The sequel has been slow going, but for non-writing-related reasons. I’m back in it though and wanted to post the second chapter (unedited, of course, so watch out!). A lot can and will change in the final draft. There’s a great deal of responsibility (or at least, I FEEL that way) in writing to expectations with a sequel. I want to get it right, but I also want to entertain. In the meantime, hope you enjoy!
If you missed Chapter 1 go here.
Music I listen to while writing this (Gotta be epic, of course):
Aggressive Expansion by Hans Zimmer
Introduce a Little Anarchy by Hans Zimmer
Dream is Collapsing by, you guessed it, Mr Hans Zimmer!
The sound of muffled yells seemed distant and trailing. Josh’s head moved, and with it, blurry outlines of moving objects. The noise grew in his ears as the fidelity of his environment slowly came into focus. The air thumped around him as he felt the pressure of concussions pressing against him in sporadic blasts. A soft glow emitted against his eyes, and Josh realized he was looking through a translucent visor with a digitized display with moving icons and informational readouts he couldn’t comprehend.
A soldier appeared over him as he tried to lift Josh to his feet. He couldn’t make out the details at first as the soldier blended with the scorched concrete of the building they were in, as if the armor had been cut from its very walls. Sunlight poured in from a broken wall nearby. The sound of heavy gunfire filled the streets outside with various caliber weapons discharging. One particular gun whined at a high pitch, and Josh heard the hail of projectiles emitting from its cannon.
“Get up Tedesco!” Josh heard the voice come through his own helmet. “We’re being overrun! Do you hear me?”
Chunks of concrete blasted inward just ten meters away from Josh and dust filled the room and roiled around them. The name “Sgt. Osgood” overlaid the soldier through Josh’s visor whenever he was within his vision.
Osgood pulled Josh to his feet and shoved his weapon back into his hands. “The box, where is it? Where’s Delange? My ID system is all fucked.”
Josh couldn’t speak. He was just with Leah. This can’t be real. Where the hell am I?
Another explosion sent half the ceiling down behind them and Osgood pulled Josh away, moving him with weightless ease. Josh’s disorientation increased with every question and every explosion. His mind couldn’t focus on anything and he felt trapped and helpless in his own body. Osgood’s voice triggered a response in his visor. Status of Delange: deceased. A yellow icon appeared on the left side of his visor. It read, “VX119”. When he turned his head towards it, the yellow icon centered in his vision and a wireframe outline of an oblong shape appeared through a concrete wall. Next to it, the red outline of Delange.
“Where are you going?” Osgood called as Josh shook off his disorientation and, through instinct, made his way across the rubble of the collapsed ceiling and through an open door to the next room. Delange lay face down with multiple blast marks pierced through the chest of his armor. Osgood appeared behind him.
“What is it?” Josh asked.
Osgood grabbed the smooth metal object and slid it onto his back. “They musta got you good askin-” A humanoid machine appeared on the street directly across from them, firing a heavy gun that thumped in measured paces. A target appeared through Josh’s visor that narrowed down on a specific point along the lower oblique of the machine. He raised his rifle and fired a short burst along the targeted point and the machine blew in half at the hip, sending the upper torso up and backwards through the air.
They ran out of the building as further explosions sent the upper floors crashing down. All ten stories capsized onto each other in free fall. Smoke carrying sandy particles rushed past and around them in a dense fog. Josh’s vision changed to thermal and the world turned monochrome, but the smoke no longer clouded their view. Heat signatures of other soldiers running from the battle came in and out of their visor as they passed by in the streets.
When the cleared the smoke, Josh’s vision returned to normal. Muzzle flashes sparked from dozens of windows in a row of pockmarked buildings ahead of them, covering the retreat of soldiers caught in the overrun like Josh and Osgood. They sprinted across a street and ducked behind a building to collect themselves.
“Unbelievable,” Osgood said, the sun reflecting off his darkened visor. Command sent him new orders electronically, a dynamic system that assesses all available units in a given area, their remaining armaments, and enemy disposition.
