Collapse – Earth

Mission Report – "Howlers"

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    Mission Time – 0630EST

    Mission Location – New York City

    Squad – Delta

    __________________________

    SSG Michael Nantz was perched in one of the many fallen skyscrapers of New York, the city… And most of North America, rested in ruins after the invasion… Along with the rest of the World… Reports had stated Africa and a chunk of Europe remained standing in somewhat decent condition… But the troops on the frontlines knew it was only a matter of time before the strikes began that would topple “Operation Brink”, a clever depiction on what the human race was teetering on… The Brink of Elimination… They were officially endangered species… But Michael would be damned if he and the rest of the human race didn’t go down without a fight.

    Delta’s mission was straight forward, move ahead of the FOB located in Central Park, and scout ahead for any signs of the opposition… Many had definitely become /religious/ in the sense of visually landing eyes on what appeared to be demons… Though the visual confirmation of the Heavens that had descended upon Earth were far and few between, but the demons… The demons were certainly very real… And were a constant threat… And Humans were simply stuck in the middle.

    The New York skyline had been deemed a quarantine zone, but Delta was on the look-out for any survivors that were simply too scared to make the run/journey back to the militarized zone that the UCF (Unified Coalition Forces) had set up to receive any civilians and non-combatants… And turn them into said combatants after sending them further back behind the line… The mid-west had been deemed the ‘Point Of No Return’… Meaning if the lines broke in the North, the south, the west coast and the east coast… North America would fall. Being American, or any other descendent had been deemed moot at this point… Everyone was humble in accepting everybody due to the one thing they all now had in common… Extinction.

    It had been 13 days since Delta had departed from the FOB, and rations were beginning to run scarce, but Michael Nantz, SSG and Team Leader of Delta, knew they could hold out for at least a couple more days… But he also knew the lack of sleep and paranoia in his squad was beginning to get to them… It was an enemy they were highly unfamiliar with, and more times than not, it resulted in falling back rather than actually pushing forward.

    A scoped rifle rested across his thighs in his seated position with his back resting against a blown out wall… Him and his spotter, SPC (Specialist) Rodriguez, and deemed a decent point to set up their ‘nest’, a sniper lookout, not necessarily meant for actually shooting from, but for gazing the ground below… They were thirteen stories up from what originally had been a twenty-story building, but it provided the high ground to spot any movement. Unfortunately, neither of them had spotted a single individual. His squad was spread out as evenly as possible, only consisting of eight soldiers. Aside from them two, he had two perched on the top of the building, rotating frequently so as to get some rest and cover, two on the first floor, and the last two sorted as a patrol, wandering the building every thirty minutes between floors. But on occasion, SSG Nantz would do his own patrol to maintain the morale of his squad, which was happening right now.

    “Alright, Rodriguez, I’m doing my rounds… You got the eye.” “Roger that, Staff Sergeant.” Michael groaned as he used the wall to assist in pushing up to his feet, boots falling against the ground firmly as the rifle was slung over his shoulders, readjusting the Kevlar atop his head and his IOTV that surrounded his upper-body, trying to remain somewhat comfortable in his gear before he pushed out from the small, singular office that overlooked the North-side of the City. Being that the hardest portion of this was moving to the top, he’d begin his ascent, using the staircase since power had been knocked out from the City, so the elevators wouldn’t help.

    He was making his way to the eighteenth floor when his radio perched on his left shoulder sparked to life. “Uhh… Staff Sergeant, this is Roof… We got… We got a problem.” He didn’t reply, instead, he was skipping every other step on his way up, trying to make time. It was only a minute before his shoulder came crashing against the steel door, bashing it outward as he saw the two on the roof, still alive and unharmed, but they weren’t reacting to his arrival, instead, he noticed what had their attention… Steel blue eyes lifted skyward… The usual murky, gray sky was beginning to form a swirl, with red tint beginning to take its place.

    “…Wha-….What is it, Staff Sergeant?” Normally Michael was confident, he was stern yet fair with his squad, but foremost, above all else… He was honest. “I don’t know. We’ll radio ba-” Before he could finish his sentence, lightning began to spark across the ground of New York City, and upon every impact, leaving a minor crater within the ground in an instance. Static began to blow out through his radio as if numerous individuals were trying to use it at once. He was unaware if there was any other Squad out in the city, but if they were further North than they were… They were about to be in deep trouble.

