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  • I: Infected I
     
    What did they do to us?
     
    Oh, god. What did they do?
     
    It’s been a day since the blast; we’ve all been trying to pull it together. The shelves in the stores are picked clean, and the hospitals have run out of beds so the injured are going out on the streets.
     
    Grandma was doing okay— she had some nasty burns from the flash and we’d bound them well but now she’s getting sick and we don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense, she had a fever of over a goddamn-hundred. All she can do is vomit; anything we feed her, it stays down for a little and comes right back up.
     
    But it’s not just food in her vomit. It’s full of blood.
     
    Just an hour ago she started to get worse by the minute it seemed. Out of nowhere she started screaming. Loud, and violently. louder than I’ve heard another person scream before. Like she was being murdered, only she was just sitting there in her chair. Started pulling her hair and hitting herself, too. She kept begging for us to make it stop; yelling how badly it “hurt”. Mom and Dad kept trying to hold her down, but she threw them both to the ground. It took all four of us, my sister included, to strap her down. We even had to fucking bind her fingers too, she kept stabbing herself in the palms with her own nails.
     
    She’s a 95-year-old woman.
     
    We were gonna go out of town to get help for her, maybe find a doctor, but someone took our car battery in the night.
     
    We locked her in the room downstairs. Dad was crying the whole time he did it. “I love you, Mom” he kept yelling, but she didn’t respond. She just moaned and screamed back in pain and he kept saying it over and over as she screamed— crying harder and harder each time. In the end he just fell to the floor and curled into a mess, I had to finish nailing the door shut for him. Even after I finished he didn’t move. He didn’t come upstairs. He laid there, and he cried and cried.
     
    It’s dark now. The lights are on, the radio works and if the roads weren’t littered with corpses I’d say life was still turning as usual. We’ve been watching the TV for a few hours now. It’s just the emergency broadcast on a loop. All the other channels are out. It’s a nice distraction from the smell—I think it's seeping in through the windows.
     
    Grandma’s gone quiet. I think she’s sleeping, or her vocal cords are shot. It’s made Dad a little happier— he thinks she’ll be better by the morning. Say’s that all she needs is rest. But I’m not sure. I can hear screaming from other houses. It sounds like Grandmas. The same kind, the kind that rings your ears and turns your stomach.
     
    Whatever she has, they have it too. This isn’t a fluke and it isn’t a simple bug that’s travelling around. There was something in that explosion. I know it.
     
    Earlier when we were struggling with her, she was spitting and foaming at the mouth real bad. It was everywhere. Some got on Mom and Dad. They went to sleep an hour ago— said they both had bad headaches.

     
     
     

    II: Expunge I
     
    - “Everything.”
    - “Everything, all this shit; gone?”
    - “All of it. Every last piece of fucking paper. Burn it all, get these cabinets over.”
    - “Shit, man.”
    - “There needs to be no fucking evidence that we were tied to this. Any of this. The US has ordered a complete disassociation with everything that happened in Chernarus.”
    - “How’d you suppose you just disassociate from something like this? You scalp the land and burn away the marrow, and then detach from it? I’m not entirely sure it works that way, Sergeant. The way I see it, we staked a claim on this place. It belongs to us as much as we belong to it.
    - "What the fuck did you just say? I don’t need your politics and your backward-looking bullshit. We’re here to be objective and our objective is the removal of ourselves. We are here to not be here. Is that clear?"
    - "Sure thing, Sir."
    - “Were you around when it happened? “
    - “Of course not, man. None of those guys are. Word is that those guys are gone. God knows where, but they’re gone. A government black-site I bet.”
    - “Bullshit, they either died here or “died” when they got back home. Apparently, some even went AWOL. They’re still here in the forests somewhere.”
    - “You’re fucking crazy, man.”
    - “I’m just being real.”
    - “I’ve been hearing some real heavy shit, guys. This ain’t no shit about a bunch of ordinance that malfunctioned and went off.”
    - “Keep your fucking voice down. Who told you this?”
    - “It doesn’t matter who. But that weren’t no regular bomb. It had something in it.”
    - “What do you mean “’it had something in it?'"  
    - “It’s just a rumour, word-of-mouth sorta shit. But a disease. A bioweapon.”
    - “Man, you’re so full of shit. You saying we gave these people the flu?”
    - “Maybe. Maybe it was something else, worse.”
    - “Like what? Ebola, smallpox?”
    - “Man, you’re not getting it are you? Nothing we’ve ever seen or heard of.”
    - “Don’t you start. Don’t you fucking start with this.”
    - “Start with what?”
    - “You know what. I don’t wanna hear it. I’ve heard it enough from all the others. It’s a crock of shit and you know it.
    - “But what if it ain’t? What if we dropped something bad on these people and we just ain't had enough time to see what it can do?”
    - “Stop, alright. I said sto-" 
    - “What the fuck was that noise?”
    - “Get away from the fucking door!”

