Espionage Novel Retrospective

Tidal River, Wilson Promontory, Victoria, Australia. The home of Gabriel Woods in the novel.

First of all, I have to thank you. Yes, you!

For bearing with my horrible upload schedule. I was recently looking back at the very first Espionage chapter and I was horrified to see that I uploaded that, way back on October 10, 2020!

I cannot believe that it took me longer than a year to finish this novel, especially when I compare how quickly I finished the Noir story way back in 2020; only 8 days!

So thanks for your patience and a big appreciative shout out for those who were invested in this story since October 2020 and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

Now to discuss some of the heavy influences in this story.

The Big Four are, in no particular order:

  1. The Jason Bourne movies
  2. Matthew Reilly, the author.
  3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  4. The Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva

For those who are fans of the Bourne series, you can see how much I based the final location of the story on the training facility in Bourne Ultimatum (2007). From the style of the rooms to the execution sequence, I derived a lot of the Sphinx’s backstory and ultimate relationship with the Wolf on that climatic scene in the Bourne Ultimatum.

You will also notice how I used the Waterloo sequence in that movie to base my Alexanderplatz action sequence. However, the way how the takedown goes is directly inspired by the Gabriel Allon series, where he is also confronted with multiple suicide bombers at a station.

I will also credit John Powell’s work on the score of the series for being the main soundtrack of the entire story, as I was using a lot of his work to write with. So thanks Mr. Powell for such a fun score!

The 2019 remake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s influence can be heavily seen in the Counter Revolutionary Warfare chapter. I based most of that, off the infamous Piccadilly Circus mission and the panic I felt for the first time, as I was confronted with s-bombers and gunmen everywhere, at the heart of London.

But to balance the hardcore action of that series and bring in a human touch, I had Gabriel escort Liz, a waitress, to the hospital. Doing so, I thought, allowed you guys to take a breather before the big dump of action all the way to the end. It also allowed me to seamlessly give Gabriel a way to find the Sphinx and Sofia in one of the biggest cities in the world.

I want to thank my rediscovery of Matthew Reilly’s books to actually finish this series with such a big bang. You can see, very clearly, when I started to take up his books again, because the starting action sequences in Woods and Alexanderplatz are a little less bombastic than the sequences in the latter half of the book.

But I had a lot more fun writing these over-the-top action sequences and really crafting the Wolf to be the big bad behind the Sphinx’s terrible actions. I was inspired by the recent Reilly books to give the Wolf a wall of trophies, but since I didn’t want to do the carbonite option, I decided to go with the index finger, arguably one of our most valuable fingers, collection.

I really let my imagination run wild, creating his lair. I wanted it to be epic in scale, a place where the Wolf would sleep, work and live in perpetual limbo. After all he is dead and so he should rarely venture outside. Yet he has to do so at some point, thus the facial recognition program pinpoints him to this location.

The Institute was a lot of fun to design. I squeezed the most out of it, with flashbacks to the Sphinx’s tragic past in the interrogation wing and then the quick action sequence in the kill-house. It was so much fun to really play with these areas and help flesh out the Sphinx’s motivations.

I actually struggled to give the Sphinx a proper motivation to kill, until I thought about William Aitken and how he was supposed to be dead. I literally congratulated myself when I came across the idea of turning him into this vicious, father figure that the Sphinx could pin all his attacks on.

It made the Sphinx much more relatable and human, something that I think, all villains need. Near the end, it became much more about the Sphinx than it did the Prince, and I’m OK with that, as the Prince should always have a level of detachment and coldness to his targets.

After all, that sort of emotional distance is necessary for an assassin and helps showcase how Woods and the Prince are almost two different characters.

Speaking of the Sphinx, how about his other half?

Sofia Sumarwata was actually a really fun character to invent. I wanted her to be the foil in which these two men interact with each other through her. Her story had to be intense, tragic and romantic. After all, this is Valentine’s Day.

I really loved her ending in the chapter: In the Woods, because it seemed so haunting that someone so beautiful and dressed so attractively, knocking on the heart of British Parliament could have such ill-intent.

In actuality, I was going to have this big emotional traumatic moment where the Prince is just about to kill the Sphinx, but Sofia steps in front of the bullet. But I felt like that was cheap and overdone, so I instead made her an S-bomber, which I thought was more in line with the Sphinx’s cruel and cold nature, and gave her the biggest send-off.

I’m still surprised myself, that I was able to create that strong image of red against all the bleak London architecture. Blame Spielberg!

So where did the Round Table come from?

The Round Table, a shadowy organisation I nicked from Matthew Reilly, was just a fun idea that I wanted to insert. I was originally going to make the British government be the big bad, but honestly, I had grown attached to the character of James Ashford and didn’t want to complicate things too much by having Ashford also be the big bad.

So I decided to create another organisation, with a cool English name and Latin motto. Honestly, I quite like the idea of doing a sequel where the Prince goes up against them but even if I don’t, I think I’ve left enough to imagine how the Prince would tackle them.

I did like how the Round Table would assign iconic Knight names to their leaders, and I must say it was fun revisiting Arthurian legend and interpreting it for the modern day.

Where did the inspiration for the brutal house overlooking a cliff, at the bottom of the world come from?

The first mission in Io Interactive’s Hitman 2 (2018).

I absolutely loved the aesthetic of that house situated so close to the beach, amidst all a full blown Pacific storm. I knew that I wanted to replicate that for my main character, since it is something I would 100% realise in reality for myself, if I had incredible financial resources.

One thing that I have always loved about that game, is the sheer detail and modern approach to architecture and I must commend the developers for their attention to detail, lines and overall level design.

Normally in my writing, I like to emphasise sound. Normally it’s the name of song that I would like you to listen to whilst reading, but I honestly could not insert any iconic songs in this story. It’s why you’ll see a lot more liberal use of crack! blam! and other such words to really convey how loud or explosive something is in the story.

Sound is a such a crucial medium, something that isn’t lost on me, considering how much I devour music, and as such I wanted to really convey noises well in my action sequences.

Speaking of which, I hope you guys didn’t mind all the destruction I wreaked across London. I honestly, had a lot of sadistic plans and most of them come from my unfounded fear of being caught in one of these terrorists acts one day.

I chose London, because it is a well-known hotbed of Islamophobia and honestly, has a lot of character to her buildings and is easily recognised by a lot of people. I was actually surprised how much I was able to squeeze out of the location and hoped that I did it justice!

If I got anything wrong about the location, that’s between me and Google Earth, as I have never been to London prior to writing this. So I pulled a lot of creative liberties and licences outta nowhere to get the story to flow. Like you can definitely tell, I’ve never seen the inside of 10 Downing Street but I did my best to approximate it!

Coincidentally, I was actually really happy to see such a boring building at St James’ Square because my original intention for the Sphinx was to find the house of the Wolf at that location.

Sometimes, I need a bit of luck to make something as cool as the Institute appear!

Finally, we come to Gabriel Woods himself. Where the inspiration for his nickname come from?

Prince Andrews. I was inspired by the recent turmoil surrounding Andrews in the press recently and thought about how interesting it would be if he mysteriously disappeared due to his actions and the direct embarrassment he dealt to the Royal Family.

I was also inspired by the Gabriel Allon books, of which you’ll note, I sometimes use very flowery prose, a habit I’ve picked up from the author of the books. I wanted my violence to be brutal and horrific, but I also wanted it to have a touch of class.

By naming my main character the Prince, it strangely lends an elegant touch to his violent actions and thus make everything seems more like battle-ballet than it does a war scene. I thought it was cool to have his nicknamed derived from his most famous kill, which sadly I did not go into detail for.

But then that only adds to his mystique and I think I would rather leave some things up to your imagination!

I am really happy that I finished this novel, which makes it the third one I’ve ever fully written. It may not have mass appeal, but I’m glad you guys seem to enjoy it and that’s enough for me.

Thank you again for being such a captive audience!

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

The Sphinx and the Prince …. (Espionage 10: Finale)

The Prince charged through the smoke and fire of what remained of 10 Downing Street’s entrance, blown up only seconds ago by Sofia’s bomb, hunting for the Sphinx.

Pulling out the shemagh that he had used on the Jacket Malik raid, he wrapped the bottom half of his face in a smooth motion that would help him to breathe.

Already sirens and alarms were blasting loudly, but above the din was the distinct sound of an AKS-74U rifle clattering and pitched screams following the gunfire.

Gripping his MP7A1 tightly, the Prince moved cautiously through hallowed British ground. There rooms in 10 Downing Street were exquisitely refined and spoke of simple luxury. Everything was comfortable, clean, pristine and without a single element out of place.

A sitting room had comfortable, but expensive mahogany furniture that faced a fireplace that complimented the cream interior of carpet, walls and coffee tables. It was marred only by the body of a maid, who was clutching her stomach in agony, as she wept and bled in the room alone.

The Prince, all former traces of the more compassionate Woods extinguished in his mind, ignored the maid and kept moving down the corridor, where he came across a grisly scene only 10 metres later.

4 Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) Officers were in the midst of eating their meal and going for their guns, when the Sphinx chanced upon them. He had sprayed his weapon in an accurate, long burst that raked the entire standby room.

An Officer had his head on the table, his body slumped over, a bowl of porridge, as blood seeped through the gaps in his armour. Another was still on the floor, the back of his head blown apart by the powerful 5.45mm round of the Sphinx’s AKS-74U, vainly reaching for his pistol belt that was hanging on a coat-hanger nearby.

The Prince whipped his MP7 up as he heard a gurgling sound. In the corner of a room, an Officer had tried in vain to save his fellow PaDP, his body riddled with holes, as he laid over a severely wounded, gasping Officer who had a MP5 lying forlornly next to him.

The wounded PaDP was clutching at his perforated throat, blood pouring out in buckets over his slowly weakening hands. His eyes widened at the sight of the Prince, in his terrorist-styled garb and choked once more, before his eyes glazed over.

The Prince moved past the waiting room with a clenched jaw. This was going to end tonight.

Muffled gunfire resonated ahead and the Prince moved faster, leapfrogging the body of a dead PaDP whose corpse was slowly staining the carpet and the precious framed photograph of Churchill leaving Downing Street in WW2.

~

The Sphinx was trained by the best. The poor PaDP, essentially well-trained policemen, were completely outclassed. None of them had much combat experience and despite their rigorous training, they were unable to tap into any of that knowledge, because fear crippled their bodies and clouded their minds.

Speed

Surprise

Violence of action

The key 3 principles of warfare.

The Sphinx was using all his considerable years of warfighting to maintain the upper hand. Much like the Prince’s terrifying one man army action on Malik’s forces in Croydon, the Sphinx was now unleashing his fearsome skills as a warrior on the PaDP.

Officer after officer fell, as the Sphinx continued his relentless advance towards the War Room. In some cases the Sphinx even used the bodies he had just kill as a human shield and confuse the Officers who were waiting for him. In their panic they would shoot at the dead policeman, whilst the Sphinx slotted his AKS-74U on the shoulder of the dead Officer and blazed away, the fight ending in the room almost as quickly it began.

After minutes of vicious CQB fighting, the Sphinx waited for a moment and took his bearings, as he reloaded his gun. If he knew his floor plan, he was only 2 corners away from the security room that guarded the entrance to the War Room.

The Sphinx scowled and began to psyche himself up. Unlike his fanatics, he didn’t resort to prayers to better himself. Instead, he was using a tried and true tactic that was taught to him by his mentor.

Meditation.

By performing, deep breathing techniques, it allowed him to quell the overwhelming amount of information that was flooding his brain. In clearing his mind, the Sphinx could react and analyse situations more accurately, limiting the amount of mistakes that could lead to his death.

It was a new technique that was slowly gaining ground in the military. Instead of hard and fast charging into situations, military men were now taught to be more cautious, methodical and limit their exposure to gunfire. Battlefield meditation allowed soldiers to clear their mind of the chaos happening around them and, with enough training, suppress feelings of fear, anxiety and confusion.

The Sphinx looked around the corner and noted that an officer was holding a riot shield, his MP5 submachine gun outstretched in front of him shakily. Smiling grimly, the Sphinx bought out another wad of C2, and rolled it into a ball. Sticking a blasting cap inside of it, the Sphinx underhand tossed it, and watched as it stuck to the riot shield, whilst the officer let loose with a burst from his submachine gun.

Ducking back coolly, the Sphinx flipped open his detonator and slammed his index finger down.

Whump!

The officer was flung backwards, as the shield combusted into a thousand pieces of reinforced glass, shredding the officer’s face into strips of bloody meat. The scream that came from the officer was horrific, freezing the 7 Officers who were waiting around the other corner, their guns aimed out from beyond the security station’s cage.

Then a small object flew through the air, identical to the last and it affixed itself to the metal cage.

All 7 pairs of eyes looked at it.

Whump!

The second ball of C2 was even more devastating than the last. Fragments of metal flew everywhere and the three Officers who were closest to it were instantly cut down, their bodies lacerated by burns and shrapnel.

The other four weren’t so lucky. One of the officers, was flung backwards into a computer panel, and in maintaining poor trigger discipline, had inadvertently pulled the trigger as he flew through the air. The Officer next to him was immediately struck in the back of the head and he dropped to the floor, dead with a big hole in his forehead.

The other two remaining PaDP struggled to get their bearings and were unable to hear or comprehend anything.

It was then, a red visible laser punched its way through the cloud of debris and melted frag and found their chests and head.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

The Officers dropped instantly, and the Sphinx himself came through and looked at the man who had just killed his own buddy, now desperately trying to bring his gun to bear.

The laser found his head and 3 shots later, the Sphinx was in control of the security station that protected the British Prime Minister in his War Room bunker.

The Prime Minister stared at the screen, terrified as the Sphinx walked up to the computers and with a eerie smile at the camera, began to tap away at the laptop, ignoring the blood splatters on the screen.

Everyone in the War Room stared intently the screen that showed what was happening, literally metres away from them.

Minutes passed, then to the extreme shock of everyone inside the War Room, the Sphinx finished at the computer, gave a final ironic salute to the camera and ran off for the secondary exit out the back of Downing St.

What the bloody hell was that? asked the Prime Minister.

No one could answer him. They just stared at the screen in shock as another terrorist came into view.

~

The Prince had only just come across the corpse of the riot shield officer, when he saw the Sphinx dash away for the back exit.

Cursing, the Prince ran over to the security station and was confused when he saw an GPS map splashed across the screen.

Frowning, the Prince looked more closely at the details and realised that the Sphinx had just conducted a search for someone. He had only just saw the name, when suddenly the screen flickered and an ominous timer began to appear on the screen.

20 seconds to upload.

Cyber attack! thought the Prince instantly and he began to look over the computer, to see an innocuous USB sticking out from the side. Yanking it out, the Prince swore when the timer continued to tick downwards.

Shit! said the Prince as he continued to type furiously away at the computer, trying to isolate the virus.

However, despite his best efforts, the timer continued to tick ever downwards.

5

4

3

2

1

Beep!

Nothing happened.

The Prince frowned.

Then a hissing noise began to issue from the all steel door that barred the War Room from the outside world.

In a split second, the Prince realised what had just happened.

The door for the War Room was opening and there he was, in terrorist gear, looking like he was hacking away to gain entry to the British Prime Minister. It didn’t matter to the men inside whether the Sphinx or the Prince had killed the PaDP Officers inside, they were going to go out guns blazing.

The Sphinx had just bought himself some very valuable time from the Prince’s wrath.

The Prince whirled around and began to sprint for all it was worth, as the UK PM’s bodyguards came out of the door, their guns tearing everything to shreds.

~

The Sphinx only had 2 spheres of C2 left, and he used one on the back gate of Downing Street, sprinting as fast as he could for the coordinates he had just hacked from one of the most secure and powerful computers in the United Kingdom.

Using a worm, he had piggy-backed off the greater London’s CCTV surveillance system and intelligence network and began a facial and name recognition search.

The man who had fuelled so much of the Sphinx’s hate and anger came up as a match on the screen, literally only seconds later.

The location?

St. James Square.

A mere 5 minutes run away, if you cut through St. James’ Park.

The Sphinx tucked his AKS-74U underneath his blazer and started running the moment he left the gates, ignoring the sirens and alarms he had left behind.

He began his northwesterly run, as, nearly a minute later, the Prince sprinted out, chased by the furious bodyguards who were intent on revenge.

Spraying his MP7A1 in an accurate burst, the Prince covered the doorway that the bodyguards were about to come out from in rounds, causing them to crash into each other and hustle back into cover.

Using those precious seconds to sprint further away, the Prince saw the Sphinx ahead, running furiously through St. James Park, his handsome face etched in a concentrated scowl.

Pulling out the empty magazine for his MP7A1 and reaching down for his warbelt, the Prince realised that he had no more spare magazines for his PDW. Tossing it away as he chased after the Sphinx, the Prince knew he was down to his trusted Glock 19 and 3 spare magazines.

How the hell does this keep happening to me? Never enough ammo for these fucking terrorists thought the Prince as he made his way furiously through the heart of London.

The Prince and the Sphinx dashed their way through Pall Mall, the iconic street that led to St James’s Square, the area of London they were currently waging war in, a very posh area.

Beautifully maintained old classic Napoleonic and Regency-era houses and buildings clashed with the more modern brick styles that dominated that Industrial Revolution. This juxtaposition was only further enhanced with the glass and steel, synonymous with contemporary styles and the effect was as jarring as it was interesting.

One could literally trace architectural lineage and styles from the 18th Century to the 21st.

However both men’s targets was the singularly drab building, known simply as 22 St James’s Square. There was nothing remarkable about the styling from the exterior.

Endless windows were intersected with fading white concrete in a style that was as anonymous a building could be in London. Glass doors showed the way to a boring, corporate style interior that emphasised taupe as a colour.

A sign outside told people that there were 79 office spaces that could be rented to the public for use.

What it did not disclose was that the first 4 floors were completely booked out by a shell company, and that the building had 3 basement levels that were not accessible by normal elevators and it had been soundproofed and that there were always a 4-man security team of ex-soldiers guarding the place 24/7.

To men like the Sphinx, it was just one of the many London training facilities that were nicknamed “The Institute.” It was where he learnt how to be the most professional terrorist in the world and how he became the Sphinx.

It was within the bowels of the Institute that the Sphinx planned to end a very private chapter in his life.

Every single attack, had lead up to this moment. Nothing was coincidental. Every station that had burned across Europe, to the timing and date of the Valentine Day massacre was symbolic to a dark history.

The Sphinx looked at the simple glass doors of the Institute and walked in, his AKS-74U up.

~

William Aitken was one of the most formidable men that had ever served the British intelligence apparatus. A former SBS (Special Boat Service) operator, Aitken was as much at home in the sea as he was serving in the shadows.

The beauty of light owns itself to dark places he once famously said, during a training briefing.

A monster borne out of necessity during the Cold War, Aitken had cut his teeth serving for MI6 as a deep cover agent in East Berlin, gathering intelligence and performing assassinations on high value Soviet targets. He was also the agent responsible for personally escorting over 200 illegal migrants across the Berlin Wall, to be reunited with their families.

What the heroics failed to discern though, was the sheer number of bodies that Aitken had left behind during these illegal crossings. The Soviet Command at the time were all too aware of this cruel British agent who would collect personal belongings of soldiers he had killed and then mail them tauntingly to the Soviet High Command barracks.

The number of rings, watches and precious trinkets numbered in the high hundreds by the time the Berlin Wall fell.

The nickname, Volk (Wolf) was soon assigned to Aitken, a callsign that he would wear with pride for the rest of his life, as did the 9 million dollar bounty than followed him everywhere.

His years of service though did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Transitioning from the grey, cold climates of Russia and Germany, Aitken went to work once more against the Soviets in Afghanistan and Iraq, where late in his career, he met a young orphan named Hassan Malik.

It was 1989, the final year of the Soviet-Afghan War. The Mujahideen had in essence recaptured back their country, save for one formidable stronghold that was protecting the Soviet’s last stand in the bloody war that had raged for 9 years.

Aitken was one of the most pre-eminent military advisors to the guerrilla force and had gone completely native. A strong black beard covered his face, and his normally pale skin, was now leathery with a deep tan. He was limping in one leg, a previous engagement with a Soviet sniper, causing him to fall and roll into a deep ditch that cut open his thigh.

However, despite the thick robes that shielded him from the Afghan chill, there was no mistaking the piercing blue eyes, the confident English accent and the professional casualness in which he held his AKM with jungle taped double magazines.

It was Aitken that lead the charge against the stronghold, using heavy cover fire, smoke grenades and accurate mortar strikes to shield their approach. It was an old-school method for an ancient country.

50 Mujahideen charged the wall of the stronghold that was etched into the side of a mountain, an ancient fort that had crumbling walls and a big open clearing inside for helicopters and trucks.

Only 30 made it. The men sprayed the upper parts of the wall with gunfire, desperately trying to stop the Soviet troops from firing down at them. One man fell on his back screaming as a Soviet soldier blind-fired wildly over the lip of the wall. Seconds later a RPG smashed into the trooper, spraying dust, bricks and blood over the men crouched below, swift vengeance coming in for their fallen comrade.

Aitken laid a satchel charge at the wall and set the timer for 10 seconds.

Running back and firing his AKM furiously at the troops above, Aitken slammed his body against the wall and waited for the blast.

Crack!

Bodies, brick, mortar and even a truck was overturned as the satchel charge blew open a gap in the wall with deafening violence.

