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954 No. 954
I was sent to investigate the situation.

The situation is an all-out war between two nations.
The fighting is currently at a standstill and both sides have dug into defensive positions. Gunshots are exchanged daily, and a few buildings change hands over and over again as both sides try to capture the same city.

I walk down the empty, war-torn street littered with annihilated cars, bomb shrapnel and bullet holes. Which side originally owned this city no longer matters: it no longer belongs to anyone. The residents left before the fighting began, either drafted to the army, or if unfit for military service, just sent away. Right now it's either a location of great strategic importance or just a hellhole depending on whether you ask an officer or someone doing the actual fighting.

Kicking an empty, rust-colored can, I let out a sigh and wonder exactly why I was sent here of all places. If they want to spy on humanity, they have better ways than sending one agent into the middle of a battlefield where everyone who's not an ally is to be shot on sight. Perhaps this is a punishment for something I did earlier. Perhaps it's for that one time I ate one of Toyohime's peaches before knowing we're not supposed to do that.

Sighing again, I walk into one of the office buildings along the street. Maybe this was a shop once. Empty shelves line the walls and there's a counter which could have had a cashier at it. Thinking about what this place could have been brings a smile to my face. A quiet bookstore, perhaps. Opening the door would ring a bell small somewhere.

Regardless of what it once was, it will now serve as a hiding place. Not here, though. Upstairs. With luck, there may even be a somewhat intact mattress somewhere. Then I could sleep for a few hours without getting a sore back. It was yesterday – or was it two days ago? When was it that I found that safe corner on the outskirts of this city and last slept? Well, that doesn't matter anymore. Not now that I've found this place in the middle of the no-man's land between the two fighting sides. It's been deceivingly quiet for the last two days in here, and will probably be for a few more hours.

It's dark and silent when I wake up. It seems like neither side has made its move yet. An immense, offensive aura permeates the air as I attempt to get up. It could also just be the gravity. Seems like my brain forgets about it every time I sleep.

Low-hanging clouds cover the skies, at places illuminated by the fires below. It was two days ago when they tried to burn the other side out of the city with napalm, but the fires are still burning at a few spots. It's silent and absolutely nothing moves. A bad feeling creeps into me.

“I shouldn't be here...”

Everything's screaming at me. It's telling me to flee and never look back. But I can't do that. I still have to gather information about the earthlings' weapons and tactics. That was the order.

In one of the apartment's cupboards lies a more or less intact can of beans. It was a lucky shot to find this sort of a place. Seems like the residents left for work one beautiful morning before the war and never returned that same, war-torn evening. Then-


The silence lasts for a few seconds. Suddenly, the floor shakes from the force of a nearby explosion. Dust falls from the ceiling.

Silence falls over the ruins once more. It lasts for five seconds. Ten seconds. A minute. Five minutes. Long enough for me to eat the rest of the beans. Even longer.
Could that have been it for now? This is not a good place to be if they start fighting again. No place in the city is a good place to be if they start fighting again.

Yes. It's better to leave this place behind. After one last glance at the dark city, I leave the apartment behind and exit through the former bookstore. The street's as ruined and silent as before, the car wrecks offering no clue of what happened a moment ago. Running down the street, I head for the one building I saw a light in yesterday. It can be entered through the basement without getting seen. If they're still there, I'll just kill them and take pictures of their weapons and send them back up. Hopefully, they'll then release me from this hell.

Sneaking along the basement corridor, I try my best to listen for any sounds that may come from upstairs. They're silent, if they're still there in the first place. No sign of them down here. Fear starts creeping up my spine as I reach the stairs. If they're still here, they'll shoot me on sight, and they can be anywhere...

Luckily, most of the doors are closed. Yet the few that are open make my heart race as I expect to see a gun barrel pointed at me from every one of them. Finally, I reach a door which has light shining from below it. I swallow and place my ear to the door. Nothing. Maybe they're gone but left the lights on? The light could serve as a distraction. Still, best check this place out. They could have left some hints of what's going on, about their weapons or about their armor. Silently, I place my hand on the handle and test if it's locked, when-

“Who's there!” I panic and let go of the handle. It springs back up with a loud noise. Fuck. “Password!”

Okay, okay, okay. The door probably isn't locked and he's probably alone. Based on his voice, he's a bit to the left. I draw my gun, remove the safety and place one hand on the handle again. My heart's at my throat as I go over the plan in my mind. I'll kick the door open, rush into the room and shoot the guy before he can react. His reaction time should be inferior to mine, so I should be able to pull this off...

Thum, thum, thum, GO!

I press the handle and tackle the door open while simultaneously aiming to the left of the doorway. There he is, hiding behind a tipped-over table reinforced with piles of books. As expected, his reactions are just that tiny bit slower than mine, and I manage to aim at his head and pull the trigger just before he fires his weapon. Bang-bang!

A blinding pain hits my right side. Why were there two bangs? I only fired once. Bang. Another spear of pain penetrates my side. Could I- have been wrong? But I'm wearing a protective vest invulnerable to their weaponry, why does it hurt so much? I look to my right only to see the barrel of an assault rifle pointed right at my face. Did I- did I really lose to these, these beings?

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