Gabriel shot out of bed as the dull boom of lightning shook the apartment’s thick walls. Sirens blared across Orlando as howling winds hammered the city walls. His eyes still heavy, he knew it was early, too early for the evacuation to begin. The perfect time to pack his bags.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he looked to a smooth, featureless wall. Holographic displays flashed to life, acting as windows to the outside world. Unstoppable torrents of wrath poured from the heavens. A thick, grey haze hung between reinforced structures as rain whipped across the city in violent flashes of light. Once a vibrant tourist attraction, the city had become a bastion of reinforced concrete and alloys standing defiant against the decaying world around them.
Gabriel scrambled across the cold metal floor, stumbling across piles of dirty laundry into his closet full of clothes and a near empty duffle in the corner. He tore a pair of jeans off the hangar, threw on heavy black boots, and an old, leather, Air Force jacket. Emblazoned on the jacket’s shoulder sat a grinning reaper holding a foaming mug of beer while its scythe rested upon his shoulder. “232nd Jolly Reaper Fighter Squadron.” The jacket fit snug over his torso, too snug, but he was not about to leave his father’s jacket behind.
Without much thought he crammed a bag full of clothes then stopped at the footlocker inside his closet. He punched in a code and the case popped open with a hiss. A pistol, three mags, and several books on survival, equipment maintenance and operations.
Gabriel chewed the inside of his cheek. Am I really going to need any of this? He scooped up the pistol, pulled the slide back. Loaded and ready to go. Nah. Mom’s only worrying too much again. We’ll be fine. He shoved the gun back in the locker and stepped out with protective pads in hand.
Windows flashed hot white with near deafening cracks of thunder and lightning. The structure shook with each flash, all the more concerning with several dozen feet of reinforced concrete between him and the outside world. Posters of military hardware, video games were replaced with flashing red warnings. “Storm Severity: Critical.”
The panicked pitter-patter of little boots stormed toward his room, accompanied by a frightened little scream. A small boy, no older than five, burst through his metal door. The trembling yellow ball crashed into his doughy gut, throwing them both onto bed. His incoherent, babbling impossible to decipher.
“Oof. Luis, what’s the matter?” he muttered. “What time is it?” He was half-awake and in an adrenaline fueled daze. His voice was strong, kind, and conscious enough not to slur together.
“The storm’s here, Gabriel,” Luis cried in his squeaky little voice. Tears streamed down his pale-mocha skin, the same color as his older brothers. “We didn’t leave in time.”
Gabriel’s blurry vision drifted over to the faint, blue glow at the corner of his eye. A holographic map of the city, “06:04:07. July 04, 2184,” hovered beside it.
“Six in the morning. The evacuation hasn’t even started yet.”
Luis whined and tightened his grip on his brother’s soft gut.
With a sleepy smile, Gabriel hugged his brother and pulled him off. Luis squirmed about anxiously on the edge of the bed, wincing at every crack of lightning.
Gabriel scanned the room for anything to help distract the boy but there wasn’t much on offer. A pair of virtual-reality suits and helmets were strewn at the foot of the holographic display but it wasn’t the time for games.
“Storm Lockdown in Effect.” Informed a dull, droning, artificial woman’s voice as a red warning flashed on the map.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious.” Gabriel’s attention returned to the map.
Towering walls, more fit for a fortress, surrounded the city, protecting them from rising oceans and violent waves. City blocks merged into fortified superstructures of concrete and steel reaching hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories to the heavens in defiance of nature’s wrath. Each structure was a blend of utilitarian design with brutal architecture, designed to house and protect the millions within. A few varied their design, using sloped surfaces on the exteriors to help break the force of the wind, tapering up toward the top and not a single window among them. Lights adorned the exteriors of structures alongside holographic billboards shining through the thick haze of rain with the storm warning. Only white, weathered numbers and the occasional deviation in design and purpose of a block served to distinguish one block from another. Thick, concrete and alloy bridges served to link one block to another, minimizing the population’s exposure to the elements, especially during lethal weather events like the one assaulting their city.
Nature’s fury was unrelenting.
Lights pulsed within the apartment. Screens flickered and distorted. Winds and rain hammered structures with such force the block’s thick walls did little to dull the howls and clatter reverberating through the structure.
Gabriel strapped on his padding. There was no telling how bad the weather was going to be when it was time to evacuate. The last thing he needed was an injury from another rogue storm the early warning systems missed.
“Storm’s been going like this for hours.” He heard his mother’s voice outside his room. “Gonna cut it close.”
Thunder boomed through the thick walls. Lights and screens shut off, shrouding them in brief darkness. Luis clung to his brother’s leg. The chocolate-haired boy gazed with big brown eyes right into Gabriel’s hazel-green orbs. His little fingers trembling, digging deep into his thigh.
Gabriel winced at the impressive grip those little fingers applied, but still he reached down to pet his brother’s head. “Luis, you have to be stronger than this.”
The boy somehow managed to tighten his grip with a frustrated huff. “Why?”
“Mom’s gonna need you to be the man of the house when I’m gone.”
Luis’s eyes shot wide, whimpering up to his older brother. “W-where are you going, Gabriel?”
Gabriel dreaded this day for so long, but it was inevitable. “I’m… going to join the Tactical Armor Corps. Become a pilot. Not a fighter pilot like dad was. An assault armor pilot.”
He reached over to his nightstand where the model for an assault class tactical armor stood. A humanoid machine clad in white, sloped armor with hazy, glowing green eyes. A faint smile crossed his lips as he handed the model down to Luis.
“Would’ve told you guys sooner, but the hurricane kinda shot that plan down. You guys didn’t need the stress.” Gabriel looked down, running a hand through his brother’s soft locks. “Soon as we land at the refugee base I’m getting shipped out to basic.” It was terrible timing, but when would it be a good time? The last thing he wanted to do was to make his brother feel abandoned.
Luis took the model in one arm and whined out to his brother. “But why are you leaving us?” His lip trembled, eyes on the verge of tears.
“There’s some bad people in the world, Luis.” There wasn’t a good way to explain to a child that the world was engulfed in an endless war; no good way to explain he was following in his father's footsteps. A father his brother never knew. “Bad people that want to hurt you, me, mom, our friends, our country. I want to… No. I’m going to keep you guys safe from them, alright? Bring this whole mess to an end.”
Another whimper left the boy as he clung to his brother, holding the model in his arm like the most precious thing in the world.
“Gabriel,” his mother shouted across the apartment. “Are you ready yet? I don’t want to be the last family in line for evacuation when the courtyard opens.”
“We’re gonna be okay, Luis. Don’t worry.” Gabriel slung his bag across his shoulder. “And don’t tell mom about what we talked about, okay? She doesn’t need the stress.”
Luis gave a faint nod as Gabriel stepped outside their room.
His mother, a fair skinned woman with raven hair to match her oldest son’s, stood in the small, living room. On the black, faux-leather couch beside her was a mess of clothes, too much to fit into her duffle. Empty boxes of bullets were scattered on a table beneath the large display as faint, blue decorative lights emanated from the wall behind it. She always insisted on keeping the place so neat and orderly, almost obsessively when she was home. It was a shame to have to abandon their home and leave such a mess behind.
Past his mother, sat the small kitchen. Appliances were built into the walls to deploy as needed, same as the dining table with her own olive duffle bag resting upon it. She was ready to go, and from the still open shelves in the kitchen, ready to survive beyond the wall if it came down to it. Gabriel wasn’t sure if that was a curse or a blessing.
She wore an olive-drab coat, with khaki stripes running down her arms from her shoulders. It included built in padding throughout its form along the tall collar that raised to just below her cheek bones. The same pattern of built in protection spread across her dark-grey gloves and pants. Rated for small-arms fire, it was an overkill survivalist getup as far as he was concerned, but she always insisted on being prepared for anything. At least she wouldn’t have to worry if the weather took a turn for the worst and started throwing people around.
