Metz was five blocks from the laboratory when he started seeing the carnage first hand. The entire city of a Sa’kak was a warzone, and as night had fallen the fighting had only intensified. The crumpled sound of explosions mixed with peals of thunder from a storm that was building in the distance. Automatic weapons chattered and clattered in a near constant staccato and rockets streaked overhead every few minutes. They were expecting violence, they were expecting death, they were expecting horror, and they found it.
There were bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere. The street had become a charnel house, a horror show, and the road was sticky with blood and viscera. There was so much, too much. Metz was a veteran of numerous battlefields including intense brutal bouts of urban warfare. What they found in the warehouse district was worse than any of that. A scene exponentially worse than the already horrible scenes of battle spread all across the coastal city.
He had some of his best people with him and then had all seen enough carnage to be hardened to it, and they were still shaken. Vilda, who was running comms and support, keeled over and vomited when the smell of guts and viscera and blood reached her nostrils and Metz barely managed to avoid doing the same. He was a hard man, he had seen lots of terrible things, been responsible for more than a fair shake’s worth of them, and this was still one of the worst scenes he had ever come across.
His team started with five, including him. Vilda on comms and support was one of the best hackers in his employ. Etraz was an expert with heavy weapons, Jaan was his best sniper, Drekka was…well admittedly a bit crazy but was excellent with explosives, and Kaio had gone toe to toe with warclones in close quarters combat in addition to being a great shot. They were some of his best people and he was confident that whatever happened, whoever they encountered, they’d get the job done.
Despite all of that, despite being hardened criminals loaded for war, they hit that brutalized street and nearly came to a halt. Some of the bodies were ripped in half, some were crushed flat, and some had been impaled. Some were missing limbs, some appeared as nothing more than lumps of chewed flesh, and some were literal puddles. There was no pattern of attack, no rhythm or reason, no clear indication of what weapons had been used; just raw, brutal, indiscriminate violence at a scale that gave even Metz pause. He stumbled over the thought that nearly killed him.
This was not done by humans. He shook his head and motioned for his team to continue. Whatever had happened, whatever was still happening based on the distant screams, it was up to him and his team to put a stop to it.
Jaan was taking very controlled breaths, practicing paced breathing to avoid the rising panic he felt. Vilda emptied her stomach of the rest of her dinner and Drekka started babbling incessantly about “■■■■■■■ brutal krullefor savages they call us the violent crazy criminal ones can you believe this I can’t believe this look at this ■■■■–” until Metz told him to shut is mouth before he got them all shot, but it was Etraz who was the first of them to die.
They had gone two more blocks when a man came racing up the street, eyes wide with terror. The team all leveled weapons at him but he kept running at them, screaming and begging them to save him, looking over his shoulder again and again as he approached, as if a horde of slaver hounds was hot on his heels. Metz raised a fist and they all came to a halt, fanning out across the street with weapons trained down the thoroughfare, which remained empty aside from the man who seemed nearly driven mad by terror. Metz waved him through their line and he was nearly to them when red blossomed from his chest and he looked down at a grisly and bloody hole which had suddenly appeared there. There was no sound of a shot, and Metz’s team swept their weapons across the road searching for the sniper only to realize they were facing something much worse than warclones.
The man seemed to rise off the ground, yanked into the air by some invisible force and slammed into a nearby wall with enough strength to crush his bones and leave a bloody smear. Etraz started firing wildly, unloading his heavy machine gun into empty space on full auto, howling like an animal until out of nowhere his body collapsed on itself. His head and chest were instantly crushed and his limbs were compacted into his ruined torso. Blood splashed in every direction as what had once been a man sank to the ground with a wet plop. For a moment, there was silence, and then Drekka started babbling again.
“What the ■■■■ Metz? What the ■■■■ what the ■■■■ what the ■■■■ what the ■■■■! This ■■■■ is insane, what is this ■■■■■■■■? How the ■■■■ did that just happen? What the ■■■■ is doing this–” Metz cut him off again.
“Shut up you asshole, before whatever it is hears you,” he said. Metz’s mind was skirting around a thought, the warning from his past self making him not dare even think it, and this was what saved his life, “Jaan, Drekka, go back to the command post. I want a ten block cordon around this place. Nobody in or out, nobody talks about anything, just keep the area quarantined. Say there was a chemical attack, blame whoever you want for it but keep the warehouse district secured.”
“Why do I have to be the one to stay with you?” Vilda whined as the other two retreated back down the road.
“Because I need someone who knows computers, now let’s go.” He took off at a sprint, racing down the road towards the laboratory, ignoring the iron smell of blood which was thick in his nostrils, ignoring the screams of the dying coming from all around him, ignoring Vilda’s complaints, ignoring the more distant sounds of the battle still sweeping across the city. He focused his attention down to a point. Get to the facility, set off the device. Get to the facility, set off the device. Nothing else mattered, nothing else could matter.