    Finally, his radio broke through, those on the first floor. “Staff Sergeant this is Lobby, we’re seeing some unusual activity from the sky, and the ground is shaking pretty fiercely with each of those lightning strikes.” Michael turned his head inward, lifting his hand from the rifles handguard and pressing in against the push-to-talk. “Roger, Lobby… We’re about to wrap things up here, stand fast.” Releasing his thumb from the mic, his eyes went back towards the sky. “Whatever it is, it isn’t good.” He shuffled the man-pack radio that he had, pressing a pre-set button to change the frequency temporarily before radioing in once more. “Charlie Papa, this is Delta, over.” Static reigned in over the radio. “Charlie Papa, this is Delta… Over.” Static before finally a voice came over. “Roger, Delta, this is Charlie Papa reading you Lima Charlie.” “Roger, Charlie Papa, we’ve got… Unusual activity in the sky, looking pretty threatening and out of our hands…” There was a lingering silence before Head Quarters from Central Park (Charlie Papa) came back in. “Affirmative, Delta, we’re receiving numerous reports on the event… We’re pulling all squads back, return immediately, over.” “Wilco (Will Comply), Charlie Papa. Delta, out.”

    He had just finished setting the frequency back to his squad to let them know to pack things up before PVT (Private) Leebin shouted. “INCOMING!” Throwing the man-pack loosely back into its place, Michael Nantz took shelter near the door, crouching down, hugging the rifle to his chest. For a split second, the SSG believed this was it, this is how he went out… On a casual routine deep into a City he had never even visited in his life prior to the invasion. But there was no impact crater, granted he had felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up so there was some form of an electrical current that surged the shattered rooftop… The trio up top had seemed to turn about simultaneously, only to see… A horrendous site, that literally made PVT Leebin begun to soil himself within his uniform.

    It was rare to be within at least a 100 feet of a demon, mainly because so much chaos was already ensuing, one was more focused on survival and falling back to the line rather than actually engaging the enemy who was swift, cunning, and merciless. But here the three stood… Within the proximity of maybe just 4-5 feet… A hound to what it looked like, resembling that of a dog… A hellhound of sorts… Fire naturally flowed along its husky back, its spine protruding from its layer, fangs dripping with a green substance that Michael could only assume was poisonous if introduced into human flesh… But its beady, red eyes were what caught Michael’s attention… Caught in a deep stare with the creature… It was growling… The rumble almost similar to that of a lion, but it was… Demonic…. It made the hair on his skin crawl underneath his uniform… And for the first time in a combat zone, he was… Frozen. He had encountered numerous firefights in his prior service, but this… This was something else. It was otherworldly, and he wasn’t prepared in the slightest.

    Within the back of his mind, he was beginning to remember various reports from other divisions when ever they could compile enough intelligence on an enemy, though obviously such was much harder done than said. He vaguely remembered reports on dog-like creatures… Flame-dogs is what they were referred to, but there was something significant about them… They never roamed alone, most reports had spoken of large packs overwhelming squads in battle… But a singular creature… He was having a hard time putting his finger on it, but when he did realize what the significance of just one standing alone… It was too late. His eyes went wide as the creature arced, lifting its head high. “….HOWLER!” He literally screamed, as the creature began to howl, echoing far across the city as if a beacon… Or an alarm… An alert of sorts, notifying any others around that human’s were present right at the source. An ominous glow took to the creature, before it simply… Exploded. The explosion managed to knock the SSG backwards, fiercely, literally to the point that when his plate hit the steel door behind him, the hinges had snapped with it, and he carried backward, slamming against the wall opposite the opening and falling with the door… Had it not been for the armor, he’d be far more injured than just his ears ringing… His vision distorted, and the wind knocked from him… Granted he was in pain… A severe amount of it from being in the blast radius… But he wasn’t dead.

    The world before him tilted and turned, and past the sound of his ringing ears, it sounded like gun-fire from below… Not only below… From nearly everywhere, the city was erupting in what seemed like an all-out war… Any and all squads that were in the City were now engaged for the fight for their lives, and that included Delta. The unfortunate fate of PVT Leebin and his counterpart, SPC Smith, were grave… They didn’t have a wall or a doorway to be blown back into, so the explosion had knocked them from the towering building entirely, leading to their deaths upon impact on the ground. What had felt like minutes were merely seconds as the Staff Sergeant attempted to come to his senses, but he felt paralyzed, knocked from reality altogether…. That was until his voice was her. “Staff Sergeant…. STAFF SERGEANT….” A few shakes of his being was given. “MICHAEL, GOD DAMNIT, WE HAVE TO MOVE!” SPC Rodriguez had abandoned his post to retrieve whomever he could from the rooftop after the explosion, but with the crater-sized hole in the already shattered building, he had minor hopes of finding anyone, but to find their leader, albeit shaken and recently blown up, was better than nobody.

