One Man Apocalypse
Captain Rodgers scrolled through the incoming lines of code on the data pad in his hands and ran the decryption application once again. He felt his breath catch in his throat as he looked at the harrowing call sign lit up in stark white letters flash on the touch screen like a miniature solar flare. “Control, this is Delta-Two-Echo, E.Y.E eleven has acquired the target. I say we have positive location on Harbinger,” said Captain Rodgers into the microphone of his helmet.
“Confirmed Delta-Two-Echo, intel is good. Standby,” came the sound of the mission control operator over the InterGov strike team’s radio network. The crackle of active air waves cut out and the armored dropship fell into a tense silence for several lengthy heartbeats.
“Cap, we gonna go after the big boy?” asked one of the strike team’s junior members. The young woman with a private’s single red stripe on her sleeve half choked the words as she spoke them. It was as if she knew she was well overstepping the accepted standard of decorum and mission etiquette. Her question, though inappropriately timed seemed to ease the rest of the soldiers in the transport aircraft. She had clearly been the one to give voice to the question on everyone’s mind, quickly become a sort of social martyr.
“Right now we are holding and waiting for control to say what’s what,” responded Captain Rodgers sternly. His words aptly returned the men and women in the dropship from a nest of brooding curiosity to a collection of stoic and dutifully silent soldiers. The Captain scanned over the rest of his team, making sure that nobody else seemed to be of an inquiring mind before he leaned back against the cold metal of the aircraft’s hull. He counted each breath and locked his eyes on the mission timer quickly ticking up on his helmets heads-up display, hoping that command would break the mounting uncertainty sometime soon.
“Delta-Two-Echo, you are clear to proceed to Harbinger’s location and commence recapture,” came the voice of the mission control operator over the team’s radio.
“Copy that,” said Captain Rogers into his microphone. He rapped on the wall leading up to the craft’s cockpit. After he saw the pilot turn her head back in his direction he cleared his throat to steady his voice before speaking. “You heard them, let’s move it on out,” he said with as much confidence as his dry mouth was able to conjure. He swayed to the right along with the rest of the team as the dropship broke from is holding pattern and started to cut through the air over Beacon City at impressive speed.
“Be advised, Charlie-Six-Charlie is holding on location and Kilo-One-Nine is en route. You will rendezvous and coordinate recapture with the other two strike teams once you are on site. Control out,” said the mission control operator.
“Affirmative, Delta-Two-Echo out,” responded the captain.
Beacon city whizzed by in a blur as the dropship cruised over the collection of high-rises and wove it’s way through the forest of mega-skyscrapers. The strike team members all engaged in their various pre-mission rituals which mostly consisted in checking their weapons and gear in one way or another. The Captain, peeked at the ammunition counter display on the side of his Repeater. The red digits on the side of the weapon showed that there was a full magazine loaded and ready to fire. As was his own custom, Captain Rodgers released the magazine and verified that it was in fact loaded. While he trusted InterGov technology, he trusted his own eyes most of all. He loaded the magazine back into his Repeater and cleared his mind of any possible weapon malfunctions. He let his gaze wander back to the cityscape’s mural of lights and colors below the dropship and took comfort in the sight of something grand and larger than eye could see. The flight form the city’s heart to its destabilized outskirts was the exact sort of calm that the Captain needed in order to take the edge of his nerves. Soaring over the lively city in motion let him forget all the fearful stories of Harbinger that had been swirling in his head since deploying for the mission.
“Sixty seconds to target, sir,” came the cutting sound of the pilot’s voice from the cockpit of the dropship.
Captain Rodgers pulled himself back from the dwindling collection of neon and flashing crystals below and refocused his mind on the task at hand. “You heard it, last check before we touch down,” he said loud and crisp so that all of his subordinates could hear.
“Sir, I have visual on weapons fire up here,” said the pilot urgently.
Captain Rodgers adjusted the microphone on his helmet before starting to transmit over the radio. “Charlie-Six-Charlie, Kilo-One-Nine, this is Delta-Two-Echo, come back,” he said, managing to keep his tone steady and even despite his anxiety. The rest of his team was clearly unsettled by the news but he limited his own apprehension to his mind alone.
“This is Lieutenant Wills, Charlie-Six-Charlie, we were holding fast with eyes on Harbinger. As soon as Kilo-One-Nine showed up, it became hostile. We had to engage,” came a painting voice over the team’s radio.
“What’s your situation now?” asked the Captain.
“Area is secure, Harbinger is down. Say again, Harbinger is down,” said the Lieutenant.
“Can you repeat your last? Not sure I got that right. You say Harbinger is down?” responded the Captain. He was the first in the dropship to express the wave of disbelief that had swept over the entirely of the strike team.
“Affirmative, Harbinger is down. We scraped the thing,” transmitted Lieutenant Wills with a subtle hint of pride making her voice.
“Sir that can’t be right,” said the junior private who had spoken before. She shifted nervously in her seat and rubbed at the red stripe on her arm like it had burned her skin.
“It doesn’t sound right to me either. We will see what’s going on soon enough,” the Captain said to the eager private. “None of you get cloudy on me. This thing can still go bad, you got me?” he barked to the team.
“Yes sir,” sounded the strike team in almost flawless unison.
“Get this bird on the deck but keep it slow and careful,” called the Captain up to the cockpit.