     
    static

     
     
     

    III: Subjects I
     
    Date – 19/11/[REDACTED]
    Subjects are chosen and acquired under the specifications outlined by the [REDACTED].
    The circumstances are as follows.
     
    • The subjects are not chosen under a discriminatory nature. Age, gender race and sexuality are irrelevant.
     
    • We have authority to [REDACTED] our subjects.
     
    • As part of Project [REDACTED], some subjects came forward willingly under the guise of a new pharmaceutical drug in a testing phase. Some subjects, displaying seriously strained mental health also willingly participated. (It is suggested their involvement with the [REDACTED] is completely detached. They have no concern with the outcome of the testing.) We are curious as to how their bodies react to the [REDACTED.] We also have authority to use [REDACTED] sentenced to [REDACTED] as part of the testing. The [REDACTED] Government had no issue in supplying these.
     
    Initial notes/observations upon first trial – Date 25/11/[REDACTED]
     
    • 99.7 percent of observed subjects resulted in [REDACTED]. Their bodies either rejected the [REDACTED] entirely, resulting in a complete assault on their nervous system, [REDACTED] them. Or the [REDACTED] would take control, only for the subject to [REDACTED] within 24 hours due to severe haemorrhaging.
     
    • Administering the [REDACTED] directly into a vein as opposed to the bloodstream itself yields more precise results, and [REDACTED] is quicker. Stage one was achieved via vein transmission in under 17 hours. Transmission into the bloodstream took up to 22. Admission of the [REDACTED] via other orifices and mediums (topical, oral) has yet to be tested.
     
    • At first, concern was raised about the possible nuances between healthy and unhealthy subjects. However, if anything, it proved to be a boon. Varying results across the board only broadened our understanding of the [REDACTED]. (In one such case, we observed a subject which unknowingly had a brain tumour. The [REDACTED] appeared so aggressive that it completely killed the cancer. The [REDACTED] harbours a competitiveness in which it demands control of its host, over all other malign afflictions.)
     
    • One such patient has stood out: Subject 7C. Female, [REDACTED] DOB: [REDACTED] • Initial administration, clear. Temperature rise, heart rate increase. Inflammation of the brain, decrease over a few hours. Assimilation begins. Vomiting, retching. Repeated agony. Sedative applied, subject stable. Subject has survived initial testing and what is believed to be the first “phase”. Further studies will be conducted.

     
     

     

    IV: Terminus I
     
    "The first time I saw you, you were sunbeamed in rainbows from the church windows back west. Our fathers knew each-other, but we were estranged and how I wish we could’ve remained that way.
     
    The church is gone now and so are our fathers. The last I time I saw you was today. Nobody called by, the flowers are rot. There is no sermon and your eulogy is in the festered mouths and deranged screaming of the people below. I don’t think I can say a thing to you. What would I find if I did?
     
    Our children are not here to hold your hand. I need them to hold mine. I buried them at the foot of the firs, like we agreed. They are quiet and sleep sound as they did when they were born." 

     
    He sat rocking upon the old stool and smoothed his hands across the slide of the gun. They were lined and webbed in blood and he trembled. The woman was tied down to the bed, but she was settled. She gargled stupidly, murmurs of nothing but bile and saliva and her eyes traced the cracked ceiling like an infant.
     
    He watched the sun for a while. Watched it move across her slowly, across the putrid bedsheets and to her face in the late afternoon where the motes of dust fell about her in the films of light. She blinked in the warmth. She was bestial and not-at-all and he loved her.
     
