"What are you looking at, you little puke?"
Sergei had a thousand good answers for the man standing in front of him and no words with which to say them. He looked downward, felt the grotesquely warm blood covering his fatigues before he saw it, was greeted by empty faces freshly cut down as his eyes reached the floor.
"You have something to say?"
Sergei's mind raced backwards, trying to make sense of what had happened. He and his unit had stormed Black Edgar's safe house, expecting him to be alone. Edgar had two friends with him, one armed, one hiding. The first went down instantly, but it was the second who had charged, wounding Sergei's commander and giving Edgar his chance to escape.
His training had taken over then. Sergei moved forward, rolled, came up with his pistol ready, gave the attacker a Mozambique—bang bang, boom—and sprinted after Black Edgar, following him into the previously hidden crawlspace as his squad called for medical assistance.
But that had been on the second floor. Now Sergei was on the third, standing face to face with Kristoff Balenski, the Grey Bear.
Sergei had emerged from the crawlspace seconds after Edgar had, taking aim just as the terrorist disappeared into a tenement. He heard screams as he desperately scrambled out of the crawlspace and towards the open door.
He saw Edgar and a woman tumble to the ground, shattered by gunfire. He saw two other men, one younger, one that could have been the woman's grandfather, looking at him as they fell. And he saw the Grey Bear with his submachine gun, firing away at the end of the room.
"I didn't think so," Balenski said, pulling Sergei back to the present. He dropped the empty magazine and holstered his gun, turning to leave the room.
Sergei looked at the contorted faces on the ground, then back at the exiting figure of Balenski, living relic of the Cold War. This man didn't care that he had killed innocents. He didn't care that he had slain his own countrymen. He only cared about the mission: one that had ended for him a long, long time ago.
Sergei decided to remind him that his mission was over.
Balenski looked over his shoulder to see the young sergeant standing tall, one hand on his knife's grip like a samurai might hold his sheathed sword. It almost made Balenski smirk. The young ones always felt like gods when put in uniform.
"You're coming with me," Sergei said, trying to keep his voice steady.
Balenski turned around, his hand moving to his own knife. If the boy wanted to play, he would match him.
"You call yourself Spetsnaz?" Balenski barked.
I am Spetsnaz, Sergei thought, too nervous to speak, too frightened to start what he knew he had to do.
"Think you can take me in? Little Yuri from Siberia," Balenski continued, picking up on Sergei's accent. "Going to bring me to court, eh?"
Sergei drew his knife. "I didn't say that."
He charged Balenski as the older man took a defensive stance. Sergei ducked low and slashed at Balenski's leg, narrowly missing as the man twirled out of the way.
Sergei spun on his heel to face Balenski and shuffled back, scanning the other man's stance. Sergei's training kicked in, and where most people would have seen a grim, middle-aged man in body armor, he saw only something to be taken apart.
Balenski slowly rocked back and forth on his heels, holding his knife in his right hand. It was a small blade, but Sergei recognized it as an old Spetsnaz ballistic knife; if the Grey Bear wanted to, he could launch the blade into Sergei's throat with the touch of a button. Something, however, told Sergei that that wouldn't happen. Balenski locked eyes with him, not bothering to examine his stance. He was confident—or, more likely, he could read Sergei like a book.
Sergei lashed out with his knife and Balenski parried. In a flash he locked Sergei's wrist and pushed his arm up over his head. With his free hand he punched Sergei in the gut and followed with a palm strike under his chin. Sergei tasted blood, saw stars, reeled backward.
He hit the ground, felt a dull blow as his head smacked against the concrete floor. Balenski stood above him, spinning his knife absentmindedly through his fingers.
"Lots of spirit," Balenski growled. "Little brains." He raised his knife.
Almost acting on reflex, Sergei threw his legs in the air and wrapped them around Balenski's neck. The Grey Bear grimaced in shock as Sergei squeezed, trying to crush the old man's throat between his ankles.
Balenski tried to pry Sergei off him as Sergei doubled his efforts.
"Little—shit—" Balenski grunted, suddenly bringing his knife up. In one smooth motion he put it behind Sergei's knee and sliced.
Sergei screamed and instinctively recoiled, relinquishing his grip on Balenski. Balenski took the opportunity to kick him, hard, in the crotch. Sergei yelled again and doubled up, his body wanting to vomit even as his brain told him he would die if he didn't move.
"Already?" Balenski demanded, massaging his throat. There were clear marks from Sergei's boots on both sides. "On your feet, child."
Sergei did nothing.
"You can't hear me?" Balenski snapped. He reached down and grabbed Sergei by his hair, lifted his head up and slammed him back down. "On your feet or on your knees!"
Balenski hauled Sergei up and forced him to his knees, taking a moment to kick his knife away. He stepped back, leveling his ballistic knife.
Sergei squinted up at Balenski, wincing at the throbbing pain in his knee. He felt himself going faint. He was losing blood. His weapon was gone. He was done for.
Balenski moved his thumb to the button on the knife's hilt.
Sergei ducked, pushed himself towards Balenski, caught his outstretched arm and pulled it down, crawled on his bloodied knee to throw the old man to the ground with an Aikido technique. He threw himself over the thrashing Balenski and straddled his chest, yanking the knife out of his hand.
He held the blade so that the tip was just above Balenski's eye. For a moment, Sergei said nothing. Then, he breathed a single word: