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My Dearest Mark

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Bandit had already discarded his backpack, only left the necessary weapons and gears with him. Dashing for a long distance, he even tasted out a little flavour of blood from his throat. He still felt he was not fast enough.

 

However, this “not fast enough” could be controversial – he was not far from the explosion, he could even feel the hot smoke filled with the smell of gunpowder hitting his face. If he rushed in earlier for just a few seconds, he could become a charred corpse right now. Maybe Bandit was lucky in this way.

 

But the burning debris blocked him at the outside of the abandoned factory. Mute, the one he was rushing to save, got surrounded inside.

 

Mute could only speak in soft whispering in their last communication. He was undoubtedly trapped in here with enemies everywhere around. He told Bandit his situation and plan, and it was the reason Bandit hurried for this kilometre.

 

Even though he was running at the highest speed possible, he was not sure he would make it. The sound of gun firing could be heard on the way, and it didn’t seem optimistic considering Mute had to deal with dozens of hostiles.

 

Bandit thought he was late anyway. Mute might be still confronting the terrorists deep in the facility, or he might already be dead by the explosion. How many hostiles and explosives left, and the possibility of the second boom, everything else was unknown.

 

Bandit didn’t make a second thought and went to the side of the facility for another entrance. He was a man with no fear who didn’t mind going through the fire – he made far more dangerous moves than this during his undercover time anyway – but he just hoped whatever he did this time was worth the effort. He wouldn’t want Mute to die. He had an amusing discussion before they separated, and it would be a painful moment of his life if he was dead now.

 


 

“Hey, Mute. I’m just curious, how can you bear such a guy like Smoke?” Bandit asked in his boredom when sabotaging the transformer. Everyone knew Bandit liked to chat to kill time, and Mute was precisely the opposite -- no one had seen him launch a casual talk without someone else starting it in advance.

 

Mute was rechecking his gear before separating from Bandit, but the sudden question diverted his attention. He asked back after brief thinking, “do you dislike him?”

And Bandit was confused by the response. The young guy appeared to ignore the gossiping hint inside Bandit’s question, but treated it seriously as a complaint – “I don’t like Smoke, don’t you feel the same? How can you bear such the guy?”

 

It was why Bandit always felt those with high-intelligence somewhat troubled him. They assumed every word from your mouth was useful by default, which contained a specific message or reason, and they would analyse a possible significance even if there was nothing. Did they always have a habit of overthinking? No matter what, it was disappointing. Jesus, couldn’t we just chat about some useless shit sometimes?

 

“Oh! I don’t hate him, of course. Thanks to that guy, I’m very patient with noisy people.” He checked the time and suppose the assault team that guy led would be on site in less than twenty minutes. “I’m just curious about how do you get along. Well, Ma…Jäger and I just live upstairs. We can hear whatever noise you make.”

 

He almost leaked out the real name of his teammate in the comm channel; luckily, he realised it on time. During the mission, they should always call everybody with their call sign even if they were out of combat zone.

 

“I heard him knocking the wall between your rooms frequently, and why didn’t you even complain about it? If it were Jäger doing this to me, he wouldn’t be able to walk on the next day.”

 

Mute suddenly stopped the movement in his hands and gazed Bandit back. Bandit could even see the amber-coloured eyes vaguely underneath the mask.

 

He could have a clearer view if the lights were not too dim, but it was already enough. Could there have anything more satisfying than looking at the young guy’s complex eye expression?

 

“A half of the knocking is on me. I’m sorry if it has annoyed you.”

 

Oh. Bandit swore to the transformer, he never intended to ask for something like this. Nobody knew such a gossiping question could exchange such amusing information.

 

“How old are you both?”

“Smoke is 38 this year…”

“No, I mean, why two grown-up guys like you knock the wall all the time?”

Mute lifted his backpack and carried it with his shoulders, “we only do it when we have to. We have a cypher chart that can communicate with different knocking sounds.”

Bandit felt his jaw almost like dropped to the ground.

Federal police with undercover history, and almost reached his middle age had seen or experienced everything either harsh or strange, but two people live next door talking to each other like this? It was out of his wildest imagination.

 

“Why you can’t just call him into your room? Or go to his room? Do your rooms have no door?” Bandit thought the Englishmen must be crazy or idiots.

“Smoke is too talkative, and the points in his saying are too hard to grasp. Therefore, I made the cypher works like a filter. You should know such thing.

