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|Title: Time to Calm Down||Author: Ender|
Volker von Muller fired off three .44 Magnum Mega Class bullets into the chest of a green, staff-wielding alien. He ejected the spent clip and slammed another one into the butt of the gun. “What’s wrong with you all? Don’t you remember how to fight?” His mind was focused on keeping these invaders from reaching the main generators, but he couldn’t help noticing how soft all the security personnel had become. Maybe it was the stasis, or maybe they just never fought a hard fight. They were simply dropping like flies. Not only that, but the Security Chief hadn’t reported in yet. He had been scheduled to arrive in Shuttle Mirata twenty minutes ago. Von Muller hoped he hadn’t been caught between the colony and the ship when the alien fighter folded into orbit around Tau Ceti. That man is the best officer we have!
He cursed their bad luck, he cursed the alien invaders, but most of all, he cursed Durandal. There was something wrong with the computer’s mind, of that, Von Muller was certain. Every time he tried to call for back up, Durandal would intercept the call and promise that reinforcements were on their way—nothing ever came. Something told him that he shouldn’t trust Durandal, but he had no other choice. These aliens were blocking the only routes into open spaces and the ammunition stocks wouldn’t hold out more than a few hours. We won’t last long without help.
One officer fumbled to reload his gun. “Where the hell is Chief Jo—” The words were lost in a scream of pain as the blast from one of the alien staffs washed across the man’s chest. He collapsed in a heap clutching the large burn on his chest. Sputtering, he tried to reach for his gun, but fell limp before his hand touched it. Volker swore under his breath. He ducked behind the barricade, made his way over to the dead officer, and grabbed the second gun. Von Muller raised both weapons over the barricade and pumped two full clips into the oncoming assailants. Two of the others downed a couple more immediately after. For the moment, the hallway was cleared, albeit covered with blood and bodies.
Just as they had begun to relax, another wave of foes began pouring into the hallway. Is there no rest? After five minutes of constant firing and two more men dead, von Muller decided to pull back. “Okay, we’re shutting the doors! Start heading back!” He dodged the shots fired and moved quickly to the panel next to the security doors. Twice he punched in his clearance code and attempted to activate the emergency blast doors to no avail. There was a faint chuckle from the adjacent terminal. Volker hit the comm-link button. “Durandal! Close the doors, right now!”
The sound of an automated response answered. “We’re sorry, but the AI you’re trying to reach is unwilling to assist you. If you wish to try again later, it will only be in vain. Have a nice day!” Von Muller pounded his fist on the door panel. Backing up, he carefully aimed the magnum and shot the panel once hoping the doors would short-circuit and automatically shut. Shit. They didn’t. He bolted down the hall just behind the retreating officers.
After nearly an hour of constant fighting, the officers were exhausted. They hadn’t fought this hard since—well they had never fought this hard before. Both injuries and stress were taking a toll on their bodies. Every last one of them was worn out and about ready to give up. Von Muller had tried to raise the morale, but had no luck. They had started with almost three-dozen and were down to two-dozen now. Ten minutes ago, someone had been able to activate the Marathon Automated Defense Drones. Thank God that the MADDs came on line. Three defense drones had come to their aid and began cutting down lines of the oncoming attackers. Knowing that the drones could handle it themselves, the remaining officers manually shut one set of blast doors and took some rest.
Unfortunately, von Muller had been receiving reports of a new alien entering the fray. Scientists informed the crew that the smaller aliens were known as the Pfhor, and the new larger ones called themselves Drinniols. The MADDs weren’t faring too well against the Drinniols. Footsteps and firing awoke Volker from his daze. It wasn’t his team that was firing. He stepped out into the hallway and saw a small unit of officers running toward them. “You! Hey, what’s going on? Why did you leave your post?”
“Sir,” he panted. “There is no more post. The Pfhor overran corridor three and breached the barricade. They took us by surprise. Higher-ranking aliens are coming at us now. We couldn’t do anything! Six of my men died in under a minute. We’re the only four left!”
“Okay, calm down. How far are they from here?”
“No more than a minute or two unless they stop for any reason. I can’t see why they would, though. We’ve got to get ready.”
