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We Are Operators Episode 12: Infiltration

Unknown Time
Alabaster kept his eyes closed. He did his best to calm his breathing as the prison bus he sat on moved toward an Ursus checkpoint. The checkpoint had dozens of Ursus soldiers occupying a bit of street that ran through a barricade of tall concrete barriers topped with barbed wire. They were all well-armed and formed up in the road as the prison bus neared them.
The prison guard uniform Alabaster wore was tight, feeling like it was constricting his blood flow at certain points. On his lap was a sword that was commonly issued to Ursus military police, his task was to play the role of a prison guard for the rest of the squad. He looked back past the cage that separated him and his fellow Ursus infiltrator from the others in C1 and C2.
Most of them looked nervous, but there were still beacons of bravery like Aero and Chaser.
“Alright, tovarisch,” the bus driver called, “stick to the script or else Nearl's squad's gonna have to do everything by themselves. Hope your Ursine's not rusty.”
Alabaster took a deep breath. “Understood.”
The bus came to a halt and soon the leader of the Ursus checkpoint stepped up to the door and boarded the bus.
Alabaster kept his sword at an ease position and saluted the soldier. “(Ursine) Blessed be the Emperor's name.”
“(Ursine) Blessed be the Emperor's name,” the soldier replied while returning Alabaster's salute. “I hadn't received word that a prisoner transport would be coming through.”
“(Ursine) Freshly caught trying to escape the city. They need to be processed immediately,” Alabaster explained.
The soldier gestured for Alabaster to open the cage which he did immediately with a set of keys from his pocket.
Alabaster stood up and stayed with the soldier as he walked down the aisle and got a good look at everyone on the bus. For the most part, the soldier seemed satisfied and moved onto the final few operators. The one Alabaster was most worried for was Labcoat who was sitting at the very back of the bus. Considering the Empire's stance on infected, he was worried the soldier would spot the black fragments on Labcoat's shoulder as her brown prison uniform left a little too much of her shoulders exposed.
“(Ursine) Would you like to see the paperwork, sir?” Alabaster quickly asked.
The soldier shook his head and turned around. “(Ursine) No need. Will they be sent to Prokova or Illich?”
“Prokova,” Alabaster recited, remembering the details from his briefing on the infiltration.
“(Ursine) Tell your damn driver he took the long way then. Illich is two blocks from here while Prokova is on the other side of the district,” the soldier berated.
“(Ursine) Understood,” Alabaster said while saluting.
“(Ursine) Anything to report outside?!” the soldier yelled to the men outside.
“(Ursine) Nothing out of the ordinary or any hidden stashes, sir!” a voice outside reported.
“(Ursine) Get this thing moving if you're gonna make processing before the catastrophe lockdown,” the soldier said as he got off the bus and waved at the driver to move forward.
The driver closed the doors and eased the bus through the checkpoint without delay. There was barely anybody on the roads, however the sidewalks were still somewhat filled with patrols and worried looking civilians. It was a bad first impression for Alabaster as this was the first time he ever stepped foot in Chernobog as he was more accustomed to the many estates of the Olovsky family with the infrequent trip to the capital every now and then.
“Suka! I hope the other checkpoints don't have assholes with sticks up their asses like that one,” the driver joked as he made a right turn.
“How far are we from the rally point?” Alabaster asked.
“Not that far. If we got anymore checkpoints to go through, just keep doing what you were doing,” the driver said.
Alabaster nodded and relaxed himself as the first checkpoint quickly faded to memory. Exposing the squad wasn't the only thing he was worried about in the mission. Considering the high profile of the Olovsky family in the Empire, there was always the faint possibility that someone would recognize him as Antosha Olovsky. While he wasn't worried about a common foot soldier, the possibility of the news getting back to more interested players was much more concerning.
But with the first checkpoint past them, Alabaster could relax, at least until the next checkpoint.
Unknown Time
Jay gave up trying to look at anything interesting outside his window on the bus. Chernobog was a bleak looking place with Ursus soldiers almost as common as the streetlights on the sidewalks. Frankly he couldn't believe this was what Dobermann meant when Ursus forces weren't going to be at full capacity. Although, he wasn't as worried considering how much he and his fellow operators were drilled in fighting against Ursus tactics.
He looked around at everyone else and could see most of them looking out the windows just like he was. Sitting in the seat across from him was Aero who looked the least nervous out of everyone.
Aero noticed Jay looking at him and turned his head. “Are you nervous?”
“A little,” Jay answered. “First battles are always like this though. I'll probably get over it quick.”
“Of course. It was the same for me in my first battle,” Aero said.
“When was that?” Jay asked.
“I was around sixteen at the time,” Aero answered with a nod.
Jeez... I'm twenty-three...
Jay stewed to himself, feeling a little inadequate compared to Aero's years alongside an experienced knight.
The bus eventually turned into a two story parking garage where Jay could see another prison bus was already parked. Once the bus came to a halt, Alabaster opened the cage and waved for everyone to step out.
Jay followed the line of operators stepping off the bus and formed up with his squad as the final few members got out. He immediately noticed that Nearl wasn't among the E4 operators that were getting off the other prison bus.
“Where's Nearl?” Jay asked.
“She'll be arriving with the equipment,” Fast Lane, E4's male Liberi vanguard answered. “She wanted to personally make sure all our gear made it in safely.”
As if on cue, an armoured truck turned into the parking garage and parked near the prison buses. The doors on the back opened to reveal Nearl jumping out and leaving behind dozens of boxes and crates.
Nearl checked a small timer she had on her belt while walking up to everyone. “I'm glad to see you all made it. It's almost the zero hour of the operation so Amiya and Dobermann's team should be waiting nearby the target facility by now. We need to get to the rendezvous point and get ready to receive the other teams.”
“Come on people! All your stuff's in the back!” the driver of the armoured truck called.
A lineup immediately formed at the truck. Jay hopped in and looked around at all the boxes and crates, trying to find his equipment. In a box of jackets close to the very back, Jay found his black jacket along with the shirt and pants he wore underneath it. On his way out in a weapon box, he found his spear-baton and immediately took it before jumping out with his belongings in hand.
Jay got back on the prison bus so he could change into his clothes in the privacy of the cage. He could see other operators had similar ideas while some simply changed out in the open or put their outer layers over their prison uniforms.
Once Jay was done, he left the bus and allowed Labcoat who was waiting outside to get in to change. After some time, the entirety of the element was ready for combat.
“We'll proceed on foot to the rendezvous point. Drivers, maintain a holding route nearby and prepare to extract yourself. Our own extraction has already been arranged,” Nearl said as she looked around at everyone.
“Alright, Nearl. Good luck,” the driver of the armoured truck said before popping his head back in the cabin and rolling up the window.
“How far is the rendezvous point?” Jay asked.
“A few blocks from here. I will take my squad and secure the area. As for C1 and C2, I want you to form pairs and scout the area around the rendezvous point and give me an assessment,” Nearl answered.
Jay looked immediately to Spark and was about to call to her to see if she wanted to pair up when he saw her approach Meeka. He immediately frowned when he realized Spark was most likely asking Meeka if she wanted to pair up.
“Yo, Jay,” Eddron called. “Let's partner up.”
“Sure,” Jay said with a smile.
By default, that left Labcoat with Alabaster and the three pairs immediately set out to begin scouting the area.
Unknown Time
