Chapter 1: Concrete Jungle
This is Vekta. An Eden among the stars. The jewel of Alpha Centauri B. The bread basket of the United Colonial Nations. A testament to mankind's ability to not only go beyond the boundaries of his home system, but to push his boundaries even further.
This is Vekta. Proof of the imperialistic nature of the UCN. A festering wound in the pride of the Helghan Empire. A world that should by all rights be theirs, yet has been denied to them by their erstwhile cousins. A lesser species.
This is Vekta. A warzone. A battlefield for over a month. An Eden nurtured by the blood of the fallen. A festering wound for the UCN. A baptism of fire for the loyal servants of the Helghan Empire. A world that, as the Second Extrosolar War rages, where no quarter will be asked or given. A world where both warring nations are feeding the bloodshed, reinforcing their lines.
This is Vekta. Where the battle rages between the armies of human and helghast. Where battles are fought over large scales, dwarfing anything that has come before in the centuries of space exploration...
...and where battles are, at times, fought by but two...
...and that is all it takes to continue the bloodshed.
A few months ago, if someone had told James Taylor that the helghast would invade Vekta, he would have laughed in their face. If someone had told him that the planet's SD platform would turn out to be entirely useless in stopping said invasion, he would have repeated the sentiments of General Bradley Vaughton and maintain that the UCN's crown jewel was impregnable due to the orbital installation. If someone had told him that General Stuart Adams was the reason for its failure, that he was an agent for the helghast and that both he and General Vaughton would die over the course of the last weeks of August, 2357, he would have claimed that such speculation was better left unsaid.
But it had happened. All of it. And now, James Taylor, ISA greenie and lieutenant in Vekta's Rapid Reaction Force, found himself in the hellhole that was Vekta City, leading a platoon through its ruined streets in the hopes that the vengeful Helghast Third Army wouldn't send them the same way as the dodo.
"Um, lieutenant?" came a voice. "The sit-rep?"
"...nothing to report sir. Never mind."
"Um...good. That's...very good..."
More good than Taylor cared to admit. More good than Sergeant Eubanks knew should be present in the platoon's commanding officer.
Sighing, the newbie leant against a wall, wiping beads of sweat through his dark hair. Even times of calm were taxing for him.
In the event of helghast invasion, the worst things should have got would be along the lines of SNAFU-fascists invading, did what they did best and some bullshit speech would be broadcast from Helghan by Autarch Visari or one of his cronies, the names of whom escaped the CO. Details had seemed so unimportant over the years of training, even through an officer's commission. It had seemed like overkill to even maintain a RRF force on Vekta, considering its supposedly impregnable nature. Yet now, Taylor found himself commanding around thirty men in the northern part of Vekta City, part of a fragmented chain of command whose only reprieve was that as far as the ISA knew, was that the helghast Third Army was in equal disarray, courtesy of the death of General Lente. As far as the lieutenant understood, it was a race to see which side could regroup first. And until the gauntlet was thrown down, units such as his were effectively on their own.
Which, for someone who'd had no combat or command experience up until a month ago, was a living nightmare.
"Time is thirteen-hundred," came a voice. "Nothing to report."
"Good..." Taylor murmured. "That's good..."
"Oh sure...you know, we wouldn't want to actually do anything now would we?"
Taylor glanced at the source of the voice-Corporal Carr, effectively the scribe of Third Platoon, Company "no longer exists, I'm afraid you're on your own." The inherent frustration in such a statement seemed to boil its way right down to her, though Taylor didn't know why-all her family were on Mars as he recalled, and right now, doing nothing seemed to be the best thing anyone could do. They were the RRF-rapid, but reactionary.
Or maybe that's what the problem is...we reacted to an invasion, and were sent reeling within days...
"Take a break corporal..." Taylor murmured, getting to his feet as he walked across the room of the building the platoon was holed up in. "I'll let you know if anything changes..."
"Yeah...you do that, sir..."
