Sins of Our Fathers: The Wasteland Job [sci-fi; mature content]

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    Sins of Our Fathers: The Wasteland Job [sci-fi; mature content]

    One would expect the world to be various shades of ugly after being pounded over with several thousand megatons worth of thermonuclear fire, even 80 years later. As far as I know, my homeland is more of a rare exception of a relatively pristine environment in the Northern Hemisphere than anything else. Emphasis on "relatively", of course.

    When the bombs fell, the Baltic nations were largely spared the direct effects of the atomic holocaust, but that did not mean they got away lightly. The pre-war governments had neglected to build an effective civil defense system even while there were a number of old Soviet fallout shelters in pretty much every city and town. Once the lights went out, that was it - unless they were someone important, or had the foresight to build their own fallout shelter, the people were all on their own. My grandfather once told me that the skies were ablaze with aurora from horizon to horizon on that day, supposedly from all the charged particles thrown into upper atmosphere by the nukes, until the prevailing winds began to blow in the fallout from the West in a few hours. Then, torrential rains of soot-black acid water began to pour, followed by a seemingly never-ending ashfall, the skies became pitch-black, and that was it. Nobody saw the sun again for years.

    When the soot and dust did settle 5 years later, it revealed a barren, frozen landscape of dead vegetation, littered with the bones of its previous animal and human denizens. Yet life did find a way. As the soil thawed, seeds locked in it began to sprout. Frail green leaves sprouted from trees thought long dead. Smaller creatures left their caves and dens in the ruins of old, and with their appearance, bigger beasts thought long extinct also returned, migrating back from the south where they had fled as the Long Night engulfed the Earth in it's icy dark grip. Because the land here was only superficially contaminated with fallout rather than thoroughly glassed and irradiated, recovery in the Baltics was much quicker than in other less fortunate places.

    Today, our country may be a rare patch of green amidst a dull-grey desert, but only owing to the relentless and ongoing efforts of three generations of survivors, and no small measure of luck. It's difficult to say how things would have turned out, had the bombs fallen on a day with a strong south-easterly wind. Had that happened, our land would likely be no different from the surrounding wastelands - dull, bleak and ugly.

    ---

    It is difficult to describe exactly the peculiar ugliness of the wastelands to someone who hasn't seen it personally - which quite a few people who never stray outside the safe zones haven't. Try picturing a desert with a landscape that just doesn't fit in, a desert with landforms and colours not naturally found in deserts. Everything is in various shades of grey, with a slight sulphurous yellowish hue. The only vegetation there is various hardy weeds with maybe the occasional feeble and deformed tree. The white barkless trunks of long-dead trees is the only reminder of better times. Everything seems out of place, twisted and unnatural. The wastes are scattered with derelict evidence of former human habitation - ruins, rusted wrecks, roads partly buried in the dust, the occasional skeleton. The most disturbing thing about wastelands, however, is the silence. No birds sing here, no animals make their calls, only sounds being made by the wind and the rain. On clear and windless days, the silence is often such that one can hear one's heartbeat, and the absence of echo in the open areas makes this silence maddening.

    Still, anyone who's spent any time out in the wasteland will quickly grow to appreciate the silence over any noise, for hearing something other than yourself and your companions out there is usually bad news. Even while the wastelands might appear largely lifeless at first, life does in fact thrive there - one as hardy, unforgiving and dangerous as the wastes themselves. Because there is little in the way of plants to feed on, most wasteland critters are carnivores by necessity, and as far as they are concerned, a careless traveller makes just as good a snack as anything else.

    Even so, it is not the wildlife but the predators of the two-legged variety that one should really be worried about out there. Animals of the wastes might be tougher and more vicious than their counterparts in the uncontaminated wildlands, but they are nonetheless still just ordinary animals. The human specimens found out here, however, are mostly there rather than inside civilized settlements for a reason.

    ---

    Tender-hearted urban-dwelling folk tend to think of wastelanders as mere unfortunates whose only difference from themselves is having been unlucky enough to be born outside the safe zones. As someone who has spent a lot of time out in the wastes, I can only tell them to think again. There's a reason why people say that it's not war that brings out the worst in people - the wastelands do. Asides from the obvious sense of license that an uninhabited and unpoliced land from horizon to horizon gives, the wasteland has a way of fucking with people's minds in more subtle yet profound ways. I've seen it happen to others and felt it happen to myself. Just a few days into that mind-numbing silence, and all sorts of strange thoughts and ideas start to come to mind. Some gradually become completely unhinged, others grow increasingly suspicious and paranoid, still others become irrationaly aggressive and violent, yet others suffer no apparent ill effects - until suddenly flipping out weeks or months later. Nobody knows why - theories range from psychological effects of constant stress and silence to contamination with derelict chemical or biological warfare agents to paranormal phenomena. Fact of the matter is, the wasteland can mess up even a fit and sane man's mind in a matter of days, so it comes as no surprise that people who live out there tend to be unhinged, which is not to say howling-mad.

    Having to exist and survive in an environment where any moral principles are a dangerous liability, and immediate indulgence is the only way to make a short, brutish and unhappy existence temporarily a little more enjoyable, wastelanders tend to be an animalistic and unpleasant bunch. They are equally likely to try and fuck you as they are to kill you, sometimes both and not necessarily in the logical order, and you can never know for sure which is it gonna be until it happens. Consequently, one does well to treat even a seemingly well-meaning wastelander with a healthy dose of suspicion. The very same old-timer who treats you to roast meat and tea might in fact have the tea spiked, appropriate your stuff after you are out cold, and then either slaughter you for more meat, or worse, lock you up in the dungeon under his house to keep you fresh, slicing off parts from you as needed. The same teenage girl who insistently tries to talk you into popping her cherry after helping herself to your campfire and food may in fact be looking to slit your throat at an opportune moment just to steal your boots. The polite and soft-spoken young man who so eloquently mingles refined expressions of an urban intellectual with wastelander argot as he offers to be your guide through a dangerous stretch of land ahead may very well be part of a raider gang lying in wait, fully intent on robbing, raping and torturing you to death solely for their amusement, and not necessarily in that exact order. While it's obvious that not every wastelander is a lying no-good swindler, deranged murderous sociopath or a degenerate mutant cannibal, fact of the matter is that wasteland is home to every conceivable kind of lowlifes and degenerates, and the Darwinian principles of natural selection strongly favour them over the decent folks. Which is why one does well to treat them all with suspicion.