    In the purple darkness he rose and leveled the thing with her forehead and fired. A rope of pink-red fell down her cheeks and temples and leaked down to her chin. Sunny church girl. Father’s marina. Mother’s cradle. Bright flash. Dripped down to the floor in strands and pooled like albumin. If you scramble through the mess will you find her again?
     
    "I’ll take you by the pond. From when we were kids. I’ll lay you there. Both of us there. In the cherry blossom, the summertime and the snowfall. Forever." 
     
    He placed her in their car. He drove through the night, past the diseased, stumbling and wailing after the vehicle and he made no sound. He arrived when the moon was highest and removed the disgusting blankets covering her and carried her to the edge of the water. It was shone across silver like the ocean and he removed his shoes and began to wade into the murk with her in his arms. She was in only thin fabric and looked ashen and like gossamer in the moonlight. He drew in deeper until the water was at his stomach and the clay gripped to his calves and he allowed her to the water where she dipped beneath baptismal, and then gone. He followed after her, the two lovers twined in the dark eternal.

     
     
     

    V: Refuge
     
    Two men. Lawrence and Grace.
     
    One, the sole survivor of an UN envoy. Two, a marine of a fractured outfit long gone.
     
    Two men.
     
    At the docks of some coastline the two men selected out a warehouse. The thing filled with buoys, life-rings and engines for boats destroyed or fled time ago. In a corner elsewhere, masts of old-world schooners and oars and netting and mariner’s instruments innumerable.
     
    They cleared the container, removed the surplus and declared it neutral ground. Any-and-all welcome. A refugee centre. Perhaps rescue would come any day. They believed so, and so did the people. The mess was replaced with stocks of food. Cattle, deer, chickens reared until slaughtered and fed to the hungry. On occasion the soldier would hunt, and from his hunt he would bring wolf. It was gamey and hard to chew. It tasted of violence.
     
    On routine trips, the men would gather ammunition. The land lawless and the police and military regulars long dissolved. The men had the foresight to arm against the coming bandits. Their stockpiles only lured them closer and soon the centre fell to the clambering bands of men sweeping up the earth and the people left on its plains.
     
    They moved inland. Picked out a small citadel on a hill. The two men were sure of it. The place had a splintered concrete wall on each of it’s flanks and a steel gate from which they each took turns holding a post. Soon they began to employ help from the locals. They brought a doctor in. He tended to the wounded and prescribed simple medication for the sick. Sometimes taking the post was a young girl and she was brusque with a sing-song voice. Around the campfires at night her stories would hum with mystery. Down the street in this locale would’ve been a bar and once more it finally saw vacancy. The place was regaining something they each thought had passed it’s time.
     
    And then a box arrived. In which to place a child’s toys. A small animal. Keepsakes. In the box was a farmer. Not a farmer, anymore. Barely a thing, at all. Pieces of his chest. His liver. Perhaps the meat from his legs and finally his heart with which they pierced through a combat knife on top of this mound of flesh. The bandit’s kept his brains. Maybe they aimed to spool them out and find out what he knew. Perhaps they were dashed to the waters and were now in the stomach of salmon on the creek beds.
     
    The men would hunt these creatures, but they found the men first. On their knees in the road at some time and some place irrelevant one placed a rifle to Lawrence’s forehead and fired and from a fist sized hole in his parietal, pink faucets of blood steamed onto the blacktop and he never was.
     
    Afterwards they cut the other man loose and he buried his friend. He stalked the banditry and aimed for vengeance. He would have it, too.

     

     

    VI: Battle of Vybor Industrial I

    A GANG.

    A SQUAD.

    TWO WARBANDS.

    Logan Grace arrived at the bar and a congregation massed on its front. Figures in clothes mismatched; dust masks and old firefighters’ overhauls and men deranged on their heels in the road in dresses and children’s backpacks. Packs rigged together from firewood and burlap. Chest holsters pulled over torn shirts and ponchos. Some with no weapon to holster at all but old tools and spears crafted from nothing. In this place half of Grace’s new unit. Men’s faces streaked in filth and blood rutted in the callouses.

