Monday, May 18, 2015

Allahu Akbar (27 MAY 2016)

Anant Dhalon was in trouble.

It had been three- or was it four? -days since he'd inserted into Nigeria to find the EXALT cell that was operating there. They'd managed to hack into XCOM's financial transactions before the higher ups had even known they existed, and it was definitely time for payback. While their attack hadn't directly harmed anyone, the funds that had disappeared would have been used for improved weapons and armor in the fight against the X-Rays, and Anant was determined they'd come to regret it.

But that was a task easier determined than accomplished. It had taken him two days to find them, even with the data the council had managed to provide. It had actually been during a visit to one of the local mosques that he'd managed to spot one of the profiled individuals, and trail him back to where the remainder of the cell was dug in. Anant had not missed the opportunity to thank Allah for his good fortune. He was praying silently, constantly now.

He had not slept since leaving the mosque. He'd followed the EXALT operative back, finding an abandoned train maintenance yard. He'd spotted the guards and stopped well outside of the perimeter before making a cautious circuit to determine the size of their cordon. Taking half a day, he'd crawled, his body pressed as flat as possible to the ground, down the center of the railway, using the abandoned cargo cars for cover. Once he'd managed to get inside their perimeter, He'd made the mistake of relaxing, ever so slightly. That mistake nearly got him killed.

"Hey!" Anant ducked back into the train car, but it was too late. He'd been spotted. He did his best to run lightly across the car and drop to the gravel, wincing as it crunched beneath his feet. He'd only just made it back to where they had the functional communications relays, which he'd had to abandon after the first time he'd been spotted. He was sure that tampering with those first two is what brought them out; There must have been some alert generated, but he wasn't any sort of computer expert. All he knew was how to plug the datapad into the relay, and let it do it's work.

These guys weren't giving up the chase. Anant swore a string in Urdu before running out of words. He switched to Houston's favorite epithet, instead, muttering "Shit, shit, shit," under his breath as he ran and dodged between the cars. Repetitive, but adequate to describe his situation. The EXALT operatives hadn't opened fire yet, which means they didn't see him, but it was only a matter of time before the rest of the cell came to their aid.

As though the thought had created the reality, he suddenly came upon man in a vest. They stared at each other for a split second, then both reached for their weapons. Anant was slightly faster on the draw, and popped off several rounds, causing the other to drop his carbine and dive for cover. Anant didn't stay to finish him off, but took off at a dead sprint, completely disregarding stealth. He hunched his shoulders as he ran, knowing it wouldn't take long for the man to regain his weapon. He wasn't surprised when he felt a hard blow between his shoulder blades, nearly throwing him from his feet. Somehow, he managed to keep running, his breath ragged as he waited for the pain. It didn't come, and he realized that the alloy vest had done its job. Other than the impact, he didn't feel a thing.

His dash took up up a flight of stairs. To his left, he saw one of the active relays. He caught the movement of another relay out of corner of his right eye, and did his best to mark it for later, if there was to be a later. Directly in front of him, as he came up the stairs was a flat car, which he dove and rolled onto, turning his roll into a scramble toward and off the other side. Evading his pursuers to fight another day was his first priority. Once he'd done that, he could worry about how to get those last couple of relays.

Directly on the other side of the car was a small building with some machinery on the side nearest. To his right, he saw a roll-up door, and a ladder. Pausing only briefly to make sure no one was currently in sight, he ran to the ladder, flinging himself halfway up as he reached it, and quickly rolled onto the flat roof. There, he lay flat, and did his best to control the breaths that tore out of his chest. "subḥāna rabbī al-'aclā wa-bi-ḥamdih" he murmured, nearly silently, between suppressed gasps. Glory to my Lord, the Most High Most Praiseworthy. Anant repeated the Arabic words, over and over, finding comfort in the ritual praise, until finally his breath slowed, and only the pounding of his heart remained.

He heard footsteps crunching in gravel. He counted, as best he could. At least four men were below, and he could hear them talking quietly, not quite able to make out their words. He could guess, of course; They were discussing where he might have gone. Anant heard the footsteps go all around. At one point he heard someone rattling the roll-up door, and then another trying a door on the far side of the small building.

"Locked," he heard that one raise his voice. "He couldn't have gotten in here before we arrived."

"Check the roof," another said, his tone ringing with authority. Anant listened hard for a moment more, trying to gauge the positions of the men below, before he heard the sound of hands and boots on the rung of the ladder. He rolled to a crouch, duck-walked a couple steps, and peeked over the side farthest from the ladder, his gun at the ready. It was clear. He spun and holstered his pistol, seeing the gloved hand reach for the edge of the roof, and then dropped off the roof, clutching the edge with his fingertips, just as he saw the top of the man's head coming up.

Anant's heart pounded as he dangled on the side of the building. At any moment, the man on the roof would see his fingertips, or someone would come around the side of the building. He was ready to drop and shoot, because there was no longer any place to run. But miraculously, a moment passed, then another, before he heard the man on the other side shout down. "It's clear," before the sound of him climbing back down the ladder. Anant heard the crunch of gravel on the train-side of the building, and heaved himself back up, rolling once more back onto the roof. He lay there for several endless minutes, hearing the EXALT forces discuss, and then begin to move away.

It was too hot. He knew where the remaining relays were, but getting to them would be too risky. He decided it was time to call for an extraction, and hopefully when XCOM's team got here, he'd be able to get to the last two relays. Anant lay there, exhausted but feeling resolute, and stared up at the stars. He couldn't see them the same way he used to, before the enemy had come from the sky, but beyond all of that, he knew he was watched over, protected.

"Allahu akbar."