    ---

    The screams of a teenage girl being raped echo eerily throughout the square of a long-abandoned Belarussian town, overtopping the sinister laughter of her tormentors. A handful of other men and women scream in terror and helpless rage as they are forced to watch, some while being tortured and violated themselves, but none scream with quite the horror and anguish as that lithe, blonde girl with bright-blue eyes of 14, maybe 15 years of age.

    I have the questionable pleasure of being in a premium vantage point overlooking the whole scene of debauchery. Against my best judgement, my gaze can't help but be captivated by the struggles of the helpless victim. She is laid down on an outdoor table, her legs are spread apart wide while the plump, pale, hairy backside of her current tormentor rhytmically thrusts between them. Her violator is a large, slightly obese brute of a man, his face partly covered beneath an executioner-like hood and shaded aviator goggles, revealing only a grimy double chin covered in coarse week-old stubble, a foul grin of bad teeth and a thick, stubby nose that further increases the brute's already-uncanny semblance to a pig. Two other giggling brutes in worn, dirty leather jackets and similar outlandish disguises consisting of a red-and-black demon mask and a respirator are holding the unfortunate girl down for the fat one, who seems to be the gang's boss or a ranking member. The degenerate in the demon mask appears to be jerking off, or at least trying inasmuch the struggles of the victim allow him without breaking his hold.

    "Fucking animals! Alpha Actual, let me put a slug in that fat bastard's head now!" I hear Sergeant Zīle over the radio. He's on overwatch somewhere in one of those derelict 12-story apartment buildings overlooking the square around a click away.

    "Hold your fire, Alpha Three," I respond curtly, even while the sentiment is mine as well, "The other teams aren't in position yet!"

    "Fuck that! Do you really expect me to sit with a thumb up my ass while these degenerates..." the Sergeant begins to protest, but I remain adamant. I can understand his sentiment, Zīle having a daughter of roughly that age, but the mission comes first.

    "No, Alpha Three, I expect you to keep your cool and act like the professional that you are supposed to be! I like this just about as much as you do, but there ain't nothing we can do about it for now, not without blowing our position and the job!"

    Zīle responds with a string of unintelligible curses and a grumbling "affirmative", and I am back to the foul task of observing the torments of my captive countrymen without being able to do anything about it for now.

    ---

    The reason I am watching the ongoing orgy of rape and torture from the relative safety of a 9th-story aparment in an abandoned building overlooking the site goes back several weeks. Several villages near Ignalina, which lies close to the outer reaches of Polotsk Wasteland, had been raided in a span of less than two weeks. Minor, insignificant villages, but villages under protection of the Baltic Union nonetheless. Now, normally this wouldn't merit the attention of a Tier One combat team like mine, wasteland raiders hitting poorly protected caravans and settlements every now and then all the time. Incidents like these are normally handled by the local militias or at most the region's Governor-Colonel and his battalion of Tier Two troops. However, just about everything about these raids felt off from the very beginning, prompting the local authorities to request the deployment of Tier One assets. Since the Lithuanian Tier One teams of the region were all preoccupied with troubles in the Southern Reclamation Zone, and mine was the nearest without anything important to do at the time, the task of tracking down and eliminating the raiders fell to us.

    The Governor-Colonel of Ignalina wasn't exaggerating when he said everything about these raids was unusual. For starters, the bestial savagery of these raiders far exceeded the norm even by wasteland raider standards. Sure, as people whose very lifestyle revolves around pillage and rape, raiders aren't generally known for civility when they strike, but neither do they normally act with such wanton and gratuitious brutality, to the point it becomes counter-productive to their goals. There's a reason why foreigners call Baltic Union the "modern-day Sparta". Every kid here knows how to handle a gun by the age of 10 and is trained to the standards of a professional soldier by the age of 18, so that means even the most remote village that has acknowledged the Union as its protector has no shortage of trained and able hands to defend itself with, and even more trained and able hands to avenge it, should the former prove insufficient. Provoking a certain and merciless retaliation from a militant population led by a military government by committing bestial atrocities simply doesn't makes sense from a raider standpoint, and most raiders are reasonable enough to recognize that. Consequently, their violence in the aftermath of a raid rarely goes beyond the usual rapes and some executions for the sake of intimidation, the raiders much preferring to take what they came for and being gone by the time the authorities come looking for them. Not having left behind much damage beyond stolen property, a handful of dead and wounded, and another handful of very miserable women, these raiders would most probably be given a token search to appease the survivors, quietly deemed not worth the effort and expenditure a few weeks later, and that would be it, life going on as usual for both sides. Whoever raided the villages around Ignalina, however, seemed to almost want to provoke a retaliation with their atrocities. Crucifixions, impalements, flayings, burnings, dismemberment and disembowelment - every imaginable torture and mutilation, bodies arranged in obscene installations... Some of the execrable sights we saw in those villages made battle-hardened Tier One warriors of many years weep, and I too couldn't help but wonder if humanity's survival of the Great War was such a good thing after all.

    Although we suspected that a cult was involved at first, given the seemingly-ritualistic nature of murders and mutilations, it quickly became apparent that it was not the case, as the atrocities perpetrated in different villages seemed to lack any consistency besides their extreme cruelty. Cultists generally tend to follow a strict and consistent routine as prescribed by their twisted beliefs, so unless this particular cult's beliefs centered solely around sadistic torture, none of us could see any pattern that would indicate a ritual. Rather, the whole thing seemed more like a deliberate, if very sloppy, effort to disguise the true purpose of the massacres as ritual slayings.

