But in this game, there are no victors.
The United States of America, September 3, 1962:
Millions of Americans on the West Coast have settled in for the evening and turned on their radios and televisions, content to enjoy whatever program their families watch together. However, their scheduled programming has been interrupted by an urgent speech by President Joseph Kennedy Jr.
My fellow Americans, it is my deepest regret to inform you that, in an emergency meeting by Congress, war has been declared on the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and their allies. Our intelligence assets in those countries and our early warning systems all indicate that a large number of intercontinental ballistic missiles have been launched in a surprise attack against the United States and her allies.
We will answer in full force.
It is no easy thing that I ask of you, but we must all stand together through this, our darkest of hours, until we see the coming victorious dawn. We have been preparing for this scenario, and I am fully confident in the strength of our military's plan.
If you live in a city with a population greater than 100,000, or near a military base, I must urgently encourage you to head to your city's central bunker, unless you have one of your own. If neither of these is the case, it is advised that you should head to your basements, with all doors locked and windows shuttered, or to whatever shelter you have available. If you're outdoors, head indoors immediately. Be prepared to listen to any further announcements through your local radio stations.
We will survive this, People of the United States. Freedom and democracy will not be extinguished. We need only stand strong, and stand together. God bless, and good luck.
The White House, September 3, 1962:
A man is calling his brother for the last time. Neither will ever see the sun again.
"H - Hello? Yes, John. It's Joseph. No, I haven't called anyone else yet. I felt like you should be the first to know."
"Yeah, I know. Listen, you can't go to the bunker, they'll know who you are, blame you for what I've done. They'll lynch you, John. You take Jackie and the kids, and you go out to the country. I'll see what I can do from here to make sure my guys go out and protect you."
"Mr. President, it's time."
"Hang on one second, will you? No, that wasn't at you, John. Yeah, I'll call Ted and Robert next. Please, stay safe, and send Jackie and the children my love. Tell the kids that Uncle Joe loves 'em."
"And I'm sorry."
Volgograd Bunker #6, October 13, 1962:
Things are being said in angered whispers as young warriors look on, fearful.
"Vasily, look at them. These are not soldiers, they're farm boys. Most of them don't look older than ten. And some of them are crying. We can't do this."
"We are at war, probably the most important war that will ever be fought. It wasn't us who decided to launch the first nuclear missiles. It wasn't us who killed over a billion people. It wasn't us who put us in this bunker. And it isn't us who made the decision that our children must be our soldiers. We have orders, and we are sworn to uphold them."
"Do you expect me to believe that? Why can't we admit defeat? The surface is ruined. There's nothing left to fight for. And these are children. Do you expect me to simply stand by and watch as we give these boys over to those things? I can't do that in good faith."
"Grigory, I would hold my tongue if I were you. You are an officer of this army and are sworn to protect this country, with your life if need be. We can't let the Americans win, and we cannot simply give up. If whatever the Engineers have planned will let these boys see the sky again, it is worth it."
"Even if it kills them?"
"Even if it kills them."
Site-17, October 26, 1989:
Interviewing: Dr. Friedrich
Forward: Interview was conducted in German. This interview took place one week after Interview 004.
Dr. Friedrich: Alexei, is now a good time?
SCP-2273: Of course. What do you need to ask?
Dr. Friedrich: First off, is the music player working for you?
SCP-2273: Yes, it's doing wonderfully, thank you. So what do you want to talk about, Doctor?
Dr. Friedrich: Well, for one thing, I wanted to know how your wounds were healing, for the sake of your medical supervisors.
SCP-2273: The armor was built to survive heavy hits. See this slight indentation in my eye, here? A sniper hit me there. The bullet passed completely through my… well, I guess it's a helmet. Anyway, it healed within a month. I still have blurry vision there, but it works. These, on my arms, are just flesh wounds.
Dr. Friedrich: That's wonderful news. Uh, you mentioned that the wounds were created when the Americans "pulled your weapons and supply pack off?" Can you explain what you meant by that?
SCP-2273: My weapons were bolted directly into my armor. They would be attached the way you'd attach a machine gun or other small weapons system to a tank or wheeled infantry transport.
Dr. Friedrich: Why did they do it that way? Why not simply give you rifles?
SCP-2273: Doctor, look at my hands. The armor for an infantryman was not built for dexterity. I can't even fit my finger into the trigger guard of a regular weapon.
Dr. Friedrich: Ok, I see. What are the two small scars between the major lacerations from?
SCP-2273: My weapons were fired electronically. Two small electrodes ran into the armor and would pick up on nerve signals going to my arm whenever I flexed my index finger. When they pulled my weapons, the electrodes were pulled through there.
Dr. Friedrich: Oh. That makes sense. How would you use your hands without accidentally shooting something?
SCP-2273: We learned to keep that finger unclenched.
Dr. Friedrich: I would hope so.
SCP-2273: Was there anything else you wanted to know, Doctor?
Dr. Friedrich: Yes. My supervisors also wanted to know what weapons you carried.
SCP-2273: I carried two weapons with me at any given time, one bolted to each arm. On my right, I usually carried a Kalashnikov model 1959, a 12.7 by 108 millimeter belt-fed machine gun based on the Kalashnikov assault rifle. On my left arm, I usually carried the Model 1964 23 millimeter semi-automatic shotgun, which could fire slugs, flechettes, scatter shot, flares, or grenades. I also kept a combat knife and grenades with me, but rarely used them.
Dr. Friedrich: And you used your main weapons frequently?
SCP-2273: What do you think?
Volgograd Bunker #6, October 13, 1962:
A boy, not much older than five, stands in the front rank of a group of many, crying.
"What is your name, boy?"
"Do you have a last name?"
"Now listen, Alexei Belitrov. My name is Grigory. I am going to be working with you a lot from now on. Do you understand that?"
"I want my mother."
