Iron Infestation - A Generation Zero story


#1

I was inspired to write my own story for GZ, and I think the first part is good to go.
Hope you like it. :slightly_smiling_face:


Chapter 1.

As I was waking up, for a brief moment it felt like I was back in the comfort of my own bed again, but as my senses slowly caught up to me, the grim reality of my situation began to sink in.

The dark, cold room was not mine. I was lying on a thin mattress on the floor, tucked in a sleeping bag under several blankets. There were beds here, but I felt safer staying on the floor. I was not sleeping well. I was constantly tired, and my body was aching. A sore cough reminded me that I had left the window open. The closed curtains were gently fluttering from the chilly breeze outside.

Quietly, I got on my knees and peeked through to get a look outside. The icy air felt like needles on my face.

The view of the bay was beautiful despite all, and the pale, crescent moon was setting on the western horizon. The sky was turning dark blue, and a new day was dawning. A few stars were still shimmering in the cold air above me. I carefully scouted over the small town.

On my arrival here, I saw a sign on the outskirts that stated this was the town of Klinte. I faintly recognized it from a visit, years ago. My refuge was on the top floor of an apartment building, in a small bedroom facing west. It was dead quiet outside, apart from a raven crowing somewhere in the distance. I sat back on my mattress and huddled up against the wall.

I prepared a simple meal from some food I had stashed in the corner, and as I was eating on my makeshift bed, the first daylight gradually filled the room. From it’s appearances, considering the toys and drawings on the walls, this room had belonged to a little boy, probably no more than six or seven years old. One drawing was of him and his parents, their names clumsily written under their resemblances. My eyes teared up as I thought about what tragic fate might have befallen them, and my thoughts wandered back to the day the machines first appeared in Östertörn, almost two weeks ago.

I was with my older brother Anton, hunting deer in the mountains. It was our favorite weekend activity this time of year, and just a fairly short drive from our home in Hagaboda. We had stocked up on supplies, and left our car at a small parking lot beside a dirt road on the edge of the farmlands. From there we hiked. After a while we set up camp on a strategic perch, overlooking a small valley where we had spotted deer the year before.

On our second morning we were abruptly woken up. Military jet fighters and helicopters were flying overhead in all directions. At first we thought it was just another exercise, but something felt wrong. A thought soon began to stir in our heads, that maybe the great war between the east and the west had finally come, just now that the threat had seemed to diminish.

We decided to climb the nearest hilltop to get a better view. From the top we could see the distant lights from a town, down by the sea. There seemed to be a lot of activity down there. From the south, a column of military trucks were approaching the town. Anton had done his mandatory service in the army a few years back, therefore he felt compelled to go down there to offer his assistance. If something was happening, he would likely be summoned anyway.

Back at our camp, he strictly told me to pack up our things, then head back home and stay with our parents. I was trembling with fear and uncertainty as we said goodbye, and I could see the fear in his eyes as well, even though he struggled to not let it show.

“Just remember, we don’t know what this is yet… I’ll see you soon.” He said, as he grabbed my shoulder firmly.

He forced on a smile and gave me a slight nod, then he turned around and walked. I stood for a moment and watched him as he disappeared among the fir trees.

The fear of war had troubled me since I was old enough to grasp it’s concepts, and now I felt paralyzed by it. I struggled to focus, in disbelief that this was happening, but I managed to fill my large backpack with as much as I could of the most vital objects from our camp, including food, water, dry clothes, binoculars, my rifle and a pack of cartridges. I stumbled my way back along the trail we had come up. Rain and fog were rolling in over the farmlands, and soon I was soaked.

About halfway back to where we had parked, I saw a car coming up behind me, racing along the wet, bumpy dirt road. Without thinking I positioned myself in the middle of the road, hands in the air. The driver hit the brakes and the car came sliding diagonally towards me, luckily it came to a stop just a few meters in front of me. The elderly farmer rolled down his window and yelled something at me.

“What the hell is going on?” I walked over and asked him.

“They’re evacuating all civilians! Only military personnel stay behind. I just got off the phone with my daughter in Östervik, and I’m going there to see if she’s safe. You can hop in if you want, but hurry!” He responded, clearly distressed.

“Uhh… No, I have my own people I need to see to.” I stuttered in reply.

Without saying more he took off again in a hail of mud.

“Wait! Do you know what’s happening here?” I shouted after him, to no avail.

I kept on walking toward our car, I was getting close now. The rain was pouring down heavily, enough to mask the sounds of the gunfight that took place just ahead of me.

I noticed the muzzle flashes first. Then I could distinguish the sounds of gunfire. I instinctively threw myself down behind an old stone wall, parallel to the road. I could barely see through the fog with my rifle scope, but I saw two men in uniform down at the roadside parking lot, taking cover behind a car. The other cars there were burning. The soldiers were firing at the forest edge, and someone was firing back. I could only watch helplessly as the men were cut down by the relentless fire. In shock, I put down the rifle and struggled to calm my breath for a moment.

I peeked out again through my scope, and in dismay I saw the machine that emerged out of the woods. It looked to be almost three meters tall, shaped roughly humanoid and painted in camouflage, wielding heavy weapons on both of it’s arms. A menacing, bright red eye was socketed in it’s head. It walked over to the lifeless bodies, where it stopped and looked around. Behind it, two more machines appeared.

I was terrified, and not willing to linger any more. I quickly crawled back across the road, into a deep ditch that ran between the road and the fields. I hastily stumbled my way through the muddy ditch, back the way I just came.

After a few hundred meters I was able to slip back into the forest edge, and there I collapsed behind an uprooted tree, completely exhausted. When I regained some of my breath, I got my binoculars out and leaned over the tree trunk. I carefully glassed over the fields I had just crossed, and to my relief the machines were nowhere to be seen.

Our car was apparently destroyed, and there was no way I could walk all the way home to Hagaboda with these things lurking about. I then remembered what the farmer said, about the evacuation. My parents were hopefully safe. I had to believe that. The army must have gotten them out.