    The third oddity we immediately noticed was the degree of discipline and organization that the perpetrators seemed to have. Raiding a Baltic village, especially one close to the hazardous wastelands, isn't as straightforward a business as it might seem - this is, after all, the most heavily militarized nation in Eurasia and quite possibly the world, save maybe for New Israel and Freehaven, the latter being a ragtag bunch of mercs trying hard to play country anyway. A gang that would expect a collection of peaceful unarmed peasants with full and unlocked storehouses and homes full of teenage daughters just waiting for their new rightful owners would be very disappointed. Every able-bodied adult is armed and rarely goes anywhere without a weapon, all have been drilled in emergency response routines (which every village has) from childhood. The Baltic villages are without exception fortified, and there are further fortified strongpoints, fallback positions and panic rooms within, probably along with a system of tunnels underneath if the groundwater levels and soil allows one to be dug. There are always sentries and lookouts posted both at the town perimeter and some distance outside it. Consequently, raiding such a village takes considerable resources, advance planning and discipline to carry out - something that most raiders don't have. For this reason, raider gangs usually resort to hit-and-run attacks, striking solely for the purpose to grab whatever it is they want and bugging out without trying to slaughter the whole town at considerable personal risk. Even more often, they will just snatch a couple villagers working out in the fields and hold them hostage to be released in exchange of a ransom with even less risk to themselves. Being just as interested in survival as any human being, raiders aren't too keen on taking more risks than absolutely can't be avoided. They just have no compelling reason to. So launching three successive raids that would decimate three well-protected villages in just under two weeks would speak volumes about a gang's size and organization, even more so because doing so would invite the ire of the Union's military.

    With all that considered, I and the lads came to realize that involving a Tier One team wasn't at all excessive. We proceeded to follow the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs, tracking the raiders back into the Polotsk Wasteland, shaking down any wastelanders caught along the way for intel. It wasn't an easy job by any standard, few people knowing much of anything about the identity of the gang, and even fewer willing to share their knowledge. It took a few weeks and plenty of persuasion ranging from giving away a few packs of MREs to pulling nails and breaking bones, but in the end we did manage track the gang down to an abandoned town some 40 clicks from what used to be Polotsk.

    ---

    The gang has chosen its hideout well. A roughly-circular square in the center of an abandoned industrial town, the surrounding buildings serving as natural fortifications and the streets leading into the square being easily barricaded. The raiders number around 200 by our rough estimates, many seem to have families, or what passes for them living here. The dazed, apathetic looks on the faces of ragged, grimy women and children seen here and there amidst the shelters does call into question how many of these raiders' so-called wives are here on their volition and what their conditions and treatment are like. Not that I would ever expect high living standards or decent treatment from folks like the ones down there, but even rapists and sadists can be full of surprises. These ones unfortunately aren't.

    Trying to take my mind away from the shrieking girl and the cries and pleas of other onlooking captives, I surveil other parts of the raider camp. What immediately catches my attention is the pristine state of their gear. Some of it has no doubt been looted from the armories and homes of the raided villages, but these men would have required a quantity of arms and ammunition to begin with in order to pull off those raids. In the wasteland, where people routinely get killed for a bottle of clean water or a pair of boots, guns in a functional condition are a precious rare commodity, so unless a raider outfit has gotten really lucky recently, their equipment generally tends to be in a very shabby state. The guns, tactical vests and some other articles that these chaps sport, however, is anything but shabby. Some of it, in fact, is in a better condition than our own gear after weeks of chasing after them. Which can only mean that our friends here must have a generous sponsor, and given the limited number of potential candidates in the region, it doesn't take a genius to guess that sponsor's identity.

    It wouldn't be the first time a certain Eastern neighbor sponsors some wasteland scum to raid the Union's settlements. The Mekhs can grief us with plausible deniability, the gangs stop pestering their own settlers at least for a while in appreciation of the investment, and everyone goes away happy. Except us Balts, of course. Normally it would be limited to that, harassing civilians and preoccupying our military assets with protecting them. This time, however, the Mekhs seem to have gone to great lengths to make sure we would launch a retaliatory strike on their own soil.

    Now it all begins to make sense to me. Polotsk Wasteland, like the rest of former Belarus, is at least nominally part of the Mekhrus - our great Eastern neighbor and sworn enemy. Granted, the Mekhs don't have anything but the most nominal control over most of the region outside a handful of military bases and fortified settlements near the ruins of the old major cities, but formally this land is still theirs. With the ongoing fruitless talks of a border treaty and permanent peace between our nations, the more hardline factions in the Mekh government and military must be keenly interested in seeing them fail, hopefully even igniting a new war to destroy our country that's been a thorn in their side for so long. What better way to sabotage the diplomatic efforts than to sponsor a raider gang for plausible deniability, have it commit atrocities assured to provoke a retaliation, and then claim it was an unprovoked act of aggression on Mecharussian soil. With a bit of luck, the hard-liners would have their casus belli in no time.

    This changes everything. I am now faced with a dilemma that I would wish no commander to face. If my suspicions are true, aborting the mission immediately is in the interests of national security. We have already killed a few of the gang's sentries, but their deaths could be pinned down on any of a number of rival gangs operating in the region without direct evidence of our involvement. The Mekhs could still raise a fuss, but with no proof of a Baltic commando team ever having been there, their claims would not hold much weight internationally. Aborting and exfiltrating now, at least until situation and further course of action is clarified with higher-ups, would be the sensible thing to do - but it would also mean abandoning the two or three dozen of our compatriots in captivity, at the mercy of these savages.

    "Bravo One, this is Alpha Actual, switch to Channel 09!" I briefly instruct over the radio.

    "Roger that," Staff Sergeant Valdis Liepnieks, my second-in-command who goes under that callsign, responds. He is leading one of the strike teams currently making their way towards the raider camp from the other side. We switch channels to discuss the situation without alarming the men.

    "We need to abort," I state once we're on a private channel, "This whole thing, it's been a Mekh set-up from the very beginning. All these brand-new weapons and tactical rigs, their military-grade training and discipline, the raids and atrocities right now when there's ongoing peace talks... It's just too convenient!"

    "You mean like the ones on the dead scumbag next to me?" Valdis responds, and I can sense a predatory grin forming on his face even over the radio waves, "Yeah, I noticed too... Now that you mention, his gun doesn't seem to have a serial number or manufacturing tags anywhere either. But some friendly Mekh sponsorship doesn't change why we are here - to liberate captives and wipe out this gang of degenerates, does it?"

    "You don't understand - if we hit this gang now, the Mekhs will interpret this as an act of war! There are people in New Leningrad who are desperate for the ongoing peace talks to fail. If we take this gang out now on Mekh soil, it will be plain as day as to who did it," I explain.

    "But who will know? The Colonels back home have largely suppressed word from getting out about what happened in those villages, and the international community won't believe the word of a few lying wastelander scumbags that might be left when we are done with them," Valdis argues.

    "The Mekhs don't need the world to know. All they need is to convince their own doubters and dissenters, and then they can spin any lie they need to feed the rest of the world," I oppose.

