Free, just broken
I didn’t even want to get up that morning. The hard mattress beneath my body creaked and the bedframe complained, as I sat up on the edge, my eyes still half-closed. I slowly rubbed my face, trying to dissipate the hangover-induced headache. I felt nauseous and heavy, as I forced my body to stand. My knees hurt upon being bent and all of my joints were stiff. The dusty interior of my wood cabin was illuminated by a ray of the early morning sun, highlighting the half-empty liquor bottle on the wooden table. I had barely touched yesterday’s pathetic assembly of small-game meat that remained on the plate.
I slowly wobbled over to the table and let myself collapse onto the old leather couch, a cloud of dust flared up as I impacted. Through my unfocused vision, I let my view wander down, briefly hanging on to the green bottle of Jägermeister, before landing on the black cylinder of my old-world pistol. The magazine laid next to it, bullets across the table.
In yesterday’s drunk stupor, I had dropped the weapon’s ammunition multiple times, only managing to frustrate myself to sleep.
But not tonight, tonight I would break this endless ritual of meaningless considering.
I grabbed the thin hollow point rounds and inserted them one by one into the magazine, then put it back into the weapon, before cocking it. A quick smile crossed my features, as I held the cold object, turning the barrel towards myself slightly.
“Not yet, not just yet,” I muttered quietly, before setting it down again.
‘How many times have I been here?’ This exact line of thinking, the infinite spiral of nihilistic thoughts, would always end in my hand reaching for the weapon. Though the booming headache from the residue alcohol was enough to blur my mind, as I leaned back on the couch.
A light knock was enough to rip me from my thoughts, as my head snapped to the door. “Luis! You up?” The voice of the overly enthusiastic woman muffled through the door. I sighed and suppressed a chuckle, if she knew what I had just been thinking about...
“Yeah, coming,” I yelled back.
I took a dip to my make-shift bathroom, looking myself in the face in the mirror. God, I hated this sight. My round face, my dirty brown hair, the body that always remained too fat to make out muscle, and the scars... The white lines along my chest, shoulders, and forearms drew my view in, my breath grew infrequent. I hated them. An uncomfortable shudder ran down my body, forcing me to shiver, which thrust me out of my trance. I quickly threw on the black long-sleeve shirt, although it would be very warm today. Did I do this because I didn’t want people seeing them, or just that I didn’t want to constantly look at myself?
The tight cloth rubbed against older bruises, but that didn’t bother me. I switched the pants that I had passed out in the previous day, then slipped in the boots at the door, after grabbing my M4 from the wall.
The sun was blinding and I had to squint, as I exited the house. I felt a slight impact on my shoulder and looked over, seeing the small, blond-haired woman, standing to my left. Her eyes were bright and her smile went cheek to cheek.
“You look terrible,” her tone was joking, yet I couldn’t have agreed more.
“Thanks, same to you,” I retorted, though my voice didn’t carry nearly the same lightheartedness.
She chuckled and followed me through the camp. People were already going about their business, the adults carrying supplies and weapons, as children ran after one another. Most houses were built from logs, simple block structures, that families lived in together.
The road was a simple trail of small white stones, that went through the entirety of the circular-shaped camp. Its setup was best described as an easily navigable labyrinth, with winding alleys and tight turns in between the houses. The shape of the camp made it easy to get to anywhere within a short while and provided the comfort of having layers a potential attack would have to go through before they reached the families in the center.
Many people had decorated their shacks over the years, with multi-colored curtains and different shapes on their roofs. Many planted flowers in the pots on their windows, while others took up gardening right next to their houses. And, although the camp’s farms were more towards the outer layers, strawberry bushes and similar fruit-wilding plants were welcome by anyone.
I, along with most other soldiers, was stationed at the edge of the ring, as we were the first lines of defense. We walked on the pathway until we reached the main trail, that led to the gun range, more of our militia joined at our sides. It wasn’t a scheduled meeting, there was just less to do for us in the morning, as everyone had to help out on the farms in the afternoon.
“Jesus, you reek of shit,” a man exclaimed, as he rounded a corner, his M19 slumped over his shoulder. Taren was a massive guy, standing a good few inches above me, a tattoo of a bald eagle adorned his bicep, which he intentionally showed off any chance he got.
I didn’t bother with responding, I was tired of his constant comments. Sahra huffed at the man, something regarding `meathead´, but I was lost in thought. Why did I even get up today? I knew how this day was gonna end, I had delayed it enough times already. Oh, yeah, today was a special day. Today marked the thirteen-year anniversary of Advent invasion, though that wasn’t much of a reason to celebrate.