Go! Go! Go! yelled Aitken at his troops.

The Mujahideen yelled as one and with war cries, charged into the breach, where they were instantly met with hyper-machine gun fire, from a crazed General who was manning the side door gun of a large Russian Mil Mi-24 Gunship.

10 Mujahideen were instantly cut down, the bodies blown away by the intense fire. Before Aitken could react to the death of his men, a maelstrom of sand, dirt and debris began to whip at everyone in the fort, as the pilot began to lift off.

Soviet soldiers, seeing their opportunity for escape flying away, abandoned their posts and leapt for the open doors of the gunship, hitting it from all sides.

But they were met with fire from inside and outside as the crazed General in his panic, began to shoot at his own troops, unwilling to let his men weigh down the helicopter and the Mujahideen who had regrouped and were now peppering the chopper with rounds.

Men died, screaming and scrabbling to get in the chopper and in a grotesque display, bodies began to fall from the helicopter, as the pilot struggled to concentrate and lift the cumbersome beast away from the ground.

Gunfire raked the entire compound in a 360 degree arc, as chaos reigned over the battlefield. Several rounds punched right through a jail where locals assisting the Mujahideen had been captured and tortured. Their cries of help were overwhelmed by the cacophony that was happening in the clearing.

Just as the Mi-24 was rising above the wall, a Stinger missile shoomed from the nearby Mujahideen controlled hill and smashed its way into the helicopter, causing the whole thing to reel in midair and fall back into the compound.

Aitken looked up in horror at the helicopter that was about to crash right on top of him.

Just as it was about to decapitate him, someone crash-tackled him out of the way and he was sent sprawling back behind the wall, through the breach point.

The Mi-24 crumpled into the ground, and the rotors snapped, sending huge blades of metal flying every which way. One poor Soviet soldier was literally cut in half as the blade sliced towards him and his legs stood still for a full second, before toppling over, as the upper half of his body slammed against a wall.

William “Wolf” Aitken, a veteran of some of the bloodiest conflicts in the Cold War looked at the young boy who had saved his life.

The boy looked old for his age. The fact that he was old, didn’t show on his boyishly handsome face or the strong lean body that still showed fresh wounds from torture …. it was his eyes.

The brown eyes that looked back at Aitken showed a focus, determination and anger that could only come from a man.

War had accelerated the boy’s mental growth. He went from being a child to a man in the span of 9 years, a process that would take some 20 years and others their whole lifespan.

Hassan Malik was only 12 when he met William Aitken. The Wolf, out of gratitude and perhaps something else, informally adopted him soon after the assault on the final Soviet stronghold in Afghanistan.

He had plans for the young Afghan boy. Even in the waning days of the Soviet-Afghan War, Aitken could see a new threat emerging for the heat of the Arabian desert. He was going to need a new breed of soldier to defeat a new breed of terrorists.

By the time Malik left the Institute at age 15, Aitken knew that he had created one of the most dangerous men in the world.

The Sphinx was the Wolf’s crown jewel.

The ultimate result of warfare, distilled and refined by Aitken’s careful tutelage and brutal indoctrination methods.

~

For a man who was almost Stalinist in his paranoia, Aitken trusted Malik completely. It was entirely out of character for the old spymaster and soldier, but he had spent so long on his own, that he needed a release.

In Malik, he found that release. Over the course of 3 years, Aitken honed, shaped and crafted Malik into the ultimate terrorist.

To defeat terrorists meant learning how to be one. The Wolf ensured that the Sphinx was the most professional in the world.

Every piece of knowledge, no matter how trivial, Aitken entrusted to Malik. It was as if Aitken knew, that he would die soon and he didn’t want to waste any of his experience and lessons learnt.

Malik was the perfect student. He excelled in every aspect of warfare. Marksmanship. Guerrilla training. Enhanced interrogation techniques. Subterfuge.

Aitken even took Malik to Alexanderplatz Station and made him practice how to spot a suicide bomber. Then he told him to kill the target.

Malik, spotted the S-bomber within 2 minutes of the exercise. Then with a hypodermic needle laced with an enhanced digitalis poison, he stabbed the man through the heart, pretending to trip over his feet.

The S-bomber died with vomit in his throat, within 20 seconds of ingestion.

Aitken was pleased.

More exercises across Europe were conducted with brazen arrogance. A Spanish target was killed whilst boarding his plane. A Saudi national lost control of his car whilst holidaying in Saint-Tropez. A Russian oligarch and his trophy wife killed each other in a double suicide, whilst relaxing in their Swiss Alps retreat.

But it was the Valentine Day exercise that truly showcased the rigors of the Wolf’s training.

Hassan Malik, for the years he had spent in England, was mostly allowed to venture out of the safehouse at his whim. What he wasn’t aware of though, was that Aitken had known every time Hassan had snuck out to explore the city and taste the nightlife.

The Wolf was far too smart and cunning to not keep track of his pseudo-son.

Hassan however was none the wiser. He thought he was getting away with it.

One night, whilst it was still early in Hassan’s training, and he was now getting bolder with his escapes, he met a beautiful girl his age, who was also escaping from her troubles. A pretty Irish girl who went by the name Niamh. She had alabaster skin, cute brown freckles on her cheeks and nose and stunning blue eyes.

When she laughed, her nose would crinkle just so and she had the most disarming smile that would reveal her braces.

Hassan was smitten.

Niamh’s story was almost as tragic as Hassan. Her parents were a casualty of the Troubles and its bloody history between Ireland and Britain. She was fending for herself and making trouble for the British whenever and with whatever she could find.

Hassan likened her struggles to his own against the Soviets.

Their friendship only deepened as they grew older.

Hassan was 14 when he finally asked her out on a date for Valentine’s Day.

Niamh didn’t even bother answering him. They shared their first kiss that night and more. For once in their young lives, they both felt something different other than hate for the world.

The date had gone beautifully. They had dinner together, a simple Chinese takeaway meal that they both shared together, sitting at a park. Niamh had squealed with joy when she saw the flowers that Hassan had bought her.

It was 7pm when they were walking, hand in hand around Hyde Park. Niamh was laughing at a joke Hassan had just told her.

Then it happened. A black van pulled up alongside the teenagers and 4 men with Uzis and pistols ran out the side, balaclavas disguising their features. Hassan tried to go for the pistol that he always kept on him, that Aitken told him to always wear.

But it was too slow. He had never quick-drawn in a panic before and with a girl slowing down his gun arm.

The men clubbed both of them with their guns and barrelled them unceremoniously into the van.

When Hassan came to, harsh light assaulted his retinas. They were in an non-descript room, with plain tiles for the floor and ceiling. Only a one-way mirror lined the East side of the room. Hassan saw Niamh bound and gagged before him. Her blue eyes were pleading with Hassan. Hassan trashed around in his chair, desperate to get out, desperate to do anything.

He couldn’t even fall over, because the chair was bolted into the ground.

From behind him, a door opened and Hassan froze in place.

Niamh’s blue eyes went wide at the sight of the man standing behind Hassan. She seemed to recognise him.

Then two men hovered into view. Hassan recognised both of them immediately. To his right was Aitken, a scowl across his face. To his left was a large man with a ruddy complexion and a scar across his right cheek. He was Paddy Conaill, one of the IRA’s most lethal enforcers.

The two men stood between the teens staring at each other.

Fucking lovebirds. Would be sweet if it weren’t so stupid. drawled Conaill.

Hassan kept wriggling. He didn’t like any of this. Hope flared inside him when he felt one of the bonds, strong duct tape, loosened around his right hand. He kept at it, one minute movement at a time.

I’m sorry to involve you Paddy. But this is a situation isn’t it?

Yes, yes it bloody is Wolf.

Conaill cuffed Niamh across the face. Tears welled in her eyes and a red mark marked her smooth pale skin. Hassan began to wriggle faster.

You stupid bitch. Fucking fell for one of these Arabs. You should have been more careful. He’s working for the fucking English. You know what we do to traitors?

Niamh’s blue eyes couldn’t control the tears of terror.

That’s right. We’re going to give you the Treatment. No good Irish woman can be consortin’ with the enemy. You’re lucky that the Wolf here is allowing you to go back with me. You got no idea what he would have done to you. You’re lucky we go way back before the troubles started. He found out about you and the raghead here. So he caled me to clean up this fookin’ mess.

You’re done. You’re my mess to cleanup.

Goddamn stupid bitch.

Conaill, with shocking swiftness, pulled a large Beretta 92FS from the waistband of his pants and levelled it at Niamh.

Blam!

Niamh’s blue eyes closed as her head rocked back in the chair, blood slowly dripping from the entry wound like a tear down her cheek. Conaill snorted dervisively and tucked the Beretta back in his pants. Aitken remained silent and looked at Malik with calculating eyes.

Hassan Malik, with a primal scream, ripped through the tape that secured his hand to the armrest of his chair and using brute strength, forced his way out from his captivity and lunged at Conaill.

Conaill, astonished by the move, fell ass over backwards, his hand reaching for the Beretta, but unable to find any purchase on the pistol grip.

He landed awkwardly on his hand, causing him to roar with pain as the wrist broke. But Malik was already all over him. He delivered blow after blow that smashed through Conaill’s pathetic one hand defence.

When Malik couldn’t strike at the throat, he would slam his fist into Conaill’s kidney or liver. The big Irishman would curl up in pain, only to reel instantly back to the floor as another blow slammed into his head.

Bloody sprayed into the air, as Conaill’s nose broke and in his desperation, he made one final move. He rolled and pushed Malik off him.

However, Malik was ready, instead of continuing his hand to hand assault, he grabbed the pistol from Conaill’s waistband and stood up, the Beretta shaking slightly in his anger, his brown eyes looking deadly over the sights of the pistol.

Conaill looked at the Wolf. His eyes were pleading. Trying to hearken back to some previous relationship they shared. The Wolf merely smiled coldly.

Wolf! Please do some-

Blam! Blam! …. Blam!

The Mozambique drill was executed with clinical precision. Two to the chest and one to the head. Conaill’s head listed aimlessly as his eyes sightlessly stared at Aitken.

Malik spun around, the Beretta moving fast. But the Wolf was too quick for him and he disarmed the pistol out of his protege’s hands and tapped him in the side of the head once.

Malik slumped to the floor, losing consciousness. He reached out for Niamh, but all he heard was Aitken’s gruff voice.

Sleep with one eye open. Never trust your enemies or your friends. Remember this lesson, son.

Malik’s final thought was defiant and angry. Any trace of the boy named Hassan Malik was extinguished in its entirety now.

One day, you’ll pay, Wolf. I swear to God, I’m going to kill you.

~

The Sphinx fought to control his emotions as he walked down the familiar white, plain hospital-styled corridors that only served to enhance the unnerving effects of the violence that had been committed within these walls.

The Institute would forever be the darkest chapter of the Sphinx’s history. There was no escaping the fact that he had learned how to torture a man here. Even now, he could recall the way how blood looked brighter against the searingly white rooms, and the sound water, congealed with blood made as it trickled slowly towards a drainage pipe in the centre of a room.

Those skills had come back to bite the Western forces though. The Sphinx lost count of the amount of Coalition forces he had tortured under UBL’s leadership but the information he had amassed was incredible. It was one of the main reasons why UBL had escaped the detection for so long.

The Sphinx even remembered his first execution. A man, with a hood over his head, was sitting forlornly in the corner of a room. He was dressed in typical military fashion, with baggy camo pants and a plain brown shirt.

He remembered being handed a pistol, a chunky Sig Sauer P226 by the Wolf. It was too big for his hands at the time, but grip it he did.

What has he done? he remembered asking.

It doesn’t matter what’s he done. He’s against us. The Wolf had replied coldly.

Who is he?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is the will to make things right.

The Sphinx remembered the way how he stared at the man.

A complete nobody. But he was breathing. He was alive. He might have had a family. Children. He could have been him in the future.

But it doesn’t matter echoed the Wolf’s answer in his mind.

It took him nearly 5 minutes, but when he made the final decision, something inside of him clicked.

Something dark. Something apathetic and cruel.

The cold inner workings of any assassin.

The Sphinx stood up from his chair, wrapped his 14 year old hands around the pistol and without hesitation walked up to the target, who flinched slightly, and pulled the trigger three times.

The Wolf looked at his protege approvingly. He nodded seriously and the Sphinx remembered the smallest hint of a smile.

This approval was something the Sphinx had craved. He remembered the unique mixture of guilt and pride in his actions. But the feelings of guilt wouldn’t last. To get the Wolf’s approval, he would kill for this man.

The Sphinx felt his breath quicken, as he continued his search for the Wolf in the bowels of the Institute.

Even in this state, the Institute was clean. It was undeniably empty, with only a few trace evidence of the horrors that were conducted here. A stretcher in the corner of an empty room. The reinforced glass that prevented escapees. The keypads that could only be opened from the outside.

But to the uninitiated, it was as bare as could be. Nothing really showed that it was an enhanced training facility for one of the world’s most feared terrorists. The entire place reeked of deniability. It didn’t exist anywhere.

The Sphinx moved with the familiarity of memory. He knew where the Wolf would be. Not dead of a heart attack, that James Ashford had claimed to the Prince.

Instead, he would be working in his office. It didn’t matter that the Wolf was in his mid-60s. His commitment to the cause would have him working to his actual death.

Like the Prince, the Wolf also enjoyed anonymity from the grave. The only people who knew of his true existence were a secretive group of influential Englishmen who liked to ensure their secrets remained within their fraternity.

The Sphinx hadn’t known it at the time, but every action and exercise he had undertook was for this elite fraternity. These men would occasionally work with the government, sometimes against but it was always in their best interests.

Their motto was simple: sunt superis sua iura – the gods have their own laws.

Known simply as The Round Table, they were the shadowy organisation who funded the Institute and the Wolf’s training programs and sponsored his death.

But the Sphinx didn’t care. He was here only for one man. He kept moving through the Institute, his gun up, aware that the 4 man security team could be anywhere and were watching him through cameras.

Approaching the final staircase that would lead to the final 3rd basement floor, he spun around, thinking he had heard something. Silence and emptiness sneered at him and his AKS-74U.

The Sphinx frowned but shook off the feeling of disquiet and began to descend the final flight of stairs to confront the man who had controlled his destiny for so long.

~

The Prince shadowed the Sphinx the entire time as they descended further and further down. He was completely lost and disturbed by the Institute. They had first gone up into the floors where the building’s empty office spaces had been rented.

Rows and rows of empty cubicles stared at them, devoid of life. The Prince watched as the Sphinx ignored these cubicles and headed to a curiously placed fire-escape in the centre of the building. Silently following him, the Prince caught the door before it fully shut and hugged the wall as he looked down.

The Sphinx was walking down the flight of stairs. They seemed to descend forever into the depths of the ground. It was highly disorienting. The Prince watched as the Sphinx reached the bottom of the stairs and smoothly open the door, his AKS-74U up and ready to confront any threat.

Moments later, the Prince silently opened the same door and was shocked to see a hospital-styled room, with a long central corridor and many rooms with reinforced plexiglass, and one-way mirrors.

It was a classic interrogation wing. Only like the Sphinx had noted, it was studiously clean.

The Prince stayed back, watching the Sphinx professionally clear the area, before disappearing around a corner.

The Prince hurried after him, noting the familiarity that the Sphinx’s body language seemed to exhibit in these strange surrounding.

He’s been here before realised the Prince.

Minutes continued to crawl, as they went through another basement level, this one an advanced gun-range with a kill-house mock up, similar to the one that the Prince had trained in countless of times during his tenure in the SAS. However what set this basement level apart was the sheer height of it, with catwalks running across for observation and examination.

As the Prince watched the Sphinx cautiously move his way through the kill-house, he became aware of a strange detail in the CQB-training area.

The targets weren’t just cardboard cutouts. They were full blown silhouettes of both terrorist and counter-terrorists units, with realistic images of hostages. Empty chairs also lined the kill-house’s many rooms, with blood-rusted bullet holes behind them indicating that they had used live rounds against live targets here.

The Prince didn’t like any of these ramifications.

Where the hell am I? he thought as he continued to move his way through the kill-house silently.

As they came across the final staircase that would lead the final floor, in the north-east corner of the training level, the Sphinx nearly spotted the Prince following him.

In a hyper-fast move, the Prince ducked down and was relieved when the Sphinx continued on his way.

Keeping his Glock 19 close to his chest, the Prince continued to stalk the Sphinx, as he ventured deeper into the final level of the Institute.

~

The final floor of the Institute was a constant. An aberration of time and space. It was always perpetually dark and quiet. Only the barely audible hum of supercomputers and the flickering of thousand of TV monitors disrupted the shadows and silence.

This final floor was much smaller than the upper interrogation and training wings. In spite of that fact though, it was still a huge office for a single man. Measuring roughly 20×20 metres, it featured a central hub where the Wolf could observe a wall of large monitors that showcased feeds from operations around the world.

An assassination in Poland. A bombing in Syria. A governmental collapse in Argentina. A turf war between rival gangs in Los Angeles. A chemical factory explosion in Ukraine. A pirate raid on a supertanker off the coast of Africa.

The Wolf watched and processed them all through 4 supercomputers that allowed him to process and analyse data at an incredible rate. Currently, the Wolf was coldly eyeing the progress of the Sphinx and the Prince as they neared his command centre.

Along the east wall was the personal collection of the Wolf’s many escapades. An array of guns, swords, bows and even a large taxidermist Afghan horse were on display. Across from this collection though, along the west wall, was something far more gruesome.

Rows upon rows of index fingers lined the span of the wall. They were all perfectly lined up straight, with only one centimetre separating them. Some were slender and long, others short and stubby. A few had nail polish on them, others were painted. In some cases, the finger had suffered badly with cracked nails, broken bones, shrapnel damage, all left as they had been found when removed. In one case, torn flesh billowed softly from an open wound from what looked like a dog bite.

The entire index wall was encased in a yellow fluid, the stench of formaldehyde quickly consumed by strong vents that removed the smell elsewhere in the facility.

All 744 fingers were a memento of one of the Wolf’s kills. Each of them unique, each of them a strong memory.

Behind the central hub was a security station that separated the main entrance to the command centre. A large mounted machine gun provided a final stand of defence and the entire wall that filled most of the central space, except the two sides, was made of bulletproof opaque glass to shield the Wolf from any damage.

This was the Wolf’s lair, the place where he resided for much of his death.

It was the perfect Ops centre for conducting operations and easily defensible.

His loyal 4 man security team were at the security station desk, ready to fight till the end.

One man had his finger on the large mounted M240 Bravo machine gun that could tear through anything in seconds. The other 3 men were crouched beside him, submachine guns ready, fingers on the trigger.

They all stared at the door and waited anxiously.

Minutes passed when they heard a strange sound, like a suppressed pistol shot.

The Wolf said nothing to his men as he saw the camera feed outside the main door turn to hash.

~

The Sphinx placed his final C2 sphere on the door as quietly as he could.

There was nothing to it, but to go in guns blazing and make sure his fire was more accurate than the men inside.

The Sphinx looked over at his AKS-74U and thumbed the paddle to release the magazine. Looking at the bullets inside, the Sphinx sighed and noted that he had one full magazine left, one full spare on his belt and his Beretta with a half magazine.

It’s enough to finish this fight. thought the Sphinx as he reinserted the magazine into the gun and pulled out the detonator for the C2.

For Niamh

Crack!

The C2 sphere blasted the door open and the 4 men inside ducked instinctively. Within half a second, the M240B machine gunner instantly began pumping rounds through the door, firing blindly in a panic as his teammates soon unleashed their own torrent of fire.

The walls next to the door was soon perforated with hundred of holes.

As the three men ran dry and began their reloads, whilst the machine gunner continued to pump bullet after bullet, the Sphinx, crouching low near the door, risked a peek through one of the larger bullet holes that was created.

Slotting his AKS-74U in the hole, the Sphinx let loose a burst that chewed off the machine gunner’s head and froze the other three men, as the comforting thump-thump-thump of the M240B ceased.

Seizing his chance, the Sphinx ran through the door and with three bursts put all the remaining men down.

One man, his chest ripped apart, looked at the Sphinx in fear. The Sphinx smiled coldly, and with the final rounds in his AKS-74U’s magazine, shredded the man’s face, before dispassionately reloading.

As the Sphinx stood there, breathing heavily, on the cusp of entering the Wolf’s Lair, the Prince watched as he rolled swiftly to duck a 40mm grenade that was launched from the centre of the room.

The Prince swore as he realised that it was aimed at him. He dove under the grenade and tumbled down the stairs, as the staircase above him exploded spectacularly and a large chunk of debris slammed into the side of his head.

The Prince laid face-down, seemingly dead, as blood slowly crept out of the side of his head.

~

The Sphinx glared at the Wolf, who stood still in the middle of his command centre, a M4A1 rifle with a smoking underslung M203 grenade launcher aimed right at the Sphinx who was still crouched after his desperate roll.

Hassan. said the Wolf coldly.

The Sphinx chose to say nothing. Instead he was desperately trying to think of a way to get the upper hand.

You saved my life once Hassan. Consider this mercy as us, even. If you make one foolish move, don’t think I won’t kill you. You were stupid to come here. Look at you, repeating history again, bringing an outsider into our world. You didn’t even know that the Prince was following you the whole time.

I, once thought that you were my greatest student.

Perhaps once, I might have even thought you would be my son.

