggles. They raised their rifles and he squeezed the trigger — not the easiest shooting, as his targets appeared upside-down in this goggles. The few rounds they triggered missed his gun.
He dropped down to the basement floor and the team followed him. There was another pair of heavy metal doors that the riflemen had apparently been guarding. His heart was racing now.
“Security,” he whispered, drawing a circle in the air.
His men fanned out a short distance to prevent anyone from interfering.
Augusto took a fiber-optic cable from his many pockets and slid one end under the door. The room was lightless, but in the scope he could see blindfolded figures huddled on the floor together, hands behind their backs. One of them, as best he could tell from the grainy image, was Marcela.
He panned the scope around. No one else in the room. No electric contacts on the inside of the door to indicate a boobytrap. He pulled out the scope and tried the handle. It was locked.
He turned to the two bodies on the floor to find the key, and one of them was pointing a pistol at his face. He saw the flash, but never heard the report.
* * *
He came to in the sofa at the barracks. Even before Caio knocked on the door, Augusto had jumped up, grabbed his gear, and was heading for the loading dock. All I have to do is make sure that last son of a bitch is dead, he thought, and I’m done. This is the last time I have to live again. About goddamn time, too. Worry about killing the informant? Screw it. They won’t touch a hero, especially a mad one.
Copyright © 2017 by Martin Grise