A Rude Awakening


#1

With all the cool stories on here, I got inspired to try my hand at it.


In the dream, it’s summer. The sun is warm on my face as I sit down by the docks. The smell of the sea can be felt on the afternoon breeze, and distant seagulls can be heard from afar. I hear children playing in the garden, and my grandfather’s old grammophone playing old, charming music from the 1950’s. A faint scent of newly barbecued burgers on the grill.

It’s perfect. It’s the life me and my wife Linda always wanted, a place near the sea where our kids could grow up at their own pace. Her grandparents live nearby, and come by with their boat every summer.


We’ve just put a fresh coat of paint on the house, a typical swedish red cottage. Renovating took time after we bought it last year, but it’s already starting to look like a proper home. The neighbours are nice to us, and the kids have already made friends at the school in Östervik. I even got to keep my old car, my orange Ville. Östertörn’s roads are small and there’s minimal traffic, but it’s just up my alley.

Then I feel it. A cold wind brushes up against me. As I draw my eyes towards the house, dark clouds begin to roll in. The music is drowned in a hollowed readiness alarm that echoes over the sun-bleached cliffs, and the surroundings grow ever darker. That’s when I see them. Red glowing eyes, methodically approaching the house from the woods. Mechanical stomps, the whirring of metal joints. Sharpened blades. They want Linda, and the children.

I begin to run to the house. I can save them, we just need to run. As I move, I realise that I’m underwater. For every breath, my chest aches as I draw in more ice cold water into my lungs.

A child screams in horror. It’s a sound that I’ll never forget.


With a loud yell, I wake from my slumber. My voice echoes in the empty dark void around me, and it takes several long, drawn-out breaths before I can regain enough of my senses to realise that I’m awake. My chest hurts as I breathe. And the mother of all headaches comes crashing down on top of me. But my instincts take priority, and I scan my eyes across the black space that surrounds me. There’s nothing to see. Am I blind? I rub my eyes several times, and nothing changes. A bit of panic starts to take hold of me, but I try my best to stay calm. Think, Karl. What’s going on?

I’m lying down, presumably in a bed. I’m clothed, shoes are still on. I’m cold, but not freezing. Wherever I am, there’s ventilation. I can hear it too, now. Just barely. The distant hum from a ventilation shaft. There’s nothing else. If I were inside a house, you’d at least be able to hear the weather outside. It’s November in Sweden. First snow fell a few weeks ago, basically blanketed half of Östertörn in white. I’m still there, right?

“Hello?” I call out. There’s a slight echo. Otherwise, nothing. No response, of course.

I move my hands around, try to get a sense of my surroundings. There’s a bed right next to mine, and one on the other side as well. They’re empty. Behind my bed is some sort of divider. It’s too heavy to move. I slowly get up to sit on the end of the bed, still moving my hands around for things to touch and sense. I stand up. My headache makes an ill reminder of just how much pain I’m in. It’s dizzying, but I’ve got no choice.


There’s a whole row of beds here, and I keep following them. I walk for what feels like at least 30 meters before finally touching the frame of the last bed. Am I in a hospital? If so, all I need to do is find a door. Or better yet, a doctor. Some Alvedon, maybe a Treo. That’d be great. With my arms stretched out, I walk away from the beds, straight ahead. Follow the faint sound of that ventilation. It’s somewhere in front of me.

Suddenly, my stumbling feet hit something on the floor. It’s soft, cumbersome and takes me completely by surprise. It’s one hell of a faceplant, onto a cold concrete floor. I barely avoid breaking my nose, but I’m pretty sure my right elbow took the brunt of the fall. It aches terribly. I move around in a bit of blind panic, trying to find what I tripped on, when I lay my hand on something soft. It’s fabric. Something slim, long… A boot. A LEG.

That feeling of hopeless panic comes back, but I quell it quickly. Yes, it’s a leg. Attached to a body. I feel around it like some insane mortician and locate the head. Is he breathing? No, he’s not. His skin is cold. I’ve tripped on a dead man. Great. Feeling him over, I notice something in his jacket pocket. Two things. One is a square object made of plastic. It’s got a switch on the side. A flashlight!

The light is blinding, to say the least. Who would’ve thought this little thing could shine like the sun? As my eyes adjust to the light filling the area ahead, I start to relax a little bit. I’m not blind, I’m just in a pitch-black room. I see the hospital beds, now. Panning the light around, it resembles some kind of emergency field hospital set up in what appears to be a concrete bunker. All the other beds are empty. There are signs on the walls, leading into various corridors and opened red bulkhead doors. ‘Kraftcentral, Förråd, Barracker, Utgång’. Utgång! An exit! There’s hope, at last. Before I get up, I take a look at the other item I found. It’s a spherical object, with a ring and… It’s a handgrenade.

“Jesus…” I proclaim as I feel the explosive in my hand.

The dead man at my feet is wearing a military uniform. His eyes are open, staring into the ceiling. And there are strange chokemarks on his throat, like someone attacked him from behind and just… Squeezed, presumably until he died. His empty gaze makes me uncomfortable, so I close his eyes gently. Poor guy. Wonder who he was… And better yet, wonder who killed him.

