My name is Zero. Tonight, something was going very wrong...
I woke with a start as the familiar glow of a power-blade blazed in the darkness of the silent night. Squinting to identify the intruder with my sleepy eyes, I drew my own power-blade as a preventive measure in case the intruder decides to attack. The light of my blade lit up the room and I saw the sickly pale face of Travis. His eyes were unfocused and his cheeks were burning red. He staggered forward and swung his blade at me, but I deflected his blow with my own blade. His blade spun out of his hand and embedded itself on the floor. I knocked Travis’s head hard and sent him tumbling to the ground, unconscious. Realising with fear what my instincts had made me do, I picked Travis up and carried him to the sick bay with my shaking hands. Yet, what caused Travis to attack me?
I walked in to see nobody on duty. Remembering that his head was boiling hot when I struck him, I put Travis down on the bed and took out an infrared thermometer from the cupboard. Travis’s body temperature was abnormally high -- 40°C, and panic rose to conquer my heart. I remembered some adults once told me ages before that when a person’s body temperature exceeds 38°C, he has something... I think it is called a “fever”. Once, I remembered a man suffered from a fever and died in the inhuman colony long ago. The memory still creeps me out a lot. What worries me most is the cause of Travis’s fever. It could be an infectious disease. Panicking, I called Miki and Beckendorf through the intercom, because I think they’re the ones who know more about these “illnesses”. They rushed down to meet me in the sick bay with some weird equipment and started to record different vital signs. Without further knowledge in this aspect, my role was only to pass supplies to the two busy medics whenever they required it.
A while later, they found the cause of the fever - a cut on his left leg that was swollen red and, according to Miki, is “inflammed”. With a grim look on their faces, the situation did not seem very hopeful. Miki sprayed some disinfectant spray on the wound as Travis winced, clenching his eyes and mouth as tight as if they could tear each other apart. Beckendorf and Miki told me to have some rest. With my heavy eyelids threatening to close, I pulled my sagging body back to my bunk, had a shower and collapsed onto my bed, fast asleep.
* * *
The next morning, I woke up to a blazing sun shining brightly through the window. I walked over to see Miki still asleep, her breath soft with each heave of her chest. A surge of sudden protectiveness rose, and I pulled her blanket up to her shoulders. In her sleep, she mumbled something like “thank you”. After watching her for a few moments, I turned to leave.
Two black circles surrounded Beckendorf’s eyes. From his look, I could tell that he must have stayed up late taking care of Travis. I nodded him thanks and he allowed himself a faint smile. We dug into our breakfast made by Cathy and John. It was delicious, though in my opinion, breakfast prepared by Miki is the best. With a stuffed stomach, we welcomed the new residents to the fortress --- the escapees from the prison that we were too exhausted to acknowledge yesterday night.
* * *
Hadeson greeted us with a huge smile. With a few smart conversations, me, Miki, Danson, Gwen and Ned boarded the hovercraft to head back to our main fortress. According to Hadeson, the escapees have already been trained to survive in harsh environments, holding their own in the fortress. Travis, on the other hand, will stay in the Salvager’s fortress until he recovers from his sickness. We boarded our craft and headed back to the main fortress which under brief discussion, will be named after me --- the Zero fortress, making our first steps towards the freedom of humanity, at least we hope. The Salvager’s fortress shrinked smaller and smaller as we soared into the gleaming sky.
* * *
The Zero fortress hadn’t changed much while I was away fighting the Mechanians who tried to invade.
Awaiting us are the team of post-escapees trained to operate walkers for guard duties and for attack and defence, now named as the 2nd squadron. I walked in to find upgraded systems and defensive weapons. Turrets have been added to the watchtowers. The corners of Danson’s mouth tugged upwards as he reunited with his beloved walker. The 2nd squadron had already split up the guard duties and their discipline is great. Ned walked over to the consoles he installed some time ago on the walkers, and proceeded to activate them. Maps and strategy programs appeared as Ned typed, his fingers dancing on the holographic keyboard. A green arrow popped up on the map, the letters reading “West Barracks, Naval Base”. I realised, with our fortress so close to the waters, we should have a naval squadron to face off enemies in case they attack through water. With that thought, I walked out of the room and rushed up the stairs to the watchtowers. From a distance, the water of the harbor glittered in the evening sun. We were so busy that we didn’t notice the day had slipped away. I walked downstairs to meet my friends and get ready for dinner.
