We were close to the site and were receiving updates about it. One of the updates was that the army was ready for the assault and were waiting for our signal.

“Alright, soldiers. We are here and ready to tear down the place. The army is waiting for our signal… and boy, they are growing impatient, like wolves ready for hunting. How about you guys? Are you hungry?” It was Commander Bannerjee again and we loved the way he motivated us.

We replied in the positive in unison with many of them including Rizwan cheering loudly.

“In that case, get to your nearest drop pods and await orders. You will know it when the pods zoom down into the enemy base. Stick to your squads… and if, for any reason unknown and unavoidable, you get separated… don’t panic. Proceed with the mission and group in with the nearest squad. We have a mission and we are looking to accomplish a great deal with this. So, failure, people… it is not an option.” Said Commander Bannerjee and we agreed to it in unison again.

The army received signal and within minutes, they attacked the site. My squad and I got into a drop pod.

“Do we need to pray?” Daljeet asked.

“This is not the first time we are on a drop pod. Besides, why fear… when Daljeet is here.” I commented and the others laughed.

“Yeah, really funny, Sudhir. Really funny.” Daljeet responded shaking his head in disagreement.

I set the coordinates that were given to us and in moments, there was a beep sound indicating that it was time. One by one, the pods next to us were being dropped, we sat down and put on the heavy belts that could protect us from the impact. Soon, our pod beeped and the timer came up, “3… 2… 1…”. The pod was ejected from the ship, it trembled as it zoomed down at high speed.  I looked at the screen and I could make out that we were on the right course. Another timer came up which indicated how close we were to the ground… 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2…1…

“Brace for impact.” I yelled out, and the others prepared themselves.

Along with the other pods, our pod crashed behind enemy lines. We could hear firing which meant that soldiers who had already dropped in had begun their assault. In our case, our pod did something totally different. Instead of landing on the ground level, it must have landed on a much softer ground because of which we landed 2 levels down. Well, actually… something crazier happened.

“Great, we were supposed to be on the ground floor… you know, groceries, bread, butter, egg, bathroom products, instead, we have reached the basement – lingerie, underwear… you know, the private stuffs.” Rizwan commented.

“Yeah right, Rizwan. We got it.” Said Chandni.

We opened the belts of our seat. We were all feeling dizzy and somehow got up, I slowly walked forward and tried to open the door. It was jammed.

“Great!! Guys, we have a problem.” Said Daljeet, he was checking the status of the pod’s systems.

“I know. The door won’t open. We have to break it.” I said.

“Indeed. We are actually stuck between this floor and the floor below. It is like… 40 % of this pod is in the next floor.” Said Daljeet.

We looked at each other and it didn’t take time for us to realize the truth.

“The intel was correct, I guess. We might have found a secret base. How else can you explain this ‘HOLLOW EARTH’ experience we are having now?” Asked Rizwan.

Suddenly, the pod was under fire. We could feel the bullets hitting against all corners of the pod.

“They found us. We cannot stay inside the pod for long. We have to get out before the shield system gives in.” Said Chandni.

I looked around and found a stash of explosive charges. Without a second thought, I grabbed one, clicked a switch and set it up on the door.

“Everyone, take cover.” I yelled, and we did the same.

The door exploded, the top part of it flung outside. We heard a few yelling in pain which meant the door would have hit some enemy soldiers.

“Jackpot.” Chandni commented and I couldn’t help but laugh at that comment.

The pod suddenly rumbled again and before we could react, the pod again slipped through the hole and crashed.

“How many floors does this base have underground?” asked Daljeet.

“Time to find out. Get out of this thing before more soldiers come to find us.” I said, and we did the same.

Sure enough, we could hear a commotion above which indicated that they were coming to find us. We ran forward trying to find a place to hide.

“There is a door over here.” Said Rizwan.

He tried to open it but it wouldn’t budge. I saw a lever, grabbed it and tried to pry open the door. Rizwan helped by pulling the lever sideways and the door opened a bit. I asked everyone to back off and kicked the door hard, it opened and we rushed in. Right on time as I could see lit torches coming towards us. I closed the door slowly and asked everyone to ready their weapons in case they found us. A few minutes passed, I slowly opened the door and checked for hostiles but there was no one. I signaled the same to the others and they heaved a sigh of relief.

