Entry 15 – Base
The base wasn’t far so we began to see signs of conflict almost immediately. There were several abandoned cars, their lights left on, still piercing the darkness that surrounded them as everyone inside left the scene in a hurry. There wasn’t a soul in sight, an uncanny feeling even in the dead of night.
Some minutes later, we ran into one of our scouts, also abandoned in the middle of the road with its engine still running. Sparing hardly any time to investigate and with the sounds of battle drawing ever closer, all of us grew more anxious by the minute. Ramirez, the driver, started humming a wistful tune while I fiddled with the radio buttons, trying to catch something – anything, really.
That was a mistake but, in retrospect, things probably wouldn’t have been different if I hadn’t. Just as we were descending towards the final stretch of the journey and were already seeing some blazes on our thermal imager screens, several things happened in rapid succession.
The droning sound got extremely loud.
Then it stopped and my entire universe was suddenly enveloped in silence almost as eerie as the sound, the kind that bores into your skull and takes over, the kind that can drive men insane.
Confused, I looked around. Everything felt like in slow motion, as if the world almost stood still in that very moment. And then came the chorus of voices, deep, metallic and scraping at the inner edges of my skull in unison with such primordial force that it shook the very core of my being. It was impassionate and ageless, as if the universe itself woke up to speak. Words appeared in my mind, their power enough to tear the reality asunder.
“PAWNS OF THE EXILE APPEAR.”
Gasping for air, I tried to cover my ears but to no avail.
“TURN BACK. THE DECEIVER SHALL PAY AND SO SHALL HIS PROGENY. IT IS ORDAINED. TURN BACK.”
The voice grew ever weaker with the last two works repeated over and over until it became a mere whisper and then finally faded into nothingness.
“TURN... BACK... Turn...... back.......”
My head was spinning as if concussed from the experience. The crew appeared equally struck and the vehicle ground slowly to a halt as Ramirez tried to get things under control. Despite the proximity to the fighting, we all felt like we had to get outside. The other crews fared no better and we just stood there in silence for what felt like an eternity, trying to suppress the urge to throw up. We all heard the same thing, apparently. In the end, Espinoza was the first to speak.
“Jesus... I... what WAS that thing?”
“I don’t know. Some kind of psyop maybe? A comms hijack? Never heard of anything as powerful though...”
She shook her head and waved me over away from the others who paid us little heed, still reeling from the experience.
“No, it was more than that. The thing... the person, whoever was it, it knew me. It knew my name.”
I stared at her blankly with a million questions on my mind but our little tête-à-tête was interrupted by another explosion in the vicinity that finally woke us all up. One last strange look she gave me before suddenly turning into her usual self.
“Right. Back to the machines, it isn’t safe here. Look though...”
Below us, the base was burning. Clouds of smoke obscured the area. The intensity of clearly uncontrolled fires blinded both our eyes and the vehicles’ sensors. We could see shadows of men running, screaming and dying and what looked like several companies of armored vehicles of types we couldn’t readily identify pounding the perimeter, their guns spitting death at anything that moved outside their zone of interest where a host of invaders could be seen carrying boxes from the base towards one of the larger vehicles, their shadows superhumanly large against the backdrop of a burning army tank.
Curiously, the source of the looters seemed to be the very same bunker we saw Ferguson enter during our last visit back when the base wasn’t filled with bodies and smoldering wreckage. That’s where we’d start, I thought, as our three machines started barreling towards the warzone.