“Luis, you good?” Sahra turned to me, her head cocked to the side.
“Why are you asking?” The amount of hostility in my voice wasn’t on purpose, the question was just so unnecessary. No matter my reply, there wasn’t going to be a resolution.
Her expression darkened and her eyes narrowed. “You stormed off yesterday after we asked what you did before the invasion. You know you can talk to me, right?”
“I’m fine!” I quickly broke eye contact and hurried my pace, the woman didn’t follow. Of course, just more empty words. She was just like the others.
Avoiding looking at anyone else, I soon arrived at the gun range. On the east side of the camp, was a flat clearing, with long sightlines. Humanoid targets were set up at different intervals, most of them already didn’t have targets visible, only dents and bullet holes.
I set my rifle down and took the training magazines. The camp had a big supply of ammo, thanks to consistent trading and supply runs from other camps, though communications had been limited in the past months.
Sometimes even, Xcom made contact with us, offering self-made weapons and reverse-engineered alien technology, in exchange for meat, clothes, and recruits. I never wanted to join those crazy people, they played military and pretended to actually make a difference, while just mindlessly slaughtering alien patrols.
I loaded the first clip and took aim. This was the most fun I had in this otherwise unnecessary existence. We never got attacked by Advent, because we didn’t try anything stupid. The camp’s militia was nothing but a bunch of ex-military, that wanted to shoot guns. Though I suspected that most that said they had served had never actually seen a firefight, basically no trigger discipline, nor could they name where they had been stationed. Maybe I would have been offended by those claims twenty years ago when I still took pride in having signed up. But the label of soldier had lost its meaning a long while ago.
From a crouched position, I looked through the iron sights and lined up with the furthest target from me, aiming for the remnants of red at the target’s center. I placed my finger on the cold metal trigger and sighed slowly. As I began to squeeze, however, my vision flickered for a moment and my breath got caught in my lungs. The visage of a man flashed on the target, his muddied brown hair, the numerous wounds on his forearms, and those dark, purple eyes. My finger involuntarily twitched and the recoil of my gun hit my shoulder. A -Ping- confirmed that I had hit, though I was far off the center. The face disappeared.
I sighed in frustration, ‘how did I miss that?’
The sound of multiple rounds impacting a close target pulled my attention, of course, Taren had let loose a salvo from his LMG, all hit the center. ‘Now I look like a fucking amateur.’ My thoughts immediately scolded me for embarrassing myself like this. If I couldn’t even shoot a stationary target, why even be here.
Taren had a wide grin on his face, his disgustingly smug expression clearly aimed at me.
‘What if I just shoot him right now? I could probably kill most of these people without breaking a sweat, then just off myself.’ The visual of the blood-splattered remains of these people played in my mind like a movie.
What was I just thinking? The horror of my thoughts reached my face, as I felt the sting of vomit rise to my mouth.
I only noticed that I had completely frozen when another man took his place next to me and began shooting his SMG at the same target as me. His bullets passed the target and impacted the wall behind it, a muttered curse escaping his lip. I turned back to my shooting, tapping my rifle in single-fire, each bullet pinging off the metal. Thanks to these MAG rifles, we didn’t need to wear earmuffs, as the shots were propelled by magnetization, though they were much faster than the weapons I had served with.
When my clip emptied, the slide pulled back and I let the magazine drop to the floor at my side. As I pulled it back and got ready to insert the next one, the man to my side, who I remembered as being a newcomer, tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hi, uhm...” He scratched the back of his head. I looked at his gun, his finger remained on the trigger, but at least he didn’t actively point it at me.
“What do you want?” The frustration in my tone startled the young man.
“I think something’s wrong with my trigger, it doesn’t pull back as far,” he demonstratively raised the weapon, the barrel passing over me more than once.
‘Enough of this,’ I thought and grabbed it from his hand, holding the barrel up as I tore it from him. “Don’t ever point your barrel at a person you don’t want to shoot!” He recoiled at my intense glare, shrinking visibly.
“Luis, the fuck are you doing to James?!” Taren stormed towards me. ‘Just shoot him, just fucking do it!’
“Stopping him from shooting me, why’s it your business?” I replied with the same hostility, not backing down from his stare.
“Cause he’s my fucking recruit! James, go back to the armory and wait there,” Taren turned to the recruit behind me, who was cowering at the man’s aggression.
“No wonder he came to me with a problem,” I added with a scoff.
Taren had been in the process of walking past me but paused. “What did you say?”
“You heard me, your presence alone brings down the mood of everyone, he’s fucking scared of you,” I fired back. ‘Where did this come from?’ I know Taren was equally hostile to me, but I wasn’t confrontational like this, it was unnecessary. Well, maybe not that unnecessary.
“Oh, and you’re so much better, hmm? I know what you are,” he put his chin forward, the widest-most-self-satisfied grin on it. ”A fucking deserter," Taren chuckled at himself, then grabbed at the SMG in my hands.
Deserter...that word stung. ‘Fuck this.’
I pulled the weapon back and dropped it to the floor, leaving the much bigger man to grab at nothing. He didn’t even have time to react before my fist impacted the side of his cheek. He fell backward and landed on his behind, leaving him to stare back at me in surprise. I felt the adrenaline, I felt heat in my body, and I felt good. Not kill him, just teach this fuckhead a lesson before I leave.
“Oh, it’s on, faggot!” Taren screamed, as he leaned onto his arms and charged me in a football tackle. I couldn’t dodge, so I let my elbow crack onto his spine, as he hugged my waist. I heard him grunt, but his weight alone was enough to carry me to the ground. The air left my lungs, but I held steady, flexing my stomach and bring up my arms in front of my face, as he began laying into me.
He was above my waist, a bad position for me, but I knew Taren couldn’t fight, he was just big. The beating to my elbows was unsteady and badly aimed, so I could move to advance my position. Bring my legs as close to my body as possible. A fist impacted with my lip and I tasted metal, but I was used to the pain.
I grabbed onto his hip with my hands and bucked upwards. He immediately had to catch himself with his arms, stopping the barrage. He was now half-standing atop of me, my shins rested on the inside of his thighs and my hands moved to his chest, grabbing at his collar. He tried to curse once more, but I pushed his body back and sat up simultaneously, forcing the man onto his knees in an unsteady position. Still my hands on him, I furthered the push and forced him to bend backward, until I was the one on top. He was so shaken by the sudden shift, that he had no time to react, as I grabbed his collar tightly and began hammering down violent hits onto his face, aiming for his lip, nose, and above his eyes. His arms frantically tried to grab at me and his body tried to throw me off, but I held my position and continued to lay into the giant.
Blood splattered against the grass and my fist, as his face began to swell. I heard a -Crack- after a particularly well-aimed hit to his nose, followed by a pathetic whimper. His arms weakly flailed against me from the side, trying to hammer into my sides, but he was losing strength. The thuds of impact soon began to sound more like squelching, as I felt his face begin to give. ‘Alright, time to stop,’ I felt the voice of rationale chime in, begging me to leave. But I didn’t.
Just as his arms began to slump and his swollen eyes shut, I noticed that I was in tears. I pulled my fist back one more time but stopped it mid-swing. Through my blurred vision, I saw the red liquid dripping from my knuckles, a mixture of both our blood. My breath was unsteady and shaky, but Taren’s was raspy and staggered. I let go of his collar and let him drop to the floor, before rising to my feet. I looked around and found the horrified stares of the others. They had formed a ring around us, but none intervened.
A sudden heat ran down my entire body, as I met the gaze of Sahra, who had her mouth covered by her hands, her eyes locking with mine. Her gaze was terrified, as if she was staring at a monster. I looked down to the bloodied visage of the man, whose face wouldn’t have been recognized as human if not for the rest of his body.
I had to leave, I had to go right now. I swung by and picked up my rifle, then stormed towards the crowd, who wordlessly parted for me. I felt the stares in my back, heard their silent judgment. But no one followed as I walked into the forest.
My fast walking turned to jog and eventually, I was just running into the thick pinewood forest, the light was slowly eaten up by the canopy above. The ground was soft and littered with thorned bushes and other waist-high plants, but I simply continued sprinting. I ripped through thorned bushes that tore my clothing and left tiny cuts on my hands and barely caught myself from falling over tree roots.
As I cleared through the thorny underbrush, jogging over the small pathways, stomped into the ground, clutching the rifle to my chest; I found myself somewhat slipping back into a dulling trance, much like my grunt-training.
My stomping march eventually came to a halt, as I reached the familiar moss-covered clearing, beneath a massive tree. Its branches started many meters above me, while the spiraling top twisted from three base trunks, that wound around each other. The towering giant provided shade through its enormous canopy, the only beech tree in the vicinity, yet it braved against the encroaching pines. I dropped my rifle at my side and collapsed against its base, letting my head fall back against the wood, looking up at the intertwining branches.
