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I've been doing a prequel story for the character of Armstrong for some time now. I did most of it on my phone, during transit, so forgive any formatting or occasional spelling/grammatical error as the phone has a weird way of changing shit, without telling me and though I proof read, I always end up missing shit.

Armstrong cover



'Armstrong' more like 'headstrong.'

Corporal Armstrong couldn't help but smile as he buried his face in his hands, rubbing up and down as he silently laughed to himself.

Here he was, outside his CO's office, awaiting a commendation. It only felt like last week that he was freezing his ass off on the side of a mountain.

So many dark mornings and long nights.

Invisible Chinamen in the Dark, pulling all kinds of crazy ninja shit.

It felt wrong, smiling after seeing Williams get cooked inside his suit as they hit a pulse field. But how could he not? He survived one hell of a skirmish and won himself the war.

It was almost inhuman, the amount of pride he felt right now.

He hobbled into his front door, seeing Baby Jax for the first time in a year. He tasted Monica's divine pasta sauce for the first time in what felt like forever, after eighteen months of shitty American rations.

When he heard that the Japanese got noodles, he was tempted to defect. Everyone wondered what the Chinese got in their rations for a while. If it was like take out, every night in their camp, the entire unit would’ve gone red.

All these thoughts on food made him wander down a long and rather delicious trail. A trail of butterflies or bowties, floating in creamy tomato sauce, with a few herbs and spices mixed in.

Man, leftover night could not come quick enough...

"Corporal Armstrong?" The receptionist asked, getting his attention and taking him back to this grey and green purgatory. He never got why waiting rooms always felt so...

Nothing.

We're they designed that way?

The Corporal Rose to his feet, trembling a little as he did so and slowly moving along on his Zimmer frame.

Fuck he felt old, with this thing.

“Grandpa Armstrong, coming through!”

-

He found himself in his CO's office. An impressively homey room, given who lived in it.

Immediately opposite the entrance was the 'bollocking couch' as Charlie used to call it. The place for asses, awaiting a good tanning.

Armstrong wasn't keen on being debriefed in this manner but what choice did he have?

He pulled himself through, being as quick as possible to mask his weakness. He stopped three feet away from Weinhaupt's desk and saluted.

"At ease Corporal." Weinhaupt grumbled, not seeming too impressed by the gesture.

“Have a seat before you fall down.”

Armstrong didn’t exactly like how unenthused Weinhaupt was but he got it, he was probably incredibly tired. Morale was low, everyone was afraid of what the Chinese would try next and some people were starting to sympathise with the communist agenda.

He took a seat on the couch and awaited Weinhaupt’s assessment on his situation, it didn’t exactly make him feel good, seeing him so withdrawn.

“I got your report back, based on what happened, out in the field and it’d seem that your injuries have had a number of impacts on your whole body. Your stamina is likely to suffer from it, in the short term and it is likely to give you pain and discomfort, affecting your performance in the field.” Weinhaupt lowered his papers down before standing up and pacing around the table, standing over Armstrong, with a concentrated glare.

“I, the Army, the Country and your unit respect what you have done for us. Your contributions towards winning Anchorage will never be forgotten but due to the price you’ve paid to attain that victory, I must inform you that you are physically unfit for combat.

We have removed you from your unit and have put you together a severance package, to help you transition to your next endeavour. I will personally, gladly, write you a reference, any time that one is needed, should you require one.”

Armstrong had stopped listening a while ago, feeling his fists clench and what used to be his soul tear open, like a piece of fabric, coming into contact with fire. What the hell awaited him, back home?

Looks of pity and contempt, rumours of cowardice or dishonesty.

He couldn’t accept this, he simply couldn’t.

To accept it was like accepting death itself.

“N-No!” He blurted, through Weinaupt’s inane ramblings, stiffening as he rose to his feet.

“I’m not done yet, I just need time!”

Weinaupt was unusually patient, during situations like this. It was clear that Armstrong was getting desperate and standing off against him now would likely result in them both regretting it.

“Time isn’t the issue, Sam.” Weinaupt pointed out, taking a step back and leaning against his desk.

“I tried to get you another position but there’s no openings for anything that you’re good at and you’re too unqualified for anything else. You’re not a medic or a sniper, you’re a damn grunt.”

