It happened during some year, although I don’t remember which exactly. All I know is that it was a ‘transition’ or at least that’s how we called it. The rains were easing off, the sun was taking over and you could feel a certain unease in the air. We knew that something was going on even though there was nothing in sight. A general sense of discomfort was lingering, inviting to caution. We were listening in. Those ‘above’ were talking. Those ‘below’ were nodding along, as always. There was talk about an invisible enemy. Neighbors were talking about war. We gathered and considered the situation, organized quickly and without too many words. And then… we waited.
The first sign of crisis that year (the year itself will turn out to be long and challenging) a pact was made. Those with experience (and those without) realized that the only option and that we could only stick together in a challenging situation. Times of crisis get the most out of people – what comes out in the immediate is that which is usually repressed and pushed back in everyday life: empathy, care for your fellow woman or man and the yearning to come out victorious. Defeat is not an option. Unless it is, if only an extremely stupid one.
During that ‘transition’ we’ve quietly overcome our differences, set up the basis of our strategy and waited for the moment. We knew that the time will come and that we’d have to take radical measures. Nobody wanted a war. It’s been years since any one of us held a gun in our hands. But war came to us, not the other way around.
As with every transition, on that day the weather was changing. It was gloomy. Sun was behind the clouds but that light worked for us, or so I thought. We moved out of our base with a spring in our step, as one. But right around the corner, from a clearing behind it we heard a loud: BANG!
- _motorbreath down. _motorbreath down!
The team has lost its weakest link. Some of us privately thought that that’s probably for the better. _motorbreath was ‘green’, a newbie – a lizard. He was inaugurated to a brotherhood of experienced, wicked fighters in hopes of getting good. He didn’t hold, despite his desire to prove his worth. Death of a first comrade brought stubborness and spite to the others. A few long seconds later, Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov held the same spot that he held when he saw his comrade drop with peripheral vision. The steady hand of an old wolf didn’t take long. BANG! The first opponent got some of what _motorbreath was served only seconds prior. The odds were even again.
At that moment a tactical decision was made. A crew will take the left flank to cut off the enemy. The other crew will go throught the middle, conventionally known as ‘mid’.
They called us Terrorists at the time. We called them Counter-Terrorists, cynically. For us they were characters, avatars, that we wanted to run over. It’s necessary to mention that if that sounds brutal, they wanted even worse for us. This was a fight to death, literally a math battle with a lot of audio components. Only one can come out on top, reach the ‘stars’ and get promotions, ranks etc.
The crew that went to the left circled around the bend and tried to listen to the opponents’ movements. Even though they were generally out in the open, they had a few cover positions they could use to stave off a surprise attack. And a surprise attack they got, suddenly – bullets flying everywhere. Fortunately (for us anyways) they managed to get to cover. Then the ace entered the field. The brute force of the team.
- Get in position and wait for my go. – said Ranbo;
- Maybe we wanna push now when they’re not expecting – Rendom answered.
Phacelift, in accordance with his life’s teachings, was patient and waited for the final decision to be reached. They went with the first option.
As soon as the shooting stopped from the other side of the clearing, Ranbo peaked with his AK47 and cut one of them down. Adrenaline and a subsequent rush of blood to the head fused plans A and B into one single hot mess. Everyone left their position and started spraying left, right and centre. Grenades flew everywhere. Half blind from the flashbangs, Phacelift and Rendom knocked two more guys out. Not without consequences, as the third took Rendom down with them. He retreated, though – the gamble has paid off and the left flank was now secure and cleared of enemy presence. I guess that’s what they mean when they say that ‘it’s all in the game’.
On the other side of the battlefied, much as he did in his civilian life, Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov took over the baton and rallied the troops. Neatly, as was expected. Pakito14, Savopecki, Gin&Juice and Struks grouped inside of abandoned objects and waited for directions.
The plan was to create an elaborate trap, a ruse, a triangle in which the enemy will get into and get cannoneered into oblivion. If that doesn’t go through, the backup plan was to split into teams of two men each. And if that didn’t work (as it usually happens with matters of war) the team was to revert to a desperate default: every man for himself. After a long fast that saw no enemy blood spilled, Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov ordered the troops to dig out and move. But the hated enemy was ready.