I attempted to calm my breathing, bringing my hands up to my face, only to come to the horrifying realization that I had just smeared blood all over myself. I looked at my hands, the pain in my knuckles was barely more than a sting, but it was the only sensation my otherwise numb body experienced. My entire body shivered involuntarily, which finally brought some semblance of thought back into my fogged mind. I tried to get control of the flooded river which was my thoughts; it jumped wildly between regret for having almost killed another person for no reason, to the sound of a blaring alarm and heavy thumping.
There is no way I can stay here any longer, I should have left twelve years ago.” I murmured to myself.
I abandoned my squad, my duty because I was scared. Why? why had I worked for my position my entire life, only to leave at the moment we were actually losing. The world had been losing at every front, outside and within, the enemy simply outmaneuvered, outgunned, and outsmarted us. Humanity had squabbles amongst each other for so long, thinking we were the biggest threat but fell in less than a week regardless.
And here I was, still alive, despite my mind’s best efforts. Guilt, shame, and regret were always present wherever I went.
My vacant stare into the canopy came to a slow halt, as I ruffled through my hair while sighing deeply. I attempted to rub the fatigue, only supported by my remaining headache, from my eyes unsuccessfully, before a tiny detail snapped me into reality at a nauseating pace. Another part of my mind I hated, this painful awareness of my surroundings, never letting me just relax.
But one fact remained, the noise of the forest was gone.
The forset was never quiet, always chirping, always rustling, always something to occupy my mind. But it was quiet now and that felt wrong. My breath slowed, as I felt the familiar sensation of being watched. Something non-physical, a creeping realization that something was wrong. Not letting my panic get the better of me just yet, I remained still, slowly scanning my surroundings. Green shrubbery, rooted underbrush, and colorful plants, all seemed normal.
But that suddenly changed, when I spotted a pair of glowing blue eyes looking back at me through the cover of a bush. The air suddenly felt colder, my muscles tensed and all previous thought was pushed aside. I acted as if I hadn’t seen my stalker, continuing my gaze past the now very visible shape. I held my weapon to my side and hoisted myself up, keeping the very edge of my vision on the enormous being.
‘It hasn’t attacked yet, it’s smart enough to know I’m armed,’ I grabbed the handle of my gun tightly.
Whatever this was, it couldn’t have been a human, but what could have snuck up on me like this? Not like I had been quiet with my childish tantrum.
The shape, although a yellowish-hue, blended into the background extremely well, to the point that I could not make up the beginning or end of its body, but its eyes definitely followed me. The sudden realization that I was completely alone with an unknown predator, at least a dozen minutes away from camp, hit me like a wave.
Suddenly, the small branches cracked and I caught the end of a massive, dark-scaled tail. I immediately turned the rifle to my shoulder and unleashed a salvo towards whatever it was, tearing its cover apart. Dust whirled up from where my rounds impacted the ground, but I hit nothing. I scrambled behind a tree and peeked from its side, trying to spot it again. But I saw no more movement, no more glowing eyes, only the emptiness of the forest.
‘That was a goddamn scout,’ the knowledge that we were far away from any sort of city or Advent outpost had been comforting for the past years, as it meant we were not likely to get found. But if that thing had spotted me, it knew there were more of us. But what was it?
Advent troopers wore shiny metal armor, while Mutons were massive beasts that announced their presence with footsteps alone. The only logical conclusion was far more terrifying, a Viper. The massive snake-like beings were the perfect hunters, being able to stay extremely low behind any sort of cover, gigantic hypodermic fangs, and a tail comprised of pure muscle. They had the ability to twist a man into a mess of broken bones and ripped joints. And I was alone with one.
‘Just one?’ The thought announced itself loudly, as my eyes began to frantically scan the environment through my sights. But no more movement, no sudden barrage of plasma rounds, and no needle fangs in my throat.
Eventually, the chirping of birds returned, along with the rustling of critters and small animals. And, although my vision still jumped to anything I considered out of the ordinary, I knew that the danger of this situation had passed.
‘I have to warn the camp,’ the simple fact that they were potentially faced with an Advent attack overshadowed my concern for the actions that I had taken. Keeping my rifle close to me, I began to rush back the same way I had come, still snapping at any movement.
“Luis!” A male voice called out when I was maybe two minutes from camp. I immediately recognized it as Emir, the unofficial leader of the camp. Along with maybe ten others, that I knew he had been in some sort of military. Though he was far too soft-spoken to have been on the front, perhaps a negotiator.
I broke through the tree line and lowered my weapon when I saw the search group they had apparently put together. Were they really searching for me? For a moment, I felt the insurmountable guilt again, maybe some did care...
