– Run! Run, you son of a goddamn freak! You’re fucking slowing us down!
– Please, Amanda… I can’t go any further… I’m bleeding out!
– Arggg! Let’s try get to those ruins.
Our long escape was not going as well as planned.
I didn’t like it from the beginning; my very human partner was a rookie in the Reich and I had a bad feeling about the route we had to scout, but there was nothing I could do to dodge that turd.
Checking ruins from the World of Before in search of anything valuable was usually a quite simple task: you go there quietly, scout the area without being seen, grab anything you can carry and vanish at the first sight of danger. But this time nothing had gone as planned.
My partner was anxious to get there and didn’t stop telling his few and boring previous adventures as if they were the stuff of legends. He seemed to understand that my silence was a sign of admiration and not contempt, and of course when trouble showed its ugly face he couldn’t just hide in the shadows, but went out in the open to fight with more balls than brains.
To make it short, when Mutards showed up his very human blood did nothing to save him from blows, cuts and burns. No it did not.
My worst nightmare had become true and I had to empty three or four mags of my submachine gun to scare those fucking beast from the rookie, get to his wounded sorry ass and get the hell out of there praying for those animals not to notice that we were alone. It didn’t take too long for them to realize that there were only two of us. We were too slow and ammo was almost depleted.
When I saw the small promontory to my right I thought that could be our salvation. A high position from where to watch the road we had staggered along and blow away the head of the first Mutard that showed up, which by the way were closer and closer each minute. I could hear them shouting, insulting us and laughing at all the things they could do to us if they caught us. And they would fucking caught us.
The first of them came into my sight a few minutes later, his figure curling like a flag due to the heat the Wasteland soil was already emitting. That was my moment of glory. I adjusted the scope of my weapon, took my time and checked the trigger lock. I aimed. I saw him talking to the ones following him. I fired. Time seemed to freeze until I saw his head make a violent jump backwards.
His partners arrived to the body and pointed to the crest we were hiding behind. Not that deducing our position was a really complicated brain process, but I was surprised when they didn’t just rush uphill towards our hideout.
– They don’t know where we are. Shoot again and floor another one. Come on! – said the rookie while trying to cut the bleeding of one of his wounds.
– They know.
– No, are you blind? Can’t you see they are just standing there? – he rolled over and gave me a small push on my shoulder.
– Your hand… touch me again and you’ll lose it. – I barked.
Why weren’t they moving? They were standing still, looking to our hideout, whispering between them. It was crystal clear that we were cornered up there, and although our trainers had told us a million times that we shouldn’t hide in a high position for it was the first place to look for a sniper, there was no other place to take cover and they knew we were there. They had to.
– For our beloved Führer…
The rook gave me a surprised look and cocked his gun while trying to get closer to me.
– What’s up? Why aren’t they attacking us?
– Shut up! Let me think – I shouted to his face. – No, that cannot be, we can’t be that far from the area, not in your condition… or can we?
– I don’t get it.
– Fuck my luck… The Cave of Echoes… I should have let you die instead of revealing my position… Now I would be back home and not dead alive!
– Wow, what’s going on?
– They don’t attack because, unlike us, they have some common sense and know we are dying here.
– Starved out? Nah, I still have…
– Not that way – I interrupted him again. – No. We will die, that’s for sure, but not of thirst or hunger. The Echoes, they will kill us.
Years had passed since the news that had dashed our expectations: a whole scout team had gone missing in these coordinates. Our commander, after not receiving any signal from then in weeks, had sent a new team that returned decimated, survivors telling in tears and whispers a horror tale about the nightmare they had endured.
They had found the entrance to an old gallery, beneath the crater left by a mighty bomb. There they saw the slaughtered bodies of the team they were looking for. It looked like some really big guns had ambushed them from all sides. They moved forward, eyes peeled, and then they heard the echoes for the first time. It was a fast, metallic, steady sound coming from several directions, together with another slower, heavier one coming from the back of the cave.
Whatever attacked their fellow soldiers came to life again and the first two men fell to the ground in pieces. Fire was returned blindly to the area where the echoes were coming from, and eventually some of them went silent, but soon more and more metallic sounds added to the existing cacophony that threatened to engulf them all.
The body count made any further progress impossible and the commanding officer gave the retreat order. They had never returned to that area. Never, ever again. Until now.
I told the story to the rookie, as he deserved to know what was going to put an end to his life. Descending along the other side of the promontory, which I now recognized as the edge of the huge crater, we decided to enter the gallery, at least to hide from the unforgiving sun and the chasing Mutards, before their bravery overcame their wits and resumed their manhunt.
We proceed slowly to cover in the inner space of the entrance. We couldn’t hear the faintest noise, neither in the inside or the outside, and we stood still for some minutes catching our breaths and strength. I patched the rookie up the best I could, gave him a mild sedative and stared to the darkness at the bottom of the gallery. I didn’t know what to do; on one hand I didn’t want to go back to the Wasteland so soon, but staying there was not a party either.
I decided to search the area further as soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark, crawling on the floor, hiding behind each and every obstacle I could find, mustering all my will and strength to take the next move. After a while I found the first hits in the floor, and by their size and depth I knew the weapon that had made them was bigger than any rifle I had seen in my life. A chill went down my spine with the thought of what such a projectile would do to me with a direct hit.
More and more hits were visible on walls and floor, and soon I found the first bones. They were not big enough to be human, or at least humanoid, so I supposed they belonged to some Wasteland creatures that had entered there looking for shelter or food from the bodies lying ahead. A few meter farther on I found the first human remnants, army boots and the torn pieces of a uniform with a bunch of white, snapped bones inside.
Suddenly a high metallic humming surged in front of me, quickly followed by several more. I rolled on the floor to the nearest wall right before three or four projectiles hit the spot I had just been in. I was petrified, waiting for the shooter to aim again and finish me once and for all, but nothing happened. Just that humming filling the corridor.
I threw one of the empty clips I had in my belt against the opposite wall, hoping the noise would attract a new round of shots, distracting my enemy and giving me the chance to fire back, but my plan failed. The mag fell to the floor, bouncing once or twice, but no single shot was fired.
I resumed my advance as close to the wall as I was able, up to another pile of human remnants, but no shot hit the floor or wall covering me. Nothing. That shooter was good and was holding their fire until they could make a clean shot.
Among the metallic humming, which I more and more identified with the blades of a fan, I started to hear another distinct noise. Heavier, lower, steady, as if some metal big piece hit another heavy metallic piece.
Fear drove me out to take advantage of the lost of focus of my rival. I run diagonally for a few seconds and then did the same on the opposite direction, trying to stay out of sight from the hidden shooter. I repeated the same strategy twice, and then realized I had left the metallic behind me.
Suddenly a light came to life in the ceiling a few meter in front of me, putting an end to my long pretended calmness. I open fire in all directions until the sound of my submachine gun told me I was out of bullets.
Before me, just silence broken by the rhythmical metallic sound.
– What the fuck are you doing? – Blasted a voice right at my back, while I quickly turned around and pulled the trigger of my weapon. – Who are you firing at?
If I hadn’t emptied my mag just seconds ago, I would have ended what the Mutards started and wasted the goddamn rookie right there. I fell to my knees, trying to get a hold of myself.
– There’s a light right there, maybe there is something useful there. – He said while staggering forward.
I stood up and followed him at a distance, putting a new mag in my gun; if someone fired at him, I hoped to be able to kill the attacker before I became a victim too. After several seconds that seemed an eternity to me, we turned down the gallery and found ourselves in a new corridor. Small, yellow lightbulbs started to lit all along the ceiling, allowing us to see for the first time the origin of the metallic beating.
The door blades of a huge metallic gate were continuously opening and closing against the charred frame of a vehicle, which prevented them from fully closing.
– What do we do? Shall we cross that wreckage? – He said, pointing with his bandaged hand.
– Should I go first?
– Yes please, you have fucked around enough behind me.
We climbed over the pile of twisted metal and crossed the metallic gate. As we proceeded along this new, wide corridor, we noticed that dirt and rubble had almost completely disappeared behind the gates, contrary to the mess we have seen in the entrance.
The corridor gave way to a hall that automatically lighted up as soon as we put a foot in it. It was rectangular and not very big, with several closed doors. We tried to open some of them, but to no avail until we tried the one quite on the opposite corner from where we had arrived.
We entered this new room weapons ready, determined to go down shooting. But there was no threat inside the chamber, just a control panel with several black monitors and a great glass window barred with a metal grate.
– Do you think something will still work?
– Don’t think so, but feel free to try while I check the other doors. – The rookie was clearly paler than before due to blood loss and physical stress, so I thought it would be best if he stayed there sitting in a room with no obvious threats.
I got out of the room and tried the rest of the closed doors. The last one also gave in and I found myself in another small room crammed with lockers and some kind of bunk against one of the sidewalls. I opened the lockers and to my surprise found a lot of useful things, such as military clothing, bandages and medicines, as well as a small weapon storage with three pistols and a submachine gun with plenty of ammo, but also something that made my heart pound heavily against my chest: small radiation detection badges, black as night.
– Amanda, come here! You gotta see this! – Yelled the rookie while I got out of the room with all I could carry. – It’s unbelievable!
– We have to go. Now! – I said.
– Wait, watch this. – He pushed one of the buttons on the table and some screens came to life.
On the monitors I could see the great hall we had crossed before and the gallery we followed in a bright green tone, emitting an electric buzz. There were eight, eight high caliber weapons mounted inside recesses on the walls, all of them with six circular barrels and spinning continuously out of control.
– We have to get out of here or we won’t make it.
– Just wait, you have to see it all. I made it a moment ago, but then the system crashed and everything turned off again. Let me see if I can…
A loud noise came from the glass window when the grate started to lift slowly. I came closer and saw a huge circular room. Automatic lights started to pop up revealing more and more floors below the first one, as far as my eyes could see.
– What do you think those coffins could be? – Asked the rookie pointing out to the countless metal sarcophagi embedded in huge devices protruding from the walls. – There is a paper here saying that the crysh… chril… chrysalides in areas one and two are operative. – He continued, indicating an area in the first floor.
– Anything else?
– Bio… engeni… engineering, non-specialized mother cells, hypno-don’t-know-what conduc… conditioning… Shit that I don’t understand. Do you know what could it be?
– No, I don’t. But I know who does, and that this will change everything… Everything.
By Gonzalo González García