    "Alright... But what if you're wrong? The Mekhs have sponsored gangs to raid us before, it's nothing new. If we abort now, we'd be leaving all these people, our people, to... this!" Valdis emphasizes as a particularly vivid scream reaches my ears, "And if you turn out to be wrong about this, the brass is going to have your ass for abandoning Union citizens to these lowlifes."

    "If I am right, however, it's gonna be all of our asses, not just on this team, but the whole damn country back home!" I almost shout back into the radio, even though the arguments of the Staff Sergeant do make me question my current opinion.

    "You're the boss, it's your call. I've told you what I think about this, but will back you up regardless of what you decide," Valdis states. I was frankly so hoping he would convince me otherwise, but better judgement and instincts honed through a long career tell me that sometimes, such as now, the right thing is to do nothing. The men are not going to like this...

    "Alpha Actual to all elements, abort mission!" I reluctantly announce after switching back to the team channel, "Proceed to exfil immediately, and make sure to leave behind nothing that could be traced back to us."

    As predicted, the strike team commanders aren't happy.

    "What? But we just got into position!" I hear Corporal Liedskalniņš, going by the callsign of Charlie One. He seems especially disappointed because this is his first mission as a team leader, me having figured to give the boy a chance to show if he's got what it takes to lead a strike team in battle.

    "You can't be serious, Actual!" Sergeant Zīle who leads the overwatch team protests even more angrily, "In case you haven't noticed, there are people being fucking raped and tortured down there! Our people, fellow Balts!"

    "I have a good reason to believe that this whole operation is a setup by the Mekhs. Attacking this compound could provoke an escalation of conflict, and I do not feel I have the authority to make that call. So my order stands - abort the mission and proceed to exfil!" I sternly announce.

    At this moment, commotion begins in the raider camp. Having finished raping the girl, the fat raider gets off her. While he pulls up his pants, the chap wearing the respirator drops his and moves over to take his place. Suddenly, a teenage boy slightly older than the girl breaks out from the hut near the congregation of rape and makes a beeline towards the camp's wall. Naked below the waist, struggling to run, with his buttocks and legs covered with fresh blood, he has evidently just escaped similar sexual violation as the girl pinned down by the three raiders. Poor lad doesn't get far, though, as the fat raider draws his gun, a brand-new MP500 Kulak pistol, and puts a slug in the back of his head. The prisoners locked in small cages scream, especially one middle-aged woman, probably the boy's mother. The girl, however, uses this moment of distraction and loosened grip of her captors to wriggle free and kick the fat raider in the groin, admittedly much to my delight. As he rolls on the ground roaring in pain, however, she is quickly subdued by the other two.

    The parabolic microphone integrated in my binocular allows me to hear what transpires next.

    "Why, you little suchka...!" the fat raider groans, struggling to his feet while his henchmen proceed to beat down the girl, "I'll teach you to appreciate a cock when you get one! Boys, you know what to do!"

    The two comply immediately, drawing bayonet-knives and, in what appears a well-rehearsed move for them, simultaneously nailing the girl's extended arms to the table with them. As she shrieks in agony and the onlooking prisoners wail in terror, the lad in the respirator grabs what appears to be a heavy club or bat from an unseen place behind a wall, and puts it to the poor child's left knee. As her shattered leg bends the wrong way, the shriek that it draws from her almost blows out my microphone.

    "Fuck this shit...!" I hear Sergeant Zīle utter on the radio, and moments later, just as the raider is about to destroy the girl's other knee, his head suddenly explodes into a puff of red mist.

    "Alpha Three, do not engage! Abort and exfil immediately!" I bark furiously as the distinct high-pitched report of a ChemRail reaches my position, the raiders below scattering frantically after a moment of shock, more shots from the overwatch team starting to pound at them.

    "Too late for that now!" I hear Valdis remark on the radio.

    "Alpha Actual to all elements, belay previous orders and engage as planned!" I amend my command. Sergeant Zīle will have a lot to answer for when this is over, but first we have a whole big camp of very angry raiders to take care of.

    "Command team, deploy zipline!" I shout to my own strike team waiting concealed in the room next to my position. Moments later, a heavy thump and the sound of a spool of rope rapidly unwinding indicates the line is away. I enter the room just as the lads are tightening the deployed line.

    "After you, Captain," machinegunner Sergeant Pētersons, a big, burly man with an impressive horseshoe mustache gestures with a grin.

    I don't wait around, deploying the weightlifting hook on my exoskeleton's left arm and using it to latch onto the line while leaving my right hand free to shoot. Exos usually come fitted with these hooks, to lift things too heavy to be held by hands without injuring them. Exoskeletons might give you the strength of a giant, but unfortunately do nothing to improve the toughness of your skin, flesh and bone - trying to lift something never meant to be lifted with human hands will still cause injury without aids like these hooks.

    The line goes down to the roof of a three-story building next to the prisoner cages in a steep angle, so the speed on the way down is savage. I disengage from the rope and land just inside the camp perimeter from a height of almost 20 meters, if my HUD is to be believed, the exoskeleton's efficient amortization and the rusty sheet-steel roof of a shed breaking my fall. Even so, I still have to make three full rolls forward like some hi-tech kolobok before coming to stop.

    Springing to my feet, I don't have to wait long for action as a masked raider charges at me from behind, roaring in rage and swinging what appears to be some kind of a battle-axe. I dodge one swipe and parry the next before tearing open his throat with my still-deployed lifting hook. Just as two more raiders with rifles barge out of the building next to which the shed stands, both are knocked down by Sergeant Pētersons as he lands square on top of the two, crushing one's head into paste under his feet and snapping the other's neck as he drags him into the roll to break his fall.

    As the rest of my team makes a spectacular entry, bullets begin to whizz our way, forcing us to dash for cover. A raider rushing out of one of the huts sprays automatic fire at Pētersons, hitting a prisoner cage and killing its four or five occupants just as Pētersons narrowly rolls out of the way. His reply follows an instant later as his ChemRail LMG whines to life, spewing a torrent of custom-made "hot-load" flechettes flying at Mach 16 into the lowlife, the man literally disintegrating into a spectacular shower of blood and gore. Corporals Zariņš and Andrejeva scale the camp wall in the meantime, quickly dispatching of any sentries and assuming overwatch.

