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Chapter One

It was the coldest Siberian winter's day on record. At nearly -110o Celsius, few humans could survive unprotected. Sakha had really outdone itself here. Frost covered every tree, crunching beneath booted feet. It was a real cold out here. Cold like few humans had ever felt. There was a reason behind sections of Siberia remaining permanently undeveloped. Only the most foolhardy or determined would ever go here, and to be honest, I wasn't sure which one I was.

Given a week's worth of supplies, I was caught up in it. I was here, because those bloody Urcron were trying that same tactic again, trying to sneak in underneath Moscow's air defences and hit it with a ground attack. Just like last time, we would hit them hard enough and prevent them from reaching our capital. I, Pyotr, would drive them back. It was my job to do so.

The Urcron want a fight, and they shall not be found wanting.

"Area secure," the radio crackled, "Tell High Command its nothing but ghosts out here at the moment. Over."

"Acknowledged," I replied, switching to another radio frequency that didn't officially exist, "Hotel-Charlie, this area is secure. Awaiting orders. Over."

No need for callsigns. Only two people had access to that channel.

"Acknowledged," the officer on the other end replied, "All units are reporting the same thing. Accessing military satellites... Oh crap."

When somebody of his rank says that, it's always best to prepare yourself for the worst. He didn't say "crap", either.

"We... We've got maybe 500,000 Urcron we can see. There's likely to be up to four times that number sneaking around. I'm putting forth all other available units and requesting Uniform-Nato support. Use all available resources and any means necessary to prevent them reaching Moscow. Over."

The radio went dead, so I switched channels.

"All units, this is a Category Two invasion. Spread out and prepare ambush points as advised by junior officers. When meeting superior resistance, fall back and repeat. Continue to do so until reinforcements are available."

I switched frequencies again.

"Command, what's the status on any support, over?"

"That's a negative, Charlie-1. Be advised, we are currently trying to bring artillery and air support online, but it will have to wait. Good luck. Out."

I said several words I wouldn't repeat to most people. High Command had its head up its arse again.

"Beta and Charlie Company in ambush positions," the radio buzzed, "Strategic locations mined. Set up light anti-air defences. Awaiting further orders."

"Disarm the anti-air," I replied, "We can't take it with us, and the Urcron are smart enough to know what happens when they fly around Moscow's airspace. Out."

Switching channels again, I spoke.

"Command, what's the status on reinforcements, over?"

"We have a positive on NACDF reinforcements, but they will take some time to arrive. Ghost_K has responded and is moving to a drop zone just south of your position. Expected ETA on them is approximately four hours. Several divisions have been rerouted and will be arriving the approximate time of NACDF. Continue previous orders. Out"

A detonation sounded in the distance. I clicked the radio channel around and spoke.

"All units, requesting confirmation of Urcron engagement. Over."

"Negative, Charlie-1." It was the XO, "Spotters are recording that hostile infantry have moved into a minefield from the First Great Battle of Siberia. Hostiles have yet to move into ambush positions. Over."

I chuckled as several dozen more explosions could be heard. Obviously the Urcron were trying our country's tactic of clearing minefields. Namely, marching over them.

"Acknowledged. Hold positions. Give me a buzz when the Urcron enter ambush points. Out."

The sound of distant weapon discharges could be heard.

"Charlie-1," my XO, a captain named 'Alex Wilkinson' crackled, "Spotters report that allied units to the north have engaged the Urcron. It won't be long until they're here. Out."

I sat down, immediately regretted it upon receiving a damp behind, and paced around. I didn't like this. The Urcron should have moved into ambush positions by now.

"Colonel," my comms had lit up again, "We've just lost all contact with units situated to the north. Please advise on status. Over."

A quick call to Captain Wilkinson confirmed that the battle was continuing.

"This is bad news. This is very bad news." Another thing you never wanted to hear a superior say. "We've had suspicion that the Urcron are capable of listening in on communications, but now they've laid down a blanket. We can't reach anybody on any frequency. Continue with your orders. Out"

"Charlie-1," Wilkinson again, "Spotters report that all signs of battle just... stopped. All allied forces are considered missing, presumed dead. Please advise. Over."

"If they're missing, they're missing," I replied, "We can't waste time and especially not lives on some wild Urcron chase in the Siberian winter. Do not attempt a search and rescue. Out."

"Charlie-1," the comms butt in, "We have a light artillery company online. They are currently awaiting on your order to fire. Sending the frequency through. Out"

"Hey, there," This was a voice I hadn't heard before, "This is callsign Rumble reporting in. We heard there were a few of our comrades performing a rain dance, so we're putting up a shower. Over."

"It's bloody nice to hear from some support for once," I replied, switching channels, "All units, change of orders. When falling back, designate target area to shell and escape under that cover. Use delayed-blast rounds to slow the Urcron down. Out."

One of my soldiers tapped me on the shoulder.

"Sir," he began with a shaking voice, "There's something out there."

I was about to attribute it to nerves when I caught a glimpse of movement too. A dark, shadowy figure was partially hidden in the forest around me.

"Open fire," I ordered softly. Louder, I said, "We can examine it when it's dead."

We raised out weapons up, but before we could fire, the.. thing exploded in a flash of light. Light far brighter than we had ever seen. It only lasted for a few seconds, but each felt like an hour. When it finally stopped, and our eyesight had returned, we were visibly shaken. I could swear I heard the distant sound of military aircraft. It was almost a relief when confirmation of Urcron engaments were sent through.

"You know what that means," I said to the soldiers accompanying me as I hid in a snow-covered bush, "Get into position."

We were situated far further back than Bravo and Charlie companies, but we were defendeing the most important access road. Bravo and Charlie were only defending minor routes suitable for moving small numbers of soldiers, so sending two hundred was an acceptable number. Meanwhile, everyone else combat-efficient was with me. I'd have liked to be further back, where the possibility of losing the person in charge of the entire regiment was drastically reduced, but as I had learnt, guerilla warfare had no frontlines, no rear guard. There was only "ready for combat", and "dead".