“Oh no… Anton!” The thought just hit me. My brother was going to fight these things.

My protective instinct awakened inside me, and a surge of adrenaline relieved some of my fatigue. Before long I was on my feet again. I was confused and still in disbelief of what I had just seen, but I could only see one way forward from here. I had to find him.

I retraced my steps up through the hills, and in the afternoon I arrived back at our campsite. The rain had stopped, and clear, cold air was coming in with a bone-chilling wind. I rested for a while in our tent, ate some food and changed into some dry clothes.

Later I went back up to the nearby hilltop we had climbed that morning. No more jets or choppers were to be seen or heard, but I could hear the distant sounds of fighting in all directions. Far away, brief flashes of heavy fire lit up the darkening sky.

I waited until nightfall, and then began navigating through the dark forest. The skies had partially cleared up and the moon helped me see a bit. I had not walked far when I suddenly noticed a row of flashlights, moving in a line among the trees. There were five of them.

“A military patrol! Maybe Anton is there!” I whispered to myself, and I thought about how to make contact without startling them.

I took out my binoculars from my jacket to get a look at them. One of them suddenly halted and was illuminated by the others. I saw what they were now. More machines, but not like the ones I saw earlier. These looked like dogs. They’re eyes were bright white, and they patrolled the forest like a pack of wolves. I held my breath, and I could hear the mechanical sound of their joints as they moved. I lay flat on the ground until they had passed, before I dared to move on.

Later that night, I had made my way to the top of another hill. The town we had seen in the distance now lay before me. It looked somewhat familiar. I could see a grocery store and a fire station on the southern edge of town, vis-à-vis the gas station. On the northern edge of town, the church was located, right downhill from where I was standing. Past the housing areas lay the harbor. I glassed over the whole town with my binoculars, but I could see no movement. If there had been fighting here, it was over now.

I examined the church more closely through my scope, and to my surprise I saw a couple of the dog-like machines, lying down at the parking lot. They were clearly disabled. A thin haze of black smoke was rising from one of them. Someone had fought back.

I made sure my surroundings were clear, and I began to climb down the hill toward the church. I stopped down at the main road that ran through town along the foot of the hill. I had no cover, but it appeared clear in all directions. I quickly ran over to the church, past the black, burnt out husks of the machines. They had some writings on them, still barely visible. I could examine those later. I walked around the church and entered through the main door.

“Hello? Is anyone here?” I uttered in a low voice, as I peeked into the dark hallway.

No response. I closed the big door behind me.

“Hello? Are there people here?” I said, a bit louder this time.

All quiet. I proceeded to look around the church. There were no signs of people on the main floor. On the second floor, by the organ, a couple of sleeping bags were rolled out on the floor. Some empty food cans lay discarded in the corner. I had to climb up the bell tower, just to make sure nobody was there. The old wooden stairs creaked loudly from each step I took. There was nothing up there. I decided to move on, thinking it might be better to search the docks instead.

I hoisted up my backpack and readied my rifle again before exiting the church, this time through the back entrance. For just a moment I wasn’t paying attention, and as I stepped out onto the stairs I caught something in the corner of my eye, and I stopped dead in my tracks. One of those dog-like machines was standing right there on the main road, across the graveyard. We saw each other simultaneously, and it’s eye turned bright yellow just as it gave off an alarming noise.

In the blink of an eye I shouldered my rifle. I didn’t take my time to line up the shot, but pulled the trigger as soon as the machine was in my crosshairs. I don’t know what I hit, but the soft pointed, big game bullet did it’s job. The machine erupted in a plume of fire and black smoke. Sparks rained down around it as it collapsed on the road.

Just seconds later, bullets were flying through the air. They bounced off the stone walls of the church behind me, and whipped through the hedgerows in the graveyard. Several red eyes glared at me from further up the road. I sprinted back over the parking lot, toward the center of town.

Out of the darkness, two of the large bipedal machines I had seen yesterday, came running up from the road that led down to the docks. I saw the large blades attached to their arms. They were extremely fast, and they were about to cut me off. I set my course for the nearest house, an apartment building on the left side of the road. Bursting with adrenaline, I ran for my life. I could hear a noise from the death machines at my heels, like a turbine revving up, and then suddenly one of them launched itself into the air. I felt the ground shake as it burrowed its blade into the asphalt, less than a meter behind me.

It’s failed maneuver enabled me to outrun them to the back of the building. I ran so fast I crashed into the door. I ripped the glass door open, which thankfully was unlocked, pulled it shut again and ran up to the top floor, where I tumbled over in the dark hallway. I lay there for a while and stared into the ceiling. It felt like my heart was gonna burst through my chest. The machines did not follow me inside, but I could hear them skulking around outside the building. Soon it was all quiet again. Eventually I fell asleep, right there on the cold floor.

Twelve days have passed, and I have not left this building. I have survived on the belongings of the people who used to live here. I haven’t dared to go out, not after my last encounter. It’s mostly been quiet outside, and I haven’t seen other people, civilian or military. I have seen no helicopters or boats either. No one appears to be looking for survivors, if anyone is even there. For all I know it could be the same on the mainland. I no longer hope to find my brother alive, nor anyone else for that matter. Small groups of machines patrol the town regularly. Yesterday morning, a huge four legged machine passed by the bridge on the southern edge of town. It was like nothing I have ever seen. I felt the building tremble from it’s footsteps, and I could hear it long after it was gone. In this surreal situation, I had become depressed an apathetic. I could see no way out of this.

My mind returned to the present. I got up from the mattress and clothed myself, then I walked out to the living room and looked around for something to fill my time with. I pulled aside the curtains from one of the windows, then I sat down in the sofa to gather my thoughts.