“Wh-What about here? On the mainland? I can do that!” Armstrong spluttered, stepping forward, looking a lot more frail.

“I heard, on the radio, you can always use territorial soldiers!

Peace keepers and the like!

I’m physically capable of that, look at me!”

“You don’t want to do that, Corporal.

At best, it’s…” He paused, his face betrayed him and Armstrong could tell. He was thinking of something to say, from scratch.

“It’s mind numbingly dull and at worst its… basically babysitting citizens.”

“Fine, I can do that.” Sam said, seeming rather desperate and not being too afraid to show it.

“There’s nothing else for me out there, not anymore.

This is… all that I have.”

Weinaupt didn’t look convinced, if anything he looked like he was barely considering saying ‘yes’ and if he did, it wouldn’t be for anyone’s benefit but Sam’s.

“Alright, I’ll make a few calls and see what I can do. In the meantime, I suggest that you rest up and be ready, for your next inspection. I’m gonna have to inform them as to what’s going to happen next.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

At this point, Weinaupt gave the Corporal a look. A look that said ‘don’t thank me.’ In both a stern and concerned fashion.

It looked like he was going to say it as well but instead he merely said…

“Dismissed, Armstrong.”

Not wanting to test his patience further, Sam picked up his zimmer frame and began to move, towards the door. It was an odd moment, quite surreal as this was the last time that Armstrong would see Weisaupt in the flesh.

-

How long was it, since he was re-assigned to Homeland Security? A year now? It felt almost as long ago as Anchorage. Except this is more like being a conman, strutting about in his power armour, looking tough for the masses and reminding them who is in charge.

Today he had a real assignment, for the first time, in what felt like, forever. He had piled into a vertibird and been given a minigun, not really requiring much else for this job, not even support. This was a basic babysitting job for an old bag of a scientist, Dr Victoria Presper.

She, along with the rest of the eggheads, at the ‘Boulder Dome’ were concerned that the Communists wanted to take them out. Seemed like a reasonable fear to have, albeit unfounded.

It gave him an assignment and a big gun to hold, so he could hardly complain.

He had finally been re-united with his suit of T-45d Power Armour. Something that he could scarcely believe. He hadn’t stepped into one of these babies, since he lost the use of his legs to that pulse field.

Now he walked tall, for a bit, until his gimped knees started aching and he had to sit down. It usually took a while but it hit like a storm, when it did. Suddenly and aggressively. He was thankful that he was in the Power Armour Chasis, where he didn’t have to worry about such things. The suit did all of the muscle work for you, if you used it right.

That worry was lifted from his shoulders but even power armour couldn’t protect him from the weight of the communist uprising, on homeland soil. Going to China and shooting those bastards was different to having to shoot your own people.

They weren’t even soldiers, they were actually just citizens in leathers, with sticks. It felt wrong on every conceivable level to pull the trigger on them but the US Government declared them as ‘traitors’ and have branded them as enemy combatants. Should they be arrested, they either face life imprisonment or execution, depending on the state.

Their lives were over, the second they were sighted, brandishing the hammer and sickle.

He had only faced them once before and it did concern him, greatly. Monica was aware of how little he’d been eating, since he had to take down that Chinese Takeout. A family of six, holding up a whole squadron of Chinese spies.

The fucking mum came at him, with a knife! There was a click, one act of protocol, programmed into his nervous system, commanded him to turn to her and pull the trigger. He emptied a buck into her stomach, turning her torso into swiss cheese.

The little chink kid, who was forced to bear witness had a look on his face, that said it all. Armstrong was a monster, who forced his way into his home and destroyed his life. He saw his mother’s insides leave the many cracks and holes in her torso and watched her splat on the floor. He even got to witness her, instinctively try to drag herself to no real destination before dropping dead.

The worst part was that Sam said nothing, did nothing. He froze as the kid was pulled away and taken into care.

Though, then again, what can cut it? ‘I’m sorry?’

He considered paying the kid a visit but that felt like pouring salt into an open wound. He probably woke up, screaming at the thought of Armstrong’s face, every night.

To appear in the flesh before him seemed like a sick, twisted joke.

That was when he felt it, the Vert touch down. It shook, rather furiously on impact, rocking Armstrong from side to side as he put up no resistance.