But you’re sloppy. You let your emotions control you again. Revenge has clouded your decision-making.

It’s pathetic. Have you learned nothing from me?

The Wolf tightened his trigger finger and coldly blew off the Sphinx’s left index finger which was by his side.

Blood sprayed from the Sphinx’s hand as he roared in pain. He looked down at his hand in shock. It was mangled beyond recognition, blood oozing from the wound and he could see the white hint of bone where the finger had been separated.

The feared terrorist looked around in morbid fascination for the missing digit as he gripped his hand furiously.

There it was, only 2 metres, his severed index finger, another trophy for the Wolf, weeping blood unceremoniously on the dark floor. For some odd reason, it was only when he saw the finger, the pain really started to hit him.

The Sphinx began to breathe heavily, as he prevented a scream from coming out. He wasn’t going to give the bastard Wolf, the satisfaction. Instead, he glared up at the Wolf defiantly.

The Wolf allowed himself the smallest of smiles in respect as he tilted the M4A1 up and aimed at the Sphinx’s head. His finger closed around the trigger and … was about to pull it all the way …

When the Prince groaned.

The sound was enough.

It distracted the Wolf for the smallest of seconds.

The Sphinx lunged into action and swept up the AKS-74U he dropped when the Wolf blew off his finger.

Gritting his teeth, the Sphinx loosed everything he had in the magazine at his enemy, at the man he once called a father. He didn’t even fire in bursts, he just held down the trigger, desperate to kill.

But the Wolf was too quick. He was already moving when he realised his mistake. The Wolf dove out of the way and gasped as one of the Sphinx’s bullets slammed into his M4A1, rendering the weapon useless.

The Sphinx’s crazed burst lasted for 4 seconds. The rounds echoed in the small room viciously, joined soon after by the sounds of computers and monitors sparking into death.

Fuck! yelled the Sphinx as the AKS-74U ran dry and began to click uselessly.

Whipping out his Beretta, the Sphinx rolled for cover, adrenaline-soaked revenge causing him to forget his wound, as the Wolf pulled out a big and rare Arsenal AF2011A1 and let loose.

A very odd pistol and the personal favourite of the Wolf, the Arsenal AF2011A1 wasn’t just any ordinary 1911 clone. It featured another .45 barrel next to the original, making it a weapon that had two barrels that could be pulled with one trigger. With a special magazine, the weapon featured 16 rounds and could easily blow fist-sized holes in a target.

Which is exactly what the Sphinx discovered when the flimsy table he was hiding behind blew open in a shower of wood and plastic and nearly took his head off. Peering through the hole and ignoring the splinters that had raked his face, the Sphinx loosed several rounds from his puny Beretta that caused the Wolf to duck.

They traded rounds after rounds, the ops centre viciously reporting each crack of gunfire in a headache inducing volume.

Suddenly, the exchange of fire stopped as both men ran dry.

Metallic clangs were heard as magazines were dropped to the floor and new ones were inserted with a sharp click.

Both men were breathing heavily, the Sphinx looking down at the blood that was dripping from his left hand hitting the floor, only for another drop to follow from the frag wound to the side of his face.

This ends now Wolf! called out the Sphinx.

The Wolf only snorted derisively.

Join her in hell … Sphinx.

With a primeval battle-cry, the Sphinx whirled from behind the table and raced towards the Wolf, just as the Wolf did the same.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! … Blam!

The Sphinx and the Wolf stood stock still in the centre of the room, mere metres apart, their guns outstretched.

The Sphinx collapsed first, his head blown apart by the final round that the Wolf fired.

The feared terrorist who had wreaked so much havoc across Europe because of revenge was dead. His chest was blown open by three powerful shots from the Wolf’s Arsenal.

No-one was getting up from that, not even the Sphinx’s desire for revenge. But ever the professional, the Wolf executed his protege with a headshot that created a huge exit wound, spraying brain matter everywhere in a gruesome, grisly grey-red mist.

The Wolf looked down at his own body and saw that the Sphinx had gotten him twice. Once in the left shoulder and another in the stomach.

Sinking to one knee, the Wolf looked at the Sphinx and shook his head.

Revenge. So petty. he said disdainfully as he clutched at his stomach.

Such a waste …

The Wolf breathed calmly as he began to assess the situation. The stupid emotional little shit was dead. He was wounded but nothing a Round Table medical team couldn’t patch up. Everything should be under control …

It was then the Prince arrived, his head bloody, his green eyes cold and strangely curious, his Glock 19 aimed straight at the Wolf’s head.

~

The Wolf spat on the ground disrespectfully.

Gabriel Woods. 31 years old. Australian. Former member of the 22nd SAS. Now an assassin. Never worked for any bidder. 79 confirmed kills in 4 years.

Renowned for killing a member of the Royal Family. Earned the sobriquet “The Prince” because of it. 2 fucking years later, through some quirk of fate, ends up working for Her Majesty anyway.

Talk about irony.

The Wolf laughed.

You know, we thought about hiring you. But when you killed one of us in Argentina, we figured you were too principled for our taste. Such a pity. We were big fans of your kill on the Prince. Probably one of the best we’ve ever seen and trust me, I’ve seen plenty to be impressed. We could have used a man like you.

The Prince looked down at the Wolf and cocked his head.

Could?

The Wolf smiled coldly.

You didn’t really think that I was going to tell you everything as I laid here dying did you? Who do you take me for?

The Prince looked up at the monitors that dominated so much of the room. His eyes widened in anger and shock.

Through the security camera footage, a 12-man SWAT team was making their way through Institute. They had just cleared the interrogation wing. In minutes they would be at the training floor, where the Kill-House was.

The Wolf began to laugh.

You’ve got nowh-

Blam! Blam! Blam!

The Prince shot him three times in the head.

The Wolf’s head lolled lifelessly and then fell over, meeting the same fate as his protege.

Master and apprentice, dead in the same room, their brains missing.

It was almost poetic if one knew their history. But the Prince didn’t, nor did he care.

They were just two more dead assholes.

Staring at the screen, and seeing the Round Table SWAT team get closer, the Prince gritted his teeth and walked over to the Wolf’s weapon arsenal on the east wall.

~

The 12 man SWAT team was anything but ordinary. For starters their uniform was entirely black, instead of the normal dark navy blue that normal Police teams would wear.

Large, bulletproof gas masks covered their faces, and they were armed to the teeth with breaching shotguns, assault rifles, submachine guns and large calibre pistols. Two of the men out front were holding large assault shields, with rare fully automatic Glock 18 machine pistols.

Whilst a normal SWAT team would be carrying cable-ties, non-lethal grenades and equipment for suspects, the Round Table team was suspiciously absent from any such kit. Instead they were carrying large body bags, and were equipped with thermite grenades, which when activated would burn anything to ash.

They were here for one purpose … the complete destruction of this Institute.

Sanitize and sterilize all traces of evidence.

The team leader, going by Gawain, stepped up to the door that lead to the training floor. Placing a breaching charge, he waited until the men were safely behind the riot shielded men before counting down.

3, 2, 1 … Mark.

Crack!

The door blew open and the men rushed in to begin their assault on the Kill House, where the Prince was waiting for them.

~

Having taken a spare backpack and stuffing it full of hard drives from the supercomputers that lined the back wall of the Ops Centre, the Prince was moving quickly. He knew that he didn’t have enough energy, nor firepower to defeat this SWAT team.

So this was all going to hinge on how stealthily he could sneak past the team.

Grabbing the quietest gun on the Wolf’s arsenal and his personal favourite, a familiar MP5SD, and stuffing his warbelt with 4 spare magazines, the Prince also grabbed a suppressor for his Glock 19, stowing it in a pocket, before grabbing 3 big packets of C4 explosive and a detonator.

Taking position on the far side of the Kill House and recalling the layout, the Prince crept forward as he heard Gawain blow open the door. He was making his way for the catwalk that was high above the kill-house. But to get there, he had to go through the kill-house’s south-west corner.

The Kill House was atypical of those seen in training facilities everywhere. Sturdy plywood lined with bulletproof material were used for walls, and the doors had multiple holes in them to practice breaching. This one featured over 20 rooms that were variously conjoined and interconnected.

The SWAT Team moved swiftly through the Kill-House. They were evidently well trained. They leap-frogged one another with precision and speed, already they were a third of the way through the Kill-House.

The Prince set down one of the C4 explosives in one of the rooms closest to the entry of the staircase that lead to the Ops Centre and moved into the Kill-House, where he waited in the adjoining room that would lead to the catwalk.

Bang!

With shocking swiftness, the door swung inwards to the room the Prince was waiting in. An assault shielded man came through, with 2 men behind him shooting over the shield into the corners of the room.

But what they didn’t realise was the Prince was lying on the floor and he shot the shit out of their legs.

Slit! Slit! Slit! Slit! whispered the MP5SD.

All three men collapsed on the floor, their shins exploding in sprays of blood.

The Prince, acting quickly, grabbed the riot shield, flipped it and rammed them all back through the way they came, causing them all to stack on top of each other, before ramming the edge of the shield into each of their heads, knocking them out cold.

Sprinting for the catwalk staircase, the Prince pulled out his detonator and pressed down viciously.

Shoom!

The C4 explosive blew apart the southern end of the Kill House, launching the remaining 9 men backwards with the blast.

As they staggered to their feet, Gawain looked around and saw the Prince sprinting above them, gunning for the staircase entrance that would lead to freedom.

Gawain bought his HK416 assault rifle to bear, only for the Prince to dive off the catwalk and onto the ground, where he rolled across the floor and to the only exit out of the training ground.

Fuck! swore Gawain. All elements! Back to the north entry now!

The Prince placed his second C4 at the door, before sprinting all the way up and placing his final one on the top of the staircase.

Then he ran right through the interrogation wing and at the end of the hall, smiled coldly and pressed down on the detonator.

Chunk!

From the Prince’s angle, fiery smoke billowed out through the open doorway he had just run through.

From Gawain’s angle, his team were launched backwards once more and they stared at the destruction the Prince had wreaked upon them, ensuring that they were stuck down here for a long time.

Gawain furiously punched the wall of the Kill-House and radioed in a report that was met with an angry but cold response.

Mediocre, Knight. Very mediocre.

~

The Prince ran outside, and saw the driver of the SWAT van that had just deposited the team sent in to kill him, who was in the midst of getting out.

Not one to waste time or opportunity, the Prince whipped up his MP5SD and blew out the driver’s kneecaps with two shots.

The man staggered face first onto the floor, where the Prince shot him again through the top of his head for good measure.

Pulling out his phone, the Prince called Ashford as he walked away from the Institute, his head reeling from everything that had just transpired. It was imperative that he go underground as soon as possible.

Ashford answered on the second ring.

Make me disappear, now.

~

Epilogue

It was another beautiful day in Tidal River, rural Victoria. The bright golden sunshine complemented the yellow grass that ended on a cliff that jutted out to the Pacific Ocean.

Big waves crashed against the cliff and the noise they generated created a soothing natural soundscape to the environment.

Gabriel Woods looked out from his brutally modern house from the second floor and sighed quietly.

It had been nearly 2 months since the V-Day Massacre in London, and it had taken all of Ashford’s considerable powers and resources to hide Woods from the new threat he had uncovered.

The Round Table.

Only Gabriel Woods and James Ashford were aware of their existence. Ashford couldn’t even trust his own SIS team, assuming, rightly so, that the entire intelligence agency was compromised.

At first, Ashford didn’t know what to make of the intelligence that Woods had secured off the 4 hard drives that once belonged to a man named Wolf. But it slowly dawned on him just how bad the situation was.

What the hell are we going to do? asked Ashford, aghast at the entire situation.

You know what you have to do. replied Woods evenly to the question.

Ashford looked at the man standing before him. Then the head of the British Intelligence nodded once and left, never to contact Woods again. He would do, what he had done for Gabriel for so many years, protect the Queen’s only assassin remotely and leave him to his devices.

The ultimate sign of trust amongst men who run in the shadows.

Gabriel Woods was now all alone in the fight.

The Prince was back and eager to rule once more.

Staring out at the landscape, the Prince turned his back to the view, turned on his laptop and began to research the latest target’s death:

Gawain of the Round Table, a Maltese Knight.

Let the hunt begin.

~

Author’s Note

And … I’m finished!

I know I let it end on a sequel-bait, but honestly, it’s more fun that way.

I might revisit this character later, but for now I’m pretty happy with the way how everything went.

I shall be writing a post-mortem entry for this whole short story, so hopefully that will be up soon! I can’t believe that this is only the second one I’e finished on this blog. Anywaw I hope you guys have had a blast reading it, as much as I did writing it.

I shall also be compiling and editing the entire thing into one big blog post, so you can read it from end to end!

Stay tuned for the reflection post on this story!

Big thanks to those who have been following this story since Espionage 1, way back in 2020!

I hope this ending was fun for you!

~ Damocles.

Into the Woods …. (Espionage 9)

20 minutes into the V-Day Attack.

Gabriel Woods stared at the crowd surging and pushing towards him, a primal fear coursing through his system, as the stampede of bodies barrelled down the London street, panicked and terrified.

Having rushed from Ryan “Jacket” Malik’s Croydon safe-house to London in the bomb-maker’s car, in a vain attempt to assist the SAS kill-teams already operating there, Woods was forced to abandon the car on the A23 when he saw the thousands of police checkpoints that blocked entry to London.

Slipping past surreptitiously the checkpoint, as policemen argued sternly with the hundreds of cars that were lining up, Woods made his way through the millions of alleyways that marked London’s cityscape, before finally entering the CBD properly after a long hour walk.

As he made his way through the city, he could hear the screams and echoes of gunfire. With his MP7A1, Glock 19 and warbelt looking decidedly terrifying, Gabriel wasn’t keen for anyone to see him, as he had no friendly identifying features on him.

As he rounded the corner of a street cautiously, it was then he was confronted with a crowd.

Falling back around the corner, Woods ducked into an alcove as the crowd kept running past him. No one saw the quiet assassin watching them, as they ran away in their fear. As he stepped out, one of the stragglers nearly collided into him, a petite woman clutching her arm and looking back in the direction she had came in horror.

She nearly screamed at the sight of Woods, but Woods was quicker, and with a firm but gentle grip, Woods slowly moved her around the corner, sat her down on the floor and said soothingly in a British accent

It’s OK. I’m UK Special Forces. I’m friendly. Here, let me look at that arm.

The petite woman was shaking heavily, the shock of a terrorist attack still apparent in her nervous system. Tears streaked down her cheeks, as she felt some semblance of relief at a soldier tending to her wound.

What’s your name? asked Woods softly, as he opened his first aid kit.

Liz. said the woman shakily. Woods nodded and smiled reassuringly.

Hi Liz. My name is George. I’m a medic with the 2nd Paras. We’ll have you patched up in no time OK? Just try to stay calm with me and not move too much OK? Everything is going to be alright Liz.

As Gabriel inspected the wound, a nasty piece of frag that had embedded itself in Liz’s arm, a tiny part of him marvelled at how quickly he had lied and created a false military persona. George from the 2nd Paras …. that was something he would have to tell Ashford later, so that the illustrious 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, one of Britian’s first airborne troops units, founded in the Second World War, could prepare an appropriate story for the press.

It was a typical SAS ploy, to pass off their deeds to the Regiment where most of the SAS members had come from, and in most cases the Paras were all too happy to take the credit.

Gabriel looked at the piece of metal shrapnel that had lodged itself in this attractive blonde’s arm and winced at the flow of blood that was oozing out. To remove this, was to risk further blood loss, but who knew what sort of shit, bacteria wise, was in that open wound right now.

Taking out some disinfectant, Gabriel maintained gentle eye contact with Liz, as her blue eyes locked onto his green trustingly.

OK Liz, so I can’t remove this piece of metal, because to do so, would mean that you might incur more blood loss. What I am going to do, is disinfect this wound, so it’s going to sting a lot. Then I’m going to bandage you up and get you to a hospital ASAP. Hold onto me Liz, because this is going to hurt OK?

Liz nodded and started to breathe heavily, as she gripped Gabriel’s shoulder with her good hand. Dabbing the disinfectant onto a gauze pad, Gabriel started to clean the wound, ignoring the moans of pain as Liz began to writhe in his grip and tighten the pressure on his shoulder with her fingers.

Come on Liz, nearly there! said Woods encouragingly, as he continued to dab away at the wound and avoided touching the metal.

After what seems like hours, but was in reality minutes, Liz relaxed as Woods finally stopped and took out his bandage roll.

OK, hold still Liz.

She nodded gamely, as Woods began to bandage the wound, allowing the piece of metal to stick out from beyond the protective white tape and she winced in pain as the bandage pricked at the metal shrapnel.

OK, all done Liz. Attagirl. Now we got to get you to a hospital. Can you stand?

I … I think so.

It’s only a short hop, and skip away. Let’s go.

Gabriel gently looped Liz’s good arm around his neck and together they began to walk to the nearest hospital, which was the St. Thomas’ Hospital.

As Woods half carried and half supported Liz, he made idle conversation to take her mind off the pain and the sight of white bandages slowly becoming more infused with red.

Tell me more about yourself Liz. What do you normally do for a living?

I’m a bartender. I was serving drinks at the Beaufort, near the Savoy when out of nowhere I heard all this gunfire. At first I thought it was some type of sick joke, but when our bar’s windows got shot through and I saw people falling over …

Liz’s voice trailed off, as she relived the moment.

It’s OK Liz. You don’t have to continue. said Woods softly.

No, I’m OK. But yeah, when I saw what was really going on … I ducked behind the bar, but that was when the terrorists shot at the glasses above me and people starting running out. One of the bullets must have shattered something, because the railing that held up the drinks just fucking broke apart and I got that in my arm as I was hiding.

Liz took a shaky breath, as they continued their slow journey to the hospital.

You know George, I was there in 2017, when the Bridge attacks happened. I thought I was going to die when the van came near me. But this shit is way worse. I can’t believe it happened to me again. I only just got over that damn bridge attack and now .. I’m fucking shot. When is this going to be over?

Gabriel looked sympathetically at the waiter. She was tough and unlucky. To have 2 terrorists attack occur within the span of 5 years, with Liz at the centre, was sheer galactic unluckiness. He didn’t know what to say.

Take it easy Liz, Woods heard himself say We’re nearly there.

God … I’m going to have to spend a ton more on therapy again said Liz half jokingly and half seriously.

Woods smiled. A sense of humour meant that her spirit wasn’t truly broken yet. As they rounded the corner, Woods was relieved to see that the hospitals had not quite gotten full yet. Walking through the emergency doors, Woods looked at a nurse and a security guard who was rushing forwards.

UK Special Forces. I’m here to drop off a casualty. Frag wound to the arm. I’ll leave her in your care. Give me a quick trauma kit, I got to get back out there.

The nurse nodded and yelled at the security guard who immediately ran off to get a fresh trauma kit whilst she looked at Liz.

Liz smiled at Woods gratefully as the nurse fussed over her.

I don’t know how to thank you George.

Just doing my duty ma’am. said Woods charmingly.

Thank you. Oh and one more thing, as I was running out of the Beaufort, I thought I saw something strange.

Woods knelt in front of Liz and looked at her seriously.

What was it? he asked intensely.

Maybe it was nothing, but just before the attack happened, I was serving this couple. They were this good-looking Middle Eastern couple. The girl looked really nervous, and she also looked pregnant but the guy seemed chilled about everything. I only remembered them, because they never ordered any proper drinks, just mocktails and finger food. But they kept looking at their watches and I noticed at around 10 to 7, they left.

As they left, I saw the guy nod to someone who was also eating there.

This guy was the one who later shot up my bar.

Woods looked at Liz, scrutinising her. Are you sure?

Yes.

Which way were they going?

I’m not sure, but it was towards the Charing Cross.

Woods smiled gratefully. Thank you Liz. he said, holding her non-injured hand gently and squeezing it warmly. Now heal up. I’ll be back to visit you sometime.

As Woods ran off, he knew that he would never keep that promise. Such was the nature of this business. She would live her life, none the wiser about the identity of the Prince that had saved her arm from amputation with his quick first aid. To her, he was just another 2nd Parachute Regiment trooper named George.

~

To cross the River Thames, Woods was going to run directly across the famous Westminster Bridge where Big Ben watched over it, ever vigilant. To the North of these iconic institutions, stood equally famous landmarks, like 10 Downing Street, Whitehall and the National Gallery.

To the North-east of Big Ben, sat the Savoy and the Beaufort Bar, where Gabriel and Liz had walked from, as well as Charing Cross Station.

If Woods was any predictor of the Sphinx’s target, it would be any of those key icons or Big Ben itself. However, suicide bombing was not in his nature.

This was the task of his underlings. Soldiers who would die for the cause.

Men who had already set London on fire, as Woods ran across Westminster Bridge, seeing flames and smoke rising from the numerous shops that had been fired upon.

What struck Woods though, was the constant cacophony of noise. Screams of the wounded blended into the whoop, whoop, whoop of emergency sirens. The occasional pop of gunfire echoed through the skyward corridors of London, the sound reverberating harshly as it bounced everywhere.

There were people were running everywhere, as their panicked eyes sought solace anywhere. Woods could see bloodied clothes, torn dresses and abandoned heels. A man walked past him, his eyes dazed by the horror of what he had just witnessed, a zombie in a neat tuxedo. Nothing was registering on his face, just an empty blankness.