"Charlie-1," whispered my XO through the comms, "Urcron approaching. We have maybe a platoon of hostiles. They appear to be unaware of the other ambushes."

"Prepare to fire," I hissed back, "Stay hidden."

It was a straight road, going on for nearly a kilometer before the first bend, which was where I first saw the red lights. Urcron eyes, and more of them kept coming. Perhaps 40 in all.

"Wait for it," nearly half of them had passed the furthest troops. I waited until they were all in the middle of our forces.

"Open fire."

Against such numbers, the Urcron didn't even have a chance. Before they could react, they were struck down like leaves in a gale.

"Charlie-1," It was Wilkinson, "Reports state that Bravo and Charlie companies have engaged exactly the same numbers of Urcron. They've taken minor injuries which have been attended to."

I decided to contact High Command.

"Command, we engaged what appears to be Urcron platoons. We've suffered no casualties as of yet, but have suffered some minor wounds. Please advise as to wherabouts of other hostile forces. Over."

"Acknowledged. Satelite footage currently shows large numbers of hostile forces located to the west of your current location. Hostiles are attempting to regroup after a tactical bombing carried out by a Russian Air Force wing. We've slowed down their main forces by approximately one hour, now use the time given to prepare yourselves further. Over."

"Acknowledged. Out."

Changing frequencies, I addressed my soldiers.

"Alright, Command's lain down a carpet on the Urcron and temporarily slowed them down. That's given us time to relocate based on previous information gathered from hostile actions. From the looks of things, the Urcron are valuing minor access points higher than we expected. Therefore, Alpha Company will reinforce Bravo Company and Delta Company will reinforce Charlie Company. Everyone, when you are at your designated locations, or if you are there now, lay down a heavy anti-personnel minefield on the access points. Make sure no Urcron can get through without returning back home. Over."

A small chorus of "acknowledgeds" responded to that order.

"Hey, Pyotr," Fadey continuing the inappropriate communications protocol he did so often, "I heard this great joke. Pyotr, Fadey and an infantryman walk into a bar. Pyotr turns to the other two and says-"

"Now is not the time for jokes based on personalities. Out."

"Huh... that joke still works."

"Cut the crap. Units, clear the area. Hide the bodies. Out."

I sat back and relaxed, focusing on all available avenues that may present themself in the coming battle. No battle was ever won by a commander who failed to exploit his enemy's failures.

Chapter Two

"Charlie-1," my XO said over the communications, "Alpha and Bravo company have spotted Urcron moving into ambush points. Ov-... wait... Charlie and Delta have too. They're reporting larger numbers than they believe they can properly deal with. We also have lost all communicaiton with spotters. Over."

"Copy that," I replied, "Tell them to keep to previous orders. Out."

"Yo, Pyotr," Fadey whispered next to my ear. I jumped, as nobody wanted Fadey that close to them, "We've spotted Urcron. I could probably light them up, but that'll ruin the surprise."

When Fadey says "light them up", he doesn't mean shoot.

"No." I replied curtly, "Wait until I give the order."

I looked towards the end of the road again. Sure enough, the Urcron were moving in.

Closer...

Closer...

They moved past the bush I was hiding in.

The first were almost past my rearguard, when they found our mines. By stepping on them. Clumps of dirt were flung into the sky, along with bits of Urcron.

"Fire."

I realised I'd still forgotten to turn the safety off on my own gun, but that mattered little as the air filled with ferromagnetic projectiles, the hiss of air and the resounding sonic booms of dozens of objects breaking the sound barrier. Jets of flame streamed out from Fadey's hands and brought many to an incendary death.

I brought my automatic coil rifle up and sqeezed the trigger. Shots whizzed out, felling two Urcron. I piroutted 90o and fired down the road where more of them advanced.

"Forward units," I yelled into my mouthpiece, "Fall back and regroup. I repeat, fall back and regroup."

Our two ambush lines began to grow into what appeared to be a standard battle line, except that nobody was stupid enough to run onto the road. I weighed my options, but with an unidentifiable number of Urcron approaching, I had no choice but to order a retreat. I used a retrofitted marking device on my helmet to designate an are several metres in front of where I guessed the Urcron to be.

"Rubble," I began into my comms, stopping as I very nearly was hit by an Urcon weapon, "This is..." I tried to remember my callsign, "Rogue, requesting delayed-blast rounds. Target marked, fire when ready, over."

"We have a positive on the target. Firing now. Out."

"Right," I said though the communications to the soldiers around me, "Everyone fall back. Now."

A low whistle gradually increasing in pitch accompanied my words. There was a time for battlefield heroics, but it was not now. I turned around and legged it through the forest around me, zigzagging occasionally to avoid being tracked.

I reached a prior location that already had several soldiers, mostly the rearguard, standing around. More emerged from the bush.

"Did we lose them?" I asked at nobody in particular. One soldier, a junior Lieutenant, looked towards me and replied,

"Sir, the last of the stragglers report the Urcron pursuing were mostly suppressed or killed in the fire. Those that weren't were slowed down considerably."

"Right, then," I said, preparing to issue new orders, "All units-"

"Colonel," High Command cut in, "We have an unidentified airborne vehicle moving from the south-west to your current position rapidly. It's cloaked against satelite imaging and has the highest UN security clearance. It has been confirmed friendly. It is not responding to all official military channels and is using top-level encoding. The stuff only the Spetsnaz, President and the Prime Minister are allowed. We suspect it is Ghost_K. Please pull back and give a visual feed on the vehicle. Out."

"Command wants an ID on a vehicle," I said to the soldiers around me, "Let's fall back southwest and get a view."

Chapter Three

"Can you get a link onto this vessel?" I asked, "It seems to be heading straight into a suspected Urcron landing zone. They may have recieved incorrect drop locations. Over."