"Yes, Alexei, I know. But look at me. Your mother and your father have offered you up for a cause that is greater than you know. You have to be strong for them. Look around you. All these other boys? They're going to look out for you. And you need to look out for them. That makes sense, doesn't it?"
"Y- Yes sir."
"Good. Now look at this. Do you see this? It is a German 5 Mark. It is a lucky coin. My father found it during the Great War. He kept it throughout the War and the Revolution. It kept him safe. He gave it to me, and it kept me alive during the Winter War and the Great Patriotic War. I have no sons to give it to, so I'm giving it to you. So long as you have this coin, you have nothing to fear, and neither do your brothers beside you."
"Th- Thank you."
"It's nothing, Alexei. Now, keep your chin up. You are with friends."
Site-17, January 20, 1992:
Interviewing: Isaac Abrahamovich
Forward: Interview was primarily conducted in Russian. This interview was conducted by Site-17's Deputy Chief of Security, Isaac Abrahamovich, to determine SCP-2273's eligibility for downgrade to a Type-C Sapient Anomaly and the potential security risk it might pose. Dr. Friedrich was present in a support role.
SCP-2273, in Russian: Uh, hello? Am I needed for something?
Dr. Friedrich, addressing SCP-2273: Alexei, this man is the Deputy Chief of Security on-site. He'd like to ask you a few questions.
SCP-2273: All right then. What do you need to know? And what do I call you?
DCS Abrahamovich: You may call me Agent Abrahamovich. I'm just here to assess your behavior, to figure out how you would behave under certain circumstances.
SCP-2273: What sort of circumstances, Agent Abrahamovich?
DCS Abrahamovich: I am not at liberty to discuss that. Now, those tattoos on your shoulders and this document both tell me that you are a soldier. What sort of combat experience do you have?
SCP-2273: Mostly long-range combat. I was involved in some door-breaching, some close-quarters fighting, on some of my earlier campaigns, but I was mostly expected to give and receive orders, to lay down covering fire if I ever got close enough to see the enemy.
DCS Abrahamovich: Any hand-to-hand? Fist-fighting? Use of blunt objects?
SCP-2273: Almost never. I told Dr. Friedrich that I used to carry a combat knife, but I almost never had to use it as a weapon.
DCS Abrahamovich: That's good to hear. What about your emotional state? How do you feel about the Foundation?
SCP-2273: I have warm food three times a day. I am sheltered. I have music, and books, and I am finally able to relax without wondering whether I will wake up in the morning. The Foundation, you crows, have done more for me than I could ever have imagined.
DCS Abrahamovich: Okay, SCP-2273, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your armor.
SCP-2273: What about my armor? What do you want and need to know?
DCS Abrahamovich: I'd like to know what your armor is capable of. How tough is it? How was it made? Can it heal? And how long would that take? In one of your first interviews, you explained that it provided tactical information and helped you formulate battle plans. What can you tell us about that?
SCP-2273: That's a lot of questions. And your organization has had a lot of time to ask them. Are you sure you can't tell me why you're asking about this now?
DCS Abrahamovich: Yes, I'm sure.
SCP-2273: Fine then. I'll answer your questions in the order you gave them. My armor is bullet-proof up to 12.7 by 99 millimeter machine gun rounds, besides around my head, which probably isn't bullet-proof at all. I couldn't tell you how it was made; crafting living things is amongst the engineer's best-kept secrets. I believe I've told Doctor Friedrich before about how quickly my armor can heal; most minor wounds are gone within a day, while more serious wounds vary. As for sensory and tactical information, it has thermal and radiation hazard sensors, I'm able to see into the lower part of the ultra-violet spectrum, and the armor has a very basic Identify Friend or Foe system. It can also pick up patterns that might indicate supplies, food and water, or signs of enemy movement, or help to calculate bullet and grenade trajectories.
DCS Abrahamovich: Is there anything else you can think of that you might not be telling us? What about your communications? What kind of range do you have for that?
SCP-2273: On a good day? I could probably broadcast out to 80 kilometers, especially if I were in a high place and the weather were clear. But messages going out that far would still be at risk of being lost to static, even under ideal conditions. On most days, though, I could only reach out to maybe half of that, which is why we'd leave couriers and scouts to keep information relayed back to our commanders.
DCS Abrahamovich: Thank you, SCP-2273. I think that will be all for today.
Site-17 Security has agreed that SCP-2273 is eligible to be downgraded to a Type C sapient anomaly so long as the following precautions are put into effect:
- Any Security escorts for SCP-2273 must be authorized to use lethal force if a containment breach is attempted.
- A radio signal jamming device must be in place and active at all times, or SCP-2273 must otherwise be prevented from broadcasting information off-site.
- SCP-2273 must be prevented from learning the full layout of Site-17, to limit its ability to plot a containment breach.
Sapient anomalies suitable for socialization with SCP-2273 are currently being evaluated. The most eligible candidate currently appears to be SCP-191. SCP-2273 has agreed to English lessons under the pretext of facilitating communication with non-bilingual staff.
Volgograd Bunker #12, May 1, 1964:
The same boy, older now, sits in front of a desk, his Captain in front of him.
"Alexei, the Colonel has decided that he will assign rank amongst the trainees after your battle gauntlets are attached. He has asked me to select non-commissioned and commissioned officer candidates from amongst the trainees. I've already spoken with the other cadets I feel are ready for promotion. Most have agreed. Your platoon requires one more sergeant. Do you feel like you're ready for this?"
"Yes, comrade Grigory. I'll do whatever you need from me."
"That's wonderful to hear, Sergeant Belitrov. We'll be sending B Company to the Engineer's labs tomorrow morning. Our liaison tells us that attaching the gauntlets should be easier than it was to attach the boots. We'll also start true weapons training once you've all recovered, alongside Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer candidate training. This means you'll all get to use live ammunition."
"This is good news! Do you want me to tell the rest of the company about live-fire exercises or the battle gauntlets?"