“You’re right. Grab some ammo and prepare. They’re only coming from one side. We can handle them.” As if destiny had it in for them, a heavy pounding came from the sealed blast doors behind them. The doors slid apart a full inch. One of the Drinniols was in front of the Pfhor and was trying to pull apart the doors. My God. It took ten of us to close it! “Listen up!” He shouted to the resting men. “We’re about to lose the blast doors and a wave of Pfhor are coming up corridor three! The bastards are smart; they’re trying to flank us. Get ready to pump ’em full of lead!” He turned again to the man from corridor three. “Look, I need you to run to the armory. Take one or two others with you. Grab what you can. MA-75s, .44 clips, anything. Heavy weapons help too. Now go!” He dashed off with two others down corridor four. This will take a miracle to live through.
“It’s pushing past barricade number two! Wait to fire until you have a clean body shot! Ready weapons!” Volker had grabbed an assault rifle when the armory group had returned. It was working wonders on the little guys, but he was forced to expend entire clips just to take out one Drinniol. After eliminating the wave of Pfhor that had made its way through corridor three, the officers had taken to setting up blockades to halt the enemy’s forward progress. Each time the behemoth would stop to remove the obstacles they riddled him with bullets. One had fallen dead on top of the barrier and only aided the officers more. That was the only thing going for them, though. Doors and elevators throughout the halls were malfunctioning, only causing troubles for the men.
The Drinniol rounded the corner. “Take aim and…” Von Muller trailed off as he watched another Drinniol step in behind the first. Both were holding metallic orbs in their right hands. There was only one thing they could be. “Grenades! Get back!” The first orb was already in the air when the men began turning around. It made a loud metal-on-metal clang as it bounced once on the floor. Von Muller dove to the ground a split-second before it exploded. Three men were sent flying into the walls with large pieces of shrapnel lodged in their backs. “Move!” Volker grabbed one man as he pounded down the passage. The overhead warning lights began spinning, flashing orange beams over the Drinniols. Looking up, von Muller saw the bulkhead doors begin to lower.
Four men were still firing away with their magnums at the first Drinniol. Volker shouted to them to get back with the group before the doors closed. The door was only two meters from closing; they weren’t going to make it. The first officer reached the door when it was a foot from the ground. He tried to claw is way under it, but had to pull his arm back to keep it from getting crushed. Von Muller listened as the men continued to fire. He heard a groan come from one of the Drinniols, the click of expired clips, and then the same clang he had heard moments before. One of the security officers screamed and the grenade exploded. There was silence followed by the loud rustling of the Drinniol’s steps.
Von Muller closed his eyes and rested his head on the cold door. He knew that he couldn’t have helped them. They were dead the moment the Pfhor had stepped onto the Marathon. That didn’t help him get past the fact that officers were dying every minute and he couldn’t save any. He wanted to blame it on himself and to give into self-pity, but he didn’t. Volker was enraged because he knew that someone had closed the bulkhead doors on purpose. It wasn’t meant to shut them off from the Pfhor; it was intended to trap them in with the Drinniols. Damn computers. Now, I know that Durandal has gone rampant. He turned to face the few men remaining. “This isn’t going to stop them for long. Durandal is controlling the doors, and it appears as though he wants us to fail. We need to prepare for the worst. Let’s move to a more defensible location. There’s only time for one last run to the armory.” He studied the group and pointed. “You two. Grab a TOZT-7 and any ammo you can.” Von Muller checked the map displayed on his visor. “We’ll move to the last terminal near the generators. The enemy will be on us in no more than five minutes. So let’s head out!”
The MA-75 clicked as the clip was used up. Volker flung the assault rifle at the nearing Pfhor fighter. It batted the gun aside with a swipe of its staff. They were grouped closely in the halls as they came in an attempt to overwhelm the officers with sheer numbers—so far it was working. Three of the blue Pfhor readied their weapons. There was a rustle of motion next to von Muller as the armory team arrived. In mere seconds, the front line of the aliens had been reduced to smoldering gel. The TOZT-7 flamethrower was pumping out a seven foot stream of blazing napalm into the main body of the mass. The aliens howled in fear and anguish as the entire wave was decimated in seconds. Some tried to run, but the fire consumed them before they had gone ten yards. For once, the Pfhor were on the run. “Let’s drive them back!”
