The Death Of Toby Mulholland Vol. 6

Success in this mission would be a tricky needle to thread, or so intimated The Commander. We were in thrall of the great man and, for all his bluster, we took him at his word. His was ours to lose, ours to destroy. We all made sure that we had that thought burned in to our skulls heading out.

Failure has always been presented to me as something beyond which the human mind could not cope; for many others a failure is simply a new opportunity to succeed. Not even a redefinition of success could render such logic irrelevant. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. That is my “new” ethos.

Progress would not be counted in how many of us had survived or how many of them had been defeated; those were the old metrics. Now we needed to be lean, our work needed to be close to the bone. Information was our target, and death was an appropriate price for any or all of us to pay.

Demise was their vision; it was not ours. We felt that our positivity gave us the upper hand. Is that ever without arrogance? We would make our way to the objective site, reconnoitre, and return. It would be arduous, but only in the effort required to walk there and back. Collect information only.

A mission was what we had all got in to this thing for, but The Commander was reluctant to let us go. Our training had gone well, but we had gaps. Everyone always has gaps; gaps are filled by battle; gaps are either weathered or waterlogged. We needed to stand up for ourselves, gaps or otherwise.

The future was in our past as much as it wore heavy on our present. We knew that the undertaking would be grave, but we cared not. We cared less for each other and more for our egos: that was a mistake from my immediate past I would not allow this team to repeat. I reached out a cold hand.

The past had taught us all that the enemy could be within our ranks at any point, so we were born in an atmosphere of constant vigilance. We realised too late that The Apprentice was compromised. Out of a team of six, one person can derail a great deal of planning and teamwork. We were fucked.

Right now we stood on the edge of the crater, and we looked. Some of us could not bear to see, while others could not begin to comprehend. The wastes carried on for mile after mile: nothing but a pall on the face of this legendary soil. A ring cut in to the earth, still smoking after all these years.

A target popped up on our scanners, and we scattered in to the bushes. We were being fired upon, by the automated systems which kept the area secure. The Apprentice had guided the fire in this direction, and used the opportunity to have us all tracked. We would never recover. We would fail.

A prophecy guided our endeavour, and it gave us succour. Few amongst us dared to consider that the lies we had been told might actually be true: there was no logical consistency to such thoughts. Instead, we focussed on the job at hand, and put one hand firmly in front of another, afraid to fall.

A code had been hidden in the membrane; decoding it would take The Navigator half the night; time which many of us felt that we did not have at our disposal. We knew the objectives, and so we dug in. We formed a barrier about the weakness; still we sat, watchful and afraid against the darkness.

A suggestion was made of inconsistency; that the crater held certain properties which were having an effect on the causal nature of our experiences. We heard the response to the question before the question had been asked. That would be our lesson for the day, and it must be taken on board.

Victory implies conflict; that is not always the truth of achievement. We took what we did, and we scored what we scored, against a distinct backdrop. It was the backdrop which was the architect of our metric of victory, rather than the physical outcome. A physical outcome is irrelevant from here.

Comedy could be found in any location, should one choose to peer hard enough. We did not choose; we were compelled. And it took us nonetheless. In the cold of the night, beset by our ills we fell for it and we fell in to it. Like a bunch of hyenas we cackled and cawed in to the skies. We knew not why.

Tragedy was implicit; in what kind of scenario where people have to kill or be killed is tragedy not an implicit quantity? We did not expect that our price would be so evenly spread; it was as if causality had a sense of uniformity with regard to the wounds it would inflict. Our smiles were superficial.

Hopelessness is never a helpful emotion. We had made our way to the site of the research facility, we had gathered the data and the readings we had come for, and we had left. We had lost one of the team to the machines, but the rest of us were intact, albeit leaking valuable sanity rapidly.

A poultice was applied to her head as she lay reeling. We each took mirror images of the original wound, but hers was worse. Threatening the life of The Scout had the potential to thwart the team as a whole, render us lost in the woodland of the Wald, with no way back. We tended to her first.

Analgesic thoughts protect the psyche, but they are as helpful as oil on a burn. We needed to offer ourselves up to the negative, so that we could overcome it. Its rage would fuel our thoughts, harden our resolve to destroy all in our path and take revenge for the callously hewn. We must survive here.

Widening sores in the wound; green lips at the edges of paling flesh. There was never meant to be any of this; not this time. Had our intelligence failed us, as it had our predecessors? Would our fates be analogous to theirs? I could not predict, nor did I think it worth dwelling upon. Not for a moment.

Collateral is a subjective matter. The Commander would rate our mission a success, regardless of the temporal and emotional barriers encountered along the way. The loss of The Apprentice was even written off as victory of sorts. Our gaps had been found and we were pissing water from every face.