I begin to make my way towards the corridor with the exit sign. It’s the same one where I heard the ventilation. As I walk down it, it feels good to be able to see again, even if it’s quite creepy down here. I can’t hear the ventilation anymore, either. Strange. I thought for sure it’d be right around this corner.

The corridor continues a fair bit, past some doors that look worthwhile to investigate, if it weren’t for the overwhelming need I have to get out of here and find fresh air. At last, I come to a narrow staircase leading upwards. There’s a slight, cold draft coming from up ahead. The sign of freedom. As I grab the railing to make my way up, a strange whirring sound appears somewhere behind me. It sounds like that ventilation again, except… This time it’s more clear. Like a computer terminal powered on, almost. A single, bright red light sits in the darkness, staring right at me. It sits just out of my flashlight’s reach.


I slowly begin to back up the stairs, when it exclaims a loud, terrifying shriek. The thing darts out of the shadow, and what appears to be some kind of overgrown spider charges at me. With a terrified yelp I leg it up the stairs. The flashlight drops to the floor, and breaks. The light goes out, but I can feel fresh air from the exit nearby. So close!


I can hear it’s little legs tapping against the concrete floor behind me, but ahead is an opened, red bulkhead door. Blinding bright light shines through the doorway, like it’s some kind of gate into heaven itself. I dive through the doorway, and drag the heavy handle outward as quickly as I can. The metal door shuts, and I can hear the angry little spider shrieking and clawing from the inside as I lean against it, exhausted.

As my eyes adjust to the shining sun and the cold morning air, I make out several tall shapes a ways down the path. There are a few cars there, as well. A police car among them. I begin to make my way down the slope, when I suddenly freeze in terror. A lone police officer sits in the driver seat, red blood splattered across the windshield. Two bodies lie face down on the road. The tall shapes turn to face me. Mechanical stomps, the whirring of metal joints. Sharpened blades. Glaring red eyes light up, as they let out a blood-chilling howl that echoes throughout the valley.

I take up the grenade, and pull the pin.


#2

How amazing, another story. In a quite different style, more dream or rather nightmare mood. A slow, progressive development. And a precise description of the GZ world first impressions. Mystery and fear rather than hope and glory, rather than courage and dispair. What will happen to Karl next?


#3

Superb work here, the more stories to be told the better!


#4

very cool mate, if i could do as good as you i would write one too


#5

Added some fitting images, curtesy of the brilliant Photomode :slight_smile:


#6

Love the photos, they really complete the story! Amazing story and photos!


#7

Even better when illustrated.


#8

I throw the grenade towards the cluster of machines ahead of me, and dart into the forest. I can hear the explosion behind me, there’s a fierce roar followed by gunshots, and before I can make any sense of it a tree trunk beside me shatters into splinters. I don’t stop. If I stop, I’m dead. The ground is littered with rocks and dead branches, and I trip more than once but I don’t slow down. I can still hear them behind me. The thumps of their heavy feet, twigs breaking, the sound of metal moving, traversing the forest with ease. The woods are thick with vegetation, brushes and pinetrees. The sun is on my back, lighting the way for me as I run for my life. But not for a moment I stop. I’m marked for death by these… Hunters.

Before I know it, I leave the trees behind and I can see the cloudy skies above. My light is gone, and rainfall is not far behind. The clearing is large, and there’s no cover. Woods all around. I can still hear them behind me. My chest aches, and my body is numb. My head feels like it’s going to explode, and I feel sick to my stomach. My legs are just about to give in. This place will be where I meet my end, I grow certain of it. There’s no point in running anymore, I’m only prolonging the end.

There’s a slight, cold breeze upon the air and the pinetrees gently rock back and forth, as I sit down on my knees in the clearing. A rumble in the distance indicates thunder, and a slight drizzle of rain begins to fall.

“What a somber end” I think to myself. “Even the sun shuns me now.”

I hear them behind me, coming through the underbrush. That terrifying, bloodthirsty roar as it sees me. The sound of a blade being extended. Jesus, this is going to hurt. I shut my eyes.

The other Hunters let out similar roars. But as I expect death, something happens that not even a Hunter-Killer Machine can predict.

A brutal, deafening crash sends me to the ground as it comes smacking down. I barely have the time to see a nearby tree being obliterated by the sheer force, and the Machines standing around it, for one brief millisecond, see it approaching. Their electrical bodies contort and twist violently, before erupting in four grand, bright green explosions that send shrapnel and orange metal parts all over the area, before collapsing into nasty, entangled piles. I scream as it happens. I think that for a moment, if they could, the Hunters would’ve done the same. A bright light, then death. It feels oddly appropriate… And almost supernatural. You can’t buy this kind of luck.

It takes me a little while to gather myself before I can clamber to my feet. My ears are still ringing after the lightning strike. I don’t know how I’m still alive, though… I feel slightly singed. My antagonising foes lie spread out around the tree that’s now burnt and shattered. I slowly approach them, as if they would suddenly come back to life. One of the machines has it’s bladed arm pointed straight up, at me. It’s big enough to cut me in half.

On it’s shoulder sits some kind of device, it resembles a camera, or perhaps binoculars. It still gives off a faint glow, so I carefully pry it loose. Looking through it, I start to realise how the Hunters could’ve followed me so closely. An Infra-Red vision scope. Displays anything living or heat-source in bright yellow. Everything else is red or blue. The thrashed bodies of the Hunter Machines still glow faintly orange. I kick one of them in anger. All it does is hurt my foot a bit.