    The raider camp is in complete disarray, the scumbags being taken by complete surprise and running about in panic. Some attempt to seek shelter, others take cover and fight back, and still others just run around aimlessly. The occasional loose prisoner, just escaped from rape or torture, straggles about bloodied and confused, adding to the chaos. I see one such older woman wander out of a hut, her hands tied behind her with bloody strips of what appears to be skin flayed from her own back, her blank gaze clearly expressing clinical shock. She straggles barely five steps before being shredded in the crossfire. I look angrily at Sergeant Pētersons, the incandescent trails of whose flechettes I clearly saw flying that way. His brief gaze back at me expresses a modicum of regret, but no more. We are trained that way - we will not intentionally target civilians, much less our own civilians, if it can be helped, but neither will we go out of our way to avoid harming them if they get in the way in the midst of battle. Given the nature of our missions, we wouldn't be much use otherwise. That being said, I cannot help but be upset for this woman to have died from friendly fire by one of my men even while I realize it was either her or one of my finest soldiers.

    I see strike teams Bravo and Charlie zipline in on the opposite sides of the square, the younger members of my platoon fighting in Charlie under Corporal Liedskalniņš, who leads them by example, ziplining in with his ChemRail already ablaze and pumping a forty-mike-mike into a garage just after he lands with an ellegant roll. The fuel stores inside explode into a massive fireball, several raiders rushing out of the inferno screaming and engulfed in flames.

    The raiders recover from the initial shock surprisingly quickly, attesting to their uncharacteristic training, discipline and organization more typical to soldiers than wasteland scum. They organize into ad-hoc squads and attempt to mount organized resistence. Two lads from Charlie go down from returned fire, their body armor thankfully stopping the bullets as their comrades hastily drag them into cover.

    "Form up!" I shout to my squadmates, "Two teams, sweep and clear! Bravo, sweep and clear from your end, Charlie - cover and suppress!"

    Andrejeva and Zariņš hop down from their earlier vantage points on the settlement wall, joining me and Pētersons as we start to sweep the numerous huts and sheds in the open.

    "Actual, frags a-go?" Valdis inquires over the radio.

    "Negative, Bravo," I decline, "No frags, too many civvies!"

    It's not that I particularly care about the well-being of the wastelander civilians, but rather about our own captives who might still be inside the buildings.

    "All elements, switch to hot-loads only," I add. The standard tungsten-carbide flechettes can punch through just about anything softer than a main battle tank. These huts hobbled together from plywood, cinder block and sheet metal obviously don't represent any sort of obstacle whatsoever, and I'm not exactly looking forward to losing any of my guys friendly fire. Our custom-made soft iron hollow-point "hot loads", however, usually disintegrate a short distance after striking a hard surface. Furthermore, they are considerably cheaper, and to say that their effect on unarmored human body is devastating is a severe understatement.

    I feel Andrejeva's hand tap on my shoulder, affirming that she's behind me and ready to go. Few women got what it takes to be a Tier One commando, her being one of those rare few who do. Endearingly called Aisha by the lads, Andrejeva is the platoon's combat medic, and while she doesn't look like much, a lot of enemies have made a fatal mistake in not taking her seriously because of that. After all, size doesn't matter like it once used to when you've got a powered exoskeleton to make up for it.

    No sooner have I kicked down the door of the large hovel in front of us when a bullet grazes my cheek. A grimy wastelander woman sporting matted blond dreadlocks and some sort of facepaint narrowly misses my face with a brand-new Kulak pistol, the second one I've seen in the past few minutes. She doesn't get to line up another shot, my return burst literally exploding her torso in a puff of red mist, sending her gun arm reeling to the side. Taking the opposite side, Andrejeva squeezes into the room with me, and I hear her let loose two bursts as well. The corner of my eye catches the headless, dismembered torso of a man obliterated almost down to solar plexus drop to the floor. I catch a glimpse of two other figures running to the exit, only to be knocked down and terminated by Pētersons and Zariņš as they make an entry at the other end of the hovel.

    The place looks like some sort of barrack, there being a number of bunk beds, a couple tables with benches, and a hearth with a pot of stew cooking on it. While none of us have time to examine its contents in detail, it wouldn't be any surprise or shock to us if the nicely-smelling stew in it turned out to contain parts of our captive compatriots.

    The next few huts are easy enough to clear. We find cages of malnourished and tortured prisoners, some of them already dead for a while, another five or so raiders that make a futile effort to resist or escape, and caches of brand-new arms. Clearly someone's been generously supplying these scumbags. Judging by the distinct high-pitched electric rattle coming from the adjacent buildings, the other teams are making good progress clearing the rest of the encampment.

    "Bravo One, man down, man down!" I hear Valdis report, "Bravo Four is down!"

    Bravo Four is the callsign of Sergeant Danilenko, Bravo's machinegunner. I curse under my breath - besides me, Valdis, Zīle and Pētersons, Danilenko is easily one of the most experienced men on my outfit. While Valdis doesn't specify whether his gunner is KIA or merely wounded, it's obvious that he's out of action for good.

    The remainder of the raiders hastily retreat into the derelict three-story building that forms part of the outer perimeter of their compound, taking positions by the windows and shooting at everything that moves. While we resolve the immediate threat by reloading to standard armor-piercing flechettes and simply shooting some of the defenders straight through the concrete panel walls, that still leaves an unknown number of them further inside and out of sight.

    "Now what?" Andrejeva asks, covering next to me behind what appears to be an ancient Humvee with rusty improvised armor plates riveted on it.

    "It's gonna take at least another platoon to clear that building," I grumble, "I'm calling in our 'Ranger. Let's grab the civvies and get the hell outta here!"

    "Is that wise, Cap?" Pētersons objects, "We haven't cleared the compound yet, and there's no telling how many of our people might still be inside there."

    "If it weren't for Zīle losing his shit, we wouldn't be in this damn compound to begin with!" I state angrily, "But you're right, we can't leave without being sure. Alpha Five, call Metal Hammer for CAS!"

    "Roger that, Actual!" PFC Slišāns responds. He is my squad's new radio operator and newest member, currently on overwatch along with Zīle.

    "All elements, breach and clear!" I order the rest of the team.

    No sooner have I finished speaking when the wall of the apartment building next to the nearest stairwell explodes outward violently, metallic stomping and the whirring of servos indicating this is no ordinary explosion.

