He ran. That's all he could do. The rifle slung around his neck clacked uselessly against his chest. The bullets that penetrated his blood-stained armor dug deeper into his muscles and ground against his uniform, creating an unending torment that never ceased to hound him…but it also reminded him he was still alive. The rain stung his already soaked, numb skin. The plants around him grabbed and tugged at his pants, biting and tearing at his burning legs.
"Keep the gate open! I'm almost there!" He shouted, hoping the wind would not drown out his cries. "Come on, sarge, your almost here!" the gate guard called back. The rain blinded him, while thunder boomed in his ears. Fire blossomed around him as artillery shells and mortars landed all around him. He heard screams as other defenders fell to the unrelenting barrage.
A sudden, cruel twist of fate brought him down into the mud, water, and debris. He gasped for breath as he lifted his head out of the cold, numbing water. He looked at his feet, bound by vines. He grabbed for his knife, but it had fallen out when he had tripped. He searched in vain for the knife as the thick, heavy rain splattered mud and water around him. A red, magnesium flare suddenly illuminated everything around him. He saw the red light glint off of a mirrored, steel blade. He stretched towards it, groping for the black, plastic handle. As the light faded, losing to the unrelenting dark, he felt something hard. He fumbled around it, and felt for the edges. He screamed as the blade cut into his numb skin, brining flaming pain from his hands all the way into his shoulders.
In that brief moment, he had let go of the knife, as his muscles involuntarily contracted. He pulled his cut hand closer to his body, searching for clean cloth to wrap the wound in. He grabbed a piece of loose cloth from his sleeve, ripped off a piece, and held it to his wound. He pulled his leg, a forlorn hope that it would come loose. The harder he pulled, the tighter the vine became. A sudden wave of heat washed over him, forcing him to stop as the heat smothered him. As he gasped for breathe, he looked up.
Dagger-shaped ships cut through the dark sky, releasing deadly fire from their bellies. The fire flew into the base in front of him, and disappeared. Five seconds later, a column of fire shot into the air, and then dissipated. A mushroom-shaped cloud rose, replacing the column of fire, and brought ash and fire to the sky.
"No…" He gasped, unbelieving. The rain trickled into his open mouth. He sat up, staring at the flaming ruins within the metal walls. Behind him came rapid footsteps and the clacking of rifles on chest armor. They ran to him, and shook him. "Come on, we have to go." They shook his shoulders. "Hey, you're Staff Sergeant Daniel Sawyers, one of the best men we have. You know that we can't stay here." One of the soldiers knelt down in front of him, and stared him in the eye. "There's nothing you can do. We have to go." He tried to stand, but the vines tied him down. The soldier glanced at the vines, pulled out his knife, cut the shackles, and lifted Daniel from the mud. "Hey guys, do you think if there's anyone left?" They looked at the flaming ruins, then back at Daniel.
"What do you think?"
Daniel sat up straight up in a cold sweat. The soft light of the infirmary greeted his tired eyes. He panted, staring at the too-white sheets covering him. Soft footsteps closed towards him, and he looked up. A white-clad female nurse drew closer. "Are you okay, sir?" He looked at her, took a deep breathe, and replied, "Yeah, I'm okay. Just a nightmare." She smiled sheepishly, and walked back to her desk. He lay back down, resting his head on the pillow. I'm never going to forget that night. He sighed. Three knocks came from the door. The nurse looked puzzled for a second, and then went to the door. She pulled the door ajar. "Excuse me, but the infirmary's closed right now." The person at the door answered, "I know, but it's important." He flashed a black badge at the nurse, who suddenly started to back off and open the door. A man in a soldier's uniform walked in.
"Staff Sergeant Daniel Sawyers?"
"Right here, sir." Daniel sat up. The man walked closer, pulled a chair next to Daniel, and sat down.
"Sir, you're going to have to come with me. We need to talk to you about that night at Refugee Camp 0886-507. You might also know it by its other name, 'Sanctuary'?"
In Daniel's mind, he though back to the thousands of refugees, civilians, and military personnel living in the old military barracks and apartments. It had been the poster child for the refugee camps in Unified territories. Totally self-sufficient, it had its own military, research and science divisions, government, agriculture, even sister cities in nearby areas.
"Yeah, I know Sanctuary…back when it was still a place, and not a pile of ash. May I ask what this is about?"
"You could, but the less you know, the safer you are. Believe me. The things I want to forget..." He paused for a second. "Never mind. Please, I need you to come with me." Daniel shifted his body, moving his legs over the edge of his bed. The soldier motioned to help him to his feet, but Daniel shook his head. "I'm fine. I can get out just fine."
They walked together down the dimly lit hallways. It was quiet, still in the early hours of the morning. They reached a door, and the soldier knocked three times. It slid open, and an officer was there to greet them.
"Staff Sergeant, please, come in." The officer looked in his early thirties, with a tired look in his eyes. His goatee was starting to turn white at the tips, and his hair was already grey. He waived the soldier away, and led Daniel to a room with a screen and a computer console. He pulled a chair to face a small table, and invited Daniel to sit. Daniel obliged, and the officer sat down opposite him.
"You were at Refugee Camp 0886-507, correct?"
"Do you remember what happened?" Daniel studied his hands for a second, thinking back to the siege and defense of the city.