"Negative," Command replied, "We have no means of communication at the moment, as we are unable to lock down the signal. Over."

There it was. The transport. Made specifically for the transportation of highest-value military personell, it glided like a duck in water thousands of feet above us.

"Glory hogs." Fadey seemed intent on wrecking every moment. "I bet they get paid more, too. 'Specially the pilot."

"Fadey," I replied, "Sierra-Tango-Foxtrot-Uniform. Out."

Waiting a few moments, I decided to try and contact my superiors again.

"Hotel Charlie, the suspected vessel is moving too close to Urcron lines. Much to close. Can you send a message to the UN about this? Over."

"Negative, we have tried already. The UN is not responding. Stay and observe its flight path. It may be an automated drone distracting the Urcron. Out."

Whatever it is, I thought, it better not be valuable.

The rear ramp opened up on the aircraft, and I had a few moments of bafflement before blinding blazing blasts burst from within. I was baffled for a bit, before coming to the brilliant conclusion. The aircraft was using Ghost_k to strafe the Urcron lines and throw some severe spanners into the movement of their forces.

"Hotel Charlie, the unidentified vehicle has begun to strafe the Urcron lines," I reported, "Please advise, over."

"The vehicle has been identified," Command replied, "It is a Uniform Nato vehicle on official military buisness. The lack of guarenteed secure connections meant that up until its engagement they've been observing radio silence. They didn't want the Urcron warned of their plans. Only our Field Marshal was informed. Ou- correction, there's a new message in. You are to fall back to the south east where military transport vehicles will pick you up and your soldiers. We have a special mission in store for you. Transmitting the location now. Out."

The location and reccomended course flashed in orange across my screen, before diappearing.

I turned to my XO and 2IC.

"You heard the orders," I muttered, "Get them moving."

It didn't make sense. Why would our mission be changed so suddenly while it was in progress? Nature of command when we don't exactly have our existence acknowledged by our superiors I guess.

I smell a rat.

Chapter Four

The faint rumbling of a heavy-duty military engine applied a constant backdrop to the muted chatter inside the infantry fighting vehicle. My superiors had arranged a pickup within rapid time and they were there before me. At least, that's what they want me to think. It all seems to convenient. I know how long it takes to get a convoy moving around hostile-occupied zones, and the hour it took me to move there was not it. I cannot trust anyone. I do not know their motives behind that. They planned this all from the beginning.

The vehicle ground to a halt and the engine cut out, leaving us in uneasy silence rapidly banished by the opening of the doors. Light flooded in.

"Right," I cut through the noise with a quiet, yet forceful, mutter, "Let's all see who it is arranging this."

Rapidly exiting, drawing my rifle and covering my corners in the fear of an ambush, I noticed we were inside an army base. If I was not mistaken, the weaponry would denote them as Spetsnaz-SOS, Russia's very elite, the pinnacle of what our bio-engineering would result in. For anyone, even a genetically-modified individual, to be chosen for the Spetsnaz was a great honour, though little else was known about them. Which brought me to the more worrying point of why we were here. Tightening my grip around the rifle grip, I contemplated turning the safety off as I also noticed the worried stances of those around me, both Spetsnaz and 456th.

"That won't be necessary," a familiar voice from behind me called out, "I don't want to have to give the order. It's much more sporting when the Urcron shoot you."

I turned around, and not three feet behind me was the voice on the other end of the radio for several years. I must have jumped several feet into the air.

"Based on your reaction," the voice continued, "I can assume the cloaking device works. Or would you disagree?"

Behind me, Wilkinson and several others were chuckling, presumably about my reaction. I tried my best to ignore him as I attempted to make my reply, but the man cut me off.

"Follow me," he stated, "We have your next orders."

Chapter Five

It was a spartan existence, I reflected quietly, to be on base. I barely even remember what it is like. For years have I spent wandering the earth recieving all my supplies through airdrop, never let onto a military base again for secrecy purposes. But I have not complained. I have not questioned. I have always done my duty. They needed someone to. We volunteered, and I never looked back.

The man in front of me is a Brigadier-General. I suppose I should be surprised that one of his station and job would be in charge of my operations, but ever since that incident with Fadey, a beehive and that goat things have ceased to surprise me.

"You will move out at 0830 hours," the Brig-Gen, as I nicknamed him, said to me, "There, you will assault this", he stabbed the map screen with his finger, "fortified wall. From there, you will break through their lines and be able to assault this," he stabbed another section with a red mark "communications tower. Without any communications in the local area, the invaders will fall apart."

He looked at me as if he was asking whether or not I could do that. I had to respond.

"Sir," I replied, "With all due respect, I highly doubt that one regiment will be able to take on a heavily fortified Urcron encampment by itself. No matter what, I still will need at least some backup."

"Correct, colonel," he replied with a faint smile, "You'll have 300 millimeter thermobaric artillery rounds on standby ready for fire coordinates, and you'll be supported by elements of the NACDF. As for further backup, let's just say you'll have some... ghostly team working with you. Any further questions?"

"No sir!" was my only reply, and as I begun to leave, he spoke as if in deep thought.

"Pyotr," he almost muttered, "Make sure to put the NACDF at the worst fighting. We have to look good for the news, after all. Now get going! We need your men rested and ready for combat by tomorrow."

I stood fast and left, having a quick chat to who appeared to be the XO of this base before returning to where my soldiers were milling around the grounds.

"Attention all," I called out, rapidly silencing them. They may not like me, but they respect me for my rank, "Dinner's early. You may put your weapons and armour away in the armoury if you so desire, but I need you out in front of the mess in less than thirty minutes. You'll have dinner while I work out the dormitories for you. Now get moving."

My work never ends.

Chapter Six

The timer clicked over and lights and faint noises begun to play in my suit. After several nighttime ambushes I had fallen into the habit of wearing it to bed. It was uncomfortable, but more comfortable than a round to the stomach when you were asleep.