    Michael’s world sort of came too all at once, the ringing vanishing and the twirl of the world straightening as his mind became focused and in gear once more. His dilated blue eyes shifted up towards his Spotter, nodding firmly before he was being pulled to his feet. He was beginning to reach for his mic before Rodriguez pulled his hand away. “Everyone’s in the lobby, you’re last man out, let’s fuckin’ move already!” And with that Rodriguez took point while Nantz guided from the rear, his weapon shifted from just being idle on his chest to being looped from his shoulder and held at the ready, his thumb clicking the safety from ‘SAFE’ to ‘SEMI’, index finger remaining just above the trigger-hold. Their boots made down with haste, clearing the stairway within minutes before he got back to his squad. Most were kneeled, guns up and at the ready for any signs of movement that weren’t there own, covering the corners. He also noticed the lacing of demolition charges and C4 lined throughout the structure. “We’re making a large distraction, Staff Sergeant.” Rodriguez answered before he could be questioned… If Nantz had any authority in promotion, Rodriguez would be his subordinate as a Non-Commissioned Officer at this point, but as it were, things were as they were deemed necessary. “Alright, clear out 100 meters down the street than blow it.” Their demolition duo, nicknamed Overkill and Flames, gave firm nods for their instructions. “Let’s move!”

    As the squad moved out in a staggered formation, contact was instant. Hellhounds… Or Flame-Dogs, as the UCF has declared their identification, were already moving in on their location. “CONTACT, TWO DOGS, FIFTY METERS, ACROSS THE STREET!” One of his soldiers shouted, causing the remaining six to take cover behind abandoned vehicles and corners of buildings as bullets roared from their rifles. Nantz was looking down his sight, picking off what he could of the streaking hellhounds before both creatures had gone limp from the sustained fire of bullets that crushed their beings. Well, if anything was a confidence booster, it was knowing they were vulnerable and could die. Once the squad had made it to what Nantz deemed was 100 meters by his pace count, he signaled all to take cover while Overkill and Flames worked their magic. In the distance, satchel charges ignited and blew, taking out support beams and anything deemed a weak-point for the building. It took what seemed like forever, but finally the building caved, all the remaining stories it held was collapsing in a controlled fashion, and loud enough to certainly draw attention to anything that might have been hunting them.

    Without waiting to see the finale’, Nantz rounded up his squad as they made a hasty, yet strategic fall-back to Central Park… What was hours, felt like days on their constant rotation, covering two at a time from point to point to ensure they weren’t caught off guard. He had already lost two, he wasn’t going to lose more… Or so he thought. Half-way into their fall-back, another pack had been waiting… Or so he would draw up in his report for his fallen soldiers, luckily it was just one, but still a blow to his squad… Corporal Devin, nicknamed Tank, was a beast of a human, a man of African Descent who was built as if he could withstand a blast from a tank-shell, thus given his name… But apparently not invincible to the likes of whatever Hell had conjured to take over Earth. He had been one of the two moving forward across a four-way intersection, riddled with debris and abandoned vehicles when from one of the towering buildings, three had broken through the glass, hellhounds descending in what seemed like a blink of an eye.

    Nantz watched in horror as two of them landed atop vehicles, once again called out in urgency to eliminate the threat, but the third had landed directly on Tank, latched on by its claws that immediately pierced through his armor, and its fangs that took a decent chunk out of his shoulder before Tank had shrugged it off in a roar of pain, directing the muzzle of his rifle and tearing the hound to shreds. The other two had been eliminated by precision fire. Once the threats were eliminated, the squad remained still as Nantz rushed forward, breaking protocol to check up in on Tank. By the time he had arrived, Tank was collapsing, using a car to break his fall as his rifle dropped from his grip. Nantz immediately ripped Tank’s medic kit from his waist, tearing it open and beginning to apply the field-care that he was trained to do. He couldn’t deem if he was losing blood too fast or what, but the traces of that green liquid were in the wound, seeping deep. He attempted to clean his shoulder, remaining calm as he did before Tank’s massive hand gripped his wrist, forcing his eyes to close in on Tank. He hadn’t even realized blood had filled his mouth, pouring outward and his eyes… Were looking as if they were melting, blood spurting from his ears. “Do…Don’… Bite…. Bite…” Nantz had a hard time trying to figure out what he was saying, between the waterfall of blood that Tank had to keep spitting out, but he assumed it was along the lines of not getting bit… The liquid that oozed from the Hound, once introduced to a Human, liquefied the organs internally, and at a rapid rate… One had maybe seconds, but Tank seemed to be enduring the worst of it, before blood was seeping from all orifices until his death, slagging off as if the bones were melting next, his flesh becoming like a saggy sweater.