    Boone, another Sergeant in the group addressed him. He signalled for the rest of the present men and they stepped off the road and squatted in the brushes and fingered a map.

    “We got word they’re all piling up here. They’re fixing to come right up on this here bar if we don’t get down there.”

    “How many they got?”

    “We got a few guys down there, they reckon it’s a good five and they aint fuckin’ around none neither. AK’s and M4’s and at least a few thousand rounds between em’ each.”

    Grace pinched his nose and wiped the back of his hand across his leg. He looked down between his lap and back up to the grey skyline.

    “Now. Let’s go now.”

    Boone spat into the dirt and nodded. Okay he said and they left for the town of Vybor.

     

    Through the streets they stalk, and they arrive before the military. They arrive before Grace. Among them the self-same man responsible for Lawrence. Dalton.

    “What we aimin for Dalton?

    “Grace. And everything they have. We’ll let the rest go. We wont need anyone else but Grace and after that they’ll lead us straight to that whore. Real easy.”

    “I aint so sure boss. He’s out for blood. You fuckin know it man. He aint about to forget.”

    Dalton grabbed the man and pushed him to the ground in the street and knelt a leg either side of him and spoke very quietly in his ear. And so what, he asked. And so what he said to the others around him. He had a knife to this man’s throat and he could feel it trembling.

    “Grace will do nothing. I took his friend and I made him nothing. I ground the farmers bones into fucking dust and I left him on their doorstep. Their little castle on the hill is ash. He will do nothing.”

    Dalton unmoved placed a radio to his mouth and spoke.

    “I am going to kill you, Logan Grace. I will find your little fucking whore and I will kill you in front of her. I will strip her and I will cover her in your blood and your entrails and leave her to the wolves. I will find your friends grave. I will make it so none of you ever were. I know you are listening.”

    Grace said nothing and placed the radio in the amber grassland. He lay crested on the hill and his squad waited.

    Sgt. Thompson spoke.

    “If they’re here they aint gonna make it known. I say we push up to that industrial over there and secure the perimeter.”

    Boone glassed the town once more and agreed.

    “We leave one here though for overwatch.”

    The men moved through the foundries. Grace stared up through the flues, black entire, and through the grim waning eye the pale vault flashed through onto the ground. He knelt for a moment and moved his hand through the daylight.

    A voice called out. It was Boone. Contact, he screamed.

     

     

     

    VII: The Battle of Vybor Industrial II

    CONTACT.

    Grace staggered and ran to the wall enclosing the complex. Along it the rest of the squad bouncing on their heels. Boone called out to the overwatch on the radio and nobody responded. Fuck, he whispered.

    “Where did you see them, Thompson?”

    “In the town. About 5 like we heard.”

    One of the men placed his rifle on a break in the wall and scoped the streets and he was shaking the time entire. Infected. Silence. Snowfall. A smattering of wind. A shot rends it in two and through the skull of the man and whistles off into the trees behind. Grace freezes and stares at the hole deep-set in the mans head and the rest of his war-party screaming orders.

    Boone trained his rifle on the gate to the compound. Thompson moved onto the left flank of the wall and held its corner. They had no idea where and how close Dalton was.

    “Grace!”

    “Grace! Fucking move!”

    Grace looked up and there was bone on his clothing and his hair was shot through with pulp. Blood that was not his own dripped from his jaw.

    “What are you doing? Fucking move!”

    He stood and ran to the east-most flank of the wall and when he did there was a volley of automatic fire staccato against the quiet and the failing brick structure exploded into a vapour. Grace dropped onto his back and peeked the wall and caught a figure retained against a fence with his gun raised. He fired once and hit the man in his chest, he tried running and Grace drew out of cover full-auto at his silhouette. He hit his legs and he fell stupidly and rose again before Grace shot the man once more through his cheekbone and he receded into the snow. Grace now under his own heartbeat could scarcely hear the screams of his other squad-mates.

    Thompson returned fire on the position of one of the bandits. The man was coiled around the wooden support of a house and Thompson splintered anything he could run to and tore the man to pieces. He dumped his empty mag to the ground and loaded in a fresh and chambered the round. He fired several more times consecutively at the body and the snow plumed around him and he did not move.

    The gunfire halted for a moment and Boone called out to Thompson and Grace.

