EGO’s voice echoed in Fila Enforcer Zidain Marvaks’ mind, “Vigilance.”

He checked his HUD in response to the warning, watching as red target indicators began to appear around him and

EGO’s voice echoed in Fila Enforcer Zidain Marvaks’ mind, “Vigilance.”

He checked his HUD in response to the warning, watching as red target indicators began to appear around him and his comrades on the threat screen. Even if he couldn’t yet see the hostiles among the darkness and the debris of the partially collapsed parking garage, nothing in the former downtown Monterey building could conceal them from EGO’s sensors.

“Hostile contacts, number uncertain,” she warned.

A flicker of light warping around a shadow caught Zidain’s eye. Levelling his weapon, he let rip with an extended burst of fire, his suspicions confirmed as the Castithan sniper’s cloak was torn apart under the onslaught of blue particle bolts. He didn’t let up.

The sniper’s shields flashed as they struggled to stave off the incoming fire and, after another half-second of sustained fire, buckled and collapsed. The former Dark Matter sniper fell, flesh burnt and smoking from a half-dozen holes.

“NVF Sniper!” Zidain shouted through his EGO link.

The other Ekaru Kome commandos indicated they were ready for combat.

Then all hell broke loose.

The broken concrete around them lit up as dozens of particle weapons discharged in rapid succession, bolts criss-crossing, transforming the room into a lethal grid. Flashes of blue light illuminated figures in dark armor, even as deflected and errant shots ripped through the rusted hulks of long abandoned cars and tore into concrete pillars, filling the air with smoke and dust.


Zidain took cover behind a rusted-out, four-door coupe.

“Five enemy casualties, three friendly. We have the advantage,” EGO reported.

He nodded at the tactical assessment, the news appeasing his Irathient sensibilities, and transmitted it to the remaining half-dozen Enforcers in his squad. Unanimously, they agreed to press the assault.

“Hook around! Don’t let them escape!” he ordered, knowing that every wasted second was a chance for tides of battle to turn against them. The former Dark Matter soldiers that made up the Neo Votanis Front were every bit as well-trained and well-equipped as he and the rest of the Ekaru Kome serving under Captain Enar. Timing would determine the victor here.

Zidain took the report of particle repeaters as his cue. Rolling out from behind the mangled vehicle, he unhooked and primed a pair of grenades with practiced ease, releasing them the moment EGO locked the trajectory and approved the throw.

It might have just been a classic encirclement strategy, but it was about to pay off big.

Something clattered off the asphalt near his feet. A grenade. He was already moving as EGO provided the too-late warning that the weapon had been lobbed in his direction, diving for whatever cover the rubble could provide.

The grenade detonated, tearing the shields off him like they were made of paper, white hot pain blinding him as the force of the explosion threw him into something solid.

The world swam as EGO’s mental warnings drowned out the ringing in his ears, warning him that shields were down and his biometrics were critical. “No shtako,” he muttered, struggling to reorient himself.


Zildain tried to get to his feet, but fell, the pain intensifying alongside EGO’s warnings. The car he’d been beside was collapsing, disintegrating into a cloud of noxious, yellow-green vapor, and, after a moment, he realized his armor was doing the same.

And his flesh.

He watched in horror as his arm shriveled away, breaking apart like charred wood. Then his leg. Through the pain, he could feel it, the tiny teeth gnawing away inside him, the sensation of the Shrill larvae gorging themselves by hollowing him out.

He couldn’t hear EGO anymore. He couldn’t even hear his own screams. The only thing he could hear was the wet, sickly chewing of the larvae inside him.

Zidain Marvak shuddered and twitched in agony as booted feet surrounded him. “Kill me…” he tried to beg, his hand crumbling even as he reached out towards the faceless NVF commandos who watched him silently.

One lifted his rifle to grant Zidain’s request, but a Monitor put his hand out to stop the mercy of a particle bolt.

“We need this data point. Meng wants a full report of the field test results.”

Kneeling, the NVF Monitor cocked his head.

Zidain couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move.

“There’s nothing to fear anymore, brother…”

He couldn’t even think.

“Now, we are one.”


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