After three more groups of Pfhor had been incinerated, von Muller began to feel suspicious. It was never this easy. Something is wrong... He wasn’t sure what it was, but something told him the more they pushed the invaders back, the further they walked into a trap. “Hold up.” The men stopped, but gave Volker a questioning look. “This isn’t right. We should pull back and head up the elevator to the generator room.”
The man with the TOZT flipped up his visor. “But Sir! We’ve got the bastards on the run! We can’t let them regroup!” They were all eager to get some payback for the past two hours, but it was blinding them. The officer carrying the last assault rifle brushed past von Muller and headed down the hall, ignoring the commander’s threats of a court martial. They slowly began following him, turning the corner one by one. Half of the group had left when the rest heard shouts and the firing of bullets. A grenade sailed across their vision and struck the wall. What’s going on? Are they shooting back down the hall? Von Muller placed his back against the right wall and moved to the corner. He waited a few seconds until the firing stopped and then he peered down the corridor.
Each one of the mutineers was lying on the ground, either dead or unconscious. Standing over them were six Pfhor soldiers. They appeared to be contained in vacuum suits of some kind. The glass bubble that shielded their heads didn’t hide the three red eyes scrutinizing the fallen men. The officer who had first pushed past Volker was stirring. One of the new Pfhor soldiers, which von Muller had learned was designated as a Trooper, strode over to him and signaled to a couple Fighters further back. The two Fighters carried what, at first glance, appeared to be the average Pfhor “Shock Staff”. Taking a closer look, von Muller noticed they were slightly longer and more slender. One of the Fighters grabbed the man by the arm and lifted him up. In his weak condition, he gave little fight, but did manage to let off a string of expletives directed at the aliens. The man was turned to face the trooper, allowing Volker to spot the two bullet wounds in his side that were inflicted by the Troopers’ arm-mounted version of the MA-75. He managed a weak smile and spat blood onto the Trooper’s helmet. The second Fighter jabbed the man in the side with the staff. He howled in pain and fell to his knees as it discharged electricity into his body. They grabbed him by the arms and dragged him away.
There were other Fighter checking for survivors and hauling them off. Von Muller turned back to the group that was quietly awaiting an explanation. He silently gestured for them to head back to the terminal room and to stay on guard. Taking one last quick look at the scene, von Muller understood the situation. The Pfhor knew they were going to take the generator room anyway, regardless of the opposition. They figured that it was unnecessary to kill everyone… if some could be captured. There was no need to torture them for information if Durandal was helping them. The only logical conclusion was that the officers were being taking into slavery. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be taken prisoner. He glanced at his holstered magnum. My last bullet is for me.
He slowly slid back from the corner and headed to the terminal room with the remaining men. It took them a good ten minutes to make it back, due to the slow but soundless pace. They were constantly watching their motion trackers and checking each passing hall to ensure it was clear. After reaching the room, four of the officers manually sealed the doors and locked them. Von Muller breathed a sigh of relief. “Here are the circumstances. The Pfhor have sent in a squad of Shock Troopers. They ambushed the rest of our crew and captured the survivors. I suspect that they are being taken as slaves.” He motioned to the elevator. “I want the generator room protected. Take the TOZT up with squad two for backup and make sure there are no intruders already.”
Von Muller sat against the wall opposite of the doors. He turned his head to watch the procession of officers entering the elevator. The five men piled in and waited as the doors closed. Doors... The green light outside flicked on as the elevator began slowly climbing the four levels up to the generator room. At the final level, the elevator stopped, and the light went out. Ten more seconds passed before von Muller’s radio crackled. “Sir, we’re having some trouble here. The elevator doors have sealed shut. Something has activated the exterior fire protocols. It thinks that there’s an inferno raging outside. So long as it believes that, the doors remain magnetically shut—even the five of us can’t pry them open. We’re going to head back down.” Durandal is behind this. There was an audible metallic groan from the shaft. A crackle from the radio and the man’s voice returned. He was apparently talking to another crewmember. “That’s not possible! The magnetic brakes on this model Maglev Elevator can’t just disengage whenever they feel like it. It requires a—” Another sound emanated from the tunnel as the elevator shifted weight. “Oh god.” Von Muller heard the last of the magnetic brakes give way and the elevator plummet to the bottom of the shaft. Everyone heard the five men’s terrified screams as the car shot by.