My alarm. I had set a timer to ensure I was awake an hour before everyone else.

0400 hours, or as a friend I once had called it "bloody early".

Getting out of bed I took a brief trip to the sanitorium, as some once called it, and others just called it the crapper, followed by a shower to get rid of most of the smell that came from years in the wilderness with only a stream to bathe in, I returned to my room to fix up my loaned bed.

After carefully ensuring that there were no visible creases on it, I went and smacked on the door of Wilkinson's cabin. A bleary, sleep-encrusted face peeked around a slight crack in the door he opened, before Wilkinson in his pink and yellow striped pyjamas pulled the door open quickly and stood fast.

"Cut that crap," I said, finding it too early for those formalities, "Rouse the junior officers and tell them to wake the NCOs, and have the NCOs get everyone ready to go to mess. We've got a hard day ahead of us."

I shut the door and turned to leave for the armoury before he could respond. Pink and yellow striped pyjamas.

Why did that not surprise me?

Collecting my weapons from the armoury, I arrived at the gates just in time for our transport vehicles to be arriving. That surprised me, as with everything that had been going on recently a bit of luck was almost unthinkable. It would be a long ride.

Chapter Seven

The IFV whispered along the route. From inside, I couldn't see out, but the severely bumpy patches that rattled the armour of everyone inside suggested we weren't following any road. I looked over at Fadey talking to the man with the GPMG.

"Hey," he said, "Just remember that if at first you don't succeed, reload and pull the trigger some more."

One day...

A sudden jolt as the IFV screeched to a halt brought me out of the fantasy of finally getting Fadey kicked out of the Regiment, the exiting lights turned on and the doors opened.

With well-disciplined speed we all unclipped our security belts and dashed for the exit two at a time.

"Watch your corners," I yelled to those around me as my booted feet crunched upon the snow, "Just because you think it's safe doesn't mean it is."

My fears were unfounded. No Urcron was around. One junior officer stuck his head up out of the top hatch of the IFV.

"Colonel Aleksandr sir," he said, "We've reached the target destination. Our vehicles will turn around and RTB. Good luck, sir. The NACDF and Ghost_k will arrive by air, sir."

His use of "sir" so frequently impressed and annoyed me. Before I could recriminate him for it, he stuck his head back into the hatch, closed it and turned the convoy around.

Now I just had to prepare for an assault.

Chapter Eight

Laying down in the snow seemed to be a depressingly common occurrence with the 456th. I was about two kilometres away from the wall, a bleak grey strech of some kind of metal between two mountains. During the last war, we had set up defences here to force their troops to make lengthy movements around and waste time until they were pushed back and the Urcron broke through.

My sniper's bipod was resting on a large rock, almost a boulder, and the extreme-distance 36x maximum optical magnification let me easily identify targets at long range. A Zenerath kal was here. Someone wasn't telling me the whole story. Why would a Zenerath kal be interested in the defence of just one tiny stretch of wall between two mountains?

Nevertheless, Zenerath kal die like any other creatures. I'm keeping my sights firmly on it, after adjusting them for wind speed, gravity, and all other nasty factors that make a sniper's life hard.

"Hotel Charlie," I muttered, "Requesting clearence to engage, over."

"Negative," was my only reply, "You do not have clearance at this time. A surprise has just been granted to us in this assault. Wait. Out."

So I sat and watched. It was nearly half an hour before anything happened. Slowly, the Zenerath kal turned and left the area, pausing one final time before taking off. I could've shot it then and there.

But I didn't.

They wouldn't give me permission.

It would be my greatest failure.

Chapter Nine

"Surprise incoming," my radio crackled, "Watch and learn how we send a message. Out."

I looked over at the almost indomitable wall. For the past half hour I had wondered what could possibly put more than a dent in it, and my realisation hit hard as I looked up and saw the trail of a missile. It was rather surreal. I could feel a curious detachment from the events, as if the knowledge of what was happening was more than I could take.

"All units," I said, oddly calm in the face of this, "Get your heads down and stay down. Out."

The missile struck moments afterwards. There was no blinding flash of light to confirm my worst fears, but instead a rolling fireball reached perhaps five hundred metres into the sky. The released pressure and heat was enormous. A tree close to the blast was uprooted and flung along ablaze. Great gouts of smoke billowed into the air, the only remainder of many Urcron.

From our position, we were not harmed but even we could feel the heat of the blast through the internal temperature adjusters. I'd witnessed enough explosions to identify this as a fuel-air, or thermobaric, explosion. Probably. Whatever it was, our chance of doing this quickly and quietly vanished. The grand funeral pyre that lasted less than ten seconds created enough smoke to broadcast our position to everyone around.

"All units," I said, "Operation is a go, I say again, operation is a go. Out."

Not bothering to pay attention to the actions of everyone around me, I hooked the sniper onto a special slot on my back, switching to my battle rifle in one hand, placing the other hand on the rock in front of me and using it to boost me up and over. The minute my booted feet hit the snow underfoot, I was running, taking cover behind the nearest tree.

Even after the plan had gone to hell from the troublesome efforts of High Command, I was still determined to continue as planned. Ahead, as my soldiers rose up and dashed forwards tree-to-tree, NACDF were dropping in as the initial wave.

The impossible was occurring. Some Urcron had survived the hellish explosion and were mustering some shots at the NACDF.

I could almost respect their bloody-mindedness and their defiance, as the few had no hope. The NACDF and forward elements of the 456the rapidly targeted and cut them down.

Dashing and darting from cover to cover, my regiment came to a clearing that certainly didn't exist before the missile struck. I could tell because natural clearings tend to involve less fire.

Setting the inane observations aside for the time being, I couldn't help but marvel at the destruction one missile had unleashed. Spatters of molten metal lined the surrounding landscape, hissing in the snow. The metals with higher melting points were torn and broken pieces lodged around the landscape.

