Episode V: Shattered Husk An eerie silence fell across the city, like a thick veil pulled over to conceal

the darkest secrets of humanity, nothing moved for as far as the eye could see, thick trails of black smoke lazily making for the irradiated sky. Buildings stood defiantly, though shattered, husks of their former glory, their missing parts adorning what was once the jewel of the Coalition. The scene would almost be considered serene, were it not for the grotesque decoration of hundreds of mutilated bodies, men and women, some civilian, some soldiers, scattered throughout the cityscape. Vehicles and tanks thrown apart, torn asunder from a cataclysmic force the likes of which man had not witnessed before. A lone, torn banner danced at the wind, signifying the last stand of the city’s defenders, around it laid a dozen men and women that gave their final breath to protect their homes and families. There was a low humming sound as the troop transport whizzed through the destroyed buildings, the passengers bearing witness to the slaughter below. They all bore the insignia of the Coalition and underneath it a great black hawk, symbol of their detachment, perhaps the most honored among their companions, the cream of the crop, Coalition Commandos. Their commander inspected the holographic map of the city, evaluating his options for a safe landing, tapping a finger instinctively on the frame of the display, his scarred lips curled in a slight frown. Beside him on either side stood two more men, eagerly awaiting his commands, one was barely out of his teens but in his eyes burned a fire that one would see in grizzled veterans that marched to battle. “We need to secure this zone”, the commander said, tracing his fingers in the outline of a box, “this is where our objective is, but we need a clear area to bring it out to”, he followed in the same stern tone as before, lifting a hand to tap a finger against his lower lip in thought. “Crawel”, he paused, the man to his left straightened out, “I need you to take your men here and secure this perimeter, set up a post and defenses”. “Aye sir”, the man nodded sharply and turned about making towards the back of the transport. “Avers”, the younger man turned his gaze from the display to the commander, “you’ll go in here, take point of the entry team, secure the location and bring the damn thing out safe”.

“Yes sir”, the man responded and turned to walk away. “Oh and Avers”, the commander snapped. “Sir?” “No casualties, I want all my men alive and in one piece.” Avers nodded once again, “Of course sir”, and walked away. ***** The murky darkness and numbing silence gave way and was replaced by moans of anguish and a sickly scent of burning flesh. Tylea struggled to open her eyes, meeting the blackened sky instead of the ceiling of their bunker, it all rushed back to her, the battle, the hollow sound of the shell approaching, then the deafening explosion and it all turned to dark. She shifted her fingers slowly, her body reacting to her commands as though half heartedly, lifting herself to a sitting pose and leaning her head to rest her forehead on her palm. The buzzing sound in her ears hadn’t cleared yet, the scent caused her to convulse, but she held it back, coughing instead. There was a surge of pain from her chest, probably a couple of broken ribs, but she was thankful she could still feel that. Lifting her gaze to inspect her surroundings she met the interior of the bunker, only this time adorned with the blood of her companions, chunks of metal and flesh lay where the eye could see, most of them were dead, a couple more wounded beyond the point of salvation, she squinted and shook her head, trying to push the dizziness away. Putting a hand on the ground and pushing herself up to stand on her own feet, she met another surge of pain, this time from her left leg, looking down she saw a piece of metal impaled on her thigh, cursing her luck she reached and pulled it out with one quick jerk, pain imploded in her head but she grit her teeth. Slowly and painfully making for the exit… ***** The troop transport touched the ground, with a hissing sound the platforms swung open and the commandos poured out in different directions, following the lead of their superiors. Their eyes scanned the surroundings for any sign of

trouble, the shattered city being a terrain too welcoming for an ambush, they crept to their positions. Avers leapt over a wall and crouched, sweeping his weapon from side to side, the display in his helm remained clear and with a free hand he motioned for the rest of the squad to follow. Slowly but surely they approached, through broken buildings, smashed tanks and burned foliage to their objective. A large circular blast door blocked their way, there was the typical industrial marking around its edge and a large bio hazard symbol etched at its center, Avers made for the control panel and punched in the access code. As a response, the panel blinked with a faint green light and there was a loud noise as the door mechanism was brought to life, rolling the door on the side and extending a platform for them to enter. Fluorescent lights were brought to life inside, revealing a long corridor, the commandos carefully entered, measuring each step to ensure their own safety. A map of the facility was brought up on their helm’s display as they navigated the long gantries to reach their destination. ***** Waen leaned back on the concrete block, resting his back on the wall, his eyes trailed around inspecting the surroundings for any sign of motion. The nerve wreaking silence was broken on occasion by scant chatter on the comm-net but even that wasn’t enough to keep him on his toes, he let out a sigh and tilted his head backwards closing his eyes. Images of his long lost home slowly enveloped his thoughts, the visage of his wife, his family, all now picked apart by the war that would end humanity forever. “Waen”, a voice snapped him out of his dream, shifting his gaze about he saw another of the Commandos staring at him. “You’re supposed to guard this post, not dreaming, snap out of it”, the man followed up. Waen chuckled and nodded, straightening his pose. “Yeah yeah, do you see anything happening? It’s just us here”, he responded. The man nodded and shrugged. “I sure wouldn’t want to be you if the captain walked in and saw you like this though”, the man said and punched Waen on the shoulder playfully.

Waen nodded with a smile and leaned back once again, his eyes now trailing to the direction the research facility… ***** Avers studied the contents of the room carefully, there was no sign of life and he was given the sensation that there hadn’t been anyone alive in these halls for possibly years. His men were shuffling about the place, searching for any traces of their objective. He tapped a finger on the nozzle of his weapon and squinted, a smirk of disdain arose to distort his features and he sighed in disappointment. Turning about he walked to an abandoned terminal and punched in an access code, the display came to life and a long stream of diagnostics replaced the previously blank screen. The bleeping sound that echoed in the room afterwards only matched the sounds of the Commandos’ sensor scanners, at the center of the display lay a massive bio hazard warning; the words that blinked underneath in sync with the bleeping caused a sensation that could almost be described as blood freezing in the veins. “Bio hazard warning, safety seals disengaged, all personnel evacuate facility”, a metallic voice resounded around them, when it died down, it was replaced by a horrid clicking sound that came from a dozen different directions. When Avers looked at his sensor display, there was a tide of green moving in towards them from all sides…

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