Chapter 1: How It Could Have Happened, According to Ulman
As the world started to take shape again, Ulman tried to ignore the loud ringing in his ears.
“Urg,” was all he brought out. He could not tell if it was out of pain or frustration. Miller had explicitly warned him to be careful. And yet, here he was sitting on the floor after being hit over the head.
When his vision cleared, Ulman pushed himself up on the wall and padded down his body. At least his gear and extremities still seemed intact but as he reached inside the side pocket he stopped. Just before his head had connected with something hard, he had carefully placed the memory stick in there. The one that Igor had given him, and now his pocket was empty.
A low growl escaped Ulman. “Asshat.” Then he pushed off the wall and walked out into the station. Given how clumsy Igor was, he was hard to miss when a shape that looked exactly like him collided with a woman at the other end of the platform.
“Hey, Igor!” Ulman shouted and, lo and behold, the person turned around. Had Igor not hit and stolen from him, Ulman would have almost felt sorry for the …“Idiot.”
A moment later Igor fumbled at a door and disappeared inside. Of course, Ulman had to follow. He had to get the data back, and it was a safe bet to assume that it was with Igor. So he pushed through the crowd at the station. At first, keeping his tone kind as he asked them to step aside, until eventually, his already thin patience ran out and he simply elbowed them aside with a grunt.
Why was it so hard for people to listen to him anyway? No, they had to try and knock him out, because that’s always fun. Ulman cursed inwardly. As if that was not enough, Igor had to take shit that The Order had payed for.
“No, why can nobody ever simply say >>oh thank you, nice stranger, you are very handsome and very brave.<<?” Ulman rambled under his breath as he reached for the VSV behind his back.
Then he nudged the door open with his boot, cringing at the sound that it made. He needed to concentrate, Ulman told himself as he scanned the room. So far the entry area seemed to be clear, so he took a step inside.
“Come on, Igor,” Ulman called out in a sing-song. He needed to draw him out. “Don’t be shy. We’re all friends here.”
There was no response and Ulman walked deeper into the room. It was dark but not so dark that he needed his goggle. He just hoped that Igor wasn’t hiding in some shadows and would knock him out again. “We’re all friends in here,” Ulman called out – trying to sound cheerful. “I am not even mad.”
No … mad wasn’t exactly the word Ulman would have used. Fucking pissed seemed more fitting.
“Every relationship has its ups and downs.”
In exactly that moment, a high-pitched scream echoed through the room. Ulman’s blood froze as he realised that it had been a child, and a moment later this was confirmed as his flashlight revealed Igor: standing in the middle of the room while pressing a revolver against the head of an innocent boy.
Ulman knew that he could not shoot right now; there were too many things that could go wrong. Furthermore, he wanted to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed near the child. Taking a deep breath, Ulman calmed his nerves but still aimed his gun perfectly.
Better safe than sorry … he just needed to be faster when the moment came.
“You don’t want to do this,” Ulman began to talk, his voice calm.
However, Igor seemed anything but … Instead he started laughing frantically. “You know nothing!” Evilness was oozing of every single note, so much that the boy may have realised how bad the situation was and started crying.
“We can work this out,” Ulman tried to stall for time. He needed to act quickly, and he needed to be sure about it as well. He could not risk ending the kid’s life. “The Order can pay you double.”
“You think this about money?”
As he spoke he pressed the child closer to him so Ulman did not respond.
“No, it is much more than that!” Igor continued. “This about power, dominance and supremacy! I have it all now!”
Ulman’s finger gently applied pressure to the trigger. He knew exactly where the trigger point was, and he wanted this to be clean and efficient.
“The world has never seen a bigger evil than me!”
The laughter that followed was cut off when Ulman fired his gun. The bullet danced beautifully through the air and missed Igor’s head by a fraction – exactly as Ulman had intended. Instead he watched as his hair was trimmed a little.
In his fright, Igor released the child. “Run!” Ulman shouted at the boy and watched him disappear into the safety of the station. When he turned back to Igor, he had dropped onto his knees – tears streaking his face.
“Did you really think that you can defeat The Order?” Ulman asked as he walked up to him. The closer he got, the better look he got at his face and the snot underneath his nose. A pathetic sight.
“Please, don’t hurt me!” Igor began to beg but Ulman remained unimpressed.
“The data,” he interrupted his annoying pleading. “Please.”
“Of course, of course.” Igor began to dig the pockets of his dirty trousers. “You are such a fine solider, I should have never tried to betray you.”
Putting his gun aside, Ulman took the memory stick and shook his head. “Honesty makes you rich, but she works slowly,” he responded wisely – maybe one day Igor would understand. “I will give you one more chance though.”