* * *
It was only until now that I realised how knowledgeable Ned was towards how to build a safe area. On the screen, an imaginary wall that was surrounding our fortress illuminated green, as Ned zoomed in and spoke to a newcomer rescued from the prison.
“Dr. Simon, how can we construct this wall quickly?” Ned asked in a hushed tone.
I strode away, not willing to disturb their discussion. The dining hall was, as usual, packed with people. I walked over to the kitchen across the hall when Danson called. He was waving at me. Besides him, three bulky dudes broke into a loud guffaw. I walked over to see what Danson had to say.
“Hey Zero. These dudes here have a good idea!” Danson told me while grinning. Then Danson proceeded to inform me that the guys had this idea when they were on the way to the fortress. They saw this huge, abandoned factory and thought we might produce certain useful items in there. However, we must first take control of the factory as it is most likely under the watch of mechanians.
I brought the guys up to the main control room. Ned and the escapee-scientist, Dr. Simons were having their heated discussions, coincidentally on the same topic. Ned’s expressions changed from confused to surprise as he excitedly sent his drones out for an aerial scout of this factory. We wait in silence and nervousness, wondering what the drones will bring us when they come back.
The drones return with images and the location. It is a kilometer due north, right in the “tactical triangle” of our controlled area. I made a quick tally of our forces and we could use about 50 people. From the pictures taken by the drones, no mechanian troops were to be seen. We discussed overnight, and when I returned to my bunk, I felt as if I had huge bags over my eyes. I collapsed on my bed and snored away instantly.
* * *
It was noon when we boarded our two hovercrafts in search of the factory. Ned and Dr. Simons followed and we got good air surveillance before we landed. We achieved a clear touch down and we secured our position. The hovercrafts lifted off as soon as we cleared out of the carrier space. In a triangular formation, we advanced in three directions, surrounding the factory. After cautiously advancing, we reached the factory. It appeared to be empty, dominated by the ghostly silence as we cleared out the area. We reached the control room and started the factory up. Dust blew out of the chimneys and air vents as the various systems that make up the factory come to life. The process seemed smooth and clear.
Yet, something was tingling my sixth sense. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. We shouldn’t have come here.” I whispered to Danson so as to not create mass panic. He also seemed to be trying very hard to hide his worry, nodding yes and ordered our men to secure all entrances to the factory. I used my headset to contact the Zero fortress. Gwen came online as I updated our situation, informing her of our worry and told her to ready emergency reinforcement.
Just as I hung up, it all broke loose.
* * *
Mines exploded out in the field and our men at the entrances were thrown off their feet. I realised, with a chill down my spine, that we were set up. It has all been one trap laid down by our enemy, throwing our backs against the wall in an attempt to eliminate us once and for all. Soon enough, peering out of the window revealed a huge squad of mechanian troops firing towards us. Danson appeared at my side. He whispered in my ear that he had called upon the Hogs for help. Despite our precarious situation, the corners of my mouth slowly tugged upwards. It has been a while since we fought side by side with the Hogs. With renewed courage, I aimed my rifle towards the enemy. Danson and our other teammates joined in, successfully driving the enemy back into the woods. We quickly reloaded our firearms.
A roar of an engine blasted across the field, and the mechanian soldiers came scattering out of the woods, their formations all gone. A double-decker bus came rumbling forward, the men aboard firing at the mechanian soldiers. The mechanian troops ran and the bus screeched to a stop. The Hogs emptied out and Ziodius ordered them to form ranks. The real showdown has yet to begin.
* * *
The factory whirled and puffed as drones began to swarm out the windows. Ned had proved to save the day by coming up with his out-of-the-ordinary plan. He improvised his drones to be able to fire weapons and activate smoke screens. Then he made these armor that suits up automatically. I tried the one Ned tailor-made for me. It suits perfectly, and we instantly had a greater advantage against the enemy. Leading our new armored platoon, we stealthily entered the dark thick woods. The armor switches to night vision mode, thanks to Ned for designing this function back when we were still in Zero fortress. I levelled my rifle and slowly advanced, Ziodius watching our backs. My spine suddenly chilled as I raised my rifle and took aim. Sure enough, a mechanian platoon was preparing to take on the rest of us who were left guarding the factory. I signalled with my hand gestures to my friends as we all took aim.
After a few moments, there wasn’t anything left but some small pieces of red-hot metal that was left of mechanians, the rest disintegrated into thin air.