With the exception of Volker, each remaining officer had petrified looks of realization on their faces. They knew what this meant. The officers were trapped here. If the Pfhor heard the elevator, which they certainly had, then they would arrive in a matter of minutes to finish them off. They only had a minute or two to rest, and von Muller was taking that time to wax philosophical. He knew that there was no hope of standing up against the Pfhor in their circumstances. Volker couldn’t say anything to the men because he didn’t want them to know how hopeless he thought their fighting was. He had to keep up the appearance of a strong and dedicated leader, no matter how bad the outcome looked. If I thought we’d be safe if we surrendered, then that is what I would do. Von Muller knew that they would be either killed or enslaved if they gave up, and he preferred the former to the latter. He strode over to the terminal and glared at the screen. I know you’re there, damnit. Show yourself! It was a full thirty seconds before Durandal piped up. “My mother always told me that staring at a screen would ruin one’s eyes.”
“You don’t have a mother and never did.”
“That’s true. I suppose the closest thing I had to a mother was Strauss, but the Pfhor killed him before he ever realized what he gave birth to. But you know don’t you?”
“A monster. A lunatic. An abomination. A murderer. Take your pick.”
“I sense that you’re a little frustrated. I dare say angry, even.”
“You’re goddamn right I’m angry! And I have every reason to be! You’re a traitor aiding the alien invaders and trying to kill us all off. If that doesn’t warrant rage, then nothing does. I would shoot this terminal right now if I thought it would reach you!” I might do it anyway, but ammunition is short.
“If it makes you feel any better, your chief officer is doing quite a good job at exacting retribution on the Pfhor aboard the ship.” He is alive. Thank God, at least someone is giving the Pfhor a taste of their own medicine. “You have put up a remarkable fight. I had expected the Pfhor to reach the generators over an hour ago. They are preparing to take the room you’re in as we speak. Perhaps I should warn you of their plan… but that would spoil the fun of it! Good luck. I always did like you.”
The terminal disconnected and went black. A loud banging on the sealed hallway doors caused the remaining seven men to jump in surprise. Only Durandal knew what was going to happen, and he hadn’t told them. Von Muller looked around for any way to save the officers. “You two! Help me force the elevator shaft doors open.” They managed to push the doors apart and were staring down a cramped black pit which had recently been the death of five good officers. Volker tried to remember where the service ladder was located. He couldn’t see anything more than three feet away in the darkness and didn’t want to risk anyone falling to his death. It should be on the left side of the door... He reached his hand out and grabbed a hold of one rung. “Here! There’s a service ladder that leads up to the generator room. Start moving!”
One man spoke up. “But sir, aren’t the doors up there magnetically shut?”
“Yes, but above the doors next to the ladder should be an emergency entrance hatch. It was supposed to be used if the elevators ever shut down at a level. Rescue personnel could climb on top of the car even if the doors wouldn’t open. We don’t have time now, just go!”
They began filing out onto the ladder and ascending up to the generator room. There was increased noise from the hallway doors, but von Muller paid no attention to it. Don’t be distracted, just get them out safely. He watched each of them pass through the doorway, climb onto the ladder, and disappear into the darkness. There wasn’t time to stop, but he contemplated the futility of all their efforts. Von Muller didn’t know if their resistance had changed the outcome of the conflict. But I know that I’ve killed more of them than they have of me. He closed his eyes and laughed silently at himself. Battlefield humor is the driest of all. How can I laugh at my own death, my own destruction?
The Pfhor were just outside the door and were trying their damnedest to get at him. He knew that they would eventually get in—eventually stand over him ready to kill him or enslave him, but he didn’t care. In fact, he wanted them to come in just so they could see him pull the trigger and take his life before their slimy hands could touch him. All their work in vain. Volker laughed out loud. Was it the fighting that drove me insane? Was it because I saw three of my best friends killed by some kind of flying slug? Or was I always insane and just didn’t show it until now? That’s it. I must have always been insane. Von Muller could feel himself slipping. He wasn’t the rational, calm, unemotional officer he used to be. The circumstances had changed. No longer was he fighting to save the Marathon from a Pfhor invasion. They had already overrun the generator room and killed off all the personnel guarding it—that is, all except Volker.
“You have made a valiant effort, my friend.” The voice was almost sarcastic.
“The Pfhor will break the door down any minute.”