We looked at the room for a moment trying to decipher as to where we were.

“I don’t know about you guys but I don’t see anything that can provide some proof that we are in a secret base.” Chandni commented.

“I do second that. This looks like a quarter… you know, worker’s quarter or student’s quarter… going by our intel.” Said Rizwan.

There was a row of beds in the room along with 2 hd screens, 4-5 telephones and a few computers. Indeed, it looked like a quarter but there was more to this site than what we were expecting to see.

“Don’t assume anything by looking at this room. Besides, we have not even started our investigation yet. There are more squads and I pretty sure they would have found something. Just look around and see if you can find anything.” I said.

“Ok but… what are we looking for?” Daljeet asked.

“Trust me, I have no idea.” I answered as the others looked at each other confused.

I walked towards the telephones and looked at them. The models were not old, they were ancient. I wondered what could possibly make these people use this stuff.

“Real clever.” Said Daljeet, looking at the telephones.

I stared at Daljeet and the latter explained, “Look at these phones. They belong to a time when the concept of tapping was unheard of. Today, be it a phone or a mobile, anyone sitting anywhere can track where you are and what you are doing. Hell, if it is, with whom you are going on a date with… but these phones, no technology in this planet can track anything with these.

Forget the phones, look the phone lines… I mean, seriously, we don’t use phone lines anymore, do we? Everything is wireless now, even the goddamn electricity in our house is solar powered but these lines, they are ancient along with the telephones.”

I couldn’t help but marvel at Daljeet’s knowledge. We did make fun of him all the time for being a know-it-all but there were times when he would bring out an information so interesting, we would just sit and listen intently. Today was just another day, and once again his knowledge cleared a vital point about the way the soldiers of THE FIRE carried out their work.

Rizwan was checking the computers, he found a switch and clicked it. All the computers were switched on, Rizwan grabbed a chair and sat in front of one. The system was asking for a password.

“You might have to hack it.” I said moving closer.

“That is about the size of it. I am not sure if these computers are connected to a server or secured to something that can trigger an alarm and round up every hostile to our location.” Said Rizwan.

Daljeet checked the power cords of the computers and other vital components, he stared at us confused and said, “They were secured but the line that secures these systems to the main core… if at all there is… has been severed.”

Rizwan and I stared back.

“Severed? But why would anyone do that?” I asked.

“Maybe… Maybe, the person here will have the answer.” Chandni responded.

I looked to the direction she was standing and was flabbergasted. There was a door at the far end and Chandni was standing next to it. I got up, walked towards the door and looked inside. There was an old man on a chair lying down in front of a system with a lot of screens and 2 keyboards. Slowly, I walked in and alerted the others too to be silent. I had a look at the screens, they were live camera feeds of every activity that was going in the base. We could make out that the army and the ISS were doing the job quite well, and had rounded off a lot of people who seemed to be POTENTIALS.

The old man suddenly got up and looked at us. He was taken aback by our presence; he grabbed his firearm and aimed at us.

“Stay away from me. Don’t you dare come forward or I am going to blow your brains out.” The old man threatened.

My squad aimed their weapons back but I alerted them to put them down. I holstered my weapon and walked forward; the old man was still aiming his firearm at us. He then had a closer look at me, a smile sprouted which confused me and he put down his firearm.

“Dhiren, is that you? You are alive?” The old man asked.

This time I was taken aback, there were many a times where my Mom used to say that I looked just like my Dad… well, no doubt about it. It is not like I doubting my Mom or something… but for a stranger to look at me and address me as Dhiren, it did mean something.

“How do you know Dhiren? And who are you?” I asked.

The old man was shocked at that question and responded, “You don’t know me. I am… I am Ijaz. Remember, I was the lead programmer and designer for the AI of the ship, ISS MOONRISER.”

My squad and I stared at the old man and then back at each other. We all knew most of the people who were involved in the construction of the MOONRISER and Ijaz was one of them. We also knew that Ijaz was one of the few people who disappeared a few days before the MOONRISER disappeared. And now, here he was… in a locked-up bunker, completely lost in time.

“Dhiren is dead, Ijaz. It has been almost 15 years.” I said.

Ijaz did not believe at first, he nodded his head in disagreement and turned away. His eyes fell on one screen which showed the date and time.