Spark kept stealing glances at Meeka as the two walked down the sidewalk. A few civilians were still moving about the city, doing last minute stockpiling or heading home from work which gave a bit of cover from the occasional patrol from Ursus guards. The two tried their best to look inconspicuous with Meeka keeping her drone in a plastic shopping bag she picked up off the ground while Spark used her staff like a walking stick.
Meeka looked bored out of her mind and kept her hands to her sides while tapping her fingers on her thighs or hips.
“So... what do you think about being on our very first mission?” Spark asked softly, only speaking when she was sure there weren't any listening ears around.
“Alright I guess...” Meeka answered quietly.
Spark rolled her eyes. “Sometimes talking to you feels like talking to a brick wall.”
“All the buildings around us are made of bricks. Why don't you talk to them?” Meeka said sarcastically.
“Oh come on,” Spark exclaimed. “I want to talk to you. You're my squadmate and roommate. Don't you wanna have more friends than just C2?”
“I'm okay with the six of us,” Meeka said.
Spark pouted. “Does it get tiring just seeing the same people every day? Why don't you try to make friends with the people you work with at your reception job?”
“Jessica still hasn't gotten over me asking her if she pooped in the bathroom in front of that Silverash guy,” Meeka answered, a slight smile on her face that faded as quickly as it came.
“Well when she does, why don't you ask her to hang out sometime?” Spark asked.
Meeka groaned. “Why do you care?”
Spark smiled and put her arm around Meeka's neck. “Because you kinda remind me of my little sister Carmen. Always likes to stay home and do nothing really productive. I mean at least she cleans and takes care of our parents from time to time.”
“If I do more cleaning, will that be enough for you?” Meeka asked as she got out of Spark's embrace.
Spark sighed. “Something you wanna talk about?”
“Nope,” Meeka answered.
“We could talk about stuff after all this is over,” Spark suggested. “It'd probably feel weird talking about personal stuff while on the clock, huh?”
“I don't have time once we're back; I-I got more shifts at my reception job,” Meeka said.
“Yeah yeah, the shifts Madame Thura told you to get. I guess our timetables don't really give either of us a chance to be alone together. But if you ever wanna talk about it, just give your big sis Spark a call,” Spark said, smiling and trying to get Meeka to smile too.
Meeka didn't smile but looked a little confused. “Big sis?”
“My little sister's a year or two younger than you but if I can deal with her I think I can deal with you. You got any siblings of your own?” Spark asked.
“I'm an only child,” Meeka answered bluntly.
“All the more reason to see me as your big sis!” Spark cheered.
“You two! Perro and Feline!” an authoritative voice called.
Spark and Meeka turned around to see an Ursus soldier leading two others toward them. Civilians on the sidewalk got out of their way as the three men eventually towered over Spark and Meeka.
Oh god, I got so into the conversation I forgot we needed to be careful of patrols.
“Are you lost? The slums are that way,” the lead soldier said, pointing in the direction Spark and Meeka came from.
Hopefully you follow my lead, Meeka.
Spark bowed her head. “Blessed be the Emperor's name! We wanted to do some last minute stockpiling before the catastrophe lockdown, sir.”
“Outside of the slums?” the second Ursus soldier asked.
“Our families saved up a lot of wages from labouring and told us to get good food from outside of the slums. We're not infected if that's what you're worried about,” Meeka said quickly.
Nice one, Meeka!
“Not a bad idea,” the final soldier said. “Only good stuff you can get down there are from convenience stores.”
“What is that? Some kind of walking stick?” the lead soldier asked while pointing at Spark's staff.
Spark made a quick glance at the soldier. His expression suggested he didn't think it was actually a walking stick.
I gotta be careful or else he might try to confiscate it.
“It's part of a miniature turbine my dad built to help keep the lights on in our home. I take this part with me so nobody tries to steal it while we're out of the house,” Spark explained.
“Let me see it,” the lead soldier demanded.
Spark reluctantly handed over the staff, being careful not to give the soldier a static shock that'd immediately clue him in to what he was actually holding.
“Sounds exactly like what would happen in that shithole!” the second soldier joked.
The lead soldier examined the staff carefully and gave the miniature turbine in the cage a few spins. Spark anxiously waited as the lead soldier continued on with his investigation, looking along every nook and cranny.
Before he could say something, a communicator on his belt started buzzing static before a voice speaking Ursine called in. The lead soldier took the communicator and held it up to his mouth as he responded in Ursine of his own. After a brief back and forth, the lead soldier gestured his two companions to move along while giving Spark back her staff.
“Stay out of trouble and get back to the slums before lockdown,” the lead soldier commanded.
“Thank you, sir! Blessed be the Emperor's name!” Spark said eagerly while waving off the soldiers.
“That was a close one,” Meeka said after the soldiers left. “Maybe you should be paying more attention to the current mission instead of this big sis stuff.”
“Sorry... but I was serious about you seeing me as your big sis. You know that right?” Spark asked.
Meeka didn't say anything for a bit before nodding. “Yeah... I know.”
Unknown Time
Just like with Alabaster's prison guard disguise, his regular military police disguise was also a bit constricting. Ironically, the metal plates of his armour were much more comforting than his cloth undershirt as even the slightest flex of his biceps brushed against the tight sleeves of it.
With his disguise, it was quite easy to move and scout the area around the rendezvous point as many soldiers were convinced he was one of them. Beside him was Labcoat who was unarmed as Alabaster kept her gauntlet hidden behind his shield while her knife was on his belt. For the sake of not drawing any attention, Alabaster had hoped she would stay back a bit but she stayed as close to Alabaster as she could.
“You should stay back from me and let me patrol, Miss Labcoat,” Alabaster said softly.
“I don't like this place,” Labcoat said, a frown on her face.
Alabaster looked to Labcoat. “I've been told Chernobog isn't this bleak; the looming catastrophe has certainly made things look worse than they seem.”
“Is it true...” Labcoat started. “About how infected get treated here?”
Alabaster sighed and tried to think about how he should answer the question. She looked nervous, terrified even, perhaps her past played a role in such a reaction to being in Ursus. Even worse, as someone of higher status in Ursus society and heir to one of its major families, he couldn't exactly play ignorant to the things Ursus had done.
“It is true. But if you stay with all of us at Rhodes Island, we will protect you,” Alabaster said.
Labcoat smiled and continued walking forward. She didn't say anything for the next few blocks of scouting and Alabaster wondered what she was thinking about.
“(Ursine) Hail!” a voice called.
Alabaster and Labcoat were standing at an intersection when they both looked to their left to see a small patrol of Ursus guards coming to them from the street perpendicular to the one they were moving down.
Alabaster let his shield and halberd touch the ground. “(Ursine) Blessed be the Emperor's name!”
“(Ursine) Damn, that is quite the halberd. Where'd you get that?” one of the soldiers asked.
“(Ursine) A custom job,” Alabaster answered.
A soldier that looked like the leader of the patrol stepped forward. “(Ursine) Where's the rest of your patrol?”
“(Ursine) I'm sorry, I'm escorting her back home,” Alabaster said.
“Why do you need an escort home?” the lead soldier asked Labcoat.
“He's my grandfather; I was out when I shouldn't have been and he's taking me home,” Labcoat answered.
Grandfather? I'm not that old looking am I? And I'm an Ursus and you're Zalak, Miss Labcoat!
“You're Zalak,” the lead soldier said.
“Ever heard of adoption?” Labcoat asked.
“(Ursine) I apologize for her attitude. She's usually on her best behaviour. She helps a lot at a local clinic which is why she's wearing a labcoat,” Alabaster said.
“How old is your father? You look old enough to be this man's daughter,” the lead soldier asked Labcoat.
Labcoat crossed her arms. “My Gramps takes good care of himself and I take good care of him, of course he looks good. What about your grandfather?”
The soldier bit on his lip. “My grandfather on my father's side never took care of himself. The man smoked cigarettes as often as he breathed and lived recklessly... I was only four when he passed...”