“Luis, we heard shots, what happened?”
‘Of course, the gunshots. Nothing more,’ my stomach sank, as I came to a stop in front of the Caucasian man.
“Emir, we need to talk,” I didn’t want to discuss this out in the open, especially with the way that everyone was staring at me.
“We do...” His tone sounded somber. “Give me your weapon,” he reached his hand out, his brown eyes carrying intensity.
“You don’t unders-”
“Luis, everyone is concerned about you. You run off into the forest after assaulting someone, and then we hear shots. This isn’t personal, I just need you to do the right thing and make everyone a lot less nervous right now.” I glanced behind him, the small group was armed and their weapons were ready. No one aimed at me, but this felt like I was being arrested at gunpoint.
‘This is what I fucking get?’ I couldn’t help but feel the sting of distrust, as I pulled the safety on and quickly detached the magazine, before handing the smaller man my rifle.
“Thank you, now let’s talk,” I saw a flash of silver on his belt as he turned, handcuffs. I suppressed a scoff.
I followed the escort, noticing the fact that I was being trailed closely. As we entered the perimeter of the camp, I felt the stares of the camp’s inhabitants on my back, heard their silent judgment and suppressed whispers. Everyone was staring as if I was some circus mascot.
‘If only they knew that we might be all dead within the day.’ If Advent actually attacked, there was no amount of idiots with guns that could save us. The entirety of earth’s military was decimated and I had first-hand experience with the fact that, even the ones we thought were most prepared, stood no chance. It was as if they communicated with each unit separately, being able to adapt to strategies on the fly. They outmaneuvered us, they outgunned us, and they tore us to pieces with their superior technology.
Eventually, the men behind me left, as Emir and I entered the wood-supported tent in the middle of the camp. Emir held the door open for me and I entered into the brightly lit cabin. Much like mine, a couch with a table, a side room with a bathroom, multiple big windows, and his bedroom. Though a big table had been set up in the middle of the four-room cabin, with two chairs stationed opposite of each other. The setup reminded me of an interrogation room somehow.
Emir placed my rifle at the door and motioned for me to take a seat. I opted for the one facing the door, I didn’t like having my back turned to the only entrance. The man pulled out his own chair and leaned on his elbows, staring me in the eyes.
“Emir, I know what you want to talk about and we can do that, but there is something far more important.” I gave into the intense glare of his brown eyes, hoping my voice carried the seriousness required for him to listen to me.
“You can’t just run off like that,” he shook his head and I sighed in frustration. “Taren might be in a fucking coma! We don’t have the supplies or the medical personnel to deal with this.”
“Yes, I know. And I’m sorry, but-” I attempted to defend myself while trying to steer the conversation to the far more important part.
“But what? You’re a soldier, Luis. You should be above beating the shit out of someone over...over pettiness!” Emir interrupted once more. “Matter of the fact is, everyone who saw it told me you attacked first. I know he gets under your skin, but there is such a thing as just taking it, being the bigger man and stepping away. I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened, but there is nothing he could’ve said that should have affected you that much.”
“He called me a deserter...” My voice trailed off. ‘Where did that come from?’ I didn’t even want to engage in this topic, but just then, I remembered how much that word had actually influenced my decision.
Emir’s expression darkened and he looked at the table. ”Oh.”
“But that isn’t important right now,” I regained his attention, hoping that my words would finally land. “Advent is coming.”
The man’s expression shifted once more, going from contemplative to immense worry and fear. “What?” The word froze in his lungs.
“A scout was in the forest, maybe fifteen minutes from here. A Viper saw me, then escaped. They know we’re here, it is only a matter of time now.”
“What were you doing out there, why didn’t it attack you?” Was he seriously doubting me?
“I needed to clear my head, then saw it and shot. Emir, this isn’t a point of contention, or a matter if you want to trust me. Advent will come here and they will burn this camp to the ground unless we do something about it.”
“And what do we do?” I suppressed a scoffing chuckle. The leader of the camp, who had just been scolding me, was now looking for desperate advice.
“We have to evacuate, we can’t fight Advent.”
Emir looked to me as if I had just proposed we all kill ourselves, pure confusion in his furrowed brow. “But we have weapons and capable fighters.”
I couldn’t hide my anger anymore. “We have idiots that can’t tell the difference between hollow points and MAG-slugs, with less trigger discipline than fucking street thugs. If we try to fight, Advent will only have to send a clean-up crew.” I slammed my fist against the table, startling Emir.
“And if we run, they’ll pick us off in the forest, we’ll be dead before we reach the river,” he retorted.
