They were supposed to be greeted by bombs and bullets as soon as they hit the shore, but what they found instead was something no one could have predicted. With their ship sunk and no rescue crews forthcoming, the only way off the island is to venture deeper into a mystery from the past, a mystery that might have the power to change the whole war. If they can escape, that is.
"You guys sure it wasn't just glass or something?"
"Come on, Wu. You know I wouldn't bring something like this to you unless I was sure."
Emma and Sergeant Wu bicker on the trail behind the three of us, while we bushwhack the grassy plains down the hill at the end of the air strip. Despite searching for nearly a half-hour now, our efforts have proven fruitless, and I'm starting to side with Sergeant Wu.
"Well, maybe it was a fox or something, I don't know."
"That's one hell of a fox, then. And isn't this island supposed to be a barren rock? Look, Serge. I'm telling you, there was definitely something. How can all four of us be making up crap like that?"
Sergeant Wu puts his hand on his neck and rubs it, his eyebrows wrinkled in discomfort. It's obvious he'd rather be anywhere else but here, humoring a few sleep-deprived Marines in the dark with their campfire stories. Honestly, it probably could have been anything, glass, some weird reflection, or maybe some poor American’s pet that got loose, even. With everything that's happened in the past few hours, I'm sure we're all just uptight. Not that the island is helping abate that to any degree. I swear, it feels like a twig snaps or a bush wiggles every five seconds.
"I'm not saying I don't believe you, but that could have been anything. I'm sure there's an explanation for it, whatever it is. For now, I want the four of you to get up to the med bay and get yourselves checked out, then get some rest. We're making a push on the research facility down the way first thing in the morning, and I want you ready to light the fire."
Emma looks unimpressed, but she nods in understanding and gestures for us to pull back.
Didn't get a bit of sleep last night, what with the mysterious eyes in the dark and the ripples of bomb blasts and missile strikes on the mainland raging through the night. Normally, it wouldn't matter to me much—I've gone almost a week without sleeping before—but there's something about this island that’s putting me on a knife's edge, and I'm slowly losing my ability to think clearly.
Not really how you want to feel while holding an automatic weapon.
Lena's leg seems to be doing much better this morning, but Emma decided to have the two of us switch roles, just to be on the safe side. Normally Lens's the gunner—the one carrying the big, fancy machine gun or whatever heavy weapon the mission calls for—and I'm the assistant gunner, keeper of the ammunition belts and spare equipment. Today, in Lena's stead, I'm carrying the Fast attack craft-mounted Automatic Naval Gun—or FANG, for short—a beast of a weapon to be hauling around, especially with a bum leg.
"At the t-intersection. About half a kilometer out," Sergeant Wu says, pressing the communications tab on his helmet, though his voice is instantly swallowed by the already muggy heat of the early morning. His only response comes in the form of a steady, static hum.
"Who you talkin' to, Serge?" Emma calls out.
"Shoot. I know, I know."
In addition to everything else that's jacked up about this worthless rock, turns out something is blocking all low-frequency emissions, meaning no communication, no emergency beacons, no satellite navigation or position. It's like being thrown back to World War II, except even then they had radios. In any case, we still find ourselves occasionally falling victim to Pavlov, pressing comm buttons without thinking, or checking our displays for coordinates that don't exist. It's massively annoying, not to mention dangerous.
We pass a bend in the road, and a sprawled out facility comes into view. Unlike the airbase, this compound has a large fence surrounding it on all sides, though it’s rusted through and broken down in multiple areas along the perimeter. There’s a crumbling guard station clothed in noxious looking weeds and the remains of what must have been defensive vehicle wedge barriers and bollards, but time and the elements have not been kind to anything man-made on this island. It looks like no one has been here in decades, maybe longer, which is surprising because it seems like such an important defensive position to hold from a naval perspective. I assumed there’d at least be a battalion here, or even a brigade. That’s what was advertised to us, anyways.
Wu cautiously leads our twelve-strong squad forward along the dusty road, his rifle held close to his chest in anticipation. The other two squads in our platoon are flanking the facility on either side, waiting for us to give the go ahead before beginning the assault, if it ever happens, that is. There isn’t a single person anywhere in sight, armed or otherwise, so either the Panamericans are good at hiding, or they just don’t exist. I’ve never known the enemy to enjoy hiding much, though.
“Spread out, weapons tight,” Wu directs, gesturing to his right. We pass the guard station, moving past a nearly faded sign that reads:
United Panamerican Navy
San Nicolas Naval Research Center
There's a faint logo underneath the script of an anchor overlaid by an old style microscope, at least that's what it appears to be. I could be wrong; most of the sign is washed white by the sun.
“I mean, not to be the complaining one in the bunch, but I was just thinking how big of a shame it would be to haul this fat boy all the way across the island without using it," I say in-between labored breaths. "Serge, you sure we're expecting company?"
Sergeant Wu steps over a fallen lamp post and leads us down one of the side roads inside the compound. "That's what the paperwork says."
I grunt in response and strap the FANG behind my back. It's a weapon made for suppressing large numbers of enemy combatants at once, for mowing down companies of charging soldiers, not for sneaking around an old nerd camp. Still, an uneasy feeling continues to turn knots in my stomach, as if an internal instinct is waiting for someone to pop out of the bushes and ambush us. I draw my sidearm and fall in line behind the Sergeant.
"Lex, Renné, take your teams through that vehicle depot there and standby. Emma, we're going to breach the front entrance," the Sergeant commands, pointing to the white, two-story facility in front of us. The angled edges are chipped slightly, and a couple of the windows have been shattered to bits, but, in all, the building is in fairly decent shape. If there was anywhere decent to hide out on this island, it would be here.
And yet…I don't know if it's a gut feeling or some sort of weird aura thing, but I’m getting the strange vibe that people haven't walked these streets in ages.
Sergeant Wu ushers us to a pair of thick steel doors at the head of the rather unaffecting structure and waits while Emma takes out a couple of gumball charges, squishing them against the bolts with her thumb. One they're in place, she hurries to get clear of the doors, and Wu gives the order to blow the charges. Emma presses a button on her phone, and a brief pop blasts the locks clean off. Wu dropkicks the door, sending a loud crack echoing into the building, and we hurry inside with our weapons ready.
I do a quick scan of the room, my senses heightened by the adrenaline surging through my blood, but it only takes me a couple seconds to realize that we're alone. I lower my pistol to the ground and look up.
Whatever I was expecting to find inside, this isn't it. The interior is surprisingly well lit, with a row of skylights lining the upper edges of the ceiling and simple, synthetic crystalline chandeliers hanging as if from nothing, but besides the occasional overturned chair, there's nothing here. No people, no sign of life. Nothing but a thick layer of dust and a long, dark hallway leading deeper into the building. While we stand soaking in our surroundings, Sergeant Wu picks himself up off the ground and joins us inside. He looks confused, disappointed more than anything, really. He walks over to a receptionist's counter and runs his fingers along it, leaving trails in the thick layer of dust coating its surface.
"You've got to be kidding me," he says quietly, rubbing his fingers together to remove the grime. "We are still at war, right? I didn't make that up, did I?"
The others shake their heads, but I'm too intrigued to respond. There's something about this place—the building, the whole island—something that seems so very dead and yet so…alive. That same unsettling feeling from last night is creeping its way back into my head, that feeling that I'm being watched…
"Alright, Boot, go back and get the others. The rest of you, spread out and find me something good."