Her chin sat on her knuckles, green eyes fixed on a holoscreen playing the local news.
200 mile-per-hour winds. Streets flooded. Cars caught outside during lockdown were swept away by powerful currents. It was a runaway storm heralding the coming hurricane.
Emergency crews in white and red exosuits appeared on screen up to their necks in water. They fought against rushing winds and flooding currents, wrestling a four-legged machine with an APC like chassis into a nearby garage. Currents ripped a man from the walker and threw him down the street, exosuit and all. In seconds, he vanished beneath the raging waters.
Gabriel’s breath caught in his throat, turning away from the screen and covering his brother’s eyes. “Sorry, Mom. Luis needed some calming down.”
His mother pulled Luis off him, cradling him in her arms. “Relax, Sweetie. Nothing bad is gonna happen. It’s only a scary storm.” She had a wonderful, smooth, mothering voice, when she wasn’t laying down the law. Luis gave a soft nod, shoulders relaxing in her arms.
Lightning struck their block’s wall with the dull howl, electricity scything through the reinforced structure. Lights flickered offline. The displays that made up their windows, sparked and fizzled dark. Concrete crumbled through the darkness. No molten glow. It hadn’t reached their wall, but it was close.
The family held their collective breath.
Gabriel’s mother exhaled and held out a hand, an orb of light materialized within from the small projectors on her glove. A modern day lantern. “Come on. It’s safer in the courtyard.”
With a shuddering nod, Gabriel followed her out to a long hallway illuminated by emergency lighting. People left their apartments, carrying bags and children with them. They seemed to put on a brave face, greeting them on their way through the block like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Unfortunate as it was, they weren’t too far off the mark.
Abandoned businesses littered the path to the courtyard. Once colorful signs sat lifeless without a trace of customers and shelves stripped of essential goods. The odd puddle of water here and there dripped from tiny fractures in the floor above.
It wasn’t the best part of town, or their block for that matter. Unlike the pristine walls of their apartment, the corridor’s halls were well worn with their smooth, white finish dulled and greyed by grime and a general lack of proper maintenance leaving the walls rough to the touch.
Who could blame the maintenance staff? Sections of walls were plastered in the colorful graffiti of gangs squabbling over territory, accompanied with dents and bullet holes when things escalated beyond slinging quality insults at one another. Maybe the hurricane was a blessing in disguise. Instead of the familiar stench of cigarettes, old blood, and industrial grade cleaning agents, cool, clean air circulated through the halls with the occasional spike of cologne or perfume from people rushing out of their homes. Increased security, a common threat, it was enough to silence the gangs and have the block join together in the common goal of getting the hell out of town.
Gabriel approached the railing looking across the vast expanse between his side of the black and the other. They were fifty floors above the courtyard, the heart of the block, completely sealed off from the outside world. It used to be a place where all manner of events were held. Food carts and kiosks were not an unusual sight year round. They gathered whatever ingredients they could scrounge together beyond the government’s ration bars, usually from one of the city's agri-blocks if they could spare any of their harvest for the war effort. Instead of food and fun, masses of people huddled together, anxious to leave the city. Stale sweat and anticipation stung at his nostrils even from this height. The block continued to climb up with many more hundreds of floors. There were so many people crammed into one building he would never meet, so many places he would never get the chance to see, and it was only one block.
“Don’t get distracted, Gabriel.” His mother said dragging him along by his arm as they headed to the crowded courtyard below.
Gabriel spotted a young girl with big blue eyes letting out soft, anxious whimpers. She clung to her mother with one arm, a frayed teddy bear missing its eye in the other. Like his brother she wore a yellow raincoat. Its color faded, covered in scratches and scrapes along with the protective padding she wore. She must’ve spent a lot of time outside, something that had become rare for children in the increasingly hostile environment.