I had utilized the whole building well, and looted all the apartments. I had gathered food and clothes. In a locker, I had even found some ammo in the same caliber that I was using. I knew I could hide out in here for quite some time if I had to. My backpack and rifle were standing in the hallway, packed and ready in case of emergency, despite my unwillingness to leave.

I sat there for a while and tried to read some comic books I had found in the basement. I frequently glanced up and watched the snow that had begun falling outside. It was actually quite peaceful. A couple of hours passed.

I felt a slight tremble in the building again, almost unnoticeable at first. Soon there was no doubt. An empty soda can vibrated against the glass table in front of me. There was a deep thump, every two or three seconds. It was closing in fast, from behind the building by the sounds of it. A minute later the whole room was shaking. Things were falling from the shelves. I ran out to the bathroom in the back of the apartment and peeked through the curtains.

An enormous, two legged machine was standing on top of the hill behind the building, towering over the treetops. I stood paralyzed and watched as it let out a deafening, humming noise. The whole town was under it’s gaze.

Suddenly the giant machine twitched, and I could see sparks flying as it was struck by several bursts of bullets. The machine’s sensors turned bright red as it was searching for it’s target. The next moment, what must have been a rocket struck the machine head-on. The shockwave cracked the window right in front of my nose. The machine immediately responded and fired a volley of rockets back at its attacker. I screamed in terror as they flew right above the roof. Without hesitation, I grabbed by gear and ran down the stairwell. I burst through the first floor apartment and jumped off the lower balcony. There were other people out there. I had to find them.

The shots were clearly coming from down at the docks. I sprinted toward them in a straight line. Another rocket came whizzing out from behind a storage building. It passed right over my head, and I heard how it struck the great machine behind me. It returned fire with a heavy machine gun. Just as I reached the harbor, a hail of bullets swept over the parking lot. The shots tore through one of the cars that stood right in front of me, and I dived into cover behind a shed. The other survivors had seen me.

“You! Get in here!” A voice cried out from inside the storehouse.

Another burst of fire from the machine drummed into a freight container beside me.

“What? I’m pinned down here!” I yelled back.

Another rocket left a trail of smoke as it flew out. When I heard it explode far behind me, I instinctively sprung to my feet and ran toward the building.

Inside, I was met by a girl, about my own age. She came running toward me as she saw me, with an assault rifle in her hands, and a distressed look on her face. She grabbed me by the sleeve and pulled me to the back of the building, where a young man was reloading a rocket launcher.

“How the hell did you do that?” He looked up and asked me.

“You should be full of holes by now, running around like that!” The girl followed up.

“I just… I thought I’d never see another living person again.” Was all I managed to say.

The machine fired at us again. The outer wall of the building was dotted with holes. It was aiming just too high to hit us, but debris were flying all around us inside the warehouse. It’s immense firepower was terrifying to witness.

“No time for handshakes. Hurry, help me ready the boat! Erik, you watch our backs!” The girl said.

We ran through the back door, out to a boat house on the edge of the docks. A small, wooden boat was moored there. The girl climbed down the ladder into the boat. We could hear the machine still firing, it’s bullets cutting through the sheet metal panels of the warehouse.

“Quick! Give me your pack and weapon, and get that damn rope untied!” She shouted.

I did as she commanded, and as I was fumbling with the rope, Erik came running with the rocket launcher.

“What the hell are you waiting for? That thing is coming!” He yelled.

We could hear the machine’s heavy stomps again.

“It came down from the hill, it’s gonna be here real soon!” He said, as he climbed into the boat.

The rope came loose. I pushed the boat down the slippery landing planks, and jumped in just as it slid into the water. Erik struggled to fire up the old outboard motor. Eventually it coughed out some white smoke, and started with a rumbling sound.

It became obvious that the motor wasn’t working properly. We barely moved forward. Through the falling snow, we saw the giant machine coming down one of the streets, toward the harbor. It made some weird sounds as it appeared to be reacquiring it’s target. Then our motor died.

“No! Piece of shit!” Erik exclaimed.

“What? Well row then!” The girl cried.

There was a pair of oars in the boat. Erik and the girl struggled together to get them in place. I looked over at the great machine again, and I could see our time was up. We were sitting ducks, right there on the open water. Any second now would be our last. Right now, any way out was worth a try. I grabbed hold of the heavy rocket launcher that lay in the bow, and lifted it up on my shoulder.

“There! Now row dammit!” The girl cried again.

“No… Stay still.” I replied, as I fought to stay calm.

I took a deep breath, then I let the rocket fly. The projectile hit the machine right below the front armor plate, and blew it right off. It flew high up in the air and landed on top of a dumpster. The staggering machine spewed out a fountain of sparks, then it exploded in an enormous cloud of fire and smoke. It sounded off a deep, wailing roar as it fell sideways, crashing into one of the houses.

The three of us sat quietly in the boat and stared at the black smoke, rising from our wrecked enemy.

“My god… You actually killed that thing.” The girl said in a low voice.

“I think I did. I just can’t believe we made it through that.” I replied.

“Hey, give yourself some credit. That was awesome!” She exclaimed, as she slapped me on the knee. “I’m Frida, by the way. This is my cousin, Erik. We’re glad you found us!”

“Thanks… I’m glad I found you too.” I replied, still baffled by the outcome.

She smiled back at me.

“Do you know what these machines are? And how have you two managed to survive out here?” Were the first questions that came to my mind.

“We should get away from here, more machines will arrive soon. They can pick up noise from a long way off.” Erik interrupted.

“Could we row over to the mainland?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t try that. We saw someone attempting to cross during the first days. They were blown away by a barrage of rockets from the shore, fired by one of those machines we just took out.” Frida replied. Then she pointed her finger outward. “We planned on going out there.” She continued.

A couple hundred meters off shore was another island. I could barely make out it’s outline through the heavy snowfall.

Erik maneuvered the boat on course and began rowing.

“What’s out there?” I asked her.