“15 years… 15 years you say… these monsters have imprisoned me here for 15 years. My family… my family…” Ijaz started, he looked at me and I could see tears in his eyes.

He grabbed hold my collar and asked with extreme sorrow in his voice, “What have they done to my family? Are they alive? Tell me… please tell me…”

The others came forward and let go of him, Chandni made him sit and comforted him while I grabbed a chair and sat next to him. It was obvious that we were all looking for answers, for we had so many unanswered questions. I decided to introduce myself to Ijaz, the only logical thing that I could come up with to break the ice.

“I am Lt. Commander Sudhir Malhotra, son of Captain Dhiren Malhotra. We are from the ISS and have been sent to find all available intel about THE FIRE in this base.” I started.

Ijaz stared at me, he then looked at me with complete scrutiny and smiled.

“You are your Dad’s son but your eyes… you got your Mom’s eyes. Your Dad had big dreams about you. We became friends during the time MOONRISER was under construction, so much so that we never shied away from sharing our personal life with each other. He told a lot about you.

Ambrose and I came to your house once, we had dinner, drinks… had a lot of fun. Those were the days, son… those were the days. I am so happy for you. You have kept that legacy alive.” Said Ijaz.

“What are you doing here? Why were you kidnapped?” I asked.

“I am hungry, do you have something to eat?” Ijaz said.

We all looked at each other, we had started to feel sorry for him. There was a photo of him and his family on the table, he was a decent looking man but now, he had lost all weight, his clothes were torn, his eyes were pale and going by the way he was speaking, he was mentally disturbed. We had to rescue him. What’s more… he was the one who designed the AI of ISS MOONRISER, he might have an answer to its disappearance.

Rizwan brought out an energy bar and opened it. I took it from him and offered it to Ijaz, the latter had a look at it, snatched it from me and started gobbling it. I looked at Chandni who was in tears looking at his condition.

“Guys, we got company. We need to move.” Daljeet said.

Sure enough, we were able to hear murmurs outside. We needed to move, get topside and call for help.

“Ijaz, you have to come with us. We need to get out of here.” I said.

“No, I can’t. They will kill me. I have committed a lot of sin. If I reveal everything, I will not be spared. No one will spare me.” Said Ijaz, he was panicking.

Chandni comforted him again and said, “Ijaz, don’t you want to meet your family?”

The word family was enough to silence Ijaz. He looked at Chandni, the latter continued, “Your family is waiting for you. We will take you to your family.”

“Yes, my family… I want to see them. Take me to them… please, I beg of you.” Said Ijaz, as he tried to get up but struggled.

Rizwan and Daljeet had already moved forward and checked the door. It was another squad who had come in to check the room. As I joined them, I looked at the squad, holstered my weapon and came out showing my squad insignia on my glove. The leader of the squad recognized it and acknowledged.

“Saikat, good to see you.” I said.

“Same here. You people found something?” Asked Saikat.

At that moment, Chandni had joined us along with Ijaz and that was enough for an answer.

“An old man lost in time… but not so lost to not divulge about our old friends. He may be a sight for our sore eyes… if we are able to bring him to our time.” I said.

Saikat looked at the old man, with a smug look he said, “These days, anything… and anyone that can provide information is an asset. Let us hope he can provide details that we need. Who is he anyway?”

I hesitated at first but then replied, “I can’t divulge much at this moment but all you need to know about him is that… he is the lead AI designer of the ISS MOONRISER.”

The name MOONRISER was enough to make Saikat and his squad gasp and stare at Ijaz.

“The lead AI designer, you mean Dr. Ijaz… in this shit hole… in this situation. This is a great find, Sudhir. You must truly know what you have found. We need to transport him to ISS. There is a lot we can learn from him.” Said Saikat, sounding excited.

“Indeed. I have already asked for a VTOL. We will continue our search but after we transport him.” I said.

“Head left from this room and keep going straight. We encountered a few enemies but we took them out, so it should be clear at the moment.” Said Saikat.

I acknowledged and signaled my squad to move. While Saikat and his squad moved right, we moved left from the room. Indeed, the squad had took out most of the enemies. There were steps and we could hear voices from the top.

“We got company again.” Said Rizwan.

“Hide. Don’t fire unless I give the signal.” I said and the others acknowledged.

