The Longest War
In the valley lay a naked body. His clothes rested off to one or the other side and all he could do was lay there. Ragged bullet holes lanced through skin that was like leather, all tough and unbending but after some work would be comfortable.
It looked as though he would never work again. He was black and he lay in the green grass, it was spring and the last winds of winter lashed across him as he lay there. The holes in him did not bleed.
For they had stopped bleeding long ago, scars decorated him as paint decorates the Jezebel. Off to the side lay some rocks, craggy normal sized rocks that hid a rather extensive weapons cache.
They shined with a strange protectiveness over this man in the grass. Ants had once moved over him in a long line of advancing warriors. They would draw near one of the bullet holes and prepare to rip and tear the flesh away to reveal the red juicy meat below.
Then they would disappear. They would disappear down the holes and if ants could scream they would have at this very instant.
Then the ants stopped coming. After that the grass around the man began to give way to depressing dirt and the multitude of worms and spiders and things they hid beneath their green blades.
Soon everything that was truly alive around the man was devoured by, something. The whole time the man with the bullet holes lay there and he did not breathe or move or decay.
He was dead though, he did not have any heart of brain activity. Nothing so much as moved within him.
Yet his flesh did not fall off the bone and his whole being did not crumble and he did not stink. Though all of his hair and toenails and fingernails had withered away long ago he did not give in to the worms, indeed it appeared as if the worms had given in to him.
A dead man that would not die lay in a valley next to the rocks. His body no longer buffeted by grass and his clothes tossed about, his fingernails and toenails and hair all gone to waste.
This was the most important part though. The sun shone on the well preserved corpse as the bullet holes healed, it took about a week but the bullets were pushed out and the skin was woven. The new skin was a cloudy off white.
A dead man lay in the valley and his wounds were healed. This taken by itself was incredibly strange some might say supernatural, but what happened next was a little worse.
A dead man lay in the valley and his wounds were healed. His skin shone in the sunlight as the dead man opened an eye.
He gasped for air, it was the first time his lungs had worked in months. The feeling of blood flowing through him, you usually felt it for the first week or two after Waking Up, caused him to wince in pain.
So he staggered to his feet. Good thing the nanites worked this time, he’d remembered Jorge Waking Up once before and the nanites hadn’t kept his muscles working the whole time. Jorge was still in the hospital for that one.
He rolled over and horrid pus oozed from his mouth.
Okay, he’d have to work on that one. Hank, for the man’s name was Hank, crawled towards the small rock group and reached inside. He found the AK and the ammo easily enough. They’d managed to survive the whole time rather well; it was the water stores he was worried about.
He’d chugged the water in a few minutes, it was a green horn mistake he knew and he’d be vomiting in a few but it just felt good for his throat to open to something other than oxygen.
He’d have to get used to talking again apparently. He was clean shaven; this was pretty common actually after you Woke Up. Most of the time when soldiers would Sleep it seemed as if a temporary truce would make them unneeded.
Luckily governments weren’t as stupid as they used to be. These wars had been raging for so long that Sleepers were common.
There was a dusty mirror at the back so he decided to check himself out.
Yep, same round and smooth face as when he’d Went Under. Same brown eyes, same black skin, same everything.
He looked down.
So his wounds had healed. The nanites were always good about that. Though they never got the pigment right, it was okay though. Eventually that skin would become as black as the rest of him.
It was at this point that he noticed the ringing in his left ear. The ringing stopped, that happened sometimes. Nobody ever bothered to figure out why. Some said it was because the ear drums were straining after being inactive for months or sometimes years. Others just said shit happens and you should get back to killing the enemy for us.
Hank usually fell into that group. He grabbed the old AK, God Bless Ivanstan for that one gracious weapon of mass destruction they produced so long ago, and all the battered ammo bags he could hold and then realized he was naked.
Alexander had been drinking. Like most of Latin America he drank heavily now, to forget.
Alexander was a naturalized Hispanico, he never really fit in on the street of Pamplona Pequeno.