Osgood pressed a button on his helmet and the visor swung up, swiveling on pivots attached near the ears and exposing his face. He was young, but a month old beard and stale eyes made him look aged and weary. His left eyelid sagged with marked tiredness. “They’re already sending us back in. We’re counterattacking.” He shook his head and glanced around before staring deadpan at Josh. “How’s your charges?”
Josh didn’t know what he was asking, but instinctively he looked to his rifle. The visor relayed the info to him displaying the charge level. “F-Fifty five percent,” Josh said in an uneasy voice.
“Thirty,” Osgood said, replying with his number. “I wasted twenty eight of those goddamn things. They just kept coming.” He tilted his head back and took a deep breath. Above, trails of smoke crisscrossed against the blue firmament like scars. ADF pilots, outnumbered by the drones, tried to keep the soldiers on the ground safe long enough to move out in the open without being picked off by enemy rail cannons. Dozens of objects, small to Josh and Osgood at this distance, danced about in the sky. Lights flickered from explosions miles above, and the arcing trails of burning aircraft as they fell to the ground appeared beautiful and hellish all at once.
Osgood gripped Josh’s shoulders, his eyes showing some faint light that he’d buried long ago. “This is our last push. Are you with me? Will you join our brothers with me? You ready to send these goddamn things back to hell?”
Bombs from some distant gun landed in successive concussions in the path of the approaching enemy, a designed element of the counterattack. A succession of explosions sent plumes of fire and smoke in roiling mushroom clouds and the shuddering concussions sent Josh and Osgood to the ground, covering their heads from falling debris. An uneasy silence followed as fires crackled and gunfire subsided. The other soldiers in the area, receiving the same counterattack orders from their officers, rushed out from the protection of the buildings and towards the lingering smoke-filled streets ahead of them.
“Get on your feet!” Osgood commanded. It was an order for Josh as much as it was for himself, dropping his visor down as he rose with rifle in hand.
Osgood joined the rush of thousands of soldiers pouring into the burning city. Josh followed his lead, struck in awe by the rush of men and women into the battle. Some were so small they had to be children. Yet they went forward, weapons in hand and no hesitation in their step. They ran through the rubble and smoke and past the broken bodies of the dead, the ground so littered with them it was impossible not to step on one. The cries of the dying came from the bloody swamp like the sound of lost children. A hand outstretched towards Josh as he splashed in the blood past a stricken woman. The streets ran so great with blood the old sewer drains took it in like some unquenchable beast.
The machines fared worse, losing triple their numbers compared to the men and women who lay in the streets. As they broke into the enemy held portions of the city, the shattered remains of the machines lay everywhere. A burst of gunfire from a disabled S7, lying without its legs and an arm, cut down three soldiers in the second it took to identify its target. A hail of return fire silenced it.
As Josh and Osgood moved through the city streets covered in rubble, the broken frames and pieces of the bipedal S7’s lay twisted and severed. The counterattack would be the last in a series of pushes and routs that claimed the lives of thousands each day. This was only one of many battles occurring around the world on a daily basis. The machines fed everything they had into the fight to protect their regional command center, knowing the survivors would do anything to take it offline.
Josh and Osgood, running with dozens of other soldiers, made abrupt contact with the reassembled defensive line of the machines. Bursts of rapid gunfire, streaks of colored light indicative of the LM guns of the machines, burned through the air. Over a dozen soldiers fell.
Josh raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. A stream of projectiles deflected off the chest of a bipedal machine, very similar in design to the one that attacked him and Leah in their shuttle. It crouched and returned fire on Josh hitting him in the chest, knocking him flat on his back. He couldn’t breathe. Pain expanded from his chest. His armor steamed from the impacts and his visor displayed the pain killer injection at eighteen percent. He heard Osgood faintly through his helmet. “You good? You good?”
Josh coughed and caught his breath. He looked over to see Osgood lying prone, aiming and firing with calm precision. “You need to get up brother,” Osgood said, keeping his focus on the enemy. “Not getting any easier. Three more coming up on my right. I can’t get an angle.”
The sound of a thousand weapons discharging outside dampened within Josh’s helmet as outside auditory exposure automatically reduced. He made it to his feet and ran over to Osgood’s position, lying down next to him but facing at a forty-five degree angle from his position and covering the opposite length of the street in front of them. He found the three encroaching S7’s in his crosshairs and opened fire before his targeting visor pinpointed a vulnerability. He blew apart two and the third returned fire, knocking chunks of brick and mortar off the building and on top of Josh.
Other survivors, clad in basic military clothing and operating in large groups, overwhelmed the machines by sheer numbers and took them down with guns and handmade grenades. Their losses were staggering in the face of superior technology, yet they pushed on, ignited by a bravery that knows only victory against a foe who seeks complete annihilation.
“On your feet. Move, move!” Osgood commanded as he took off across the road. Josh felt the warmth of the painkiller working on his body and the heavy pain in his chest dissipated. He chased after Osgood as an explosion ripped the ground twenty feet to his right. Pieces of metal whirred in a three hundred and sixty degree arc and embedded into the flesh of the unprotected soldiers. The small devices dug themselves into the body. Tiny explosions filled the air as limbs popped off bodies or ruptured internal organs. The screams were crucifying to the ears. Survivors ran past the dying and wounded, unable or unwilling to help.
Josh and Osgood ran across a plaza as gunfire exchanged back and forth. They fell behind the cover of a truck lying on its side. The impact of the LM rounds burned into the metal chassis and wouldn’t protect them for long. The surge halted at the outskirts of the plaza and both sides engaged in a firefight at a range of eighty meters. Osgood leaned out from behind cover and fired on a couple S7’s running up along the left flank before they ducked into cover. He leaned back in and faced Josh. “We’re almost there. The entrance to the RCC will be two blocks east once we get through the plaza. They’re going to hit us with everything they got. You ready?”
“Roxy One, this is Boxcutter, do you copy?”
“Boxcutter, this is Roxy One. We copy.”
“I need that last favor you promised us, brother. We’re almost there.”
“Roger that. Keep your people low. See you on the other side.”
Osgood’s airstrike order transmitted to the other officers in the area, alerting them of the impending attack and to keep their people down. An LM round pierced the truck and hit Osgood in the back of the arm, the armor in that area being less that more vital areas, and the round blew through his bone and severed the left arm at the elbow. His armor shredded, it hung there were his arm used to be. Josh heard only his scream against the backdrop of the fighting. White foam filled around the point of the severed limb and Osgood’s pain ebbed away with a high injection of painkiller from his armored suit. He lay back and lifted his visor to stare at Josh who sat over him to examine his wound.
A weak smile crossed Osgood’s face and his body tensed as he spoke. “Give me a minute. The stimulants are coming. I’m not out of this fight yet.” He grabbed Josh’s arm. “You gotta carry the box. It’s on us to deliver it, and now it’s on you.” Osgood’s eyes flared as stimulants entered his body. A single explosion ripped through the air over three hundred meters away, sending a concussive shockwave through the city. Josh pushed Osgood’s visor down to protect him.
The truck they hid behind flipped on top of Josh, but he raised a reflexive hand and stopped its movement, holding up its massive weight and preventing it from crushing them both. An expansive heat rushed with the current of air blasting through the streets and an orange glow filled the sky and illuminated the world in a bright, artificial glow. Josh, stunned by his inhuman strength, dropped the vehicle down in front of them. Ash and smoke and heat surrounded them and blotted out the sun. Their visors switched to thermal. Osgood gripped Josh’s arm. “We’ll be dead before the rads kill us. Let’s go before we lose our chance.”
Osgood stood with renewed energy, picking up his rifle in his right hand. He slipped off the pack and gave it to Josh. “Let’s go,” Osgood said as he flipped his visor down.
They ran out into the plaza along with thousands of other soldiers for their last push. Fire and smoke lifted into the sky from every building in front of them. The blast had killed hundreds of survivors, but it cleared the way for everyone else to make the final assault. The bomb set the city alight and flattened every machine under its blast radius. Smaller buildings ceased to exist. The world glowed in a burning, hellish maelstrom of ash and fire with the sky blotted out with smoke.
Josh and Osgood cleared the plaza. The streets burned and smoke and embers whipped about like some fiery blizzard. Two more blocks to the RCC. Osgood led the charge. Thousands of survivors pushed forward, their singular duty to ensure they took out the RCC. Thumping explosions rocked the buildings and streets, heaving bodies into the air. One detonated near Osgood and threw him sideways onto the ground. His helmet blew off from his armored suit and blood ran from his head. Josh fell backwards and the audio dampening responded at maximum capacity, turning him temporarily deaf. As his hearing returned, he heard the cries of the wounded and dying. He crawled over to Osgood’s position and dragged him out of the street and behind a pile of rubble as gunfire raged around them.
Osgood laughed through blood stained teeth, a pained, fearful laugh. “They can’t stop me. They can’t stop me. Help me up, brother. We’re all gonna die here today. Let’s do what we came to do.”
Josh helped him stand. Osgood noticed his rifle lying in the middle of the road and walked out to grab it, nonchalant in his movements. He spat blood on the ground. Josh worried he suffered brain trauma or that the pain meds were so high they interfered with his reason. “Get back here!”
Osgood lifted the rifle and shook his head as if to clear the fog. Soldiers nearby, having been stalled by the bombardment, needed an officer to instill them forward again after suffering so many losses. Osgood raised his rifle, standing in the middle of the blood-spattered street as the wounded cried out all around him. Gunfire streaked back and forth in the air. Osgood looked about and yelled. “Follow me, brothers! This is it!”
Osgood leveled his rifle and ran up the street and Josh followed him. Soldiers, taking the cue from the officers, left their cover and resumed the assault as a roar of men and women rose in a pitched fever. The machines had a fixed gun set at the corner of an intersection that fired a heavy laser and swept it left to right. It cut through flesh and bone as if it weren’t there and soldiers fell cleaved in half. The wound happened so fast and clean that all of the victims lay conscious for moments afterward, calling out in confused pleas as they lay decapitated. Osgood tossed his last det bomb at the gun and blew it skyward. The soldier-like S7 machines gave way to the more sophisticated defense systems as they neared the RCC.
Black clouds came out of the buildings, swirling and contorting in some organic way as if it were liquid passing through the air. They passed over survivors and entered their bloodstream through their eyes and noses, boiling their blood from the inside out. Bodies seemed to melt in a pile of blood and burst apart from the inside, agape mouths trying to cry out in breathless death.
The clouds grew larger and thicker, threatening to blot out the light of the sun. Soldiers panicked and ran as they watched others suffer horrifying deaths.
Osgood pointed down the road. “The entrance to the RCC is there.”
Josh tried to see. “Where? Everything is destroyed, I don’t see anything.”
“Your visor will tell you.”
“That’s right,” Osgood said. “Keep the visor on and get in there. The helmet will protect you from the nano’s. I’m going to cover you.”
“How? You lost your helmet.”
“I still got my goddamn eyes. Let’s go, brother.”
Osgood ran into the street and towards the manhole. The soldiers who had made it this far with them were now either dead or fleeing. It was only them now. Josh followed with the heavy pack and as he neared the manhole, Osgood pulled up the metal cover. The black swarm came at them.
“Are you coming?” Josh asked as he took the pack off and dropped it down the hole.
Osgood didn’t respond, pushing Josh down into the sewer and covering the hole. He heard Osgood’s screams above him but knew there was nothing he could do. Blood dripped down from a small hole in the center of the manhole cover and onto Josh’s visor as he looked up. He wiped it away and stood alone.