By: Adrian



On the night of the Tidal Pool riots.



Glass breaking. The sound of a small metal sphere hitting the crude cement floor. A blinding flash. Purple lightning erupted from the ground illuminating the entire schoolhouse. For a moment Jack almost believed it was day again. The filthy rats scurried from their hiding place, fleeing the luminescent little building. They were met with a hail of bullets. The sound of frantic footsteps was replaced by the dull thuds of bodies collapsing to the ground. The final body clanked down the stony steps before resting in the ground. Now the only sounds that filled the air were the low hum of the drones’ fans hovering just above Jack’s head. With a few inputs to a computer on his lower arm he ordered one drone into the building and the other to ascend for some surveillance. A pile of dead rebels lying before him would usually have been cause for celebration. Tonight, however, Jack just wanted to go home. A bullet to the head will do that for you.


Jack's helmet was some top quality armor, some of the best equipment his money could buy. It had saved his life when by all rights he shouldn't have a face anymore. Luck certainly had a part in that as well. He doubted he would ever be that lucky again. The details were a little blurry. The riots began, he remembered that. Major Danielson coordinated the Defense Force counter-attack when it was apparent the police alone could not contain the situation. He put Jack in charge of three platoons, one of which Jack personally lead into combat. The other two were led by his trusted first lieutenant and his less-than trustworthy second lieutenant. He remembered seeing the central bank utterly devastated in the early battle. The fighting went on for... he wasn't sure. Checking his clock, it was a quarter past nine. How long had he been out? He remembered the rats broke and scattered rather quickly when faced with real opposition. He was ordered to give chase. Now he was here, just a hair outside the town's southern border at a schoolhouse that had long since been converted to a storage facility. Of note his communications systems weren't working, so he couldn't hear the major’s voice in his ear. He would need to troubleshoot that if he was to rejoin the fray. The major was leading from the command and control bunker in Eden-controlled Tidal Pool. His small team, with the assistance of advanced analytics software would monitor dozens of information feeds and issue orders in real-time for superior coordination. Jack wondered what the major was seeing now, if a lot of those feeds had gone dark or not.


Jack took cover behind a nearby row of cars and looked through the drones' “eyes” on his tiny wrist computer. He attempted to multi-task, reviewing his equipment while the drones did their search. The helmet was completely trashed. Gone were the very useful visor configurations that could scan for enemy combatants. Also gone were the screens that allowed him to control his drones, monitor his unit's vital signs and approximate positions, and issue commands. Surprisingly the rest of his armor was in near-pristine condition. Customizing armor was a practice actively encouraged in the Defense Force's officers. It distinguished him on the field, although it may also make him an obvious target of enemy aggression. Everything about the armor made it clear he was an important man. Two sets of vertical silver bars denoted his rank on his arm, plating of a higher craftsmanship with ether-resistant qualities, strength enhancements, automated morphine release, and camouflage settings currently set to a green textured “grassland”. Furthermore, Jack had made it a point of pride to display the ceremonial mameluke sword on his person at all times, even during combat. It was supposedly some tradition of the old world military that carried over through Terminus military tradition. Outsiders to the Terminus region rarely received such an honor. The sword had been outfitted for combat with a diamond tipped micro-serrated blade, although it wasn’t much good against heavily armored foes. Jack liked to show off his rank and accomplishments on the field, it let his troops know who was in command and it filled him with pride. He was used to defending against raiders in the east and beasts out here in the west. Raiders were too smart to fight toe-to-toe against the DF in force and beasts were too dumb to target an officer. But he worked hard to get to where he was now, he wasn’t going to hide who he was.


The drones had completed their sweep. The schoolhouse had been completely cleared out. The grenade he threw was intended to maim and kill ether-poisoned creatures only. He banked that this rabble wouldn't know that and it seemed he was correct in that assumption. He left his place of cover and carefully made his way toward the schoolhouse.


Clouds above parted to allow moonlight to grace the field and that's when it hit him. The scope of what had happened here. This field was a meat grinder. At least twenty-five bodies, if not more. Seven of whom were his own. Blood stained the grassy field which looked more like a dump for broken military hardware.


A man down on the field was the only thing the drones identified as living. The drones were instructed to hold their fire as they were running low on ammunition. Jack approached the man cautiously. It was apparent to him that the man was grievously wounded, likely he would not survive. Large holes in his thick armor plating gushed blood and chunks of viscera. He limply attempted to claw his weapon into his hands. His armor was as advanced as any standard DF kit, but lacked a DF transponder identifying him as a friendly. It was unlikely that the transponder was damaged, those things were quite hardy even in a firefight. This brought forth an alarming thought that Jack had in the back of his mind all night: they were too well armed


Jack quickly took action and ended the man. He added another kill to his running tally. At least he was alone in the field.


Luckily for him, these barbarians were still under-trained garbage. Jack gingerly stepped over the fresh kills as he ascended the stone steps to the building's door. The doors were thick steel constructs, something that was out of place for a schoolhouse and very likely not part the original construction. He left a drone high above as a lookout. Any enemy movement would send an alarm code to his computer. He wanted to pay special attention to the dirt road to the south and the treeline a few acres to the north.