    "Mechsuit! Why does it always have to be a fucking mechsuit!?" I hear Zariņš curse. And truly enough, a lumbering suit of heavy powered armor stomps out of the dust cloud, bristling with guns and about to bring death and pain upon us.

    Without a further word, I and Andrejeva dash out of our current position, desperate to get out of the mechsuit's sight, an not a moment too soon as the autocannon on its right arm roars to life. The Humvee we were hiding behind is riddled by shells like a grate. Corporal Zariņš lets loose a burst at the monstrosity, the slugs disintegrating against the thick armor in bright flashes with little visible effect, merely making the foe stumble two steps back. An instant later, he regrets it as the mech returns the favour with the 40-millimeter GMG on its left arm, spraying Zariņš with high-explosive ordnance before Pētersons can pull the overly-bold corporal into cover. The blasts throw Zariņš a good fifteen paces back and Pētersons to the side, and I can only watch helplessly as my machinegunner struggles to crawl into cover, visibly wounded, while the corporal lies dead with every bit of exposed flesh shredded by shrapnel.

    Two more shots from the overwatch team likewise fail to achieve the desired effect, the monster machine firing off two of the eight missiles mounted in tubes on its shoulders. I clench my teeth as the explosions ravage the nearby 12-story building roughly where Zīle and Slišāns had camped out for overwatch.

    "This thing must have two inches of frontal armor!" Liedskalniņš shouts over the radio, "Our Chemrails don't seem to do shit to it!"

    Moments later, the armor suit stomps out in the open and turns towards where Bravo and Charlie are currently hiding, letting loose a barrage of grenade and autocannon fire. Two of the huts collapse, and the panicked screaming and swearing on the radio indicates my men aren't faring well there.

    Now that I can get a better look at the armor suit, I can make out the model. It's an old General Robotics AE-55, a pre-War American design. Yanks used to field hundreds of them in Russia when the bombs fell, so no surprise that some made it through and ended up in Ivan or raider hands. While the AE-55s might be clunky and cumbersome compared to newer models, they don't make them much tougher than that as far as armored exosuits go. This particular one seems to have been refitted with modern Mekh weaponry.

    Thoughts race through my mind as I observe the armored monstrosity blasting away at my men. The ammo for this thing is stored in a pair of large armored bins on its back, likely too well-armored for even a Chemrail to punch through, save maybe with depleted uranium slugs that we don't have. I could try to sever the ammo feed belts with a well-placed burst, but I'd likely only disable one weapon before the bastard snapped around and finished me with the other. I and Aisha could try taking out them simultaneously, but the bugger's still got six rockets left in those tubes to drop on us for our efforts. The rocket tubes also look pretty well-armored, and there's no way in hell I'm getting through to its power core.

    Then I remember I still have a pair of thermite charges with me, brought along in case we might need to disable any vehicles.

    "Aisha, I'll need you to run ahead and give me a good toss!" I turn to Andrejeva, who sits in cover behind me, visibly terrified, "I'll try to piggy-back that thing and shove some thermite up his ass!"

    "But it's suicide, Cap!" she protests, "Metal's gonna be here any minute now, we should just sit this one out!"

    "If we don't try to take that clanker out, there ain't gonna be nobody left for Metal to pick up!" I snap at her, "Now, are we gonna do this or talk about it all day?!"

    "Right..." Andrejeva sighs, "Don't fuck this up, Captain!"

    "I won't if you won't!" I retort, "Ready?!"

    The medic nods in an affirmative and dashes out of cover with all the augmented might of her exo. I follow here three or four paces behind. Time almost seems to slow down and drag on for ages as we close the forty or fifty meters to the rampaging mechsuit. Then, some fifteen meters away, Aisha drops and enters a slide while I jump, aiming to land straight on her. I feel her grab my feet and shove me up with all her might, likewise jumping myself at that moment. The combined power of our two exoskeletons propels me almost to the third-floor level before I come crashing down hard on the enemy below.

    The mechsuit stumbles forward as I slam into it and latch on its back, and then starts thrashing and spinning wildly in an effort to shake me off. I guess this is what riding in a rodeo must have felt like back before the War when there still were such things as rodeos in old America. I see Aisha dash away at her best speed, trying to fall from sight, but the suit's operator is fortunately too preoccupied with me now to bother with her. Holding on this thing is much easier said than done, even with a powered exoskeleton to assist, much less drawing and planting a thermite charge. I manage to plant one on the left quadruple of rocket tubes, but just as I'm about to pull the pin, it falls off. Undeterred, I persist in my efforts and plant the last one on the other rocket pack I'm holding onto. Just as I pull the pin, the operator finally manages to reach me, a massive metal hand grabbing me by the collar and throwing me far away like a rag doll.

    Just as I come to my senses in the dirt, a brilliant white plume of sparks erupts on the mechsuit's back, signifying that my charge has gone off. Moments later, the suit is engulfed in an explosive fireball.

    My joy is short-lived, however. As the smoke and dust settles, I see the suit struggle back to its feet, battered and visibly damaged, but still very much in operation. The machine's autocannon is trashed, it's ammo feed severed and dangling freely from the gun. Its grenade launcher, however, remains intact, and my heart races wildly as I see it turned towards me. A final thought of my wife and son back home crosses my mind.

    Then suddenly two deafening explosions erupt from the mechsuit's back, knocking it face-first into the dirt before showers of sparks and red tracers begin to fly wildly from its back. Moments later, I hear the distinct ripping roar of a 30-millimeter autocannon before Metal Hammer, my platoon's assigned Skyranger gunship, soars overhead. Doing a sharp turn, it comes to a hovering halt, its main gun and rocket pods beginning to spew fire and fury into the three-story building still held by the enemy.

    "Actual to Metal Hammer, am I glad to see you!" I get on the radio, struggling back to my feet even as every part of my body aches terribly, "Cease fire, there might still be our prisoners inside! Let's give those raiders a chance to surrender!"

    "Roger that, Actual," the pilot responds, ceasing fire and switching to external loudspeaker, addressing our foes in Estonian-accented Russian, "Attention, all remaining raiders! We have your compound surrounded, and there are large reinforcements on the way! You are hopelessly outmatched! Lay down your weapons and come out with your hands raised! We are only here for the hostages! Surrender peacefully, and your lives will be spared!"

    "All elements, status report!" I get on the radio while Metal Hammer repeats his message.