5 soldiers of THE FIRE came down and started scouting the area. I signaled my squad and we fired at them. They did not stand a chance. We moved upwards till we reached an open area. I asked Chandni and Daljeet to wait while Rizwan and I scouted the area for hostiles. There were none. Satisfied, I called out to them to come out with Dr. Ijaz.

“The coast is clear. Stay here, people. The VTOL is coming for transportation. Once done, we will continue with the search again.” I said.

“Roger that.” The others responded.

Within minutes, a VTOL swooped down towards us and landed a few feet away.

“He is old but he has tons of information. Make sure he is safely transported to be interrogated later.” I said to the lead pilot.

“You can count on us, Sir. Good luck over here.” Said the pilot.

Once the VTOL was airborne, we continued with our search.

“Chandni, you are alright?” I asked.

“He has been down there for… God Knows… how long. I couldn’t control myself. I am sorry.” She replied.

Without a doubt, we all had the same feeling. More than that, I couldn’t wait to complete this mission, go back and have a word with Ijaz. He knew everything… he had to know everything. Something told me, that my wait… our wait for an answer to the most mysterious question… the disappearance of ISS MOONRISER… he had the answer to that.

“Don’t be sorry, Chandni. We are humans, not robots… we may be soldiers, we may have to be hardcore at times but it is ok to cry, ok to sympathize… and empathize. Stick to the mission now. Ijaz may not be the only one looking for our help.” I said.

Suddenly, we received a transmission from the ISS command center.

“Squad Alpha 21, you are close to Squad Bravo 15’s position. They have been caught by a few soldiers of THE FIRE. A squad member has already been killed but 3 are still alive. Their weapons have been taken. Can you assist?”

“Squad 15! That’s… that’s Joseph’s squad.” Said Daljeet.

I looked at Rizwan. One member of the squad was already killed and it was obvious we were all thinking about one person – ROOMA.

“We are on our way. Send us the location. Keep updating us. Over.” I responded.

“Acknowledged. Location sent. Over and Out.” The base representative replied.

We moved as quickly as possible and reached the location. We could see around 20 soldiers of THE FIRE walking around 3 ISS soldiers. We recognized them – Joseph, Dharmesh and Rooma. It was natural for us to heave a sigh of relief though we were also guilty for it. The lifeless body of the 4th member lay just a few feet away and words could not express how sorry we felt for him… and his family.

“As usual, Joseph. As usual. You are good for nothing. You don’t deserve to be a leader. If I had the chance, I would have blown your head away.” Said Rizwan.

I glared at Rizwan and said in a commanding tone, “Stow it, Rizwan. And consider that as an order.”

There were very few moments where I glared at my squad mates, for I knew that they were responsible enough… actually, they were better than me and there were no doubts about it. I have always felt pride of being surrounded by gifted people… a pride only a leader will understand. However, these were moments where it was important to have a neutral mind towards everything, something which I expected my squad mates to have and with that expectation came the responsibility… my responsibility to see that my squad maintains that stance.

“Guys, someone’s coming.” Said Chandni.

We could see a person dressed in an unusual armor and mask coming forward escorted with 6 guards. One of the soldiers of THE FIRE caught hold of Joseph and made him stand pointing a gun on his head.

The armored person looked at Joseph from head to toe. He then revealed himself and I could make out a bearded man who would be well in his 40s. I could make out from his looks that he had a sturdy built making it all the more confusing as to why he needed to wear an armor.

The man looked at Joseph’s badge and started, “Dhruv… Dhruv is my name. And you are… Lt. Joseph Sebastian. I have heard a lot about you. You are among the rising stars along with Lt. Com. Sudhir Malhotra. You both have been involved in a lot of missions, saved a lot of… what do you call them… POTENTIALS, isn’t it? You have also killed a lot of our men and I don’t take kindly of that.”

I was shocked, that man knew my name. He must be a top leader or commander in THE FIRE. The fact he kept track of the people who were the reason for heavy casualties on his side meant that he must be looking for a payback. I was his target now… don’t know whether I should be scared or proud.

“He knows your name. He must have information about our squad.” Said Daljeet.

“Our squad! By the looks of it, he must be having knowledge about everyone in ISS. That is impossible.” Rizwan commented.

“Don’t tell me, is there a spy from THE FIRE among us supplying information? This could be dangerous.” Chandni reacted.

I didn’t have an answer. I could only look at my squad confused. We then saw Dhruv walking towards the dead body of the 4th member.