Muttering a few orders into the radio, the NACDF and the 456th formed up and begun to trudge between the jagged mountains. Had I received airborne units, they would be covering the mountains to make sure nobody was going to get the drop on us. The sky was clear today, though, and I had confidence that I would receive adequate warning before an ambush.

Cautiously, I scanned the mountaintops.

Chapter Ten

Nothing grows along this path. For fifteen minutes I've been moving slowly along here with not even the slightest shrub in sight.

I faintly heard a "thump" noise and was about to discount it when another loud "BANG" noise sounded, accompanied by a cloud of dirt and water flung up into the air interspersed with parts of human. Someone called out "Contact!" as I flung myself to the ground, just in time to avoid scything bolts hissing through my unit. One of us wasn't quite that quick and copped six or seven rounds. One must have slipped through a weak point, as he went down, arterial blood spurting out of his left shoulder.

"Hotel Charlie," I called into the radio, "We have come under fire from an unknown amount of hostile units. We have been ambushed. Do you have further information? Over!"

Nothing. Not a whisper. As the seconds dragged on, I noticed one Urcron moving to my position, and dropped it with a short burst. The situation was getting worse, though. Every second more Urcron were moving from somewhere in the mountains into the ambush. My forces were bleeding like mad here.

"I say again, Hotel Charlie," I called into the radio, "We have come under fire from an unknown amount of hostile units. We have been ambushed. Do you have further information? Over!"

The voice that replied was a synthesised one.

"You have been a thorn too long," the voice growled, "It is time you were removed."

The radio started admitting such a high-pitched noise across all channels I tried that I had to shut it off. This was a disaster. The Urcron somehow got ahold of our encryption code and now they were jamming me.

I grabbed Wilkinson's arm.

"Tell everyone," I yelled above the cacophony of battle, "We are falling back now!"

AS the message passed through the lines, I saw many get up and try to run but be scythed down by fire. I had no choice, though. If we stayed, we died. If we left, we probably would die. Leaping to my feet at the same time as the rest of my command team, I turned and legged it away, half crouched.

In my peripheral vision, I could see one right next to me turn around to fire off a burst, taking a round in the chest and being knocked down. I grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. Armour is tough. It's in a worse condition than him.

As I turned to continue retreating, there was a deafening thud and my helmet smacked against the back of my head, before attempting to jump off, nearly tearing it's way free. Next thing I knew I was being dragged along by Wilkinson, face down in the snow. Every bit of information my helmet was feeding me was buggy and the colours were changing at a frightening pace, enough to send someone into an epileptic fit. I was suffering a pounding headache, too. Brushing Wilkinson off, I got to my feet and turned my helmet back into standard mode.

I was surrounded by trees, as well as Wilkinson, Fadey, and Dema.

"Right," I said, trying to assume my position as rapidly as possible, "Round up the survivors. We-"

"Are the survivors," Wilkinson cut me off, "Nobody else made it out, radios are still jammed, and when they can't find your body they'll organise teams for sure. We're stuck in hostile territory with no way out and the most minimal firepower you can imagine."

I sat down at that and clutched my helmet. My headache was certainly worsening, and I was beginning to feel sleepy, not to mention nauseous. Concussion. That's just great. Really, really great.

"What do we do now, sir?" Wilkinson asked.

I looked up.

"Follow me," I growled, "We're going to visit the bastard who sold us out and kill him."

I got up and grabbed my rifle from it's cord. When I fell I must have dropped it. Fighting back another wave of nausea I stepped forwards, looking for the tracks of the IVs that lead us to the trap.

Chapter Eleven

The faintest squeak noise sounded out as I carefully placed my boot on the ground. Normally, I wouldn't worry about it, but I was nearing a Spetsnaz base in the night. They had permission to shoot suspicious persons on site, and I doubt that I would be considered a normal traveller, considering I shouldn't even know the location of this base.

Tracking them here had been my hardest moments. Shortly after finding the tracks the light had begun failing, and so I couldn't see much out in front of me - infravision being too risky and we have yet to receive the promised light-amplification devices.

Squinting heavily to combat the near-total darkness around my, I tried to make out the layout of the base. I was in luck - it was almost identical to the training facilities I spent most of my pre-adult years in. But it was empty. The guard posts had no person inside them and all the lights were off. Looking harder, many of the windows were smashed.

Something had gone very wrong here.

Stepping forwards, I slowly advanced on the base, going low and scraping my knife long the snow, making sure there were not any landmines buried. They were illegal, but no country really cared when they were used against the Urcon, and Russia could always veto any UN resolution on the subject.

Sweeping forwards into the compound, I noticed dark patches, ones which I had enough combat experience to know were frozen blood. In this light I couldn't be sure, but it looked like there were fragments of bone or armour inside the patches. One of our own weapons. Only ours were made so ridiculously powerful, to give the average infantryman some defence against light armoured vehicles.

Temporarily shelving what I had learnt, I pressed onwards until I reached the main building. No doubt there were answers here.

Noting that there was a palm-scanner, I removed my glove, rapidly feeling the icy air bite deeply into my skin, and pressed my hand against it.

It paused a moment and flashed red.

++ERROR. POLKÓVNIK P. S. ALEKSANDR. LEVEL 2 CLEARANCE DETECTED. LEVEL 3 CLEARANCE REQUIRED.++

That sealed it, I though as I replaced my glove, No way to get in now. The windows are too small to even have a hope of fitting in, and the doors were made to be proof against my gun.

I turned my back on one of the secrets I would never know. As I was about to walk off, a scrap of synthetic writing sheet fluttered in front of my view. Blackened around the edges, almost everything was gone except for a short fragment in Russian.

then terminate the base when (indecipherable) before moving to-

It told me enough. They, whoever they were, were acting under orders to kill every member of the base and move out. Looking around for the source of the burning, I noticed a ditch surrounded by slowly refreezing dark ice. That was probably where they were burned, and if I looked enough I might be able to find more papers which were not burned.