    "Bravo, got one KIA and two wounded, ammo roughly at 50," Valdis reports after a brief pause.

    "Charlie, four wounded, ammo at 50," Liedskalniņš follows shortly afterwards.

    "Alpha Three, Alpha Five, what's your status?" I call out to my men from the overwatch team, walking past the burning wreck of the mechsuit towards Zariņš and Pētersons, the latter being tended to by Andrejeva. Zariņš is clearly dead, shredded by shrapnel. I pity the man - he's left behind a wife and three kids, this being only his fifth mission on a Tier One combat team.

    "Five here, Actual! Three is wounded but walking, and I think I've got a concussion," I finally hear Slišāns, "Ammo at 75!"

    "Copy that," I confirm and inform the rest, "Alpha, one KIA, three wounded, ammo at 75!"

    ---

    Then they start coming out from the building, their hands raised, some carrying improvised white flags to emphasize their surrender. Some are the raiders themselves, many wearing various outlandish outfits including a dusty leather gimp suit and a wedding gown with a cloak of what appears to be human scalps. Others are women and children, some malnourished, ragged and grimy, others appearing relatively well-fed and treated. Then there are the prisoners we've been looking for. Dazed blank thousand-yard stares, numberless bruises and fresh torture wounds make many a fist clench in anger at the mistreatment of our compatriots, mine included. The men tasked with apprehending and searching the captured raiders make their displeasure known with rough treatment. None of the raiders protest in the slightest, evidently having expected worse than that.

    "Praise God for sending you, dear sons!" an old woman limps over and embraces me in gratitude, speaking in Lithuanian. "Those animals," she gives a vicious look at the captive raiders, "You wouldn't believe the things these depraved whoresons did to us, especially the young women!"

    "It's all over now, ma'am," I speak with a bit of reservation, "Those lowlifes will not hurt anyone any more."

    "I hope you will make those filthy murdering rapist fuckers suffer before putting them down!" she snarls, sparing no juicy expletive for the raiders.

    Other liberated hostages seem to share her sentiment as they gradually come to recognize their regained freedom. Here and there, groups of them can already be seen assaulting and beating the well-fed women and children, wives and offspring of the raiders who had evidently abused them during captivity. My men are having trouble keeping them away from the real culprits, shouting and angry arguments already going on near where the prisoners are rounded up.

    "Step back, citizens!" I feel compelled to intervene before the hostages start lynching the raiders in earnest, however deserved that may be, "These raiders are prisoners of war!"

    "Fuck them! Did you see what those vermin did to that poor girl over there?!" a man of roughly my age protests angrily.

    "Yes, I did, and that's exactly why we will not degrade ourselves to their level!" I argue.

    "Yea?! Well, why don't you go in the basement of that big house and see what they were doing to children!?"

    More vile, depraved atrocities, no doubt. Still, it is my duty to record each and every disgusting detail, so I gesture to Liedskalniņš to accompany me and leave Valdis in charge.

    "Make sure the civvies don't kill those raiders at least until I get back!"

    ---

    The one thing I hate about my job is that whenever I start to think I've finally seen it all, the dregs of Mankind surprise me yet again with the new depths of depravity they're capable of sinking into.

    I had to physically keep Liedskalniņš from running out of the basement after he had vomited twice, since he would have to testify to the Colonels back home along with me, and because I didn't feel I could stay in this place for much longer alone myself. The storage boxes lining the hallway that ran the entire length of the basement had been converted into prison cells, a mangled little body in each. Some had already started to stink, others were still alive but patently insane. Many looked well-fed but were missing limbs, kept alive as provisions for the degenerates above, to be carved up as needed. Others served even fouler purposes. We found a video camera on a tripod in one of the chambers featuring a bed with manacles. The bestial debaucheries recorded there made Liedskalniņš throw up for the second time before I decided we had seen enough and collected the camera for evidence.

    When we went back up, I had to physically pin the corporal to the ground to prevent him from tearing apart the nearest raider with his bare hands.

    ---

    "Put our dead and the wounded aboard Metal Hammer and grab some of those fresh equipment crates, we need evidence to show the Colonels back home!" I curtly command, barely able to rein in my own raging murderous passions.

    "What about the civvies?" Valdis inquires, "There's nowhere near enough room aboard for them too."

    "Looks like there's still some intact vehicles," I state after looking around briefly, "Tell them to grab those along with every gun they can find and head home down the westward highway. Tell them that we'll have somebody sent to meet up with them and take care of their wounded."

    "And what of those... "humans"?!" Liedskalniņš snarls bitterly, pointing at the captive raiders, unable to find expletives strong enough to deliver his opinion of them.

    "We leave them here," I state firmly.

    "Seriously?! After what they've done..." the corporal is understandably upset, many of the men joining his sentiment.

    "Yeah! Let's fuck them up, these pieces of shit...!" Slišāns emphasizes the point, kicking one of the prisoners in the back so that he falls hard, breaking his nose and remaining on the ground bleeding and groaning.

    "Hey, wait! You promised you won't kill us if we surrendered!" one of the raiders protests.

    "Correct, and we will keep our word," I announce coldly, "We won't kill you!"

    I don't know if the raider catches my meaning immediately, but my men certainly do, as do the nearest hostages. Content with such a verdict, my troops walk off to the Skyranger as it begins to power up its engines while the mob of liberated hostages begins to converge on the restrained raiders.

    "Wait! You can't...!" one of them shouts before the roar of engines drowns out his voice.

    "Oh, I can and I am..." I respond more to myself, "All aboard!"

    I can't see what is currently transpiring where the captured raiders were sitting, but I could swear I could hear their screams even over the engine roar before the rear ramp finally shuts and our Skyranger embarks on the way home.