The ominous words of his past self bounced around in his head like both a warning and a curse. The less you know, the safer you’ll be , and he knew, he knew deep in his gut, in some place where the memory erasing drugs could not reach, that if he sat down and puzzled out the mystery around him, he would die as surely as turning of the world. So, he refused to think about it. He wore his ignorance like an armor and ran headlong into the jaws of hell. He had all the pieces to solve the puzzle and he very intentionally did not put them together. He kept his head clear, kept his eyes forward, if he’d run into any Krullefor marines now, he’d have been an easy target, but even the warclones seemed to be nothing but tissue paper to the– stop stop stop stop , an inner voice shrieked and he forced his mind to a halt again. Emptiness, don’t think, don’t think, don’t think. The inner voice shouted down all thoughts and Metz ran onward.
The two Angels crossed the three blocks to the laboratory in what could not have been more than five minutes. To Metz those five minutes were the longest of his life, each second thudding past with impossible slowness. The adrenaline made it feel like he was in a dream and trying to run underwater, his body failing to keep up with his mind. The warehouse he’d been instructed to find loomed up at him, visually indistinct on the outside from any of the other warehouses all around him, but as they approached it, it became obvious that it was the place they were looking for.
Inside the rolling doors, which had been crumpled inwards and left in pieces was a hardened airlock style hatch. It was the sort you’d find on the outside of a military starship and Metz had seen plenty of them in his days in space with the Angels. However, both hatches had been blown in with breaching charges, rupturing the hermetic seals that had kept the atmospheres separate. Metz and Vilda climbed inside and passed yet more bodies, these ones clearly Angel researchers of some sort, identifiable by their name tags and access badges. Some of them had been shot, while others had succumbed to the same grisly fate as the people outside. Fortunately, the elevator descending into the bunker seemed to be intact, one just had to ignore the corpse mouldering in the corner.
“You sure it’s a good idea to go down there?” Vilda asked him.
“No, but here we are,” Metz said, climbing into the elevator and pulling her in after him. He’d been given all the required access codes to open every door in the place, and as they traveled through the facility, Metz could see that he’d had a hand in its design. There was a particular style to the way the defenses and the rooms were laid out, one that he recognized as his own. That fact unsettled him more than the bodies scattered around the place.
The bodies were an interesting puzzle which Metz had no desire to solve. Some of them had been shot, Angels and Krullefor, and the bullet holes riddling the place was testament to the desperate battles that had played out across the ruined installation. Then there were the bodies which had been mutilated in the same horrific fashion as those outside. There was also a third category of corpses which seemed to have partly mummified, as if they’d died in place years ago and had just been left there to desicate. It hurt his head to look at those, so he didn’t focus on them.
He and Vilda made their way to the laboratory he’d told himself to go to. E296, located deep within the heart of the facility. The battle within the base had rolled through the area, and the bodies seemed to never end. When they finally reached the room, Metz looked at the door and felt as if he’d been thrown into deep space without a suit. The hatch had been opened with breaching charges, the door wrenched inwards off its hinges, and he could see, plain as day, that whatever had been in the room was gone. There were markings on the floor, scuff marks and dust patterns, there clearly had been something there, but whatever it was it was now missing, and the pattern clicked together in his head.
The Krullefor had been after the device in this room, the device he’d needed to contain the don’t ■■■■■■■ think about it. The fighting led directly here. The warclones had forced their way in and taken it.
“■■■■!” He shouted, kicking the wall in frustration.
“Uh, boss…?” Vilda asked nervously.
“They ■■■■■■■ took it, t hey ■■■■■■■ took it! ” he raged, storming out of the room past a startled and confused Vilda and stomped towards the command center. He didn’t have to look at maps, all he needed to do was think about where it would be if he’d built the place, because he had, even if he didn’t remember it.
“What was in that room?” Vilda asked, “What was so important? Metz what the ■■■■ happened to all those people?”
“You don’t want to know,” he said flatly as they marched towards the center of the facility.
‘Why not?” She insisted.
“Because if you know it’ll happen to you too.” That successfully shut her up. She was clearly thinking about Etraz, because her face went pale and she seemed to start jumping at shadows. Metz rode on a wave of frustration, letting his anger at the Krullefor stomp out any stray thoughts that might lead him into harm’s way. He still had to destroy this base. He shoved a body out of the way and quickly glanced over the control panels which were fortunately free of bullet holes and still projecting their holoscreens correctly despite being caked in blood. He keyed in the self-destruct sequence and dragged Vilda back out of the base.
The situation wasn’t contained, the don’t think about it was still out there, “Come on,” he said, dragging Vilda back towards the elevators, “We have work to do.”