Gearstorm: Go! Save Northpoint! (Short story)

Today’s the last day of the Gearstorm kickstarter! It’s been a wild ride and I’d like to finish it by treating everyone to an action extravaganza of a story. This is the last story in my Gearstorm series and I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading them.

Enjoy!

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This story is set on Apollyon, but it’s several hundred years before the ICA Vanguard arrives. In the 1400 years during the Vanguard’s flight, the Earth Defense Initiative rose from the ashes to reclaim Earth. Eventually, the EDI sent it’s own colonization fleet to Apollyon which, due to better technology, arrives centuries before the Vanguard.

Tragically, the EDI’s resistance to the phage gives up the ghost on the alien biosphere and a massive outbreak occurs.

The Year: 3209 AD

The Location: Planet Apollyon

More Specifically: The EDI colony of Northpoint.

More Importantly: During the fall of Northpoint to the phage.

I've never known who I was. Instead I was told. Told by the AI in charge of the Human Resources Synthesis facility, aka Captain. My name, Captain informed me, was Phineas Harper. Captain also told me that I was a clone of a man from back on Earth, where ever that is. I'd call the original me Dad, but I've no Mom, so Dad is incorrect for the relationship. The original is really the Ur-Me. I'm just a cheap knockoff at the end of the day. I have all his skills and technical knowledge, most of his tastes, and his muscle memory.  But I'm not the legendary, decorated bad-ass hero of Earth that Ur-Me was. I'm just a 1 day old adult-kid-clone-thing.

Still, in all my long and sordid 24 hours of existence, I already had nostalgia for Captain. It was the nicest being I'd met to date. According to every human I've so far encountered, my name is either A5124, Private, or Meatshield, depending on how honest they felt like being at the time.

Phineas "Meatshield" Harper, that's me. And that's the story of my life... Oh wait, there's a couple pieces I left out. After being born, eating my first meal, and walking my first steps, I was told I'm part of company A. That and to get into the provided armor, carry the provided assault rifle, and "get into the f-ing truck asap you meatshield". 

THAT's my life up till this point. Great. Now that we're on the same page...

"So how old are you guys?" I asked, climbing into the back of a green-and-brown camo half-track truck. I sat down on the plastic bench and shuffled my butt down to the end to make room. All around me, a dozen men in similar plastic armor, carrying similar light-weight assault rifles, climbed in. All while a tall man with a mustache and a megaphone bellowed at us to hurry. Off in the distance, something exploded. As far as I knew that was normal though, I'd heard random explosions off in the distance my whole life so far.

"Less than a day or so," replied a swarthy looking man as he adjusted his helmet. 

"Same here," said another man, this one with blonde hair.

"Hi, I'm meatshield," said a third.

"Haha, I thought that was my name," I joked. We all laughed for a minute, until the not-funny part of this set in. The laughing died as fast as it started.

"Move down, morons," said the next guy to get in. More camo-armor men crammed into the half-track's open back. I was pushed down the bench and mashed into the wall. I felt I might have to buy the wall a drink after such closeness, but at least I wasn't in the group of guys being told to sit on the floor.

The last person to board was the yelling man with the megaphone. He jumped into the last foot of floor space as the tailgate was slammed shut. The half-track rumbled and we all shook as it pulled away from the Human Resources Synthesis facility, aka Home. I stared at the ancient prefab factory, sitting on the concrete with it's weathered legs, longingly. Would Captain miss us? 

"Listen up you kids!" bellowed the man with the megaphone. I wanted to cover my ears, but my arms were mashed to my sides. Why was he still using the megaphone?

"This is company A!" he said. "You are the tenth group of assholes to have that designation, so don't think you're special. In fact, you are all the opposite of special! You are meat for the grinder!"

"This is the city of Northpoint and you are soldiers made to serve the EDI, that's Earth Defense Initiative if you're a bad-copy or something. I am Sergeant Gray and I am your God and your boss, in that order. Whether your live or die today depends on my mercy and your ability to follow orders. If you live, then you'll be made a citizen and assigned a future here. If you do anything but what I tell you, then you will be dead. I don't have time for elaborate punishments! You will get my bullet in the back of your head long before my boot gets to your ass. We have a million problems, and dead stamps aren't one of them!"

"What's a stamp?" asked the blonde guy.

"I think he means us," replied the swarthy one. "Since we're stamped out clones and all."

Sergeant Gray's eyes fixed like lasers on the two interrupting him. Before he could scorch them to the ground with his stare alone, the half-track bumped as we passed through a gate, it's retracted anti-vehicle barricade barely all the way down as our driver floored it away from home. Sergeant Gray had to stop yelling at us for a moment lest he bite his tongue. 