“I have no idea. If we’re lucky, there might be some summer cabins, and maybe supplies. Hopefully there are no machines out there…” She paused and looked over her shoulder for a moment. “We get out to the island safely, and set up camp there. Then we’ll tell you everything we know.”


A Rude Awakening
Character Biography
#2

Very good work , keep it on. I love reading this. I think it fresh up the forum.


#3

Thanks a lot. It’s been 6 months since I wrote this. I got started on chapter 2, but didn’t finish it. Who knows, maybe I will some time? :wink:


Character Biography
#4

Hello i have wrote a story too and it’s a big one if you are interessted look for Helldivers Diary A Generation Zero story.
Please keep your work on, your story is another good idea in the World of GZ

Have fun and agood Day


#5

Chapter 2.

None of us said a word as we crossed the water. Erik kept on rowing. I could hear him breathe heavily. He peeked over his shoulder to check if he was going in the right direction. His eyes were grim and dark, and water was running down his face from the melting snow in his hair. He shook his head to get the water out of his eyes, and muttered some irritated words to himself.

I looked over at Frida, who was in the other end of the boat. She was sitting in the bottom, leaned against the transom. She was huddled up, resting both her arms and head on her knees. I could see she was really freezing. I felt terrible for her.

"Frida?" I said, but got no response. I called her again. "Frida!"

She looked up at me. In the very same moment our boat hit rock bottom and came to a sudden stop. I fell off the thwart and landed on my back in the bow. Erik got up and helped both me and Frida to our feet. We had landed on the tip of the island.

“Come on, you two. Let’s get moving. We have to look for some kind of shelter and get ourselves warmed up.” Erik said, as he unloaded our gear onto the shore. “We have better clothing in our backpacks, I hope you have a dry set as well?” He asked me.

"Thankfully, yes." I replied.

The three of us gathered our strength and pulled the boat a couple meters out of the water, where we tied the ropes to a small birch. Just then, the snowfall lightened up a bit. Away to the south, the skies appeared to be clearing up.

“Great. The damn snow could at least give us a break after what we’ve been through… I can’t even feel my toes and fingers anymore!” Frida grumbled.

“Let’s try to walk it off, okay? That always works.” I said.

She nodded in reply.

We geared up and began walking down along the western shore of the island. We were now out of sight from the main island of Östertörn. We moved carefully and kept our eyes on the trees and bushes, anxious to find out if the machines occupied this island as well. We couldn’t afford to be caught by surprise. Rowing a twelve foot wooden boat didn’t really make for quick escapes.

Being on the move again, and having met other survivors was having a positive effect on my mind. I could feel it. Cowering in the apartment building any longer would have eventually led me to a sad, slow death. The battle against the great machine was a shock, but it had ignited a spark in me. If given the right circumstances and a fair bit of luck, maybe fighting wasn’t futile after all. Maybe there was a way through all this. Maybe my family was still safe, somewhere out there.

We had only walked a few hundred meters when we came to a small cove. It was naturally secluded by a narrow inlet with steep, bare rocks and surrounded by tall aspens. We could see the rotted remains of a small, wooden dock. An old, abandoned fisherman’s house lay sheltered under the shadows of the tall, naked trees. The small patch of garden that had once surrounded it was now covered in thick bushes and undergrowth. Behind the house, a small, winding path led back into the dark woods. I felt relief, a feeling I had almost forgotten. I looked over at the two cousins, and for the first time, Erik’s grim mood seemed to lighten up a bit.

"You see, grumpy? I told you this would be worth it!" Frida said, and gave him a smack on the shoulder.

"Hmph… Good call." Erik muttered.

Frida winked at me and whispered “He’s military. Hates being told what to do…”

"All right, cut it out!" Erik interrupted.

“Hey, I’m cool.” I replied, and put my hands up to signal my neutrality. “Let’s go check out that house, all right? See if there’s anything of use there, and if the roof is still intact.”

Erik positioned himself on top of the rocks with his heavy weapon, from there he had a good overlook. I took point, readied my rifle and slowly moved into the cove along a narrow path by the water’s edge. Frida followed right behind me. We passed by the old dock. The remains of an old boat lay partially submerged in the clear, shallow water beside it. We carefully proceeded into the thick undergrowth in front of the old house. It was a real struggle. With a loud crack, a rabbit darted out from it’s hiding spot that we had disturbed. I jumped back and began fumbling with the safety on my rifle, but stopped as my brain caught up to me. I could hear my heart pounding.

"Hooh! Little bastard!" I snarled at the poor creature.

Frida chuckled as she walked on by me. She climbed up the stairs to the main door, grabbed the handle and said calmly “I’ll open it. Be ready, just in case.”

I sharpened my senses and kept watch on the door and windows. My thumb rested on the safety, and my index finger on the trigger guard. Frida turned the handle and gave the old door a firm pull. It swung halfway open, and she quickly stepped back out against the wall.

"Anyone inside?" She called into the hallway, loud and clear.

No response. We kept quiet for a moment.

“Just look at this place. Nobody’s here, nor have they been for a very long time.” I said to her, and relaxed my stance a little bit.

"I prefer being on the safe side. Look around outside, okay?" Frida replied, then she proceeded into the house.

There was little of interest to be found around the overgrown garden. Behind the house, an old, rusted metal plate, leaning against the wall caught my attention. I pulled it away, and found that it was hiding an opening in the stone wall beneath the house. I took a quick look inside, and it appeared the owners had stored some leftover building materials in there. It was dry enough to make firewood of. Frida looked out at me from one of the windows, I could see she was rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. She smiled and held up some canned food she had found.

I walked back out in front of the house, and I saw Erik coming up the path, walking slowly along the water. The rocket launcher was hung on his back. He stopped down by the old dock and lit up a cigarette. The skies were now clear, and the last rays from the setting sun pierced the dark woods and filled the cove with a golden light. It felt peaceful in a surreal way, compared to what we had been through during the last two weeks. I knew however, that this place which had once been a safe haven for a fisherman and his family, and protected him from stormy seas, would not protect us from a storm of fire and metal like the one we had faced that very same morning.

We gathered inside the house. To my surprise, the interior was in a far better state than the exterior. The air was raw, it was a bit dusty and littered with dead flies, but otherwise it was relatively tidy. The house was sparsely furnitured but functional, and it actually looked to be in some form of use. Erik and I threw our bags into a corner in the living room. Frida came out from the tiny bedroom in the end of the hallway.

"So, what have you found? Anything useful?" Erik asked her.

“Four cans of food. Canned only three years ago, actually. I also found a jar of jam that had expired last winter, so someone’s clearly using this place.” Frida said thoughtfully.

“Doing what? The dock is gone and the garden has been reclaimed by nature. Whoever is living here has to be hiding from someone! We didn’t even see this place before we stumbled right upon it.” Erik interrupted.

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve got a picture of him in my head already. Old fisherman, probably grew up here. Moved into Klinte or Kålleby to get a better paid job when modern times made this simple lifestyle impossible to live, if you also wanted a bit of economic security and food on your table. But he can’t completely let it go, so he keeps coming back to his home every once in a while.” Frida replied.

“I think I’m with Frida on this one, Erik.” I said, and chuckled a bit. “Or it could just be squatters?”

“You two don’t know a goddamn thing! If you had even the slightest idea what kind of forces that operate from the shadows around the world, you’d both piss yourselves! You can’t trust anyone these days, and you can’t afford to be naive. Just look at what’s happened out there!” Erik yelled.

"Jesus, Erik! I was just thinking out loud. Calm down." Frida muttered in reply.

A moment of awkward silence followed. Erik crossed his arms and stared into the ceiling. He was completely on edge, and he felt like a ticking bomb. He kept his head on when things were serious, but when he had time to think, something was clearly gnawing at him.

“Let’s just change into some dry clothes, and get this place ready for the night.” I urged them.

The cousins agreed, and we got to work.

By the time it was dark we had cut some of the planks I found into wood, and gathered what little more supplies there were to be found in the house. Erik hung some old carpets over the windows to keep anything, or anyone from seeing inside. We had hardly spoken in the last few hours. I guess we all wanted to feel as secure as possible before we let our guard down. Finally, when we had sorted out all of our gear, eaten a little bit and found ourselves a place to sleep, we could relax. Another long November night was upon us. Outside, it was snowing heavily again. We had pulled up three chairs in front of the open fireplace in the corner of the living room. We sat down and got a good fire going. A tingling, warm sensation crept up through my feet and filled my whole body. I shut my eyes and relaxed. It was as well-earned rest after the most surreal day of my life, that nearly became my last one. We watched the flames in silence. Vague, red figures danced around the walls and corners of the dark room. The crackling of burning wood was the only sound to be heard.

“We’re here now. This is where you were gonna tell me what you know about this mess we find ourselves in.” I said to break the silence.

Erik stared at me for a moment, and gathered his thoughts.

“I hope Frida didn’t give you the impression that we know all about the machines. We know almost as little as you, to be honest.” He gave Frida a questioning look, before he continued “We were on a roadtrip, and had stayed at a motel down in Sävered when the fighting began. It wasn’t much of a fight though. From the windows, we watched in disbelief the strange machines that had gathered in the fields surrounding Sävered Church. An oblivious driver came by, and they opened fire at him! The few residents living there panicked, and scattered on foot and by car. Soon the military appeared, with what little resistance they’d had time to scrape up… Well, those guys were doomed from the start. We watched as they fended off the smaller machines for a short while, and then two of those giant, hulking tanks came thundering in, and basically obliterated them. We couldn’t fathom what we were seeing.” Erik said, as he stared at the flames.

Frida continued.

“We ran out the back door, into the woods, and made our way north toward Klinte. We dodged several machines on our way there. Outside Muskudden we found the remains of a military roadblock. They had equipment we could use, and we, uhm… We looted their corpses. I… I’ll never get those gruesome images out of my head.” Her voice cracked. She took a deep breath. “We only got a bit further, to the edge of Klinte, before we were ambushed. We ran for our lives, straight up the main road and just barely got into the church unscathed. We hid ourselves in there for one night. We kept watch from the bell tower, and we saw some awful shit that evening. A few people who were left behind somewhere in town, tried to escape from their hiding spots. The smaller machines efficiently hunted down those who ran, while others… Yeah, I told you earlier what happened to those who tried to cross by boat.” Frida said, and paused a bit.

"The next morning we moved on toward the marshlands. We were hoping to reach the northern brigde to the mainland. We eventually got up to the Norrmyra base. The troops there were defeated as well. We hid out there for a while and scrounged for supplies. Our plans quickly failed though, as so many machines suddenly showed up around the base, that our path northward was as good as blocked. We decided to bugger out and search for safer options. We returned to Klinte the evening before we met you." She explained.

"Frida said you were in the military, right?" I asked Erik.

His face almost turned to stone, and I got a feeling that my question had hit a tender spot. It was close to what was troubling him. He didn’t answer.

"Erik?" I asked again.

“I… I am! And when it mattered the most, I wasn’t! Do you get that? All of those people fought and died, and I just stood there and watched! And then I ran!” Erik spoke into his lap, and he covered his face with his hands.

Frida leaned over and grabbed his arm.

“Erik, you’re not even stationed around here. And what exactly could you have done? I mean, really? You saw how fast the fight was lost. Your own unit may not even have reached the phone to call you, before they too were overrun. You can’t go around blaming yourself for this!” She replied.

“She’s right, Erik. To me it seems guerilla tactics are the only thing that’s gonna work against these machines. The military was defeated in a matter of hours! I really am sorry for both of you, for what you’re going through, but you survived. They didn’t. If anything, you’re lucky to still be here. Now you actually have a fighting chance, and a chance of survival.” I added.

“I’m trying to get myself to accept that.” Erik mumbled.