Dust rose from the dirty wooden streets, it was a walkway with the occasional buggy soaring through. A tall white man in a dainty coat trod drunkenly through the maze of much shorter brown people. He walked with a determined aim, there was a bar called La Cabeza de China just a few meters away and he was almost there.
It was at this point that he fell over from the tranquilizer dart in his neck.
Yeah, that’s Alexander. When he woke up he already knew where he was. Some underground brain fucker-upper bunker. He’d been appropriated by the military before back in Greece.
Looks like it was happening again, he wondered quietly to himself what he would be doing this time. He’d already been a pilot, a mechanic, a sailor, and frontline infantry.
He fell asleep a very disturbed man who’d seen too much war and had been brainwashed and overloaded too many times.
He woke up a fanatic.
It was Germany, he and a few other thousand sub-standard soldiers had been sold to a Freikorps for some tanks and Walkers, a decent enough deal.
More dust rose, this time because big hulking helicopters carrying ammo were dropping in from all over. They were worn and beaten and battered. You could see the scorch marks on the sleds from the massive forest fire raging off to the west.
They landed and were unloaded quickly, Alexander rested against a barrel of gunpowder, his machete balancing on his knees. A group of people made themselves busy loading and unloading everything the choppers before they took off again.
He raised a pale green bar to his mouth; the wrapper lay on the ground about a foot away. He chewed the algae rations thoughtfully and glanced at the soulless looking bastards further out into the field.
They stared at the ground.
Alexander stared at them.
They stared at the ground some more before finally rising and marching off towards the nearest enemy minefield.
He watched them go and chewed his algae again; he gulped it down as the wind kicked up by the chopper blades slapped him in the face.
Then he heard the explosions, then another, another, another, another.
But never a scream.
Hank was climbing, when it came down to it sometimes all you could do is climb. He had slung the AK over his shoulder, the strap not yet too far gone. He would be climbing for at least another day, if what his map told him was true the other men should be around here somewhere.
Hank was a commander, it’s what he did. He had seen the steady progression of these damn stupid wars as they swept out of Africa and into Asia then forward, ever forward the ghosts of war marched, to Europe and the Americas.
Hank was a commander; he’d Gone Under six times so far. The first was in the Central African Republic right after the Cypriot Accords, then he Woke Up and was dusted out of Africa to some war in the SEAsian Zone. Those had been within two months of each other.
What followed were two deployments in South America, Brazil and Chile respectively, then a simple civil unrest in Germany at the approach of the Great Horde. That had been the worst.
He shivered. The Great Horde had been a few days back, everyone said it. The French had helped lay down enough mines in the Balkans to deplete their scouts. They just kept coming though. The ones that went down were either rigged up with the help of nanites or eaten.
That’s how the Great Horde worked. Seven million armed men on forced march. None of them thinking, none of them feeling, all they left behind was a rich history of rape and cannibalism.
They’d said it’d take until the 2600s to repopulate Hungary, The Czech and Slovak Republics, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, most of Greece, the Anatolian Peninsula, Syria, Tunisia, and Egypt.
A never ending wave, that’s how it went. Hank remembered the first reports, like a great swarm as far and long as the eye could see. They acted like a hive using machetes and bare hands against machine gun nests and atomic bombs.
He sat down on a rock and let the scene replay in his mind.
They’d had planes, how did they get planes? Nobody knew but they had them, every type and every era. Thousands of biplanes loaded down with explosives smashing into every building. Modern jets in one sided dog fights against everything the EU could throw at them.
Burning wreckage lay all around while Hank repositioned his men; his men now included everyone in Munich that could hold a gun. Twelve year olds laden with saddle bags full of ammo and food raced along every fortification the city could set up. They handed the bullets out like candy. Austrian and Polish immigrants stood alongside almost every German in the city. The military was busy fighting off the main Horde groups near Lake Constance, Fussen, and Attel.