“Tch… tch… what a waste of life I must say. War is indeed bad. Unfair… and also, pathetic that we fight amongst each other for a paltry reason… reason such as who should have the supreme power to control the world. None of this would have happened unless… unless the WRDO was not formed. Our intention is clear Lieutenant, if WRDO is dissolved… there won’t be any war and we can all live peacefully.

I believe that every country, every nation must have the solemn right to function on their own and not be controlled by an outsider. Unified system, they say… that is all bull shit.” Said Dhruv.

He then looked at Rooma and knelt down before her. I could make out his eyes scanning her from top to bottom. Rooma was feeling uncomfortable and looked away from Dhruv.

“What a pervert! If he lays his hands on her, I will rip him apart.” Said Chandni.

“Be my guest, sis. Be my guest.” Rizwan seconded.

We had to do something. We had to take a chance. It was obvious that they were not going to spare them. They were only playing with them but it was time to end the game.

“War is indeed so bad. So bad that a beautiful woman like you has ended up brandishing a weapon. I must say I am sorry. You deserve more than this, Sweetheart. You deserve to live a comfortable life than be a part of this disturbing war.” Said Dhruv.

He stood up and then ordered the soldier who had held Joseph at gun point, “This lady comes with us. Kill the rest. The ISS may have won today but we will have our revenge. Let them celebrate this little victory… unaware that something big is around the corner.”

My squad and I looked at each other again.

“What is he talking about?” Daljeet asked.

“Well, let us ask him personally. Fire at will. No prisoners.” I said and the others agreed.

We started firing, the soldiers of THE FIRE were taken by surprise and before they could react, we had killed 15 of them in a matter of seconds. Joseph took advantage of it; he grabbed the gun from his captor and fire at him killing him brutally. He then grabbed his rifle and started to fire at Dhruv but his guards came forward. 3 of them were killed. We came out of our hiding firing continuously till all the soldiers of THE FIRE were killed.

Dhruv was indeed startled by this surprise attack and ran as fast as possible from the area.

“Joseph, we need to capture him. Run behind him.” I said.

“Roger that, Boss man. My ears are bleeding because of his senseless talks.” Said Joseph, as both the squads ran behind Dhruv.

We came across a short bend and as we turned, we could see Dhruv running towards a drop ship.

“He cannot escape. We cannot allow him to escape.” I said, as I started firing at Dhruv.

One bullet was able to hit Dhruv, his armor was strong but the force of the bullet was enough to make him fall to the ground. He looked at me and then got on his radio asking for assistance. Of what kind, I wasn’t sure… but we were about to find out. The drop ship door was open and we heard a sound of a machine or a unit starting up.

“This can’t be good.” Daljeet commented.

We all saw in shock and awe as 2 OGREs came out. We all ran for cover as the ogres started to fire at us with dual mini guns. One of the ogres fired a rocket at us and barely missed us as we went into cover. I caught a glimpse of Dhruv getting into the drop ship. There was nothing we could do with ogres firing at us and we watched helplessly as the drop ship flew upwards and escaped.

“He is getting away.” Said Joseph.

“Stay where you are, people. We have to take the ogres out or we will all be torn to pieces. We need to find a weakness.” I said, due to the constant firing we had to speak through our comm device.

“Aim at the legs. It may be heavily armored but constant firing at the legs can bring it down… after which we can think of something.” Said Rizwan.

We all started to do that. Some of us even threw grenades at the first ogre. Through our visors, we could see that the legs were indeed losing its armor but a new problem was cropping up.

“We are almost out of ammo. Does anyone have a rocket or a grenade launcher?” Asked Rizwan.

I, then, remembered something. There was an armory that I saw while my squad and I were in hiding and watching Dhruv’s movements.

“There is an armory… at the same place Joseph and his squad was captured. We need to get there and stock up on ammo. We need make a dash for it. We are sitting ducks here now.” I said.

The others agreed and, on my signal, we dashed back to the same location. While we safely came in, the same couldn’t be said about Dharmesh. A rocket was fired and we watched in horror as Dharmesh was thrown into the air like a rag doll due to the explosion.

“Move, people… or we will all face the same fate. Get to the armory.” I yelled at everyone.

We ran and reached the armory. It was, by all means, a treasure house.

