Ulman had to suppress the urge to let go of his VSV in order to cover his nose as he pushed the door open. What is it with this stench?! As he entered the room, he had already had a vague guess for what this place was used, and he did not like it one bit. It would take a week’s shower privileges to get rid of the smell.
So Ulman decided to make this quick. Get in, find Igor, hurt him, get the data, take a long shower, get a medal from Miller …
As it turned out, finding Igor was not even the hardest part. Only a few steps in, he could see him standing at the edge of the platform. Igor had his hands in his pockets, back turned towards Ulman.
Ulman would be an idiot to believe that he had not notice him, so he kept his gun pointed at him as he stepped closer. Much to Ulman’s disappear, each step also intensified the smell.
“I honestly thought we had something,” Ulman stated and watched Igor’s response: a mere shrug of his shoulders.
“You have a thick skull.”
Ulman offered him his kindest smile. “Helps that there is lots of room in it.”
Igor snorted but he also started to move, causing Ulman to tense up instantly. He had to be careful where his hands would go, and if they would reach for any weapon. Fool me once shame on me but fool me twice …
However, he only took another step towards the edge, and Ulman followed – keeping the same distance. Only for a brief moment did he dare to look at what was below them. A waste-pit, of course. It seemed to be one specific type of waste as well. At least that explained the smell …
Igor wouldn’t dare to jump down there, or would he? Ulman wondered. After all, nobody could be this desperate in life.
“There are better endings than this, “Ulman offered. He really meant it, if Igor really wanted to die, Ulman was willing to shoot him instead. But not before getting the data, he still had morals.
Then Igor pulled something out of his pockets. Ulman did not even have to warn him; his movements were already slow and deliberate. “Do you still want it?” Igor asked, a little memory stick dangling between his fingers.
Ulman released his breath and with it the tension in his shoulders. “If you don’t mind.”
“What about my pay?”
Ulman had to suppress a loud laugh but a snort still made it out. “I have two guns with me. And you?”
While it sounded like a calculated threat, depending on the brain capacity of his opposite it could be a surprisingly good way to enquire how many weapons they carried. However, the gears in Igor’s brain seemed to be working because he only responded with a lazy smile.
“Just give me the data, and we’ll part ways and forget this ever happened,” Ulman offered. “We had a nice time, but it has to end, darling.”
Ulman had not expected it to work at all, so he was more suspicious than surprised as Igor stretched out his hand – in it the shiny little memory stick. Maybe he would grab Ulman and throw him down the platform. If he wouldn’t hit any support beams on his way down, he might survive that … but who really wanted to?
So when Ulman came closer he kept his gun aimed and remained on guard. Only when he took his hand off the barrel and reached for the stick, did Igor take a step back. Before Ulman could react, he watched as the shiny little memory stick was violently thrown into the pit.
In his shock Ulman dropped his guard completely and watched as it landed with a soft blob. “What the fuck man?!”
“Sorry, Pedro.” Clearly not meaning it.
“What is wrong with you?!”
“Our deal was out of the question,” Igor explained half-heartedly. “I get no money, The Order gets no data.”
Ulman bit back all the curses that came to mind. “You hit me over the head, shithead!” One curse was allowed and could be justified. “That is a deal-breaker.”
“No, that is business, you really understand very little of it, Spartan …” but before he could go on Ulman took a step towards him and hit him with a hard left. He would cherish the surprised look on Igor’s face for a long time as he tumbled lifeless to the floor.
“That is so much better.” Ulman shook his hand and felt a small smile creep onto his face. “It could have been so simple, fuckwit. You money, I data. But no …”
Now Ulman had to try and get the data back. The smile quickly faded as he turned towards the pit and a whine escaped him instead. So this is what it felt like to kick a puppy?
“I am just one stupid soldier who follows orders,” Ulman mumbled to himself. “I do not deserve this.”
He could still recall where the memory stick had gone down, and from the looks of it, Ulman could safely scale down the wall with a rope. Then he nudged Igor with his foot, but he seemed out like a nightlight. So, there was some good left in this world.
There was no point in going down carrying all his heavy gear, so Ulman stripped most of it and placed it along with his VSV, and rucksack against a wall. Nevertheless, he decided to keep his knife and revolver close should there be any unpleasant surprises.
Then he fished out his rope and wrapped it around a post. He tugged hard and put his whole weight against it but it seemed steady – it hadn’t moved an inch. Ulman secured the other end around his waist and legs, one more loop through his carabiners to keep the extra length out of the way and he was ready.