Hank stood on a cobbled street and peered through a scope at the onslaught. The grass had been trampled by the first wave and everyone was exhausted. They’d had three breakdowns on the line already, within seconds dozens of Horde members had gotten through with hundreds more pressing behind.
The blockage was what saved them, that and the nearest Poles launching a dozen rockets into the whole mess of them.
He looked nervously at his translator, she was pretty enough with black hair and an eternally angry look on her face. The radios crackled as news filtered in from everywhere.
Hank stood there and had this teenage girl shout orders in German.
"LEFT!" He’d yell as the medics dragged a broken battered body off the line, they’d go left to the triage center. They knew this already but it always helped to have someone scream at you in a time like this.
A man staggered down the street clutching a bloody stump, blood oozed onto the street and sported a rifle pillaged from an antique shop. Hank grabbed the nearest man and through his translator directed him to collect the dying man’s ammunition and gun.
Hank began his hobble towards another section of the line. He’d been wounded on the thigh by a particularly vicious bite, antibiotic paste and nanites would deal with it.
A boy who couldn’t have been older than fifteen greeted him as he approached. He was scratched all over, missing an ear, and his left arm was useless from the blow of a machete blade.
The boy hugged his gun fiercely. He said something in German.
"He is the commander here." His translator spouted off quickly in only mildly accented English, she’d spent some time in New York during college.
"What happened to the other?" A quick exchange, during which the boy nodded to entrails that had been hung off some pikes and a long smear of blood, occurred.
"The other four were taken. He is the only one left who is willing to lead."
Hank sat up and continued climbing, too much time remembering past battles and not enough time fighting this new one.
Alexander stood there looking all dejected; he was behind a short man with darkish skin and curly hair. That man was behind another man, this one older looking and constantly blinking in the sunlight.
Alexander was in line. He glanced down the line towards the hut where everyone was heading; they’d recently seen some action. Alexander’s own tunic was covered in blood, as was his machete and his feet.
It was everywhere, his hair and his fingernails and his arms were covered in drying blood.
Only a portion of it was his. He shuffled his feet forward with the line. It was never very far that they moved, usually about two feet.
He could smell the hut from here. It stank of boiling water and bleach and iron. The day moved along and so did the line.
He shuffled forward forever forward. Eventually it was his time to enter the hut where a no mischief looking man quickly grabbed the machete and dumped it into the massive vat which churned with pink waters.
The machete was fished out just as quickly and taken to a spinning wheel. The blade was sharpened and then handed back to Alexander who was pushed from the back of the hut and towards a nearby field.
It was at this point that he walked to a clearing filled with trees and tucked himself into the trunk of a hollow one. He would sleep here tonight. The memory of what he’d done banished any thoughts of hunger or thirst from his mind.
Then he began to cry. Alexander sat there in the trunk of a hollow tree and cried resenting the bastards who did this to him every time he seemed ready to start his life over again. It was never enough for them was it? Always some fucker wanting to fight and ever since the Horde passed through never enough men to fight for that fucker, he wished he could kill them all.
Eventually he dried his sorrow and drifted off into dreamless slumber.
He awoke to the sound of an attack.
It was some rebel group, always was some rebel group. They had guns, not good. He ran along the tree line and jumped when the first scream of falling artillery shells could be heard.
There was always the weapons locker. He jumped to the ground as the first rebels began to do a clearing sweep of the trees, soon they’d hit the fields.
He was covered in dirt and staring at a group of five men, one’s profile was lost in the light from…something.
Get up, move, go. He pushed up and out as one or two of their guns jammed. They wouldn’t hit him, they shot like amateurs. Sweeping broad and over their heads, guns cocked at odd angles like all the gangsters in American films.
He ran not knowing whether the brush would grab his feet and tow him under. The sound of bullets plunking into trees surrounding him, a splash went up as a few stray rounds landed in a small stream nearby.
He slipped and rolled down into the mud, his head smacked wetly against a large knotty tree trunk but he struggled up again.
The rebels were celebrating, they thought they’d shot him.
Where do I go? What do I get?
