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Decipio Umbra: Chapter One, Part One
Posted By: Archangel 7<arch.angel_7@yahoo.com>
Date: 29 December 2006, 3:14 am

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      A thunderous explosion rocked the ground beneath him. His eyelids instinctively parted, revealing the bright afternoon sun hanging helplessly in the sky above. He winced and turned away, struggling to overcome the sudden onset of delirium swelling within him. He could hear voices surrounding him. His ears could not discern the nuances of their speech, but he knew that he could hear voices, the voices of men screaming and crying in pain. Behind them, he could hear the clatter of gunfire and the distant beat of artillery, distorted by his current state. He opened his eyes again, finding his pupils adjusting to the penetrating white light.
      Reality returned with a sickening jolt. His hearing came with an unforgiving crack, sending sharp bolts of pain coursing through his inner ear. He clasped both hands to the sides of his skull and jolted upright. The first sight he caught between the ribbons of smoke around him seemed to be the charred ruins of a veranda, just like–
      Just like the one in front of his old house.
      He turned in place to see an angular two-story dwelling dominating a square of burning grass and scorched concrete. An entire side of the structure was demolished, leaving only the skeletal framework to bare against the world. Burn marks and patches of flame pockmarked the inner walls. Smoke, like a swarm of locusts, erupted from the interior and swelled around him. All sound suddenly dropped, seemingly helpless against the cloud engulfing him.
      Out of the whirlwind of smoke stepped a large, dark figure. It towered above him, its presence both contemplating and malicious. The blue-black plating that covered its body glistened in the circle of light still glowing overhead. Slowly, the figure reached a nebulous hand toward him, and his head suddenly flooded with memories, memories of blood, memories of his parents, memories of that singular, destructive force–



      First Lieutenant Arnold Johnson's mind reeled back to earth. He found himself sitting before a large wooden desk with his head resting in the moist pads of his palms. He snapped his face up to meet eyes with Lieutenant Colonel Jason Smith, whose angular face stared at him from across the cluttered cherry-oak slab with a stern, yet concerned expression.
      "I-I didn't hear you enter, sir," said Johnson.
      "No apology needed," replied Smith, waving down Johnson's salute. "This place looks like hell," he commented as he pulled up a chair from across the room.
      "Not to be frank, sir, but you didn't give me a hell of a lot of time to cozy up the place."
      "Still the little hothead, eh, Johnson?" remarked Smith, with a grimace. He sat down, removing his uniform cap to reveal his silvering hair and a line of gnarled scars running across his forehead.
      "It's a lot better than being a pissant, you have to admit." Smith scoffed at the reply. "What business brings you to my office?"
      "I have some news for you, Johnson."
      "Some damn good news, I hope." Arnold began to gather the belongings on his desk and arrange them into some semblance of order.
      "Yes, well, you may think of this as bad news, but your company has been rejected the assignment to Vindicaire."
      "I'm crushed. Any idea why?"
      "Well, that would be mostly due to my intervention." The rustle of Johnson's hands rearranging his belongings ceased.
      "Your intervention, sir?"
      "Yes." Smith repositioned his legs. "I withdrew your application for the reassignment yesterday. It seems that a more…intriguing opportunity for Charlie company has arisen."
      "Do tell," Johnson replied.
      "Well, NavSpecWep is cooking something up. I was approached by a representative of theirs about a week ago offering me this assignment. I can't get into the specifics, but they're developing something, something big. It's not like…well, any damned thing I've seen before."

      Johnson hesitated. His instinct told him to approach this situation with caution. Being one who survived several near-impossible incidents with only his rifle and his intuition, he was not one to take the warning lightly. NavSpecWep held close ties to the Office of Naval Intelligence, enough so that the mere mention of the department would spark a sense of wariness in even the most serene. "Tell me, sir, what exactly are they planning for the Archangels?"

      "Consider it a, um, proof of concept project. You're going to be subjected to a series of tests, evaluate a line of new equipment and –"
      "You're taking our men away from active duty…to be glorified guinea pigs?"
       A grim look crossed Smith's reddening face. "No, Johnson. You know I wouldn't have given you this opportunity unless I felt it was damned important." Smith said no more. Nor did he need to.

      "It's settled then."
      "Good. We'll speak more on this tomorrow."