The lieutenant gritted his teeth. The helghast were bad enough...
Still, as bad as the helghast were, they were at least giving Vekta's citizenry a reprieve, even if it was because the head of the Third Army had been cut off. And as he approached the hole in the wall of the third floor office of No. 25, Miller Street, Taylor was able to appreciate that fact. So was Eubanks, currently leaning over the remaining section of wall with a pair of field binoculars.
"Sergeant? Anything to report?"
"All quiet on the southern front, sir," Eubanks responded, not taking his eyes off the lenses. "Don't know about the west, but poetry was never my thing."
Funny...but do I acknowledge it as such? Do I ignore it? Or do I...
It was incredible, how the simple things could get him worked up so much. Eubanks hadn't saluted, though Taylor couldn't fault him for that-out here, exposed, the last thing they wanted to do was to give helghast snipers insight as to which Interplanetary Strategic Alliance grunt they should knock off. That was textbook material and he knew it. No...it was the stuff he hadn't been trained for that got to him. And even while the situation the platoon faced was arguably textbook as well, Taylor couldn't help but feel a sense of dread as he gazed to the south...
Miller Street was situated on one side of a stormwater channel, No. 25 looking over one of the few remaining bridges over said channel, leading to the parallel Dorothy Street. It was a position that was easy to defend and hard to attack-ideal for the platoon, but also ideal for the helghast on the other side. Taylor had no idea as to how many of the higs were holed up there, nor did he have any way of finding out. All in all, he wasn't even sure if they were there at all-PFC Raja had been looking through his scope since noon, and hadn't seen a single goggle-head all day. For a people who were willing to fight and die for their leader at the drop of a hat, they were being surprisingly passive.
Or maybe they're like me. Maybe they don't want the responsibility...
Sighing, and not saying a single word to either the sergeant or private, Taylor returned to the relative safety of the office's interior, complete with the smell of spilt coffee, ink and the blood of innocent people who hadn't been lucky enough to escape being murdered by fanatics. It was the safest place to be right now, but also the last one James Taylor wanted to be in.
Well, it could be worse. The helghast could be trying to make us leave...
That, at least, was the silver lining in the Vektan sky. He didn't want to command, but the enemy wasn't forcing him to. And holed up here, with his men doing the jobs they were trained for, he saw no indication that the status quo would change anytime soon.
And as he made his way to the few remaining water coolers, Taylor supposed he should make the most of it.
"Street is clear. Move up."
By Visari, just saying those words made him feel ill. "Street is clear, move up." Why on Helghan should he care whether the streets were clear or not? Why should he have to wait at all? And why was it, after days of crawling through this city like a Helghan spider, that those words were beginning to feel natural?
And thus the mighty Third Army has been reduced to this...little men, scurrying through the shadows...
"Sergeant? Are you leading us?"
"...yes. Now move."
...and, apparently, forgetting themselves as well.
Gritting his teeth, Hans Versilli led his squad down the street, weaving in and out of the rubble, cars and whatever else presented cover in the event of ISA scum acting like the cowards they were. God, he hated this place. Hated this planet. He hated everything about Vekta's capital and that there seemingly wasn't anyone around to channel his hatred wasn't doing him any favours. It had been different a month ago-Autarch Visari's speech had filled him with hatred, boarding the transports for the invasion fleet had filled with adrenaline and the moment of landing on what was once Helghan soil allowed him to release both of those things in a deliverance of justice that had been denied to his people for centuries. But now, with the Third Army in disarray with the loss of General Lente, he'd been reduced to a lone man commanding a single squad, cut off from any link in the chain of command. Right now, the best he could do was head south and hope to rejoin the war machine that would prove that the helghast were not snakes, but hydras. Even with a head cut off, they could still fight. And, if rumours were to be believed about Visari sending another commander to replace Lente, grow back heads as well...
All that mattered was that when the time came, he could be one of the claws.
"Sergeant, look..." came the voice of Lance Corporal Vokrri. "A crossing..."