Pocketing the Thermal Scope, I start to move away from the clearing. It’s cold as hell outside. No snow yet, but the rain and the wind is not helping. I need to find a place to lay low, to hide. Anything for a cup of coffee, hell, a roof over my head. A large ridge sits in my way, so I climb it. The wet rockface makes it precarious, but after what I just survived it’s a cake walk. With all the adrenaline going through my battered body at the moment, I doubt anything would stop me now.

The top of the ridge reveals the valley below. There are roads, farms, fields… The farmlands! That’s where I am. I can see the top of a church tower to my west, but a pillar of smoke rising nearby leaves me discouraged from going. I’m in no shape to fight anything. My luck reserves feel like they’ve run out. Turning my head east, there’s mostly just farmlands and roads. I do spot a crossing, though. A few houses, and a news kiosk. A few cars as well, perhaps one of them still has the key in the ignition? It’s not much of a plan, but it’s better than freezing to death. The climb down would probably qualify as something of a risky gamble, but with some effort I manage to not trip and break my neck. Considering the state I’m in, there better be some keys in one of those cars. And a few million crowns. Yeah, and a bottle of champagne. That’d be golden.

There are a few houses at the crossing, but considering the location being so exposed in every visible direction, it doesn’t feel safe to take shelter here. A thick fog is also rolling in, blanketing the entire area in a nigh impenetrable mist. Better to get moving. Get north, to the mainland. It’s far, but with wheels… It’s doable. Just need to follow the main roads.

My stomach grumbles. Another problem that I try to just… Put in the back of my head, focus on surviving. No, that’s not happening, is it? I need to eat something. I stagger up to the blue news paper kiosk. It’s adorned with some ice cream signs, some newspaper headlines. Some news about the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Iron Curtain. Wait… I stop for a moment. The Cold War is over. But… There are these Machines everywhere. And there are no people. Cars are left abandoned in the roads, and the houses appear vacated. Were we wrong to assume that it was really over… Or is this the beginning of a Soviet invasion?

I think about it as I rummage through the garbage bin. Nothing but trash. Eagerly digging to the bottom, I end up cutting my hand on a broken soda bottle.

“FAN!” I proclaim loudly. “Helvetes satans jävlar…” I grumble a long line of swedish curses as I make my way around the back. I wipe my bloodied hand against my shirt. The wound’s not very deep, it’s more another annoyance than anything to worry about. The door to the kiosk however is completely pulled off it’s hinges. From the outside.

I cautiously peek inside. It’s dark, but empty. What looks to be drag marks can be seen on the wooden floor, and stains. Dark red stains. Shit. Another reason not to linger. I search through the cabinets, and to my delight they look like they were recently restocked. There’s Bepp Soda, Chocolate wafers, candybars, chips… I fill two bags and probably my entire mouth with candy before I head back out into the rain. The sugar helps me focus, a bit. Maybe it’s just placebo, but it does feel a little bit better. Now, to get a car. There are two cars here, a white Björk, and a Ville station wagon. Tossing the bags in the back of the Björk, I sit down in the drivers’ seat and begin to check around for keys. It proves to be an easy task, as they’re still in the ignition.

Who leaves their car just like this? But no matter. The engine hums to life with the turn of the key, and I let out an enthusiastic cheer. I am out of here! Onto the main road, then to the Östertörn Bridge, and… Wherever. Preferrably behind some heavily reinforced military barricades.

I pull out onto the main road, and speed up. As the engine growls, I barely make out the noise in the background, a kind of heavy thumping sound… Approaching somewhere up ahead. As I peer through the windshield at the foggy road, an enormous, dark and bipedal silhouette comes into view.

One single red eye staring back.


#9

Once more, I’m reading a captivating and intriguing text. And there is a genuine link between text and photos. It is good to wait for another chapter. When I was young, we used to read novels printed in a daily newspapers, each day one chapter (I know, I know I am not a youngster). However, it’s a first time a can ask a question to the author. Why the tree fell, luckily crashing the metal pursuers ? An accident, a friendly fire from a Tank, a land-mine or maybe some mysterious saviour hidden in the fog, another survivor, fired a granatgevar rocket ? Will we get the answer in the next delivery ?


#10

As it says, lightning struck the tree. The Hunters being of metal, did not survive. :cloud_with_lightning:


#11

Oh yes, you’re right. I have read it once more. It appears now clearly to me. Distant thunder, rain, deafening crash, electrical bodies, bright light, luck. A good idea. How could I have misread this :thinking: I must have been really tired looking for three missions and three weapons a in large and desterted space of Normyrra Base last night. :sweat:


#12

Without so much as blinking, I pull a hard left on the steering wheel, forcing the car onto a small side-road. Whatever huge, lumbering machine this is, it roars with a deafening sound that resembles a mix between a 1950’s movie monster and the startup sound of a workstation computer.

Essentially, it’s absolutely terrifying.