I paused, he was right, too. The few families that were in the camp weren’t fighters, nor were we equipped to transport a large group through the wilderness. But the thought of fighting alongside these people...it would end no differently than my squad and we were trained professionals.
“You’re crazy,” was all I could respond, as I saw how Emir’s eyes flickered around the room.
“And what will you do?” He locked with me.
I paused. Fighting them openly would not end in any other way than our slaughter. With my plan of evacuation, it would all depend on how fast their attack happened, but Emir wasn’t entirely wrong. If we fleed into the forest, Advent could hunt us like animals, their units were adept at tracking, as well as ambushing, which I had clearly been a victim to already.
“We can’t fight them,” I repeated, trying to stall for my brain to think of anything. “But we can’t run, nor will they accept surrender.”
“I didn’t ask that, what will you do?” He stared intensely. Was he accusing me? Testing if deserter was more than a title?
“I will stand by you, whichever you choose.” Follow orders, all I’ve wanted in so many years. I wanted to help, these people were civilians, I had failed to do my duty before, not again. ‘And if we get overrun, I’ll at least have a bullet for myself.’
The man gulped and slowly nodded. “Thank you. You’re dismissed, I need to think. I’d like to ask of you to keep this to yourself, instilling panic will not help us. I’m sure you understand,” he motioned me to stand.
Without another word, I got up and grabbed my rifle on the way out. The sun was just beginning to take its place high in the sky, people did their duties, completely oblivious to the imminent doom. I didn’t want to stay out here, I had preparations to do.
Avoiding eye contact with anyone, I rushed to my cabin and shut the door behind me. The from the window was mostly blocked by the red curtains, though a few stray sun rays still found their way into my room. I collapsed onto my couch, my eyes drifting onto the small table to my front. The scratched black alloy of the 9mm reflected the light, drawing me in
‘It would be so easy, but it would have been easier any other time.’ Now, everyone needed me, now, I had a purpose. And if that meant dying at the hands of an Advent unit, then I would go out fighting.
The siren of the camp shook me awake from an infinitely repeating nightmare, that I had forgotten the moment I awoke. I reached for my reloaded rifle at first, but it wasn’t a warning of an attack, just a call for a meeting. It seemed Emir had made his decision. I rubbed the fatigue from my eyes, then headed out. The sun had sunk just above the treeline, painting the broad campsite in orange dusk-light.
I wasn’t alone in my arrival, as many of the camp’s less active persons formed a circle around the bonfire in the camp’s center. Though I seemed the only one actually on edge. Emir stood in the center, overlooking the rivals. I spotted a few familiar faces, mainly Sahra, standing on the opposite side of the half-circle. She glanced over to me but quickly turned away. I chose not to come closer, she probably didn’t want to talk or even see me.
“Thank you all for coming!” Emir’s voice silenced the crowd, which had begun to murmur indecisively.
“I would not have called this meeting if it wasn’t important. I will get straight to the point,” he took a deep breath, pausing dramatically. “An Advent scout has been spotted in the forest. This is cause to suspect that an attack is incoming within the days to come. We have already begun preparations, but we will need everyone to contribute. I do not expect anyone who isn’t trained to fight to defend the camp, but I just strongly advise to be prepared for whatever Advent has in store for us. When this alarm sounds again, it will be the signal to barricade yourselves and be ready to defend yourselves and your families. Tell this news to anyone who isn’t attending. We will get through this, together!” Emir finished his speech with wide-spread arms.
The crowd immediately turned to each other in shock, some began to head to the armory, while others rushed back to their houses. I simply remained in place, observing the people around me, as they scattered. ‘This is your plan? Barricade yourselves in and wait for Advent to come to us? And what kinds of preparations could they have done in such a short time?’ This all seemed like a very faulty idea at best.
Once again, I felt weirdly uncomfortable, that sense of being watched, stalked. Maybe it was just paranoia, caused by the knowledge that I had been ambushed already, but I still let my eyes wander through the forest. The sun was setting beyond the trees, drawing long shadows. Dark green colors blended into the thick roots and shrubbery. while the waist-high grass swayed gently back and forth.
A flash of silver, nothing more.
My eyes latched onto the metallic reflectivity of silver armor. As soon as I noticed it, I spotted more movement, different shapes and colors that just didn’t belong. My pulse began to thump in my ear, as I desperately looked to the others. No one noticed them, we were being flanked and no one knew. A part of me wanted to scream alarm, alert everyone here to the danger we were in, but the fact that none of them would react with more than unorganized panic held me back. This wasn’t the military, these weren’t operators.