Versilli headed to the ground, taking cover behind a burnt out car. There, up ahead, was a crossing across the stormwater channel-a rarity in objective terms, a miracle in subjective ones. Through a combination of accident and design, most of the crossings had been taken out-no doubt mostly of the latter by humans who wished to escape from their superiors' wrath. Yet here, for whatever reasons, his squad had been granted a reprieve.
"We'll head over it..." Versilli breathed through his mask, his HUD feeding him data on aspects such as the distance to the bridge and its length. "Hopefully we can find more of our brothers on the other side..."
"Our brothers in arms..." Private Schiedler murmured. "No doubt elated at our retreat..."
Versilli gritted his teeth-his thoughts exactly, though he at least had enough restraint not to utter them. He had a responsibility-to lead his men, to regroup with the Third Army and wait for salvation to arrive from Helghan. And if that meant...retreating...so be it.
"Alright, we're moving out..." the sergeant murmured, grasping his StA52 assault rifle far tighter than was necessary. "Follow my lead..."
And thus the squad followed their leader. Followed him past the car...followed him through the rubble...followed him to the bridge that led to their brethren.
And, as they passed by No. 25, Miller Street, followed him into an ambush...
"Yeah! Get some! Come and get some!"
Taylor didn't know why Eubanks glanced at him and muttered something about "branches of service," but right now, in this moment of elation, shouts and M82-G gunfire, he didn't particularly care. Lady Luck had smiled on him and his platoon and he wasn't about to waste it. No...it was the helghast that were going to be "wasted," as some put it. And with two of the ten helghast having already fallen down into the filthy street, the waste was well on its way to incineration.
"Like shooting fish in a barrel!" someone exclaimed as a third helghast hit the ground, nailed through his goggled head as he rose from cover to take a pot-shot at the platoon's position. "Let's see how the higs like it this time!"
Probably don't like it at all...Taylor reflected, watching as one of the helghast broke from cover to flee across the bridge. It wasn't long until the back of his black uniform was stained with red, a shade quite different from that of the Helghan Empire's insignia.
Considering his lack of experience, and that he had to make up a battle 'plan' on the spot, the lieutenant was surprised things were going as well as they were. Private Pearn had first pointed out the helghast in the street below them, apparently intent on heading south across the bridge. Even with the sub-humans unaware of the RRF forces, Taylor had been caught offguard, the close presence of the UCN's greatest enemy sending a chill down his spine. All he could do was cough out "fire" and let his men do the rest. He'd actually been one of the last to open fire, and had only enjoyed it as much as he did because he was but one of many. With the higs being fish in a barrel, ducks at a carnival or any other number of metaphors, Taylor's indecisiveness was a moot point.
Four helghast were down, but the fifth to join them was a long time coming. The enemy had taken cover behind everything from burnt out cars to the husk of a heavy hovertank. And despite the platoon's elevated position, they couldn't down them.
"Lieutenant, orders!" Eubanks barked.
"Um...what?" Taylor murmured, his previous feeling of elation becoming as empty as one of his rifle's shell casings.
"The higs have taken cover. How-do-we-root-them-out?"
You knew things were bad when your NCO had to emphasize every syllable. And when an individual like Pearn fell back from his position as one of the higs put a bullet in his head, things got even worse.
"Um...we flank them," Taylor breathed, trying to recall tactics that until a month ago, had seemed superfluous. He gestured to Eubanks and the RRF troopers around him. "You lot, with me. We're heading to ground level."
"Permission to speak freely sir?" Corporal York asked.
"Permission denied. Now move it."
If Taylor had waited, he might have realized that his plan, while not terrible, was not the best option on the table. If Taylor had let York speak, he might have agreed to his plan to head to the structure's roof, where the lack of cover would be offset by their advantage over the higs. Then again, as his mind whirred with half-remembered tactical scenarios, Taylor couldn't listen to anyone. Besides, his head was pounding, his forehead was drenched in sweat and considering that none of Vekta's defence forces wore helmets for some reason, he couldn't hide either of those traits. So all he could do was take out the higs before he lost all confidence in himself.