"For the live-fire exercises, no. For the battle gauntlets, yes. I know it will be a painful experience, so I want them to be ready. But I want the weapons training to come as a surprise."
"Thank you, comrade."
"No, thank you, Alexei."
Saint Thomas Aquinas Hospital and Asylum for the Paranormally Disabled, Austin, Texas, March 11, 2004:
An old man and a young woman are playing chess. They do this once a week, and have been since they met many years before. They are the closest either of them has to family, bound through the shared experiences of a shattered childhood and years of containment.
"Check. That means your King is in danger, young lady. It is your turn."
OK. CAN I ASK YOU A QUESTION?
"What is it, dorogoy?"
CAN YOU TELL ME ONE OF YOUR STORIES ABOUT THE WAR?
"Victoria, you and I both know that you probably have all of my stories memorized by now. Besides, war is unpleasant. Why can't we talk about something else?"
I LIKE THE WAY YOU TELL THE STORIES. AND LISTENING TO YOUR STORIES IS BETTER THAN NOT TALKING AT ALL.
"Ok, if you insist."
Volgograd Bunker #3, September 3, 1967:
Over one hundred young warriors are riding an elevator that will take them to see the sky for the first time in close to a decade. Many will not be returning.
"Lieutenant Belitrov, how do we know the air filters will work?"
"They'll work, trust me. Have faith in the Engineers. They are working for the Soviet cause as much as ourselves."
"I heard that they were building Armor for the Americans as well."
"Don't be foolish, Sergei. Why would they build Armor for those Capitalist pigs? Look, we're almost to the surface. Get ready, boys! Make sure you have your night optics turned off! The doors are opening in 3… 2… 1…"
Saint Thomas Aquinas Hospital and Asylum for the Paranormally Disabled, Austin, Texas, March 11, 2004:
The game is being cancelled. Which is a shame, because the girl was going to win in her next four moves.
PLEASE LET HIM FINISH THIS STORY.
"Sir, can we please just finish this game?"
"I'm afraid not, Alexei. Visiting hours are almost over. And there are also concerns for Victoria's physical health. I'll personally see to it that your board isn't interfered with and that you may resume your game during your next visit."
"I suppose that must suffice. I will finish my story next week, young one."
Somewhere outside the ruins of Berlin, August 22, 1975:
Mortar shells are raining molten copper and corrosive acid down upon battle-hardened veterans, who used to be farm boys. Their Captain, once a private like them, is taking cover in a shell crater.
"Sergeant Volkov! I need you to take your squad and lead them to that outcrop of stones to the south! Sokolov, I need your squad to lay down covering fire for Volkov's men. And does anyone have eyes on Sergei?"
"Captain, I see him! He has Kuznetzov with him! I think they're trying to outflank the enemy!"
"By themselves?! Volkov, when you get to cover, I need your best marksmen covering those idiots!"
"Yes sir! Voloshyn, see if you can hit them with grenades! Yastrebov, use your rifle, see if you can take some of their heavies down!"
"Lieutenant Soldatov, can you hear me?"
"Yes, Captain, I can hear you. Will you please stay off the radios a moment? I am kind of busy."
"Sergei, what the hell are you thinking? You're going to get yourself killed!"
"I'm thinking that Sergeant Kuznetzov and I are going to flank the enemy while the rest of the unit draws their fire."
"Sergei, get the hell out of there! Do you hear me? Sergei!?"
Saint Thomas Aquinas Hospital and Asylum for the Paranormally Disabled, Austin, Texas, March 18, 2004:
After a week-long hiatus, the old man is returning to visit with the girl, for the much-anticipated conclusion of their story and their game.
"Hello, dorogoy, Victoria. Have you had an eventful week?"
NO. WILL WE PICK UP OUR GAME?
"Of course, little lady. Where is the orderly, the one who said he'd save the board for us?"
HE'S GETTING COFFEE. HE'LL BE BACK SOON.
"Ah. That makes enough sense. So little one, wasn't I telling you a story?"
"Well, where was I? Or where would you like me to start from?"
YOU WERE MARCHING SOUTH, THROUGH CANADA.
Toronto, Canada, July 10, 1989:
Battle-weary soldiers, far from home, have just assaulted a fortress, a safehouse from before the war. Only a single room remains.
"On my mark. 1… 2… 3!"
"Major Belitrov, it would seem there's no one left here but refugees. These are all civilians. I don't think there are even any men or boys left, just the girls."
"Captain Soldatov, do you remember when we retook Berlin?"
"Yes, sir, I do. I was there when Comrade Volkov planted our flag above the Reichstag, remember?"
"Do you remember there being any survivors, in the lowest levels of the Berlin safehouses?"
"No, I don't — Alexei, you can't mean —"
"Look at them, Sergei. They aren't even human. Their mothers and fathers burned the surface. They forced us into this armor, made us into monsters. They stole our childhoods, and kept us away from the sun for nearly a decade. We have been fighting for nearly all our lives. And these are the people who did this to us."
"No, Alexei, you look at them. These are not soldiers, they're civilians. Most of them are children! We can't do this."
"Captain Soldatov, I would hold my tongue if I were you. You are an officer of this army and are sworn to follow orders, regardless of cost."
"Even this cost, sir?"
"Even this cost."
St. Thomas Aquinas Hospital and Asylum for the Paranormally Disabled, Austin, Texas, March 18, 2004:
The old man is wrapping up his story, leaving out the least-pleasant details, waiting for the opportunity to resume the game. The girl sits, enthralled.
"Eventually, we reached the lowest level of the bunkers, where we found and destroyed their command center."
AND THAT'S IT?
"Yes, that's it."
WILL YOU EVER TELL ME HOW YOU GOT TO THE OLD PLACE? WHERE I MET YOU?
"I honestly couldn't tell you. I just sort of woke up one morning, and there I was."
WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM? THE OTHER DOCTORS? THE ONES FROM BEFORE?
"They're still doing their jobs, little one. But now they don't need to keep us locked up inside cells, so those doctors don't need to stay in those buildings, either."