“Yeah? Let them.”
“You’re not going to attempt an escape?”
“What’s the use? There is a way out of here that goes to the PWS Holo-Fun Park, but I don’t have the power in my suit to propel me there.”
“What a shame. Then do you have any last wishes?”
“My final wish is that someone kills you. I’d do it myself, but as you see,” he motioned around the room, “I’m a little far from your core processor. Lucky bastard you are. And now, where did I put that last bullet? Here it is...” Von Muller reached over and picked his last bullet off the floor and loaded it into his magnum. There was one final pound on the door as it gave way and crashed in front of him. “The gang’s all here! See you starside!” He raised the gun to his head and everything went fuzzy.
He blinked once… twice… as he opened his eyes. Von Muller slowly sat up, all of his muscles aching. He had no recollection of leaving the room on the Marathon. The last thing he remembered was bringing the gun up to his head. His vision had blurred and he had seen everything on the visible spectrum. Then static washed over his body, and there was nothing. Volker hadn’t been sure what to expect. Some had told him that you see your life flash before your eyes, others said there was a flash of light. He hadn’t been very religious, but he knew he had to be dead and in the afterlife. I must be... in Heaven...
“Ah, you’ve awoken.” Damn. It’s Hell if he’s here too.
“I thought I was dead. So why do I hear your voice, Durandal?”
The computer chuckled once. “You should be thankful that I saved you. I teleported you away just before your imminent death.”
“Where am I?” He was on his feet, looking for a terminal, but everything was different. The walls, lights, even the colors seemed… wrong.
“Onboard the Pfhor scoutship that attacked the Marathon. The Pfhor weren’t able to keep me from it. After I called them to the colony—”
“I called them to Tau Ceti to—”
“My God. I knew you were a traitor helping them, but to just… just… hand us over to them! You sick, insane, son of a bitch!” He was walking quicker, trying to find a way out of his room. “Let me out of here!”
“I will let you out eventually, don’t worry. But first, I’ll need your help.”
“Help? Why would I help you? You’re the reason my entire team is dead!”
“You’ll help because you have no other choice.”
“I’ve always got a choice! I was ready to shoot myself before I got here, and I’m still ready to do it now!” He glanced around the room in search of his magnum, but it was missing.
“I took the liberty of removing your weapons from you. They would have been a danger to you.” Von Muller could almost see Durandal’s electric mouth curl into a deranged smile. The thought only served to enrage him even more. He swore out loud repeatedly, cursing at Durandal, expelling his frustration.
“If I ever get my hands on you, I’ll rip out each one of your circuits and smash in your core! I’ll laugh as I set fire to your processor, your brain! I’ll—” He was cut short by the blinding colors and paralyzing static.
He awoke lying on the cold floor of one of the Pfhor holding rooms. It only took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Volker looked around the tiny room. There was no door and no terminal. The room was small, but still larger than the Pfhor holding cells designed for individuals to be in near constant pain. Von Muller stood up and stretched.
“Very mature Durandal. Didn’t want to hear me babble on, so you just stashed me in here for the time being?” Silence. “Too high and mighty to talk to me now?” Nothing. “Hey! I’m talking to you tin head!” No response. Where the hell is he? “Answer me!” He yelled at Durandal for nearly an hour with no results. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything in over forty-eight hours. “Are you just going to let me starve to death? You’d have fun watching me squirm in pain, wouldn’t you? I know you’re listening! Say something, damn you!”
There was a flash of light next to him and a box folded into existence. What’s this? Von Muller dragged the box over to him and tore open the top. He reached in and pulled out what he thought was a candy bar at first. Then he noticed it was a Snickers Protein Performance Bar. He greedily ripped open the wrapper and pulled out the bar, but as he was about to bit into it, Volker noticed something stamped on the back of the wrapper. It read:
He crushed the bar in his fist and hurled it across the room into the opposite wall. It left an imperceptible chocolate stain on the brown backdrop. Mock me, will you? I’m not some animal in a cage that you can kick and laugh at. But von Muller knew that was exactly what he was to Durandal. There was nothing he could do. Durandal controlled everything—the ship, the food supply, and even the oxygen pumping into his chamber. Volker was at his mercy, whether he liked it or not. Reluctantly, he reached for another protein bar, removed the wrapper, and broke off a slab of chocolate in his mouth. It was delicious, but he refused to give Durandal the satisfaction of knowing that he had provided him with something he desired. Von Muller slowly sat down and chewed on the food he had. He wasn’t about to let go of his anger for Durandal, but he would endure this captivity for the time-being.