Now that we were on the other side of home's protective metal barrier, I could hear the steady tak-tak-tak of gunfire. The smell of smoke gave the air an abrasive quality which lit up my imprinted instincts. I dared to look away while the Sergeant found his balance, casting my eyes at where we were headed.

As my birth place had been located on a high hill, I had a good view of just how completely screwed we all were. The light of dawn was coming though the haze produced by miles of burning city, while the cool morning breeze had a hint of the blazing heat beyond. A mile down the hill's road, I could see a tall wall of concrete and steel which seemed to ring the inner city we were in from the rest of the planet.

Beyond the next wall was what someone from Earth, perhaps my Ur self, would have called "suburbs".  They were miles of prefab metal and plastic buildings, typically one-story, carpeting an expanse of rust-stained concrete in a semblance of a grid. Many of these building's interiors were on fire, causing thick plumes of black smoke to curl from their windows. The streets though, the streets were what clawed at the animal portion of my mind - for they were moving.

Seething, would have been a better word. The streets of Northpoint's suburbs were full of monstrous people, faces distorted with fangs, hands with claws, and bulging muscles bursting their jumpsuits. These hordes of transformed madmen were destroying everything they could get their hands on. And they were in all directions that I could look. 

The upper colony, the part behind the now small-looking twenty-foot tall barrier of concrete and steel, was an island surrounded by a sea of these maniacal ravaging people. I nearly crapped myself then and there. Thank God - I mean Sergeant Gray - that I hadn't been on solid food long enough to actually do so.

Despite being 36 hours old, I knew what this was for I'd been programmed to recognize it in all it's forms. It was the phage.

And it wasn't just stage 1 phage-infected people in that crowd. As our half-track careened at speed towards the barrier and it's troops, I saw something huge rear out of the masses of bodies. I wasn't sure what it was, other than made of muscles and angry. But whatever it was, it was strong. Strong enough to roar and smash one of the few two-story buildings out in the burbs, crumpling it's reinforced metal structure like a tin can.

Our transport finally ceased it's teeth-breaking ride down the road, stopping at the base of the main wall. 

"Company A, out! Line up behind the truck! GO GO!" shouted Sergeant Gray. I said good-bye to my friend the wall, peeling myself off it as the half-track emptied of my fellows. We didn't have ranks nor did we know each other' s names, but we were all cut from military cloth. Even without any prior practice, Company A managed to create a perfect two rows of at-attention within seconds. The sergeant just grunted like he expected as much.

"Listen up!" he yelled, almost in my face as he started to walk the line. "You're going out --" he said, pausing as a near by tank with a huge barrel, mobile artillery I realized, fired over the barrier. "You-," Gray resumed, "are going out those gates!" he pointed a a large set of white metal gates, the kind which slide open sideways along the wall. "We're going to retake the forward bunker and hold it to help defend the evacuation of the Outer Northpoint areas!"

I looked over at the gates in question. There was a mob of people, ragged looking humans clutching bags and children, all waiting in a desperate line to get in. They would have been a flood if not for the cordon of concrete barricades and armored troopers forcing them all through a screening area. Oh, and the wooden signs spray-painted with, "Do not jump the line. Runners are assumed infected and will be shot!" probably had something to do with their amazing restraint.

"Company A! Move out!" ordered Sergeant Gray, waving and pointing towards the gates.

Jogging forward in a two-column line, I hefted my rifle. It was light and made of cheap plastic. I also had a knife and two spare clips of 50 rounds each. It was a laughable amount of firepower compared to the tide of destruction coming our way. What could two dozen clones with 150 bullets each accomplish? Such things didn't matter to Sergeant Gray though, he jogged us right through the gates, right past all those desperate people.

As we went, I caught a glimpse of the screening tents. They were just dingy white-cloth cubes with two soldiers each and one civilian at a time. As I watched, one EDI soldier ran a scanner over the person's eyes, then he shook his head. The civilian in question fell to his knees crying. I guess that man was phage infected and couldn't be allowed in. Then the other soldier grabbed the arm of the poor infected bastard and spray-painted a giant red line down the man's bare skin. 

I passed through the gates and lost sight of what happened next. 

Just out front of the gates was a line of a dozen tanks stationed end-to-end, their turrets and mounted machine-guns firing endlessly out into the suburbs. Perhaps only a thousand feet away were the phage. Packs of them, no less than a dozen at a time, charged in from the side streets and alleys. Sometimes a tank shell would hit the pack, blasting limbs and heads everywhere. Sometimes not. When a pack managed to get too close, the machine guns would tear them apart. 

We ran up and crouched along the end of the tank line. Sergeant Gray squeezed his powered-armor-clad body sideways between two tanks. The giant vehicles rocked when they fired, shifting tons of weight together dangerously and randomly. As my armor was only made from ballistic cloth and plastic plates, I decided to not risk a crushed rib-cage. He'd have to order me forward if he wanted me to go in there. 