Delta-Two-Echo’s dropship touched down on the crumbling concrete of what used to be a harbor weigh station helipad. The ramp to the ship’s hold opened and out poured the strike team, moving like graceful ocean waves. The InterGov soldiers had the area secured and covered in a matter of seconds. Captain Rodgers moved to the front of the formation and once he determined it was safe to move from the derelict helipad he signaled to his team to follow. The squad of soldiers began to make their way towards the other two strike teams who were gathered around an ominous smoking crater.
Two InterGov soldiers with Lieutenants bars on their shoulders hustled up to meet the Captain. The two officers gave Captain Rodgers a matching pair of smart salutes and click of their heels. They waited for the captain to return the formal gesture before they stood easy. “Captain Rodgers? I’m Lieutenant Wills and this is Lieutenant LaRue. We have the site secured,” said the shorter of the two junior officers.
“Orders were to take the big boy together. Specifically to recapture, not scrap it,” said the Captain with a gruff slighted measure in his voice.
“Didn’t give us much choice. We got made and then it went weapons free,” said Lieutenant Wills with a moderately defensive inflection.
“So control gave you clearance for an orbital lance?” asked the Captain.
The two Lieutenants shared a befuddled glance with each other before LaRue responded with a tentative pitch, “No sir.”
“Then one of the off shore Striker platforms?” queried Captain Rodgers with raising uncertainty.
“No sir…” trailed Lieutenant Wills with a facial expression that was a lost as her voice.
“Then what did you use to bring down Harbinger?” said the Captain with a heavy frustrated breath.
“A few Firestorm rounds form our dropships and a whole lot of Repeater fire and RPGs,” said Lieutenant Wills with a partial shrug of her shoulders.
Captain Rodgers eyes went wide like he was choking after trying to swallow hardboiled egg whole. “You’re telling me that you got Harbinger with small arms fire and some light artillery? That can’t be right.”
“I swear that’s how it happened sir,” attested Lieutenant Wills.
“Show me,” barked the Captain. He motioned to two of his closest team members to follow him as Wills and LaRue started to jaunt off into the singed crater.
The earth had been seared black where Harbinger had stood. The Firestorm rounds from the strike team’s dropships had tuned the concrete underneath into a pool of molten slag. The hole in the earth was now cooling and the black sludge had fused with the ruined shape of something large and metallic as it hardened. In the middle of the crater was a smoldering shell of something formidable and deadly but the swirl of ash and smoke in the air made it impossible to decipher any significant details.
“That’s it?” asked the Captain as he regarded the shape in the black pit.
“Yes sir?” responded Lieutenant LaRue quickly.
“Where’s the rest of it?” inquired Captain Rodgers. He looked about the wreckage trying to pick out the shape of scattered armor fragments from the general debris.
“Sir, that’s all of it. Well what’s left of it…” trialed Lieutenant Wills. She had to stifle a small hubris chuckle as she spoke.
Captain Rodgers turned and looked at the two junior officers like his eyes had become emblazoned with all the might of the sun in the sky. “That is not possible. There is no way that could be Harbinger,” he said with a cold tone that perfectly juxtaposed the heat in his fearsome gaze.
“How’s that sir? asked Lieutenant Wills.
“Because it is far…too…small…” trailed the Captain. His words started with a driven bite but quickly lost their power as the earth underfoot started to rumble.
There was a loud whir and then the sound of metal on metal. As if the sky itself let out a death rattle the men and women of the three strike teams were all struck deaf for a moment. The air was instantly marked by dozens of streaks of screaming light. In a flash all three of the dropships were stuck by the various bolts and subsequently entombed in a fiery blaze. Captain Rodgers could feel the heat from the explosions from where he stood. The blast wave form the destroyed dropships knocked every member of the three strike teams from their feet. After the world and his senses came back to him, Captain Rodgers picked himself up from the scorched earth of the crater. He looked in horror across the empty lot of the harbor weigh station as a titanic behemoth started to materialize from thin air.
Harbinger finished deactivating its active camouflage and holograph field. Once it was fully unshrouded, it stood as a monolithic pillar of armor and fear made manifest. Smoke still poured from the freshly discharged rows of missile pods on the enormous power suit’s shoulders. Once Harbinger had risen up to its full height it stood well above the rooftops of several of the nearby warehouses and out buildings. The metallic hulking construct swept the visor of its cockpit from side to side, stopping briefly to access each of the three destroyed dropships. It then fixed its attention on the disheveled congregation of InterGov soldiers and proceeded to train the two impossibly large autocannons affixed to its arms at the recovering members of the strike teams.
Captain Rogers stuffed the terror he was feeling down into the pit of his belly and shouted as loud as he could. “Weapons free. Fire at will,” he said with waning conviction. He raised his Repeater to fire at the sinister war-machine, as did several of the other soldiers. Before a round could be fired, all of the InterGov forces where stuck paralyzed with catatonic fear as Harbinger spoke.
“Decoy unit exhausted. Hostile infantry acquired, full auto engage,” came the deafening lifeless sound of Harbingers automated voice. Its words faded into the hum of its autocannons priming their firing sequence.
It was a lightning speed apocalypse. After exactly five and a half seconds and nine hundred rounds of eighty caliber armor piercing rounds the only thing that remained of the three InterGove strike teams personnel were a misty red haze and the smell of vaporized blood dissipating into the atmosphere. As the scalding hot barrels of Harbinger’s autocannons stopped spinning, the armored juggernaut lumbered off into the wasteland of Beacon City’s outskirts. Harbinger left nothing behind but the dead, ashes and dust on the wind.