“Oh my gosh I'm so sorry, do you want to talk about it?” Labcoat asked, adopting a more compassionate demeanour.
“No, no.” The soldier said while dismissively waving, a tear in his eye. “I'm sorry for making assumptions. And I honour your grandfather for serving the Emperor at such an advanced age.”
“Please apologize to the soldier for your earlier demeanour,” Alabaster said.
Labcoat bowed her head. “Sorry for being mean, sir. And sorry for making you look bad, Gramps.”
“(Ursine) She has been taught well. Get her back safely before the lockdown. And also be on the lookout for some troublemakers that have been popping up around the city,” the lead soldier said.
“(Ursine) Troublemakers?” Alabaster asked.
“(Ursine) There have been reports of strange people with weapons around the city. Stay safe out there, soldier,” the lead soldier warned.
Alabaster stood up straight. “(Ursine) Blessed be the Emperor's name!”
The group of soldiers continued down the road perpendicular to the one Alabaster and Labcoat were heading down. Once they were gone, Alabaster and Labcoat continued on their original path.
“Grandfather? Why not father?” Alabaster asked.
Labcoat shrugged. “My mom and dad are still alive so it kinda felt wrong I guess. Sorry for putting you on the spot back there, Gramps.”
“Miss Labcoat, the soldiers are gone, you can stop calling me that now,” Alabaster said with a smile.
“Oh yeah... sorry...” Labcoat said.
Does she want to call me 'Gramps'?
The two continued down the street in silence. Their straight path eventually took them to the border with a section of slums which looked much more destitute than the regular city. Buildings were much more smaller and tight while the streets that broke off from the main road looked to be in disrepair. Frankly, the only similarity with the regular city were the frequency of military patrols.
“Is this where the infected live?” Labcoat asked, a genuine disgust in her tone.
Alabaster sighed. “The infected and poor.”
“I wish we could help these people...” Labcoat said while looking around.
“There's only so much Rhodes Island can do,” Alabaster said.
There was the sound of loud crying coming from an alleyway. Despite the sounds of distress, the civilians on the streets seemed apathetic to the noise and even a passing guard patrol did nothing.
Labcoat rushed into the alleyway with Alabaster trying his best to keep up with her. Upon entering the alleyway, Alabaster could see a group of young children throwing rocks at another child.
“Hey! Stop that!” Labcoat yelled as she approached the children.
The children immediately dispersed and ran down another path in the alleyway while the victim was still on the floor and crying. The victim was a young Feline girl in a torn up shirt and shorts covered in scratches and bruises all over her body. However, the most distinct feature about her were the black originium shards that were on the exposed parts of her arms and legs.
Alabaster considered pursuing the attacking children but stayed with Labcoat and the little girl.
“Are you okay?” Labcoat asked while bringing her right arm out of her labcoat and pulling her shirt down to reveal black rocks on her shoulder. “I'm just like you; you're safe now.”
The girl said nothing and looked away from Labcoat.
“Do you have a home to go to? A mom and dad?” Labcoat asked.
Labcoat sighed and pulled a wrinkled and folded package of a bandage from her pocket.
“Here, use this to cover your cuts,” Labcoat said, offering the girl the bandage.
The girl wiped her eyes and slowly rose up before running off without saying a word. Again, Alabaster considered chasing but stayed with Labcoat who looked incredibly saddened.
“Do you think she'll be alright?” Alabaster reluctantly asked, knowing neither of them could possibly know the answer.
Labcoat crossed her arms and brought a hand up to wipe her face while keeping her back to Alabaster. “If she's anything like me, I think she'll be fine.”
“Miss Labcoat?” Alabaster reluctantly called.
Labcoat eventually turned around and showed her face was red and had a few shiny streaks from tears that fell from her eyes. She sniffled and slowly got close to Alabaster.
“Do you mind if I still call you Gramps?” Labcoat asked.
Alabaster did his best to muster a smile. “If that is your wish, Miss Labcoat.”
Labcoat hugged Alabaster tightly. “Thanks, Gramps.”
A loud siren blared, its sound echoing through the alleyways and streets of the city.
“That siren...” Labcoat said as she let go of Alabaster.
Alabaster nodded and handed Labcoat her gauntlet and knife. “All citizens are to begin heading back to their homes. Although, didn't the citizens have a few more hours before lockdown? I wonder what happened. Miss Labcoat, do you remember the way back to the rendezvous point?”
“Yeah, let's go,” Labcoat said as she put on her gauntlet.
Unknown Time
Jay stopped to catch his breath as he and Eddron had ran several blocks to head back to the rendezvous point. There was something about the siren that unnerved Jay: it was still a few hours until lockdown and the Ursus soldiers were acting strangely, running past Jay and Eddron even though Eddron sometimes had his shirt rise up and expose his pistol holster.
“Shit... how many blocks do you think we are from the rendezvous point?” Jay asked, breathing heavily.
“We gotta be almost there; we didn't go too far,” Eddron answered, also breathing heavily.
Jay laughed. “Guess we both gotta do more cardio next time we hit the training facility.”
“I'm ready to run another block or two,” Eddron said as he readied himself.
“Give me a sec,” Jay whined as the burning in his chest subsided.
On Jay's go, the two continued down the street and ran past several more patrols and scurrying civilians. As they crossed an intersection, Jay spotted Labcoat and an Ursus soldier who Jay assumed was Alabaster in his disguise.
Jay mustered what breath he could and waved. “Alabaster! Labcoat!”
Alabaster and Labcoat stopped and turned to Jay and Eddron. The two immediately ran over to join Jay and Eddron as they were out of breath again.
“We're almost back at the rendezvous,” Alabaster said.
“Thank... god...” Jay said.
“Jay!” Spark's voice called.
Jay turned around and spotted Spark and Meeka heading for them from another direction.
“I heard you call Alabaster and Labcoat and followed where your voice came from,” Spark said as she and Meeka arrived.
“Thank god everyone's safe, let's get back to Nearl,” Jay said.
Everyone nodded and advanced down the street together, not taking care to move in formation lest the Ursus guards start to consider the squad hostile. Jay could hear the loud thudding of dozens of boots and predicted they would be running into a large group of Ursus guards.
“In there!” Jay called and pointed at the nearest alleyway.
The squad did as commanded and dived into the alleyway. Not long after, a large column of Ursus guards rushed by in the street. They were yelling something in Ursine and chanting sounds to go along with their marching.
“What's got everyone riled up?” Meeka asked.
“I spoke with a patrol earlier. They said there were reports of strange people with weapons around the city,” Alabaster said.
Jay crossed his arms. “To the Ursus guards, we're strange people with weapons. Do you think those men are headed to attack Nearl at the rendezvous point?”
“Could be, we should get moving to help our allies,” Spark said.
“Wait? Who's that?” Eddron asked, pointing down the alleyway.
Everyone looked the way Eddron was pointing. At the far end of the alleyway was someone with a black tactical vest over a white jacket and hood with many armbands carrying strange insignia. Jay noticed he had a small knife in his hand and the hooded figure also wore a white mask that covered the face.
“You okay over there?” Labcoat called.
The person in the white hood immediately ran away through another path in the alleyway.
“Hey! Wait!” Labcoat yelled as she ran after the white hood.
“Miss Labcoat!” Alabaster called.
Jay groaned as he and the rest of the C2 ran after Labcoat, following her to a rear empty lot between the buildings that only had one way in and out which was now blocked.
Eddron drew his pistol and aimed it at the white hood. “Don't move dirtbag or you're getting a one-way ticket on the bullet train!”
“Don't shoot!” the white hood shouted with a male voice.
“Dude, Eddron, chill out man,” Jay called as he arrived.
“Sorry, I saw that in a movie and wanted to try it out,” Eddron said as he awkwardly laughed while aiming his pistol away.
The young man in the white hood brandished a knife and waved it around threateningly at C2 as they—with the exception of Alabaster as he was still catching up—started forming a semicircle to block his escape.