    ---

    152000BAUG2130
    1ST PLATOON, 2ND STB "OMEGA"
    OPERATION IGNALINA BLUES
    AFTER-ACTION REPORT

    After investigating leads on IGNALINA BLUES incidents, 1ST PLATOON, 2ND STB successfuly located abducted civilians inside the fortified compound of the perpetrators 15 kilometers outside former Polotsk. During observation phase, hostiles were seen to subject abductees to a variety of atrocities, which prompted SGT ANDREJS ZĪLE to demonstrate commendable initiative and commence a pre-emptive strike on the enemy ahead of schedule. Inspired by his example, the other elements of 1ST PLATOON joined the engagement, achieving complete surprise. In the following engagement, 1ST PLATOON successfuly neutralized 40+ foot-mobiles and several light vehicles before being engaged by a single heavy powered armor trooper. While combating the aforementioned trooper, CPL KĀRLIS ZARIŅŠ and SGT IHOR DANILENKO were regrettably KILLED IN ACTION. In total, 9 other soldiers of 1ST PLATOON (list included below) suffered various degrees of combat injury. The powered armor trooper was successfuly neutralized only after calling in CAS by 1ST PLATOON'S attached SKYRANGER gunship, callsign METAL HAMMER (piloted by 1LT JOOSEP ILVES). After the destruction of their most powerful asset, the remaining hostiles and hostile non-combatants (total 54) surrendered.

    With the compound secured, 1ST PLATOON proceeded to search the area for evidence of MECHARUSSIAN involvement in sponsoring this group of hostiles. Considerable evidence including military-issue vehicles, firearms and ammunition (list included in APPENDIX A) was recovered and secured for extraction. Extensive evidence of the hostile group's extreme atrocities towards their victims was also procured (list included in APPENDIX B). It is my belief that the MECHARUSSIAN authorities intentionally chose to sponsor this particular group because of its wanton cruelty and depravity, with the intent to carry out provocatory attacks on BALTIC border settlements and elicit a military response on MECHARUSSIAN soil that could then serve as a valid cause of war. 32 hostages taken during IGNALINA BLUES incidents and earlier raids were liberated, additional 7 unfortunately being killed in crossfire.

    Due to the likely threat of enemy reinforcements and the politically-sensitive nature of the mission, and the absence of sufficient transportation, 1ST PLATOON was unable to extract any but 5 of the most severely wounded hostages. The remainder were instructed to arm and evacuate themselves with equipment and vehicles found in the compound, 49TH MOTINF BN in Ignalina was contacted and instructed to send a rendezvous force with adequate medical staff to treat the wounded. Because of these circumstances, 1ST PLATOON was unable to prevent the surviving hostages from inflicting summary justice on the detained hostiles.

    The following troops of 1ST PLATOON were KILLED or WOUNDED IN ACTION during OPERATION IGNALINA BLUES:

    SGT IHOR DANILENKO - KIA
    CPL KĀRLIS ZARIŅŠ - KIA

    SGT ANDREJS ZĪLE - WIA

    SGT INGUS PĒTERSONS
    CPL ANTANAS NAUJONIS - WIA
    CPL VIKTOR KARAMAZOV - WIA
    PFC MĀRTIŅŠ SLIŠĀNS - WIA
    PFC LAURIS BERTĀNS - WIA
    PVT OSKARS LIEPIŅŠ - WIA
    PVT ILYA DOLGORUKOV -WIA
    PVT RAIVO PIHT -WIA


    I also hereby recommend SGT ANDREJS ZĪLE to be awarded with COLONELS' CROSS, 2ND CLASS for conspicuous gallantry during OPERATION IGNALINA BLUES on 15BAUG2130, during which he exercised commendable initiative, intervening with the atrocities of a depraved foe against captive and defenseless Union citizens, which led to the successful rescue of 32 abducted civilians, SGT ANDREJS ZĪLE being wounded in action for his efforts. Despite my initial personal reservations about his decision to act against a standing order by a superior officer, I have every reason to believe that SGT ANDREJS ZĪLE acted in selfless desire to protect those who could not protect themselves, and in doing so upheld the best spirit and traditions of Tier One forces and the armed forces of the Baltic Union in general.

    CPT HENDRIKS VANAGS
    CO of 1ST PLATOON, 2ND STB "OMEGA"

    ***END OF REPORT***

  2. #2
    Good piece as usual: I for one enjoy a cold, uninhibited war story that really showcases how much of a bastard warfare can be (which is why I enjoy your WW3 saga as well). I've noticed you're getting a lot better with the run-on sentences that were something of a trademark of yours. I was expecting more than a mere handful to crop up in this piece, and much to your credit I turned up disappointed. Only a couple of gripes I ought to point out:

    First, your propensity to misuse "it's". It's is a contraction of it is or it has, as opposed to its - the two are in fact not interchangeable. General rule of thumb: if sentences like "the Long Night engulfed the Earth in it is icy dark grip"* sound really stupid, then try "the Long Night engulfed the Earth in its icy dark grip". Hopefully that will help in the future!

    Second, I do believe I already pointed out that the "MP500 Kulak" is, in fact, a "6P11 Kulak" - the MP500 was what it was called during the last project we worked on together. Since the confusion is an easy one to make, I'll let you off this time.

    * = props for the Game of Thrones reference.

  3. #3
    Fun read. Post-apocalyptic stories set in Eastern Europe are always cool, even if "post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe" is a bit redundant.
    One would expect the world to be various shades of ugly after being pounded over with several thousand megatons worth of thermonuclear fire, even 80 years later
    The over in this sentence is unnecessary and disrupts the flow of the sentence. This might seem like a nitpick but making sure your intro flows properly is really important as it sets the tone for the rest of the story, and setting your tone as being awkward and stilted is obviously a disaster.
    the charged particles thrown into upper atmosphere by the nukes,
    Using a more descriptive word in place of thrown, like 'hurtled' for example, would probably be a better choice in this sentence. You're trying to paint an image in the reader's head, so using more colorful language is appropriate. Also you missed the 'the' that's supposed to be before 'upper atmosphere.'
    The human specimens found out here, however, are mostly there rather than inside civilized settlements for a reason.
    This sentence is confusing, and it's confusing because you use both 'here' and 'there' in the same sentence to refer to the exact same place. Saying 'found here' and then 'mostly there' makes it sound like the human specimens are in two different places, as opposed to being in one place, which in the context of this sentence is the wastelands.

    Overall, I'd say that when things are actually happening, the story is grotesque and visceral, in a good way. Though there is too much rape for my tastes, but that is a personal opinion, not a legitimate criticism. Most of the first monologue is pretty boring. I'd find a better way to introduce your setting besides narration- maybe someone wanders out into the wasteland, gets lost and slowly dies. It would be a good way to introduce the various threats that populate your world- the character first becomes radiation sick, then starved and dehydrated, and is finally murdered by Mad-Max style hooligans.

  4. #4
    Just remember leave the grossish stuff away kind of.

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