Others were crouched and lying on the floor, as they hyperventilated through the shock and fear, struggling to breathe properly, their friends sobbing into their shoulder.

A woman and her child were hugging each other tightly, and as Woods ran past them, the mother screamed in horror at the sight of his guns and buried her face into her son’s head.

No! No! NO! Don’t take him please!

Woods ignored her and kept running, his green eyes scanning everywhere for Malik and Sofia. If they weren’t going to attack Big Ben, then it had to be something else. Sooner or later, he would come across them.

More people ran past him. Shops burned. Woods kept desperately searching for the two lovers.

But he only saw chaos everywhere.

A teen in a hoodie was rummaging through a smashed in store. Woods walked up to him and raised his MP7A1, nudging him in the shoulder.

The teen jumped backwards in fright, and promptly tripped over the broken glass that littered the floor. Falling over, he instantly banged his hooded head against the floor, knocking him out cold. Woods flipped him over, and with a spare cable-tie, cuffed the teen to a floor-mounted table and sent an anonymous tip to the police with his phone.

Pushing on, Woods kept moving through the city that had been touched too many times by fundamentalism. To his great relief, Woods had yet to see any bomb damage, which meant that his intelligence and the SAS kill-teams had saved the city from further destruction.

Whilst it would have been more ideal if all elements of the attack had been stopped, there was only so much that could be done. After all, the Sphinx had planned for all eventualities. Casualties in every single one of his attacks were to be expected. This was his biggest one, and to assume that they could properly prevent an attack, planned by one of their own, was arrogant and short-sighted.

Woods recalled the conversation he had with Ashford, in the hours before this attack.

~

You know that we can’t stop this attack cleanly right?

I know, Gabriel. There are still too many variables in this scenario. The SAS teams are all prepped and ready to go. They’ll be inserting in ASAP. But …

Ashford’s voice trailed off into silence as he tried to contemplate all of the Sphinx’s moves.

We still know too little.

Yes. said Ashford defeated. The lads at Hereford are the best, but even they are no guarantee.

Woods looked on quietly, as one of the most powerful and intelligent men in the world, buried his head in his hands. Every death that was going to occur in the attack, was going to haunt him for the rest of his career. Not even his American counterpart, Richard Washington had been able to provide much assistance.

The Sphinx was going to strike, regardless of their actions from now till the Valentine Day Attack.

What the hell am I going to do Gabriel?

Woods looked at Ashford and coldly said one word

Retribution.

Ashford looked up sharply at his best asset.

You know sir, it’s time you put me to good use. The Americans never quite understood how to use me to the best of my ability. I gathered intelligence for them, hid amongst the locals and spied on village leaders and warlords.

I didn’t become the Prince to spy on people. I definitely did not expect months of service to the Americans either.

You found me for a reason. I’m not in the business of preventing attacks.

I’m in the business of hunting

The information I gather is to kill a target, not to be used for any other type of reconnaissance.

Don’t make the same mistake as the Americans. You’re better than that. You have under your command, someone who stalks and kill their prey before they can commit some heinous crime.

I don’t exist anywhere. No-one knows who I really am, or who I work for.

It’s too late to prevent this attack, but you can stop the next one.

Unleash me, sir.

Ashford nodded and realised that he had foolishly categorised this man as another intelligence asset.

What Gabriel Woods should really be designated as, is England’s only assassin.

James Ashford, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, looked at Woods with a cold fury behind his eyes.

You have execute authority. I want Malik’s head. Bring it to me. Don’t make tomorrow’s chaos be in vain.

Woods looked back at his boss and nodded.

With pleasure, sir.

~

As Woods rushed from Westminster Bridge to 10 Downing Street, following nothing but his instincts, the Sphinx was gripping the hands of Sofia Sumarwata, whose serene beauty was now flushed with excitement.

They looked like any Valentine’s Day couple, well dressed and romantic in their attractiveness. Malik was dressed in a casual suit, with a black collared shirt, matching his black pants and sports jacket. His hair was slicked back, and his clean shaven face showcased his strong jaw and straight nose. The only thing that betrayed his romantic sheen, was the intense focus behind his brown eyes, that scanned the environment intently and showed a strange excitement.

Sofia’s outfit was startlingly bold. Her red dress plunged daringly at the front and perfectly set off her olive skin. Her dark hair was tossed and tousled just so, giving it volume and bounce, as she ran next to her lover. Sofia’s long legs were brilliantly displayed in a pair of red Louboutin heels, and there was a strange air of carelessness to her that was completely at odds with the chaos surrounding the couple.

They were racing down the Parliament Street, as people screamed and scattered around them. The entire city was gripped in a panic and it was imperative that they use this opportunity to strike.

The Sphinx was armed to the teeth, a collapsible AKS-74U with modern Zenitco rails and a compact Aimpoint T-2 affixed towards the front of the gun. In addition, a DBAL-I2 laser designator was affixed to the right side of the gun, and in a holster on his belt was a large Beretta M9A3 with a suppressor.

It was this large pistol that was gripped in the Sphinx’s hands, as he held it low and behind his leg, the AKS-74U hidden just underneath his stylish black blazer.

Sofia was unarmed, but there was something strange about the way how she moved, how she clutched at her belly that betrayed her intention.

At 100 metres away from the checkpoint at Downing Street, the pair of them slowed down, holding each other’s hands tightly, Sofia savouring the moment with Malik.

Then it came into proper view, the simple black gates that protected one of the most iconic residences in the world. Understated and manned by 5 police officers, wielding G36 assault rifles, the gates looked strangely unimposing for so important a residence.

All the officers were at the front of the gate, anxiously looking out at the chaos that was happening all around them, their assault rifles held nervously in their hands.

The Sphinx counted them and rehearsed a move in his head

One of the officers saw the Sphinx and Sofia walking towards them and motioned to them to stop.

Halt!

Sofia stopped and put her hands up, reassuring the officers somewhat. She smiled reassuringly and for a split second they relaxed.

It was then, the Sphinx made his move. Swiftly and violently.

The Beretta whipped up from behind his leg and shooting between the gate’s frame, the pistol spat 5 rounds in a matter of 2 seconds.

The officers didn’t even get a single shot off. They all crumpled to the floor, like marionettes that had their strings cut, blood seeping out of the holes in their heads. The Sphinx walked over to the gate and peered in, before nodding to himself.

Reaching into his pocket, the Sphinx took out a wad of C2 explosive, a less powerful version of C4, traditionally used for breaching. Lining the strip along the seam of the gate, he stepped back and set it off with a detonator, watching as the gates swung inward viciously.

Smiling victoriously, Hassan Malik, the Sphinx stepped onto the hallowed grounds of the British Parliament.

~

As the two lovers crossed the gate to Downing Street, Woods spotted them, further down the road, on the opposite end of Parliament. He saw the flash of Sofia’s dark hair and her red dress as she disappeared from sight a second later, past the police checkpoint’s gates

Fuck! swore Woods as he switched from a jog to a full blown sprint.

~

Hassan Malik looked at one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, and pressed her lips to his. Sofia looked deep into his eyes, tears and love mingling together in a coalescence of heavy emotion. They savoured each other for a second, before she began to walk towards the iconic black door of 10 Downing Street.

~

For all it’s importance, as the residence of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minster, Number 10’s black door was classically British in its simplicity, elegance and refinement. There was nothing particularly flashy about it, nor ornate. It was perfect in its unobtrusiveness.

But within the doors, housed many different rooms steeped in history. 300 years old, with 100 rooms for dignitaries, world leaders and influential folk of all sorts, the house had long been the home to Britain’s most iconic leaders, Thatcher, Churchill, Pitt the Younger …

Cabinet and War Rooms could be found within its halls and in 1991, the place was bombed by the IRA, during a particularly vicious era of British history, leading to the installation of the police checkpoints that the Sphinx had so comprehensively attacked.

In the words of Margaret Thatcher, Number 10 had become “one of the most precious jewels in the national heritage.”

A jewel that would very soon be besmirched by the latest brand of terrorism.

~

Sofia Sumarwata walked slowly towards the centre of 10 Downing Street. The image of such a beautiful woman standing in the centre of the home for the British Parliament was burned into the minds of all who saw it.

The security officers watching from cameras, their faces aghast at what was to come.

The 5 other officers who had turned around too late to see what was going on on the other side Downing Street and were now charging forwards to tackle Sofia, unaware of the danger.

The Prime Minister and his cabinet diving for the floor as their security guards threw themselves on top of their charges.

The Sphinx taking cover nearby, a sad and proud smile on his face as he beheld his lover take her final steps into oblivion.

And finally the Prince himself as he dashed around the gate, his weapon up, his eyes affixed through the gun sight.

Sofia knocked on the door of Number 10 Downing Street politely, once.

The sight of such an attractive woman in red, knocking in a picturesque British setting would have beautiful, if not for the intent.

No! Sofia, don’t! yelled Woods as he desperately tried to reach her in time. The image of her standing there, with a sad but content expression was enough for Woods to curl his finger around the trigger. But there was no time left.

She was gone.

~

The explosion that ripped from her stomach was huge. She had worn a modified vest that resembled a pregnant belly. It was directed outwards and immediately blew her apart in two. Nothing remained of her body, one second she was there, the next she was gone.

Only her actions remained, to be remembered forever in history.

The black door at Number 10 was eviscerated. Vapourised along with anything within 10 metres of the initial blast. Glass melted before the intense heat, bricks shattered and burned along with the carpet that lined the interior of the house. Priceless art dropped from their hooks and blew apart, as did tasteful furniture that was reduced to ash instantly.

The buildings around the explosion buckled heavily, as windows shattered and showered the immediate area with shards of glass and wood splinters, causing the Sphinx to roll from behind a car he was hiding behind to avoid the shower.

The Prime Minister yelled as the roar of the blast could even be felt in his War Room, the reinforced bunker holding up easily to the blast.

The officers who had come running from the other side of Downing Street were flung aside, their bodies rag-dolling against cars, walls and for one poor officer, a hard red London post box that cracked his head open. They all laid still, their heroics unrewarded with unceremonious unconsciousness.

Woods was also flung backwards by the concussive force, the shaped charge saving his life in a strange way, as most of the explosive force was directed towards the residence, and the fact that he was further away.

He crashed heavily against the black fence of the gate, the force of the impact stunning him viciously. Groaning, Woods looked up from his prone position to see the sharply dressed Sphinx get up from his position, whip his AKS-74U up and charge headlong into the breach that his lover sacrificed herself for.

What the hell is he doing? thought Woods. He knows he can’t get to the Prime Minister once he is in the War Room. What is he searching for?

Moments later, the gunfire from the building screamed at Woods to get up.

Gritting his teeth and despite the intense ringing that was shooting through his head and ears, Woods jumped up and ran into the breach after the Sphinx.

Author’s Note

I’ll keep it brief …

I’ve already started on the next and final installment of this series.

Till then!

~ Damocles.

200 Stories ….

Staring out at his old schoolmates, Raphael recalled all the strange feelings he experienced in his high school days.

Feelings of insecurities over his looks.

Worrying about how to ask out the girl sitting in front of him.

Fears about his grades and struggling to cope with his emotions

Discovering what it meant to be a target for a bully and then getting into a fight with said bully.

Wishing he was older, wiser, richer and more adult.

But that was 10 years ago. Raphael had changed and left all those things behind. However, just like memories, those feelings were so potent, that they echoed louder when surrounded by evidence.

Evidence like the attractive crush who had only grown lovelier over the years.

Proof like the maternity bump on one of the most popular girls.

Clues like the wrinkles one of his friends that had helped him in the fight with the bully.

Signs likes the smiles that everyone had on, right now, as they listened to a transformed Raphael deliver his speech.

Hello, Hello, Hello!

Welcome to the 2011 Class, 10 Year Reunion!

It’s great to see you all again. How have you all been? It’s been ages since we’ve all last seen each other hasn’t it?

What is it like? Catching up with people you knew when we were all teens, we’ve all changed so much haven’t we?

Just look around! There are 200 of us here. That’s 200 unique stories that we can all discover here tonight. 200 different choices, lifestyles, life-paths and unique circumstances. Isn’t that incredible?

We spent 6 years together. Six! Imagine that … I can barely scrape through a relationship in 6 months!

But seriously, I wanted to thank you all for attending tonight. It might have been 10 years, but I can already see that, time is irrelevant when it comes to close friendships. We’re all vibing together and it’s awesome to see.

Tonight though, isn’t just about you meeting with your old friends. It’s an opportunity for us to check up on those friends who we left behind when we went to uni or got a job fresh out of high school. It’s also an chance for us to open up to people we wished we got to know better.

That’s right, I’m talking to all of you who had a crush on each other. Now’s the chance to open up and tell them, sorry I got a boyfriend or girlfriend now, but we can hang out sometime?

I’m joking of course. But we’ve all changed so much in 10 years! We’re 28 now … so close to 30! Isn’t that insane? I mean, look at you, you’ve got a baby bump. How about you man! You look like you’re a lawyer now!

I mean, you guys all remember me as the weird kid who had a funny lisp and *ahem* allegedly bought a knife to school. True, by the way, but look at me now!

I like to think I’m not as shy, a bit funnier and a lot more confident, even though I work part time in retail and am trying to branch into events, like the one you are attending right now!

Everyone’s story here is going to be exciting. Take your time tonight to find out. See how much people have or haven’t changed in 10 years!

That is what tonight is all about. Listening to everyone’s story.

No, I’m not going to crown some stupid homecoming queen or grant some award for hottest couple. Or even acknowledge people who have changed the most or … look exactly the same.

We left that shit behind. Come on … we’re not Americans! Why bring up that sort of toxic shit? So relax everyone, we won’t be doing any silly voting and none of us are going to be any more special than each other. We’re nearly 30 for God’s sake … we’ve outgrown the need for that reassurance.

We don’t want to revert back to our high school state do we?

No. Tonight, the only thing you are going to see on that big projector screen behind me, are interesting facts about us ’93 babies. We’ve seen some stuff from 1993 to 2021. I’ll be showing you all interesting historical facts that happened during our lifetime so far, things that we’ve all experienced growing up.

It’ll spark some memories for us all and give us a chance to reflect.

But enough from me! Tonight is about us and having great conversations.

Find those 200 stories everyone!

Our DJ will be playing nothing but nostalgia on her discs. All the classic hits we would have known during high school. Big shout out to Monki!

The bar over there is open for business and so if you need some liquid encouragement to confess to someone here about your crush, let loose! Let’s hear it for John and Jess for their drinks!

Our awesome catering team will be bringing out so much canapes that you’ll think it’s a full meal! Let’s thank Melbourne’s Catering for their food and service tonight!

So eat, drink and be merry! Catch up and exchange some gossip! Talk, laugh and enjoy yourself! Stay here till the sun comes up!

DJ! Spin that shit!

Author’s Note:

Obviously this is pretty autobiographical. A lot of this actually comes from the unique phenomenon known as shower thoughts in which I have a terrible habit of pretending I am in interviews or create speeches to imaginary crowds.

For some odd reason, during and post showers, I tend to be quite eloquent, so I thought it would be fun to write this one down and pretend that I organised a 10 Year High School Reunion.

The opportunity has actually already passed (mine was last year) but I did do a lot of reflecting on what might have happened if someone did organise it (or perhaps someone did and I wasn’t invited) and how I would react to seeing everyone again. Would I be nervous and revert back to my high school attitude and personality? Or would I overcome it, much like Raphael does, and be my true self, the man that I am today?

I often think back to my high school days with a mixture of bemusement and fondness. I usually treat the memories as a reminder of how far I’ve come as a person, how much I’ve changed and how I’ve learnt to embrace every aspect of me.

I don’t see them as my glory days, far from it. In many ways they weren’t that great, just happily average. I definitely do not cling onto them like some do, as the pinnacle of their life.

That’s for when I’m 30+ thanks and got full-time employment in events, am racing every weekend and can sail on a yacht at a whim.

After all, it’s quite sad to think that you’ve hit a peak so early in your life. Goals should be moved and new heights should always be set one you’ve broke them.

But I’m babbling now. This was just a fun speech that I would have delivered, had I been the one to organise a high school reunion, 10 years from our graduation.

For the record, the theme of the night would have been Clueless.

~ Damocles

Sawfish …. [DON’T SLEEP]

The girl who beckoned to me had previously forced herself onto me.

It was at work, after the shop had closed. We were just alone, this attractive, lithe Asian girl whose eyes had long suggested something between us. I was attracted but I knew that I couldn’t. I was with someone else.

Yes, it was long distance, but I had no intention of breaking our bond.

But my guard was down, and I was tired and in need of something more from my life. Already my girlfriend’s face was fading after so long an absence. This girl was here and she could offer me something that I craved.

So when I walked into the back room, and she pressed herself against me … I didn’t resist. Instead of pushing her away, my hands grabbed at her. I lifted her uniform and my hands eagerly savoured the taunt curve of her hip and waist. It was warm, soft and firm.

She lifted my shirt and her hands reached around to my back and something inside me broke in two. One half was desperate, my hands reaching up to unclasp her bra, then marvelling at the curve of the spine running down to the taunt bottom. The other half was screaming at me to stop.

I was detached from my body now. I went through the motions, pinning her against the shelf of our storeroom and thrusting wildly. We were animalistic about it. There was nothing subtle or gentle. She wanted me, and my body wanted her.

Then, it was over. Just like that.

We were breathing heavily at each other, half naked, her eyes and mouth locked in a lascivious grin, her tongue running across her lips sexily, her legs locked around me.

The conscience that was screaming for me to stop, felt raped. There was a strange sense of regret, guilt and shame about the whole thing. I had betrayed myself and my girlfriend for a quick fuck in the back room of the shop I worked at.

But my body had been separated from my human side. I was now on a strange autopilot.

As the girl hopped off my waist, and began to pull her jeans up and doing up her bra, I mimicked her motions, still in vague shock at what had happened.

Was I raped? But I engaged in it. So why does it feel like rape?

As we left the store together, the girl was holding my hand. She was leading me elsewhere. The same naughty lights in her eyes shone brightly. She wasn’t done with me yet. I could tell that she wanted another round.

Come with me her siren song sang. I know a place with a pool, I know you’ll love.

As we walked to the pool, I noticed that the night had turned dark and that there was something strange going on. She seemed to know that I was entirely under her spell. When I would reach out to grab her, she would dance away, just out to reach. When I leant in for a kiss, she would duck and pout teasingly.

Don’t be so impatient! Your reward will come soon. she sang.

In what only seemed like a short minute, we came across a huge swimming centre. It was an all glass affair with tall ceilings and a shimmering light that could only come from reflections across a huge body of water. I felt something strange tug inside of me as we neared the place.

Strangely the girl was also hesitant. However, sensing my trepidation, she pulled me forward with a determined look.

As we entered the swimming hall, a strong smell of fish assaulted my sense. I was disturbed, as was the girl, but we kept moving forward, the promise of sex somehow overcoming our nervousness.

It was then, we came across a large gym hall, with the traditional wooden floorboards and a gathering of over 100 Asian men standing around a huge collection of tanks.

We walked slowly amongst these men, their shadowy features coming into sharp focus by the movement of light bouncing off water. They looked strange, their teeth filed to narrow points and their dirty faces were smeared with something dark and viscous.

I looked in horror, as one of the men plunged his hands into a tank and pulled out a fish, and without hesitation, dropped it into boiling water, melting the poor thing instantly.

The churning water turned red instantly and the man, smiling crookedly at me, reached in with his bare hands and ate the still writhing fish with his filed teeth.

I was disgusted and horrified. Black, congealed blood sprayed upwards and onto the man’s face, which was closed in ecstasy.

Where the fuck am I? Is this some type of illegal fish market? What the hell is going on?

I could see another man gnaw the head off a lobster with his teeth, before sinking his fangs into the shell and gnashing furiously at the flesh. Soon the entire congregation of men were eating fish. The sounds of teeth smashing together, through flesh and scales churned my stomach.

My body began to shiver and the girl, now afraid, crept closer to me.

I felt sickened by the strange display before me, as rare fish after rare fish was given the boiling treatment and whilst they were alive, were crunched and savaged by these strange Asian men.

It was then though, that something began to disturb the fish. They began to trash about in their tanks, a frenzy of water erupting from their movement. Water sloshed over the tank lids as fish began to scramble every which way. Suddenly all the lights went out and the water in every tank began to pulse strangely.

The Asian men froze, their traditional robes whipping around as water splashed their feet. Suddenly the first smooth, bony blade sliced through the floor and stabbed one of the men right through the middle of his torso and lifted him in the air, gurgling and dripping blood everywhere, as he screamed and trashed in the empty air.

I stared at the blade, transfixed by its size and strange appearance. It looked like the saw from a sawfish. With its dull discolouration, sharp ridges and edges, I was struck by ancient it looked. It was also big, at least 5 metres or more long and easily the width of a large human thigh.

It was then, I saw blades burst through everywhere. Floorboards shattered underneath everyone’s feet and even the walls came alive, slicing every which way. Splinters of wood flew everywhere and suddenly everything was a frantic melee of bone-saw blades, flesh and water.

I ran away, unable to trust the floor, as saw-blades sliced through the floor, hitting men, tanks, fish and each other. It was a horrific display of ancient power. These men had angered some ancient force, some evil that had resided in this centre.