“Why did you run? We're not gonna hurt you. You infected?” Labcoat asked.
The white hood didn't respond.
Labcoat brought her arm out of her right labcoat sleeve and pulled down her shirt. “See? I'm infected too. I'm not here to hurt you. What's your name?”
Again, the white hood didn't respond.
“Come on, everyone,” Labcoat called. “Lower your weapons.”
As Jay didn't have his spear-baton out, he waited as everyone lowered their weapons or kept them at ease.
“See? We're not a threat,” Labcoat said.
“Labcoat, can't you see the guy doesn't want help?” Meeka warned.
“I couldn't help that little girl but I'll help this guy! A fellow infected!” Labcoat yelled.
“What little girl?” Spark asked.
“Seriously, what's your name?” Labcoat asked sternly.
The white hood slowly lowered his knife. “It's Kevin...”
Labcoat smiled and approached Kevin. “What're you doing out here, Kevin? You know the Ursus guards are going crazy right now, right?”
“I have to deliver something really important,” Kevin answered reluctantly.
“Deliver what?” Jay asked.
“Come see how important it is,” Kevin said while gesturing for everyone to approach him.
Jay didn't like what Kevin had in store but saw the rest of his squad had a morbid curiosity. With a sigh, he joined in on getting close to see what Kevin had as he reached into his pocket.
Footsteps announced Alabaster's arrival. However, as he got closer, he gasped.
“Everyone! Get away from him!” Alabaster warned.
“Pocket sand!” Kevin yelled as he threw his hand out of his pocket and delivered a cloud of sand into everyone's eyes.
Jay wiped his eyes and blinked quickly as he tried to get the sand out while everyone groaned and yelled. He vaguely saw what he assumed was Kevin's silhouette rush past the incapacitated squad and sidestep Alabaster who tried to swing at him with his halberd.
“Stop!” Alabaster yelled.
“Kevin, you son of a bitch! You're a dead man!” Eddron screamed.
Labcoat let out a great battlecry and tried to run after Kevin but ran straight into a wall and fell on her bottom. “When I find you Kevin! You're gonna die a thousand deaths!”
“Where do you even get sand in Chernobog?!” Meeka asked angrily.
Jay got most of the sand out and his vision became clear again. He saw Spark was helping Meeka clean her eyes which prompted him to go over to Eddron.
“Eddron, stand still. I'll help you,” Jay said.
“Jay!” Eddron yelled while wiping his eyes frantically. “You gotta blow the sand out of my eyes! Blow me good!”
Jay held onto Eddron's arm. “First off, phrasing. Second, stand still.”
Jay blew a few short puffs on Eddron's face, getting some of the sand out of his eyes. After a few more, his face looked pretty clean except for a few specks stuck in his eyelashes and bits that were still on his cheeks.
“You didn't get it all,” Eddron whined.
“I got enough for you to see again, don't complain,” Jay said.
“Why the hell did he do that?” Spark asked.
Alabaster grunted. “That insignia on his armband... I've only heard the rumours but that young man was with a group known as Reunion.”
“Reunion?” Jay asked.
“They've been a nuisance to Ursus for some time now. The upper echelons of Ursus society try not to acknowledge them to avoid looking weak but Ursus understands they're a threat to their governance,” Alabaster explained.
“They're an infected group?” Labcoat asked.
Alabaster reluctantly nodded. “Yes... but it's a bit more complicated than that.”
“Sounds like we need to get back to Nearl and let her know what's going on,” Jay said as he gestured for everyone to follow him.
The squad left the alleyway. When they got to the street, Jay could hear the sounds of battle in the distance: yelling, screaming, and the clangor of steel came from many directions with the most prominent sounds coming from the direction of the rendezvous point.
“Nearl could be in trouble! Let's go!” Jay yelled as he charged down the street.
The streets had almost completely emptied with Ursus soldiers rushing to the sounds of battle while civilians fled into their homes or at least into alleyways for cover. As the squad got closer and closer to the rendezvous point, the sounds of fighting intensified and Jay feared for the worst.
However, when they finally arrived at the plaza where Nearl's squad was stationed, he saw that both her squad and Aero's squads were perfectly fine and in a defensive formation.
“Friendlies coming in!” Jay shouted as he lead his squad into the defensive perimeter at the plaza.
The plaza was a makeshift fortress as it was a series of elevated platforms that lead up to a tall statue of an Ursus champion raising up a sword at the centre. It offered high ground for scouting and a landmark for the other teams to arrive at.
Jay tried to catch his breath as he arrived at the statue of the plaza where Nearl and Aero were. “Sorry we're late; we all strayed a bit far.”
“I feared that you got caught up in the fighting that's sprung up,” Nearl said.
“There's a lot of fighting in the massive park to our north,” Aero warned.
Nearl nodded. “According to the plan, our people will be moving through that park to get here. I can only hope Ursus forces are able to keep it clear and not pay us any attention. Did your squad see anything while out on their scouting missions?”
“According to Alabaster,” Jay started, “a group called Reunion's active in the area. We even encountered one of them but he got away.”
“Reunion? Damn it... Intel said we shouldn't expect to worry about them,” Nearl said with a worried expression.
“You knew they'd be here?” Jay asked.
“Yes, but we didn't expect them to be so brazen as to butt heads with the Ursus military head on. With the fighting still going on, there must be thousands of them all over the city if the Ursus military hasn't crushed them yet,” Nearl explained.
“What do we do, Nearl? Should we hold our position and wait for the other squads to arrive?” Aero asked.
Nearl paused and looked around. Jay did the same and could see Ursus troops rushing into the park to their north while civilians were fleeing south.
“I'm going to break radio silence to see if the other squads need any help,” Nearl said. “Amiya. Come in. This is Nearl, fighting has erupted all over the city, give me a sit rep on your mission. Amiya? Damn it... comms are being jammed. We've lost contact with everyone else.”
Jay took out his spear-baton and extended it into spear form. “Should we move?”
“The other quick reactionary force squads should be either linking up with Amiya or heading this way. Let's give them some time before we move to meet them. For now, let's help relocate civilians out of this area,” Nearl commanded.
“Understood!” Jay and Aero acknowledged in unison.
“White hoods headed this way, 12 o'clock!” Fast Lane shouted.
Everyone looked to the park to the north to see scattered Ursus forces being overrun or retreating while a massive mob of people in white hoods charged south straight for the plaza where the E4 was holding.
“Defensive checker board formation!” Nearl yelled while waving her warhammer around like a signal flag. “Defenders at the front! Guards and vanguards behind them! Snipers and Casters between the gaps of the defenders! Medics and supporters to the rear! Move it!”
Nearl rushed to the front where Alabaster, Chaser, and E4's defender Stalwart were holding. It wasn't much of a defensive bulwark but it was the best they had.
Jay joined Aero and the rest of the melee operators at the front, hiding behind defenders so they could leave room in the gaps between the defenders for snipers and casters to shoot through. He was hiding behind Alabaster alongside Labcoat and an E4 guard named Lyric, a Sarkaz armed with a trident.
“If we draw the Reunion forces here, we can buy time for the civilians to flee! Hold your ground!” Nearl shouted.
Jay peeked past Alabaster and could see the massive wave of enemies fast approaching. There had to be at least a hundred, maybe even two hundred. He swallowed a lump in his throat and felt his breathing become irregular. All the confidence he had going into the mission had left him. All the training he had undertaken in the time leading up to this didn't account for an unruly mob capable of overwhelming the Ursus military.
Were things going to be okay?
“Snipers and casters reference the street between the park and plaza! Fire on my command!” Nearl yelled.
While some of the mob broke off to pursue civilians or fight Ursus troops still putting up some resistance, the majority of the mob seemed to be fixated on E4's defensive position and soon the first of them began crossing the street.
Nearl pointed her warhammer at the enemy. “Fire at will!”
submitted by Stevenasaurus to arknights