As he stood at the edge, he removed the slack from the rope and leaned back, his feet stemming against the wall. Ulman suppressed a grunt, feeling the rope cut into his skin. The last time he had scaled, he had been left in such a position for half a day which left very unfortunate marks underneath his butt. Naturally, hard to explain when none of the other Rangers wanted to believe him …
“At least nobody expects kids from me,” Ulman joked with himself but he could already hear Miller’s stern voice in his head. So he began his decent, and luckily it was a short one as well. When he hit the support beam, he was about three meters below the edge. Not particularly high but too high to get out of without help.
“Now fly like a butterfly, Ulman,” he reminded himself and turned around. At least being skilled at stealth also meant that he had a secure but light step. He made it to the area where the memory stick had fallen in no time.
Ulman was quite pleased that it seemed within arm’s reach. Luckily the beam was low enough in this area … or maybe the shit pile was high enough, but he didn’t want to entertain that possibility.
“Come here, sweetheart,” Ulman whispered as he got to his knees and leaned forwards. He could feel the strain on the rope and a moment later he felt the sweet casing between his fingers. “I’ll be good to you.”
Suddenly his rope went slack, and Ulman reached behind but only grabbed empty air. “Arg!” And he toppled forward, making a splat when he landed.
Ulman turned around, trying to remove himself from all the horrific substances and his own body. “What the fuck?!” He cursed and spat out. Maybe the rope had snagged at the edge and had frayed.
Then a familiar face appeared at the edge. “Igor! You little sh—”
“Don’t be rude to the likes of you,” Igor cut him off and gestured at the area of which Ulman was a part now. “It is nothing personal.”
Igor took the remaining length of the rope and threw it down the pit.
“It is now!” Ulman shouted back and reached for his revolver but his hands only grabbed empty air. At least … that’s how the idiom goes. Realising that he must have lost the gun in his fall Ulman closed his eyes, and felt a shudder run down his spine. This was not a good day …
When he opened them again, Ulman was still stuck in waste disposal but at least Igor was gone.
“I am sorry Henrietta,” he apologised to his revolver that was doomed to rot here somewhere. He was not intending on searching for it. After all every relationship had to come to an end, and this one had literally ended in the gutters …
With a sigh Ulman put the memory stick between his lips – what difference did it make now? – and reached for the beam above him. With a grunt he was able to pull himself upwards.
“I still got you,” Ulman mumbled and placed the memory stick in his trouser pocket.
Next he made his way towards the wall, while pulling the now shortened rope towards him. When he sat down on the beam and leaned against the wall, he looked at the ending and realised that no technical errors had occurred. Instead it had been cut with a knife.
Why hadn’t Igor used the knife before Ulman had knocked him out? Ulman would have preferred being stabbed in the face above having to explain to Miller how he ended up down here.
Ulman sighed – meaning it – and sobbed – acting it – and leaned against the wall. At least he would eventually make it out of here when he wouldn’t be able to check in with Pavel. After all his radio was out of reach in his backpack … wherever that was by now. If Igor had any braincells left, he would have taken it with him to sell it on the black market.
Nevertheless, their next scheduled contact was only an hour away, and then trusty and brave Pavel would come looking for him and find him here …
“Great,” Ulman stated dryly. Maybe drowning in shit was nobler than Pavel finding him here but now he was still alive, so he had to make do.
For the time being Ulman busied himself by making a mental list of the jokes that Pavel might use and sorted them by likeliness. In that respect, the other man could be almost as relentless as Ulman himself. Afterwards he entertained himself by whistling various tunes and trying to scrub some dirt off his skin.
“Oh hey, Ulman,” he heard a familiar voice and looked upwards, seeing Pavel’s beautiful face above him. “I am looking for Pedro, have you seen him? Looks like you but …” At that Pavel shone his light at Ulman. Blinded by it he couldn’t make out his reaction, but Pavel’s voice went up a pitch. “… cleaner.”
Despite what was to come, Ulman felt a genuine smile on his lips. “Pavel! Love of my life!”
A half-hearted smile formed on his lips … “Naw.” … but Ulman recognised the sarcasm behind it.
“Help me out of here.”
Pavel nodded and disappeared from his view. Careful not to slip, Ulman got back onto his feet.
“Always the same with you Rangers, you always take and never give,” Pavel teased as he returned and held out a rope, but not letting it down. Ulman opened his arms below him, wordlessly asking what he wanted. “How did you end up down there … and like that?”
Ulman’s face hardened. “I would rather die than tell you.”
Pavel shrugged his shoulders and waited, but Ulman was not willing to back down either.
Then Pavel snorted, began to laugh and let the rope down. “Come up here, dumbass.”
Ulman couldn’t help the smile that formed on his lips, he reached for the rope. This time he did not bother to secure it around his hips and simply climbed it up. As soon as Pavel was within reach, he grabbed him by the arm and pulled him the rest of the way up. Only to then collapse into laughter.