"We used to be a secret. You keep secrets, don't you, dorogoy? We were like that. But now we're not."
"The old doctors felt the world wasn't ready for us. But something happened that meant the world would have to have us, whether they were ready or not."
"I couldn't tell you, dorogoy. Some things are still kept secret. Look. The orderly is back from his coffee break."
Somewhere in Wisconsin, 11 October, 1989:
Hungry, tired, unsupplied soldiers are being hit with mortars again. This time, there is no cover to hide within, no trees, no rocks. Their commander is desperate, and feels he has no choice.
"This is the commander of the 112th Infantry Battalion, 22nd Infantry Division! I am asking the commander of the American unit to cease shelling us in exchange for our surrender! You have us! We are out of ammunition and medical supplies! Please stop the shelling! I repeat, please stop the shelling!"
"Holy shit, Lieutenant! We bagged an entire battalion!"
"That we did, Sergeant. Have your men go through and disarm them. Then find out who the commander is. I'd like to know just who we've captured."
"Yes sir! You heard him, boys. No more fighting for these fellas. Pull the guns off."
"Sergeant Crowley, it looks like this one's a major! I think he's the commander!"
"Brunson, you speak and read Ruskie, don't you? Find out what our friend the Major's name is."
"Uh, the tats say 'Belitrov,' sergeant."
"Brunson, are you shitting me?! You better not be lying!"
"No, Sergeant! This guy's name is Major Belitrov, I swear!"
"Brunson, you ignorant son of a bitch, don't you know who that is?! We captured the goddamn Terror of Toronto, the Jack of Spades! Someone go get the Lieutenant, and someone else get the Colonel on the radio!"
"Oooooh boy. A lot of people are going to be happy we found you. My colonel tells me that there'll be promotions, honors, and most importantly, leave, for us when we get back to civilization. Do you know what that's like? Civilization? Probably not, you filthy fucking commie. Is that why you ordered the execution of over 200 civilians, why you destroyed one of the last and largest safe houses on the entire North American continent? Because you don't understand what civilization looks like? You know, I was born ten years after the war started. My little sister is never going to see the sky because your people tried to destroy mine with atom bombs. Well, let me tell you something: we Americans don't quit, we don't surrender, and we sure as hell don't murder innocent civilians!"
"Lieutenant Finn, Sergeant Crowley was wondering what we're gonna do with the other prisoners. We don't have enough medical supplies to take care of them."
"Come with me, you piece of shit. Private, where is Sergeant Crowley keeping them?"
"Over here, sir."
"What the hell are you doing?! We surrendered! God damn it, no!"
Austin, Texas, March 20, 2004:
His game and his visit long since finished, an old man lays on the bed in his cheap apartment, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. He can still feel a lump of metal next to his heart, hanging where it was when the Engineers bound him into his armor. It was meant to bring him good luck. He still doesn't know whether it has. He wonders if whatever gods there are will forgive him, when his time of judgment comes.
"Hey First Sergeant Slate?"
"Sergeant Peridot was saying that you were born before the War. Is that true?"
"Yes, it is."
"So what, Private Steele?"
"Can you tell us about it?"
"Yeah, First Sergeant, tell us what it was like before the War."
The armor prevents First Sergeant Slate from sighing as a normal person, a Skinny, would, but the lower-ranked soldiers understand the meaning behind the radio static their transceivers momentarily pick up anyway.
"Ok, I'll tell you about the old world, but first, you have to answer a question. How loyal are you to me?"
"First Sergeant, what kind of question is that? You've gotten everyone here out of more trouble than I like to think about. We'd do anything for you."
"If you had information that could get me court-martialed, information that could get me removed from the Army or even executed, would you cover it up?"
"First Sergeant, what the hell are you talking about?"
"Corporal Goldman, I want you and Steele to answer that question. Would you lie to protect me from a court-martial?"
Their radio silence is almost a physical presense, something that can be cut with a knife. Eventually, they both speak, almost synchronized.
"Very good. How much do you want to know? What do you want to know about?"
"Well, Corporal Cooper was saying that the sky used to be blue everywhere, not just way down south, like when we were in Texas."
"Yes, that's true."
"And there were trees everywhere, and it would rain all the time?"
"Yes, both of those are true, too."
"Is it true that the trees used to be green, like our armor?"
"Yes. Are you just going to ask trivial questions, or are you really going to ask me something, Steele?"
"What Private Steele is too afraid to ask, First Sergeant, is whether its true you volunteered, and why."
"Is this true?" His hesitation gives it away. "Yes, Private Steele, whoever told you that I volunteered is telling the truth."
"Why though, Sarge?"
"It's a long story, but we've got time…"
I was born in 1940 to a fisherman and his wife. I never knew my father; he was drafted up into the army and sent to the War — the War before, not this one — and killed on one of the islands as the Americans advanced through the Empire. Yes, that's right, I'm Japanese. My mother insisted I take my step-father's last name, but I will get to that.
A young girl is listening to her mother tell a bedtime story. Bombs are falling on the other side of town, setting the town alight. They are already inside the subway, as safe as they could be, given the circumstances.
"You have to be brave like the Onna-Bugeisha, little one. The old warrior princesses. When there was threat of war at home, they didn't cry. They stood proud, and fought, just as their husbands would fight in faraway places. They would stand with their sharp naginata and fight the enemy as they came. You have to be brave, too."
"Mother, where is father?"
"Like I've told you, sweet one, he has been taken in by the Army. He is a true warrior, like the ones of old. He will fight for our Emperor until this war is over and we have won."
My mother must have been a very forward-thinking woman. She didn't tell me the old stories about brave Samurai facing great enemies and horrific monsters, or, when she did, she changed all the warriors to women. Onna-Bugeisha, "warrior princesses," she called them. She'd tell me, when American bombers were overhead, that I must be a strong little warrior princess as well. I think this had a great impact on my later choices. Yes, I am a woman. No, women are not allowed in the Army. This is why I asked whether I had your complete loyalty, Goldman.