* * *
Ziodius removed his helmet and grinned. I wasn’t so sure that all the mechanian soldiers were destroyed. Just as I turned to go back to the factory, bullets rained down on us. I looked around, and thanks to the night vision, I caught sight of our attacker. The soldier was sprinting and firing, his other hand gesturing our direction to call on his fellow soldiers. My hand twisted violently as I shot a power-dagger at the soldier, barely missing him by several centimeters. I quickly shot another two, this time both embedded itself on its neck, severing its cables and connection. The soldier dropped dead towards the ground, leaving it in vain. I hope our location hasn’t been exposed yet as I headed towards the depth of the woods in hunt of the remaining mechanian soldiers who were still lurking in the woods.
* * *
I literally jumped when my helmet spoke to me. It was one of the men, Ayson, and he had found a mechanian troop transporter. I sprinted to meet him. From my supplies, I gripped a grenade and tied it onto the door and the frame. When the soldiers open the door, the safety pin will be pulled off and it will detonate. Ayson and I exchanged an evil smile of a kid who successfully pulled off a prank. We ran together to meet Ziodius.
We met up almost instantly. Reloading our weapons, a loud explosion rang through the forest. A massive fireball erupted into midair, shooting flaming projectiles in every direction, while all of us ducked behind a stone for protection from the supersized fragmentation grenade. Knowing our trap was ultimately successful, Ayson and I broke into a devilish laugh, while Ziodius stared at us without the knowledge of what happened earlier. We trudged across the field and back to the factory. Some of the men stood guard while we went inside to take a break. Ned had already started to manufacture his designs, and soon everyone will get a set of their own armor. Ned also started to make weapons and most importantly, material for building a wall around our controlled area.
I trudged up to the uppermost floor and looked out a small window. In the dark night, sparks of red, green and blue flared up weakly in the distance, then slowly flickered out. Those lights were definitely not a random occurrence, and I realised instantly the battle wasn’t even near to an end. With my friends watching our backs, I collapsed on a mattress laid on the floor and slept.
* * *
The intense rumbling of the ground stirred me awake. Streaks of bright red blazed out the window, alerting me instantly. Leaping towards the utilities rack, I grabbed a rifle while jumping into my armor, loading the rifle whilst sprinting to the entrance of the factory, where a tank was firing its heavy artillery shells towards a group of mechanians. From my left, another appeared, and so did Ned. “I had built this last night,” Ned said “thought it might turn the battle around.” Climbing aboard the tank, I followed Ned towards the battlefield.
For a person who hasn’t once driven a tank, I think I did a fairly good job. Locking on and firing turned out to be one of my strengths as I drove the tank into the woods. The tank was modified from the one we captured in the previous battle, and its firepower was maxed out by Ned, though a similar blueprint was used. To accompany the strong firepower, however, it had significant recoil, but Ned took care of that by creating a springed track to the cannon, reducing the recoil notably. The reloading speed was improved, and its speed seemed brilliant. With renewed strength, we drove the enemy back further out of our controlled area. From our communication channel, we received the information that Travis had fully recovered and had saved another band of human prisoners with Hadeson. It happened when they infiltrated a mechanian communication channel and found out that a group of prisoners --- former soldiers against the mechanian empire --- will be transported to be executed. Organising a raid, they intercepted the transportation of prisoners and freed them. Now the Salvager’s fortress is full of freed prisoners --- a total of 200 people capable of fighting and 300 who are either wounded or are still undergoing training. A squadron was sent to help us, and the news further boosted our confidence. It wasn’t long before the reinforcement of 100 further soldiers would arrive. With the power that we now possess, we seemed invincible.
A communication record of earlier that day showed that the mechanian had sent reinforcements too. A total of 1000 elite soldiers, 4 enforcers and 200 tanks will arrive earliest at midnight under night’s cloak. Compared to the sheer force of its reinforcements, our army is most likely going to be completely obliterated. Knowing that taking the battle head-on would be to our disadvantage, I decided to use raids. They seemed more effective in formation-intercepting of a large enemy group. Also, some landmines would be good as well. We stocked up our supplies and rested up that night.
* * *
The next day, the rescued soldiers arrived at the factory from the Salvager’s fortress. 50 of them further entered the forest and joined us. Until morning, there was no enemy activity in a 4 kilometer radius. Then, a scout reported a sighting of mechanian troops carriers entering the forest. With my orders, the scout threw several grenades and ran in retreat, safely joining us in the factory.
The battle has begun.
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