The Secret Tapes of Jack Forrester

“So, is it true?” Lia’s voice carried to me over my shoulder as I headed out the door of the lecture hall, backpack slung across one shoulder and a half-eaten apple in my hand. Dread filled me as I stopped with my back to her and my mouth full, trying to figure out how to answer.

I knew what “it” was, even though Lia hadn’t specified. It was the same “it” as always. It wasn’t that the question itself was so bad, or even the answer. It was that it always led to more questions, the same questions, all ending with the one they had really wanted to ask from the start. And that was the question I was dreading as she caught up to me, all smiling blue eyes and bouncing red curls.

I swallowed the half-chewed apple, feeling it stick uncomfortably in my throat as it went. “Is what true?” I stalled, beginning to walk towards the main door of the building. Lia fell into step beside me and we joined the herd of students moving out to the courtyard. She grinned, a look of excitement on her pretty face.

“Is your grandpa really Jack Forrester?” I sighed internally. Truthfully, I had been expecting her to ask for weeks now -- ever since I went over to her apartment to study for our philosophy midterm and found a shelf lined with Grandpa’s albums. He was a local legend and most of my family was very active in the town's musical community so she was bound to find out we were related sooner or later. Not seeing any way to avoid it, I answered her.

“Yes, it’s really true.” She immediately began squealing with excitement and I took advantage of the pause to finish my apple.
“Ohmygod I have so many questions! You probably don’t know this but he is one of my favourite musicians! I have every single one of his albums! It must have been so amazing to have such an incredible musical influence …” Lia trailed off as she took in my expression. She frowned, her mood immediately dampened, and I felt guilty for squashing her excitement.

“I’m sorry.” I sighed, tossing my apple core into a trash can as we passed through the first set of doors to outside. “It’s not that I don’t love him or want to talk about him, it’s just ... not that good of a story.”

“What does that mean?” Lia watched me curiously as we stepped out into the afternoon sun. The courtyard was bright and open with a large lawn in the centre, ringed with flagstone and dotted with benches and picnic tables. The pack of students exiting the building began to disperse and we followed the crowd, keeping left towards the main bus stop. I contemplated running through all the usual questions with her but decided that I would skip right to the part she really wanted to know.