Stumbling in the thick cover of snow and ice, I managed to get there and peered in, responding with shock at what I saw.

For I was looking into a mass grave, and those with recognisable faces were looking back.

Chapter Twelve

They were dead, of course, but my familiarity with death gave me only greater disgust. They were people trained from birth, taught that one day they would make a difference in the world. Now they were all dead, killed by someone or something. Every body I could see was still young - none of them had even reached the age of 16 yet, but they were dead all the same.

I moved towards the trees, but as I was halfway across the distance I heard a loud noise. Without thinking, I dropped down flat. With a great roar that shook the nearby trees, an aircraft flew just overhead. It moving behind me meant I could not see what it was doing, but I head a series of thundering explosions and whooshes that sounded like a great deal of flammable material caught fire quickly. Moving back past me, I risked moving my head to see what the aircraft was, and I was stunned upon noticing the US fin flash on one of their short-range bombers.

"They couldn't be pulling off this sort of sabotage now," I thought, "Not during this grand campaign."

When I could no longer hear it's engines, I stood up and looked back at the base. Every structure had been levelled and the entire area was doused in flames. No way to get further information now, unless...

It was a short range bomber. Logically, somewhere within a few hundred kilometres was where it was based. If I set my compass to the direction it was heading, I could track it down.

First I needed to try and contact the other two. Radios were still down. I left them back somewhere.

Chapter Thirteen

As my merry troupe continued along the path I began to notice signs of the weather warming. Snow was beginning to turn into slush, which was replaced by mud, the kind of thick, knee-deep sticky Siberian mud that had hampered everyone in summer and was only marginally more tolerable than snow. But it was a bad thing for us, as our winter fatigues offered no help in this environment. It was also peculiar - being winter meant that the mud season still was months off.

At the same time, my radiation moniter started blaring like mad. It was so distracting that I had to turn the sound off, though I still had to monitor the levels. Though not telling what radiation it was, I suspected radio waves, but these were in such great levels I could only wonder at the value of creating a radio tower at this power. To me, it seemed a case of putting all eggs in one basket.

I didn't have much choice, though. No signals meant no GPS, I had a compass but it was roughly as useful as the average chocolate teapot when I didn't have a map. I have no idea as to the loyalty of my own country and some of it's finest lads just tried to kill me. I supposed I'd better find out what was broadcasting all those signals. At that power, it could probably maintain communications throughout the entire theater. Something like that was well-worth destroying.

I could help the war effort more by acting on what I knew now than by stumbling around for an extended period of time looking for another base to report in to.

Chapter Fourteen

Day two of following the signal. Radiation levels have remained constant overnight and this has made me suspect that I have found a jammer and not a signaller. I'm currently placing this mission into the "cannot fail" territory. Jamming the signals over even a few days like this... I cannot begin to think of what this may have done already. If they were smart and expected it to go offline within a short time they would have used their air support to take advantage of our lack of comms and bombed as many valuable structures as possible. Ammo dumps, airfields, army bases, supply lines, factories, they could take most of our units almost completely out of the war before they were even attacked. We would be almost defenceless.

I have now resigned myself to plodding along without the slightest amount of sleep - I cannot delay even a moment or there may not be a war left to win. The two others had taken an unorthodox formation behind me in a triangle shape, conventional field formations rendered mostly useless due to the minimal numbers involved.

I could hear voices approaching in front of me. Without hesitation, I threw myself at the ground, followed by the other two around me. I hoped they would just move on and miss us, but I readied my gun just in case. Setting it to the lowest power I could, too. Sonic booms and ionisation of air would only attract more attention, and at this power they were virtually noiseless and invisible except for a hiss of displaced air. It meant I had to be very accurate as the rounds would not penetrate their armour, meaning I had to hit the lightly-armoured joints.

"Team," I hissed at the other two, "Try and get their suits with as little damage as you can. We'll sneak into their main base."

The first one appeared in front of me. Stuck in this thick mud I couldn't eliminate him quickly and he yelled out a warning to his comrades. Targeting the gun I put a round in his shoulder joint as he raised his own rifle. Twisting to one side, he dropped but not before I saw the spurting of blood that suggested an important artery had been hit. There was some more sounds of fire to my left, but I was distracted by another one which appeared, and collapsed as I promptly put one in his neck.

Looking to my left, one of them was running, as fast as he could in this mud. I fired two but didn't hit the weak sections. He vanished into the trees before I could take him down.

I looked further at my left and quietly cursed at what I saw.

I stood up quickly in shock. Of all the things that I could have seen this was the last I expected. I stumbled over to the location, expecting it to change any moment, a trick of my eyes, but it wouldn't change. I still couldn't believe my eyes, of all the things it could be, it had to be this.

In the mud, which was rapidly darkening, lay Fadey Aleksandr, unmoving.

Chapter Fifteen

I managed to hastily wade to Fadey's location. Dragging him somewhat out of the mud, I could see that he'd taken several rounds. One had smashed through the sights of the gun and shattered his helmet, his helmet performing it's final duty protecting his head. Another had cracked his left shoulderplate and a third had shot through the crack. His heart was almost certainly torn to shreds, his lungs were probably in a similar state. There was no chance he could survive that.

The one who got away must have fired a fatal burst before Fadey could give him a good one. That would be the gunshots I heard.

Now I was one down and my enemies were almost certainly notified of my presence.

I wondered whether I should give him a burial. But the danger was too great. I had to press onwards.

I still didn't move. I suppose it was how much of a shock it was to lose him. We'd taken casualties before, sometimes heavy casualties, and even what we'd lost still had some promise of rebuilding the regiment. But Fadey, Fadey had survived as long as I. He might have been a little, ah, disturbed but he was still the closest I had to a good friend in the regiment, even if he was my "brother" of sorts. I suppose him dying was a brutal reminder of how fragile we all are, especially now.