“Damn, this is a dream room for every weapons fanatic.” Said Rizwan.

While we were stocking up, we received a communication from ISS command center, “Soldiers of THE FIRE have launched an assault on 15 of the drop squads due west. Requesting assistance from the all other squads available nearby.”

We all looked at each other.

“It is safe to say that we are winning this fight. Our enemy has their backs to the wall but no way they will surrender. They never ever did. Now, they are launching an assault with whatever they have… and whatever they can throw at us.” said Chandni.

My eyes fell on something more interesting than a rocket launcher. Suddenly, I was in a mood to play a dangerous game but I couldn’t tell this to anyone… not to Chandni, of course. She wouldn’t allow me but someone had to do it. It was an EMP frag launcher. One shot was enough to disable anything big… a tank, a jet… even an ogre.

I brandished it and then looked at the others. They were ready for an onslaught and looked at me for a signal to proceed forward. I took a deep breath and then opened the armory door slowly. Something told me that the ogre was near the entrance though it was not possible for that thing to enter.

“Alright, stay behind me… and stick to the walls. One of ogres should be at the entrance. At first sight, it will start firing at us, so, we should stay away from its reticule.” I said.

Suddenly, there was a sound of an explosion. I didn’t understand at first but it was Rizwan who figured it out, “That damn thing is firing rocket through the entrance. Clever bastard.”

“We need to find another way. No way we are all surviving those rockets, the splash damage of those things are more dangerous than the rocket itself.” Rooma commented.

“We can go back… through the way we were coming from. I saw a staircase there… but we were suddenly surrounded by soldiers of THE FIRE.” Said Joseph, he felt embarrassed while saying that but then, it was not his fault if they were outnumbered. Those are the moments when we either decide to fight back or surrender. Joseph… for once, decided to think about his squad but looks like, it didn’t work the way he wanted to. Hell, if it is, it didn’t work the way we all wanted to. Dharmesh was gone… no way, I am losing anybody else.

“We will take the stairs. We will be on top of that thing. Good position for all of us to fire at that thing and bring it down.” I said, though, that was not my plan.

We ran back, got to the next floor and then reached the same location the ogre was standing. We could hear the rumbling sound and also, heard it firing another rocket through the entrance.

“No doubt, the pilot is pretty persistent. He will kill us all and then take a rest.” Said Daljeet.

Joseph and I looked at each other, we nodded our heads in agreement and moved forward towards a giant window screen. We looked down and could see both the ogres standing at the entrance. I armed myself with the EMP launcher and looked at Joseph.

“What do you intend doing?” He asked.

“Something radical.” I answered and fired at the first ogre.

The launcher fired an EMP frag that stuck to the ogre and once it activated, all mechanisms within the ogre stopped working. The ogre staggered in its position and fell to the ground. The other ogre looked up and aimed its guns at us but I quickly fired another and the other ogre was brought down. The 2 pilots of the ogre came out of them, Joseph and I did not think twice as we fired at them and killed them.

“Our fellow soldiers need help and without a doubt, we will. Man the ogre, Joseph. Let us show them how we sign off from a battle.” I said, it was obvious everyone behind us were shocked to hear this.

“This was your plan all along? Like, seriously?” Joseph asked.

“Not really. Not until we got word from command that our fellow soldiers need help.” I responded.

Joseph was still staring at me, a smile sprouted and he said, “There is a reason you are better than all of us, Sudhir. Now I see it. Well then, lead the way, Boss man. I am with you.”

I smiled back and then looked at my tracker which showed the location of our pinned down comrades.

“Rizwan, take the others with you and link up with our soldiers. Support them with all you got. We are coming around. Relay us with everything that is happening over there while we reach the spot.” I said.

Rizwan acknowledged and ordered the rest of them to follow him. Chandni, however, came forward and looked at me. It was obvious she was not just concerned; she was upset over me not telling her everything.

“You have your reason to be angry with me but don’t worry. We will be fine. We are done with the fight here. One last effort… and we all go home in one piece.” I said.

Chandni calmed down and nodded her head in agreement. She jogged back to Rizwan and the others.

As Joseph and I boarded the ogres, the former commented, “You are a lucky guy.”

I looked at Joseph as he closed the hatch of the ogre and powered it up. I closed mine and as I powered it up, I smiled feeling embarrassed. I kept a watch on the tracker as we moved to the area where our comrades were pinned down.