Thankfully, no such order came. Instead we waited while Sergeant Gray peered out ahead. What really puzzled me though was that he was looking left, down the wall, rather than forward towards the phage.

"What do you think we're waiting for?" asked the swarthy soldier, tapping on my shoulder. He was behind the tank treads and couldn't see what Gray was up to.

"Heck if I know," I replied. "I get the impression that something important is way over there." I pointed left, my arm parallel to the tall walls behind us.

"Any idea what?" the blonde fellow asked, his pretty face wrinkling in annoyance. "I don't think a forward bunker would be way over there, you know, by nothing important."

"I'm not sure either," I admitted. Then saw Sergeant Gray start shuffling back our way. "But I think we're about to find out."

"Company A! Weapons Hot! Get ready to move on the forward bunker! Shoot any phage who advance on us and ONLY the phage who advance on us!" Sergeant Gray bellowed before clipping his megaphone to his belt. The Sergeant then pulled out an enormous drum-fed shotgun. I whistled at the arm-thick 4-gauge barrel in envy. 

"Hey Sergeant," I asked. "What's so important down over there? Something we need to watch for?"

Sergeant Gray glared at me. "Shut it, meatshield. There's nothing over there you need to know about."

I wasn't going to get any other answers and my weapon was already ready, so I just waited. Twenty seconds later, Sergeant Gray moved to the end of the tank line. He looked at us as his visor went down to cover his face. "ADVANCE!" he yelled through his suit's speakers.

I was the first forward, running past the Sergeant at the end of the tank line, he grabbed my shoulder and steered me to the right. I careened that way, around the front of the Liger tank. It's .60 cal mini-gun roared to life a few feet above my head, deafening me and creating shower of searing hot casings to run through. Dead ahead, I saw what the Sergeant was pointing at.

The forward bunker was surprisingly, given the cheap construction of everything so far, an actual bunker. A one and a half story building, made entirely of reinforced concrete, it had steel shutters down over all it's firing points and a single pair of metal doors as an entry point. Those same shutters were mostly torn apart though, as was the main doorway in, which gave me a few guesses as to how the bunker had been lost in the first place. It was also swarming with phage.

As I was running closer, and expecting a tank shell in the back, I got my first good look at these phage. They had all been human once, but now they resembled living cadavers. The most common type of phage looked like a seven-foot tall man with leathery skin, red eyes, black stubby claws, and thickly corded red muscles. They shambled, lurched, and scrambled this way and that. Sometimes showing coherency and jumping on fleeing civilians from the suburbs, while other times just smashing their fists bloody on the metal prefab buildings.

The other kinds of phage were even bigger and had muscular builds not unlike a champion weightlifter's gym-dreams. I pelted across the open expanse of concrete towards the bunker, counting to see if I had enough bullets for that many targets. As the phage hordes came into range, I snapped a shot at the closest one.

I surprised myself when it got him right between the eyes. The screeching phaged man reeled backwards. Then he righted himself and kept on coming, though with less coordination of limbs. One arm flew out to the side as he ran now. Head shots were too tricky, I decided, so my next bullet hit where the heart should be. The small bullet, traveling at less than awesome speeds, blew a chunk of dense muscle away from it's chest, revealing a cage of bone over the heart.

"Damn things won't die!" yelled Swarthy behind me as he tapped off shots on the run.

"Go for the big bones then! Killing isn't the only way to win!" I replied. Switching to burst fire, I pelted my test target in the hip with a three explosive rounds this time. The phage crumpled as the trio of bullets shattered it's pelvis to mush, causing the legs to fail utterly. The bastard kept trying to pull forward on it's hands, but it was moving at a crawl now. I liked that result, so I started doing it to more targets between us and the bunker. 

After the fourth target downed, I was able to stop relying on burst-fire. I counted that as a relief since it left me with 32 bullets in my starting clip. Optimistic, I felt I might take out a good hundred or so phage like this. Which, looking at the sheer hordes filling the city, was about a million shy of what was needed.

The bunker was covered in phage when we arrived.  I do mean covered, as in it's gray surface was hard to see underneath all the freaks crawling over it. As company A neared, my fellows' accurate fire started picking them off. Then Sergeant Gray pointed at the huge metal doors on the ground level, the ones that something had torn open. "Get inside and clean it out!"

I jumped through the sundered metal doors and crashed into a hulking wall of muscle. Literally. My nose crunched as I bounced off a massive creature whose head scraped the top of the narrow corridor into the bunker. Staggering back, I tripped as its girder of an arm flashed towards me. I let myself fall and the mass of muscle passed through the empty space where my head had been a moment before. The giant phage's fist struck the wall, putting a thunderous crack in the reinforced concrete.

