The last bastion of the.., p.1
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       The Last Bastion of the Living, p.1

          
The Last Bastion of the Living
Page 1
Prologue

The sound of her labored breathing filled her helmet as Special Sergeant Maria Martinez snapped the rifle harness to her body armor. Her fingers trembled as she hooked the rifle to her vest. She hated the outward manifestation of the fear that gripped her and tried to steady her hands. Taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, she mentally counted to ten, attempting to distract herself from the impending battle.

The deployment of the military was in the shadow of the great wall that protected The Bastion, the last city of the living. Maria glanced over her shoulder at the vast metropolis looming beyond the staging area. In the early dawn, it was shrouded in gray with only the lights on the ten-story high wall gleaming in the mist. Somewhere in the endless sprawl of aging buildings, her family was praying for her safety. She hoped God was listening.

Today was the last great battle against the creatures that had wiped out nearly all of humanity. Today would either ensure the future of generations to come, or start the countdown to human extinction. Almost every last bit of fuel, ammunition, and resources within the city’s stores had been poured into this operation. It had to succeed.

Soldiers snatched up ammunition and equipment from the dispensers while massive machines slid on treads toward the large aircraft that would ferry them to the battle zone. The blades of the tiltrotors that served as troop transports whined above the din as they lifted off from the loading platforms.

Double-checking the clasps on her helmet, Maria gave her head a firm shake to guarantee it was secure. Like the rest of The Bastion, the armor was very old and prone to malfunctions. She tapped her right wrist and the helmet display flickered to life before her eyes. She swept her gaze over the readout and was satisfied that all her body armor systems were online.

“Keep moving, Martinez,” Vanguard Ren Stillson ordered, his huge body looming over her. With his deeply tanned skin and shaved head, he was an imposing sight.

The mass of gray armored bodies shifted around her as she joined the rest of her squad. She greeted those closest to her with a brief nod of her head. As the soldiers were herded forward to the loading platforms, she checked her weapon again and fought down the fear gnawing at her nerves. She wasn’t alone in her anxiety. An unusual silence dwelled among the gathered soldiers.

Through the thick plastic visor of her helmet, she saw the commanding officer, Chief Defender Dwayne Reichardt, watching the squads from his vantage point in the command center. He was an imposing man with keen blue eyes and the lines of his face spoke of his years of hard service. She didn’t envy his position. To be responsible for the lives of so many had to weigh heavily upon him.

A nudge in her side drew her attention to Special Constable Lindsey Rooney, one of her squad members. Maria lightly bumped her helmet against her friend’s in greeting. They had enlisted at the same time and were firm friends. Standing side by side, the two women waited for their turn to board a tiltrotor.

The speaker in her helmet hissed as the com units came online. The steady scroll of information to the right side of her vision bore the news that they were about to move out. Despite her determination not to be afraid, Maria could hear her breath shortening as her heart sped up. Gripping her weapon firmly in her gloved hands, Maria pinned her gaze to the loading platforms rising above her. This is what she had trained for since enlisting.

A one-on-one battle with the Inferi Scourge.

Special Constable Ryan Sherman bumped her arm as he stepped up beside her. His boyish grin and twinkling eyes behind his visor didn’t reveal a shred of anxiety. Blowing her a playful kiss, he winked. He constantly flirted with her in hopes of a hook up. With golden hair and deep brown eyes, he was not bad looking. In fact, he was quite handsome. Maria had been more than tempted to indulge in a little physical activity with him, but she knew Lindsey had her heart set on him. She would never betray her friend.

Pointing to her then himself, Ryan mimed drinking.

Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, she veered away. Out of her periphery, she saw Lindsey snarling playfully at Ryan. The teasing and good humor of the moment was a balm to her nerves. If they survived the day, the three of them would end up at an underground bar swilling bootleg liquor all night.

Vanguard Stillson pushed his way to the head of his squad as they shuffled forward. A couple of tiltrotors lifted into the air as two more drifted downward to take their place. As the squad drew closer to the platform, Maria craned her head to stare up the tall expanse of the great wall. It obscured most of the pale blue sky above. Despite the sounds of the military mobilizing around her, she could hear the cries of the Inferi Scourge just beyond the wall.