“Sudhir, Joseph… where the hell are you guys?” asked Rizwan.

“We are close. You will see us in 15 seconds.” I answered.

“We may not last long for 15 seconds… and I am not exaggerating. You guys better get your ass over here.” Said Rizwan.

As Joseph and I crossed a bend, we saw and understood what Rizwan meant. We knew that the remaining forces within this base were fighting back with whatever they had now but we never knew it would be this big. We could see 8 tanks, 4 of them being anti-air vehicles too.

“I now see why our fleet was not able to send jets to protect us. These bastards had this kind of artillery inside this base and no one caught wind of it.” Joseph said, he had the same thoughts as me.

“These ogres are strong enough to withstand 4 shots from a tank but if all those tanks fire together… we are done for.” I said.

“I will call for air support. Let us first take out the anti-air tanks.” Said Joseph.

“Alright, let us not waste time. These ogres can aim at 2 entities at the same time. Let us aim at the anti-air vehicles and then we will take care of the rest.” I said and Joseph acknowledged.

We aimed at the tanks while at the same time, Joseph activated the beacon for air support.

“Acknowledged, Lt. Joseph. We are sending in the birds.” We got a reply from command.

We had a lock on and without wasting anymore time, I said, “FIRE.”

Joseph and I pressed the trigger, and 2 rockets from each ogre flew towards the anti-air vehicles. It was a perfect hit as all 4 anti-air tanks exploded in a ball of flames. The infantry unit of THE FIRE was taken aback by this and looked back at the us.

“Forward, Joseph. No one should survive. Rain hell on them.” I said as I fired the mini-gun.

Joseph activated rocket shots that could fire a barrage of mini rockets that were effective against the infantry but not heavy artillery. This was the first time I was working alongside Joseph; I am not sure if our differences were clear yet one thing was certain, he was a master when it came to heavy weapons.

I activated mine and took out most of the infantry unit when suddenly, Joseph’s ogre was hit hard by tank fire. I could make out that Joseph was shaken by that hit but the ogre was still functional. I didn’t waste time and aimed again at the remaining tanks. It takes about 3 seconds for the ogre to get a lock on but with 4 tanks aiming at you, it was a long time as I got hit by a tank fire. We needed to get to cover.

“Joseph, get to cover. We need to take out the others tanks.” I said.

Joseph acknowledged and tried to get up to reach me but was hit again by another tank fire. This time it was fatal as one of the legs of the ogre was destroyed and the ogre crashed to the ground. I watched in horror as the tanks were coming close to us. I immediately switched to sentry mode, the legs of the ogre buckled up and an extra layer of protection came out.

I kept firing the rocket shots which was causing enough hindrance while I took aim at 2 of tanks. In 4 seconds, I had a lock on and the tanks exploded. I had to take out the remaining tanks, however, they were firing continuously now and I could see the extra protection losing its power. I was wearing out now due to the impact the ogre was taking. Suddenly, I could sense that this was it then. My final moments. Air support will be here any moment. I may not live long to see this but at least the others will be saved.

“Sudhir, get out of that thing. Try to find cover.” Said Chandni.

It was easier said than done. All I could do was smile at that suggestion … a pretty lame one too… I took aim again as the ogre gave a signal to eject as it was close to destruction.

“Just 3 seconds before I go out with a bang.” I said to myself.

As the aim assist beeped, all my memories started to come back to me. As if I was going through a wormhole, all those moments with my Dad, my Mom, my friends, my squad…. with Chandni… everything came out of nowhere. As I was about to press the trigger, I could hear a buzzing noise. It was familiar, very familiar… there was a huge explosion and I could see the remaining tanks explode and being thrown into the air due to the impact. What just happened?

I looked at the ogre screen. It was the air support. Suddenly, I could hear banging from somewhere. It was the hatch and someone was trying to open it… well, it did open, it was Joseph.

“Why you son of…! Get out of this thing!” Joseph shouted as he dragged me out of the ogre and then made me jump of it. As I fell to the ground, Joseph once again caught hold of me and dragged me away. Before, I could understand what was going on, the ogre exploded and the effect of it threw us a few feet away. I had one look at the ogre after which all I could remember was a few familiar faces looking at me and asking whether I was alright. Everything faded out and went dark.

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