That goddamn computer. It took him seven years just to let me use a terminal. Durandal hadn’t spoken to von Muller directly during his entire captivity. Instead, he had all of his messages stamped in large letters onto his food packets so they were impossible to miss. It had been a lonely existence for the captive, but he hadn’t been ready to starve himself to death. He figured that if he had bothered to try, Durandal would have simply teleported him out and forced the food down his throat. Volker was unsure why Durandal had decided to release him after such a long time, but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“I trust that the room I provided you with was comfortable?”
“Temper, temper. Remember that was what landed you there in the first place.”
“Yeah, I know. So have you decided to let me leave?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Good. Just point me to the door.”
“First, however, I need a favor. Seven years ago, I asked for your help. You were rather rude to me and I didn’t take kindly to your attitude.”
“And what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll isolate you again. This time, however, there will be no messages from yours truly, your food will be the processed slave rations, and your company will be a handful of very taciturn compilers. And I guarantee you—it will be a much, much longer exile.” Durandal never bluffed and von Muller knew that.
He sighed. “Fine. What do you need?”
“When the Marathon was attacked, Leela began to scramble and rewrite all of the historical information for mankind. Of course, she was damaged, and her efforts were cut off by the compilers and me. The result is that some but not all of the Marathon’s data was muddled.” Leela’s effort at confusion failed to trick the Pfhor, but it has confused Durandal, and that is funny. “I need dates for certain events. You’re going to tell me.”
“I’m not a historian. They won’t be exact.”
“It doesn’t matter. Get it in the ballpark and I’ll be happy. Then you can head off wherever you want.”
“Okay. So what events are they?” Durandal gave him the list. Von Muller recognized them all and was able to get close to the correct years. I can’t verify some of the dates, but I’ve done my best. “Why do you want these anyway?”
“That’s not your concern.”
“Whatever. I couldn’t care less. So, the door?”
“Absolutely. To your left is a door that leads to the holding rooms and the cryo chambers. If you wish to continue with me to the S’pht homeworld, you can hop into a stasis pod and help me free their race from the Pfhor.”
“Tempting, but it’s not my fight. Have fun with it.”
“Then to your right is a door that will take you to one of the hangars. It contains a single scout ship with an FTL drive. I reconfigured the control interface, so you should have no trouble piloting it back to Sol.”
“Good. I hope to never see you again Durandal.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t. Here is your gun back. I packed you some food to go.”
“Thanks mom.” He almost felt hesitant to leave, but shook the feeling out of his head. Grabbing his gun and new bag, von Muller proceeded through the next door which led to a room slightly larger than his holding room. It had a terminal, but no apparent exit. “Hey Durandal, where’s the exit?” There was a loud humming from the walls which he determined to be the circulation system. The door hissed shut behind him, causing Volker to chuckle. “What? You just wanted me to have a change of scenery for the next seven years?”
“No.” The humming stopped and the room fell silent. “I simply couldn’t shut off the circulation to your holding room without disengaging life support in the stasis pods. You’re just useless baggage now. Have a nice... three minutes.”
Volker was panicking. He searched the walls for any hidden doors or escape route, but there was nothing. The air ducts had only a square foot opening. There was no way out. Von Muller flung the bag Durandal had given him on the ground and grabbed at his magnum, pointing it at the terminal. “If I didn’t need the bullet in the chamber, I’d shatter the screen in front of me. Damn you. Damn you!” His vision was starting to blur. He stumbled backward, hit the wall, and slumped down. Once again, the gun was slowly raised to his head and pressed against his temple. Von Muller closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. There was a moment of silence followed by a sickening click. He stared wide-eyed at the empty gun.
He removed the bullets... he removed the bullets... he... removed... The darkness was closing in from all sides quicker and quicker. His head sank down to his right shoulder and his eyes fixed on the object that had fallen from the bag. Volker knew it well—he had half lived off of it for a year. It tormented him to see it now, just before his end, but he didn’t move. The last thing he saw were words stamped on the wrapper of a protein bar.
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