    Thompson called back “One down here. What about you?”

    “Nothing. I’ve lost em, I don’t see shit.”

    “Grace! You good?”

    “Grace!”

    Grace sat on his heels in the grass and could barely withdraw the breath to respond. He looked back to the dead man and looked for a while and expected him to get up, but he remained.

    “I’m here! I’m okay.”

    “Anything on your end?”

    “One.”

    Grace removed the magazine from his rifle. He blinked in the blizzard and wiped the snow from his brow. He figured there were around 12 rounds left. He put it in his rig and fingered another one free and into the chamber of his weapon. Nothing in the town moved. The corpses stood out clear in the snowed waste. Strands of gore and crimson violent and eternal.

    “Alright let’s move up. Secure the perimeter.” Boone called.

    The three remaining men arrowed into the town twenty feet apart. No sound save their footsteps in the drifts.

    A tinny thud from a window and Thompson is hit in the chest. The round ricochets from his ribs and straight through his heart and he falls dead without stop. Boone shouts an amalgam of words not English or of any tongue ever spoke and there is another dull concussion and he is shot through the leg. He tumbles to the snow and tries to hoist himself up on the stock of his gun screaming in agony and is shot again through his carotid and his blood spatters like emulsion on the white backdrop.

    Grace looked to the township and glassed each window and saw nothing and a shot landed at his feet and he ran. The air was biting, and it burned out his lungs at every step he waded until he reached a house and locked himself inside.

    “Come out Grace.”

    Motherfucker, Grace whispered. Motherfucker he said over and over.

    “Just come out. I’ll afford you the same mercy I did your friend. Not like that farmer. Haha. Heavens, no. I’ll make it quick and you won’t feel a thing. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be. I know you’re cold. And I know you’re afraid. Just come out with your hands over your head.”

    Grace sat with his rifle aimed at the door and he did not move.

    Come on. he muttered, come on. Come and get me.

    There was not a noise in the cabin. The low glum wisp of the snowstorm and nothing else.

    Footsteps.

    Grace stopped breathing and stood. He glanced to the window and saw the shadows of several men move past inaudibly muttering and hysterically laughing. He removed his shoes and walked toward the doorway and crested his rifle around a corner.

    “Open that door. Open the fucking door.”

    The deadbolt flew from the frame and the door swung open and Grace held down the trigger on his rifle and did not stop firing until he was sure there was no more movement. He eyed around the corner and there was a man dead sprawled across the wood. There was a hole the size of a rock in his head and inside there was nothing but the bleached white arches of his skull.

    Another stepped inside quickly with his gun raised firing and Grace ducked returning fire squinting through the splintering wood and havoc of the destroyed hallway. The ringing ceased, and he could hear the mans agonal breathing. He was choking on his own pink blood and looked like a child as he passed.

    “It’s just you and me, Dalton! Where the fuck are you!”

    Grace stood and brought his rifle in close to his cheek and cleared the skeletal hallway. He was shaking like a madman and his eyes darted to each corner manically.

    Dalton rounded the corner firing and Grace the same. The men so close they could have embraced. Grace hit in his plate and his ribs instantly broken and another through his collar bone and several more shattering his pelvis. The two men collapsed firing and Dalton was scathed across his temple and torn straight through his lungs. He grasped at his chest in shock and scarlet pools of blood welled from his mouth. He made a grab for Grace’s throat and Grace climbed atop Dalton with his sidearm drawn and pressed the muzzle down to his hull and fired and fired till the gun clicked and when it did he turned it on its opposite and began to beat Dalton with it. The thing smashed to pieces in his hand and he reached for his machete and he drove the thing into Dalton’s skull. He struck him over and over and there wasn’t a feature recognisable.

    Gore and nothing else to his legacy. He died of this land exactly the way he shaped it to be.

    Logan Grace fell off the body and screamed out in pain. Nothing and nobody responded. His cries were lost on the moorlands forever. He knelt in the snowscape and stared out at the country.

    He let his head fall against the freezing ground. He thought of Lawrence and began to cry.

    Corbin buried him alongside his friend. They were far off in the northern forests in the sun. Somewhere unmarred. Somewhere in the old world.

     

     

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