"Pyotr," Dema called at me, "I'm sorry, but we gain nothing by waiting here. Let's get the other suits on as fast as we can and move out."

Of course. I helped nobody here. I got up and moved over to the nearest body, removing the suit and replacing my own. This belonged to a ефре́йтор demolitions expert - it had a large quantity more of plastic explosive than usual where extra clips would be stored.

Some pieces of crumpled writing material in the chestpiece in front of where the heart should be caught my eye. It could be valuable intelligence that told me what the bloody hell was going on here.

Nope. Almost entirely bloodstained and what was readable was some letters from a secret crush. Useless. I tossed it away.

As I placed the helmet on my head, a message flashed up on the screen. It informed me that they knew they were under attack by "a probably large group of well-armed hostile saboteurs" - this made me chuckle - and to move in the direction I was going before the contact where they were preparing to be attacked.

There was really no other way forwards. I had to follow the signal's co-ordinates. Perhaps I could find out how they were transmitting when all frequencies were jammed.

Chapter Sixteen

There it was. The camp. Concrete floor with a great skyscraper jutting out to the heavens balancing a radio tower on top. I was rather surprised to see a fence around it - perhaps they thought the risk of being targeted was severe enough that it warranted the construction of such defences. There was a checkpoint at the gate, where obviously new arrivals were being checked for identification. Nobody else could be seen.

"Right," I said to Dema who was beside me, "We'll see if the gates will let us in. As the ефре́йтор here I'll do the talking. You just follow me and be ready to shoot our way in if things go wrong."

I began walking towards the camp when the guard saw us. All of a sudden he'd been looking around and then he started pointing his gun at us.

"Friendly forces!" I yelled at him, sprinting to cover the distance now. Reaching him as he hesitated, I hastily made something up, "We came into contact with hostile forces while attempting to return to base."

It looked like that did the trick.

"If that is true," He said opening the gate, "You should go to the top floor, ефре́йтор. The CO will want to hear everything."

As we passed, I nodded at Dema as Dema looked at me. Dema turned to the guard, who had turned around and let us pass. Dema shoved his combat knife into him at the right angle to get through the gap in his armour and into the base of his skull, cutting the cerebral cortex as I stood to hide our actions from those who might be inside a skyscraper which had a large radio tower at the top, reaching up so high I could not see the tip. The guard dropped like a stone. Dead like all traitors deserve.

We moved into the building without incident. However, once we got into the building I noticed that there were a large number of people moving around, getting weapons and ammunition, fortifying defensive locations and generally preparing for a full-scale assault. The idea seemed to be that capturing this was worth more than destroying it, which would explain why the preparations were such. There was only one way to plan this.

I looked over at Dema, who was also appraising the situation and nodded over to what seemed to be a toilet block, before going into it. Dema followed my signal and went in after me. Noting that it was by and large empty, I turned around to him and removed my plastic explosives.

"I have a special task for you," I said giving it to him, "Go find whatever is generating this much power and plant the plastic explosive around what looks like weak points. Then go straight to the top floor. I'll be there."

"Sir," Dema replied taking the explosive, "Why will you be there?"

"I'm going to find who is in charge here," I replied, unable to keep the hate out of my voice, "I want answers and that bastard, whoever he is, will give me them. Whether he likes it or not. Be prepared to have to fight our way out of here though. When we're out and fairly far away I'm detonating the explosive. See what it does. Can you do this?"

"Sir," Dema replied with some urgency, "Nobody ever trained me to use this."

"Nobody did to me, either," I replied, "Just place it near what looks valuable but do it surreptitiously. I won't be able to get you out of any trouble."

"Sir," Dema replied with some enthusiasm, "Consider it done."

"That's the attitude I like," I said, moving around and slapping him on the back, "You're a good soldier. I can't think of anyone else I would rather have doing this job here and now."

Enough praise. I left the toilets and moved to an elevation device. Once inside I pressed the button for the top floor. I suppose I was expecting to see who I did in some small part of my brain, but it didn't soften the blow one whit.

Chapter Seventeen

"You..." I muttered at the figure behind a desk who had abruptly looked up as the doors slid open. revealing a somewhat cramped office.. For there before me was my ex-CO. The same person who had commanded me behind dozens of combats in campaigns so secret all records of them were viewable only by the highest levels.

It seemed impossible that such a hero could turn his back on his country so. On his duty. On his species.

"Ah," he said, confusion clearing up immediately, "Pyotr Aleksandr, am I right? I told them you would not be killed in such a manner. But they would not listen."

I was wordless with rage. All I wanted to do was to leap over there and tear his rotten throat out with my bare hands. No fate could repay what he did.

"In any case," He continued after a pause to see if I would say anything, "I think it's working out rather nicely. I get to kill a war hero of the Russian Federation just as it takes it's dying breaths. Almost poetic, really. You die alone and are forgotten. Everything you do will be lost. You will just be another name on a casualty report."

"Why?" I choked out.

"Why?" He parroted, "I was made this way. You don't think we'd fight an honest war, did you? Sleeper agents of ours, humans who have already been converted to the cause need only to mix around a bit with the clone's DNA and then they're naturally inclined to our cause. A bit more tweaking and they're ours for life. So which country uses clones and meddles with their DNA for military purposes? This one, of course. You of all people should know - where did they grow you again?"

Seeing my disgust and refusal to comply he continued.

"That's right, you were one of those released into normal families as an experiment. A pity we couldn't get you - you've shown yourself a most determined and resourceful individual, and that's from someone who commanded the Spetznas for longer than you've lived.

"After we managed to infiltrate the highest offices we only had to mess around with the genetics of all your special forces units. From there we had won. We only had to wait until the order came to cull those too young to fight and move out."

He pulled a pistol out of his desk and before I could grab my gun he was pointing it at me.