It was bizarre to see so many blades crisscross with each other, especially at one particular area in the centre of the hall, where there were nine blades all clashing, bending and rubbing furiously against each other, vying for space and targets. Not even the walls were safe as these blades shot out and stayed in place, creating obstacles for me to run and dive through.

Somehow the girl was still behind me, her mischievous smile, now replaced by a terrified gasp.

I ran blindly through the hall, ducking and dodging blades and came across a few lone survivors. One Asian man had come up with a strange technique. He had somehow grabbed one of the blades with his hands and was now using it to seal up areas where the saw-blade could come through.

With trembling, bloody hands, he made a path to the nearest window. Despite the pain and the fact that he would no longer use his hands, he continued to make a path for us, as the girl and I huddled close to him, ducking as saw blades came through gaps in the path.

Catch, seal. Catch, seal. Catch, seal.

The other survivors following us were trying to block more saw blades coming through but slowly they succumbed, the hallway to the exit soon covered in blood, saw-blades and ripped flesh.

The last Asian man smiled as he laid down the final blade in front of a window and was about to leave, when a saw blade ripped right through his chest, from behind. The strange demonic entity had shot the saw-blade from afar, whistling it past my face and right into him.

He screamed, bloody spittle spraying the air. He clawed at freedom beyond the window, but died before he could take another step. I was frozen, terrified of how close I had come to death. It was then I noticed the force of the blade had shattered the window. Acknowledging his sacrifice, I dove past him and out in the air.

The girl also leapt behind me, but just as she smiled a final sigh of relief, a saw blade punched right through her chest, in between her breasts and she tumbled forwards in mid-air.

It was horrible … as the blade drilled itself in the ground, the girl was still affixed atop the blade, her arms hanging loosely down, her face slack of any emotions, her chest open for all to see.

I stared at her, and a strange sense of relief overcame me.

My rapist is gone. She can’t tempt me anymore.

It was then, I woke up.

Author’s Note:

DON’T SLEEP is going to be a series that you won’t see often, because it deals with a very rare occurrence: my dreams.

Well, more accurately, my nightmares.

It is these type of bizarre experiences that always convinces me that going to bed early is a bad idea. I have noticed that only when I go to bed early, I get these strange dreams that eventually turn into nightmares.

I am also vaguely concerned that I got no idea where these dreams get these inspirations from either. The saw blades and the fish market are very bizarre, surrealist elements that I got no idea behind the symbolism of either of them.

To address the heavier themes in this dream, will take a bit of work, but here goes.

The feeling of rape was a truly bizarre feeling. I felt this peculiar mixture of shame, pleasure and horror and it was ridiculously confusing. I knew that everything was wrong, but somehow I derived pleasure from it. It was unpleasant to experience and I only felt more shame knowing that I cheated on my girlfriend in this dream.

It’s definitely a sign of how much I miss her, and perhaps a sign of how insanely desperate for action I am, to have these drastic and very lucid dreams.

But it doesn’t excuse the behaviour in the dream. I somehow acted like I was above it, that the girl was to blame.

That isn’t true and it’s unfair to her. Sex isn’t a one way street. So in a lot of way, my relief at seeing her dead, was a lot like a guilty man committing a blameless crime. A bizarre instinct to pin the blame on the dead, who can’t argue back.

It was such a complex issue to disguise in the trope of a horror film. The set up seems so obvious, the haunted place, the punishment of the sexually promiscuous, the strange escape and the men themselves.

I am also very puzzled why Asians were such a prevalent theme behind all the “horror.” Perhaps this has a lot to do with all the pressure the community has inflicted on me recently, and my fear of them. I have a very low opinion of them at the moment, so that probably explains why all the bizarre fish men were Asian.

I don’t know why the act of eating fish alive and cooked in that way repulsed me. Maybe it was a call back to Gollum, or something more primal inside of me. But I know that I was really disgusted by how inhumane and cruel these men were to the fish.

The saw-blades were a random inspiration. I know that when I was young, I used to say the sawfish was my favourite marine animal, but to have them appear here, as tools by a vengeful fish entity is warped to say the least. I know I was particularly repulsed by having so many blades in close proximity to each other, and that is definitely one of the defining images from this nightmare, that is seared into my mind.

The Asian girl in question, is very much an amalgamation of all the attractive features I see in Asian women. Slender, slim bodies, that can wrap around you and well … do the nasty in tight, cramped spaces. I never really pictured her face clearly, but I’m glad I didn’t because honestly, it would be a bit too much.

The idea of us having sex at my workplace’s store room is definitely a sign that I got a weird fetish about that and I’m not sure I’m comfortable knowing that now. It is gross, but hey, if nightmares or dreams don’t reveal deep things about you, then it’s not very good.

Still, her death shook me awake. I have this adverse reaction to seeing women killed, especially ones I have just made love to, even if it was regretful and hateful sex. The sight of her, looking like that scene in Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was the final straw that broke me out of that nightmare.

I felt this strange sensation of mourning the lost opportunity to touch and hold her. To see the blade come out of her chest, so soon after what had transpired earlier hit me very hard and I think that was when my consciousness stepped in and yanked me out before my dream could do any more damage.

In a lot of ways, my nightmares have always been this vividly horrible experiences that combine a lot of strange elements. I don’t have them often (mostly because I try to avoid going to bed early for this exact reason) but they are memorable and highly surreal in a horrific way.

I’m not exactly grateful that I have these nightmares, but they do open the doors to something dark inside me and occasionally I should risk a look.

~ Damocles

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Lana Wachowski

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Henwick & Priyanka Chopra Jones.

Review by Damocles

Red pill or blue pill? I’m going blue, because I wished this film never existed and I was happy in that world where it never came out.

I’ve seen my fair share of “artsy” films. Most of them are French, because only they seem arrogant, pretentious and talented enough to pull it off. They make strange films that take you along for a ride, with gorgeous visuals of the European coastline and cities and strange dialogue that is both whimsical as it is poignant.

However, the difference with these films, and something like the Matrix Resurrections, is that you can tell they are thought experiments. They’re not designed to break box office records, but give you a different experience and perhaps dazzle with the filmmaker’s mastery of the cinematic language, whilst saying absolutely nothing at all.

But when you have a franchise as unique and ground-breaking as The Matrix, you need to come in with different sensibilities. The first film married high sci-fi concepts, novel film-making techniques and classic Hong Kong martial arts in a highly enjoyable package.

The sequels were evidence of diminishing returns, perhaps a sign of things to come with this latest film, considering the concepts only got more and more philosophical, whilst failing to provide any meaningful answers.

In Matrix Resurrections, there are simultaneously too much going on and too little. There are a lot of intriguing concepts, as there are normally in a lot of bad films, but just like a B-movie, they don’t bother expanding or explore those ideas.

Perhaps the worst sin that this Matrix film performs, is the constant callback to the previous films in the franchise. Footage plays constantly from previous films, whether in the flashback format or to accentuate what is going on currently.

Beyond being very distracting and disorienting, as these flashbacks only last blinding seconds, they also have this unwelcome effect of reminding just how much better those films were in comparison to the swill you are watching now.

Especially in the first two thirds of the film, the constant sense of deja vu elicited by seeing the familiar, only made a lot worse with cheap sets, costumes and poor aesthetic choices, made you question why did they even bother with making this film.

Dialogue is a particularly troublesome issue, with a lot of it being extremely unsubtle, ham-fisted, awkward and exposition heavy. It didn’t help the cause when a lot of the actors seem to be phoning it in, with so much of the delivery being flat, toneless and clunky, due to a strange lack of direction by Lana Wachowski.

In particular, the line about Warner Bros forcing a sequel to the trilogy, seemed like a strange protest, considering that the franchise was never high art, despite the visuals desperately trying to give that impression. Film-making, especially in Hollywood has always been a marriage between large corporations and artists. It is what makes the films over there unique, in comparison to the endless smaller fare of Europe, India or Asia.

Larger and more ambitious projects are allowed to be what they are, because a corporation agrees to the risk of financing it and creating a spectacle. For the film to protest against corpos, seems disingenuous to me, when they should be all too aware of the system and mechanism put in place to support such a film being created. After all, it is this unique situation of corporations investing … gambling, heavily in arts that makes Hollywood …. well, Hollywood.

So it is strange watching this hollow shell of a film, knowing that one of the original creators wrote, directed and was the creative force behind this film. So much of what defined the original trilogy is absent here.

The famous action sequences that once featured so much kung fu and gun-fu … is now neutered and flat, with gun-fights lacking any intensity and creativity, and kung-fu now being replaced by … Keanu’s jazz-hands.

Here you have, one of cinema’s greatest action stars, a veteran in the industry, a man who is committed to stunt training, choreography and has proven, even at his age, he can kick arse with the best of them and you make him do jazz-hands, sport the same look as his John Wick character, sans style and male grooming and rob him of any agency throughout the whole film.

To the action sequences were disappointing, would indicate that I expected them to be good. I didn’t and somehow I was still disappointed. Not even Shang-Chi let me down this hard when it came to action scenes and martial arts choreography.

Speaking of style, I struggled to find any in this film. What made the Matrix so undeniably cool was the strange BDSM-inspired outfits that emphasized sleek lines and the black and green tinge to the world. I thought the incorporation of today’s awful trend of wearing searingly bright colours did nothing to match the oppressive tone of what the Matrix was supposed to represent.

For example, the agents have always been defined by their plain, anonymous suits, accentuated by sharp sunglasses. In contrast, Trinity’s sleek, leather outfit causes her to stand out yet blend in with her environments. Neo’s long coat showcases a humility and monk-like approach to his title as The One. Morpheus’ style is old-school, a representation of an aging fighter, just still powerful and mentorly. His long coat, unique sunglasses, vest and tie shows that he still treats his role like a job but still showcases his individuality from the ones who haven’t seen the real world.

In this film, Smith wears bright, fashionable clothes. Morpheus is always bedecked in colour, from head to toe. Jessica Henwick’s character has blue hair. The Matrix outfits worn by the secondary characters are just more or less modern trends that tend to violate fashion styles instead of adhere to them.

There is nothing to differentiate these people from each other. What they wear in the Matrix is the same as the people who are still asleep in the Matrix. What make these people different?

It is these small details that doesn’t add substance to the poor plot. Neo as a game designer, creating a trilogy of games that emulated the events of the first three movies? Struggling with mental issues, thus warranting an awful insertion of the White Rabbit song? It’s all desperately trying to be creative whilst recycling the greatest hits of the first film.

There are many cringe-worthy moments, from the game development sequence, to the performance of Neil Patrick Harris as the big bad. All of it, in service of a film whose plot meanders constantly, doesn’t have a good flow in between scenes and do away with big changes in the world through clunky dialogue.

Worse, the cinematography doesn’t do anything. We live in an age of Dune & Blade Runner 2049 which pushes the envelope of reality when it comes to CGI. Here, the CG is as equally ear searing as the costumes worn by the characters and look so cheap compared to the original film. How could a franchise that developed and pushed the envelope of CGI, fall into the same trap that so many other film-makers do constantly … use CGI as a crutch instead of a means to tell a story.

I need only look at the random inclusion of a Tokyo train to hate on this film. Nothing about the set nor the CG backdrop is convincing. Everything has a cheaper feel to it, and it shows on camera, especially when the cinematographer is not really trying. Gone are the steady camera that defined the HK action cinema. Now it has been replaced with quick-cutting, blurry footage that shows how lazy the choreography is and the poor CG effects.

Such a shame.

So if characters are horrible, cinematography bland, plot confusing and bland, and the costumes are ick … how about the music?

To sum up in one word: non-existant.

Nothing about the score is in my mind. Not a single note, melody or hum. I cannot remember any of it. Was there even a score? Where was the iconic electronic score that used to punctuate every action scene? Who even made the score? I got no idea, nor do I care. It was that blended, that invisible that I don’t think it ever existed.

On all levels, Matrix Resurrections fails to engage. It never delves deep enough into the rabbit hole it has created to explore its’ theme and story beats, and so much of its execution is lacklustre.

When are people going to learn to leave a franchise with a conclusive ending alone?

Why chance a loss a the box office for mediocrity?

Enough with the things we know, it’s time for the unknown.

A scene to recall: Was I blinded by gunfire sparks? Yes. Was I also blinded by Jessica Henwick’s blue hair? Yes. But only a second, because … there was nothing in this film. Absolutely nothing.

THE CRAP LIST (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

This list seems to be a recurring phenomena when I discuss bad films, so from now they shall be referred to as the Crap List. Spoilers will be everywhere and will categorise all the personal gripes and issues I’ve had with the film.

  • To start the film in the same way as the original, but with a lot less atmosphere and flair already puts a sour taste in my mouth.
  • The scene is very confusing to start with, and only ends with more confusion as characters throw around terms that have no explanation nor any obvious connotations. What the hell is a Modal? Why is Trinity played by someone else? What happened to that Trinity anyway?
  • Why are the Agents so lame? They don’t do anything in the film …. gone is the menace. If they have been replaced by this “swarm” mode … what is the point?
  • I thought humans were batteries for the machines, so why would the Matrix waste their batteries with a “swarm” mode? Seems a bit superfluous innit?
  • If the Matrix can just fucking resurrect human beings … you would think their technology wouldn’t need human batteries anymore.
  • Bugs, as a name … isn’t very good. Neither is Bunny, but then … why would you name your main character, the audience’s eyes and surrogate after a cartoon character. I would find it difficult to salute a Captain “Bugs”
  • Morpheus as a fucking Agent does not make any goddamn sense at all. Why introduce him as one, only to have him, minutes later, turn into a good guy? It would have been fun to see an evil Morpheus take on the of Neo and Trinity, as a spin on the original formula.
  • Do people just carry goddamn blue and red pill everywhere? They just seem to whip them out whenever its convenient.
  • I’m a big gun nerd, so to see Bugs whip out a pistol, empty it … note that the slide is locked to the rear … then release the slide and then aim at Morpheus … as if it was loaded …. confused the shit out of me.
  • For so much gunfire at the beginning, it sure as shit seems like no-one can hit anything at fucking 5 metres away. You would think Agents with superior programming can hit something …. and multiple AR-15s firing at 600 rounds per second.
  • The idea of doors opening everywhere isn’t very …. interesting. It only makes things more confusing.
  • I did not understand a single word between Morpheus and Bugs. Their conversation was nonsensical.
  • I felt that Neo’s introductory shot should have been either more heroic or more depressing. It was smack bang in the middle, which is something I dislike. As the hero of the story, he deserves more than that. The first look at a character should always make a strong impact.
  • Smith …. Smith … Smith … what a shitshow. A parody of a legendary performance by Hugo Weaving and I disliked immensely how casual he sounded when addressing Neo. “Tom” this, “Tom” that … he’s meant to be robotic, machine-like … there shouldn’t be any human traits to him. You take one look at his ridiculously modern outfit with his loafers, burgundy colours and slick style and he seems more human than Neo.
  • Morpheus … Dorpheus … Orpheus … Seashells by the Seahorpheus …. Hannibal Burress was a better depiction of the legendary character than the character seen in this movie. It wasn’t even necessary to make these 2 characters the same as the original.
  • The game designer element of Neo was strange. It didn’t really go anywhere nor add anything interesting.
  • The game company’s aesthetic is something that I fear, on a deep personal level. I hate all those garish colours and bizarre choices that are synonymous with contemporary tech companies like Facebook or Google. The forced nature of these bright colours is so hypocritical and false and when I saw it, in the film, an irrational fear overtook me.
  • Equally terrifying was the depiction of the Matrix’s sequel game development group. Their buzz words and brainstorming elicited an equally terrifying reaction from me. I will never work in the corporate world if there is anything like this in reality.
  • The therapist played by Neil Patrick Harris was a bizarre choice for a villain. His blue glasses were annoying, as was his overall demeanor. I felt like there were too many villains in this film and did the main one REALLY HAVE TO BE THE ONE WITH THE CAT????? Look what you did to Mr, Bigglesworth!
  • I don’t think I have cringed and hated a scene as much as I did, when I saw the recreation of the iconic blue/red pill scene in a dark-lit, stormy room with a mirror. The sheer pretentiousness and artsy presentation of the set was enough to make my skin crawl. To have Neo walk between curtains playing the scene from the original movie, being projected onto them, was so distasteful. It was so bizarrely fourth-wall breaking and modern art that I think I reflexively tried to banish it out of my mind.
  • We REALLY keep retreading same old material here, don’t we? Another unplugged moment, only a lot less interesting because it’s the same thing done twice.
  • The reveal of IO was done rather poorly. In addition did they really just chop off “Z” and “N” off Zion to give this new place a name? Was there any real reason why we couldn’t go to Zion?
  • At any point, were the real humans in danger? I didn’t recall any scenes explaining why they had to hide and scurry away from the Machines.
  • Strawberries …. filmmakers’ favourite fruit after fucking apples. I hate this cliche.
  • ROBOTS are helping humans now and these weird magnetic projections. You could have chosen to film that part, where machines and humanity fought and an easy peace was established. Just like Terminator Salvation (2009). It could have been great. Interesting. But instead we get a lame flashback and an exposition dump. To quote David Lynch and a million others: What the hell?!!? ….
  • So they just bust outta Io, that easy huh? Great security for a place that is supposed to be hidden. Also great job still allowing a mutinous crew access to their bloody ship. Slow clap. Slow … fucking … clap.
  • ANOTHER poorly filmed fight scene, only this time they bought another character from the archive and made him shit … again! The Merovingian deserved better than this.
  • The callback to the original fight between Smith and Neo is amazingly forgettable due to poor camera work and well … it’s the same shit but dressed in a clown outfit.
  • The atrocious overuse of bullet time/slow-mo looked awful. NPH’s smugness made me laugh more than anything else.
  • Swarm mode …. reminded me more of the F8’s zombie cars and that wasn’t good. It was bad in F8 … it was worse in Matrix. Also, it completely nullifies the concept of Agents so why have them in the movie? It would have been more intriguing to see this bot swarm attack faux-Trinity and Bugs at the very beginning.
  • I still cannot believe that the whole movie boils down to Neo wanting his old flame back …. why the hell would the other characters help him for that? There’s no promise of a better world with Trinity back …
  • It’s amazing that film-makers these day still rely on aging old actors to carry a film … and simultaneously rob them of any agency and magic that made them special, thus creating a shit sandwich.
  • Where did this Indian chick come from and why do I not care anymore …
  • Also her plot to get Trinity back is needlessly convoluted.
  • The finale …. held in the coffee shop was meant to be symbolic. I thought it looked fucking cheap and weird with so many people in it.
  • You call THAT a fight scene!?!?
  • Oh God …. Smith’s entrance to rebel against the Analyst was so lame.
  • What is with the finale …. just a lame getaway to a roof top!?!!? Also, if this swarm mode was that vicious there would be people throwing themselves at the pair all the way to the top.
  • Trinity being the one to fly … was just uninspired.
  • I hate this ending. Their costumes look cheap, shit and bland. Their lines are equally terrible.
  • Rainbows …. Fucking Rainbows.
  • My final thoughts: I can’t believe critics are praising this film. Please stop being pretentious and buying into this Warhol mentality of “trash = genius.” If you make something intentionally craaaap guess what? IT’S STILL FUCKING CRAP. THERE’S NOTHING GOOD ABOUT IT. Do you want to intentionally poop? Do you think a pile of shit is popular because it’s surrounded by flies? Intentionally making something bad isn’t something to be lauded over … it’s to be shamed. It’s the equivalent of public defecation. Lock them in a brig and shame them forever.
    • Fucking nihilists these days man. Depreciating art with their crap attitudes and praising stupid decisions.
    • Crap is crap. Stop giving the Wachowskis money to make movies. They’re terrible directors.
  • I can’t believe this was the last movie I watched for 2021. A shit film to end a shit year. Poetic, really.

Counter Revolutionary Warfare …. (Espionage 8)

1630HRS GMT – THE SAVOY HOTEL, STRAND, LONDON. 51.5101° N, 0.1205° W

2 Hours before the V-Day Attack.

Sergeant Will Anderson shifted in the seat of the blacked out Range Rover that held his fellow squadmates. As he looked out the window at the masses of people that were celebrating Valentine’s Day, he was reminded of the view he took in, from the helicopter as it inserted them into the capital city of England.

Flying through the darkness of dawn in a large CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Anderson watched as the green hills of Hereford slowly faded before the onslaught of civilization and roads began to appear more in earnest. His body was tired from the endless contact drills they had performed in the Kill House the day before, but his mind was still sharp.

The 50 man chalk in the Chinook were armed with a large variety of weapons, most of them sporting the iconic MP5 submachine gun sexier, newer replacement; the Sig Sauer MPX. Other members of the squad were using heavier, longer Sig Sauer MCX rifles and just a designated few, were armed with HK417 DMRs that were going to be crucial to preventing any escapees.

What was strange though, was their civilian clothes. Instead of battle dress uniforms, every single trooper was in casual clothing, with tactical vests, headphones and thigh-rigs strapped over a variety of jeans, cargo pants, hoodies, polo shirts and windbreakers. One man even wore a pair of chinos, a particular source of amusement amongst the lads, as they ribbed him endlessly about it.

Whilst some of the men chose to wear baseball caps, many preferred to strap their trusted bump helmets to their vests and backpacks and go without headwear.

However, despite the fashion differences, every single SAS trooper was heavily tattooed, and had on their person, a balaclava to conceal their identity and an IR Union Jack patch that could slapped on their vest to be identified as a friendly.

