Inside an empty, drab, and windowless briefing room, two men that did not exist sat in silence.

In practice, they were very much real. Their faces, though, were too unremarkable to be noteworthy, their eyes a little too deadpan than normal, and their nametapes both reading the same pseudonym: J. DOE.

That wasn't to say averageness wasn't their only abnormality. Searches for their names in military databases came up inconclusive. Facial recognition, too, brought up nothing interesting. DNA analysis? Voice recognition? Biometrics? Similarly worthless.

Effectively, they were ghosts.

Ghost soldiers.

They knew nothing of each other, but that was to be expected; operators were meant to follow orders, not question them. Why two men from two different units had been called to work together was a question better left unanswered, but one thing was certain:

They had a mission, and it was their job to complete it.

The duo sat in plastic folding chairs in two different aisles, eyes darting around an empty room meant for several dozen people. A silent exchange was had as they both glanced at each other for half a minute, as if they were assessing a target, before they both snapped to the entrance. Footsteps.

A door slowly opened, revealing a bespectacled, mustached man. He was not an officer in a medal-adorned uniform, or even a soldier in camouflage fatigues, but was simply just an ordinary, mustached guy, in black slacks and a white button down shirt. The deadpan stare behind his glasses, confident stride, and neat crew cut haircut told them everything else they needed to know about him.

He stepped up to the front of the room, set his things down atop a podium, and downed the rest of what he was drinking from a small styrofoam cup. He then nodded to the duo as the overhead projector turned on.

"Goooood morning, gentlemen, I'm your case officer for today," he began. "Today's operation will be simple: go into enemy territory and blow up a cult compound. Any questions?"

The operator on the left blinked at the rather laconic briefing. Was he being sarcastic, ironic, or both? "Care to elaborate, sir?"

"Certainly." The case officer chuckled heartily. The lights in the room dimmed as a map of a certain eastern European country was projected onto the screen. Both operators had certainly heard of the place before, but neither had ever actually been, nor knew much about it, nor even cared that much about it.

"One of our field agents recently identified an armed cult inhabiting the central mountain region of the country," He explained. "An investigation into their activities—weapons smuggling, human trafficking, and ritualistic murders—has concluded that they pose a threat to mundane friendlies in the region."

His finger crossed over the two operatives. "That's where you guys drop in. Command wants it taken care of, quietly."

"Now we're talking." The operator on the right nodded. "What's our equipment for this lookin' like?"

The slide changed, presenting them with a bizarre assortment of weaponry and fancy gadgets, many of which looked like something out of a spy movie.

"Your usual kits, with a few additions," the case officer explained. "We've decided today would be a great day to test out the PATRIOT augmented reality goggles and the antimemetic cloak generators. Congrats on your new reassignment as lab rats."

"For God and country," the operator on the left smugly added. "If they want me to be a test dummy, I'll be a test dummy."

"What about local forces?" The one on the right pondered aloud. "Local militias, third parties, anything else we might need to know."

"Local forces are about as standard as they come," the case officer began. "Likewise for insurgents. If you run into them, expect them to shoot first rather than question why two bogeymen are here. As for third parties…" There was a pause. "There's a scientific NGO in the area. We all know who they are."

There was a moment of silence. "I take it they won't like us being there."

The case officer nodded. "If it comes down to it, do what you must."

"And the cultists?"

"Level-three threats. Sarkic." The case officer paused to think. "Proto-Sarkic, I believe."

He quickly continued, folding his arms. "How you complete your mission is entirely up to you, however, brass prefers the stealthy option. Your insert will be a high altitude drop via a prototype strategic recon aircraft. We've pulled some strings to have local forces raid an insurgent supply depot; that should be enough of a distraction to mask your entry. Once you destroy the cult, you'll meet up with SPEAR Team Zero at a small airstrip a few miles southeast of your insertion point, and extract via private jet."

"Family reunion." The operator on the left purred.

The case officer nodded. "All locations of note will be on your PATRIOT heads-up-displays, so no need to worry about directions. We've got a drone loitering in the area to mark enemies and other locations on your behalf."

The case officer paused as the lights brightened automatically. He grabbed his things, looking at the two ghosts for one last time as he asked them the same question he had begun with: "Any questions?"

The silence that soon followed was enough of an answer.

On an airstrip that didn't exist on any military maps, two ghost soldiers rode to the surface on an elevator from a larger facility hidden below ground. They then silently stepped out of the hangar and walked out into the open.

They moved in lockstep, the plethora of gear attached to their bulky pressurized suits clinking loudly with each step they took. The skeleton crew attached to the base stepped aside, whispering things like "ghosts" and "demons" to themselves as the duo passed. Even the slight rain outside or the cold breeze didn't seem to faze them at all.

They heard all this, but didn't care. Rumors were rumors, after all, and some things were better left ambiguous.

The soldier on the right suddenly slacked in his step. He looked at his comrade on the left, eyeing the tactical helmet dangling from a harness around his waist. He could see a name embroidered in black text on the helmet band.

"Remus," he spoke, smirking. "…that's what they call you."

"It's a cooler name than Cody." Remus replied mockingly, taking a glance at his partner. "Who the fuck names themselves Cody?"

They both chuckled. Names were a complicated thing nowadays, especially among certain folk, but at least fake names still worked.

"You think it's big?" Cody inquired.

"Think what's big?"

"This op."

Remus shook his head. "Everything we do is big. But I've got a feeling it might be even more. I've heard things, you know. Rumors of strategic assets being moved around the country, people shifting around, meetings held, et cetera."

He paused. "That's not exactly a coincidence."

"Let's just hope this warning sign is in our favor, then," Cody muttered in agreement.

Parked atop the taxiway was an aircraft far too large to be called a fighter jet, yet small enough to not be considered a full-sized transport. It was painted a midnight black, and had an assortment of sophisticated sensors and cameras hidden beneath various pylons along its smooth surface. Its sharp, mathematically precise angles and triangular shape confirmed their suspicions: this was something meant to go ludicrously fast.

Remus took particular note of the alien-looking inscriptions and runes painted along the flight control surfaces and outside of the engines, all of which emitted an otherworldly bluish glow.

"This is like taking a fuckin' limo to the grocery store," he scoffed in disbelief, letting out a wolf whistle. "Look at this thing."

"If the limo's as fast as a Bugatti and won't be released until 10 years in the future," Cody added, passing the man. Remus scoffed, as if in agreement, and followed his counterpart.

An electric lift slowly lowered from the belly of the stealth aircraft. They slithered beneath the machine, finally sheltered from the chilly rain, and stood on the platform as it was raised back into the plane.

After watching the airbase ramp make way to the dark interior of the aircraft, Cody turned to Remus. "So, what do you think we're really gonna be doing here?"

"What we do best, friend," Remus replied, suave as ever. "Poking the bear, and turning a profit."

Cody smirked. "Hooah."

"So, I never got an answer about the spacesuits."

Remus grunted at Cody's statement, rolling his eyes. "They're called pressure suits. They aren't really spacesuits. It's so we don't suffocate up here or something. Don't worry, I'll help get yours off on the ground."

"Thanks." Cody did not sound relieved at all and looked even paler than he already was. "Never thought I'd be jumping from the fuckin' stratosphere."

"Almost," Remus raised a finger. "We're about 90,000 feet up. Our chutes should automatically open up at 3,500. If they don't… I'll tell you when."

Cody's irritated groaning meant that Remus's statement didn't exactly ease him at all. He chuckled at the thought of his partner losing it while in freefall. "Don't worry, Cody. I've been in worse."

"Tell me about it."

The radios in their helmets suddenly crackled to life. Both men stood up from their seats as this happened. "This is your pilot speaking, we're closing in on the AO. Slowing to cruising speed now."

They held onto the interior of the aircraft using various handles attached to the small seating area. After inching towards the back of the aircraft, Cody then looked towards the pilot's cabin, as if he needed an answer for something. "I'm tracking it's been only twenty minutes since takeoff."

The pilot chuckled. "That's the beauty of hypersonic aircraft, my friend. Over the target in five."

Soon enough, the blood red lighting that had filled the passenger bay made way to a green light. Both men clung onto the sides of the cabin as the doors on the underside of the passenger bay sheathed open to the earth below.

"Thank you for choosing PENTAGRAM Airlines, gentlemen," the pilot chirped, jokingly. "Good hunting."

Remus was first to step out, followed soon afterwards by Cody. The drop began at a baffling speed, but the pressurized suit made things seem remarkably silent. Remus briefly rolled around onto his back to ensure that Cody was still following him, and watched as the stealth aircraft disappeared into the starless, black skies above.

"Altitude 10,000 feet." Cody's voice suddenly spoke to him over their personal radio as they approached a thick layer of clouds. Remus fanned his body out into an "X" to further slow his descent. He watched as the numbers of the altimeter plummeted from 9,000… to 6,000… then braced as he was abruptly lurched upwards at around 3,500.

The large chutes slowed their descent just enough to allow them to glide to the objective, while also giving them a birds-eye-view of the world below. Below them, mountains and snow stretched out as

-large chute opens. descent begins.}}

-Below them, mountains and snow stretched out as far as the eye could see. The distant lights of a small city can be seen in the background, but in the middle of seemingly nowhere, there's a blue marker. An LZ. An objective marker further away is marked in red.

-They touch down, they hit the quick release on the suits and gear up from the cargo compartments on their suits.


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