“Grandpa Jack doesn’t play anymore.” She gaped at me, as expected.

“Never? Not even just for himself?” I shook my head at her question.

“Not even for himself. Don’t get me wrong - he still loves music. He taught my mother and sister how to play and he writes extensively, but he never plays anymore. I’ve only ever heard him in recordings. My mom heard him in-person a few times but she was so young she says it’s hard to remember.”

A crease appeared between Lia’s brows as she absorbed my words.

“But … why? He was so talented! They said he was the one of the best to ever play, that his music could make you *feel* things like no one else’s. Even the recordings are amazing - I can’t imagine how incredible it would be to hear live. They say he never played the same song twice! To think it hasn’t existed in almost sixty years is … heart-breaking.”

I nodded, sympathizing with her reaction. It was the same response for anyone who had heard Grandpa’s music – there was something about it that moved you in such a unique and inexplicable way that it made you immediately hungry for more. Like the sound was a drug, delivering concentrated emotion directly to your soul. To find out that the supply was limited, never to be expanded or renewed, brought a sense of desperate loss to most of his fans. It was probably why the legend of The Tapes had remained such a stubborn presence in the history of my grandfather’s musical career. Hell, even I had felt the same way once, before I had asked him myself and seen the pain in his eyes.

“I don’t really know. No one does. My mom says it’s heartbreak – after his wife died, the part of him that made that music died too. My uncle says it was just the stress of raising two kids alone while still mourning. That he just didn’t have time and eventually he lost the taste for it.” I shrugged, head down as I dug in my pocket for my bus pass. I felt a twinge of sadness as I thought about how my grandfather must have felt after receiving the news that his wife had been killed in a fatal car accident, leaving him the single father of a six-year old daughter and a two-year old son.

“What do you think?” Lia’s voice was soft, her expression curious. I thought back to when I was nine; watching Grandpa lean over Lyric, helping to place her tiny fingers on the piano keys.
My sister’s legs swung from the bench, sparkly blue shoes catching the sunlight. I sat on the couch opposite them, a juice box in one hand and a dark green pencil in the other.

Unlike my mother and sister, I had no interest in music. I took more after my father and preferred to draw rather than play. After months of torturous music lessons in my grandfather’s study, he had finally sat my mom down and told her that one musical child was enough. I was released from the hated lessons and now I got to eat snacks and draw instead of suffering through scales and songs.

“Grandpa, why don’t you play piano anymore?” I regretted the question immediately as I watched a flicker of pain pass over Grandpa’s face. He was silent for a moment, seeming to consider my question. Lyric and I were quiet too, waiting for him to speak.

“I loved playing very much. But it took me away from things and it took things away from me. When your Grandma died, I realized that it took too much. So now I teach. I pass on my knowledge so that something pure and new can be born. Now I give something without losing something.”

I blinked and turned my eyes back to Lia, standing next to me under the shelter. The bus stop was crowded; students pushing against each other to get into already-packed buses, the smell of exhaust heavy in the air. I shrugged and she leaned in to hear me over the cacophony of the platform.

“I think that after his wife died, he decided to go in a different direction. We don’t push him on it out of respect, but I can guarantee you there’s no secret tapes. No extra recordings or unreleased songs. If you want to hear his music, it’s going to be through other people.”

Lia’s disappointment was palpable as I destroyed the last of her hopes in the rumours that circulated online. The Secret Tapes of Jack Forrester was a cult legend that insisted my grandfather had continued recording music all these years but no longer released it to the public. It was the most long-lived, but far from the only rumour about him. Some believed he had never really played to begin with and the refusal was just a way to protect his scam. Others swore he had sold his soul to the Devil to learn how to play and had stopped to keep the beast at bay. That was the problem with a local musical icon suddenly and mysteriously vowing never to play again – people talked until gossip became legend. And now in the age of the internet, they shared their crazy theory online.

I sighed, running my hand through my hair as I looked down at Lia. “Look, I’m sorry to dash your hopes like that. But the truth is that despite what you may have read online, he’s just a sweet old man who likes to teach music and leave the past where it lies. He used to be Jack Forrester but that was a long time ago. Now he’s just a composer and a grandpa of three.” I smiled ruefully at her and she returned it, though it was nowhere near as bright as when we began our walk.

“It’s okay, I probably shouldn’t have jumped down your throat like that. I was just so excited! I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable or sad.” I brushed off her apology with a wave of my hand, a light flush spreading across my cheeks. She smiled at me then leaned out of the shelter, scanning the line of buses pulling in.

“Well that’s me – number 77. I’ll see you tomorrow?” I nodded and offered her a wave as she pushed out of the shelter. Elbowing her way across the platform, she scrambled up into the bus just as the doors shut. I stared out into the road long after it pulled away, my mind on my grandfather and his infamous past.

I was so distracted that I missed my bus pulling into the station and had to run and flag them down before they left without me. Panting slightly, I picked a seat in the middle of bus and dropped down next to the window, backpack flopped across my lap.

The bus ride home was uneventful and fifteen minutes later I was walking into the kitchen of my grandfather’s house. The narrow two-storey had stood there for almost a hundred years and my grandfather had been there for more than half of them.

Even though my mother lived twenty minutes away and visited three times a week, she worried about Grandpa being alone in the house. So, after my acceptance to our local college I had moved in with him. I hadn’t complained – Grandpa’s house was way closer to school and far quieter. Plus, I loved him. As the only male grandchild in the family, Grandpa and I had always shared a special bond. I was as happy to be there as he was to have me.

“Grandpa, I’m home!” I called out as I dropped my backpack down on the kitchen table. Grandpa’s steaming mug sat at his favorite spot, completely forgotten and rapidly cooling. I grinned and rolled my eyes, grabbing the drink and heading down to his music room, where I knew he would be.

He stood with his back to the door, rifling through an ancient music book. Its pages were yellowed with age and wear, infused with years of loving use. He hummed softly under his breath; the closest he ever came to singing nowadays. He looked up when he heard me knock against the door frame, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“Coda! I didn’t hear you come in. How was class?” He beamed at me from across the study and motioned for me to give him his mug. I rolled my eyes again and laughed, handing it over to him. He was always leaving his coffee cup in strange places. I would have worried if it hadn’t been happening for as long as I could remember.

Relaxing, I dropped down onto the weathered couch and lost myself in the familiar safety of Grandpa’s house.


A few weeks later I woke up thirsty and too hot, my clothes sticking to me uncomfortably. It was dark out and a quick glance at my phone confirmed it was 1 AM. I needed water desperately - like I’d eaten a whole bag of chips in my sleep.