- Moving through the appartments, one window, one door. – hollered Ulyanov.
- I see one. – said Gin&Juice, decapitating one enemy with an AWP.
- Spakito, shift and we move together. – said Savopecki.
- I’m watching our backs. – relied Struks calmly.
Carnage ensued, the enemy was spraying from windows, balconies, doors… Struks got hit in his hip and through his loin but his devotion to the cause was stronger than the pain. He got up and with his last breath hit an enemy, dragging the poor bastard down with him. His last thoughts were about his comrades. Not too far ahead, Savopecki was breaking enemy lines and exchanging fire while Pakito14 was glancing over his shoulder and waiting to get his first kill.
- I’ve hit him but he won’t go down, goddammit. – Savopecki whined.
Just as it happened on the left flank, the one that Ranbo and Phacelift broke through and ran to meet the others, Pakito and Savopecki were eager to get through the line and conclude this battle ASAP. Even though they contributed by wounding opponents, an enemy sniper put an end to their little misadventure and their episode ended before the final victory could be achieved.
Weakened, but not demotivated, Ranbo, Phacelift, Ulyanov and Gin&Juice surrounded the enemy and drove them into a corner. They had the numbers, after all. They came in from two sides and had the enemy pinned down in the location known as ‘A’.
- Moving in on 3, 2, 1… – Ranbo counted off.
- Roger that. – Phacelift replied.
Overwhelming noise ripped through the air. The two scoundrels that took Savopecki and Pakito14 down were soon downed themselves. And just as they caught a glimpse of victory a click was heard. Ranbo was the only one calm enough to realize that they had to regroup and get a better position from which to oversee the action. He took cover and saw his comrade Phacelift go down under overwhelming defensive fire.
The scales were tipped back to zero. We were back at the beginning, they were as numerous as us. They lost as much as we had. They must have felt the same resolve, the same rage and the same boneheaded resolve to outlast the enemy.
But then, something happened that nobody could have foreseen and nobody could have influenced.
At the beginning of the crisis, our crew had more men – some were written off at the start and some participated occasionally. And now, when we needed it most, we got reinforcements. I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, would you?
Hamster Rhino arrived at the last minute, realizing that he cared about his comrades more than selling stuff to foreigners (which is what he did before the crisis and the crisis itself only intensified his immaculate salesmanship). With his trusty Negev that he affectionately called ‘Piglet’ he appeared inside of the base. He used some sort of compass to figure out his team’s location and started strutting towards them, weighed down by his rifle.
While the three of our finest played a prolonged, painful chess game with high stakes Hamster Rhino had no intention of participating in calculations and paid no mind to plans. Galvanized by a guilty conscience or a rush of blood to the head, he suddenly appeared where he was least expected! Nobody got what was going on in the first instance and nobody could have seen him coming. He bravely dealt some damage to the nemesis. Piglet’s song was heard across the battlefield as bullets stuck and bounced off of heavy wooden structures and riddled the walls… and then he fell.
One could say he sold something, again. His health and armor in return for a higher purpose.
Ranbo, Ulyanov and Gin&Juice used the confusion and attacked, this time with full force. Ulyanov stuck his neck out to draw the opponent out in the open. An enemy fell to one of the last bullets left in the chamber of his Deagle.
- Boys I’ll draw them out and you hit them with everything you’ve got. I’ve got no more health and waiting these guys out is pointless. – Those turned out to be Ulyanov’s last words.
All of our hopes fell on the shoulders of our Achilles, our William Wallace – Ranbo and his steady comrade, that long range uxtreme Gin&Juice.
Spurred on by the premature elimination of Ulyanov, the enemy changed the pace and went on the offense. Gin&Juice tried to use the terrain to his advantage and assault the enemy through a narrow gap on the main wall but milimeters worked against him. He was dealt a bad hand by that cruel mistress, Fate, and his life was taken by the very tool he used to take other people’s lives during his long career.