Ulman did not have the heart to discard such a poor creature.
“You are a saint …” Igor’s voice cracked as he spoke these words, clearly overwhelmed by the generosity Ulman offered him. “… You are the best thing in this bleak and dark world.”
“Now get out of my sight,” Ulman responded and watched as Igor scrambled to his feet and dashed for the darkness. Maybe Igor would learn his lesson and never cross The Order’s path again.
And so, brave Ulman turned around with the intention of delivering the data as fast as possible to Polis but as he walked back to the main platform of the station a crowd had formed.
“That’s him, Mama!” When Ulman turned towards the source, he saw the little boy he had just saved. Now, however, everyone turned their attention towards Ulman. They started to call him a hero, a saviour, a knight in shining armour who had saved the Metro. It was clear that those who did not want to be with him, wanted to be him.
However, Ulman knew to be modest, after all he was a simple man just doing his job.
“… and that’s exactly how the mission ended,” Ulman finished his report, sitting in Miller’s office. He had to admit that he was quite pleased with it – it had action, heroics, a saved child, and was as far from the truth as humanly possible.
“Hmm … that’s very nice, Ulman.”
Ulman froze mid movement. Miller’s voice had been far too calculated. Nevertheless, he couldn’t back away now, so he responded with natural ease … “Thank you, sir.” … but feared for his life.
“It doesn’t exactly explain why you came back smelling like a cesspit.”
“No, sir, it does not,” Ulman stated because it did not.
“Or why half of your weapons and gear are missing.”
Maybe he still had a chance to add that bit, oh I just remembered I gave them away to the poor, so they could buy food.
Miller went on, “Or how about why the mayor never wants anything to do with Rangers again!”
“I can’t read minds.” He shrugged.
Miller sighed and leaned forward. “Let me ask you something,” he began, his voice rising with each word he spoke. “Did you, by any chance, fuck up?!”
“What gives you that idea?” Ulman responded, his tone calm but he was pleased that he managed to add a slightly offended note. “I just told you in my report …”
“Which is worse than the horse shit in those romance novels that you like to read!”
“Those are very relaxing to read!” Ulman responded, truly offended this time. A moment later he added kindly, “Maybe you should try it, you seem stressed.”
Miller took a shaky breath and closed his eyes. “Ulman …” Then he rubbed the bridge of his nose. Maybe Ulman had finally managed it – driven their commander to the brink of insanity. “There are a lot of things that stress me but right now you are at the very top of that list! So, will you shut up!”
Making an incredibly wise decision, Ulman did.
Then Miller collected himself and began to talk again. “Your mission would have been easy, and it should have happened like this …”
Chapter 2: How It Should Have Happened, According to Miller
As Ulman presented his dog tag at the station entrance he could already hear the guard preparing his jest. “Such high honour, Spartan. What gives?” Following by laughter from the person next to him.
Well, of course, Ulman knew that they were all so much stronger and manlier than him, a mere Ranger of The Order. But as soon as they needed help, they came crawling …
“The cuisine,” Ulman responded unironically as he entered the station. After all, his stomach was no laughing matter. Pavel and Ulman had just had breakfast when Miller had ordered them into his office. He had an important mission and it was very sensitive, Miller had explained while Ulman had silently mourned his half-finished oatmeal.
However, they had made good progress, and Ulman had arrived early at the station, so he felt entitled to indulge in a little side-quest to fill his stomach. A happy fighter was a fighter with a full stomach, Ulman argued as he made out the local bar.
As he entered, a few faces turned towards him. Ulman liked to think that it was his sparkling personality and good looks but by now he had to accept that it was mostly the weapons he was allowed to carry even inside stations. Being used to the staring and ogling after years, he ignored them and made his way towards the bar.
“Whatever you deem best …” Ulman ordered, and then stopped the barkeeper mid-movement. “But no moss.”
The memory of what had happened the last time he had eaten moss was still fresh on his mind. Luck was on his side as he was given a cutlet, and so Ulman made his way towards a table in the far corner of the room.
He was not here for a social call, and if the guards on the outside were any indication neither were the inhabitants the welcoming kind. He noticed that everyone except one person had already turned their attention back to food and drinks. This particular person sat in another dark corner of the bar, deeply invested in today’s newspaper.
After placing his rucksack underneath the table, Ulman began to dig into his meal. However, he could not tear his thoughts from the strange person behind the newspaper. Ulman always tried to take a look at him without attraction too much attention. He appeared male, and something about his posture was not right …
Just as Ulman took another bite, this person folded his newspaper, taking time to perfect every move. This revealed an ordinary looking face that you would miss among a crowd – almost the exact opposite of Ulman in his uniform.