Anderson, looking out the window, beheld the familiar skyline of London. He felt a vague surge of anger at the idea that someone was going to conduct a terrorist attack on home soil, and looked around the helicopter to see that the men had gone silent, their thoughts preoccupied with the job ahead.

Landing at a private airfield nearby, 50 of the most lethal soldiers on Her Majesty’s payroll strolled off the ramp of the Chinook casually, to split into 4 man teams. A CO and his 2IC peeled off into a fast Jaguar sedan that would take them to the control centre at the SIS HQ.

Anderson looked at his team, Bravo 2 to 4 and they quickly checked their personal radios so that they could hear each other on their discreet earpiece.

Bravo 2. Check.

Bravo 3. Check.

Bravo 4. Check.

Bravo 1. Copy all.

Anderson climbed into his car and stowed his MPX beside his leg, before shimmying in his seat, in a vain attempt to get comfortable.

7 Range Rovers peeled off to their respective target areas, with the remaining 5 cars behaving like a QRF to wait in-between targets, ready to assist in any direction.

As Bravo 3 drove Bravo Squad to their target, the Savoy Hotel, Bravo 2 was busy in the rear, checking the squad radio that would allow them to coordinate with the SIS HQ, local Police and the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) teams waiting on standby for their signal.

It’s going to be a long wait, thought Anderson as they arrived at their spot early, parking the Rover in the best surveillance spot possible.

Nodding at the men, Anderson and his squad stripped off their vests, clipped their radios to their belts and buried their sidearms under shoulders or belts.

Piling out of the car in unison, Bravo 2 and 4 walked out, disappearing instantly into the crowd that would only build to a feverish pitch by 1830HRS.

Anderson pulled out a tablet and patched himself into the myriad of surveillance options that covered the surrounding 5 blocks. Meanwhile, Bravo 3 began to drum his fingers on the wheel, anxiously scanning the crowd around them, a rhythm that would slowly grate on Anderson’s patience, but he was too busy to tell him to shut it.

The tablet flickered constantly, as it flicked through hundreds of footage, little squares appearing over people’s faces as it scanned them for any distinguishing features.

Thanks to the Prince’s intelligence, the SAS kill-teams had memorised the faces of every single terrorist member that threatened to wreak havoc. Bravo squad’s particular terror cell, comprised solely of 2 men, Abdul Hussain, an Saudi national and Yusuf Amin, a devout Pakistani. Whilst Abdul was tall, handsome and lithe, with a trendy haircut, Yusuf was stockier and quiet, and walked with a limp, the result of a brush with a landmine as a child.

It was thanks to the Prince, that the SAS teams knew the timing and location of all the attacks. They were even aware of the vans that had been loaded with high explosives, the fact that both men would be armed with AK-47s and suicide vests and the exact timing of when it would all occur. For the SAS kill-teams, this was intelligence of the highest order, the critical difference between mission failure and success.

The only thing now, was to wait for the van to appear.

What made their job highly difficult, was the van. Whilst the terrorists had to get to a safe distance before detonating, buying the team precious time to defuse, Woods had been unable to ascertain the type of bomb that had been placed inside.

Which meant that EOD teams had to work fast. It would not take long for the terrorists to get clear, before remote detonating the bomb. Even then, there was a possibility that it was on a timer and the bastards were just going to run clear and then start shooting everyone on sight.

Anderson didn’t like any of this. His team could handle 2 trigger-happy ragheads, but the van was the real problem. They needed that intelligence on the bomb, but there was no real way to figure it out. The poor EOD boys would have their work cut out for them. There was every chance that they weren’t going to make it.

~

Anderson and his squad rotated throughout the day, as they watched the entrance of the Savoy through various “eyes”, around the area, drones, CCTV and actual eyes on the site. Then, as Anderson’s tactical watch ticked over to 1840, shit got real very fast.

A white Ford Transit Van, one of the common vans in the world, appeared out of traffic like a slow-moving spectre. Bravo 4 clocked it instantly and whispered into his throat mike.

Bravo 4, to all elements. Target Van in sight. Approaching AO from South side.

Bravo 1 copy all. Anderson looked over at Bravo 3 and they both slipped on their tactical vests. Things were happening fast now.

Bravo 4, tracking the van now. It’s driving really slow.

What the fuck?! came the voice of Bravo 2 from the other side. All elements, there’s another van! West junction.

Sergeant Will Anderson’s blood ran cold at the message. He flicked on the surveillance footage from his tablet and audibly gasped. Nearby, Bravo 3’s finger drumming got even more intense as he realised the situation.

There were 4 vans, all converging slowly towards the Savoy Hotel, from all the major compass points. North, East, West and South.

How the fuck are they doing this? screamed Anderson internally. Did we really get bad intel?

It was then, the calm, stern voice of James Ashford came over all of the SAS troopers’ microphones.

All UK elements, we’ve only just received new intelligence from the Prince. The terror cells are using drones to guide their vans to the target area. Remote detonation has been confirmed, as has the type of bomb kit they are using. Schmatics are being uploaded to your tablets now. Hurry lads, you’ve got 10 minutes before these vans detonate. As for the whereabouts to the terror cell, assume they are in the immediate vicinity, using remotes to control the vans.

Anderson watched as his tablet flickered to show the blueprint of the bomb. As it flickered, both men in the Range Rover began setting timers on their watches.

All Bravo Elements, we have 4 vans, 4 bombs. We need to split up and get each one. We now have 9 mikes to defuse. Get aboard that van and get those bombs. Once we get those bombs, rallypoint Charlie. Final things lads, the detonator is your standard IED electronic fuse. Cut Red, Green, Yellow in that order.

Bravo 2, Red, Green, Yellow. Copy all.

Bravo 4 copy. Boarding vehicle now.

Anderson made a call to the control centre.

Control, this is Bravo 1, I need a tech on hand to guide my lads through everything.

Bravo 1, Control. Affirm. Oscar 1 through 4 shall guide Bravo 1 through 4.

Bravo 1, Oscar 1 to 4. Affirm. Out.

Beside him, Bravo 3 gave a final nod to Anderson and dashed out, making his way to the North van. Anderson, clambered out of the Range Rover and yanked his MPX submachine gun around his neck, before he began sprinting for the East van, his breath roaring harshly as he yelled at people to get out of the way.

Move! Police coming through. Move! Move!

A feminine voice came crackling through his mike, the tone serious and emotionless.

Bravo 1, this is Oscar 1. Continue for another 100 metres then turn right, suspect van will be directly at 12.

Anderson didn’t waste his breath, instead pressing a button on his microphone to confirm the message.

Seconds later, the SAS trooper had rounded the corner, and he beheld the van, which was now idly in traffic, ignoring the chorus of horns that were blaring behind it. Time was running out.

In normal circumstances, Anderson would have gaped at the sight of a driver-less van, powered by an intricate remote steering mechanism. But his training had taken over. This was the key difference between an ordinary soldier and special forces. The indoctrination and intense training in the SAS, had created an Anderson that could rationalise, identify and assess situations in a split second and perform fine motor skills without hesitation or fear.

Anderson didn’t stop at anything. Without pausing he ran around the back of the van, and unclipped his multitool from his tactical vest.

Using the windowbreaker, he smashed open the back windows and roughly brushed aside the shattered glass with a gloved hand, reaching in to open the door latch.

As the door swung open, Anderson caught it before it opened too wide, swearing in a monotone as he noted the wire that was attached to the door to the bomb. Had he not caught it, it would gone off prematurely.

Bravo 1 to all elements. Watch for booby traps. My door was rigged to explode if opened too far. Proceed with caution for defusal.

Bravo 2 copy.

Bravo 3 affirm.

Bravo 4, understood.

As Anderson jumped into the back of the van, shutting the door behind him, he snipped the wire that linked the bomb to his only exit and as he crouched before it, he felt fear and nervousness began to course through his body.

Every single SAS trooper had done the same course. But back then, the lads were fucking around and knew that the detonator wasn’t wired up to real explosives. Many guys mimed being blown apart, and the insane number of yelling “BOOM!” as a newbie tried to defuse one was too many to count.

That was in the safety of Hereford. However, the moment when a trooper had to defuse an IED in the real world, nothing felt funny anymore. With each year into the Afghan war, and with more IEDs claiming the lives of Blades, the jokes soon disappeared and the course became more and more extensive, and realistic, to the point where the “bomb” would actually create a wisp of smoke and enter the final phases of detonation to hammer in the stress.

It was this training and constant repetition and quashing of nerves and fear, that ensured Anderson’s gloved hands were steady, as they touched the huge bomb inside of the van.

Occupying the entire back wall of the van, the bomb was crudely but ingeniously designed. There were a dozen cheap blue barrels of stolen ammonium nitrate that lined the walls of the bomb, and were clustered in the centre of the cargo hold. Whilst he couldn’t see inside the barrels, experience warned him that they were doubtless packed with sewage, ball bearings, nails, marbles and glass, to ensure maximum damage and carnage.

After all, the initial blast was small for what it was, because the van’s shell would take a lot of the initial blast within itself. But the millions of frag (fragmentation) was the true destructive force. Dirty shards of glass and metal would fly everywhere, piercing skin at the speed of a bullet, horribly infecting the wound and thus leave any survivors with less chances to survive.

Anderson, like many of his fellow troopers, took some small consolation that if the bomb was to go off, their end would be instantaneous.

Peering at the bomb’s primary unit, and it masses of wire behind it, Anderson silently thanked the Prince for his timely intelligence, as even an EOD team would struggle to defuse the bomb. A part of him wondered how the intelligence asset managed to obtain such intel, but that wasn’t the priority now. All he had to do, was cut the wires, Red, Green and Yellow.

As he snipped the first red wire that led into the primary detonator, a triangular unit that held the two primary fuses together, he felt his heart accelerate as the small digital readout went from a solid “ARMED” to blinking rapidly.

Then to his shock, the van began to roll forwards, throwing him back into door of the van. The terrorist, aware of his plans, and eager to put a stop to it, was now sending the vehicle straight towards the Savoy.

Diving forwards and swiftly cutting the green wire, then the yellow one, Anderson heaved a huge sight of relief when the blinding readout cut out and went completely black. Gingerly pulling the fuse out, Anderson slowly backed out of the van and shut the door behind him, as uniformed police officers came running up, the infamous SCO19.

Anderson pointed at the van and his IR UK patch, emblazoned across his tactical vest, before remembering that he still had 2 murderous terrorists in the immediate area. He yelled at the officers that the bomb was defused, and the van was inert. Despite the van rolling forward momentum, Anderson took off, ignoring the confused cries of the officers behind him, and the fact that one brave SCO19 officer, threw his rifle to the ground and running along the van, had smashed the window with his elbow and stomped on the brakes, by throwing his body half in the van’s cabin.

Sprinting back to the car, which was designated rallypoint Charlie, Anderson keyed in his throat mike.

Oscar 1, sitrep.

All Bravo elements have defused their bomb. Bravo 2 is already back at rallypoint Charlie, Bravo 3 & 4 are on track to meet you there at the same time. When you are at the rallypoint, check West, we’ve traced the signal from the vans to a building there. Wait, is that you running, no, no, no … Bravo 1, STOP!

Sergeant Will Anderson, Bravo 1, SAS soldier and decorated veteran, heard the warning of his SIS handler, and immediately dove behind a car, as he saw one of his team members, Bravo 2, take a fusillade of bullets that caused explosions of blood to erupt all over his body.

His tactical watch ticked over to 1900HRS.

The attack on London had begun.

Enraged that their initial attack had failed, the terror cell poured out of the building that they were hiding in and immediately located the SAS team that had foiled their plans. Seeing one of the members alone, Abdul Hussain tapped Yusuf Amin on the shoulder and together they racked their AK-47s’ charging handles.

Whilst Hussain’s eyes were wide with an incredible narcotic injection of opium and PCP, all designed so that he could fight longer, Yusuf’s religious zeal was more than enough to sustain him through pain, violence and death. With their bomb vests strapped around their chests, and approximately 540 rounds of ammunition on each of their bodies, they were a formidable force to be reckoned with. The Sphinx had even provided the men with primitive ballistic face masks, to ensure that headshots were even more difficult for Coalition forces.

The AK-47s that the Sphinx had smuggled in for them, were also heavily customised. The barrels were skeletal, and the traditionally heavy wooden stock was replaced by a sleeker, folding butt stock. Foregrips enabled the two men better accuracy and the weapons were personally cleaned by the Sphinx to ensure that they could chew through all 540 rounds in a matter of minutes.

Even their initial magazines had been modified, with three of the curved banana mags taped together, to ensure that the Saudi and the Pakistani had 90 rounds ready to go straight away, with reloads being a snap of the finger to perform.

In short, the weapons were lighter, harder to fuck-up under stress and more accurate.

It was this army of two that now opened fired on London and Bravo squad.

Anderson roared in anger, as he watched Bravo 2 get ripped apart, under the combined weight of sixty 7.62mm bullets. He danced gruesomely, in a horrible version of a marionette, as round after round tore through his body, before landing with a wet splat on the concrete pavement, unrecognisable.

Anderson looked in the direction of the terrorists who, in under a second, had already finished reloading. Hussain, spotting Anderson from behind a shiny black BMW sedan, grinned manically and began to unload a torrent of bullets towards him.

Yusuf, ignoring his crazy partner, calmly began to fire in punctuated bursts, at innocent civilians. A woman in her mid thirties, spun around, as a round entered her pelvis and came out through her friend’s knee. A man, shielding his son, gasped as a round went through his shoulder and he fell forward, determined to protect his son from more incoming fire.

A boyfriend stood frozen, unsure what to do as his girlfriend laid flat on the floor, her hands over her head. A bullet nearly entered his chest, but was saved when his girlfriend yanked on his pants leg, causing him to trip and fall on the ground. Elsewhere, a couple showed their true colours when the the boyfriend immediately let go of his girl’s hand and sprinted for his car, only to get shot in the back for his trouble.

Valentine’s Day … acts of love, acts of courage … acts of cowardice. All was revealed before the face of death.

People ran every which way. It was pandemonium. Streets away, people heard the gunfire and froze. Worldly restaurants immediately announced that evacuation procedures, scars by attacks that happened years before, now saving lives in the present. Police officers controlled crowds and desperately sought to help their much more lethal SAS brothers restore safety and order.

A poor couple ran from the ugly scene at Bravo’s squad, only to venture into a bigger firefight that had Charlie squad pinned and wounded. One of the SAS troopers saw them, and despite the wound in his leg, sprinted towards them and crash-tackled both, before bullets could find them. He stayed atop the terrified couple, his blood dripping onto the girl’s pretty white dress, shielding them from harm.

Gunfire echoed everywhere. Screams rose above them, as blood, fire and metal merged into the urban jungle, to create a terrifying environment of endless white noise that battered the senses.

London, within the space of 3 minutes had turned into a hellish nightmare that was more commonly associated with Afghanistan.

The war had come home.

~

Anderson was yelling into his microphone.

Bravo 1 to all elements, Bravo 2 is down, KIA. Under heavy suppressing fire. Need assistance now!

Bravo 3, engaging now. said the trooper, his voice strained but professional.

Bravo 4, flanking. replied the Blade, cold and emotionless. There was an edge to this soldier’s voice. Anderson was pleased to hear it.

As he remained crouched behind a car, Anderson waited until he heard Bravo 3’s suppressed MPX whir to life.

The tch, tch, tch sounds of the MPX could barely be heard above the thud of the AKs, but it was enough. Hussain, hit twice in the shoulder, spun around angrily at Bravo 3 who was behind him and began firing in earnest, as the SAS trooper swore and ducked behind a large Mercedes sedan.

All elements, be aware, tangos are heavily armoured. Multiple headshots are required to take them down! My rounds just bounced off their face masks!

Anderson cursed loudly, as he realised that the Sphinx had performed his research. Technology in ballistic face masks offered limited protection, mostly only against 9mm rounds. Using anything higher, was guaranteed to penetrate through.

However, 9mm were the exact type of bullets that the SAS teams were currently rocking in their MPXs, to ensure that their rounds did not over-penetrate and go beyond their targets, as personally experienced by the woman and her friend who got shot by the much more powerful 7.62mm, clutching their hip and knee in agony.

Simply put, the Sphinx had covered for a lot of the SAS’s capabilities.

However, these men were not one of the most feared and deadly units in the world for all their gear and equipment. They were the best in the world, the ultimate fighting man in mankind’s short history, because of their ingenuity, tenacity, unique training and pedigree.

Their ancestors held back the Romans. Men by their age, had created an island stronghold that have never been invaded since Hastings. Their forefathers established an Empire and could find no equal anywhere on Earth or Water. Their grandfathers played major roles in every single conflict across the globe since the 20th Century.

These fighting men came from the finest fighting stock and regiments in the world.

The turn-around in the flow of the combat, was swift, efficient and terrifying.

Who Dares Wins.

At first, it was Hussain who dominated the streets of London. Pivoting constantly to suppress Bravo 1 and 3, whilst Yusuf was slowly leading the pair through the streets, gunning down civilians, behind cars, shops and street-lights, it came to a point where he had to drop the three taped magazines to reach for a fresh one on his chest.

As the three taped magazines fell, Bravo 1 and 3 whipped their guns up, moving fast, and sprayed their MPXs at his legs.

Hussain’s knees exploded simultaneously, and the Saudi roared in pain, the intensity even punching through the protective mental layer PCP had created in his mind.

As the Saudi dropped like a stone, Yusuf spun around, astonished by the new tactics. He yelled in Arabic as bursts blasted through his thighs and he joined his fellow terrorist on the ground, his legs mangled beyond recognition.

Hussain and Yusuf looked at each other and desperately sprayed their guns in unison at Bravo 1 and 3, keen to hold the two troopers off, so that they could reach in and detonate their vests.

As they fired at opposite ends, they failed to see Bravo 4 appear in between them, a big Sig Sauer P320 pistol in his right hand and a serrated tanto knife in the other.

Swiftly walking up to the pair of terrorists, Bravo 4 assessed the pair in a nanosecond and noted the intensity of Yusuf. As he made his decision, Yusuf turned around and gasped at the sight of the blacked out SAS trooper wearing a balaclava and a baseball cap, with a pistol and knife in each hand.

He tried to turn his AK-47 around with his one hand, whilst the other fumbled for the detonator.

Bravo 4, moving coldly and quickly, kicked the AK-47 away, before firing his Sig at point blank into the terrorist’s fumbling arm. Yusuf wailed as over seventeen 9mm rounds tore his arm to shreds, but the scream was quickly extinguished by a gurgling noise as Bravo 4’s tanto knife ripped through the exposed throat, underneath the ballistic mask.

The move was so savage and heavy, that Yusuf’s neck actually tilted backwards and the two folds of skin flapped gruesomely in the open air, as blood sprayed outwards.

Hussain, entirely focused on his target, Anderson, and hopped on battle rage and PCP, never noticed Bravo 4 reloading his pistol in a single second, rack the slide back and without hesitation, flipping the ballistic mask off Hussain’s face.

Hussain paused and looked behind him. His handsome face registered shock before it melted under the weight of all the firepower Bravo 4 could muster.

By the time the final shot finished echoing loudly off the corridors of London, Hussain’s head was essentially mush. There was nothing left facially, to identify the two men. The SAS trooper had remembered the Prince’s warning.

Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off.

The attack on the Savoy had been stopped.

Anderson and Bravo 3 ran up to Bravo 4 and they assisted each other in disarming the suicide vests. These were much less complex than the bombs in the van, just your standard issue s-vests seen everywhere in the Middle East. Bravo 3 spiked the AK-47s and threw all the spare magazines in a dump bag. Overall, the attack saw nearly 700 rounds expended in a matter of terrifying minutes.

Then leaving the bodies to rot on the street, the SAS kill-team walked over to their fallen comrade, Bravo 2 and respectfully covered him up with a sheet from their damaged Range Rover, now pockmarked with bullets.

Anderson called in the paramedics and trauma crew, and the team set about rendering first aid, tending to the numerous wounded. They soon ran out of tourniquets, bandages and gauze, and were relieved when the first paramedics arrived on scene, only seconds after they used up all their medical equipment.

Whilst the terror cell had only managed to walk 100 metres, the carnage they had wreaked was awful. Over 70 people had been shot and wounded, with 34 more dead. Anderson waited with baited breath, as he heard the echos of gunfire slowly dissipated after his own gun battle.

As he applied pressure to a wounded father’s shoulder, he looked over at the small boy, whose face was covered in blood. Smiling kindly at the lad, Anderson took the boy by the hand, as a paramedic took over, and fussed over the father. No-one this young deserved to see this.

Reaching into his tactical vest, Anderson cracked an green chem-light and handed it to the boy, watching as the glow of the light slowly removed the shock from the boy’s brown eyes and replaced them with wonder and awe.

Tousling the boy’s head gently, Anderson looked over at Bravo 4 who nodded and took the boy over to the trauma crew, who were dealing with a mass of hysterical people.

Oscar 1, Bravo 1. Sitrep. barked Anderson harshly as he beheld the damage around him.

Bravo 1, situation has now been contained. All terror cells have been eliminated. Estimated death toll, 154, casualties approximately 357. UKSF casualty report is looking like 5 wounded and 1 KIA. It would have been a lot worse if you guys weren’t here.

What happened to the other squads?

Alpha team managed to kill their cell before it got out of hand. Because yours was the first attack, I was able to relay intel to Alpha, whose cell was the last to attack. Alpha 3 got shot in the shoulder, but no-one else was injured.