News has just been delivered. A young soldier, formerly a fisherman, has given his life honorably for his Emperor. The man who delivered the news told the fisherman's wife that he fell on a grenade in an effort to save his comrades.
The honorable conditions of his death do nothing to prevent nor lessen the sobbing.
Several months later, the news that the Emperor has surrendered, for fear of a Soviet invasion and for fear of American atomic weapons, only puts salt on the wound of a woman who, progressive as she may have been, believed fully in the war.
In 1949, four years after the war ended, my mother met an American Army officer and they fell in love. In 1950, they married, and she made me take his name, Slate. My baby brother Sean Slate was born in early 1951. It was then that my step-father decided to take us to America.
He took us to a city called Seattle. It rained there much of the time, but the Engineers had helped to build a canopy over the streets. It was green and beautiful, and at night, it glowed like the stars.
"What do you mean, 'What are stars?' Steele, you were with us in Texas, yes? Do you remember how the night glowed, but not with these wretched clouds? Those are stars. Without the Armor, they look simpler, but still very beautiful."
To return to the story, my father left the Army to become a Guardsman — like a soldier, but only sometimes — so he could spend more time with us. He tried to start a restaurant in his spare time. My mother taught him recipes from the Empire, from home, and they both taught me to run tables, before and after school.
Those were good days. He may have been a harsh man at times, but my step-father always meant well. He read stories at night, to teach my brother to read and to teach me English. He told us stories of brave folk, doing courageous things and making sacrifices, always putting others before yourself. Those stories reminded me of the earlier stories about Onna-Bugeisha, warrior-princesses. I imagined that, one day, I would be courageous like that.
A young girl who barely knows English has just been pushed into her locker. The boy who did it — who is three years her elder — just called her a "dirty Jap girl" and expressed a desire that she "go home."
She runs home to her mother, crying. From that day forward, she is home-schooled, despite her step-father's obvious disapproval. She eventually earns a GED, but does not feel comfortable choosing to go to a college where she will be subjected to the same treatment as before. Instead, she stays at home, working tables.
When the bombs fell and the sky burned, my step-father was able to get us a place inside the Seattle Bunker before our part of the surface burned because he had been an officer in the Army.
Her bunk had been fairly close to the door leading to the outside. She can still remember the screams of those who had been locked out, hammering on the door, begging to be let inside. Fortunately, the Engineers had been commissioned to clean up the resulting mess long before that corridor had to be walked through again. She doesn't like to think about how the Engineers had carried out that task.
After about three months, military personnel came to our bunker from elsewhere, saying that they needed every male over the age of five. My little brother was about ten at that time, and he was listed on the roster.
I asked my step-father to stop them, and he said he couldn't. Then I begged my mother to do something — Sean was only ten, they couldn't take him! I wouldn't allow it.
That was when I realized what I had to do. I cut my hair short, and, when they came to collect my brother the next morning, I stood outside our door instead, wearing some clothes stolen from my step-father that were much too large for me. They knew I had to be older than ten, but then my step-father spoke to them, explained that he had been an officer, and had served in Germany in the War before. He convinced them to take me instead of his son. My mother wept as I was escorted away.
"So that's it, then?"
"Yes, Corporal, that's it. After I was taken away, I went through the same training and same augmentation as you two. I was assigned to our artillery unit shortly after. That was all over twenty years ago."
"So why didn't you let them take your brother?"
"Steele, do you have a little sibling?"
"I don't know. I was raised in a military training camp. They didn't tell us about our families, where we came from."
"Oh. I — I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"Eh, it's not a big deal. You're just old, First Sergeant."
The men briefly hear static over the radio again, but this time the feeling it conveys is more akin to laughter than anything else. They laugh along, too, if only to calm their own nerves. Their laughter is quickly interrupted by a courier running up to their position.
"First Sergeant Slate, some of the sensors are going off. It looks like there's a platoon of soldiers coming down from a few miles north of here, over that ridge."
"Friendly, or enemy?"
"Their IFFs are turned off, so there's no way to know for sure."
"Goldman, didn't the last intel packet we get from Command tell us that there was a Russian battalion headed our way?"
"Uh, yes ma— Yes, First Sergeant."
"Then I guess Lieutenant Finn's platoon has been overrun." The eldest soldier turned to the courier. "Go tell the rest of the company to get ready to fire, then get the fire orders from the Captain. And we might as well try out these new shells, the 'Tesseractor' shells."
"Understood, First Sergeant."
The courier runs away. Later, shells designed to tear space-time itself apart begin raining down on a platoon of Americans transporting a high-value prisoner. This will be remembered as one of the worst cases of Friendly-Fire in this stage of the war.
Berlin Bunker #1, August 22, 1975:
Two young soldiers are carrying out a dire task. They know now that they will not live to see the end of the war they've fought their whole lives. The younger, a Private, is trying to regain his composure as he walks through the cramped, poorly-lit maintenance hallway.
"I can't believe we're doing this, I can't believe we're doing this, God, why are we doing this? Ok, get a hold of yourself, we're almost there. All we're doing is turning a valve. That is all we are doing. Ok, I can do this."
"Schwarz, you all right?"
The younger of the two nearly jumps out of his own Armor, but quickly recovers and says, "Yeah, Krause, I'm fine."
"The way you jumped is telling me otherwise. So is your Armor."
The elder stops, and holds his arm in front of the younger. They face each other.
"What's your deal, Krause? I said I'm fine."
"No. You're not."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I know you're not fine because I'm not fine. We both know what we're doing. Quit pretending you're not nervous. Quit pretending you're not having doubts."
"What the fuck are we supposed to do, then?"
"Talk about it."
"What for? We both know what we're about to do. What's there to talk about?"
"I don't know."
They walk for a long while, nearing their goal, when the younger feels the need to speak up again.