 

He surely knew it. A low-pass filter is a filter that passes signals with a frequency lower than a selected rate and attenuates signals with rates higher than the wavelength. Therefore, the wall worked alike in “passes the useful points, blocks nonsenses”. Bandit knew the theory, but he didn’t understand the reason behind it. God, why he could even get a tricky question in people’s communication like this.

 

“Smoke doesn’t know what you think, do you?”

“I haven’t said it yet.”

“You shouldn’t say.” Bandit thought the narcissistic guy would be sad if he knew it, but he changed his idea in a second, “oh no, I think you better tell him sometime. There shouldn’t have any secret between teammates, right?”

Of course, Bandit gave the advice up to no good. He couldn’t wait to see how hilarious James Porter’s face would become after he knew the harsh reason behind the supposed-to-be-fun cypher thing.

Mute just nodded his head and prepared to leave without any word, as if unknowing it harboured a malicious intention. Or he didn’t think it was a bad idea at all.

“Wait,” Bandit stopped him, “one more thing. Can I have the cypher chart? Therefore, I can use it with Jäger.” He didn’t say the word “tease”, and it was one of the reasons he wanted to do with it. He thought Mute would agree – referring to Jäger, the young genius was generous with his knowledge. He could guide others with anything if it were not confidential – or the person was terrible in manner, of course.

 

But Mute refused him directly, “we can’t use the same cypher. Do a new one by yourself. You only need to make codes, and the algorithm is easy. I can help you with it.”

 

Bandit didn’t care about the explanation, because he didn’t really need the cypher. After all, he could come up with a million ways to make fun of Jäger. He countered the first sentence instead, “why we can’t use the same cypher?”

 

So sharp. Bandit felt like himself was like a visa officer, who always presumed the migrant was illegal at the start even if he wasn’t.

“Because he just likes to talk nonsense to me, like romance, sex and after-retirement plans. You wouldn’t like to hear them.”

……And the guy just revealed the reason by himself.

Bandit thought, who wouldn’t? Training and mission day by day were so dreary, who wouldn’t welcome some entertainments except such the nerds growing in the lab like you? And the topics of that English chatterbox, wasn’t he courting Mute? Or harassing him? Or a mix of both? What a crazy man, and an innocent child who hadn’t recognised the fact.

 

“You just talk on such the topics with him?”

“Not opposed.”

 

He was even “not opposed”?

 

“And you just reveal this to me?”

“There’s nothing unsuitable to say,” Mute answered.

Bandit felt like getting into a maze. He believed that he had caught Mute’s biggest skeleton in the closet, but Mute didn’t think it was embarrassing at all. Maybe it was like “wise people are never afraid of being fully seen”? *1

“Okay. One last simple question,” Bandit thought, he just couldn’t make fun of the little guy today, so he went direct, “why don’t you just marry him?”

The two freaks seemed to suit each other so much. Then why didn’t just let them get together?

And there came Mute’s another question, “can we marry a teammate?”

Oh. Bandit found out he had never seriously considered the question, either. Could Rainbow operatives like them marry each other?

 

Appeared like they could, at least in theory. There was not a single word from Rainbow’s rule that forbade them to marry a fellow teammate, although there was no precedent. But on second thought, they might be unable to do so. Bandit heard some organisations would separate couples to different groups because the intimate relationship could involve personal affection into high-stakes missions. People said it would become a drawback.

 

“I don’t know. You may know it once you get married. Let’s bet will Six order you to divorce afterwards! Oh, I forget it again. He wants us to call him ‘Harry’. He seems like a nice guy, anyway; you can try to persuade him.”

 

Bandit realised two guys talking marriage sounded so ridiculous, as much as those English freaks knocking the walls to chat on sexual topics. He tried to discard the problematic thought, by talking more problematic things.

“Well, after he takes office, the new recruits he selected are like… Let’s see. We have many enough chatterboxes in defenders, and he just gets another one from Australia recently!”

But Mute didn’t get a response anymore but just hearing at Bandit talking nonsense. Then he stated, “it’s time. I have to go.”

 

Bandit wasn’t happy about Mute’s indifferent reactions, so he just waved his hands to let him go. Leaving the dim yellow light of their camping lantern, Mute’s figure disappeared in the night in no time.

 

Bandit looked at the direction Mute left, and he thought if he had spoken something unnecessary. Mute seemed thoughtful when going. God would prove him, he just bullshitted all the way, but the exclamation and sarcasm were genuine. He didn’t intend to make the young man think of his life decisions.