I see it’s one red eye piercing through the back window of the car, as it disappears in the distance. The ride’s very bumpy and unpredictable, and with darkness starting to fall I find barely enough time to look behind, focusing on what’s ahead. Bushes, twigs and branches whip against the windshield as I drive forward. Whatever that thing was, it was huge. And I’d like to put that behind me, before it decides I’m a threat worth chasing down. After what seems like a few minutes of dirty, country dirtroad and quite a lot of twists and bends I begin to slow down. Not just deliberately, either. The car is actively resisting going forwards now. The engine must be overheating, with all the billowing steam coming forth from the hood. But I don’t want to slow down. Not now.

Then, something happens very quickly. An extremely high-pitched noise screeches through the night, through my reckless driving the Ville’s engine to exhaustion. There’s a brief red light ahead, and before I can step on the breaks it comes crashing into my windshield. Something metallic, large, round and very angry. Before I can retake the wheel, I lose control. The car shifts violently upwards, then down.

Then… Blackness.


There’s this dream that I have. I can tell it’s a dream, because I’ve already lived it.

I’m sitting in my office, writing down the last bits of a script for a program they want me to design on this computer. The blue screen glares at me. I’m not explicably told what the program is for, but it’s not hard to find out. Runtime commands like “execute directive” and “accept order” make it fairly obvious. It’s not really that important, it’s the last job I do before I quit my position and become a writer. The office smells similar to… Wood, and old coffee. Slight cigarette smoke. Fax machine papers. The window’s slightly open, despite the season. Fresh air’s good. Well, as good as it gets in Stockholm this time of year. The distant sounds of traffic can be heard… Slight rain on the windowsill. There’s a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I say. Though I’m fairly certain they’d do it anyway.

A costumed man comes inside, and closes the door gently. He’s in his fifties, with all the appropriate insignia on his jacket for a man of his stature. I recognise him well; it’s Thomas Åkerström, my boss.
He takes off his coat, and hangs it on a nearby coat rack.

“Karl…” He begins.

“You can’t persuade me, sir” I interrupt him. “The moment this task’s done I’m gone.”

He nods, solemnly. “Becoming a writer, moving to the countryside? That’s still the plan?”

“That’s the plan.”

“How are things with Linda and the kids, Karl?”

I draw a heavy sigh, and leave it hanging a bit dramatically. Things aren’t that good. The work I’ve done lately really drove a wedge between us. I’ve worked on this project for two years and I don’t even know half of it. Some nights, I rarely came home. Other times, I did so less than sober. No wonder she needed the break.

“They’re fine, sir” I answered him, finally. He observed me for a moment.

“That’s good. I know you’re almost done with this task and I know you’re anxious to kick back and get personal relations going, but I was hoping that I could, perhaps… Offer compromise.”

I reached for another cigarette, glancing at him. “Compromise, sir? Is that what we do?”

“We do what we can, things being what they are with the world” he said, stoically.

Did he really belive that at this point? Seemed only a few years ago, the incident with the stranded Soviet submarine in Karlskrona. With some effort, I found a lighter underneath a document folder. It had the underlined words ‘Redovisningskansli Öst’ written on the front. I lit the cigarette.

“Fine, what is it?”

“We have a project on Östertörn. It’s not widely known, but it’s related to what you’ve been working on for these past two years. I can’t go into any details…”

“…you rarely do, sir” I said, interrupting him. “But Östertörn? Linda’s staying with her grandparents there.”

“The compromise being, you stay on with us, and in turn I can move you to the project. You’ll be living comfortably on Östertörn, and come a few years you’d be joining a team of top scientists, once we’ve won them over. That’s still being worked on by a collegue of mine. It may take years, but… I am assured, it will be worth it.”

“I’ll consider it” I said. Even though I’d made up my mind already.

My pondering was interrupted with the phone ringing. I lifted the reciever to my ear and answered a bit tiredly.

“Swedish Armed Forces, Documentation and Analysis Department, this is Karl Björkman.”

"BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP"


I awoke, lying slumped over the steering wheel with a huge, round robotic thing in my lap, throwing sparks and thrashing about angrily with a single red eye glaring right at me, emitting an awful high-pitched noise.


#13

Really cool story. Thanks for sharing it with us. And that illustrates the power of a good game: it fires up your imagination. And that’s why I would love more interaction with the surroundings. It expands the scope of your fantasy!

Someone should consider making this an alternative entry into the story. Remember Half-Life? After the initial installment, we had Opposing Forces (military) and Blueshift (police). It could start out as single-player and eventually develop into co-op as the different protagonists are brought together (e.g. by missions).


Alternative Player Roles
#14

Best piece of fan literature I have ever read on the internet. I’m not joking! This is amazing! Keep up the good work! :slight_smile:


#15

Crawling clumsily out of the wrecked, flipped upside down car I clawed my way in the mud, the angry machine still glared at me with a single, red eye in the driver’s seat. I got onto my back and looked at it, then towards the road where I’d came from. It was almost dark now, but I could make out the forest line, and the slightly sloped hill where I lost control of the car. My forehead hurt. Touching it, I realised I was bleeding. I considered looking for a first aid kit in the trunk, but my thoughts were interrupted by terror. A mechanical drone, high-pitched and echoing from across the woods. Heavy stomping, the sound of trees and twigs being crushed and tossed aside. Something was coming… Something big. I wasn’t keen on finding out.