‘I need my rifle,’ the thought immediately raced across my mind, I could do nothing with my pistol. Stupidly, I had left my actual weapon in my cabin, not expecting Advent to attack immediately. I was going to let them position, give up the advantage of possible surprise. I quickly stomped to Emir, pulling him on the shoulder, away from the others.
“Emir, they’re already here, we don’t have time. I will get my gun, you need to get people out of the open,” I conveyed as much agency as I could through my tone. His eyes went wide, as his head snapped to the surrounding forest, but I pulled his head back to face me. “They will have us in a kill-box soon enough, there’s nothing more we can do about that. Grab whoever can shoot and form a perimeter around the inner camp, do not let them break formation.”
Before he could respond, I rushed off, mixing and pushing through the crowd. My heart pounded morse code in my ears, my breath had noticeably quickened, adrenaline surged in my veins. A familiar feeling, one instilled in me by years of conditioning, preparing my mind and body for combat. ‘How long do I have?’ The simple fact was, that if they were already in position, seeing us apply any sort of strategy, would just trigger their attack. I was going off the fact that they were still hiding and hoped Emir could assemble a line of defense.
Finally, I burst into my house, throwing the belt of magazines and shoulder strap of my rifle on, before grabbing my kevlar vest, though it would do little in the way of stopping plasma. “Today, you fight,” I encouraged myself, as I stepped outside once more. Within the second, the alarm sounded.
As soon as the sirens blared the continued screech, all hell broke loose. The first sounds to break the news were the screams of men and women alike, as multicolored streaks of lights burst through the sky, emerging from the woods and tearing through the cabins like paper-mache. The sounding of MAG rounds being discharged all over the camp signaled that the humans fought back. I scanned the visible treeline but didn’t spot any fire or movement from them, so I sprinted back towards the camp’s center.
People were panicking at this point, either trying to lock their doors or escaping towards the inner part of the camp. But when I rounded a corner, I was greeted by the stock of a weapon to the face. My world blurred and I fell backward onto the ground. The black-silver plates of an Advent trooper loomed over me, its blocky-looking rifle aimed at me. Only the bottom of its face was visible, emotionless and cold.
I was on my back, but I wasn’t stupid enough to stay there. I rolled to the side, the high-velocity rounds of the trooper sprayed dirt up. Before it could adjust the spray, I centered my rifle with its body and unloaded three shots into its torso, then another into its head as it fell. I kicked myself to my knees and scrambled on. They were already in the camp, far too close to hold a strong defensive line. ‘God damnit, Emir!’ I cursed, seeing as the circle of wildly firing humans had retreated into a small perimeter.
I heard the panic in their yells, the unorganized formation had so many holes that I could simply have walked in their midst without interruption. I took a position in one of the open flanks, firing onto the steadily advancing troops. They used our houses as cover, peeked from windows, whose inhabitants were probably already dead. Further away, I saw the orange glow of fire, black smoke rose high into the cloudless sky. I shot trooper after trooper, losing count after just a few minutes.
‘Where did that plasma come from?’ The fact that there had been an initial burst of color, that was now only different MAG rounds, concerned me. I also hadn’t seen any actual aliens here, nothing but the faceless troopers.
“They’re just walking into fire, what a bunch of fucking idiots!” I heard the confident yell from someone behind me.
It was true, although they used cover, they pushed out far too wide. This wasn’t the impossibly organized Advent I had fought during the invasion, they also lacked the superior alien soldiers. This was wrong, but I had barely time to consider, as I held position behind an overturned bench. The last few rounds of my magazine entered and promptly exited the skull of another unit. I threw my clip to the ground and reloaded, before turning to the others.
Emir was in the middle of a group of four, snapping from target to target with his submachine gun. His eyes were focused, but he too, looked concerned. I heard a cry for help from my side, I saw a trooper, who had just shot a woman in the stomach. She scrambled on the ground, begging the emotionless trooper for mercy before my shots sent him to the floor.
“Get up or die on your back!” I yelled to her, though I was unsure if she had understood me over the increasing noise of the camp’s inhabitants. More and more people rushed from all sides, most injured in some way. They were unarmed, some even with children dragging behind them, utter terror in their eyes.
“They’re everywhere!” A man cried out, as he emerged from around a corner, coughing loudly.
As I inserted my second-last magazine, a sudden realization hit me. As I looked around, many of the defenders were only taking deliberate shots, though they were still not well aimed. Others had already run out of ammo completely, only bringing survivors closer to the center. I was almost out of rounds of my rifle and only one clip of the extended magazine of my pistol, while Emir had already switched to his secondary. Though the Advent troopers were beginning to lessen, the threatening conclusion of this fight was beginning to dawn on me.