The girl’s whimpers grew to cries as lightning struck the building once more. Her mother swayed back and forth on her feet, muttering a quiet prayer. Crowds of people huddled together in raincoats, boots, and anything else they could carry. Friends and families all waiting for their chance to get to safety. But they were all at the mercy of nature and how fast the military could evacuate them. He tore his gaze away with a guilty pang. If only he could do something to help them.
On the way to the ground level, they passed screens reporting on the weather. A massive, category ten hurricane barreled toward the city. The storm already flooded and tore down everything south of the city walls, terrain included. Old structures were swept away by raging waves like little more than children’s blocks. As it moved closer to the city, giant waves crashed against the city's mighty walls that stood hundreds of feet high.
A container vessel drifted rudderless, holes in its hull and the shielding meant to protect its cargo sheared off in places. The ship smashed against the wall, rocking with every wave crashing against it. Another victim of the storm. The north looked no less dangerous with rogue storms ripping apart the marsh lands. Gabriel couldn’t begin to imagine the over engineering that went into ensuring the city didn’t suffer the same fate.
“Haven’t seen nothing this bad since we lost Miami thirteen years ago,” one man spoke.
“Still can’t believe storms like that one existed,” said another, holding his chin. “Thing demolished the city and swept away the land.”
“We got off easy. Mexico took that storm on directly.”
Gabriel shuddered. He was only five during the Miami storm, yet he was just as powerless then as he was today. His hand balled up into a tight fist. “Can’t believe we’re stuck here because of a weather front.”
Then again, was anywhere really safe? It wasn’t just killer weather running wild that could level cities and strip away parts of the terrain but sudden and violent earthquakes, eruptions, and more. The world was falling apart around humanity while they bunkered down to weather the next disaster then the next.
“Relax, Gabriel. Everything’s going to be fine. This’ll clear up in no time.” His mother smiled before leaning in with an angry whisper. “You need to keep a brave face for your brother. He looks up to you more than anyone.”
“Storm clearing,” announced the far too calm, digitized, female voice, “Please stand by while flood waters drain.”
Gabriel frowned. “That’s just the little baby storm. The big one’s still coming.” His shoulders slumped and his head flung back. “But we gotta count our blessings, right?”
Warning sirens blared and yellow lights spun as the reinforced bulkhead doors pulled apart, filling the courtyard with the scent of fresh, drenched pavement.
The sea of people poured out into the near-empty garage—a bunker-like structure with reinforced columns supporting the heavy weight of the concrete roof. On the far wall stood a second, larger, thicker set of bulkhead doors protecting vehicles from the harsh elements. The few vehicles that belonged to civilians in the garage were cleared out to make room for emergency personnel and crates of equipment.
These colorful civilian vehicles were armored, rugged machines with fat, reinforced tires and not a single window among any of them. Rather than such structural weaknesses the elements could exploit, these vehicles used small, hardened external cameras to feed the holographic viewports inside. Standard practice for anything expected to survive contact with mother nature. They were much harder than the simple and luxurious vehicles he’d seen in history books.
Near the exits sat a group of heavy military trucks—engines rumbled, loading ramps deployed to take on civilians. The people at the head of the pack scrambled for the trucks, pushing, shoving, and shouting. The soldiers in grey digital camo and light combat armor barked out orders corralling the crowd with heavy riot shields to maintain order. Behind the shield wall stood a secondary line of soldiers armed with rifles and grenade launchers.
One man squeezed past the rushed cordon. He threw his wife and children onto the back of a truck before they sped away, but not before he latched onto its side. The evacuation was underway.
“Guess we’re walking,” Gabriel protested. A wall of wet air hit him the second they stepped onto the drenched city streets. One moment he was fresh and clean, the next it was like he’d spent hours sweating at the gym with humidity so thick he swore he could cut it with a knife. Hopefully basic is somewhere dry.
Inky clouds hung overhead, sprinkling rain over the city. Streams of water rolled down the side of the towering bunkers they called home. “Hab-Block 19,” read the side of their home’s wall, or at least it used to. Lightning had sheared off much of the lettering. Chunks of crumbled concrete littered the exterior of their fortified home, some larger than a bus, giving off steam where the lightning carved them loose.
Advertisements sparked throughout the city. Those few still operational instructed citizens to keep calm and proceed to extraction in that same, droning, artificial voice with the projection of a woman.
“A little walking will do you some good, Gabriel,” his mother teased with a pat to his stomach. “How else are you gonna fit into your father’s jacket?”
Gabriel groaned, running a hand through the top of his wavy, slicked back, hair, the sides buzzed low to his head. “We’re the last sector out of the city. I don’t want to get caught in a riot like the last two storms. Hell, what if the PAC decide to show up? We’ve been at war with them since you were a kid at least.”
She replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. “If the Pan Asian Coalition was coming, I’d be the first to know, Gabriel.”
“When did you become psychic?”
“Your dad made lots of friends in the Air Force before he passed. They keep me up to date on what’s really going on with the war.” She squeezed his stiff shoulder. “Right now we’ve got the Russians tied up in Europe and the Chinese in the Pacific. Besides, the force they’d need to invade our mainland would be impossible to sneak past our fleets and satellites.”
“You’re probably right…”
Dropships swooped in and out of the city. Landing pads sat on city streets, on the blocks many levels, and on roof tops. Even the enormous bridges linking one hab-block to another deployed landing pads for the evacuation. The largest extraction point, their destination, sat at the center of their sector.
“Just keep a cool head and everything will work out fine.” His mother smiled.
Security tightened the closer they came to the extraction site. Guard towers and concrete walls funneled civilians into their desired paths. A heavier presence of soldiers patrolled the streets, accompanying the increased fortifications.
Gabriel caught glimpses of soldiers and tanks positioned at intersections. Speakers repeated the same dull, droning message. “Please remain calm and proceed to your designated extraction site.”
“Tanks? What?” Gabriel’s eyes darted through the crowd.
Heavy trucks pulled up to the crowd of civilians. Power-armored soldiers hopped out the back with heavy thuds as the pavement absorbed their weight. Thick, aggressively sloped plates comprised their suits, a trait shared by all western armor.
Crowds were forced to stop as heavy weapons platforms rushed past the evacuation route. A pair stopped not far from the crowd, their barrels and missile pods pointed toward the sky.
Walker suits scrambled past—ten-foot-tall walking tanks on reverse jointed legs. Civilians pushed against the soldiers blocking their advance only to be shouted down as the heavy, hasty thumps, hisses, of several walkers crossed their path.
Gabriel’s lips tightened. There had to be a couple dozen of the walking tanks.
Jet engines rumbled in the dreary skies above. The rumble grew to a low, constant, droning roar. The clouds would not reveal the source of the sound, but Gabriel had been around enough air bases growing up to recognize the mass deployment of aircraft.
A squadron of assault-class, tactical armors deployed. Enormous, sixty-foot tall humanoid tanks. Their every step shook the ground as servos and engines worked to move the massive machine. Gabriel could only stare in awe as the giants took care to step over the crowd of evacuating civilians. The squadron’s armor plating was painted in shades of olive green unlike the rest of the forces. A hasty redeployment? Their glowing red visors swept the area. Enormous, 120mm rifles were carried by the bulk of the squadron and what appeared to be backpacks. Extra equipment? Two of them were specialists. Missile pods adorned one armor’s frame while a belt-feed ran to its cannon from its pack. Another was lighter armored than the rest with what appeared to be a jetpack and a far longer, scoped rifle.
The crowd cheered at the military parade on display and cheered even louder as they were allowed to move on through when the last of the scrambling forces cleared the path.
“I don’t like this.” Gabriel turned to his mother.
Her optimistic demeanor was replaced with grim seriousness as she observed the situation in silence.
Deafening screams of jet engines shook him to the bone. Gabriel covered his ringing ears as dropships flew low above the city streets.
Loading ramps were deployed and side hatches slid open as the dropships rushed to land. Frantic shouts of soldiers filled the air as they loaded the ships to the brim with civilians.
“That’s too many,” his mother muttered, pulling up the sleeve on her coat.
Luis tugged at his brother’s arm. “What’s going on?”
Gabriel’s eyes followed his mother’s to the wristcomp on her arm, a small bracelet like device. The small screen it projected read, “Atlantic blockade breached. PAC forces moving to—”
She shot a sharp look to Gabriel. Before she could scold him, gunfire erupted in the distance.
“Watch out,” screamed a man as explosions rang out overhead.
Gabriel’s breath caught in his throat. The young girl from before and her mother stared up in shock. The crowd did not hesitate to push and shove past them.
“Run, Gabriel,” his mother shouted.
Gabriel balled his hands into a fist. “Let’s go,” he replied, but while his mother ran for extraction with Luis in her arms, he forced his way through the crowd for the girl and her mother.
The crowd trampled the girl’s mother to the ground, lost beneath a sea of people as engines screamed overhead and cannons roared. Palms grew sweaty, his heart raced. Through the crowd he glimpsed the girl clinging to her bear. Her tiny hands struggled to help her mother up. Her wailing cries for help went unnoticed in the chaos.
Every fiber of his being screamed at him to run away. His chest tightened, breaths shortened. He couldn’t leave the girl.
Flaming wreckage crashed through the city streets, cutting a bloody swath through the stampeding crowds.
His hand stretched out for the girl through the scattering crowd.
The girl turned to face the coming wreckage. Her mouth formed a cry that would never leave her lips.
The flaming husk tore through the street with such force it threw him and the crowd aside.
Darkness enveloped him in a numb daze. The weight and warmth of bodies piled atop him as hot ichor spilt over his face. He retched at the stench of blood and burned flesh swirling among fumes of burning oil and other mechanical fluids.
Gabriel’s fingers sank into open wounds with sickening, wet squelches as he pulled himself out of the pile of dead, and maimed bodies. Twisting shudders wormed their way through his stomach and throat at the disgusting sensation of ripped flesh and crimson shrapnel brushing over his fingers but he pushed it aside. He ignored the wounded begging and screaming for help, the bruises and cuts covering his battered body.
He had to save that girl.
But there was no sign of her or her mother, only what remained of her teddy bear wreathed in flames.
His heart pounded in his chest. He failed. He wasn’t fast enough to save her. He wasn’t strong enough to push through the crowds.
A lump caught in his throat. The sounds of war around him distant as he stared in horror. Carnage and burning buildings everywhere he looked. Missiles and stray fire rained debris upon the fleeing masses below.
How was he supposed to help anyone?
“Gabriel!” His mother shook him by the collar. “We have to go!”
A blank, wide-eyed stare was all he managed.
She jerked him closer. “We don’t have time for this, Gabriel. We move or we die. Pull it together.”
Gabriel swallowed with a nod. She took off for the extraction site. His body trembled with every step, haunted by the stench of death that surrounded them and soaked into his clothes.
Burning rubble and debris crushed helpless people. A man covered in blood and grime carried a woman’s lifeless body in his arms, leg dragging behind him. Cries of agony, despair and sorrow filled the streets.
But nothing was as heartbreaking to Gabriel as the sight of children begging their parents’ lifeless bodies to wake up. If only there weren’t so many. If only they had more time.
Gabriel tore his eyes from the surrounding chaos to his mother and brother. Another set of dropships took off.
She looked back to Gabriel. “We’ll catch the next one, Gabriel. Don’t panic.”
Unable to speak, he stared at her with glassy eyes.
She wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him into a tight embrace. “I mean it, Gabriel. Snap out of it. You need to be strong.”
“H-how?” His voice rasped and trembled. His mother’s embrace dug tiny rocks and chunks of metal into the back of his neck, smearing the still warm blood of countless dead over him.
Pods rained from above, heralded by the sharp whistle of air ripping over them. Each one crashed onto the pavement before all four of their doors blasted away. Groups of PAC soldiers with crimson flags on their ragtag blue-grey splotched armor poured out.
“Cover,” shouted a nearby soldier before he was cut down in a hail of fire.
Gabriel froze. His mother threw him down as she dove for cover behind the concrete dividers leading up to the extraction site. The hard pavement scraped over his body. His wounds reminded him of their existence in unison.
He could only watch as civilians huddled in fear on the ground. The few brave enough to rush the extraction site erupted in clouds of red from the crossfire overhead. Gabriel looked away, but not before the red mist drenched his face. The iron taste of blood on his lips shot a shudder down his spine.
US power-armored soldiers took to the field with large, thundering guns, but there was only a handful of them Gabriel could see compared to the steady stream of PAC drop pods crashing down. Their thick plates shrugged off much of the concentrated fire poured into them, but everything had its limits. One after another their soldiers, the only thing standing between them and a swift death, began to fall.
Chunks of concrete blasted off the barriers. More civilians panicked, getting caught in the crossfire. Yet still more pods crashed down around them.
Backup arrived with the next wave of dropships rushing in for their pickup, door guns glowing in a whirlwind of fire.
“Ride’s here, Gabriel. Go,” his mother shouted as she crawled through what remained of the crowd while Luis clung to her the entire time.
Gabriel followed, wrestling through the crowd to the dropships when the chaos of battle paused, replaced by an electric howl. Everyone, even PAC forces, froze in awe and horror.
Curiosity got the better of him. He looked up past the concrete dividers.
A brilliant beam of hot, orange light ripped through block after city block. Fortified structures glowed orange, turning hot white before melting away and crumbling. Nothing but collapsing blocks and a deep, molten scar remained in the beam’s wake. The beam sputtered and fizzled, leaving glowing particles drifting in the wind and brief arcs of crackling energy along its path.
Building winds carried the stench of slagged steel and concrete. Hints of copper mixed with an acrid stench. Gabriel could almost taste it in the back of his throat. But there was more. “Is that salt?” Gabriel sniffed at the air, ignoring the smell of death and gunpowder.
“Coastal wall breached,” the AI announced over emergency speakers.
“What?” cried a terrified civilian.
Cold ocean water flooded past Gabriel’s hands and feet.
Soldiers and civilians alike looked at each other in fear as water rushed past their ankles. The ground trembled beneath their feet and a growing crash of waves rumbled in the distance.
“Coastal wall breached.”
“Run,” shouted a soldier.
Civilians stampeded for the dropships, nearby blocks, anywhere that could provide shelter.
Gabriel forced his way past the crowd, even as the masses pushed and tossed him around. His family reached the dropship and yelled for him to board.
The earth trembled. A sinking feeling hit his stomach like a ton of bricks. He looked back in horror at the massive wave of water smashing through the ruined city, heading right for them.
Fear coursed through his veins and snapped him back to focus. He sprinted for the dropship. His mother reached out for him. A soldier pulled her inside as the doors slammed shut. The dropship took off, leaving Gabriel and the others nature’s wrath.
A solemn, trembling smile tugged at his lips. Cold waters rose past his knees. The towering wave approached with far too much speed to escape.
Gabriel shut his eyes and accepted the inevitable.
The wave swept him through the city streets like little more than a rag doll. Soldiers, civilians, debris, vehicles; it didn’t matter to the raw power of nature.
Sharp pain shot through the back of his head. Murky waters turned crimson. Salt and blood mixed in his mouth. The world faded as he was shot out to the surface. A shadow loomed over him. Thrusters rumbled above. A dropship? The shadow was too small for that and consciousness fast escaping him.
A man clad in black tore his limp body from the raging waters. His voice came distorted through the helmet. “Target secured.”