I scrambled to my feet, still dizzy from the crash. The chilly November air fresh in my lungs, and made a run for it. Anywhere but here, across the muddy field, away from the stomping. The little angry machine in my car blared loudly, as if calling it forth. In the distance, I saw lights, and a blazing fire. A building. No… A church. Just across this field, and then another one. In front of it, two cars ablaze. Not exactly a welcoming sight, but what choice did I have? As I cleared the distance between myself and the blaring machine I slowed a bit, and listened. The stomping seemed to have ceased. From behind the cover of a tree, I peered back from where I came. Darkness had fallen at this point, but I remembered the infrared scoped I had picked up, and switched it on.

I could scarcely believe what I saw. Something hulking, several stories tall, dwarfing the crashed car next to it, stood on two massive legs. A whole array of spotlights adorned it’s chassis, searching around it’s area. Two enormous weapons situated below it’s ‘head’, that also seemed to scan the surroundings for movement. It casually turned it’s head around, and as it faced my way, I held my breath. Then it turned away again. I let out a relieved sigh.

The massive war machine began moving in another direction, and the small hovering unit seemed to follow. I took that as a cue to head for the Church. I cut across the last field, scrambled over a stone wall, over a ditch and began climbing the fence that separated me from a road ahead, and beyond that, the church grounds.

That’s when I heard it.

That blood-curdling, mechanical roar I’ve grown so intimately familiar with as of late. For a moment, it boggled my mind how such a machine, let along a whole group, could have snuck up on me. But there they were, coming out of the woodwork.


The Hunters were onto me, and they were tearing through the forests just beside the church with crimson, glowing eyes. Before I knew it, strange red projectiles whizzed past me, burrowing into the trees, rocks and foliage and then detonating, sending shards of rock and debris everywhere with deafening effect. I instinctively crouched back from the fence, and jumped back into the muddy ditch. It proved the right decision, as the next projectile stuck into the fence, transforming it to a cloud of splinters in seconds.

“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is how I die. It’s been put off for long enough, there’s no winning against these things.”

My self-pity was interrupted by an enormously loud bang, following a sickly green fireball and the mess of charred, torn metallic body crumbling into the ditch beside me. I recoiled back, trying to make sense of what happened around me. Soon, another of the Hunter machines was blown clean in half just on the road, it letting out a protesting, mechanical whine as it went. My eyes darted towards the church, where I could see a large muzzle flash, following a projectile smashing straight into a nearby parked car, that went up in an enormous fireball that engulfed two more of the machines. The sound left my ears ringing, and before I could gather myself enough to see what was going on, there she was.

Like some sort of action hero, clad in green overalls, wearing combat boots and what looked to be a bulletproof vest. In her hands, an AG4 Assault Rifle. She opened fire over me, at distant targets I could not see, methodically and almost calculating in each burst unleashed. She yelled something, and I tried to make out what it was. I couldn’t due to all the racket, but at a brief pause she stretched her hand towards me, and our eyes met. I took her hand, and now I heard her speak.

“Get out of that ditch if you want to live!”

She helped me onto my feet, and before I could say anything she stared at me with two fierce blue eyes through some kind of aviator helmet, and yelled “Run to the churchtower! Get the Grenade rifle and help hold them off!”

Tracers and red projectiles whizzed past me as I ran, bursting into the air with flashes that lit up the dark night. I could her her shooting behind me, now covering behind one of the downed machines’ bodies. There wasn’t any time to think, just act. I ducked inside the church, headed up a stairwell, past the organ, and up another set of stairs to the tower.

The sounds of the gunfire outside grew louder, along with… Thumping sounds, that made the ground shake. What I saw from the tower confirmed my suspicions. Not only was another pack of Hunters on the approach, but also this… Tank, of a war machine. I watched the woman blow away another Hunter machine, as I went to pick up the large, tubular weapon.

I tried to remember my military service all those years ago, what we were taught. All Swedes do their military service when they come of age. So we’d be ready for war. And here I stood wondering which end to point at the enemy. I had fired A grenade rifle before, but that was at a stationary target. Not one that was moving, and shooting back. But I steeled myself, shouldered the weapon, and aimed down the sights.

The hideous Tank in the crosshairs. Aiming a bit above the heavy armoring of it’s ‘head’, I fired, hoping to hit something critical. The backblast of the weapon sent the churchbell chiming loudly, as the projectile launched itself straight at the oncoming enemy. The Tank stopped dead in it’s tracks, as if momentarily confused by what was happening, before looking up again with renewed hatred in it’s red eye. A shower of large caliber projectiles hammered the church tower, and I dropped down to the wooden floor. A nearby box held more grenade rounds, so I reloaded and prepared to fire again.

Once the barrage of bullets was over, I popped up again. The woman with the rifle was nowhere to be seen, but the Machines seemed defeated, other than well… The largest of them all. I aimed at the same spot as before, and fired. The church bell chimed loudly again, and the grenade hit it’s mark. The Tank’s ‘head’ seemed to erupt in a shower of sparks and flames and it stopped again.

“Hit it again, keep it up!” said a voice from behind me, the woman from before. “I’ll load the next, keep it aimed.”

She loaded the next round into the launcher, and patted me on the back. “Clear behind!”

I remembered this part.