"It just isn't right, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. But what choice do we have?"
"We can still fight! Instead we're, what, just giving up? What kind of shit is that?!"
"I can't pretend to know why this is so much better than gearing everyone up and fighting, Schwarz, but I can tell you this: when the enemy reaches a bunker they — "
"They take no prisoners, yeah. But why the hell did it have to be us, man? Why do we have to do this?"
"I don't know, but we do. Come on. We're almost there."
A turning of a valve, manual deactivation of several safety backups, and the deed is done. But the young warriors have no time to consider the consequences of their actions; they're needed elsewhere.
Berlin Bunker #1, August 21, 1975:
An old Colonel, one of the last unarmored soldiers in all of Europe, is addressing his troops for the final time. The wolves are at their door, and it is only a matter of time before the door breaks. As he stands on a small stage at the front of the large, well-lit briefing hall, he can't help but think that his soldiers appear ghastly, that their Armored countenances are horrifying caricatures of true warriors.
"Gentlemen, all of your lives, you have lived under the threat of war. You have lived preparing for war. Now, the time for preparation is over. Our lifelong enemies, the US Army, are within shelling range of our surface defenses. Our allies are still several weeks away. We are on our own. We have no choice now but to fight.
"It is not with a light heart that I ask of you these things, but, if the honor and dignity our people once held is to be remembered, if hope for the German people and for our socialist ideals is to continue, all of us must fight. We must fight to our last breath. Not a single bullet may be left unfired, not a single soldier left standing, so long as our enemies are on the march towards our city. All of you have proven courage and strength beyond measure. Now, we must put this courage to its test. We WILL show them what Berlin is made of!"
The cacophony that fills the briefing hall is not of men shouting and cheering, but of radio static. Not a single Armored soldier there can still shout; no modern soldier can.
Following the speech, the Colonel calls his highest ranking officers to a much smaller conference room, to hold a final Staff meeting. They stand, huddled around a central conference table, papers and maps before them.
"And you say we have how much ammunition for every soldier?"
"Two-hundred rounds, sir."
"That will not be enough. What about rations? Water, or water filters?"
"We have enough food to last us until the Red Army's 22nd Infantry Division reaches us in three weeks, but the US Army will be through our automated defenses well before then. We can send more soldiers to defend the surface —"
"No. We need to bolster our automated defenses however we can, but we need to recall everyone we have on the surface. They'll be slaughtered out there."
"Sir, they may be the only chance we have."
"A few hundred men against half a division? No. Everyone out-of-doors needs to be recalled now. More than that, the army marching towards us is well-fed, well-equipped, and well-reinforced. Gentlemen, we have to admit defeat."
"Sir, are you asking that we surrender?"
"No. I am not. I need all of you to select your most faithful men, your most experienced soldiers, so that we can give them their true orders. We're also going to need to summon our Technicians. The rest can use the plan outlined in the briefing to buy us time."
The ruins of Berlin, August 22, 1975:
Automated defenses, ranging from self-planting minefields to automatic 80-millimeter mortars, are raining hell upon an invading army. They march on, regardless. Several hundred meters below, all able-bodied males are arming themselves, the unarmored and youngest soldiers among them donning gas masks. Even deeper, the women, the girls, and a select few of the boys, the only hope this city has for its future, are lying peacefully, untroubled by the war that rages above. A squad of defenders who ignored orders are paying dearly for their insubordination. The youngest among them is the only one unwounded and conscious following a mortar barrage. He stands in the center of the small area his squad had occupied, shellshocked, calling for his comrades.
"Sarge? Wolf? Doc?! Anybody?!"
"Berg, get over here and shut the fuck up."
"Holy shit, Lange, your leg!"
"Shut the fuck up. They're close. You need to get back inside and warn the others that they've already gotten through the automatic defenses. Maybe they can figure something out."
"We need to get you to a doctor, Lange."
"Berg, fucking leave me! I'm dead! The whole fucking squad is dead but you! You need to get back inside, all right?"
"I'm not leaving you, man!"
It has been said by many that soldiers do not fight for any ideologies, or for king and country, or for memories of home, but for each other, that the reason they continue to fight when all seems lost is because they want to see their brothers-in-arms continue living. Perhaps it was this that motivated the young private's next actions. Perhaps it was fear of being alone during his retreat, or of being accused of cowardice. It isn't very clear. What is clear is that the private's next actions were to grab his wounded elder and begin carrying him.
"Berg, you stupid waste of Armor! Put me the fuck down!"
The younger says nothing as he begins to run down the ruined, rubble-covered street to the entrance of the city's central bunker. The elder quickly changes tactics and begins laying down covering fire behind them as he sees enemies approaching. It soon stops mattering when a sniper fires a shot that makes the running soldier's chest explode, removing the wounded soldier's unoccupied arm in the process. The dead soldier falls, landing on top of his wounded cargo.
"Berg, you stupid fuck! You could have made it!" The approaching enemy combatants can feel the pain in the intercepted messages. They quickly tune them out; in combat, there is no room for sympathy with the enemy. "Why did you have to try to carry me, man?! You could have made it!" As his enemies slowly close in, the soldier redirects his attention to them. "Die, you filthy fucking pigs, die!" His shots do not find their targets. The sniper that had killed the other takes aim again, and fires. His round finds its mark with ease.
Berlin Bunker #1, August 22, 1975:
The two young warriors are running through the bunker's cold, grey, concrete hallways now. The enemy has breached one of the gates, and every defender available is needed .
"Come on, Schwarz! We're almost there!"
"I know, I know, I was just turning the safeties on my weapons off!"
"Shit, you're right." The elder stops and turns his attention to his own weapons. "What are you carrying? Need any ammo?"
"Uh… Low-yield explosives on my left, standard machine gun on my right. And I could use another belt of 12.7 by 108, if you have it."
"Nope, sorry. Quartermaster was being stingy when I was gearing up. You don't have extra explosive rounds, or any flechettes, do you?"