“I asked because I have a brother in the military. We were hunting in the mountains east of here on the first day, and he went to join the forces stationed in Klinte, to offer his service. Of course, he didn’t know what we were up against at that time. That’s the last I saw of him, so I wondered if you might have seen him, but given your accounts of what happened, I assume you haven’t.” I said quietly.

As I said it, I remembered the dead soldiers at the roadblock Frida spoke of. A huge lump grew in my throat, my mouth dried and I stared emptily into the room. I thought about Anton, and I struggled to accept that he might have been killed by this senseless enemy.

“I’m sorry, can’t help you there. I’m stationed on the mainland anyway, that’s where we’re from.” Erik replied. “We don’t really know anyone in Östertörn. We just like to go here on vacations and weekends, and we sure picked the wrong goddamn day to go this time!” He continued.

“It’s okay, Erik. Thought I’d ask, just in case.” I answered.

We fell silent again for a while. Frida fueled the fire with some more wood. It crackled as the flames intensified.

"So, the little you know about the machines, what is it?" I asked again.

“Like I said, little! You’ve seen all the mysterious bases, military installations and bunkers around this small island, right?” Erik answered.

“No, I actually haven’t. My family moved from the mainland to Hagaboda just two years ago. Before that, we’ve only visited once or twice a year. My grandfather was from Östervik. So no, I haven’t explored all of Östertörn yet.” I repelled his assumption. “But I have seen a few of them.” I added.

“That figures… Well, the FOA presence here is enormous, and insanely secretive. Back at the military base I’m stationed at, I one day got a quick glance at a map I wasn’t supposed to see. This whole place is covered by secret installations, most of them are under ground and some of them are simply hiding in plain sight. They, or we actually, are behind the machines! We have made them for whatever purpose, believe me or not. I’ve seen them up close. They have Swedish names and labels all over them!” Erik explained eagerly with a raised voice. Frida nodded to confirm.

“What the hell?” I exclaimed. I was both surprised and not. “Actually, it wouldn’t make any sense for a foreign invader to stage a full scale attack into a remote area like this, but it does make sense to choose a place like this to secretly build these things. But how have they turned against us then?” I asked.

"I can only imagine something has gone wrong, or maybe even more likely, that someone on the inside has gone rogue!" Erik replied.

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out. Besides, I want to survive more than I want to go digging for clues to what’s happened.” Frida added.

I nodded in agreement. Erik was quiet, but it seemed like he felt the same way. The conversation stopped. I was getting tired, and so were the cousins, by the look of it.

“I’m gonna get some sleep.” I said, and stood up from my chair.

“Oh, me too. I’m exhausted.” Frida said, followed by a long yawn.

“Sounds like a good idea. I’m sleeping in here. You two go get some rest, I’m just gonna gather my thoughts and do some maintenance on this gun I got here, and fill up the magazines.” Erik said, and went for his backpack in the corner.

He took out a cleaning kit, and a green painted military SMG with a folded stock. I recognized it’s simple, characteristic design. The “Kulsprutepistol”. Anton had used one of these in his service, and shown it to me a couple of times. Erik placed five empty magazines and several packs of ammunition on the table, and he got to work.

“Leave your guns here, I’ll look over them as well.” Erik mumbled.

Frida hugged him and said good night.

"Thanks, Erik. Have a good night." I said, and went out into the hallway.

I had picked a spot to sleep in the kitchen. It wasn’t going to be pleasant with just a couple blankets between my sleeping bag and the cold wooden floor, but it was far better than what we had expected to find on this seemingly desolate island. I slightly opened the outer door to draw some fresh air. The snow was still falling heavily, and what little I could see outside was covered by a thick, white blanket. Frida went for the bedroom in the end of the hallway, which she had claimed for herself, but stopped when she saw me.

"Anything out there?" She asked.

"Snow and darkness. Lots of both." I replied.

"Wow. Makes me happy we actually found a house! We could have been out there in the snow…" She said thoughtfully.

I shivered at the thought. I took one final look outside before I carefully shut the door.

“Let’s see what news daylight will bring, all right? You sleep well now.” I replied.

"Okay, you too. Good night then." She said, and she looked me in the eyes and smiled.

"Good night." I replied, and returned the gesture. I could feel myself blushing.

I fumbled my way into the pitch black kitchen, and eventually found my sleeping spot. I lay awake for a while, despite how tired I was. I couldn’t help but think about Frida. Something about her lifted my spirits, and made me feel more alive. Maybe it was the smiles and the warm looks she gave me when everything around us was dark. She seemed so calm and determined, despite all the horrible things she had been through. I liked that. This was a bad time to fall in love, but it might also be the last time we ever had. My thoughts circled back. What was I thinking? I must be imagining things, or my long days of solitude had gotten to my head. During his time in the military, my brother once told me about how just a couple weeks isolated from civilian life would make your brain exaggerate any signs of affection, or even a slight look from someone you liked, or felt attracted by. I had only known her for a day. Frida was probably smiling this way to everyone, she’s that kind of person. There was nothing special about me. I felt ashamed of myself.

My mind kept racing in all directions, and I struggled to sleep. I thought about my parents, and where they might be. I had settled with the hope that they had been successfully evacuated, but I knew deep down that there was no way I could be sure about that. I thought about my brother Anton. What did he think when he found out what they were fighting? Was he afraid? Was there even time to be afraid before they were overrun by the machines? Was his body lying somewhere on a road or in a field, frozen under the snow? I trembled at the thought, and desperately tried to push away the images in my head. I was furious at the very idea of war, and the senseless contempt for life it represented. I remembered my initial determination to find him, and I could feel it coming back to me. If I was alive, he could be too. I was never gonna be able to sleep now.


#6

Chapter 3.

“Hey… Hey! Wake up, and stay quiet.” I could barely make out Erik’s voice in my slumber, then he grabbed my shoulder.