The structure was built long ago before the community even had a name. This type of construct was straight out of far off old world history. The end of the old world set the outlands back several centuries.


The now-storehouse consisted of one main room, the size of which was only slightly larger than the average main room of any modern house. The room itself was stripped bare from its days as a learning facility. It was big and open and empty. The walls were wooden, reinforced on the inside with metal plating. Two windows to Jack's left had been sealed with brick. To his right were a closet and the open door to a bathroom. In the northeastern corner of the room was a single metal footlocker.


It wasn’t much, but it didn’t have to be. A small handful of ether pistols were the only thing in the crate. If there had been anything before, it was long gone. The rats may have stopped their retreat here because it was familiar, or it was used as an ambush. Still his primary objective was to route the enemy, which he did. This crate of weapons was just icing on the cake.


He took a seat on the foot locker and rested his back against the wall. He exhaled slowly, his head was pounding. His morphine must have been exhausted. He wondered how much longer this could go on. His enemy was undertrained garbage but they were seemingly endless in number. Every time the DF took a chunk out of their number, they lost many good men. They were in desperate need of reinforcements. A company of 80 soldiers split into 5 platoons of 16 soldiers each were en route to Tidal Pool and then they just never showed up. One of them was even within 35 miles of the city before being called back and sent elsewhere.


His head pounded again, more violently this time. It felt like a vise wrapped around his head, threatening to crack his skull like an egg. He wasn’t sure what his next move should be. There was certainly more glory to be won this night and he needed to report for additional orders. Alternatively, his head might be more serious than he originally thought. It was also standing protocol to receive medical attention when suffering this kind of battle damage.


No, the sound emanating from his wrist indicated he would be doing none of these things. A throng of men, at least twenty strong, emerging from the northern treeline indicated that he would, instead, be very dead very soon. They lacked DF transponders, so they weren’t friendly.


Jack gathered his rifle in hand and examined the small screen on his wrist. The drone hadn’t fired yet, as he had ordered, and he decided to wait until more of the rats got within killing range. He saw the distinct flare of ether discharges. The camera zoomed in and focused. The rats were shooting into the trees. Although what they were shooting at was obscured by the woods. Could be friendlies. That was most likely. Others were hot-footing it toward this house as quick as they could. A DF counterattack could cause that kind of fear and panic. With allies, the option existed now for him to actually survive this encounter. He had a few moments to prepare.


He started by barring the door. It wouldn't hold up for very long to any sort of concerted breach attempt, but be couldn't make it easy for them to return here. He ordered the drone inside to ascend and aimed it toward the entryway. The ceiling was about ten feet high, not a lot of room to work with but he managed alright. He grabbed the footlocker, it was heavier than it looked and he was exhausted. The suit did most of the work. He dragged the chest and propped it on its side in front of the bathroom, partially obscuring the doorway. He hid behind it, crouched down, his sights set on the doorway. He hoped this wasn't his last stand, he would hate to be remembered as having died in a dingy bathroom


He glanced at his wrist computer. Static. He had lost contact with his eyes in the sky. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the bathroom mirror. You look like shit, he thought. The broken helmet split open along the left temple, across the eye, and down the nose; revealing a bruised orbit, a chestnut-colored eye and several strands of jet black hair. The helmet's face was supposed to resemble stoic warrior with a well-cut jaw line and eyes that stared through its enemies. Now it was an uninspired mess of battle-scarred war plates. His eyes fell to his hip: the sword. He hoped to still get through this alive. But if he could not, he vowed to use the sword on someone before he went down, if possible.


He heard it now, pounding at the door. Jack held his position and awaited a possible breach. The pounding on the door intensified before falling silent. Uneasiness crept into Jack's mind. The walls were thick enough to block sound from entering. He had no way of knowing what was coming next. He braced himself for an attack that never came. One second felt like a million but Jack remained vigilant. For a time, anyway.


Boredom and fatigue slowly eroded away his adrenaline and Jack was all but certain no attack was imminent. Checking his clock, it had been ten minutes. If he was going to die he might as well get on with it at this point.


Jack threw open the doors, weapon at the ready, only to be greeted by something out of a horror movie. Bodies, torn to shreds on the doorstep. Organs spilling out, blood soaking into the porous concrete. It looked like parts were dragged away to some far off location, a trail of blood and gore lead away in the opposite direction of the city. He didn't even notice the contents of his stomach spewed forth. It was too close to the city, it was practically right in the damn city, so it couldn't be cannibals or ether creatures. Not on this scale.


He sent his drone out to scan the immediate area. His eyes darted from side to side, scanning for any possible movement, any change in the environment. He noticed it, but perhaps he didn’t quite comprehend it. The drone had finished its reading, he was the only living thing in that entire field. He ran as fast as he could to the nearest car. He stopped to look back for a moment and it finally hit him. They were gone, they were all gone. All the bodies from before. They were gone. Only their equipment remained.


He bailed into the car as quick as he could and fled to the safety of a burning Tidal Pool.