“Are you scared?” Lindsey asked, her voice barely heard over the din.

Maria nodded her head once in the affirmative.

Lindsey’s grip on her weapon visibly tightened. “Me too. ”

“Keep moving, Rooney and Martinez,” Vanguard Stillson’s voice barked in her helmet.

Maria sucked in a breath, held it, counted to five, and slowly exhaled. The silence was eating at her nerves just as much as the cries of the Scourge.

“Move forward!”

Vanguard Stillson’s hulking figure raised a hand, signaling his squad. Trudging across the concrete to the steel stairs that led up to the loading platform, Maria lifted her eyes to the command center again. Chief Defender Reichardt was pointing to several screens before him and gesturing emphatically to the older man beside him. Maria recognized the officer as Commandant Young.

She wondered if something was wrong.

Stomping up the stairs to the platform, she managed to stay close to Ryan and Lindsey. The rotors sliced through the air above their heads as they loaded onto the flying beast. Quickly sliding into a harness near her friends, Maria watched as the other members of the squad took their places. She exchanged smiles with a few while others took the time before liftoff to meditate and pray. Though these were the same men and women she trained with every day and patrolled with on the great wall, this was their first actual battle. None of them had ever seen the Scourge up close. The simulations in the training room had been unnerving, but what would it feel like to actually face the resurrected dead?

Beside her, Lindsey and Ryan were engaging in a wildly pantomimed conversation. A smile flitted across Maria’s lips as she watched them. A few squad members laughed out loud, but the chuckles faded the second Vanguard Stillson swung up into the transport. Buckling into his place just behind the pilots, he swept his dark eyes over his people.

“Keep focused. Stay on target. Do not fear. You know what to do, people, and I know you’re more than capable of coming out of this day victorious,” his deep voice intoned through the feed in her helmet.

Maria knew the plan by heart. The daily drills and debriefings had her dreaming about her role in the battle. It was a nightmare she woke from every night. Yet, she craved the coming violence against the undead. They had destroyed the world and trapped her within the city. She longed for a world without the Scourge and was willing to fight for it.

The tiltrotor lifted off the platform and tilted sharply as it swooped low over the city before ascending to join the other tiltrotors already in formation. Maria felt her stomach drop as the tiltrotor climbed and grinned despite her nerves. Ryan winked at her and Lindsey gave her a thumbs up. The simulations they had all experienced were nothing like reality. Maria found the sensation of flying a little disconcerting.

As the tiltrotor rose above the great wall, the valley that would be their battlefield came into view. The Bastion was tucked into a man-made valley carved out of an imposing mountain range that created a natural barrier of protection. The only pass into the valley had been guarded by a twelve foot thick, ten-story tall gate. The walled city itself had been designed to give shelter to two million people. The valley had contained seven farms, cattle ranches, a lake fed from an underground river, a hydroelectric station, and settlements for the farmers, ranchers, and miners. Originally, the valley had provided everything humanity needed to survive: water, livestock, a mining facility, power. It was humanity’s greatest achievement in the aftermath of the Inferi Scourge infection.

Peering out the front window of the tiltrotor, Maria could see in the distance the enormous gate that had failed to keep out the Scourge. It was a mocking reminder of plans gone awry. Five years after the last survivors of humanity had taken refuge in the valley, the gate had failed. In one terrible day, the farms, ranches, mining, and hydroelectric facilities were lost, along with thousands of people who lived and worked outside the city. No one knew why the gate had failed. It was a mystery none had solved.

Ever since the city had been cut off from its most valuable resources, it had been dying slowly.

“We’re moving into position,” Vanguard Stillson announced. “Remember to dispatch quickly. ”

The tiltrotor stopped its ascent and hovered. Through the cockpit window, Maria could see other aircraft carrying the large machines that would create the new perimeter moving into position.

And below. . .

The massive ocean of the Scourge filled the land before the great wall, their upturned, screaming faces reducing Maria’s insides to jelly. The Inferi Scourge Plague Virus (ISPV) victims, the walking dead, the Inferi Scourge, reached toward the massive machines looming over their heads. The crowd of Scourge reached into the foothills and Maria wondered how they could possibly establish a foothold on the land outside the walls.
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