 

Who knew what kind of solution Mute’s binary brain would calculate? 0 or 1? Yes or No? Wouldn’t he truly propose to Smoke?

 

“On position,” when Jäger’s voice from his headset broke the distraction in Bandit’s head, he immediately went back into the task on his hands.

 

And now, the broken relay made Team Alpha, Bravo and Charlie unreachable, and the young guy with the possible big secret of at work sexual harassment – or engagement – was also locked in the shabby factory in the fire. It was one of the most fucking unfortunate days in his life. Bandit took a deep breath, put on his gas mask, and vaulted in the side door from the workshop.

 

He made a wise decision to bring this along with him, or the result would be certain death.

 

The small side door was an alternative entrance he just found, and it should have another same one at opposite if the facility were symmetrical in structure. But he didn’t know which door caught less fire, and which was closer to Mute. He could only try his luck.

 

Just a few steps forward, Bandit had discovered nothing but highly increased air temperature. And another man was dashing toward him.

 

But he was entirely on fire and barely recognisable.

 

He was burning. His clothes degraded into charred scraps hanging on his body. His dry throat made the final whine. Creasing his forehead, Bandit shot him, and he felt down to Bandit’s feet following the gunfire. Bandit noticed the scraps falling off from his body was not clothes, but his burnt skin.

 

The man was not Mute.

The next wasn’t. And the next wasn’t, either.

 

There were not many flammable things here but seemed to lack of fire extinguishing equipment. So, anything caught on fire would just wait until it burned off steadily. The sight became even more unpleasant while Bandit going deeper.

 

There was no one alive on the ground. And even corpses got more charred and broken. He wouldn’t even recognise Mute from them if he was dead among them. The facility was so large that he felt anxious and a bit frustrated. He was really unable to do this alone.

 

He called for helicopter again, although it was a barely useful action. Even if the pilot and first officer took the risk to join the rescue, it was still not enough. But it was the only contactable unit for Bandit.

 

At the moment, he heard a familiar voice miraculously, just from the opposite he supposed another side entrance existed –

 

“Bandit!”

 

Jäger had made Smoke give way back for him. He was the first one out of the tunnel and found his teammate wandering here through the flare and smoke.

 

Bandit turned back to Jäger and others in Alpha team came out one by one, included their medic, and the Britain hooligan suspicious by either sexual harassment or courting on work… He greeted them and briefly explained the situation here and understood the reason behind the absurd situation. The path guided his teammates back to the surface was the same way the terrorists surrounded Mute had passed.

 

With no second word, they separated to search.

 

When James passed beside Bandit in a hurry, he felt something unusual in Bandit’s eyes. He didn’t think of it in-depth in such a depressing situation. If Bandit even had trouble searching, it meant the possibility to find Mute alive was very faint. After all, such a young guy encountering dozens of hostiles here – no one dared to believe he could make it.

 

James was seeking for possible traces of Mute, then suddenly shouted to Bandit, “what did he say?”

 

Other teammates nearby raised their heads and glanced at him.

 

It was probably Mute had contacted Bandit before the connection lost, might be situation reports or other things. No matter what, it was not a proper time to ask.

 

Bandit shook his head to express negative. He gazed at the head printed with a yellow biological hazard warning logo, thinking the filter thing should wait until they found Mute alive. Or it wasn’t funny to tell at all.

 

James reached deeper inside the workshop, and he saw a minor reflection of his flashlight when it pointed a specific direction. It didn’t seem unusual, because there was a bunch of reflective objects in the factory. However, it also made James expect it was from Mute. He remembered every tiny object that reflected light on Mute’s battle suit, such as his safety harness – as a fellow SAS operative, James was wearing the same thing.

 

The ground was a mess with shallow pits, and James must be cautious to keep moving. Seems like these pits were vestiges of extensive machine tools. “God, if Mark got here during the gunfire, he would fall into one of them.” James thought, while found out the source of reflection in surprise. It was really the harness!

 

Mark was finally discovered but curled up in the hole without any movement. Even the bright flashlight was unable to wake him up. The ash blue coloured uniform was dyed black by Mark’s blood, and the strong coppery flavour had penetrated the filter in James’ gas mask and hitting his nose.

 

James had always been fearless on the battlefields, smoke, gunshot, blood – no matter others’ or his, all made it more exciting. He had enjoyed every moment in danger and stress. However, he realised he could still get afraid and disgusted at the flavour of blood now.

 

“Here, Doc--!” He yelled to their medic in desperate.