"SHIT!" Previous thoughts of ammo conversation went out the window as I fired up at it's heart, hoping burst-fire would penetrate. My hopes died as my tiny assault rifle barely destroyed enough muscle to reveal it's heart. Though I boggled at how anything claiming to have once been human could have a peck twenty inches thick.

"Tall's in trouble!" came the cry from the door behind me. I aborted the idea that getting up was a good move as my allies opened fire at the creature. Bits of muscle and bone flew off it in all directions as they peppered the monster. It staggered and roared, then charged forward. I rolled to the side of the hallway as it's feet smashed past me. There was a squeal of metal as the hulking phage ripped one of the doors off it's hinges.

Then there were screams as it smashed Swarthy with the door. More screams followed and missed shots ricocheted down the hallway. I felt something nail me in the stomach, but no dreadful wetness followed. Using the hulk as cover from friendly fire, I leap to my feet and threw myself at it's back. Mashing my barrel to the base of it's skull, I fired full-auto. Blood and gore exploded into my face as I blasted through it's thick neck.

The hulking phage dropped like a cut puppet. I landed and scrambled out of the way as it's half-ton shape crashed to the ground. It's limbs were still but, to my utter horror, it's eyes were alive. Those red pupils and blood shot whites followed me with disturbing intensity. I spit out a mouthful of it's blood, glad that my "spec" included high resistance to the phage disease. Mutation into a berserker zombie aside, I didn't want to wind up as one of those poor red-painted bastards I'd seen back at the gates.

Cheers rose from the doorway at our victorious kill, but they were quashed by Sergeant Gray bellowing, "GO GO GO! Storm the bunker!" 

I let Blonde lead the charge while I checked my ammo. Cursing at five rounds left in clip 1. I reloaded, but kept the almost empty magazine. Then ran after everyone else and the roar of their gunfire. Fighting in the bunker was terrifying. The phage came out of every vent and crevice, and they could climb along the underside of any catwalks that were above us. My disabling tactic didn't work in close quarters since they could reach us in a reasonable time, so killing became a requirement.

There were a lot of the bastards in the bunker. I wasted an entire clip running around shooting the things in the spine. But if my accuracy and melee combat prowess were exemplary, Sergeant Gray made no comment. To be fair, all my fellow clone soldiers were cut from the similarly elite tactical cloth, so my performance was pretty ordinary by Company A's standards.

At least our loudmouthed Sergeant showed he was rightfully our leader. The guy was a monster. At one point he shoved his shotgun into a roaring hulk's mouth and blew out the back of it's head. Then he landed and managed to stomp the head of a smaller phage man like busting watermelon. I saw him get into trouble once, if one could call killing-three-phage-with-an-arm-blade-like-it-was-nothing trouble. I was pretty bruised and cut up by that point and might have been jealous of his powered armor.

When the last phage inside was dead, I cheered with Blonde and the others. Until the phage outside started coming in. The horde outside howled and banged on the metal shutters. Clawed hands surged through the ripped holes in the exterior armor, prying with the desperate augmented strength of the phage. Plates began to groan as they were bent back.

"Get to the firing positions! Phineas and Richard! You're on ammo duty!"

I looked at Blonde. "Nice to meet you Richard," I joked. 

"Nice to meet you too Phineas," he shot back. 

"MOVE!" yelled Sergeant Gray.

Ammo duty in a wrecked bunker. I'd have laughed, but Gray was serious, and after what he'd done to that one phage, I didn't think my rear would survive an encounter with his boot. So Richard and I looked around for ammo while the rest of Company A started yelling and shooting at the things coming in through the ever widening gaps in the bunker's defenses.

"Phineas, down there," Richard said. I looked where he was pointing and saw the sandbags. Someone had made a machine gun nest in the maintenance area under the catwalk. Crawling on our bellies down into it, we had to hold onto our lunches. When I made it over the sandbags, I found a dozen men in uniforms like mine, with assault rifles like mine. They were dead though, chewed up and torn apart. Richard made a gagging noise beside me.

Holding my breath, I crawled on hands and knees through the dead, tossing rifles and clips backwards to Richard. When his arms were full, I grabbed the machine gun and it's half-box of bullets off the tripod. Grinning at having a decent weapon, I wormed my way out from under the catwalk.

Despite our discovery, the next half-hour did not go as as planned for anyone. We shot phage, and shot more phage, and kept on shooting phage. Richard, Sergeant Gray, and I had to hold the bunker's main entrance, the narrow corridor where Swarthy had died to the hulk, against a never ending rush of screaming freaks. I loved the machine-gun. It was old tech, not even magnetic accelerated, but it's giant bullets shattered bones easily and enabled me to pull off heart shots. I milked it's remaining 3.5 yards of ammo for all they were worth. Which was about fifteen minutes. The rest I had to make do with my bargain basement rifle.