He scared me so bad I jumped in my sleeping bag. In my confusion, it felt like I had only slept for a minute, but I could see a pale stream of daylight through the covered window. Erik was huddled over me. His index finger was crossed over his mouth. I gave him a questioning look.

“There’s something outside. Not sure what it is yet.” Erik whispered.

"Other people?" I whispered back.

“Definitely not. It made a strange, constant buzzing sound as it passed by the house, almost like it was flying, not walking. The sound has stopped now, but I’m not sure if what made it has gone away.” He explained quietly.

"What about Frida?" I asked.

“She’s awake. We’re packing our gear in case we need to go. Get your things together, I’ll prepare some food for us in the meantime. And be quiet now.” He said.

I did as he asked. When I was done, I carefully peeked out through the thick, improvised curtains. Outside, it was overcast and a light wind was blowing, whirling up the dry snow. It had fallen almost twenty centimeters of snow during the night by the looks of it. The dark woods behind the house looked completely empty and quiet. I laced up my boots and put my jacket on, then I walked on my toes out into the hallway. I placed my backpack against the wall, where Erik had put my rifle. Erik and Frida were sitting in front of the fireplace again, but no fire was lit except a small candle on the mantlepiece. The room was barely lit up enough to see each other.

"Hey there. Slept well?" Frida looked up at me and asked.

"Surprisingly well, actually." I answered.

"We got some cold, canned stew. Ugh… Looks like something a fox would eat!" She said, then she looked up at me and chuckled.

I smiled back at her.

“Stay on guard, you two. Let’s eat and be done with it.” Erik said.

After we had eaten, Frida and Erik went around from window to window to scout around the house. I took the front door and opened it just enough to peek through. Again, it appeared quiet outside. No footprints or any signs of disturbance were to be seen. I stood there and watched the small ripples down on the grey water inside the cove, and wondered what it could be that Erik had heard. Suddenly, there it was again. A sound like the one he had described. A buzzing noise came from the forest edge on the northern end of the house. Erik appeared behind me.

"Shut the damn door!" He hissed through his teeth.

He had his SMG ready, and Frida was loading her assault rifle as quietly as she could. I gently closed the door, and went for my rifle. The buzzing sound became louder and louder until it stopped right in front of the stairway outside the entrance. We looked at each other in suspense. Then a bright, shimmering red light pierced through the cracks around the old wooden door. We held our breaths, and slowly aimed our weapons at the doorway. It appeared to be scanning for movement, or it could be for heat signatures for all I could tell.

“It’s gonna find us.” Frida whispered.

A gut feeling told me the exact same thing. In an impulse I made the decision to face the problem with the element of surprise on our side. I pushed the door hard, and it swung open. Outside was a small, hovering machine with two jet thrusters on it’s sides. I saw no weaponry, but a large siren on top of it’s hull, left no doubt about what this machine’s purpose was. A lamp on it’s front turned from bright yellow to red as it saw me, just like I had seen before. I immediately fired a shot right at it’s front. The machine staggered, and was knocked out of balance. Erik stepped up beside me and fired a burst at it with his SMG. Something on the machine exploded, and in a trail of black smoke it flew upward in a loop and crashed among the rocks down by the water.

"What the hell! Why did you do that?" Erik screamed at me.

“I followed my instincts, dammit! Quit acting like you’re in charge here, Erik! What if that thing had alerted others about our location? Do you want to be surrounded in here?” I yelled back at him.

“Calm down, both of you!” Frida commanded. “We might have alerted them ourselves right now. I don’t have to tell you how far those shots can be heard, do I? So now what do we do?”

Out on the rocky hillcrest by the sea, on the path we had come up yesterday, two of the dog-like machines appeared. They appeared to be searching, and they were coming into the cove towards us.

"Shit! Here we go." I said to myself, and signaled Frida and Erik to get ready.

I crouched down and put my scope on them. There was a gas tank on top of them that I hadn’t noticed before. I fired at the one in front. The bullet ricocheted off it. I fired again, and this time I hit the tank. The machine collapsed under a plume of fire. The other machine began running toward the house. Frida had positioned herself in a window. She fired five or six controlled shots at the machine, and it blew up and fell into the thick bushes. We anxiously looked around for more movement. Then another machine appeared, but on the other side of the house, in the forest. We saw it moving in the shadows among the black, naked trees. It was one of the tall, bipedal machines.

“It’s hunting us. We have to pull the plug on this plan, and get back to the boat.” Erik whispered.

“I agree, let’s go now!” Frida said.

I quickly filled my magazine, and nodded in agreement. Erik took out an emergency flare from one of his pockets, then he stepped out onto the stairs, lit it up and threw it high up in the air so it landed behind the house. The machine howled and ran after it to check it out.

"Run." Erik whispered.

We ran back along the path toward the boat. When we got out of the cove the landscape opened up a bit, and we could almost see all the way up to where the boat was tied up. A pack of at least four machines were guarding a large clearing a couple hundred meters ahead of us, and blocked our way. We could not get out without going through them.

"Not a chance. Look at all those machines!" I said.

"I see them. More hunters." Erik replied.

"Your rocket launcher?" I asked him.

"I left it! It weighed a ton, and I only had one shot left for it." He explained.

“All right, look, I know there is a narrow sound between this island and the hills south of Klinte. If we can get over this hilltop to the other shore, swimming across is preferable to being shot. Let’s turn around and try that way, it’s not far.” Frida suggested.

“You sure? Won’t we just freeze to death?” Erik asked.

“I have a map, and I’ve studied it. It’s no more than a one hundred meter swim at most, and I think there’s good cover by forest on both sides.” Frida replied.