His men didn't matter. Listening to Eubanks curse under his breath, he knew they'd lost confidence in him already.
The RRF CO squinted as he led the group out through the building's shattered entrance, crouching down as he moved to the right beside cover. There was enough rubble and burnt-out vehicles on the streets for that level of cover to be maintained, but whether it was enough to keep them hidden from sight from the helghast long enough was another matter. They were out of sight, but as their mass produced rifles joined the symphony of ISA firearms, they certainly weren't out of mind.
"Should have headed to the roof..." York murmured, wiping some dust and sweat off his shaved head. "But does the L.T. listen? No, of course not..."
"Shut up corporal," Taylor snapped. "We're going to flank them and that's that. Now-..."
It was incredible. A single word, somehow heard over the entire concerto of gunfire. A single act, throwing that concerto into syncopated dissonance. A single explosive device, thrown by one of the higs to the upper levels. And in an explosion of dust, rock and human blood, the piece of music came to an end.
As the RRF soldiers on the ground yelled and took cover as concrete fell around them, there was no request for an encore.
"Lieutenant! Are you alright?"
Eubanks...was it him that was shaking the RRF CO? It was hard for Taylor to tell, the ringing in his ears making it difficult to distinguish the sergeant's voice from...anything. Not the groans of his makeshift squad, not the calls to "go go go!" from the helghast, not even the sound of anguished screaming and calls for a medic from inside the building. Yet distinguishment didn't matter right now. The helghast were falling back-across the bridge, as a peak out of cover revealed. And in the midst of this stuff-up, that was one thing that he could do about.
"Lieutenant, we should-..."
"You lot, on me!" the RRF CO yelled, getting to his feet and thanks to a piece of building, managed to stay on them despite feeling like jelly. "We're going after those bastards."
"Sir, we should hold our-..."
"I said move!"
Yelling, Taylor ran after the helghast, firing his rifle like a wildman. And for better or worse, the squad followed. Never mind that Visari's puppets rarely retreated with no ulterior motive, never mind that they could have opened fire from the northern side of the bridge without exposing themselves to whatever the higs could throw at them. To James Taylor, it didn't matter. The helghast squad was on its own and the other side of the bridge was clearly deserted given the lack of assistance any helghast present might have leant. He was going to capture or kill these bastards, take the opposing side and with any luck, not write any condolence letters for his men in the building.
Which he wouldn't. It was the men beside him that were in danger.
In the storm of gunfire, the helghast fell, one after the other. Only one made it to the other side of the bridge, and with Taylor's squad passing its centre, he wouldn't be going any further. At least, that was the plan. A plan that was at odds with what Third Army soldiers had done earlier. They didn't need to defend the bridge from ISA infantry. Not when they'd rigged it to blow with explosives that would detonate upon the detection of any human bio-sign. Bio-signs that as Taylor passed the centre, activating the detonation process, were about to be snuffed out.
"Get some you mother-..."
What in the...
Time slowed down. Taylor saw the bombs...heard the beeping...and in this single moment, caught between life and death, did the only thing he could do...jump. Jump for dear life. Jump into the air, and be catapulted further through it as the shockwave of the explosion caught up with him. Jump and fall, hitting the floor of the stormwater channel with a crack that signified the descent into unconsciousness.
All things considered, he was lucky.
After all, as the bodies of his squad mates hit the stormwater channel, none of their bodies intact, their unconsciousness was quite permanent.
So, with Helghan being destroyed at the end of Killzone 3, it's time to go back to Vekta. Or not, considering that I concieved this story back even before Killzone 2 was announced, namely basing it on the live action ads of Liberation. No prizes for guessing who's who in regards to the characters and their counterparts.
Just hope the writing is better than their acting... XD