Just then the doors opened and Dema entered, rifle at the ready. The high traitor would not let him take a single shot, however, popping three shots into his head, the first two cracking the helmet and the third finally breaking it open and shooting through.

Dema dropped, and I stared at him. I was now the last survivor of my regiment. His arrival meant one thing though and that meant I could still accomplish my task.

I pulled the detonator out and armed it, but just as I was about to detonate it another round shout out of the pistol and hit me on the forearm. With a jolt of pain suggesting a break, it flew out of my grip and bounced across the floor into a corner.

Out of reflex I dropped the gun and grabbed my arm, exclaiming at this sudden pain. He pointed the pistol at me one last time and pulled the trigger.

A faint click was heard. I realised what had happened.

"Only four rounds?" I mocked through clenched teeth, "Who the fuck gave you that clip?"

Tossing the gun away he strode around the desk and struck me as hard as he could. I was too slow to block or dodge it, and it struck me in the face hard enough to break three teeth through the helmet and I was pretty sure my cheekbone had been broken, too.

The force knocked my down and I managed to roll with it to reduce the impact of hitting the ground. I slammed against the wall, and suddenly had a plan.

"I've seen your overlords hit harder than that!" I taunted him, knowing that his professional pride, however twisted, would cause a rather negative response.

He struck me on the face again, this time on the front. I slid back into a corner, my left eyepiece cracked and giving strange feed.

Knowing my plan had worked I smiled as I hit the detonator, laying right next to me, that he'd forgotten about in his rage.

Chapter Eighteen

Nothing happened for a few, tense moments as the high traitor stared worried at the detonator. All of a sudden the building tilted upwards on an angle. Laying down I was fine but the high traitor stumbled and fell down, cracking his head loudly on the floor. He was probably unconscious, but I didn't have any time to think further as an incredible roaring noise filled the air and we actually, incredibly, lifted off the ground and started rising slowly up into the air. The tower continued to lift unevenly, however, and through a window I could see what was once the ground be instead a great fireball propelling cement into the air.

Of course. They must have had large amounts of generator fuel in storage. The explosion must have got into that, too. It must have been a powerful generator or a careful planner to demand such amounts of fuel.

Further thoughts on the matter were rather dramatically interrupted as I began to slide towards the wall, grabbing at the floor to slow me down and noting that the rate of ascent was decreasing and we were tipping over more and more now. The high traitor, unable to do anything else, began to slide in earnest towards the wall with the window, which was now looking straight down at the approaching fireball.

Before he could hit the wall the pressure burst the glass and sent shards all around the room, easily picking the both of us up and slamming us against the far wall and holding us there. Through the cracks in my armour I could feel an incredible, intense heat growing only hotter as I watched the fireball approach and the room light up like a flare.

Anything more I could not tell as the pressure on the building increased to the point where it broke into several pieces, the one I was in being spun around wildly as it descended faster and faster. I was flung around the room like a surfer suffering from dumping a wave. I could not see properly, all I knew was that I was descending rapidly.

There was an incredible crash. I struck the floor and heard many cracks, the walls collapsed bringing everything else down like a thunderbolt and everything went dark.

Chapter Nineteen

I floated around in darkness for what seemed like an age.

Slowly I became aware of a weight pressing down upon me, and I started falling through the darkness, faster and faster as more weight was pressed down onto my chest. I struck the ground and my eyes opened.

Things weren't any better with them open - everything was dark, buried under the room and possibly more of the skyscraper. I must have been unconscious. I had a hideous headache and I felt extremely thirsty, tired and dizzy. More worrisome was how I had no sensation from about halfway down. Knowing that remaining trapped here would be the death of me, I put all my sapped strength into heaving the weight off me. I heard a grinding sound and the slab shifted a small amount, bringing light into the enclosed space.

The first thing I noticed was the lines of cracks through the eye-slits. All of it had been broken badly and only the safety films had prevented me from receiving two eyefulls of broken material.

My strength ebbed away and I fell back exhausted. Fortunately the slab had caught onto something and it did not slam down back on me. I felt faint and the tiredness was only getting worse.

Twisting my head as far back as I could I could see out of the crack at a great crater in the distance where the tower once stood. Trees were flattened for hundreds of meters around it, most of the tower was rubble scattered across many hundreds of meters, perhaps kilometres, and the explosion probably was registered on a seismograph. There was no way in hell that would be working again.

I slumped back down, but couldn't be still for long. I reached up to where my radio was in this uniform. There was one last thing I had to send.

"All units," I said, "This is Charlie-1. Locstat unknown. Jamming device destroyed. Radio communications should be free. Critically wounded. Out."

I sent that message across every channel I knew of. With every send, I grew a little weaker until finally my hand dropped away from the button. I had hopefully messaged everyone I could.

I could see things through a tunnel now - it was like I was standing in a dark room and looking onto a lightened area. Behind me was a soft darkness and the visible world was slowly moving away. Nothing hurt anymore. Every sound was gone. I'd won.

I could exist with that.

Chapter Twenty

SPECIAL NEWS REPORT

Early last week a group of three operatives managed to completely sabotage an Urcron tower that had completely jammed all communications. Military officials note that the strategic importance of that was so great that it's destruction has caused a critical blow to Urcron morale across the fronts. Already the now reorganised forces of the Russian Federation have pushed the Urcron back from vital locations and are declaring that the Urcron presence in Russia will be reduced to negligible within a month.

However, such a victory did not come free of cost. Sources cite that all three members of the team, one which existed in secrecy for years before being brought into the public face, were killed during the attack. Military sources claim the group is being considered for a group decoration.

Keep reading for further updates to the Urcron conflict.

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Manga
Issue One: Crimson Atmosphere · Issue Two: Iridescence · Issue Three: Revelations
Stories
Second Great Battle of Siberia · Tainted Horizon · The Rain of Bloody Death · Ketsueki Fukushū

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