Happy to feel the cool air on my skin, I kicked off the covers and stood up unsteadily, lumbering towards the hall. I opened my bedroom door and turned right, headed down the narrow staircase. The house was dark and still. I had heard Grandpa go to bed when I still studying and knew he wouldn’t be up for hours.

It was around the bottom step when I suddenly heard it. A soft, gentle sound with a distinct melody. I stopped in my tracks, thirst forgotten, and focused all my attention on listening. After a moment I realized it was a piano – coming from Grandpa’s music room.

In disbelief, I began to walk towards the sound. It was no song I had ever heard before and it was beautiful. As I got closer and the song became clearer, I felt a warmness within and my heart was filled with calm. The song made me think of the beach and I felt as relaxed as if I’d sat next to the ocean all day. By the time I got to the doorway, I swore I could feel sand under my feet, a soft breeze on my face.

That’s when I saw the impossible – Grandpa, sitting at his piano in the dimly lit room. His eyes were closed and an expression of bittersweet joy painted his face. He swayed in time with the music, his fingers hitting the keys without hesitation despite years of disuse.

This close to the music, to its source, my mind was filled with thoughts of a sunset on a tropical beach, the wind warm and the air salty. It felt strangely familiar to me, like a place I had been to with my family when I was twelve. We had visited Mexico for a family reunion and had stood on the beach to watch the sunset together the first night we arrived. The music reminded me of that memory, filling me with love and warmth even as I stared at my grandfather in shock. This wasn’t one of his old songs – this was something new, something I had never heard before. Something no one had ever heard before.

As the final notes of the song drifted off into the night, I stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak. Grandpa opened his eyes and his gaze found mine. He didn’t seem surprised or embarrassed to see me. He simply watched me with an unreadable expression in his ancient eyes. At length, he sighed and motioned me into the room as he had a thousand times before.

“Come in Coda, we need to talk.”

My movements felt stiff and jerky as I came to sit on the couch across from the piano, in the same spot I always chose. As I had every time before, I ran my hand over the worn cloth, feeling the softness under my palm. It brought back memories of years past, replaying in my mind as I waited to hear what he would say.

Grandpa stared down at the piano keys, his fingers brushing the smooth surface as gently as you’d stroke a beloved pet. His face was etched with sadness, his eyes lost to the past. For a moment I wasn’t sure he would say anything but then he spoke.

“Do you remember when you were a kid, how I told you that playing music took something from me?” I nodded, the echo of his voice whispering to me from long ago. He sighed.

“Well I meant that literally. Sixty-two years ago, I was a young man with a pregnant wife, no steady job, barely making ends meet. I could play music but while I was good, I had no prospects. I was playing gigs every night I could. I had the soul, the desire, but lacked that crucial last step between “good” and “great”. I wanted to provide for your grandmother and our unborn daughter, your mother, but we could barely afford food as it was, let alone with another mouth to feed. I was desperate and sad, filled with a crushing despair that I was failing the ones I loved most.” Grandpa sighed again, running his hand over what was left of his hair. He took a sip from a tumbler I hadn’t noticed before; crystal filled with amber liquid. Another unusual move – Grandpa didn’t drink anymore. He said it reminded him of bad decisions from long ago.

“I was drinking. Trying to numb the panic, the choking desperation, the pressure of failure that accompanied my every waking moment. One night, after a particularly nasty fight with your grandma, I took a walk down by the river and found myself following an old road. It was overgrown and hidden behind shrubbery, almost fully reclaimed by nature. I don’t know how long I walked but suddenly I became aware that it was quiet. Too quiet – the way it gets when a predator passes by. When all of nature holds it breath and waits for the scary thing to go away … and then I saw him. Leaning against a fence at the crossroads, smoking a cigarette. He was handsome, though its hard to recall his face. In the moment it was clear but the memory has always been … hazy. His eyes though - those have haunted me since that night. They were a deep red-orange that I knew was inhuman the moment I saw it.”

Another pause, another sip of whiskey as Grandpa collected his thoughts. Mine, on the other hand, were scattered beyond collection. What was he saying? The setup was too perfect – a tale as old as time. Was he trying to tell me the legend really was true? When had his mental health taken such a sudden turn?

“I know what you’re thinking.” He said, his fingers idly playing notes on the piano. “You think I’m senile now, that I’m confused about the past … but it’s the truth.” His eyes raised to mine, steady and lucid as I’d ever seen them. “I made a deal with the devil – though I knew it was a mistake even as I made it.”

Grandpa’s confession hung in the air as I grasped futilely for something to say. “So… what? The stories are true? You sold your soul for fame?” I laughed weakly, hoping to hear him say something, anything, that made sense. To my relief, he shook his head. It was short-lived though, as he corrected me.

“Not my soul. Something infinitely more precious and utterly irreplaceable. He said as much when he made me the offer. He promised my soul would remain intact, and that I would live to see myself successful, my wife and daughter cared for, and a son to carry on my name. And in exchange … something that I would not miss. Something of my choosing, precious and irreplaceable, but infinite in source.” An aura of bitter regret filled the air around him as he recounted the devil’s offer.

“I knew it was too good to be true, but I was drunk and desperate and more than half-mad and I … said yes. The next thing I knew, I was in my own bed. Your grandma woke me up with coffee and a message from the most prestigious club in town, inviting me to play that evening. I accepted of course, though I was filled with fear that I would fail. I didn’t feel any different since the deal had been struck and I had myself convinced it had all been a dream.” Grandpa’s head lifted, his eyes distant as he remembered that night long ago. There was an almost wistful look on his face now, though it was still tinged with the sadness that suffused the room.

“But it wasn’t a dream and when I sat down that night to play, I looked out into the crowd and saw a woman with eyes like those of my first love. And in that moment, as I remembered all the heartbreak that gaze had brought me, I felt a song growing in my soul. Though I had never written anything down, never composed the melody, never penned the words, I began to play. And as I did, I felt those memories of that first heartbreak flowing through me, becoming the music in a way I had always strived for but could never reach before. I felt her presence enter the room, brought to life through the keys of the piano, the tenor of my voice. So vibrant, so alive, so real. And as those last notes faded away, the memory of her did too. I felt our last moments together slipping away, taking with it the heartbreak that had been so palpable only moments ago. It was only then that I understood the price of the devil’s bargain. I could finally play the way I wanted to – to make people feel with my art the way I had always ached to – but at the price of the memory that birthed the music.” Grandpa lifted his whiskey to his lips as an expression of self-loathing crossed his wizened features.