“Shot coming!”, I yelled as adrenaline built up inside me. I knew at any time that the Tank could unload on us and it’d all be over. So, I took aim and fired. The large war machine roared loudly in protest now, as more green fire spouted out, and thick armour platings came loose from it’s chassis.

The woman loaded another round.

“Clear behind!”

“Shot coming!”

As the grenade round went into the Tank’s now exposed innards, it could bear the punishment no longer. The lumbering hulk let out an exhausted, inhumane moan as it erupted into a gigantic green-tinted fireball that lit up the entire area, sending off a black plume of smoke into the air as it collapsed.

It was over. As the dust settled, I set down the grenade launcher and collapsed onto the wooden floor.

“Hey… We did good. You did good. What’s your name?” she said to me, as she set the launcher aside.

“Karl Björkman,” I responded. I looked at her as she removed the flight helmet. “What about you?”

“Corporal Helena Jacobsson, airforce.”


#16

I slowly rose to my feet, looking myself over for a bit before addressing her again. My ears were still ringing after firing the launcher, and from the backblast impacting the church bell. We started to head down the stairs. The church had seen better days, more notably now with fresh bullet holes and scorch marks all over it. I noticed several sleeping bags gathered around the organ, and some pilfered cans of food along with backpacks spread about.

Helena put down her rifle next to the wooden railing that overlooked the main hall of the church, and produced a water bottle from a nearby backpack to drink from. I looked at her attire again, and was reminded of what she said.

“Swedish Airforce? You’re a pilot?”

She gathered her assault rifle again, unhooked the magazine and began to reload it with spare bullets from a jacket pocket.

“Vråken pilot, yeah. I was shot down yesterday. I ejected, landed in a forest west of here. Was only minutes before they got beads on me. I broke into an armory, got myself some gear. Been on the move ever since.”

Seemed like a plausible story. I questioned her again.

“Do you have any news from the mainland?”

She shook her head. “No. I was stationed at Överby when this thing began. I’d just arrived to reinforce the airforce units there, a week before.”

I sat down on a chair next to the organ, and was immediately reminded of how tired I was… It had been a harrowing afternoon, and I tried my best to gather what I knew so far.

“So, what is all this? A Soviet invasion? Foreign land grab? Aliens?”

She looked me over. “You tell me, are you from Östertörn?”

I nodded. “Yeah… For the last five years or so. I’m… A writer.”

She loaded the fresh magazine into the assault rifle and cocked it. “…a writer? Like, books?”

I nodded again. I felt hesitant towards naming the work I had done for the army on Östertörn. It had been one of the reasons I moved here in the first place. That, and trying to mend a faltering relationship. The writing was just a side project.

“Yes, books. My first book, actually. I was about to release it when… This thing, happened.”

The female Vråken pilot seemed only moderately interested. “Yeah? What’s it about?”

“Human nature, in a way” I responded. That was the truth, though I’d been inspired by the work I had done for the army. Twisted it around a bit, so not to spill any secrets.

She seemed even less interested now, as she began packing her backpack with some supplies scattered across the balcony while casually responding. “Uh-huh…”

“So what about those orders,” I asked finally. “What do you know about this whole mess?”

She finally removed her flight helmet, and looked it over. She was a brunette, with short cut hair, probably to fit inside the helmet. It had suffered a large crack across the side, unhinging the attached visor. She tossed it aside.

“Two days ago, roughly, the entire island of Östertörn and the surrounding archipelago suffered a total communications blackout. There was no way to get through, not even by shortwave radio.”

I tried to remember. The last few days had been hazy. It was first now that I could gather my thoughts properly. I’d been in some sort of accident, I’d seen those frightening Hunter machines, and… I couldn’t tell what had actually been reality, or dreams. All I knew for sure was, at one point I’d been driving to work and the next I woke up in that dark underground bunker.

My thinking was interrupted by her sharp voice.

“You good? You zoned out for a bit.”

I nodded. “Yeah… Go on. It’s been a rough couple of days.”

I grabbed a nearby bottle of Bubbly Raspberries and took a few sips. I realised how thirsty I was, and ended up chugging half the bottle. I burped. She didn’t seem to mind much.

“From what could be gathered, Östertörn was completely cut-off. My squadron has had a few birds in the air to do aerial recon, and yesterday we managed to get in contact with the Swedish Navy. They had sent a cruiser to investigate, the HMS Visborg. They were to establish contact with Torsberga Artillery Fortress and work out a way to clear the blackout. And that’s where it all went to hell.”

She gave me a grim look. I got chills. “What happened?”

“Without warning, Torsberga suddenly opened fire with their main guns. Before HMS Visborg could establish any form of defensive posture, the guns ripped right through her. The ship was destroyed… I don’t think anyone survived.”

“Jesus Christ…” I began. I wasn’t sure what else to say. Seemed an oddly appropriate reaction, considering where I was.

“We ordered Torsberga to immediately cease hostilities and if that failed, perform strategic strikes to disable the main defenses of the base. But no response came. Instead, they locked onto us with ground to air missiles. We managed to scatter, but I lost contact with the rest of the squadron just before I ejected…”

She paused for a moment.

“I don’t think they made it.”

“I’m sorry,” I began. She interrupted me.

“The plan for now, is getting to the mainland. I’m going north, to the Östertörn Bridge. If it’s cut off, I’ll grab a boat. You’re welcome to tag along, we’ll do better as a team.”