"Sergeant! I have a question!" I yelled as I loaded my last full clip of AR ammo.

"The answer to every question you might have is 'keep killing phage'!" Gray barked back at me.

"We've shot this bunker dry sir! What comes after we run out of ammo?!"

"We're to hold this position until the evacuation of the suburbs are complete!"

"And if that's impossible? SIR"

"You've got a knife solider, I expect you to die with it in a phage's skull."

Now that made me mad. "We were made to die weren't we Sergeant? Fake humans to save the real ones? Is that it?"

For a rare moment, Sergeant Gray looked at me with something other than anger. "I don't believe the EDI is that cruel. There's a withdrawal plan for us and the tanks."

I raised an eyebrow at that claim. "Really? How they hell is anyone gonna get us out? We're under-water in phage here."

Gray's eyes dropped and he looked away. "That's classified private. You worry about fighting ,I'll tell you when it's time to leave."

"Be right back then, sir."

With that, I ran down the gray corridor to the open main room of the bunker. My fellows were up on the cat-walk, squeezing off careful shots into the phage hordes climbing up the bunker's outside. Looking around, I spotted my target, by the maintenance area from earlier. Ripping it free, I returned to the corridor.

"About damn time private!" Gray said as he reloaded his shotgun with a fresh drum. 

I slung my assault rifle over my back and hefted my new prize. "I'll take the front sir, you and Richard back me up."

Gray made a mocking bow. "After you then."

In the absence of our fire, several wild phage men had made it past the door and were now rushing in. I ran forward, they ran at me, we all screeched at each other. Then I swung hard and the fire ax I'd stolen bit into the skull of the first phage, cleaving it down to the teeth.

I chuckled evilly. The EDI may have given me crap armor and a crap gun, but they'd spared no expense on the muscles and combat skills. I was so beefy that I was practically stuffed into my armor. That was handy now as I kicked my first victim away and ducked the claws of two more phage.

I spun to avoid another slash and drove the ax's spike through the heart of the second phage. Then I hacked off the third's leg in a single swing, followed by a two-handed chop to remove it's head once it was down.

"This is better than a knife sir." I couldn't resist tossing it in Gray's face just a tad. He grunted in annoyance but otherwise kept his aim on the hallway, ready to shoot if I screwed up.

I did surprisingly great for the next hour's worth of endlessly hacking apart phage. When my arms got too heavy from swinging the ax, I traded with Richard. He was cut of different stock than I was though. Five minutes in, he missed a strike and a phage plowed it's black claws into his chest. Gray cleared the hall with his shotgun while I dragged the blonde Richard free of the fighting. 

"Damn," he said, wheezing blood, "You made that look too easy."

"Sorry man," I replied.

"I would have liked to have lived longer than two days," Richard said and then that was it. The light in his eyes vanished and his head rolled to the side.

I was so mad. We had no stake in this world yet here we were, getting slaughtered pointlessly. I whirled on Gray as he fired down the hallway.

"When's withdrawal happening?!"

"Soon! Hold it together soldier!" he ordered.

My angry retort was cut off by cries of alarm suddenly echoing down the corridor from the main bunker area. 

"I'm out of ammo!"

"Same here!"

"They're getting in!"

"Fall back!"

All too soon, I saw my fellows leaping off the catwalk and running into the corridor behind me. Empty guns were dropped as they ran towards us. The screams of the phage filled our hallway as the freaks poured into the ripped open bunker room behind them. Just like that, we were trapped.

It was phage in front, friends and phage in back. I just gave Sergeant Gray a look, words were unnecessary at this point - We were completely screwed. I had to give the Sergeant credit for having balls of steel though. He handed me his shotgun then deployed a pair of foot-long arm-blades from their sheaths in his armor and stepped up to the incoming phage, sending heads and arms flying with every swing.

Juggling the gun that'd been thrust at me, I passed it to another solider. So too went the ax, as it was a better weapon for a fellow who might be worse at melee than me. I pulled my knife, a mere 10-inches of cheap steel, and leaped at the phage coming from the other side of the tunnel.

It was not as good of a weapon as the ax had been. I stabbed the first phage in the face with it, but it didn't deal the sort of catastrophic damage necessary. Crazy strong claws ripped into the cloth part of my armor, gouging my side. I roared in pain as I went down, stabbing the thing in the head over and over again. When I hit my back, there were two phage now above me, their shiny black claws flashing. Then the shotgun roared and both phage were blasted off. 

I rolled backwards, knife at the ready. A red haired solider missing his helmet stepped up beside me with the fire ax. 

"You set them up, I'll hack them down Tall," Red Hair said. 

"Got it," I replied.