Then the stranger put on his felt hat and got up. Ulman thought that he was about to leave but instead he made his way towards him – the long trench coat unmistakable and probably a good place to hide weapons …
As he stood next to him, the stranger asked, “does the iguana sleep during the day?”
Ulman was still chewing on a piece of cutlet when he responded. “No, the iguana sleeps at night.”
Never mind that Ulman did not have the slightest what animal an iguana was, the answer seemed to please the other man. His demeanour changed and he smiled down at Ulman.
“Miller told me to expect another Ranger. It is nice to meet you,” he began talking and offered Ulman his hand. “I am Igor.”
Ulman swallowed his bite and took the other man’s hand. “Pedro.” It was rare that he used his alias, but there was no harm when the other person was not entirely trustworthy. “Have a seat.”
So Igor placed his hat and the newspaper on the table and sat down next to him. “What is the food like?” he asked, as if they were making friendly conversation.
Only now did Ulman notice the small holes that had been cut into the paper, it was the perfect method of remaining undetected while keeping a close eye on the surrounding.
“I am not here to chat,” Ulman cut him off. “We have business.”
With a sigh, Igor leaned closer towards Ulman – it was clear that nobody was meant to overhear their conversation. “Do you have the bullets I asked for?”
Ulman nodded and without meaning to he placed his hand on top of the pouch that contained a shameless amount of military ammunition. “The Order keeps its word,” he responded. “I have them with me.”
Then he leaned closer to Igor, breaking into his personal space in order to make him feel uncomfortable. “Do you have the memory stick?”
After a moment of silence, Igor finally backed away and leaned back in his chair. So did Ulman, relieved to no longer feel the other man’s breath.
“Of course, I do, my friend,” Igor responded – far too cheerful.
“Where?” Ulman crossed his arms, not willing to humour him.
“Not with me, obviously,” Igor responded with ease. “Don’t look so disgruntled, Ranger. I had to take precautions. Otherwise what would stop you elite fighters from dragging me over the table and killing me without pay.”
Ulman did not bat an eyelid as he replied. “I could still do that.”
Then he moved to take another bite from his meal and smirked as he noticed Igor flinching. Ulman took his time chewing before he turned back to Igor. “So where is it?”
“It is quite simple, my friend …” Ulman did not like the enthusiasm on Igor’s face. “… in two hours, we will meet at the market. Both will have identical briefcases – mine with the memory stick, and yours with the money.” Ulman cocked his head to the side but he was listening. “You will sit down next to me, but we won’t speak a word. Everyone takes their respective briefcase and business will be over.”
Ulman considered this option, from the corner of his eyes he was watching as Igor’s fingers came closer towards his plate. As they reached the edge, Ulman grabbed his hand and twisted it, which resulted in …
“That’s very sweet imagination, sir …” Ulman cut off Miller before he would get even further ahead of himself. “… but this is not at all what happened.
“As we’ve already established your neat little contact buddy tried to knock me out cold,” Ulman went on before Miller could even protest. “That hurt. Also, a trench coat? Who wears those things? And I am not sure if there are two identical briefcases left in the Metro.”
Miller sat back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“I have to admit, I love the bit with the newspaper. That sounds fun, even if unrealistic nowadays, and how protective I am of my meal, that’s realism. But why would someone wear a felt hat?” Ulman wondered.
“They do all the time in spy movies,” Miller responded, maybe he had gotten a little carried away in his explanation. “Have you never seen any as a child?”
Ulman pulled a face. “No?” He shook his head. “The only special agent with a felt hat that I know was Perry the Platypus.”
At this, Miller only opened his mouth but no response made it out. Instead, he stared at Ulman in utter disbelieve, trying to find any reason or sense in that statement. The silence that resulted in this was unnerving.
“It … was a kid’s show that I …” Ulman began carefully, trying to find a way out of this. But then he cut himself off. “Never mind that …” He cleared his throat. “I already told you that Igor wanted the exchange to happen in a back room.”
“And then he wacked you over the head,” Miller finished for him, seemingly recovered.
Ulman nodded enthusiastically.
“And you tracked him down.”
“And then, very heroically struck him down, saved a child, got the data, and the station celebrated you as the best thing that ever happened to this stinking world.”
“Eeerm …” Ulman looked at the plant behind Miller and half-heartedly shrugged his shoulders. “Sorta.”
At this, Miller leaned forwards – a far too friendly smile on his face. “Ulman?”
“Sir, you’re not going to like it.”
Chapter 3: How It Actually Happened
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.”