Charlie squad needed assistance from the QRF, Charlie 1, 3 and 4 all got wounded in their firefight. It turned out, that once they found out about us knowing the van trick, the Charlie, Delta and Echo cells regrouped together to fight. That’s where the bulk of the civilians casualties were inflicted. Echo 4 was also wounded in the fight but they’re all looking stable.

Foxtrot actually found their cell, before the vans. So they nailed the two guys and then disarmed the vans remotely. They got extremely lucky and then went to help the Charlie, Delta and Echo squads.

Golf had a similar story to yours, they got the vans, but had a long fight with their cells. A lot of casualties there too, because their cell fired into restaurants.

I’m sorry Bravo 1.

Anderson stayed silent, his mind trying to comprehend the enormity of what had just happened. The SAS were not used to failure. Whilst this would be touted as some kind of victory by Downing Street, the men would know better … it was their job to make sure the war never touched down home. Innocents had died and now, the SAS would go on the offensive. Someone had to pay for the blood spilled today. Already, Anderson was considering what gear he needed for a return tour to ‘Stan.

Anderson’s mind remembered the question he had posed for himself about the intelligence that had saved London from a more devastating attack. If it wasn’t for the Prince’s intel on the van bombs …

Oscar 1, Bravo 1 … thank the Prince for us. Let us know when he’s hunting. We’ll get evil with him. Bravo 1 out.

~

In the hours leading up to the attack, Gabriel Woods was also riding in a helicopter, like the SAS kill-teams. However instead of a powerful Chinook CH-47, his ride was much smaller, nimble and fast. The dark grey sleek outline of the Bell 407 helicopter, melded into the night sky of England, and its rotors had been dampened for sound, giving it a stealthy signature.

A common sight across skyscrapers and civilian utility, the Bell 407 was often used to assist in search and rescue operations or ferrying CEOs from airports to offices. What was uncommon about this Bell 407 was the spindly arm that jutted out from the right cargo door, just underneath the rotors.

Woods looked over at the skyline of London and recalled his prerogative. His job was to discover exactly what type of bomb the Sphinx had equipped his men with. To do so, meant going straight to the source, a close associate of the Sphinx, and local bomb-maker, a nasty piece of work, who went by the name Ryan “Jacket” Malik.

Jacket had earned his epithet as an amusing play on “bomber jacket” and his habit of wearing his own custom one everywhere. A garish red, cream and purple combination, the jacket had his name emblazoned across the back, along with a huge explosion going off with an evil smiley face in the centre.

Tasteless and tacky, were just two words that could describe Malik’s brand of humour and style.

Raised in the badlands of New Delhi, Malik’s obsession with explosive started early when he first set off a firework that blew open an ex-girlfriend’s toilet. It grew to letter-bombs, then finally her car exploded one day, causing Malik to go underground with his new skill-set.

Owning to his extraordinary skill in sourcing explosive materials and placing them together, Malik soon relocated to Londonistan where his talent was soon put to work across Europe, under the Sphinx’s guidance and recognised for the genius he was.

But like most geniuses, his life was going to be short-lived.

As the Bell 407 crested past the London Eye, gunning for Croydon, Gabriel looked down at his armament. He was dressed like a terrorist. There was no mistaking the dark jeans, the black combat boots, a black v-neck t-shirt and red & white checkered plaid shirt. It was the universal, functional uniform of military men off-duty everywhere. But instead of rocking the Westernised approved baseball cap, Woods had covered his head with a red/white shemagh, the traditional headscarf worn by men across the Middle Eastern region.

Tying it in a turban style, that covered his entire face, barring his eyes, Woods was comfortable operating in this outfit, owning to his numerous Afghanistan tours. What was surprising though, was him wearing this kit in London. But Woods wanted nothing to be traced back, hence the generic terrorist garb.

It also gave him no small amusement that Malik was about to get a visit from one of his customers.

In addition to this kit, Woods was armed with his trusted Glock 19 on a right thigh holster and a high-tech suppressed MP7A1 personal defence weapon (PDW) with an EOTech sight and PEQ-15 laser designator.

Woods felt, rather than saw the Bell 407 begin its descent, as they neared the target apartment. With his immense resources and connections, Jacket had managed to convert the northwest corner of a poor apartment block into his own personal bomb-making workshop.

According to the SIS, he had gutted three floors, to carve out his own twisted version of a penthouse amongst the boroughs in Croydon. The top floor featured his apartment, where a staircase lead down to the living area and kitchen, before featuring the bomb workshop itself, and a huge safe/escape room where Malik kept most of his treasures out of reach from his greedy lieutenants.

Woods would be entering from the roof and snaking his way down, floor by floor.

The pilot held up 2 fingers. 2 minutes to drop.

Putting on fast-rope gloves, Woods checked the coil of rope by his feet and tugged the two guns on his twin thigh holsters. Woods was light. There wasn’t even a tactical vest on him to cover his vitals. This was an old-school hit and run affair. The only piece of kit to slow him down was a warbelt that had 3 flashbang grenades, 2 spare magazines for his pistol and 3 spare for his PDW, cable ties, a multitool and a rudimentary first aid kit.

The Bell 407 swooped down to the rooftop of the Jacket’s apartment and moving quickly, Woods kicked the rope out of the door and watched as the spindly arm went taunt.

Leaping out of the helicopter cargo door, Woods fast roped down to the building, wrapping his legs around the rope, and maintaining a gentle pressure with his hands.

As he neared the building, a man opened the door to the rooftop recess, pistol in hand.

Without pausing, Woods slowed his descent with his right hand, whipped the MP7A1 from his thigh holster with his left and zipped him with three rounds.

The scout dropped like a sack of shit.

Landing lightly on the roof, he waved off the pilot, who let the rope tumble away from the helicopter before powering up and away. Woods watched the Bell 407 go, before walking slowly over to the corpse.

It was one of Malik’s underlings. His unseeing brown eyes stared at nothing and Woods kicked away his pistol, before venturing into the dark recess of the Jacket’s workshop.

~

The fight for Jacket’s workshop was slow, intense and fierce. Woods was methodical in his approach, using all his senses to detect enemies before they found him. He was so quiet, and smooth, that often Jacket’s men were unable to get a single shot off before they died with 4.6mm rounds in their hearts and minds.

However, by the time Woods had cleared the second floor, Jacket was now all too aware of the bodies that were dropping with loud thuds above him. He only had 3 men left and owning to the timing of the attack, he was in the middle of constructing a bomb, that he was unable to take his eyes off.

Sweat poured down his fat face, as his pudgy but nimble fingers tried to make the bomb inert before the Prince arrived. He eyed the open door of the safe room to his left, but the process was too delicate now.

Seconds passed and the 3 men aiming their machine guns at the door were breathing heavily. An assassin to their front and a live bomb behind them. They had nothing to lose.

Malik whelped with delight as he was just about to put the finishing touches to the bomb. All he had to do was secure the detonator and all would be well.

It was then, the Prince struck.

The front door to the workshop creaked open, a pair of weakened cable ties popping off their link to swing it outwards.

The entryway was blasted to shit, by the three goons. As they reloaded and exchanged nervous smiles when nothing happened, it was then, the window behind them and in front of Malik’s shocked face, was blasted open and a pair of flashbangs sailed through.

BANG! BANG!

With a deafening roar and blinding light, the three henchmen staggered around, as Woods came crashing through the window, having used the rope from the Bell 407 to abseil down the side of the building and make a breach point right in front of the stunned Jacket!

Woods kicked Malik square in the face and using his momentum, unhooked himself over the bomb table and before he landed properly, shot all three henchmen in the head with precise bursts. Before the bodies had even slumped to the floor, Woods spun around and cracked the collapsible stock of the MP7 across Malik’s nose, breaking it instantaneously. The man screamed, both in despair and in a weird action, grabbed at the air, towards the bomb, as he fell backwards.

Looking at the bomb and exposed door to the safe room, Woods acted fast and threw the entire package in, before rushing to the door and sealing it shut.

3, 2, 1 … BEEP!

A muffled WHUMP resounded through the entire apartment block, the safe room shuddering as the bomb went off inside its steel construction, incinerating all of Malik’s precious stolen goods in an instant.

Malik stared in horror at the green eyes that stared out angrily at him from beyond the shemagh. He began to back up slowly, as the Prince approached him slowly, his MP7 held lazily in his hands.

He had only heard rumours, but never put any trust in them.

He was a believer now.

The Prince was real.

With his back pressed up against the wall, and his right hand cuffed to a table, Malik broke down immediately and told Woods everything he needed to know about defusing the bombs that were about the scorch London.

As Malik grovelled before Woods, his left hand very surreptitiously crept to the small pistol he held in the back of his pants.

Come on man, I told you what you wanted to know. Just let me go. What are you waiting for? I told you everything you needed to know about the Sphinx. I just made bombs for him. I swear by it, I did nothing else. I’m just a bomb-maker … come on bro, let me go.

Woods, inspecting the bombs-in-progress around the workshop and taking photos to send to the SIS, did not see the movement. Malik continued to blab to keep his attention occupied.

Wait, I know why you haven’t let me go, it’s because I’m still valuable to your bosses aren’t I? You can’t touch me, because I got information they need to know right? Well, come on then, take me in, big man. I’m worth a lot right?

Malik, smiling at his own cleverness, whipped his hand around the gun and bought it to bear at Wood’s chest.

To his shock, Woods, had already clocked the move, and as fast as a rattlesnake, drew his Glock 19 and hip-fired once, drilling a neat hole in Malik’s forehead.

Looking at the fat, dead bomb-maker’s shocked expression and glazed over eyes, Woods holstered his pistol and said softly to himself.

Yes, considerably.

Ignoring the corpse, the Prince turned around and continued his search for clues left behind by the Sphinx.

Author’s Note:

This one was in the works for a very long time. I knew that I liked this series enough to continue it, (unlike my poor Sol series, which I will try to revive one day to complete) but I was struggling on where to go with it.

Enter Matthew Reilly, whose book One Impossible Labyrinth was just released this year and is the epic conclusion to his Jack West Jr. series.

I had waited patiently for nearly 7 years for this extraordinary author to finally pen the series, so that I can continue where I left off, The Four Legendary Kingdoms and then blitz through all of his books down to the last one.

Ever since I was young, I have loved Matthew Reilly’s imagination, pace and language to showcase his incredible action set pieces. They’ve never really been topped either, on the big screen or otherwise, simply because my imagination and mental film I conjure up of his action have been impossible to recreate anywhere else.

It was his books that I’ve been reading through that gave me the mojo to finish this chapter in my espionage series. If you found any of the violence excessive, I pin the blame entirely on one of my favourite authors of all time. I am weirdly proud of how I describe and italic certain words to give them more oomph, a technique that Reilly has done for many of his books now.

This is the longest chapter in the series thus far. I actually considered splitting the segment where Woods go on a solo CQB mission into another chapter, but I was already so amped up from the SAS kill-team part, I just decided to add it on anyway, just to contrast and showcase how Woods is another level above, the already elite SAS.

A lot of this chapter was dedicated to my favourite special forces unit in the world, the SAS, because I wanted a break from writing from Woods’ perspective and showcase how he is such an invaluable intelligence asset that can turn the tide in a war. This is also the most violent aspect of the series so far, with heavy inspiration taken from the Piccadilly Circus mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019).

However, I didn’t want too many of my favourite fighting men to die, so I made sure that the attack was horrible (but not awful), and at least one of them paid the ultimate sacrifice in a big way. After all, I can’t write a story where everyone makes it out, it’s no fun that way.

Lastly, as an Easter Egg, the final line of this chapter was a call back to the cold line that Daniel Craig delivers in Casino Royale (2006) one of my favourite movies. In fact, that how quick draw set up was a homage to the gun-barrel sequence.

I hope I don’t take too long to write the next chapter of this series. Nearly at the end!

~ Damocles.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No.

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Stars: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley & Tony Leung.

Review by Damocles

This gave me Mulan (2020) vibes. I thought I put that movie behind me, but this bought it back. Curses.

This is going to be a difficult review for me to write, simply because I am struggling to recall anything of note in this film. So much of this film was lacklustre in the extreme, from the visual effects, to the story and the acting.

There was nothing to grab onto in this film.

I will also be the first to admit that I am somewhat of an MCU apologist, however this was before I hopped off the train after Avengers Endgame successfully delivered me to its’ destination.

In many ways, I wished they stopped because this movie sucked.

First, a personal confession. Unlike many people who love to be shoehorned into an ethnicity for whatever reason, I don’t see nor feel any special connection just because someone happens to look similar to me. In fact, I like to maintain that I feel an equal amount of embarrassment and pride in my ethnicity as any healthy person should.

What this means, is that this film is not going to get any special treatment simply because it has Asian people in it …

Feel free to read the “after-review” list below for the long litany of sins that this film commits in my eye.

Another superhero, another origin story, you would think that Marvel would know how to change up the formula by now, considering one of their first hits, Blade (1998) didn’t even bother with establishing how the character came to be, just that he is Blade.

What made this film particularly uncompelling is the rather convoluted plot to get him to become the hero. In what was a promising start to the concept of the hidden hero, ends up being marred by motivations that aren’t particularly conducive to character building and the usual derivative Marvel CG-heavy third act.

The idea that the hero needs to return home, after being attacked by unknown forces is not a great basis for understanding what makes Shang-Chi … Shang-Chi. There needs to be more than just him finding out why he is being attacked or the usual “bad dad” ham-fisted motivations.

There are many problems with Shang-Chi as a film, but the most problematic of them all is how utterly boring it all is. It is oh-so predictable, and visually there is nothing to latch onto. The plot suffers from extreme second act lagging issues and so many characters lack proper depth to their motivations and even participation in the film’s story.

To future cement its mediocrity, the atypical Marvel quips are delivered with their usual slightly tone-deaf happenstance throughout the film, most of which are done through Awkwafina. Whilst mostly innocuous, I found myself not particularly amused by the line’s creativity nor their timing.

Which brings me to the cast.

Simu Liu is perhaps one of the least charismatic leads for a superhero film seen in a while, with his performance lacking any real charm or particularly note-worthy elements that make a lead interesting. This, on its own, is not an issue, as there have been films where the lead isn’t the most interesting factor, take Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but when so much of the surrounding film is forgettable, it falls on the lead to carry the film.

Much like how Al Pacino carries The Godfather (1972) or George Clooney in Michael Clayton (2007), these films are elevated by their strong performance and fearless plumbing of emotional depth.

In perhaps less Oscar-worthy comparison, you can see how Chris Hemsworth transforms Thor in Ragnarok (2017) to a much more affable goofball, or how Benedict Cumberbatch taps into a worldly arrogance for his turn as Doctor Strange in his film.

Despite the plot and the usual backstory trappings, Simu Liu doesn’t exactly do much beyond pose in martial art stances and look vaguely confused at what is going on around him.

Not exactly, a lead that demands his own solo movie entry into the MCU.

Perhaps he is best introduced ala Black Panther, as a side character to a larger story?

Lamentably, the rest of the cast isn’t much better, with Awkwafina’s natural charisma, muted to favour Simu Liu and showcased only through very bizarre fashion choices, Tony Leung being wasted in his role, similar to Donnie Yen in Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) and Michelle Yeoh being casted as a predictably serviceable matronly figure with no real standout elements to her character.

You can sense the running theme here, a lot of safe choices that don’t particularly endear the film nor enhance them.

This extends to the cinematography which is laughably terrible with its overuse of CGI and garish mixing of colours for a truly strange aesthetic that runs throughout the film. Too much of the film looked like it was filmed on a green screen with effects that accompany them, looking decidedly Black Panther (2018) third act bad.

What a huge pity, that never once, did the film really tap into the vein that it was ripping off from, with real bamboo tree settings or thought provoking scenery that these films can offer, in conjunction with martial arts action. Instead, so much of the film has very rough-looking scenery that does little to sell the impression that we are observing a beautiful hidden world.

From an action standpoint, the only noteworthy fights were seen in the first half of the film, which even then, fail to stick the landing owning to the overuse of CG all around the action. Whether it is garishly purple neon lighting or a bizarre overuse of a CG bus, so much of the fights were marred by strange choices that detracted from the action and took the immersion out of it.

You didn’t feel like Simu Liu could perform these fights, because there simply wasn’t enough opportunity for him to really showcase the extent of his skill.

Contrast these fight scenes with the more grounded, fast-paced action seen in classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or even the more ludicrous silliness as seen in Kung Fu Hustle (2004), you will notice that the camera work is much steadier and less dynamic, truly allowing these martial artists to showcase the speed and complexity of the choreography and thus cement their status as brilliant fighters & actors.

This inability to allow the cast to breathe life into the plot or the action, is also highlighted with an incredibly forgettable score by Joel P. West, in which he uses generic Asian themes and melodies to mix them together in a highly disparate album, that goes from electronic to traditional and everything in-between.

Whilst Marvel films aren’t particularly known for their remarkable score, I found Shang Chi’s one to be particularly egregious and worthy of the complaints directed against Marvel films and their soundscapes. I, for the life of me, cannot place a single tune from that film, and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s work on G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and that score was as generically Asian as it gets.

To throw in a quick note regarding fashion, it was also lacking a lot of the usual Marvel flair for design and their iconic thigh boots. Whether this wasn’t incorporated because Simu Liu is a sneaker head, I shall leave up to you, but taking a look at his final costume, you will notice a distinct lack of flair for the bottom half of his “super-hero outfit.”

Overall, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, needed a shorter name, better script and direction. So much of the film was dull, boring and ugly to look at and I found myself consciously checking the time to see how much more of the film was left.

It was so infernally monotonous that I cannot even provide a single photo to showcase a scene I liked in the film.

God, this film almost made me wish I saw Mulan (2020) for an insufferable second time instead.

To sum up … Shang Chi … is most definitely lacking any Chi in its filming-making.

Just go and watch some proper classics instead and leave this as another forgettable entry in the MCU … like so many of them are nowadays.

Who looked at this and thought …. “Yes. Job well done.” Who?! A dark, ugly background and lame wall-paper effects for the rings, of which you can barely discern there are 10 of the blasted things. This is amateurish. This is terrible.

THE CRAP LIST (SPOILERS AHEAD):

This list seems to be a recurring phenomena when I discuss bad films, so from now they shall be referred to as the Crap List. Spoilers will be everywhere and will categorise all the personal gripes and issues I’ve had with the film.