"That's all right, we have what we need."
An explosion elsewhere in the city rocks the hall the two are standing in. The younger accidentally fires a short burst, sending ricochets throughout the small space.
"Jesus, Schwarz! Get a handle on it and save some for the enemy!"
"Fuck, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Were you hit?"
"No, I'm fine. Let's just go."
Berlin Bunker #1, August 21, 1975:
A platoon of Armored soldiers, all combat veterans, many recently recalled from the surface, are standing in line in a dark, cluttered hallway in an administrative level of the bunker, waiting to be called upon.
"Corporal Krause! Private Schwarz! In my office!"
The two say their "Yes Sir"s almost simultaneously and briskly walk into the Captain's office.
"Now, gentlemen. You remember your parts in the debriefing, yes? Where you were going to be placed, and all of that?"
Another pair of "Yes Sir"s follows.
"Well, forget it. That's just the Colonel's cover-up. The information I'm about to share with you is vital to the defense of the city, so I need to know that you can carry out orders. If either of you speaks a single word of this to anyone else, I will see to it personally that you'll be executed. Do I make myself clear?"
The fear in their well-established response is apparent, and made more so by their hesitation.
"Now, have either of you two ever heard of the Samson Protocol? No? Good, this means secrecy hasn't been compromised. I'll give you the full overview before we get started, but, tonight, everyone out there waiting and everyone I've spoken to since the briefing is going to be on the first night watch. We'll have a small contingent monitoring the radios and automatic sensors, but the majority of us are going to be spending tonight laying explosives in every major corridor, ensuring their collapse. A select few of the people I've already spoken to are going to be given Armor-controlled detonators running on dead-man's switches. They'll be our last line of defense. When they go, the whole city goes. But for you two, I have something much more important in mind.
"The Colonel has become convinced that the city is already lost. He feels that our best option is not to surrender, or to try to wait for our reinforcements from the East, but to ensure that our civilians are never exposed to combat, to the enemy. He somehow feels that it would be better if, tonight, the air line running from the surface to the civilian levels of the bunker were cut off so that they all die in their sleep. So I'm tasking you two with that. Sergeant Becker tells me that both of you have performed very well under stressful circumstances, and that you've both followed orders even when the end goal isn't clear. I'm going to need that from you tonight."
The younger had visibly flinched when the Captain's purposes in summoning them had been made clear, and, now that he sees an opportunity to speak, leaps upon it. "Sir, what the hell are you saying? We can't do that! Our job is to defend this city, not beat the enemy to the chase!"
"Do you think I don't know that?! You mind your place, Private! We have no right to question orders, someone in your position doubly so! If I can't trust you to do this, I'll have to have you taken out and shot. Now, I need to know, are you with me?"
The elder is the only one who speaks; the younger is far too angry and far too hurt to do so. "Yes, sir. We understand, and we'll be ready to do whatever you need us to do tonight."
"Good. Meet with the rest of us at Elevator #2 tonight at 2345. You're both dismissed."
The elder grabs onto the younger and pulls him through the door. As they walk away, the younger speaks, as quietly as he can given the limitations of the Armor.
"It's not right, man. It's not fucking fair."
"I know, but it's what we have to do. Come on, if we hurry, we might be able to grab something to eat."
Back in his office, the Captain sits at his desk, holding his head in his hands. He wishes that the small confines of his office allowed him to scream, that his Armor allowed him to drink alcohol, that he had any sort of option at all. But he's needed for this, Berlin's final hours. He stands up, walks to the door, and calls the next group of soldiers into his office.
Berlin Bunker #1, August 22, 1975:
The two young soldiers have reached the breach point. Only a corner and a few meters of grey corridor separates them from the fight. They've switched to encrypted broadcasts on a personal channel to prevent enemy detection.
"Schwarz, I'm gonna lay down covering fire, you get to the first piece of cover you can reach, got it?"
"Got it. On three?"
"On three. One… Two… Three GO!"
The elder sticks his left arm (bearing a large, multipurpose shotgun) around the corner, peeking out only enough to allow himself to aim his weapon. The majority of the enemy appears to be in cover, with several wounded and dead from both sides littering the floor. A friendly medic is working frenetically from within cover on a soldier who appears to have lost much of his right arm. A single enemy appears to be advancing on the medic's position. As the elder of our two heroes prepares to fire, the younger lays down a burst of 12.7 * 108 millimeter rounds, sending the enemy to the floor. The younger rushes to the medic's position. The elder follows shortly thereafter.
"How many are out there? Do you know?" The elder's question seems stern, but it is asked with good intentions.
"No, I don't. I've just been trying to keep these guys all together."
"Why didn't you fall back to the rallying point?"
"This is the rallying point. They just kept coming."
"Fuck. Doc, do you have any ammo? Grenades?"
"No, I don't have any grenades. I'm a medic."
"Well, what about these guys behind us?"
"Krause, the guy in front of us has grenades."
"What, the one you shot?"
The elder sighs in the only way Armored soldiers can and quickly looks above their cover.
"All right. Schwarz, you run for the grenades. Pull the pin and toss one as soon as you reach the guy, then run ahead to the next cover. I'll lay down covering fire. You, Doc? You keep doing what you're doing. Ask these wounded guys for any information they might have. If you can get any of them walking, start getting info from them, and get them to start doing supply sweeps for us. As soon as you've figured out who's gonna make it and who isn't, start moving to one of the other rally points, taking as many of these guys as you can with you. Can you both do that?"
"Yeah, yeah." The medic is far more focused on his patient than anything the corporal has to say.
"On three. One… Two… Three GO!"
The elder immediately puts his right arm over their shared cover — a heavy barricade built specifically for situations such as the one facing our heroes — and begins sending bullets downrange. The younger vaults over the cover and rushes towards his objective, picking up a small number of grenades from the downed enemy and taking to the next piece of cover in a single motion. As he reaches his safe point, the young Private pulls the pin on one of the grenades and tosses it blindly over his cover. A small group of enemies dives out of cover as they see the grenade rolling towards them. They're quickly cut down by the Corporal as he runs to the Private's position.