Weapons locker, it’s in the field. Probably already been raided though.
The scream of artillery tore through the treetops above as he saw the field where most of the army camped explode in the night.
Dirt slapped him in the face.
He moved. It was the run of a panicked man, both legs fully extended and he ate up the ground like those horses he’d seen on the National Geographic channel as a kid.
Think of the horses Alexander, how did they run?
A rocket tore through the night just a few feet from him and smashed into a jeep that he hadn’t noticed. The smoke went high up into the night.
He was bleeding.
Pop-pop-pop went the guns as they fired into what had almost been his friends.
A big searchlight illuminated the clearing, an artillery shell slammed into the field once more.
It didn’t make sense, armies nowadays tried to capture as many POWs as they could. They could brainwash them fairly easily, it was about the numbers.
Now though, it was about extermination.
A high pitched scream as more rockets streaked by, just like fireworks.
Pop-pop-pop and the searchlights were on him.
It was a monster two stories tall. It groaned when it moved and the two back legs carried most of the support, the front one was to steady the gun.
It shook with the effort and a half ton shell screeched into the night.
Alexander lay under the spotlight and stared at the Walker Monstrosity above him. Nobody had yet to come up with a better name. It shuddered and reared up slightly; the back legs lurched forward and shed layers of pigeon shit and a wrench or two from some mechanic stupid enough to forget.
It stopped about three meters away from him and just fell forward slowly. The loud screech was otherworldly, like those roars made by the old dinosaur movies. The stabilizer sank low into the ground before the weight displacement really kicked in. Searchlights from the thing grazed through the German forest for a bit before stopping.
He heard the clank and moan of protesting metals being forced into place. People shouted in one language or the other and the thing fired. It rocked back about a foot.
More moaning metal as the hatch opened and a massive shell fell to the earth crushing all those in its path.
Then, just as quickly as it had come, it made a beeline for the trees.
Alexander struggled to his feet and looked around. Hundreds of foreign soldiers lay in the field. They were like him, forced to fight. He noticed the light blue headbands of the Polish militias. There were far fewer of them though.
He was standing in blood. A great pool of the stuff covered everything. He didn’t know how it had happened but he only sought to get away from it.
He ran up the hill and towards a primitive hut that the Magyarok had built at a haphazard pace, these fields were not the real camp. The camp was several kilometers away.
That’s where the Walker was heading.
He ran into the command hut and grabbed anything, anything to get the blood off him. He rifled through bags in the dark, strict orders for a cold camp. He found an electric torch, one of the wind-up kinds.
He banged it with his hand and then grabbed the handle and cranked it quickly, he’d heard the few Poles left behind rummaging through the field where most of the men were but he didn’t care.
Let them kill me if they will.
He swept the hut with the beam of light quickly and found a tunic under the desk. It barely fit him, too baggy. It had obviously been for one of the regulars. He stripped quickly and threw his dirty and blood soaked clothes on the floor. He slid into the trooper’s tunic and glanced around.
The torch faded out, he quickly rewound it and then found the weapon’s locker, it was small, possibly enough room to fit three of four rifles.
He kicked it open and found what looked to be an old hunting rifle, the long wooden types with a decent sight and a strap so you didn’t have to carry it with both of your hands all the time. It held six, seven shots at most then he’d have to reload. Good thing it came with extra magazines.
He needed a bag, a quick feeling around on the floor and he found what seemed to be a knapsack. He stuffed everything in it, the torch and his extra ammo.
He crept out of the hut and looked around, it was clear. The Poles must’ve given up the search for anything.
Either that or they were chasing all the guys that ran into the woods at the first sign of danger.
Hank found himself in a very well stocked forest; he hadn’t eaten so well since….the South East Asian wars. He picked through the deer corpse and grabbed another bit of intestine and raw meat. He plopped it onto a pan and stuck it rather unceremoniously into the fire.
He’d found a potato. He’d dug it out with his bayonet and cut it into strips. Field issue pans were rather easy to come by nowadays, the richer armies got them and once you killed off those techs savvy bastards you got one of your own.