“But Lord, the applause was thunderous and the recognition was instant – from that night on, I never struggled to pay the bills again. I turned down more gigs than I’d ever dreamed of. And like a fool, I convinced myself I didn’t need those memories anyway. After all, what was the memory of an old flame in exchange for greatness?” He laughed bitterly, chasing it with another swallow of whiskey. I sat frozen on the couch, wanting to deny his story but already half-convinced. Having heard his music in person, it held a ring of truth that couldn’t be denied.

He looked up at me and smiled sadly. “You’ve felt it, you know it’s true. That song I was just playing - it was the family trip to Mexico. That sunset on the first night, you remember. The effect is even stronger when you share the memories too.” I was speechless, unable to make a single sound. But Grandpa either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He went on with his story, as if now that he had begun to tell it, he could not stop.

“I had to make some adjustments to my act of course. I never played the same songs twice, I did more recordings and fewer live performances. But the restrictions only added to my appeal, my intrigue. People lapped it up and my “eccentricities” became associated with my “genius” and my fame grew and grew. Just like the devil had said, I was able to provide for your grandmother and mother. But my art was a greedy mistress. My memories were many, but the ones I was willing to lose were a much smaller number. I knew that even careful use couldn’t sustain my music forever. Slowly, I lost all of my past flames, my old loves and heartbreaks. My childhood memories – first kisses and sneaking out to meet girlfriends. Fights and friendships lost, guilt for mistakes long past – all of it went into my music. Drained from me, lost to me; only the emotion of the memory left behind as a song. Over time I got better at using them, at drawing the sentiment out and wringing the memory dry so I could make the most of what I was sacrificing. Even still, by the time your grandma got pregnant with your uncle I had nothing left – only memories I wanted to keep. But there was another life on the way, relying on me, and I couldn’t walk away … so I started chipping away at those memories too.”

He shook his head and I caught the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes. “At first it was small things – doing the shopping with her, our morning coffee, stupid fights over nothing at all. Things that seemed replaceable or better off forgotten anyway. But eventually, more important memories began to creep in. Birthdays, dinners with friends or family members. I’ll keep the really important ones, I thought. After all, you want to remember your first kiss, maybe even your second or third, but do you really need the thirtieth? Do you need the fourteenth date you went on? Or the one dinner you had with your wife’s second cousin? Slowly, I began to forget things - things that your grandma remembered.”

He paused to take a sip of his drink, staring down into the liquid pensively. I was quiet, held prisoner by his tale. After a moment he spoke again, his voice rough with emotion.

“I was drinking heavily by then. The stress of the curse, my family, my fame - it was all so overwhelming. And when I drank, I wasn’t so careful with my precious memories … it’s hard to learn from mistakes you don’t remember. In a way, it’s worse. I wonder what memories I may have drained away in my reckless, inebriated state. But I’ll never know - they are forever lost to me.” His sadness was a tangible presence in the air and I felt choked by it, my throat tight with sorrow to see someone I loved in so much pain.

“Your grandma, she was worried about me. I had never been able to bring myself to tell her about the deal and I fought her on seeing doctors and resting more. We would argue before performances and I would leave, angry and anxious. Straight to the bar, to drink and play those memories away. A vicious, bitter cycle. And then one morning I was woken up by banging on the front door. I stumbled down still half-drunk, yelling at them to quiet down …. it was the police. They had come to tell me that your grandma had been in an accident. She was stopped in her car and someone hit her from behind, going far too fast. She was thrown free of the driver’s seat, right through the windshield – no seat belts back then. She died on impact. Massive head trauma, they told me. At least it was quick. Just like that, the woman I loved was gone. And I had traded away most of my memories of her.”

Grandpa was crying freely now, tears rolling down his face to land on the ivory of the piano, in the amber of his whiskey. “I vowed that day that I would never play again. The price was too high, my memories too precious. Like a miser, I have hoarded them all these years, refusing to use my “gift” and wishing desperately that I had been a smarter man in my youth. But now … I am ready to play again.”

“What changed your mind?” The sound of my own voice, strangled with sadness, seemed too loud in the quiet of the room. After the story he had just told me, I couldn’t shake the terrible feeling that I knew what he would say.

Grandpa’s gaze met mine, sadness and love radiating from the watery depths. “I’m dying, Coda. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week or next month, but soon. I am old and I have lived a long, full life. Now it is almost over and I want to share it with people like I did long ago, before I’m too far gone to play anymore.”

I tried to protest, to tell him that he had many good years left. He waved me off, clearly in no mood for my objections. “That brings me to the reason for this talk – I want you to help me. I want to record my songs, my memories. Help me distribute them, share them with people. I don’t know how much time I have but I want to make it count.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat. Tears streaked my face as I absorbed my grandfather’s request. “But … will you forget me? Or Lyric or Mom?” My voice shook, tears salty in my mouth.

“No, never!” Grandpa’s voice was sharp and I drew back in surprise. His face softened and he added “I will keep those memories safe. Those are just for me, to carry me to the Lord. But I have a lifetime of experience to share and a gift that has been a curse for far too long.”

I was silent as I sat and processed what he was saying, the task he was asking of me. And I knew that I could never refuse. It was his dying wish and after hearing his story, kept secret for all these years, it was clear that he needed it. Wiping my tears away on my sleeve, I nodded to him.

“Ok Grandpa, I’ll help you. I would be honoured to.”


The last few months of Jack Forrester’s life were spent in his home with his family. A few nights every week, we would go to his music room and record his songs, each one unique and perfect on the first try. I had tried to convince him to go to a studio but he insisted he would play in his room, in his house - “where the memories lived”. So, we invested in some fairly high-end recording equipment and barely a week after his late-night confession, he was playing once again.

I sat with him through it all, experiencing memories that spanned the range of human emotion – the product of a life well-lived. Anger, joy, love, fear, wonder, grief – all of it went into the music and away from the man who had spawned it. It is hard to explain how valuable it was for me to soak up that lifetime of knowledge, to hear and experience his memories. I learned more from those last few months than any education could ever give me.

As the memories left him, so too did the vibrancy and vitality his form had once held. What he had said was true – he was dying. But he kept his promise and even at the very end, he held my hand and called me by name. And in his eyes, I saw the same love and familiarity that had always been there.

Now, he has been gone for months and at last, I have completed his final wish. All his memories, recorded and uploaded where people will be able to hear them. The emotions of a lifetime, free to experience.

That is why I have written this story – to spread the word. The Secret Tapes of Jack Forrester are real, and he would want you to listen to them.

EDIT: To fix formatting. While I'm here, this story is my personal property and I do not consent for it to be shared, duplicated or used in any manner without my express permission.
submitted by god_queen_boo to stories