“Oh Jesus, I am never touching you again …” Pavel began as Ulman stood up, only shaking his head. “… and that stench it is even worse now. Is that you?”
Ulman did not respond because if he was honest, he had lost his sense of smell a while ago.
“Darling, it does not suit you.”
Ulman let out a deep breath. He knew that he was going to suffer, and his heart longed to hide back inside the stinking hell.
“Stop laughing,” Ulman said, already knowing that it was a fruitless effort.
He noticed that little tears had formed in the corner of Pavel’s eyes which were clearly from laughing so hard. Ulman shook his head and he couldn’t help but start as well. Then he reached for Pavel and gave him a hard push, he even stumbled back since he had been completely off guard.
“Careful,” Pavel warned him and shoved his arm from him but this time he tried to regain some composure. “How will you explain it to Miller if I also end up like you?”
This brought a horrible thought back to Ulman and his demeanour changed. “One word to Miller and I swear …” he did not need to finish the threat as Pavel already held his hands up.
“Alright, alright.” He gave in. “My lips are sealed.”
Then Pavel offered him a smile, and Ulman rolled his eyes but he still returned it with a half-hearted one.
“Are you alright otherwise?”
Ulman nodded. He had been hit over the head and he had taken a fall, so maybe a doctor should check him over but aside from the obvious he felt okay. “Should be.”
“Did you have more luck with the mission than with …” Pavel vaguely gestured at Ulman’s whole being.
“Good.” Not wanting to touch Ulman, Pavel gave him a nudge with the barrel of his gun and they started walking. “How about you take a long and nice shower until you smell vaguely human again?”
“Gladly.” But how would they explain that to the mayor so that they could use their showers? Especially when water was a rare good here.
“As our boss would say, >we are elite fighters<,” Pavel responded when Ulman voiced these thoughts. “I think we’ll find a way.”
It was not exactly the answer he had expected but he was too tired to argue. So, he just shrugged his shoulders.
“Then I’ll find you some lovely new clothes because they will never let you back into Polis like this.” They stopped in front of the door and Pavel turned towards him with a serious expression. “Lace would suit you.”
Ulman just about managed to stop himself from letting his head fall into his hands. “I am never going to hear the end of this, am I?”
The look on Pavel’s face resembled the one of a cat that just found whipped cream. “Not in a million years.”
Miller let out a long breath and closed his eyes as Ulman finished talking. The silence stretched for seemingly days, weeks, maybe even years. In reality it were mere minutes before Miller spoke again, asking, “And how exactly did you make it to the showers?”
“Pavel used his diplomatic skills to persuade the mayor.”
“He doesn’t have any diplomatic skills.”
“Yeah, that was a problem,” Ulman deadpanned. In this case, he was sworn to the same secrecy that Pavel had promised Ulman.
Miller shook his head. “Ulman …” This time his voice was so devoid from emotions – and especially the annoyance was gone which scared Ulman so much that he had to suppress a shiver. “… as a Ranger … do you know what that means?”
Ulman bit his lip and half-heartedly shrugged his shoulders. Of course he did, that was why he hadn’t wanted to tell Miller the truth. He also knew that for his survival it would be better to keep that fact to himself.
“As Rangers we have a reputation in the Metro,” Miller began, slowly anger mixed into his voice. “One of elite fighters! Nobody wants to cross our paths. What do you think happens when word gets around that one of the best was fished out of a pool of shit!”
“It was a waste pit!” Ulman corrected – trying to salvage the last bit of dignity.
“It was shit, Ulman!” Miller went on before Ulman had any chance to add anything to the statement. “And then half of your gear is gone, probably on the black market now and you have been outsmarted by an idiot!”
Ulman could not even deny that part.
“And what for? The scientists tell me that most of the data is corrupted because it came into contact with …” There he paused looking for the right word.
“Shit?” Ulman offered helpfully.
“Fluids.” Miller picked instead. “Never mind if there had ever been anything useful on it.”
The last sentence had been spoken more to Miller himself than to Ulman, so he only offered a half-hearted smile and stayed quiet, waiting for further reprimands.
When none came, Ulman cheerily stated, “I told you, you wouldn’t like it.”
Miller did not respond. He did not say a word, his face did not even twitch. He was wondering how exactly the universe had formed for him to have such a skilled Ranger under his command who at the same time was the way he was …
In the end, he could not find an answer. So he shook his head – wanting to forget that the last few hours ever happened – and asked Ulman, “Did the doctor give you a clean bill of health?”
Ulman was hesitant to answer as he feared another remark. “Erm yes.” When there was no rude reply, he went on to explain. “Just a few bumps and bruises. She said I need a good meal and some sleep.”
“Good,” Miller leaned back in his chair and unpacked some paperwork. “Now, Ulman, get out of my sight.”
“And try not to be stupid for the next month.”