“What about the airfield, Överby?”

She shook her head.

“Forget it. It’s a strategic target, they’ll be all over that area. Best to follow the side roads and work our way north.”

“No… Not yet. I need to find my wife first,” I began. “And my kids. They could be in danger.”

She looked at me. “Where are they now, do you know?”

“They’re staying with my wife’s grandparents in Östervik.”

“The city’s evacuated, I don’t think they’ll still be there. Standard evacuation protocol is to get the civilian population off the island. They’re probably already on the mainland, waiting for you.”

I hesitated. It was the only lead I got, to search for them in Linda’s grandparents’ house in the Östervik suburbs. Lillå, I think it was. It would be a dangerous route, and it would lead us farther from the mainland. And I did have faith in the swedish military to get things done.

“Okay,” I began. “We head for the bridge first thing tomorrow.”


#17

I hardly slept that night. Every few hours, I’d wake at the slightest sound. The old wooden beams of the church tower, an owl hooting in the distance, hard rain against the windows, and strange mechanical sounds on the midnight breeze. At one point I woke, finding Helena looking at me. We didn’t exchange any words. Did I talk in my sleep? What did I say?

We set out at first light. The air outside was raw, cold and wet. The sun had yet to creep above the distant treetops, before we got onto a pair of old bikes with some packed gear, weapons and spare clothes. We figured, if we stuck to the main roads we could hope to outrun the Hunter Machines, and gain good distance. Östertörn is a big island, but with the right conditions one could easily cross it in less than a single day, provided you had the appropriate vehicle. As we passed one of the bridges leading to the town of Östervik, my stomach turned. Thick plumes of black smoke could be seen on the horizon. I had half a mind just going there on my own, but was quickly reminded of it’s futility when we were set upon by strange, four-legged Machines armed with machineguns, coming across the bridge. Their aim didn’t seem that great, nor was their speed, so we could out-pedal them without too much effort. Before too long, they lost interest.

As we rode on into the early morning, we passed farms, and small villages. We saw upturned tanks, burning cars, and bodies laying face-down in the mud. And the closer we got to the main road leading to the Östertörn Bridge, the more of it we saw. I had lived on the island for a good few years now. It’s the kind of place that’s big enough for you to have some breathing room, but at the same time most people know eachother in each community. Seeing these people dead made me sick, and made me wonder if anyone I’d gotten to know in the region had met a similar fate. I tried not to dwell on it. Not healthy.

As we passed the sideroad leading to a second bridge, we came across a small industrial facility. It seemed mostly abandoned, though the lights were still on. We stopped for a quick breather, and a rather meager breakfast consisting of canned Pytt-i-Panna and orange soda. Helena checked out a small guard booth while I kept a lookout. She came out with a map.

“There’s a readiness hangar near here,” she said. “Hangar 182 Hässlehed, just up the road.”

With this new information, we continued on. It had started to rain slightly as we made it onto the main road again, but it wasn’t long before we came upon the location she had mentioned. It was a large concrete opening, built into the cliffside, with two massive hangar doors slid open, revealing an intact parked Vråken jet fighter.

We parked our bikes inside, and took a closer look at the plane.

“She’s a beauty, alright” I commented. “Don’t suppose it’s flight worthy?”

Helena clambered up on the plane, and opened the canopy. She sat herself in the cockpit and flicked some switches, checking it’s systems.

“No… She’s got minimal power, but bingo on fuel. We could probably get her off the ground on the fumes, then crash spectacularly.”

“Damn.”

Airplane hangars like these were part of Swedish military strategies during the Cold War. Many such hangars littered the countryside, where regular country roads secretly acted as takeoff strips in case of war. Pilots living nearby would report to their assigned hangar, and be able to quickly scramble jet fighter squadrons without needing to worry about becoming targets, like an airfield would.

We were both interrupted by a loud, and all too familiar roar. They’d found us.

At least, one had. A bright-orange Hunter stood out on the runway, it’s middle eye glowing red.
It hadn’t readied it’s weapon yet, for some reason. Like it expected an organic target, but got confused when it saw another machine. That would prove to be a mistake on it’s part.

I ducked behind the nearby hangar door, and threw a glance at Helena who yelled at me.

“It’s in my crosshairs! Karl, cover your ears!”

Said and done, she opened fire. With the Vråken’s main cannon. A deafening, thunderous rumble echoed into the hangar, as the plane spat out a whole row of spent shell casings that went everywhere. As for the Hunter, it ceased to exist in just a few seconds. Smoldering, orange-painted scrap parts were all that remained on the pavement when I peeked out. Helena was already out of the plane.

“We’ve probably attracted a lot of attention. We need to get going.”

She was right. We got on the bikes and continued onwards. But I couldn’t help myself to smile.

It felt strangely ironic.

As we trampled through the cold, rainy morning I began thinking for myself. Try to remember what happened before I had awoken in that dark bunker. I’d moved to Östertörn for a final project with the swedish army. Programming, that was it. And doing some writing on the side. I remembered the deal I’d made, the papers I had signed. The wife and kids were here, too. That was the main reason why I came. I couldn’t for the heck of me remember what work I actually did. But I remember enjoying my time here.

Östertörn isn’t such a bad place.