    SSG Nantz had seen some shit… But this… Was by far the worst. He did his best not to gag, nor vomit… So to ensure that happened, he immediately turned away, but as he looked around, his squad looked on in horror… Whatever confidence they had in their previous engagement was gone… They were backed to be scared… The opposite of what he needed from his team…. There was five of them left, SSG Nantz, SPC Rodriguez, Overkill, Flames… And their newest addition from just a little over two-weeks ago, PVT White. He was a quiet kid, probably 16 or so, recently forced into the UCF… He was a Cherry (Never seen Combat) prior to this mission, but now… He was overwhelmed with images of things he would never forget. As Nantz signaled everyone to carry on, White was frozen still, looking at Tank’s decomposing body right before his eyes. It was Nantz’s hand on top of his Kevlar that snapped him out of it. “Come on. I’m getting you home.” He assisted in picking up the kid by the back of his IOTV, and pushing him along to get back into their staggered formation.

    It was quiet the rest of the way back to Central Park… Not only because of the lack of engagement, but because nobody had shit to say about what had just happened… Nearly 16 days of being inactive, and within a matter of minutes, it had all been flipped upside down… But that was War… And this was there fight… A fight they didn’t want, but one they were forced into… A test to their ability to survive, not only as brothers and sisters in arms, but as a Nation… A world on the brink of collapse.

    On the approach to the Entry Control Point, a Sergeant behind a fold-out table immediately held out his hand to pause the squad of 5, rounding about the table and coming to stand before them. Without hesitation, Nantz stepped from behind of the formation, and started for the Sergeant. “Delta Squad… Reporting back to HQ.” The Sergeant’s eyes went wide, noting the blood on the SSG’s hands that belonged to Tank. “Staff Sergeant… You’re… The only Squad to have returned… And our radios have been silent since the battle started…” Nantz took the grim news silently for a moment, before those ice blue eyes looked back at his squad… They were tired… Hungry… Scared… And short-staffed, but they all returned their eyes to him… And each one of them giving a nod as if they knew what he was asking silently.

    Nantz returned his eyes back to the Sergeant, clearing his throat. “Well… Sergeant, let us ration back up… And we’ll go back out there and get ’em.” The Sergeant stared back in disbelief, but as his eyes scanned the group, he simply nodded. “Let me radio you in to HQ.” He stepped back to his table, where a clipboard with a list of squads, their personnel and their location was present. He flipped the sheet once, before finding Delta. He marked off each name who was present by identifying the name on their IOTV’s, but the ones who hadn’t returned… A red-highlighter was dragged over their name. Picking up the Radio, he squelched it to life. “Charlie Papa, this is ECP (Entry Control Point), over.” The return was immediate. “ECP, This is Charlie Papa, go ‘head.” “Charlie Papa, we’ve got Delta Squad returning from the city, over.” There was a brief minute of silence before it was broken again. “ECP, send them through.” “Roger, Charlie Papa… They’re requesting to return to the City to search for the others, over.” His eyes went to Nantz then as the squad awaited for confirmation. It took a couple minutes, but finally… Words broke through. “Negative, ECP. Delta is to return to HQ and commence their debriefing, over.” Nantz bit his teeth together, nearly grinding them but he didn’t speak up. Even his squad looked disappointed and angry that they couldn’t go back and find what had already been their original mission… To bring back survivors. Then HQ continued. “We cannot risk the HQ being found no matter the consequence. I say again, we cannot risk the enemy locating the HQ… Over and out.” Radio etiquette normally had the one who initiated the transmission to end it, but this was a way of putting ones foot down when the proper authority had deemed such a request too risky and didn’t want a follow-up question.

    Just as the Sergeant was about to respond, piercing howls surrounded Central Park on its outskirts, one after the other which caused all eyes to shoot in the direction, following it in a complete 360 degree turn… Which Nantz immediately deemed they were completely surrounded…

    And for the first time since being assigned to Delta, PVT White spoke. “…Looks like they already have.”

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