Anna isn't stupid. There are a lot of things one could call her, lots of things people have called her, but stupid is most unfounded one of all.
She saw it in her father's eyes when he ordered her to take charge of the evacuation. A deep, echoing fear. It crackles though them like lightning. She only saw lightning once, but that's what it looks like. What it makes her feel like.
Her father always was a bit like a storm. But usually the heavy part, the dark unending clouds, the warning bellow of thunder. She wasn't even meant to see the storm, the first time she saw it. She had five minutes worth of filter left, three hundred metres from the base she was stationed at, but the thunder's heralding boom made her look at the sky, that had somehow, without her noticing, gone as dark as the tunnels.
Anna was hardly a sentimental woman, but there was something mesmerising about the swirl of clouds that made her stop and stare. There's a flash of light, the sudden unexpected power, and she can feel heavy drops of wet on her skin. She lingered, far longer than she should have, until she had ten seconds left in her filter and she started to taste the smell of the world through it. It didn't smell as dead as it normally did. A little cleaner, rawer.
She sees that now, in her father. Less the beauty, and more in the suddenness. The flash of something she can't quite understand. It's why she says yes.
And she regrets it. As soon as he's left she regrets it. The carriage had everyone she knows on it. All her friends, if you'd call any of them that. She's never been the most agreeable person, but she spent time with them. Served together, got drunk together. Other than her father, they are the closest thing she's ever had to a family.
There's Nikolai, who always started to sing bawdy ballads as soon as he so much as saw a bottle of vodka, Viktor, who was as good with a knife as she was with a rifle, and so, so many others whose faces blurred together as they passed, too many for her to focus on, remember, once it hit her with a slap where they were going. Not merely to fight the communists, oh no. They were heading, with a grim smile and shaking fingers, towards their graves.
One of their faces sticks in her memory. She can't remember his name. She thinks it starts with 'A', like hers. She didn't know him long, but he was soft spoken, and far too gentle for anyone to easily believe that he could make it long in the tunnels. He barely even looked old enough to be called a man, but from the little time they spent together, she knew he was brave. And kindhearted. And definitely deserved better than to die like this.
In another world, where they might have spent more time together, talked longer, she might have called him brother. Now all she can do to watch him go to his death.
And she is left behind. The last Ranger. God fucking dammit.
Anna shifts her rifle on her shoulder. It doesn't feel comfortable anymore. And nothing she does changes that. She leaves it after a minute of fiddling, and spreads her arms out wide, stepping forward to trying to herd all the people standing still around her.
"Let us go, people! Let's not waste any time!" She shouts. It sounds unconvincing, even to her. She raises her voice even louder. "Come on! Move!"
They start to move finally, going faster when they glance at the frown on her face. Anna know that they'd probably prefer having a Ranger who was more of a people person, for she doesn't even want to pretend to be pleased with her assignment.
It makes her feel like a coward, even if she wasn't the one who decided it. She's spent years being a Ranger, crawling through the tunnels like a rat, or more appropriately, a cockroach. Someone who just wouldn't die. And now, she was really a cockroach. a crawling piece of trash that outlives everyone shes ever known. She had never really cared about the danger anyway. There was only one person left who would mourn her anyway. And now even he was gone.
What was she now? Without her family, the home that D6 had become? Anna wasn't even sure if she could call herself a Ranger anymore.
Her father might have thought he'd saved her, but all he'd really done was damn her. To a life where she was little more than a remnant of the past, a phantasm, doomed to a fate where her every step made her evanesce.
D6 had been the home of more than just Rangers. Ordinary civilians too. And she's here, doing a job any fool could have done, waving her arms and shouting at them to keep moving. Watching them scatter and scurry, like frantic insects.
It reminds her of the times she's been in deep caverns, and has moved a rock, a body, only to see hundreds of young spiders work themselves into a frenzy as they flee. Only now, there isn't any danger of the fully grown spiders. Almost scarier, ordinary people. Trusting that she's enough to get them out of here.
The merchants are the worst. Most of them have it in their heads that to try and save all their merchandise. As if a few extra rolls of fabric, sets of cutlery, are going to save them if the Reds come barreling down the tunnel the Rangers left in.
She stomps over to one, a young woman trying to pack the peeled corpses of Shrimp onto a wheeled cart. Her eyes flick up to meet Anna's, and Anna is almost surprised that there is barely any trace of fear there, more sharpened anger and cold determination.
"You can't take all of that. Try, and you'll get everyone killed."
The woman spits on the ground. A centimetre away from Anna's foot. "And what am I supposed to do then? All my bullets are in my stock. I hardly have a life without it."
Anna grabs the woman's shirt and pulls her close. She can feel the crowd staring, even if it's not enough to stop their frenzied movements.
"If you don't leave most of that shit behind, you're not going to have a life to miss it with." Anna growls, the sound deep and bestial from the depths of her throat, letting her words echo around the room. Let the other merchants hear it. Maybe then they'll pack faster.
The woman's eyes widen for a moment, but that swiftly turns into a glare. "Fine." She spits out, and Anna lets her go. She picks up a small pack, shoves a few knives inside, and throws it on her back, turning back to Anna, a challenge in her eyes, but Anna refuses to meet her gaze again. Let her be angry, she thinks, it might make her survive better.
Her actions seem to have worked, and in another minute or so everyone stands ready. They twitch nervously, and most look like they're being attacked by an unseen wind, swaying as they are. Anna ignores how nervous they look. She doesn't have the time, or patience to make them feel better.
"Let's move!" She shouts, not an invitation, not by any means. An order. One they'd better learn to obey fast, if they didn't want to end up like her father.
She leads them down to one of the more disused tunnels, which even if it means a longer, more complicated journey, and more risk from creatures, also means that they're less likely to be followed, should the Rangers fail to hold back the Reds.
Anna doesn't look back to make sure everyone is following. She is no kindhearted shepherd, leaving the flock behind to save a single lost lamb. In the tunnels, such "kindness" would only get the rest of her flock eaten. And Anna does not want to fail the last mission her father sent her on. Even if he intended it as an excuse to save her.
The woman from before, the merchant, falls into step beside Anna. Doesn't speak, just stares ahead. Anna glances at her from the corner of her eye and sees an almost childish anger on the woman's face.
Great, Anna thinks, just great.
Half an hour into their journey, Anna, and the rest of her charges, hear a distant, but earth shaking BOOM. It shakes the walls, rattles the tracks, and makes her heart ache with certainty.
Her family is gone. Her father, Nikolai, Viktor, all of them. Anna might not be stupid, but, god, in that one instant, with her father's eyes flashing with emotions as sudden and powerful as lightning, she was. She was so absolutely stupid, because she let them go. She let them die. Without her.
"Keep moving!" Anna roars, sparking movement back into the crowd. She won't let these people die. Not when they're the only ones she has left.