We saw regular tourism, even for this time of year. Despite the significant military presence on the island, it was a popular travel destination. Himfjäll Ski Resort got many visitors, though I’d never been there myself. Many restaurants and café’s dotted the communities, businesses that had sprung up just at the end of the cold war. In fact, Sweden was starting to see an era of prosperous development… Until now.
I was quickly reminded of that, when we crested a particularily nasty slope, facing a sprawling military facility beside the road, part of it built into the mountain. A large coastal radar tower dominated the center of the complex, and the gated, barbed wire fences gave further indication that this wasn’t an area civilians were supposed to be anywhere near.

The area seemed eerily familiar, but I couldn’t place it. As we stopped, we hid the bikes in some bushes and snuck up for a better view. There was this ominous, droning sound lingering in the air, with odd noises resembling sonar, that bounced back and forth. Nothing good could come of that.

We hid behind a large rock, and Helena produced a pair of binoculars. She scanned the area for a good, long while. I mostly kept an eye on our surroundings. Those Hunter machines had a good habit of sneaking up on you.

“There’s activity at the facility” she said. “More of those four-legged things. And those flying units. They seem to be scanning their surroundings for something.”

I peered down at the complex, but I could barely make out anything of note.

“Any idea what’s making that weird noise?”

She looked through the binoculars a while longer. “No… There’s too much foliage. I couldn’t even see the flying things until one of them came out from behind a bush.”

I suddenly remembered the Infrared Scope I had in my pocket. I took it up, switched it on and looked through it towards where Helena was looking. Although it lacked a zoom it did provide a crisp image.
And there was something large down there.

“You have an IR scope?” she asked me, surprised.

I handed it to her.

“Yeah, don’t ask. Look down there, between those trees.”

“That’s a Tank Machine… No. Two Tanks. They seem to be on standby for something. Almost like they’re guarding the area.”

My enthusiasm got low. “Great. How are we going to get past them?”

Helena scanned slightly to the left. “…shit.” She picked up her binoculars again.

“What?”

“We’ve got Hunters on the main road. Eight of them. I haven’t seen this kind before. Black, with red wiring. Those weapons look deadly” she said bitterly.

“What do we do then? How do we reach the bridge?”

She handed the IR scope back.

“We’ll have to go around. It’s risky to trek through the woods… But we don’t have a choice. We leave the bikes, take what we can carry and continue north. Hagaboda isn’t far, we’ll make it if we keep quiet and tread carefully.”

It proved a tense walk. Probably the most tense I’d been in the woods, ever. Helena had given me a K-pist, fully loaded. I hadn’t fired one since I did my military service, but I kept it close. None of us exchanged any words, just listened to our surroundings. The slight drizzle of rain, the wind in the trees, the sound of our footsteps as we crossed blueberry plants and old twigs and branches. At the slightest sound not belonging to the ones one normally hears in a forest, we stopped, crouched down and scanned our surroundings. The IR scope came to be extremely useful when we managed to narrowly dodge a patrol of those running Machines patrolling just a hundred meters away. What came after, was… Terrifying. A huge, four-legged Machine, easily the size of a dumptruck. It lumbered after the Runners, at a slow but steady pace. Knocking down trees and trampling bushes where it went. The ground trembled as it stomped on after it’s escort. Soon, they were gone. We could still hear the mechanical movements of the large Machine echoing in the distance.

After making sure we were in the clear, we began moving again. Before long, we came out at the other side of the forest, facing a road and a church. The coast seemed clear, so Helena signalled for us to head for the building.

“That’s the Alby Church,” she said. “Right on the road to the bridge. We’re not far now.”

The area seemed empty of Machines. Active ones, at least. Several broken chassis of various Runners, and even two Hunters laid spread out surrounding the church. From what we could see, they had been shot at, repeatedly. And that was pretty much all we got time for, before a bullet whisked past me, hitting a lamppost. We ducked down behind a large rock. Soon, another followed. But no gunshots. At least… Not very audible ones.

“Cease firing, we’re not Machines!” Helena cried out towards the church. There was silence, for a moment. Followed by a man’s voice.

“…you sure?”

“We’re pretty damn sure!” I chimed in.

“Come out so I can see you,” said the voice from above.

“If you put away the weapon, we’ll come out” Helena replied sternly.

“Consider it done” the voice responded. We reluctantly stepped out from our cover. We could see an elderly man sitting atop the church roof, looking down at us. He had gray hair and a beard, and wore a common linen shirt, a thick jacket and matching pants, with a hunting cap on his head.

“Well, by God. It’s good to be wrong, sometimes…” he started, then looked up. “Oh no.”

Helena looked back quickly, but couldn’t see anything. “What, what do you see?”

“You two better get in quickly… I’ll come down and unbar the back door. Hurry!”

We ran up to the church, where we found a door. Soon, footsteps could be heard on the other side, and the sounds of unhinging some kind of blockade for the door. We could also distinctly make out the all-too familiar, mechanized roar of Hunter Machines from behind.

As soon as the door was swung open, we ducked inside and helped the old man bar the door again. He shook our hands quickly, then grabbed a hunting rifle with an attached silencer from a nearby table and gestured us for us to follow him.

“I’m Father Tomas. This is my home. It’s good to see you both. But further introductions can come later. Right now, we fight!”