  • As an Asian growing up in a Western country, there are a lot of embarrassing qualities about us, as a people and a splinter faction of strange Asians. Here are some of them:
    • Terrible fashion taste … check.
    • Drive obnoxious BMWs everywhere … check.
    • Strange sense of entitlement over being a “failed Asian in a dead end job” … check.
    • Being over-sensitive about racism, whilst failing to acknowledge that Asian people are far more racist than anyone else out there … check.
    • Shallow references to things that everyone knows (Bubble Tea, Karaoke etc) and pass it off as being “cultured” … fucking check that box.
    • So you can imagine my embarrassment when they put every single terrible element about ABAs (Australian/American Born Asians) in this film …
  • Speaking of BMWs, was their sponsorship intentional? Because you could not have chosen a worse & accurate car to represent ABAs. As a car nerd, I hate BMWs with a passion, mostly because of the clientele they attract …. rude, non-indicator-using arseholes who think that in owning the cheapest luxury car available, somehow equates to having class. Here, in Australia anyway, most of those pricks are young, arrogant Asian males and I cannot stand their poor taste in car, manners or aesthetics. Let’s not get into the fact that recent BMW grilles have been an affront to eyes everywhere with its pig snout and somehow the only people buying them are these pricks.
  • I’m sick of seeing neon lights everywhere to represent Asia. It’s uncreative, unrealistic and honestly, just shows how cheap your sets are. Please stop this stupid trend of showcasing Asia as some neon-soaked urban jungle. It’s really just old, crumbling and ugly in a fascinating way like most concrete jungles are.
  • The Mandarin’s retcon is … lame honestly. I liked how they changed in up in Iron Man 3 (2013) and to have Trevor Slattery return is clearly just a shot across the bow to those who liked the twist.
  • What was the point of Trevor returning? Was it for Ben Kingsley to get a pay-check? Because his character did nothing and served zero purpose.
  • Why was the CGI so bad throughout this film? The visuals were so over-saturated or muted. The bamboo forest’s saturation was eye-searing, yet when you flick back to the mountain, it was so dull and difficult to make out anything.
  • Can we stop having such ridiculous third acts? It’s OK to change things up Marvel, but having two giant dragons fight each other is ridiculous and there was no build up to such things. Not to mention the actors barely react to the sight of a fucking mythological creature just spring out of nowhere.
  • Why did Awkwafina’s character go along for the ride? Any reasonable person would have left after the whole bus incident. Her character was so unbelievably shoe-horned in and the fact that she was the one who became a master archer that took down an evil dragon was …. stupid. You can’t convince me that it only took 2 hours to become an expert archer, especially when all she’s ever done is park cars.
  • Speaking of which, I understand being a valet is a “dull job” but at the very least they could have paid it off and made the pair of them use their driving skills to good use. But alas, that never happened.
  • Why can’t I remember any of the characters’ names …
  • My poor man, Florian Munteanu was terribly wasted in this film. His imposing stature, once so awesome and powerful in Creed 2 (2018) is now reduced to a bumbling henchman with a sword for an arm …. hardly worthy of such a powerful physique.
  • The non-subtle hint about racism being the main reason why Shang Chi was bullied as a child, had me rolling my eyes so hard. It would be better to show not tell, and showcase perhaps how difficult it was for him to grow up without a parental figure, instead we got a cheap woke moment and myself reflecting on it and going “did you ever think that maybe you were bullied cos you are an ass?”
  • The lack of definition on the relationship between Shang Chi and Awkwafina was irritating. I disliked how they finished each other sentences constantly whilst telling a story, like two dumb minds clicking together, and how they never got together. It seems odd to me, to have an entire life-changing event appear on screen, and yet somehow the people involved never get closer …. romantically or personally. If I had a huge death-defying, mythological experience, I’m certain my biological brain would be reminding me of how short my life is, and that I need a mate immediately. But no … they just remain friends, as usual. Nothing changes. I question that, you could have at least stopped a lame karaoke session to discuss the events over drinks.
  • Karaoke … BMWs, Bubble Tea, Horrible Fashion, Poor Parenting, Bad Career Choices, Sneaker Obsession, Fuccboi Attitudes, Cringe Small Asian Hype-Man, Stoic Older Sister Who is a Bitch … this really felt like they went through a lame checklist of all the things Asians have gone through in Western countries, not actual Asia.
  • I genuinely forgot the sister of Shang Chi was in film … her character had such a lame impression on me … she wasn’t there to add drama, nor enhance the plot in any meaningful way … perhaps this is a strange thing, but I feel siblings in films need to either be very minor characters that help pep up the hero or be a dastardly competitor whose relationship with the lead has soured beyond healing. Otherwise they serve no real purpose. There is a reason why a majority of the most compelling characters do not have siblings.
  • The plot was so poorly paced, that I have large blank spots of the film’s plot in my mind. There are just a lot of disparate scenes in my head and they all clash with each other, either tonally or visually.
  • The final third act was definitely one of the worst things about the film. Visually, it was a mess, and the fight scenes were so choppily edited that none of the moves were particularly impressive. It didn’t helped that most of it was spent riding a dragon and that looked terrible.
  • Too many factions were involved in that final fight scene and it was all so lame … fighting another faceless CG army again.
  • The lack of emotional closure and stakes between father and son was … disappointing to say the least. His sacrifice in the end was also lame. It needed more panache.
  • The titular rings were very uninventive in terms of a super-power. There was literally nothing special about them. They weren’t used creatively, or showed any real worth compared to the other iconic weapons in the MCU. They were just colourful wallpaper light shows …
  • The costume department need to look at themselves in the mirror and consider their colour profiles and the cuts of the jackets and costumes. Because everything sucked in this film. EVERYTHING.
  • The mother figure and Michelle Yeoh should have been one character.
  • The end credit scenes were awful. Unnecessary. Useless. Not even fun. Just horribly bad and I see Brie Larson has another bad hair day again.
  • They promised me a martial arts movie … I got another generic lame MCU movie. Seems like this is the par for the course nowadays ….
  • I’ve never winced so much throughout a film, that it left my jaw hurting. So thank you.

We Don’t Need No Education.

Formal education should and will always be best, when it teaches you how to harness information instead of learning it.

In today’s world there is arguably too much information available for people to consume. One can go to a library and find multiple books written by experts on a single subject, each with slightly different viewpoints on the topic. Then you can hop onto your computer and find 4,000,000 subreddits, wikipedia, forums and news articles also debating the subject matter.

The wealth of information is huge nowadays. Granted, probably 80% of those 4,000,000 providers of information are useless, inaccurate and barely compelling reading, but even 20% of that is still an immense resource.

The thing that education should be teaching you, is discerning the 80 from the 20, the good from the bad, the reliable to the unreliable.

Perhaps one of the biggest defining regrets I’ve ever experienced in my life, was the decision to finish my Bachelor Degree at university. I spent 4 years of my life studying Marine Biology for my Science degree, an incredible waste of time that has helped shaped my urgent nature nowadays.

A degree that should have ended a year early, I was unable to finish it due to my lack of motivation, commitment and overall care for the degree and the institution itself. Passing grades became my norm, a clear indication of my lack of enthusiasm for my tertiary degree.

It was a far cry from my distinction level average held in high school, but then being disillusioned will do that to you. I was lacking friends, willpower and interest and that proved so costly, that I failed 2 units, thus forcing me to do another year.

With such a horrific experience, what made me agree to sacrifice another 2 years to do another Bachelor, this time in Arts and specialising in Journalism and Ancient History?

Because, those two topics were something I cared about. Something I was genuinely interested in.

But what made those 2 years enjoyable and fast paced was the change in learning style.

It was journalism that made me really sit up and notice how, and what education should be.

The teacher, a hardened veteran who had cut her teeth at multiple papers, was no-nonsense, generous and efficient. She didn’t bother with the theoretical. Her advice to us was simple:

If you want to write a story, get out there and find one.

We were all daunted by the task, but there was a simple truth to that statement. You weren’t going to find a story sitting behind a desk. The simple matter of the fact was … you had to go out, you had to be the nosy arsehole and you had to ask all the right questions, whilst appearing not to twist people’s words.

I grew good at it. I excelled in this environment. My grades shot back up, to my usual distinctions and high distinctions. I felt reinvigorated because, simply put, the environment wasn’t a university anymore, it was a workplace.

What also sold that impression was that the journalism faculty was one of the most impressive and immersive work-spaces I’ve ever been to on campus. Situated in the heart of the building, was a huge media room, complete with recording equipment, cameras, microphones and a desk for news-reading. On the other side where classes were held, rows of desks had Macs instead of regular PCs, and along the roof, was an array of TVs showcasing every major news channel broadcast, from CNN, Sky News and the BBC.

I loved working there. One of my fondest memories of my entire university experience, was working alone late at night, in that very room, with a bag of Maltesers, writing up my long investigative piece on young Asian-Australians mental health, with the news bulletin issuing various soft lights across the darkened room..

In 2 years, the course and its teachers taught and impressed me more than any of the other dozens of lecturers I had come across in my science degree.

This stemmed from one singular difference … these were industry professionals that were guiding us. They weren’t interested in the theory of journalism, only the practice. I left that degree feeling confident I could apply myself in the workforce.

Which brings me back to the original discussion.

In today’s world, rote learning is remarkably archaic and almost useless by the time the year is out. Information is discovered, processed and assimilated into fact so quickly, that by the time you realise Pluto is no longer a planet, the world has already moved on to caring about the proposed Artemis program to put man on the moon again.

Which means that the focus should be more on learning how to acquire information and discern it from fact to fiction and remember the basics that will always outlast the textbooks. These basics and fundamental are drilled into you best, when put into application, when placed in the context of the real world, instead of the academic.

The irony of the current Australian higher education isn’t lost on me. In fact it’s so bizzarely terrible that here I am, writing an editorial style piece on it.

The irony, is that the system is designed to prepare you for the workplace, however almost nothing you learn is used in the actual workplace and the way how grades and exams are designed, actually ensures that you forget a lot of the knowledge you learn throughout a semester.

A frequent occurrence, is that students will trundle along their way through semesters, stumbling past assignments, before knuckling down for 2 weeks to cram 6 months worth of information in their mind, sit their exams and then anxiously wait for results throughout the holidays.

Holidays, in which the students spent 3/4 of it blind drunk, partying, determined to forget their anxious times, and thus by the time the next semester rolls around, they’ve forgotten everything they’ve learned in the past 6 months, except how to create terrible study habits and hangover tips.

This vicious cycle continues for the entirety of the Bachelor degree, cynicism, and weariness encroaching the student’s mental state with each passing year, until finally they are spat out of the tertiary system, having wasted 3 years of their lives, learning absolutely nothing, with no connections or relations to the industry they studied for and now forced to face a terrifying reality that was previously hidden behind a university emblazoned shield.

Confronted with such a harsh reality … either continue to study and pray that networking opportunities arise with even further study or completely abandon what they studied for so long and find an entirely different career, starting from the beginning again, only more disenchanted with life than before they started.

This tragic choice is hidden from view, by that aforementioned shield. The shield is deceptively attractive. It presents itself as thus.

Welcome to university, where you will meet lifelong friends, join exciting and thrilling clubs and study in the field you always wanted to. Here, at this prestigious university, in its hallowed halls, you will join thousands of other students in becoming the best academics you can be. It is an honour for us to welcome you to this enormous campus, with its sparkling facilities.

The reality though is markedly different.

Welcome to uni, where your friends shall be as disposable and displaced as your empty bottle of beer. Join uni-student run clubs, which will lack proper guidance, rules and management due to raw inexperience.

Feel free to choose any faculty, as you are doubtless fresh out of high-school, with zero clues on how to decide what is a monumental decision for any adult, let alone a fresh-faced child … where you want to be and go for the rest of your life.

Here at this university, you shall be just one, amongst thousands who are equally lost, equally poor, equally deprived of experience, know-how and personal growth. Enjoy the smelly, old, slightly dilapidated equipment that were kept barely to a reasonable standard, the musty libraries and the sheer lack of computers available for the thousands on campus.

It’s a chore to welcome you with the thousands of other faceless and nameless applicants, but here are the basics and enjoy getting lost on campus. Hope to see you at another dull graduation that we endure every year, until then leave our staff alone, because they’ll always be exceedingly bored, passive aggressive and understaffed at all times.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this shield being lowered and the spawning of my eternal bitterness to higher education came in the final year of my first bachelor degree in science. At the time, the entire marine biology cohort was relaxing, after a day of experimentation, just having finished our dinner on our first field trip. We were all listening to the head lecturer who started innocuously about the plans for the next few days.

It was then, just as we were getting excited, he dropped the truth, about how much longer this degree would need from us, if we were to get a job in the field; “a minimum of a Masters” and … that none of the jobs were here in Victoria, but instead were found in our northern neighbours, Queensland and New South Wales.

Upon receiving this news, I silently fumed with resentment, as I looked around angrily, to only see relaxed faces around me. It floored me how calm everyone seemed to be taking this news.

What’s was the fucking point of the past 3 years then? my mind screamed at the impassive professor.

Whatever motivation I had for my studies, vanished from then on, and I passed my degree with all the reluctance of Hercules with his famous 12 Labours and presumably as much struggle, though I doubt I had to face any Nemean Lions or tame the Augean Stables. That said, I still faced my despicably smug and guilt-free King Eurystheus (my professors and lecturers lumped into one authoritarian figure) after all my assignments and I never quite recovered from the multiple barely passing grades nor the incredible indifference they offered me.

What has always surprised me, is the fact that often, you do your own learning about your passions. That knowledge you attain through self-learning, is usually more extensive, more comprehensive and driven than anything you learn in a formal education setting.

Thanks to my interest in F1, I have a rudimentary knowledge of aerodynamics, engine parts and the effects of G-Forces on the human body, and which workouts are necessary to counteract those forces.

My extensive research into all things militaria has been so exhaustive, I can discuss weapon systems with actual trained soldiers, debate geopolitical flash-points, identify guns and their common calibre rounds, and know which languages are popular in certain troublesome regions.

Then there’s my useless knowledge about all things pop culture, from Warhammer 40K, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, NASA, Mad Max … the list goes on and on, and all them have proven to provide little nuggets of knowledge in the most unexpected of ways, such as the warp drive being one of the most feasible ways of achieving FTL travel or creating artificial gravity through thrust, as depicted in the Expanse.

I can’t forget to mention my small knowledge of American Football (NFL), EPL (English Premier League) and now recently my burgeoning know-how in tennis and card tricks.

Classical music, jazz, house, soundtracks, kitchen techniques, fine dining, table manners, first aid, event work, shooting, … the general knowledge list goes on and on

All of this information, all of this research was found for free, through vigorous and diligent research. I didn’t pay a single cent for this education. I just went out and sought information.

I look at my friends, and see a similar story. They’re low-key experts in their passions, simply because they went through the trouble of educating themselves on the subject matter.

So what is the point of formal tertiary education? Why can’t all places simply be a simulation of the workplace you want to engage in?

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that weighty question.

What I do know, is that there needs to be a shift in how we view, grade and learn through tertiary education. The method of rote learning is perfectly adequate for high school and younger. To still employ such an archaic method at a tertiary level and accelerate it, is foolhardy. Adults need different learning styles beyond boring power-points and a lecture hall.

Information is simply growing too fast to allow such slow, inefficient and brute-force style learning methods. People need to learn how to read information and recognise that some fundamentals are eternal and worth remembering. You don’t need to learn the fundamentals, you can just experience them.

When you enter the work-force, that is exactly what happens.

At its core, tertiary education should be about simulating the workplace. The fundamentals have been drilled into you in secondary school. Now it is time to experience them and see them in action. Whatever else you need to learn, you’ll find out whilst working and getting paid to do so.

It is already the case, that you will forget any superfluous information you learn anyway, because the moment you get a job, they’ll train you and teach you everything. So why fill your head with extra rubbish? Better to fill it with the information about your passions and hobbies.

This is why I valued my journalism course so much, because it simulated the work environment I was expected to be working in. I didn’t have to be taught how to write …. I did that in high school already. What I needed was a place that would prepare me for the stress, intensity and speed in which I had to write, for a professional news network.

For all their money, facilities and supposed brain-power, university academics are woefully out-of-touch with how to best prepare their students for the reality outside of school. In today’s world, I feel strongly that education needs to adjust to the demands of jobs. There needs to be a stronger reflection of job prospects within the context of education.

The old “here’s my degree, so here’s my job” is no longer a reality for so many here in Australia. Nowadays, it is who you know, how you network, how to engage with future bosses and how hard you work. The degree is a formality that millions possess.

It matters little how you got the degree, because if an reluctant, recalcitrant and rebellious arsehole like me can struggle through and get a Bachelor of Science degree, it also sadly invalidates the hard work of a studious, bright-eyed student who also got the same degree.

So it comes down to who got the more sparkling personality.

No-one in university can teach you that, except yourself and the hobbies you engage in.

But at the very least, they should teach you how to network, how best to find a job in your field, instead of tossing you out, after bleeding you dry and emptying your heart and mind.

If only I knew any of this, before I joined … I would have taken my time and really plotted out the course of my life and wasted a lot less time.

They say that education is an investment … they never said which part of education you need to be invested in.

Consider this long rant, this editorial, knowledge that you should be aware of before going any future in your tiertary education.

Forewarned is forearmed.

So make sure you know yourself and do your research about everything, before committing to anything that will take 3-6 years of your life away.

Because you might find out like me, that after 6 years studying, you are still unemployed, immature and with no connection to the world nor any memory of the supposed knowledge you obtained during that period.

And that is the irony of tertiary education in a nutshell, that you end up back where you started, when you left high school, only a lot more cynical, jaded and mad.

What a joke.

~ Damocles.

Taut

The perfect finish to the week.

Stress acts as an accelerator: It will push you either forwards or backwards, but you choose which direction.

It’s difficult to really sum up the past 2 weeks I’ve had. Stress truly ruled my life from the 22nd of November till today.

As is usual, I like to perform an autopsy on a particularly difficult moment in time for me, so that I can find anything of use in the moment and apply those lessons for future stressful times.

To quickly to sum it all up, I had 3 pressing issues that were all conflicting with each other.

  1. My TAFE course in event management had 4 assignments all due on Friday the 10th of December. None of them were short, sweet nor sharp. Instead, they were all monstrously big and required huge amounts of effort. A task, I normally reserved 6 months, and had a team of 8 experienced volunteers work on, I now had to cram into 2 weeks.
  2. Formula 1. For an entire year, I’ve been gripped by the championship battle between Red Bull and Mercedes. Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton. I am an avid hater of Hamilton and his continual dominance. So to see this title fight get this close, is unsettling and anxiety-inducing.
  3. Christmas has now officially come to ruin all the lives of retail workers. I’ve been slammed at work, with unrelenting amounts of deliveries and transactions. I average more than 10,000 steps in store and often come home, unwilling to do anything but put my feet up.

The timing for the Formula 1 races interfered with my sleeping patterns, my body unable to sleep, because it needs to get up at 0430 in the morning to watch the event unfold live. Before the Saudi Arabia GP in Jeddah, I slept in 1 hour intervals, from 2300 to 0400, in what was the worst sleep I’ve ever had in my entire life. I was so inextricably tied to Formula 1, that my body could not and would not let me sleep.

This then wrecked me for the next day of work, which was a delivery day, causing me to be sluggish and play catch-up with my sleep debt for the rest of the week, thus inhibiting and limited my time to work on my assignments.

It did not help that my mind was unable to relax, my sacrifice of tennis for time, ensuring that the internal pressure mounted quicker and harder as the days passed by.

This is where though, my innate belief in seconds as valuable and useful units of time kicked in. I’ve realised a long time ago, that this mindset enables me two things: focus and relaxation. Knowing that I can type and dictate sentences in 30 seconds, is a huge boost in morale and drive. It means that the stress, and the ticking clock will never get to me.

Unlocking speed, focus and drive as a combination under stress is probably my greatest mental strength. It ensures that I always remain calm and that nothing can overwhelm me. In this case, it meant that I could work in my retail role, whilst also utilising the quieter times to work on my assignment, maximising both opportunities to fulfill 2 jobs.

This would then allow me to go home after work, grab a bite of dinner, before working on the assignment at a slower pace.

For 2 weeks, this routine would continue unabated until I took a day off on the Monday to relax with my classmates and celebrate the end of our course. I of course, had not finished my assignment and despite the due date looming on the Friday, I decided that enough was enough, I had to take my mind off things and actually let loose.

So I planned it out, I had the worst sleep of my life, to watch the race at 0430HRS in the morning, in which the adrenaline and action-packed nature forbade me from sleeping for the rest of the day.

I worked fitfully on my assignment throughout the Monday, before climbing into my car and instantly feeling the effects of poor sleep. It got so bad, that I low-key regretted going, but decided that I’d rather live than go home and be unproductive.

So I pulled over for a 15 minute power-nap which stretched into 20 mins before I kept going. As it turned out, it was a good night, with myself being the only male, and learning a lot more about my classmates had I not gone.

I left, with a place to go URBEX later, connections that I know I will use in the future and a vague sense of pride that I could still function well enough, despite my tiredness.

That feeling of tiredness, of persevering beyond my normal daily limits, was repeated again, when this week, I completed a long 8 hour shift at 2100 only to then head to the city and do casual event work, that lasted from 2300 to 0230 in the morning.

I even made the foolish decision to park my car a decent 1.5 kilometre away from the venue, simply because I wanted to walk around the city some more … and avoid the horrific traffic that normally ensues in the heart of the city.

Redefining the lines.

Nowadays, I seem fascinated with my health and how my body can keep going, despite my mind telling me otherwise. There is now a clear communicative line between my mind and body. I can tell when my feet have had enough, likewise when I know I can keep going and still get up for work the next day, feeling OK.

That feeling of tautness in the muscles and mind can be relaxed. I know that I have it in me to keep changing things up, to push when needed and how to relax properly. It doesn’t matter how busy or full my week is, I can always find time to do more.

Whether it is getting some “wine & dine” treatment with friends after a full week of work, exploring abandoned buildings or working casually on top of my full time manager role, I think I can always do more and still be healthy.

There’s a sense of weariness that I like about myself nowadays. The type of tiredness that only comes from doing everything at once and pushing the envelope on what I used to think was too much.

What I’ve also come to recognise is that I am slowly becoming more extroverted. My music taste, once brooding and moody jazz, has now been replaced by house that gets me dancing and moving faster and harder.

My innate shyness has now been replaced by a more confident quiet, a guy who isn’t afraid to smile at people, put them at ease whilst shuffling a pack of cards.

I’m less afraid of conversations with strangers, more eager to find out more about people. My signature, slight awkwardness is still there, but I can tell with every interaction, it’s getting better.

Like so many things in life, I need to continue to practice at it, working out the optimum way of balancing mystery, wit and humour with every gesture, word and expression.

All the while, maintaining something true to myself and keeping an honesty that will be valued by any stranger.

Hell, it’s even gotten to the point where sometimes during my longer shifts and near the end, where I am most tired and bored, I get strangely flirtatious with various customers. I got no idea why, but it just happens.

But, this is why I love difficult periods of time like this, because there are always something new you can discover about yourself. I never shy away from a challenge, even though in reality, 90% of this “challenge” was construed by my anxiety.

That’s why it’s fun. That’s why I embrace it. Only through adversity do we grow and I’ve noticed that since the COVID lockdowns, I’ve only been more determined to get out into the world and experience life more fully.

I won’t lie though, realising how much more extroverted I’ve become has come as a bit of a shock. Perhaps there is a strange correlation between growing up and the nature of introversion and extroversion. At some point in our lives, the extroverted ones end up becoming quieter, settling down and happy to leave a more active lifestyle behind, whilst the introvert perhaps longing for something more, ends up being more proactive in seeking different things.

I wonder how many other people have experienced something similar as they approach their 30s.

It’s not so much a mid-life crisis, as it is more of a re-evaluation of what you value and how you want to live your life moving forwards. It’s a conscious choice … a reaffirmation of the type of person you are.

These troublesome couple of weeks have solidified something in me …

That no matter how tired my mind thinks I am, my body can push on with a more deadly combination of Red Bulls, music and some guts.

If you ever want to know the secret behind my enthusiasm and drive for life … it’s always going to be those 3 elements that keep the fire in me burning bright.

~ Damocles