We agreed, then we turned eastward and carefully began climbing up the slopes toward the hilltop. It was just a short hike across the narrow northern peninsula of the island, but it was densely forested with steep cliffs, and the wind had made a lot of snowdrifts that made the climb a lot harder. We were anxious if the hunter from back at the house had followed behind us, but it was nowhere to be seen. Soon we were on top of the hill, and we could see the narrow sound Frida spoke about below us. It didn’t look too far to swim, just like she said. It was a steep climb down to the water, and the snow covered the cliffs and made them hard to see. We moved carefully while helping each other, and step by step we were able to descend. When at last we were down, I put my hand in the water to feel the temperature, but quickly pulled it back out.

“This isn’t gonna be good. That’s extremely cold.” I said. “Are you sure we shouldn’t search for a safer place on the island instead?” I asked.

“No, we don’t know what else may be out here. Could be nothing else for all we know, and now we know the machines are here as well. We can’t defend ourselves from a cabin either. Now I regret going here, it was a bad idea.” Frida replied, then she paused. “We have to cross now. Those hunters are somewhere behind us.”

“Look, we can use this.” Erik interrupted, and pointed at a thick wooden log, floating in the water’s edge. “Hurry now, you two can go first. Just put your backpacks and weapons on the log and use your feet to paddle over. Take my backpack too, I can swim with just my weapon.” He assured us.

Frida and I waded into the sea, and gasped heavily as the cold water bit our feet like hundreds of sharp teeth. We placed our things on the log and began paddling. It actually worked. Erik waded into the water about ten meters behind us. We heard him stutter and curse as he began swimming.

"G… Go! Get ac… Across!" He puffed behind us.

Frida and I reached the opposite shore first. I could barely feel my body when I waded ashore. It felt like my clothes weighed a ton. Frida dropped to her knees and began trying to put her backpack on. Just then, a loud mechanical howl came from the hillcrest on the island behind us. Three hunters were standing up on the brink. One of them began running to the side, to circle around down to the water. The other two opened fire. Frida crept to into cover behind a large root by the beach, and I ran behind a huge boulder, sticking out of the sand. There was probably one hundred and fifty meters between us and them, so they were inaccurate, but their bullets whipped and ricocheted all around us.

"Erik! Get up here!" Frida cried.

I could see him swimming desperately the last few meters. He tried to stay under the surface to hide himself. I rested my rifle on the boulder, zoomed my scope all the way in, and aimed for one of the hunters. I fired a shot directly at his glowing eye, but he just flinched and didn’t seem to take any damage from it. Frida began firing too, in short controlled bursts. The hunter staggered. I noticed some grates on both sides of it’s head. They looked like a weak spot. I focused and was able to direct a bullet straight into one of them. It worked. Sparks were flying, and the machine became disoriented. Frida kept firing at it. It turned a bit to the side, and exposed it’s gas tank on the back. After two attempted shots, I managed to hit the tank. The machine blew up and came crashing over the cliffs toward the water. The other hunter was still firing wildly at us. Just then, Erik came ashore. He immediately got in a crouched position and began firing back at the machine with his SMG.

“No! Run dammit! We’ll cover you!” I screamed at him.

Frida reloaded and fired at the machine, now on full-auto. Her magazine was empty in the blink of an eye. I did my best to suppress the hunter and got in a few good hits. Erik got on his feet, and just as he turned around and ran for cover, a bullet struck him in the upper part of the back. He plummeted face down on the beach.

"No! No! Erik!" Frida cried desperately. "You fucking monsters!" She screamed at the hunter, while she frantically tried to reload.

I struggled to stay focused, but kept shooting at the machine. A moment later, Frida began firing again too, and the other hunter collapsed on top of the cliffs. Frida sprung to her feet an ran down toward Erik.

“Wait! There’s more of them!” I shouted, but she didn’t’ listen.

I ran after her. Erik was lying completely still on the beach. The thin blanket of snow around his body had turned red with blood. Frida grabbed his arm and rolled him over. He was dead. Frida cried loudly. She couldn’t contain it. She shook him gently, like a last, desperate attempt to wake him up.

"Help me, Frida, quickly! We have to move him." I said to her, as calmly as I could.

She didn’t answer, but knew what to do. We dragged his body behind the large boulders. I reloaded all of our weapons while Frida sat by his body. She looked in no state to fight right now. I peeked out, and on the opposite shore, the third hunter had come down to the water and was searching for targets.

“I’m sorry, Frida, but we can’t stay here. We have to move.” I urged her.

“We can’t just leave him here like this. We have to bury him.” She sulked.

"That will mean our deaths as well." I answered.

A familiar buzzing sound appeared. It was on this side of the water. I peeked out again, and there it was, just ten meters in front of me. The machine spotted me instantly, and blasted out a deafening siren. I jumped back. It was the loudest noise I had ever heard. I grabbed the SMG and peppered the seeker drone with bullets until it crashed into the ground.

“Shit! They’re gonna find us real soon now, Frida!” I said, and grabbed her shoulder. “Please! Where do we go? You know this place best.” I begged her.

“I… I spotted some kind of naval base from atop the hill, didn’t you see it? An industrial dock with a tunnel, leading back into the mountain. It’s right up here around the cliffs.” She stuttered in reply.

“Then that’s our best bet. Quickly now, on your feet. I’m so sorry it came to this.” I answered, and gave her a hand up.

"Goodbye, Erik. Please forgive me." She whispered to him.

The mountain over Muskudden lay above us, shrouded in fog. From somewhere up there, we could hear machines approaching.

"I want to kill all of them." Frida said, and gave me a stern look.

“I know you do. But we have to get to safety and resupply. Run now, into the bunkers!” I said, and grabbed Erik’s backpack and his SMG.

We slipped back into the forest, and followed It along the shore. When we heard the machines arrive back at where the seeker had spotted us, we ran as fast as we could, and soon we arrived at the docks Frida had seen. The place looked completely abandoned. A generator hummed quietly from somewhere behind a building. In the rear section of the area was the tunnel leading into the vast mountain complex. One of the huge metal doors was partially opened. We took a quick look into the darkness, then we lit our flashlights and walked through. We had no idea of what we were gonna find in there, or if we were blindly walking into another trap.