 

Please hurry up to save my beloved lad.

 

And he finally understood the reason for his recent unusual emotions. Unknown whenever it had been, but he had begun feeling love for Mark R. Chandar.

 

The dirt in the pit absorbed the blood and transformed into the mud, and the young lad was lying among the mixture of the mud and his blood along with the broken pieces of his devices. He was severely injured, but luckily, alive. The fragments of his communicators tore his palms, and both his submachine gun and pistol dropped beside him. The only thing in his hands was his nitro cell. The detonator on it looked fine and whole, but the remote was nowhere to find.

 

Everybody couldn’t hold their exclamation that Mut was lucky to collapse at the place. Or if he was down in the fire field filled with sparkles that detonate the nitro cell – not just Doc, even the Lord couldn’t get him back alive.

 

After the teammates gathered up here, James left to let Doc do his job. But the blood scent was still thick in his nasal cavity. And the nitro cell – for what the hell reason Mark was holding the thing on the ground? If even just a tiny sparkle reached here – even though he knew it had never happened, he was still frightened.

 

“We can’t protect each other if any ‘contingency’ happens.”

He recalled the word he said while pushing Mark on the wall. He hated his prophetic mouth. Even though the worse ‘contingency’ hadn’t happened by now, but how about tomorrow? And another day after? Risk always existed if they were still in the service, after all. No matter how small the possibility was, it was undoubtedly a risk.

 

And James regretted. He regretted saying such cold words when he pushed the little genius on the reinforced wall. He regretted not showing affection to him. Yes, the thing he should do at that time was stripping down their masks and kissing him, as wild as possible!

 

Doc finished the emergency treatment when James was still stuck in his crazy thought. Doc patted his back and reminded, “the bleeding has been staunched. He won’t die by now, and we must transport him to an operating theatre with adequate equipment.” James noticed that Doc was prudent in his words. The combat medic with exquisite skill and selfless heart, who always helped others’ lives as much as he could manage, wasn’t even sure that he could successfully save Mute’s life.

 

James could do nothing but watch his teammates carrying the genius lad with a large piece of canvas and getting him into the helicopter waiting on the yard of the facility for a long time. It was a comforting little thing that the cloth wasn’t covering Mark from above. But he still felt anxious deep inside.

 

The first direction of the helicopter must be the closest hospital for emergent surgery, then it would come back to pick them up to the base afterwards.

 

During the waiting, they had to clean up the site, included erase any trace of their actions. Like collecting rubbishes such as cartridges and magazines and restoring the electronic and communication before dawn. All special equipment must be recycled. And anything else useful for evidence or intel couldn’t be missed, either. It was the way they kept mysterious with deterrence. The enemy might know there was such an international elite team of counter-terrorists existed – as some of their operations had appeared on the presses – but the exact form of the group was always a colossal iceberg which most of it concealed below the sea level. The more lack of information the enemy had, the more puzzled, fragile and easy to be defeated they became.

 

Although this time, they almost turned into the defeated side, they still made it. Thanks to Mark, he stopped the trouble of escaping terrorists, and survived, temporarily.

 

“Temporarily” became a word James deeply hated.

 

James returned to the site Mute was found earlier. He sorts of wanted to stay at this cursed place for a little longer, for an uncertain reason. He was surely not a guy Mute needed right now. Who he firstly needed was Doc, and secondly, other teammates with noticeable emergent treatment and first-aid experiences. Moreover, there would be a professional medical team to take care of him in the hospital. Smoke thought he would be a burden if coming along with them. He would be satisfied here to do nothing but cleaning up. Right now.

 

He looked at the considerable blood stain Mark left, and the nitro cell he left in the pit. His mind exploded with fury in sudden.

 

“Fuck you! Fuck those White Masks! Fuck the C4!”

 

With a roar, he grabbed the nitro cell and threw it into the fire on a far direction with no one presented, with his full force. The detonator caught fire at first, and “boom—” a massive blaze rose up like a furious beast, but it quickly fell off as there was almost no flammable left.

 

The helicopter flew far, and who was going to clean up the stronghold just prepared to leave. Seemed like no one would be affected by the explosion, and it was precisely James wanted. He had desired to do so, as soon as he found the nitro cell in Mark’s hands. After venting his anger, he felt the questioning gazes from others around. He might frighten someone, and it was something. The nitro cell could work as substantial evidence after undergoing trace examination. He had discharged the resentment, but he must face Harry to give a proper explanation afterwards. Whatever, he didn’t mind it at all.