And just like that, it all fell apart. No more maths, no more calculations, no more chess moves and thinking five steps ahead. Ranbo alone against an elite enemy. Those that scalped all of his friends and comrades, both those with experience and those without. All of them were not up to the task. A question popped into his mind briefly – he asked himself whether he’s the one to overcome in the name of his fallen friends. He recollected the days and hours of strenuous preparation, weeks of blood sweat and tears it took to bring him to this moment. A challenge like no other. Will he become a hero everyone expected him to become? LeBron or Darko Miličić… There was no point and no time to think about it too much. The pressure was on.
- Okay, let’s go. – he whispered to himself.
He knew that rascals and deviants, which his enemies undoubtedly were, appreciate their health points more than anything. They’d never risk exposure or risk anything at all. They chose the terrain accordingly.
He first checked the terrace and scanned below it for any movement. There was noone around and things became clearer – they were in the pit! However many of them there were was unclear. It was then that he knew he had the element of surprise on his side. He glanced the enemy, worked out that he was alone in the pit (they separated!) and then quietly snuck around him as the enemy was scanning the distance for any sight or inkling as to where Ranbo is. Little did he know that Ranbo, quiet and nimble as a shadow, was already behind him. He made a few noisy steps to alert the enemy of his presence and took out a combat knife given to him by Ulyanov when he was joining the squad. He plunged the knife deep between the enemy’s ribs with a slight smile on his face.
- One down, one to go. – he took a deep breath and got ready for the final duel.
During any conflict, it bears remembering one fact above every other. No matter how little we think about the people on the other side of the conflict from our side, it’s necessary to know that they went through the same training, faced the same (or worse!) challenges and got the same drill.
Ranbo was acutely aware of this and went out to seek his prey. His hunter instinct kicked in. All of what happened before was irrelevant. The unknowns particularly so. He was in his element, no outside influences, just him doing what he was trained and designed to do.
30 seconds later he heard footsteps. Danger was imminent. He snuck up to the site, which he correctly identified as the only spot where the remaining Counter Terrorist could be. He could smell the enemy’s fear. He improvised and tossed a grenade to one side to fool the enemy. He quietly went the other way, opening the map and his shooting angles. Luckily, the enemy bit into the bait and went out to seek his inevitable demise. Ranbo was scanning from his new position on the side and caught a glimpse of his enemy. A loud BANG echoed. For a second, everything was quiet.
Ranbo was an alias, a different persona of sorts. The one that loved company even though he’d never admit it. He remembered his comrades by name, one by one: _motorbreath, Rendom, Pakito14, Savopecki, Phacelift, Hamster Rhino, Vladimir Ilič Uljanov, Gin&Juice…
Of course, there were others there that made the difference but couldn’t help at the time. The best of us went out to become a freelancer even though we never knew what that meant. The one we called ‘boss’ always hyped up his arrival but never came.
All of that went through the head of that colossus, that bastion of freedom we all believed in. Ranbo, who covered everyone’s back and helped those who needed him stood alone. His vision was blurry. Emotions flatlined. He was exhausted, no gas left in the tank. Driving down a slope, not in gear. Just cruising.
He looked up at the sky and the sun that was breaking from their cover. The same sky _motorbreath hoped will play to their advantage at the beginning of the game. He looked down upon his weapon, the AK47 he so loved. There was blood everywhere.
He was alive. The screen showed ’12 Health Remaining’ and ‘Terrorists Win’, followed by an FPS equivalent of elevator music.
He started hearing elated, joyous voices that were congratulating him. All of those that couldn’t be with him in the moment. And then he remembered…
- Discord, dude. Inferno is a pain in the ass, let’s play Assault next.
- Well done Bole. You slapped these guys as if they were a bunch of marmots. – said Ulyanov.
- YEEEEEEEEESSS – yelled Savopecki.
- Boys, next time we’ll have to do better than this. – Struks said.
- Oh my god… – Pakito14 murmurred.
- Jeez Louise – Gin&Juice breathed out with a slight hint of sarcasm in his voce.
- Anybody got a gun to throw at me? – asked Rendom.
- AFK. BRB. – Phacelift quickly said, getting up to get some water.
Hamster Rhino celebrated quietly in the temple of his mind. His wife and child were sound asleep and he wouldn’t dare wake them up. _motorbreath had no mic, but wrote: