Buck Who? Chapter 3

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 3: Blood and Recruits

April, 23rd  2668, the former town of Bayview, Washington. 

Tendrils of smoke snaked for the heavens amongst the screams of terror and agony. The sounds of gunshots rang out clear among the explosions, somehow emphasized by the crackling of flame. A lone figure stood in what had been the small community’s center, gauntleted hands on armored hips as it scanned the surroundings.

All around buildings, some predating the final wars, others more modern and rustic, were blazing against the early afternoon light. Smoke billowed high into the air to be dragged away by the wing. More smoke curled and wafted on the ground, moving in strange and nearly hypnotic patterns. Here and there corpses lay, some in puddles of blood, while others little more than burned-out husks. They all had one conforming quality – each had died a horrible and violent death.

The armored figure was pleased. Despite the armor hiding the gender of the wearer, the very stance and bearing indicated the figure was a man. He was an imposing sight, standing easily over two hundred and thirteen centimeters. The armor he was reminiscent of the medieval style favored by knights of old.

This was not a simple suit of plate armor, however. It was made of modern, high-tech alloys, strong enough to turn away projectiles and even provide admirable protection against energy. Mere mortal muscle, bone and blood did not control the armor. As it turned out, the suit weighed so much it would have been impossible to move in it. Instead the wearer of the suit had an intricate weave of polymer nanotechnology musculature built into the limbs and structure. The result gave the wearer the strength of twenty ordinary men.

Movement caught the figure’s attention and he whirled about. From the burning wreckage of one of the old homes, a figure was attempting to crawl away on blackened and blistered limbs.

With casual ease, the figure walked over to the burn victim and stared down impassively.

“Please… please stop,” the burn victim implored through blackened and cracked lips. Normally the nearly whispered words would not have reached his ears, but the suit was capable of amplifying the wretched creature’s barely-audible plea.

The armored man lifted one boot and brought it down on poor soul’s skull, crushing it like an eggshell. The body quivered once, and then lay still. Smoke drifted up from the still-cooking meat on the hapless victim’s limbs, but he was long past caring. Death claimed him and ended his suffering once and for all.

The figure looked down at the corpse for several long seconds before he dragged his foot through the dirt. He scraped off as much of the offal as possible. “Damaged bastard,” he growled. “Now I have to clean your filth off my boot.”

He felt a tickling sensation in the back of his mind. It was something he had become all too familiar with during his father’s campaign to eradicate the genetically inferior species. Somewhere nearby there was a mutant endeavouring to hit him with a mental assault. He shook his head in disgust. Such a tactic might work well enough against one of the soldiers still fighting in what was left of the community, but not against him. His armor insured that.

The sensation grew in intensity but he still felt no effects. A mental blast? Some sort of mind rip? He was not sure. He slowly turned in a circle, using the sensation to help him pinpoint the origin of the assault.

There! His eyes landed upon a small shed that somehow had managed to escape the conflagration which was consuming the community. He lifted his left arm and triggered the grenade launcher. There was a loud popping sound and a 40mm grenade flew straight and true. A second later the small shed erupted in a fountain of wooden shrapnel and flames. The sensation ceased as quickly as it had begun.

“Mutant scum,” he snarled. He adjusted the amplification of his suit’s loud-speakers and shouted. “Any more of you genetic freaks want to try that? I’m right here, come and get me!”

No one answered his challenge. Somehow he felt disappointed. He had hoped this attack would have proved to be a challenge, but no. The community was nothing more than a collection of hovels and pre-final war structures, home to fishermen and a few hunters.

Still grumbling under his breath, he walked back to the center of the village. With each passing second the gunshots lessoned. In only a matter of minutes the destruction of the filthy haven for the genetically inferior and unclean would cease to be.

“Stop, you’ll just die tired!” Cackled one of the men who had accompanied him on this hunt. He turned towards the direction of the commotion to see a pair of hideously deformed – things. The man in the armored suit figured the creatures ancestors may have been humans, but the beings he saw were not. The limbs were horribly disproportioned - so much so it was amazing they could even walk, let alone run. The faces were right out of a nightmare. One had at least a dozen eyes and ears, yet it had not nose or a mouth. The other’s head was tiny compared to the rest of the body, and where the mouth would have been on a human was a single eye. Where the creature should have had its eyes, there were a trio of mouths. If that was not enough to set it apart from true humans, it had a series of vestigial arms sprouting all over its torso.

There was the ripping sound of an assault rifle on full auto.  A second later, both creatures jerked and danced macabrely as dozens of rounds punched through flesh and bone. Gouts of blood and tissue exploded from the hideously deformed bodies before they fell to the hard-packed ground.

The soldier stopped and looked down at the still twitching corpses. He hawked a wad of phlegm onto the remains. “Fucking Damaged bastards, two less of your stinking kind now,”

The man in the powered armor nodded his approval when the soldier looked his way. He waved a casual hand. “Carry on.” The soldier touched the tip of the still-smoking barrel of his assault rifle to the brim of his helmet and ran off.

Finally after two minutes had passed, the gunshots died away completely. A group of men wearing heavy combat armor and carrying assault rifles made their way through the burning ruins to join the figure. One saluted crisply, his face covered in soot and flecks of ash and blood. “Purge is complete, Commander Travis.”

“Any casualties?”

The soldier grinned. “Not so much as a scratch. We caught these genetic inferiors with their pants down.”

“Excellent.” He reached up and casually unlatched the helmet that covered his face. He pulled it off to reveal a face that many would have called movie-star handsome before the final wars. He had short cropped black hair and cerulean eyes. The man looked to be in his late twenties or possibly early thirties. “Let the town burn, we will return to base.”

Again the soldier snapped a sharp salute. “As you command!”

The man in the powered armor wrinkled his nose at the stench of burning meat and loosened bowels. It really was the only part of his job that he hated, dealing with the scents associated with death and destruction. He did not mind the odor of burning wood, however. It reminded him of his youth, of campfires and spending time with his family. He gave his head a quick shake. “Time to go!”

Together he and his squad of twenty soldiers made their way through the still-burning remains of Bayview. One haven for the genetic inferior destroyed, but easily a thousand more to go. He smiled. How he loved his job.

They reached the outskirts of the ruined community in mere minutes. Already the smoke and scent of death began to draw in scavengers. Out of the corner of his sight, Travis caught the furtive and stealthy movement of rats and other creatures. He had considered using poison on the bodies to deter the mutant scavengers.  Unlike the genetically inferior slime he exterminated, the scavengers served a purpose. Soon there would be nothing left but scattered bone, ash and a bad memory of what the community had been home to.  Maybe someday the location would be resettled by pure humans and it could once more thrive. Until that happy day, at least the freaks and mutants could no longer use it.

Before the assault had begun, Travis and his force had arrived in a variety of pre-fall vehicles, mainly old trucks and motorcycles. They did not bother to hide their approach, knowing that speed and a lightning fast deployment would be required. There was always a small chance some of the communities inhabitants had made it out, but it was not very likely. And even if some had escaped, so what? A significant part of the campaign they waged against the mutants was propaganda. Pure terror had its use.

All the vehicles were haphazard affairs, some figuratively held together by wire and a prayer. All but one – a lovingly maintained Mercedes Hovercar. The sleek vehicle was eight meters in length and three in width. It was painted a snow-white and thanks to the nanotech-infused paint, not a spec of ash or dust marred its perfection. The vehicle was also heavily armored and could withstand most small arms fire and even protect the occupants from many different energy weapons. Thankfully he had never had to test it. It was a gift from his father and had been painstakingly restored to original specs by years of hard work and salvage operations.

“You,” he pointed at one of the armored soldiers. “Clean this shit off my armor; I don’t want to get the interior of my ride messed up.”

The soldier knew better than to disobey a direct order from his commander. He snapped a sharp salute. “Yes sir, right away sir!” He ran over to one of the ramshackle trucks and pulled out several jerry cans of water and a bundle of rags.

It was the same old routine, and all the men who served with Travis knew it well. Travis would never set a foot inside his precious Mercedes until his armor had been properly prepared and dried. Woe to anyone who got as much as a spec of dirt on his vehicle.

The soldiers spent the better part of half an hour cleaning and washing his armor before he was satisfied. He waved the men off and then triggered the gull-wing door to open. The interior of the vehicle was the absolute lap of luxury in any era. Leather seats, individual climate control for the passengers, all the comforts one could desire. It even came with a top of the line - before the final wars put an end to such trivialities, entertainment system.

He dropped the helmet into the passenger seat and climbed in.  Finally he could relax and let his guard down. He closed the gull-wing door and leaned back into the seat and sighed. “AI,” he said.

“Yes, Bradly, what is your command?”

“Inform my father the raid was an overwhelming success, we suffered zero casualties and the community has been raised.”

“Transmitting after action report now, Bradly. Do you have any other requests?”

“A scotch on the rocks and take us home.”

“As you wish.” There was the faintest whirring and tinkling sound before a small panel on the left armrest opened to reveal a glass filled with amber liquid. He lifted the glass and breathed in the heady bouquet of the liquor, before finally taking a sip. “Ah, the simple pleasures,” he commented aloud.

“Bradly?”

“A slaughter, zero casualties, and a fine drink,” Travis answered.

“Yes, Bradly.”

He settled back as his Mercedes Hovercar took the lead. Within seconds, the only sight of the ruined community of Bayview was the tendrils of smoke, marring the cloudless sky.

***

The convoy travelled South and East, away from the coastline, for nearly a full hour before they came up to a heavily fortified compound. The compound, more of a fortress really, had sprung up during the final wars as a survivalist retreat. Many such retreats were constructed during the last years of the final wars, and this one was founded by his illustrious ancestor,

Owen Travis. The man had the foresight to see what was about to happen and had gathered a flock of like-minded individuals. They had set up a heavily armed and fortified compound well off the beaten path. From there, the Travis’s and other families weathered the years of ceaseless battles and had fought off all manner of monstrosities.

Once the dust settled and the final weapons had detonated, the survivalists retreated beneath the surface. They were content to leave the defense of the town in the hands of the Military AI one of the members had smuggled in, aptly named Guardian.

Many years passed before the conditions on the surface returned to a point they could survive without protective gear. At last the day had come and they returned to the exterior world to begin anew.

More years and many deaths ensued. The world was a far different place now, far more dangerous. Mutation had run rampant. Owen Travis believed that most of the genetic mutants they encountered were the results of nanotechnology and other gene-targeting weapons released during the wars. The surface was crawling with all manner of hideous creature, human, animal and even insect and plant.

All those years ago Owen Travis decided it was his final lot in life to ensure that the creatures were exterminated. Humans who’s genetic code had been tainted, would be purged. And thus the Purist movement began.

Travis opened his eyes and drained the last of his scotch. He placed the now-empty glass in the holder and donned his helmet.

The Mercedes pulled up to the massive armored gates and he waited patiently as several guards walked around the vehicle. They were running a series of scanners and sensors over the surface of the white Mercedes. Mutants were a tricky bunch and had found ways to infiltrate the compound on more than one occasion.

In less than a minute the lead guard gave him the thumbs up and the gates ponderously began to open. As his Mercedes navigated through the narrow opening, he breathed a sigh of relief. The missions into the wastelands to purge the genetically inferior always left him feeling nervous and homesick. He was a homeboy and as much as he craved the thrill of battle and the rush adrenaline provided, nothing was as comforting as home.

The compound covered two full acres. The walls surrounding it stood nearly thirty-five meters in height and were twenty meters thick at the base, tapering to seven meters at the top. Numerous buildings dotted the interior of the compound. It was the same sight he had seen every day for as far back as he could remember.

When he passed the mustering grounds, he found his curiosity piqued. There had to be nearly fifty men in various states of dress standing in neat rows. He smiled – a new crop of potential recruits. This should prove to be interesting. When he had left that morning his father had not mentioned anything about their arrival.

The Mercedes came to a stop in the compound’s massive motor-pool. He waited until it settled on the ground before opening the gull-wing door. As he stepped out, the familiar sounds of the compound eased his mind even more. Orders being given, the tell-tale grunts and cries of unarmed combat training, and the ever-present crackle and bangs of small-arms fire.

“It’s good to be home,” he muttered as he walked out of the motor-pool to the compounds command center. He had a report to give and the sooner the better.  

He was pleased to see while he was off on his latest extermination raid the groundskeepers managed to clean up the yard. When he had left, there were piles of dead leaves and the usual detritus of a long winter still visible. The yard looked spotless.

Travis approached the command center and waited patiently as the first guard ran a bio-scanner over him. When it chimed, the guard stood to the side and allowed him to pass. Once he entered there was another station, this one manned by two men in heavy powered armor. Each held Mark IX Blaster rifles at parade rest. Between them stood a pedestal, about one hundred and thirty centimeters in height. It had a palm-shaped scanner and a tiny readout. Travis removed his gauntlet and placed his hand on the device. There was a slight prick as the scanner pierced his flesh and took a blood sample. “Welcome home, Bradly Travis,” a clear voice announced a second later.

Without a word the two guards stood to the side, allowing him to pass unmolested. He stepped through the second armored opening and went straight for the armory. He passed numerous men along his journey, all who stopped and saluted sharply. They had better, as he was the heir apparent to the whole compound and the vast military force commanded by his father.

The armory was guarded by a pair of soldiers in heavy combat armor, each holding Mark IX Blaster rifles at the ready. They did not so much as look at him as he placed his hand against the biometric reader. The door slid open and he stepped inside.

Powered armor made a mortal man a god on the battlefield, especially in the post-final wars world. Most of the creatures he encountered were barely more than animals, eking out a bare existence. In some ways, the campaign to exterminate the genetically inferiors was in fact a mercy. Most of the Damaged and other creatures he had killed were pathetic wretches. Death was a far kinder fate than having to live as they were.

Soon he was out of his armor, showered, groomed and ready to meet his father.  He decided to dress casually for the meeting. When it came to anyone else, his father demanded pomp and circumstance, and everyone to be at their best. With his only son however, it was a different story.  Bradly Travis decided to wear blue jeans and a black T-shirt and hiking boots. He strapped a family heirloom, a massive .50 calibre pistol that had originally belonged to Owen Travis. The automatic had been lovingly maintained throughout the centuries and had never let a single member of the family down.

This deep into the command center, there was less security, but armed and armoured guards could still be seen at the entrances to the more vital sections. It had to be done. The mutants that now populated the lands surrounding the compound were devious and there had been many close calls.

Still, the guards knew him and if he was this deep into the building, then he had every right to be there.

The walls were constructed of nearly indestructible Duralloy. The majority of the structures within the compound used the material, although many of the newer and less important buildings utilized steel-reinforced concrete. The lights were Everlast glowstrips. These remnants of a long-dead civilization were apparently indestructible and could provide nearly endless light from only a trickle of power.

The walls were painted a military green and the floor was polished to a mirror-like shine. He knew it was maintained using salvaged bots, brought back from the various expeditions into the ruins. Seattle and Vancouver were especially rich with all manner of technology, despite the presence of Damaged and other mutants. The high levels of radiation surrounding the ruined cities kept all but the best equipped or desperate from venturing in to salvage what could be found.

He frowned. Bradly had only been into the ruins of Seattle once and it was an experience he would never forget. Despite how lifeless the zone appeared, it was teeming with all manner of hideously mutated creatures. Many of the monstrosities they had encountered appeared to thrive in the lethal levels of radiation and toxins present.

If it had not been for his powered armor, his bones would have joined the countless others that littered the immense graveyard of the ancients. It was his father’s idea of a test, a right to lead once he passed on. Bradly vowed from that moment he would never subject a son of his to the same terror he had faced. He did not blame his father, as it was tradition and he knew that his father was scared of losing him.

 Tradition had its place, but traditions were made to be changed or outright eliminated. He never wanted to put his own sons to such extreme tests.

Bradly stood outside a pair of thick oak doors. They were an oddity - completely out of place in the otherwise sterile and military-oriented facility. Another pair of guards, both wearing heavy powered armor, stood at attention. They had Mark XV heavy blaster rifles slung over their shoulders.

One guard looked down at him impassively and then reached out to push open the door. Bradly Travis did not even acknowledge the act as he strode past the two sentinels. The change upon entering his father’s office was as different as night and day. Martin Travis, the current head of the Travis family and the commander of the compound, stood with his hands behind his back. He nodded politely to the guards, who closed the door behind Bradly.

The room was twenty meters per side. Three of the four walls lined with bookcases and held thousands upon thousands of hardbound books. A single desk dominated the center of the chamber. It was an elaborately crafted piece of furniture, two meters in length by a meter and a half in width. The exterior of the table was beautifully carved redwood. The carvings depicted scenes from the final wars, leading up to the exodus to the compound. It was all an elaborate disguise. The table was the very heart and nervous system for the compound. It contained the AI known simply as Guardian.

There were four chairs arranged in front of the desk.  Numerous trophies adorned the few empty spaces on the walls – all of them hideously mutated animals. The beasts won the honor of becoming trophies as each creature had nearly cost the various Travis’s their lives over the years.

Instead of the polished metal found throughout the rest of the compound, the floor was covered in a thick burgundy carpet. Despite the centuries of toil, the covering looked as if it had just recently been laid down.

“Dad,” Bradly said evenly.

“Son,” the elder Travis answered.

They stood there eyeing one another for several seconds before Martin Travis’s rugged features broke into a smile.  He opened his arms wide and Bradly moved up to embrace him in a tight hug. They patted one another on the back before Bradly broke off and stepped back. “I sent the after action report. Did you have time to read it?”

Martin Travis’s smile widened. “I did! And not so much as a scratch sustained. I have to admit that I am very pleased with how the assault took place.” Martin Travis was the exact same height and had almost identical features to his son. The two men could easily been mistaken as brothers. The major difference was the grey speckling Martin’s short-cropped hair and the wrinkles around his eyes, mouth and on his forehead.

“I’m really glad you’re pleased, dad,” Bradly said, drinking in the warmth and pride his father projected. “The problem is not all the raids and assaults will be as easily won. Word is spreading across the land that the genetic freaks are getting organized.”

Martin waved a dismissive hand. “That has yet to become a serious issue. They lack leadership and more importantly most of the freaks don’t possess anywhere near our level of technology.”

Bradly nearly missed the meaning behind his father’s words. “You believe this will become a problem then?”

His father’s smile widened. “Yes, I certainly do. Eventually the freaks will start to retaliate. There are a lot more of them than there are of us purebloods. We have to continue to hit hard and fast. The more we kill, the more we keep them disorganized, the better it will be for us in the long run.”

“I’ve heard rumors,” Bradly began.

His father held up a hand. “That some of the freaks are starting to show up with high tech weapons and equipment?”

Bradly nodded.

“They are more than just rumors, and some of our assault teams have encountered them.” He turned to the desk and leaned his hands on the redwood surface. “Guardian?”

“Yes, Martin?”

“Please display the types and numbers of energy weapons encountered by our assault teams to date.”

A series of holographic texts appeared to hover over the surface of the desk. Bradly leaned in and took his time to read. The information presented took his breath away. “How did they get their hands on these?”

Martin shrugged and waved a hand dismissively. “We might have to begin taking prisoners or performing battlefield interrogations. This has me greatly concerned.”

Bradly dropped his head and closed his eyes. There was one bright side to the appearance of so many energy weapons. He looked up at his father. “How many of these weapons have we been able to capture?”

“Nearly forty percent. Most of the weapons are too badly damaged for us to repair, not unless we can find a source for spare parts.”

Bradly nodded. He rubbed his chin and continued to study the numbers. Finding sources of spare parts or intact facilities to create the needed items were nigh but impossible. Too much damage had been inflicted during the final wars and many of the factories and facilities simply ceased to exist. The numbers did not lie – somehow the genetically inferior had found a source for these weapons.

“We have to find out where they are getting their firearms.”

"So we are going to take prisoners?” Bradly asked. He loathed the very thought of having to interact with any of the genetically inferior creatures. He would much rather exterminate them without having to speak to them. An involuntary shudder ran through his body at the very thought of being forced to interact.

Martin placed on hand on his son’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel, but we need to learn where they are getting the weapons.” He pulled his hand away. “Guardian, display the mustering point.”

“Right away, Martin,” The AI responded. The holographic text disappeared, only to be replaced by a picture-perfect image of the mustering point. All fifty of the new recruits could easily be made out. The picture quality was so sharp each hair could be counted, the individual beads of sweat, even the dirt on their clothing.

“Nice to see such a gathering of purebloods,” Bradly said. “Why are you showing me this?”

“I wanted you to come with me as we met our new recruits.” Martin answered. “After all, they will be yours to command while you’re in the field.”

Bradly grinned. “Shall we meet them now?”

“Yeah, time’s wasting,” Martin clapped his on the back. “I’m sure that these men will hold a few surprises for us.”

Bradly was not sure why his father’s statement caused butterflies in his belly.

***

The two Travis’s stood before the fifty recruits at parade rest. The men stood absolutely motionless before them, not daring to so much as breathe. They had all heard about the Purists and their movement, and to a man they had all come to join the ranks. Each man standing before them had their reasons, and they were as varied as the stars that twinkled above.

And to a man they all wore fear-filled expressions. They also knew how ruthless the Travis’s and their followers were, and how they did not tolerate any sort of genetic deviation. They were standing in the mustering point meant they were all pure humans.

Martin began to pace back and forth, stopping on the occasion to look a recruit over. Occasionally he would nod to himself, other times he would just stare into the man’s eyes for long seconds before turning away.

It was a tactic Bradly had witnessed many times in the past. It was simple intimidation. All the men before him were purebloods so they did not have anything to fear. If they could not make the cut to be combat troops, there were plenty of other duties which needed to be performed. After all, the Purists Army needed laborers, cooks, cleaners, logistic personnel. The number of jobs available was nearly limitless.

Still most of the men wanted to join in order to fight. Maybe one or two of the men might even have what it takes to become the elite, to be trained in the use of powered armor and energy weapons. From the look of the group in front of him, he doubted any would make the cut.

“Welcome to the Purist movement,” Martin began as he walked back to the front of the gathered men. “You have all seen the threat the Damaged and the genetically impure pose all of humanity and have decided to step up to join the fight.”

Not a single recruit moved or spoke. When they came to join the movement, they were told to follow any orders received – or else. If they did not do as told, they were to be thrown out. The Purist reputation held a powerful sway over this particular bunch, Bradly realized. Maybe his initial assessment was wrong. Time would tell. 

Martin entered the gathered men and continued to inspect them. Once he reached out and took a strange piece of leather off the lapel of one of the potential recruits. He inspected the item and then stuffed it into the recruit’s pocket. “We are here to purge the world of the genetic inferior,” he announced loudly. “We will not take trophies however. You will kill and you will do so quickly and without mercy or hesitation!” He walked back out and stood before the men. “Is that clear?”

“Yes sir!” They chorused, it was not in perfect sync, but close enough. It would come over time as they trained.

“You all turned in blood samples as you entered the compound,” he continued. “To prove you were not one of the genetic freaks. Many of them look just like us, act like us, but they are not us! They have been tainted by the toxins, radiation, uplift virus and other mutagenic compounds released during the final wars.”

There was a little bit of nervous shuffling of feet, but otherwise the group was silent. Martin Travis stared at the group for a moment and then tapped his chest. “I was not joking when I said you must be ready to kill without hesitation.”

Bradly was now beginning to wonder what was about to happen. This was the first time his father had ever addressed potential recruits in such a manner. What was going on?

“As it turns out one of you is a mutant!” Martin roared, his face reddening.

Each recruit turned to look at the man standing next to him or behind him. They started shouting and accusing one another a second later. Bradly was shocked. The screening prevented mutants from potentially infiltrating their ranks. Many mutations were undetectable through visual examination, but the genetic code never, ever lied.

“Silence!” Martin boomed.

The recruits nearest him instantly quieted down, but several in the back of the crowd continued to argue. Martin did not hesitate. He reached down to his belt and un-holstered a laser pistol. He lifted the weapon and squeezed the trigger. There was pulse of bright-red light. The weapon barely made a sound, but one of the arguing men in the back suddenly stiffened. A dark hole appeared on his right temple and a second later, he dropped to the ground, dead.

That got the remaining recruits attention. As one they stopped arguing and stood rigidly still. “When I or any of your leaders give you an order, it is to be carried out without hesitation, am I clear?”

“Yes sir!”

He entered the ranks of recruits once again. He walked around until he came to a unassuming man. The man did not make eye contact, instead he stood as still as a stone. “Are you ready to carry out your first order recruit?” He shouted into the man’s face.

“Yes sir!” The recruit shouted back, his eyes still straight ahead.

“Take my weapon!” He held out the laser pistol, butt first.

The recruit did not hesitate; he reached out and took the offered weapon. He held it with the barrel pointed at the ground.

Martin nodded in approval. “Very good, recruit.” He then turned and pointed at a man standing only a few feet away. “That recruit is not a man at all; he’s one of the genetic inferior mutants. Kill him.”

This time all the recruits who could not directly see who he was pointing at turned. The man he had singled out realized what had happened. His eye’s widened in surprise and horror and he lifted his hands and his mouth opened in protest. The recruit Martin had given the laser lifted the high-tech weapon and fired. It took four shots, but his target finally collapsed, dead.

Martin took the weapon from the man’s trembling hands and replaced it in his holster. “That is the kind of obedience I expect and demand from you,” Martin shouted. “That is the only way you will survive in this army and under my command.”

“Yes sir!”

Bradly stood, his face impassive, although his mind was reeling. He had seen similar displays of absolute power when dealing with recruits in the past. His father demanded instant compliance and obedience at all times. The recruit he had shot was not the first that had learned the hard way. The difference is he never singled out a single individual and accused him of being a mutant.

Still, had the man his father singled out been an actual mutant? The genetic screening process removed any doubt at all. Had his father allowed a mutant into their ranks to make a point, or was it something else? He just did not know. Maybe at dinner he would talk to his father about the demonstration.

“You are dismissed!” Martin bellowed. He turned and joined his son as a group of drill sergeants arrived to take the recruits into processing. The training was about to being, and it would be a gruelling twenty weeks for the men. Some would not survive, and those who thought of trying to leave would only do so in a body bag.

Bradly was about to open his mouth when a loud siren began to blare across the compound. In all his years of living in the fortress, he had never once heard it go off. His father stopped in his tracks and looked straight into the sky. “Dad?” Bradly asked, feeling a lump of cold dread in the pit of his belly.

Martin closed his eyes and shook his head. “We have incoming!”

“What? What do you mean? Incoming?” Bradly stuttered.

“Something that has not happened since Owen’s time. Some sort of aircraft is about to enter our airspace.” Martin explained and then he took off running towards the command center. Bradly had no choice other than to follow.

The guards knew better than to challenge Martin, especially now. The two men arrived in Martin’s office and even before the doors shut behind them, Martin was calling out orders to Guardian.

The holographic display appeared in the center of the room, giving Martin and Bradly an excellent view of the compound and its surrounding lands. It was as if they were standing several miles above the surface and could see through the eyes of an Eagle.

“Have you identified the aircraft yet?” Martin demanded as he searched the display for the intruder.

“Yes Martin, it is an F-231 Space Superiority Fighter, code named Shrike.”

Father and son looked at one another. Neither had a clue what the AI was talking about. Martin shook off his confusion. “Is it attacking the compound?”

“No, Martin. From the trajectory and the erratic readings I collected, the F-231 will crash. It entered Earth’s atmosphere approximately twelve minutes ago.”

“Where did it come from?” Bradly asked. His eyes were wide as he watched the rapidly approaching ship. “And where is it going to crash?”

“I have calculated that it entered Earth orbit eight hundred and seven kilometers West, over the Pacific Ocean. It is moving far slower than I would have expected. As I said earlier, I have been able to take sensor readings and the ship has suffered significant damage. It has only basic maneuvering thrusters and all other electrical systems are out. However, I am reading one life-from.”

Martin watched as the image of the ship passed over the compound and continued to the North East. It appeared as if the pilot or whatever was controlling the ship might be trying to keep it from heading inland. He rubbed his chin and his eyes narrowed. “Can you predict where it is going to land?”

A bright green circle appeared on the coastline, several hundred kilometers away from the compound. Martin shook his head in dismay. “Wonderful – it’s going to land in the resort.”  He turned and rubbed his eyes. “Get dressed; we’re going on a road-trip.”

 A thrill of fear, something that Bradly rarely ever experienced, ran down his spine. The Resort. It was a place he never, ever wanted to be forced to visit. He thought Seattle was bad – no, he knew how bad the ancient city was. From what he had learned about the resort, it was far, far worse.

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.