"Yes. I was leading a small squad on a routine check of the Refugee Defense Army. They had set up a perimeter around the city to defend against the armies that came from the Fracture territories. We had received orders from command to be prepared for an artillery barrage. My squad was the first to hear the orders, but it was already too late. The first shells landed near an ammunition cache, igniting our stores. By the time the first force fields were set up over the other caches, half our stores were already gone. To add to the chaos, Fracture artillery had demolished our communication equipment. Add that to the fact that a sudden rain burst had rendered our radar useless, and you will see that our entire defense line was ready to fall."
"But is it not true that there were other ways of communication? Using flares for instance?"
"Yes…but we could not use flares. Sending up a flare would be like digging your own grave. They had armored vehicles in the field that would track the flares down and head to the source. The squads that used them didn't stand a chance. By the time reinforcements reached them, they were nothing more than scraps in the mud."
"I see…" The officer reached towards the computer terminal, typed in a command, and turned back to face Daniel.
"Are you able to identify the insignia the attacking forces used?"
"Yes, but in reality there were more than one insignia." The officer looked confused for a second, but then returned to a stoic face.
"Well, sir, my recon group identified the insignias and colors of several main groups in the Fracture territories, as well as a few minor ones. Though it is unusual that the groups and raiders in the Fracture territories banded together, it isn't all that unusual." Daniel explained.
"Hmm…that's interesting. I have never known another time this has happened."
"Well, sir, it has happened once before when the old Coalition government tried to expand their dominion over most of the Fracture territories. When the Coalition was overthrown and the Unified Peoples Republic rose to power, the Fracture returned to it's pre-revolution state: wild, ungoverned, and filled with raiders, bandits, and pirates."
"I see, now is there anything else you would like to tell me before I end this session?" Daniel hesitated for a moment, and looked away.
"Yes, there is…one thing." Daniel sighed and looked back at the officer. "Like I said, my recon group indeed did identify the major Fracture groups, but there was one I have never seen before. None of my squad members have remembered it, either."
"Would you mind describing it for me?"
"Sir, it would be easier if I were to show you." Daniel reached into his pocked, and pulled out a datapad. The officer looked stunned.
"You want to show me your datapad?"
"No, it's what's on it. I need your approval that this will be off the record, though."
The officer glanced around, reached in his pocked, pulled out an oval, and pressed it. "Alright, that should give us some time. Please, continue."
"Thank you, sir." Daniel powered on his datapad. "Alright, Juno, you can come out now." Daniel set the datapad on the table, and waited. The screen dimmed, and then an image suddenly projected out from the screen. A female form materialized, clothed in robes of white.
"It's about time, Danny. You know I hate it when you turn off the datapad." The figure placed her fists on her hips and pouted.
"Yes, Juno, I know, but I had to. They were doing electromagnetic screening. Would you rather have your memory banks fried, and your own system destroyed beyond recognition?"
"I thought not, but we're short on time. I need you to bring up the pictures and renders of the unknown Fracture insignia we saw on our recon mission near the refugee camp 'Sanctuary'." Juno flashed red as she processed the request. Suddenly, several images appeared around her.
"Alright, Dan, I've set them up."
"Thanks. As you can see, this is the new insignia currently used by one of the factions in the Fracture territories." Daniel tapped one of the images, and it expanded to become a larger view. The officer suddenly froze, and waved the images away.
"Staff Sergeant, it would be in your greatest interest that you forget anything that had to do with that insignia. I am only going to tell you once: That insignia will only bring misfortune and pain. Do not continue to do research on it. Do we have an understanding?" The officer stared at Daniel's face.
"Good. There is something I need to tell you before I go. Tomorrow will be a very important day. You need to have your original reconnaissance squad assembled and together in the Garage, in the Theta wing of this complex. Any soldier can point it out on a map." The officer stood up and left the room without waiting for a reply. As soon as the door closed, Juno looked at David.
"We're going to look into the insignia, aren't we?"
"You know it, but first send out a message to everyone in our squad. Maybe we can all get out of this in time."
"Get down! They've got shells coming in." Explosions added to the cacophony that pounded Gerard's eardrums. He held his rifle tightly, sweat beading along his arm. He crouched in the trench, back against the dirty metal of the wall. Soldiers next to him stood up, and aimed their rifles over the top of the trench. Gerard followed. He braced the rifle against his shoulder, tilted his head to line up with the rifle sights, and drew in a deep breath. The battle seemed to become muted, noises faded out. He heard the sharp clack as he loaded his rifle and clicked the safety off. He waited for a target to come out of the smoke rising from the field of barbed wire, mines, metal, and wreckage. He saw a dark shape emerge, then five others. He heard someone shout, "Fire!" He exhaled, and pulled the trigger. A burst of fire blossomed out from the muzzle of the gun. Tracers cut through the grey smoke and haze. From that first burst, three targets fell. Gerard continued to fire.
A five-round burst shook his arms. Another target fell. He methodically fired until he heard a clack. Without hesitation, he reached towards his chest, opened a pocket, pulled out a magazine, ejected the spent one, and replaced it. By the time he looked down the rifle again, there were ten more targets. He tried to ignore their shouts as they felt the bullets against their skin. It was nothing personal, just war. He had to keep reminding himself of that; he can't afford to freeze up and think about the people the enemy left behind.
A magnesium flare suddenly lit up the entire field, washing everything with a red glow. For the first time in a while, Gerard could see farther down the field. He saw other