"That was good. You cover me as I go to the next one, yeah?"
"Yeah, I can do that. But I think the guy I borrowed the grenades from is still alive. Think we should interrogate him a bit first?"
The Corporal considers this information for a moment, then nods. "All right, yeah. You cover me, I'm gonna drag him over here."
As he moves out of cover, enemy soldiers round the next corner and open fire. The Private is quick to return fire, using both of his weapons in an effort to subdue them. They quickly return to cover as the Corporal drags his quarry back to the Private's position.
"All right. Schwarz, you keep an eye out for this guy's buddies. You. Do you speak German?" The messages our two heroes pick up from their find are exactly what they expect (namely, fear), but he also seems to be attempting to contact his allies through a secure channel. When the Corporal begins to hold his shotgun to the prisoner's face, the messages quickly stop. "Do. You. Speak. German. You. Filthy. Piece of. Capitalist. American. Garbage?"
"My name is Rico Camisa-Roja. I am a Staff Sergeant. My serial number is 903-57-680. My name is —" The American's mantra quickly ceases when the German Corporal draws his combat knife and holds it to one of the American's wounds.
"You talk, or I start carving your pretty American-made Armor into a fine china set. Do we understand each other?" The American nods. "Good. Start talking."
"My name is Rico Camisa-Roja. I am a Staff —" This time, the interruption comes from the Corporal lifting his prisoner up and launching him over their shared cover, followed with a strongly-worded remark about the prisoner's failure to communicate. As he does so, he sees more of the enemy rounding the corner at the end of the short corridor, enemies who begin laying down cover fire as soon as they see him.
"Schwarz, let me see one of those grenades." The Private silently does as he is asked, then takes a moment to peek over his cover. "Might as well throw one of your own. On three. One… Two… Three!" The two lob their grenades near-simultaneously, eliciting a hail of bullets followed quickly by a large amount of shouting and running for cover from the approaching enemy soldiers. The two have no time to take advantage of the lull in their enemy's advance, as the medic they left behind has begun shouting for their attention.
"Hey! You two! We have a problem over here!"
"What the hell is it, Doc?! We're a little busy at the moment!"
"This guy is about to bleed out!"
"What do we care? That's your problem!" The Corporal takes a moment to fire a small salvo of flechettes at the advancing enemy.
"Before he lost consciousness, he told me that this whole place is rigged to blow!"
"And? We already knew that!"
"He said that he's the only thing keeping that from happening!"
"Fuck. Fuck! All right, all right, here's what we do. Doc, if you wanna get out of here alive, you're gonna have to leave these guys behind. Stay behind us, stay close. Schwarz, standard infantry tactics; you lay down cover fire when I'm moving, I do the same thing for you. Got it?" The medic and the Private state their agreement near-simultaneously. The Corporal responds by raising himself above his cover and opening fire towards the end of the short corridor. "Schwarz, go!"
The Private is only able to take two steps before the wounded soldier behind him expires, triggering the detonation of a large number of explosive devices throughout their wing of the bunker. The Private, the Medic, the Corporal, the several wounded that surround them, and the enemy lying in wait beyond the end of the corridor are all buried in rubble within seconds.
Berlin Bunker #1, August 23, 1975:
The forces coming to reinforce the city's defenders have arrived, far earlier than expected, but far later than needed. The cost of their speed was great, and had been paid in blood, but even that was not enough. A Captain is standing in a short corridor, watching as his men remove the rubble blocking their path. One of his lieutenants is rushing towards him to deliver news.
"Captain Belitrov! Captain Belitrov!"
"Slow down, Sergei. Stop with the formality. What is it?"
"One of the men found this in an office on the other side of the bunker. You have to read it."
"And? What about Colonel Engels? Have we made contact with him?"
"Colonel Engels is dead, Alexei. Suicide. We found this note with him. Please, just read it."
The ranking officer takes the envelope from the Lieutenant and removes its contents. He reads quickly, and, when he's finished, slowly leans against the wall. The soldiers around him stop working as they begin to notice the emotional state of their commander. "Sergei, this is our fault. We weren't fast enough."
"There's nothing we could have done. There's no way we could have gotten here faster, and no way we could have known. It cost us too many good men as it is to get here as quickly as we did. There's nothing left now but to bury the dead."
Berlin Bunker #1, August 22, 1975:
The Colonel charged with defense of the city sits in his small office, huddled over his dented pinewood desk as he writes a letter.
To the commander of the Red Army forces liberating Berlin,
I am sorry. We held them off as long as we could. I felt we had no better options. The fault here is mine, and mine alone. I do not ask for any forgiveness.
The lowest levels of the bunker complex contain everything necessary to rebuild this city and to carry on your fight. The Technicians reassure me that any Red Army officer will have safe access, but be aware that those lower bunkers have been rigged with explosives to prevent enemy capture.
Please, do not let Berlin die, do not let our sacrifice have been in vain. We cannot let this war be lost.
Respectfully and with fullest regrets,
Colonel Hans Engel, National People's Army, 5th Armored Infantry Battalion
The man pulls the sheet out of the typewriter (a relic from before the War, and even the War before that. Very few, if any, of its sort are left, much like its owner.) and carefully folds it. He slides it into an envelope and places that into an interior pocket of his worn and faded dress uniform. A rapid series of tremors rocks the small office, indications that he does not have long. At his side, a semi-automatic pistol hangs, almost never used. He draws it, slides the magazine out to be sure that it's loaded, replaces the magazine, retracts and releases the slide, puts the muzzle under his jaw, and pulls the trigger.
Interlude: The Lost Children from Jiangxi Province
Chapter 4: The Soldiers from the Hidden City
Chapter 5: The Old Soldier From New York
Epilogue: Closing of the Circle