Hank hadn’t had to kill anyone for his pan. It was his; he’d been issued it well over a decade ago.
Hank was American; he just hadn’t seen America since the Strauss administration. Hank heard a beeping sound and then a map made itself pretty apparent behind his eyeballs.
Apparently he had men to lead.
He’d go right after this potato.
Three potatoes and some deer heart later Hank was ankle deep in lichen and all those wonderful ferns that grow in a European forest. He progressed slowly enough because the newest intelligence reports, which buzzed in his mind like his own thoughts, told him the enemy had several Walkers with troop capacity in this area.
Hank looked up. There was a mountain ridge ahead and he would need to scale it. A map instinctively showed him the way, so the men were in the pass.
Forward, ever forward he went unless he was going backwards, in which case he was going forward just in another direction. The pass wasn’t that bad at least. Gentle inclined slope and all that.
He made it most of the way up before encountering anything living. It would’ve worried him but the fact that the only living thing was a heavily armed group of men worried him even more.
"Who’re you?" The one nearest him with the gun asked. He was short, it was actually pretty normal nowadays. You could give birth to more kids if they weren’t all basketball players to be. He was wrapped in a ragtag grouping of clothes that were simply stitched together and something that looked like two or three flags thrown on top.
"I think I’m your new commander."
"Oh, well…bout damn time. The old one gotten eaten like three weeks ago."
"Eaten by what?"
"I think it was a bear."
He started where he began, in a line. It was a repatriation line but it was still a line. Poor bastards who got kidnapped or drunk found these little huts all over the place, usually well staffed by some sort of nationality he didn’t belong to.
The line moved forward.
He took the opportunity to look at the people around him. They were all rather normal looking. With the same gaunt expression and ferocious determination to at least get somewhere more civilized than the forests of Germany.
The line moved forward.
He was next; he braced himself momentarily before glancing at the line next to him. It said quite clearly in Iaith Argentine, Unolitos Daleith yr America. He grinned and looked at the very, very English sign in front of him. United States of America.
The line moved forward.
He was shoved rather awkwardly in front of the processor. The processor was a short and somewhat fat balding man who glared at him like he was a bad sore. The processor began.
"Reason for repatriation."
"Kidnapped to serve the Magyars in combat, sir."
"Last time it says you were kidnapped to serve the Brazilians and before that you were in the Chinese navy."
"Exciting life I’ve led, sir."
"Apparently so, alright, your request for American citizenship has been denied. Next!"
Alexander stood absolutely still. He had no way to get to the Netherlands, because well he’d probably be eaten before then. America was his only shot.
"Isn’t there something I can do?"
"Not unless you see a recruiter, next!"
Alexander refused to budge, even as an angry white man waited behind him.
"Where’s the recruiter?"
Well, he thought to himself, I really shouldn’t have done this. Currently he was in a transport. A simple enough little concoction, it was all armor and jet engines. He wasn’t exactly sure where in Europe he was right now. If I’m in Europe at all. There were no windows in the transport. He kicked his brain into training to figure out what type it was if only for something to do.
Nez Perce? Nah, this thing rocked too much.
Seminole? That’d be the one. Transport and attack combo. He’d ridden in these things before. They were decent until you actually had to go anywhere. After that you had to hang on and hope nothing shot at you.
"Alright! Everybody listen up! This is a pretty routine drop, let’s keep it routine. I want a nice single file line and then everyone jumps out the port and I go home to my three wives."
Someone from the back spoke up. "Isn’t that…. illegal?"
"Not in Germany pal, God bless developing countries. Out the door!"
Alexander was sitting near the front as the Seminole’s doors flew open and the exiting air sucked him towards the door. He struggled to keep his feet but the whipping wind was threatening to drag him out.
"Go!" The jumpmaster screamed at him a few more times before finally kicking him in the underside of his knee.
Alexander crumpled and fell a few thousand feet.
Good thing the chute opened.