Charging forward, I knifed open a phage's thigh and then sweep-kicked it's legs out. Red Hair stepped up and chopped down with the ax like he was splitting a log. Instead he split it's skull. I gave him a thumbs up before catching the strike of another phage and using a hip-throw to dump the thing at Red Hair's feet. He axed it too.

And so we fought, packed in like camouflage-wearing sardines, back to back with phage swarming the corridor on either side of us. There were times when all I could see were feet and arms. The world shrank to hitting hissing faces (enemies) and avoiding hitting green-and-brown guys (allies). My side hurt worse and worse as the battle raged. Blood soaked my right side as bits of my strength leaked out one milliliter at a time.

Then a hulk appeared in the corridor ahead of me, and I saw another behind it. Red Hair and I exchanged fearful looks. I was pretty sure he could break that fire ax on a hulk and not do more than piss it off. We both knew we were done for if we had to fight that.

"Alright boys and girls!" Sergeant Gray's voice rang out. "Withdrawal order has been given! Follow me cause we're getting out of here!"

I joined in the ragged cheers while keeping my eyes on the hulks, who were busy trying to get over the heaps of phage corpses we'd filled the hallway with. Behind me, the combat shotgun roared, then it's receiver clicked as it fired it's last. 

"GO GO GO!" yelled the Sergeant.

I turned and followed my fellows as we bolted through the hole in the phage at the door out. I made it all of twelve feet before I screeched to a halt at their backs. We were utterly surrounded by phage. Countless red eyes gleamed maniacally at us from all directions.

"What part of a withdrawal is this?!" someone yelled. 

Then, to my surprise, all the phage around the bunker, and the ones on the roads near us, all turned and howled. This was followed by the hordes charging off towards the barricade line far away to our right. I couldn't remember if that was where Sergeant Gray had been looking back before we'd taken the bunker, but I would have bet money on it. Whatever it's cause, this miracle left only a handful of phage right by us. Desperation gave company A energy as we attacked them with combat knifes and sheer moxxy.

After a short melee, we broke free of the bunker and ran for the gates. To my relief, I could see that there were no more civilians waiting in line outside the gates. Our sacrifices hadn't been in vain after all. Through the gates I could see a sea of people crammed into the queues. The tanks were still firing, but they were shuffling back and forth as they reoriented to withdraw. Their fronts were littered in the bodies of phage as well as soldiers wearing gear very similar to mine.

What was weirdly fortuitous though was the lack of phage by the gates.  It was as if they'd all decided that it was ok for us to have a break so we could make a clean retreat. I couldn't help but look at what had drawn the enemy's attention so completely. Scanning along the direction the masses of freaks were running in, I found it all too easily.

Dozens and dozens of civilians were laying in heaps on the not-good side of the wall! I stumbled at the sight. Why were those people in a pile? Were they dead? Nope, they groaned and screamed, thrashing to get off each other and away from the phage. I stopped completely, unable to understand what was happening.

Then I saw the yellow bulldozers lift their scoops over the top of the wall. Five people from each bulldozer fell screaming over the side. A few tried to cling desperately to the hooks on the dozer's scoop, but the operator shook it until they lost their grip and dropped. Some crashed to the bare ground, breaking arms or legs on impact with the concrete. Others were "lucky" in that they fell on their fellows, sliding off the pile only to face a mob of phage coming for them.

"What are you doing soldier!" screamed Sergeant Gray when he noticed I'd stopped running. 

"Why are people being thrown over the wall?!" I yelled back.

"That's the withdrawal plan! They're already dead private!" Gray said, grabbing my shoulder and pointing. Only then did I see that the red on the civilians was too bright to be blood. All the people in the heaps, the ones being dumped over the side, they all had red spray-paint running down their arms.

"Infected or no, they still don't deserve that," I growled through grit teeth.

"Their deaths now save everyone else," said Gray, glaring at me through his sealed helmet.

"I get the impression, SIR, that they didn't volunteer to be martyrs," I growled.

"Neither did you and neither did I," grumbled the Sergeant, "Now get going so all this sacrifice isn't wasted."

For a moment, I wrestled with what to do. At a day and a half old, I didn't have a lot of life experience to draw from. Most of my ideas of what was right came from my gut and the shadowy memories attached to my pre-programmed skills. But both gut and memories hated the assholes in charge of this place. From making me, to treating me as disposable, to treating those infected civilians as bait. I couldn't stand it.

Sergeant Gray must have seen it in my eyes, because his arm blades came up. "Phineas, you did good today," he said. "But if you take one step in any direction other than those gates, and I'll add you to the bait pile myself. This is for your own good."

"What did we fight for though?" I asked as the mobs of phage reached the human sacrifices, tearing into them and sending their screams to the sky.

"All the people who are still alive on the other side of that wall," Gray said. "You're only a day old kid. You don't understand anything yet. Now get moving, you still have a lot more to saving to do before your second day is over."

He was right, I didn't understand. I didn't understand what it was I was protecting when what it was was throwing helpless victims off a wall to save itself. Or throwing ignorant clone soldiers like me to the wolves to save itself. Or anything else I'd seen so far. Sergeant Gray stood over me though, towering in his deadly suit of power armor while I had nothing but shredded ballistic cloth, cheap impact plastic, and a broken knife.

I walked away from Sergeant Gray anyway. I didn't care if he stabbed me in the back for insubordination or not.  I made it three steps and paused picked up the fire ax Red Hair had dropped. "I'd rather save them," I said, walking towards the heaps of infected people.

There was a deadly silence behind me as I walked. Cold sweat rolled down my neck as I waited for the power claws to pierce my back.

Then Sergeant Gray cursed as I called his bluff. I glanced back at him. He looked at me, looked at the newest waves of berserk phage coming from the city, and he looked at the gates - which the last tank was driving though. In the end, he chose the gates. 

"You're a damn fool Phineas! We're never making another one of you!" Gray yelled as he ran, leaping through the gates just before they closed.

"Yeah," I said, readying the ax and running towards the barricade as the phages tore into piles of discarded humanity. "I can live with that."

The End

Thanks for reading the last Gearstorm short story. If I’ve intrigued you as to the game, please hop over to their kickstarter and take a look. It’s your last chance (for now) as the kickstarter ends May 16th at 7am. Don’t miss out!

If you’d like more Gearstorm shorts, then just click the Gearstorm tag and it’ll bring up everything. Same goes for the short stories tab if you just want to check out more of my fiction. There’s also my books, but surely you’ve seen their page by now. Right? ^_^

Thanks again and see you all next time when I’ve more fun stuff.

Gearstorm: The Mars Blockade (Short Story)

I hope you all have been enjoying the Gearstorm short stories so far. Unfortunately, I’m pretty much out of ICA colony stuff. But there are a few other points in the history that I’d love to visit. Today we’re going back to get a glimpse of what went down in the Sol system after the ICA Vanguard made its desperate launch.

This will be the second-to-last story in the Gearstorm series. But I did promise a grand finale and that’s coming up. The very next post will be about a pivotal and hella-dramatic point in the history of Apollyon. I can’t wait for ya’ll to read it.

But for now, we’ll share a tough moment with the crew of the MSS Duty.

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Gearstorm: What's Cooking? (Short Story)

Today we get to see our fictional ICA colony at around day 500 as a great discovery is revealed to our cast and crew.

But before you click read more, please help us out by visiting the Gearstorm kickstarter page or sharing it’s link around. We’re hoping to strap on the rocket-boosters the game needs to become its best.

If you’re knew to the Gearstorm series, I’d encourage you to start at the beginning with The Last Day at the ICA story.

Anyway, on to the show!

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The sequel to Forever Fantasy Online is out today!

It’s here! It’s finally here! Last Bastion, book 2 in the FFO series, is out now in eBook and Audiobook on Amazon. I’m hopping with joy and uncomfortable levels of excitement right now folks. My poor dog is looking at me like I’m a lunatic. ^_^

ffo2-new-website.jpg

The first reviews are starting to appear already and things are looking good. The wonderful TS Chan said that Last Bastion has a “Sanderson-esque level of addictiveness”. I’m absolutely floored by such praise!

Also, you can read the whole series for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Which, by the way, please don’t worry about me if you do. Amazon pays authors on a per-page basis for KU. Someone reading the full FFO2 on Kindle Unlimited actually earns me more than an eBook sale. So it’s guilt-free all around.

I hope you all enjoy Last Bastion. It was a wild ride to write, that’s for sure.

Gearstorm: We don't believe in reincarnation

I’m glad ya’ll have enjoyed the Gearstorm stories so far. We still have high hopes on the kickstarter and it’s only half-done. Today I have another story for you. This one takes place after Day 1, Reboot Humanity and continues to focus on the oddities and dangers of the ICA colony.

If you are enjoying these shorts, please hop over to the game’s kickstarter page and take a look. Thanks!

Now, on to the fiction!

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Gearstorm: Lore and History

If you’re curious to learn more of Gearstorms’s lore, I’m here today with some links for you.

"Apollyon...what a cruel fate for man's second Eden to be named so. That such a grim name comes from the highest bidder's list is, I find, a most fitting start to its prophecy of our destruction." -Jorg Neuman, Astrophysicist. 2191 AD.

Links inside the post. ^_^

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Gearstorm: The Last Day at the ICA

So, ya’ll remember that video game I was hinting at doing some writing for? Guess what - I can finally talk about it! The game is called Gearstorm and it’s a military sci-fi survival game. If base-building on an alien world infested with space-zombies is your thing, or might be your thing, check out the kickstarter. Also, keep reading cause I’ve got something special down below.

Anyway, Gearstorm is made by my friends over at Iron City Games. They’re a gutsy two-man game dev company and they’ve been inventing new wheels (like Unreal engine terrain generation algorithms) to put on this crazy game for almost five years now. So I really hope they succeed.

But today isn’t just me advertising my friends’ game, I come bearing gifts in the form of free fiction for you all! While working on the lore of the Gearstorm setting, I got all inspired and wrote some fun short-stories set in the world. These helped us get a feel for the game back when it was little more than rag-dolls and zombies.

So, without further adieu, I give you the start - the last day at the ICA.

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Last Bastion (FFO2) is available for pre-order

It’s time! After many months of hinting, I am proud to announce that the sequel to Forever Fantasy Online is coming out soon! As in April 30th, 2019.

Bonus: It’s a simultaneous release of the ebook and the audio book. (print will follow as always)

You’ll have to stay tuned for sample chapters as those are going up later. ^_~ But, without further adieu, I give you FFO book 2…

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Announcing Announcements?

Life was tough this winter, but the writing continued. We’re getting ready to make all manner of announcements as concerns FFO2: Last Bastion. The long wait is coming to an end.

On that note - book 1’s cover is going to be changed soon. So, if you have a printed copy, then congrats! You have a rare version of the book that might never be available again. How cool is that?

If you don’t have a print edition yet now’s your chance for said rare version. (Note to self: order another box of stock before changing the cover.)

How I Copy Paste from Word to Scrivener while preserving italics.

How I Copy Paste from Word to Scrivener while preserving italics.

I don’t intend for travisbach.net to be a writing blog, but some things are too important not to share. So, the title says it all - this is how I am copy-pasting from MS Word, to Scrivener, on Windows 10, without losing my italics and such. Will it work for you and your workflow/manuscript? IDK. I’m not a Scrivener guru, more like a neophyte. I hope my process here will help other authors leap over this hurdle one way or the other.

So if you’ve ever tried to do this, then you know what a pain it is. Paste-Match-Style from MS Word to Scrivener will dump italics and it’ll make all your quotes straight quotes. So you have the devil’s choice of manually transferring the word document OR all your precious formatting.

Keep reading to see how I managed to solve this problem.

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Update: Where has Travis been?

TL;DR - life’s been hard lately. I mean, my flooded basement was #2 on the list of horrible things I’ve been dealing with. Imagine that. Anyway, that’s why the short stories have dried up all of a sudden. I have limited resources right now and writing Forever Fantasy Online takes priority over blogs and social media when my time & energy are tight.

Speaking of FFO - I have some happy updates for everyone on that front.

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Seven Realms of Steel meets IRL: Part 3

The latest installment of Seven Realms is here. We’re back in VR finally and everything old is new again.

Sorry for the wait, Forever Fantasy Online 2 edits took priority over my blog for a while. It’s headed off to the copy editor now. Hooray!

If you are new, please check the Seven Realms of Steel tag, it’ll bring up a nice list of all the back episodes and extra info segments.

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Game Info: Cultivation in The Seven Realms of Steel

As I'm doing the story of the Seven Realms of Steel meets IRL in short stories, there really isn't room to cram in all the details about the actual game's mechanics. So, for those of you asking for more information, I'm happy to oblige with another Game Info segment. This time about ki cultivation as that’s going to be relevant soon.

Regular readers fear not, this information is bonus in that you don't need to know it to get the main story-line (that'd be crappy of me to do). This is all just to enhance the reading experience.

What I can share so far about leveling in The Seven Realms of Steel…

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Seven Realms of Steel meets IRL - Part 2

Part 2 of our story unfolds as the hero visits the house of his former in-game nemesis. Their battle at school created many problems and raised countless questions. “How did we do that?” being the largest of them all.

(Seven Realms of Steel meets IRL is a short story series about two players who find that the combat skills they’ve developed in-game are translating too readily into their real lives — including the possibility of the more magical parts of the game. The story starts here.)

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Game Info: The Seven Realms of Steel

I've been doing world-building for the Seven Realms of Steel in my free time (such as it is). I'd like to write a few more shorts which carry the plot along from the initial post. Since this isn't a full novel, there's not a lot of ways of getting all this info out. Hence this post. 

Please enjoy some facts I about the game The Seven Realms of Steel that I can share so far...


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Going into Kindle Unlimited

FFO will be leaving wide distribution soon and moving into Kindle Unlimited instead. I wanted it to be widely available, but in hindsight FFO isn't the right book to do this with. As a new author and series, the book really needs the extra discover-ability provided by kindle unlimited. It was overly ambitious to put it everywhere starting out.

FFO will likely make a return to wide distribution once all three books are out and it has had a chance to grow and establish itself.