“Where are they coming from?” Another voice cried out.
“Just hold!” Emir appealed, but I noticed the desperation in his tone.
I couldn’t afford to go for body shots anymore, so I ducked low and looked to a corner where I had noticed them tunneling through, popping their heads one by one. A few badly-aimed rounds landed near my shoulder and tore into the bench, but I killed whoever looked at me before they could adjust. Soon enough, the stream of faceless units ceased on my end, so I emptied my last clip and shot whoever came from the sides. My help was desperately needed, as most had run out of ammo by then.
“That’s the last of ´em!” Emir announced as the final trooper in our sight fell. “Everyone, check your ammo, help the wounded and fortify our position.”
“This isn’t over,” I yelled back. “There haven’t been any aliens, this was just their way of exhausting our resources.” I paused before I looked around. There was maybe a third of the camp’s population, all grouped up.
This was wrong, something which I just couldn’t put my finger on. Not only the fact that we were being run dry of ways to defend ourselves, but also that this many people managed to get here.
A sudden humming, followed by a loud beeping ripped me from my thoughts. I looked up into the sky, terror filled my mind, as the backdrop of the moon illuminated three glowing lights. Lines of smoke trailed behind them, as the red lights grew closer to the center of our group.
“Everyone get down!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, but it was too late.
The sheer shockwave of impact launched me several meters into the air, but I wasn’t the target. I came to a violent and sudden stop, as I hit the bench, which shattered upon impact. Torn pieces of clothing mixed with red mist and guts flew past me, as dirt and debris formed a fountain of death.
The impossibly loud ringing in my ear forced me to blink frantically, as my vision blurred from dust. My stomach turned, but I held back the vomit. I felt the warmth of blood running down my shirt, but when I looked to check what I had been hit by, my mind could barely comprehend that a piece of wood, the size of my forearm, was lodged in my lower stomach halfway.
I tried to keep on my knees and arms, but I collapsed, after an involuntary spurt of metallic blood emerged from my mouth. I turned onto my back and reached for my rifle, but it was too far away. I forced my aching body to turn my head, only to hope that I had already been dead when I saw the rapidly approaching shapes of multi-colored units making their way out from cover. There they were, Sectoids, Mutons, and Vipers, all made their way through the impact zone.
I groaned, as I reached for the pistol on my holster and attempted to aim at the closest shape. A massive reptilian creature with a humanoid torso. Its tail was three or four times the size of my body, the yellowish scales, interjected with black patterns that resembled eyes, wound beneath its wide human-like hips in an infinite motion. It held a plasma rifle at its side, then aimed at me, I couldn’t keep my hands steady, my pistol’s sights drifted off of it. I wanted to pull the trigger, but with my aim this unfocused, I couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn.
I locked eyes with it, or rather, her, as the uniquely feminine features were clearly visible behind the black alloy chest armor. Her bright blue eyes stared into my soul, though they seemed weirdly glazed over. I managed to catch more aliens in the corner from my vision, surrounding the remnants of our camp. Then, I heard the charging of plasma, seeing the green charge build up in the massive serpent’s gun. I let my arm slump to the side. I had lost.
But all the pain, all the fear, everything that I was, was about to end at the hands of this alien. I closed my eyes.
But nothing happened.
Moments of infinity passed before I dared to look again. The Viper had dropped her weapon, her tail gave out and caught her body multiple times, as she grabbed at her head with her four-fingered hands. She let out a painful sounding hiss.
I looked around, the same was happening to every other alien. Some doubled over and roared in pain, others clutched their plasma weapons tightly for support. The skeletal body of a Sectoid, however, righted itself, attempting to fire at someone I couldn’t see. But as soon as it pressed the trigger, a visible electrical current emerged from its weapon and entered its body, which immediately began to convulsed and quickly slumped onto the ground, steam emerging from its black eyes.
I looked to the alien to my front again and blinked a few times. The previous white cover had completely vanished from her eyes, revealing something which I had never thought I would see in these creatures,
Pure and utter terror, mixed with immense confusion was plastered all over the uncannily humanoid features. I didn’t have the strength to lift my arms, I could barely force my lungs to expand.
My vision began to flicker, black spots appearing all over my view. I felt so exhausted. I forced my eyelids to remain open with all of my remaining willpower. The shape of the Viper swirled, but I could make out the fact that she was getting further away, alongside the others.
Why were they retreating? What...was...going...