“We’re here!” The Pilot called out, flicking some switches above his head as the doors opened. Even so, Armstrong didn’t move and instead built up some courage. He remembered who he was fighting for and rose to his feet. Monica, Baby Jax, they needed him to be a shield, to protect this land from these anarchistic demons of the night.

He had to make these sacrifices, so that Jax would hear the word ‘Communism’ one day and ask ‘what’s that?’

-

There she was, stood opposite the Vertibird, under a bus shelter, talking over its whirring blades.

Armstrong hung back, observing Presper from afar. Noticing how crooked and witchlike her face was. Everything about her just gave him chills. The dark of her eyes, the skeletal cyborg hand that protruded from her lab coat sleeve.

Her companion, a man in a black suit, with slicked back, jet black hair was quick to notice that Armstrong wasn't moving towards him and thus took the initiative.

"Corporal Armstrong!" He practically snapped at him.

"I will be transferring the security  of Doctor Presper to you.

You're to escort her to..."

"I got the briefing." Sam stated, seeming more than irritated.

Fucking Feds were one of the drawbacks of Homeland security.

They treated everyone like a child, except those who could maybe advance their career.

"Get her there safely Corporal, the Communist Insurgents have killed a scientist already. We suspect they've killed more, given how many didn't turn up."

These assholes were a tough bunch. They had some military grade hardware under their belts. Any Vertibird that dared to approach was shot down by artillery fire.

Command wouldn't risk another attempt, Boulder houses the greatest minds of our generation after all.

These guys would give Einstein a run for his money.

You would think they would provide more than one guy in a metal suit but times were desperate. It was either one guy in power armour or four normal dudes in combat armour. Someone did the Math and decided that Armstrong was the better chance.

He just hoped they were right.

The agent turned back and left Armstrong to it. With not so much as a 'so long', a 'kiss my ass' or anything.

His monkey was starting to shuffle to his tune, so his job was done.

Presper seemed eager to go and in truth, he shared her sentiments. Being out here wasn't good for either of them...

Despite her less than Stella looks and posture, Presper stood tall as she moved. She wasn't as high and mighty as he imagined her to be or as miserable. Perhaps the sticks were reserved for the asses of the Feds.

"I see you met Agent Rossman." She spoke, noticing his brow furrow.

"He's such a delightful man."

Armstrong found himself adjusting his head on his neck, with a satisfactory click.

"If you say so, Ma'am." He said.

"You know that he merely stared at me for the best part of an hour on the ride over here? The only thing he told me was the rules of flying as a passenger."

"Maybe he thought your MIT education didn't cover that?" Armstrong suggested, he expected it to not land but she seemed not to react.

"I told him that's how I lost my arm, with a straight face and he didn't say another word." Presper admitted, getting Armstrong to crack up a little.

Perhaps he and Presper would get along, after all.

-

As they wandered through the damaged streets, there was an eerie feeling that surrounded them.

It took a moment to take it all in. The burning car, the broken glass that scattered along the floor...

"What would make them do this?" Armstrong asked, it was practically unfathomable to him, that someone would actually betray their country like this.

Where does the thought process even begin?

"They believe in something, after being trodden on for so long." Presper answered, as if speaking from experience.

"You can believe in something, without torching a town." Sam scoffed.

"Sure, so long as you don't mind being black listed and arrested. Not everyone can afford to do that." Presper said, indifferently.

"You almost sounds sympathetic to these animals, Doc." Armstrong sounded more suspicious, than anything else.

"Understanding and sympathising are two separate things, Corporal. It is my job to think the unthinkable."

Armstrong somewhat saw the fairness in that. In truth, he expected more of it in the coming months. With the

New Plague running rampant, through out all 50 states and a fear of Communist spies had destroyed all of the great American pass times.

At that point, four leather clad men stepped out, from behind several buildings. They carried bicycle chains, pee shooter rifles and one guy was carrying a stick.

Seeing the sight of it was somewhat a surreal experience. On the one hand, he was face to face with some of the most barbaric shit he'd seen but on the other?

He was like a God in this armour, this gun could tear through leather like fire through silk. Why weren't they running!?

Armstrong opted to spin the spool of his minigun, seeing it was enough to scare anyone who hadn't seen it before.

"You ever walked down a narrow street, in the wind and hail? Because a lead version of that is coming your way, if you don't beat it!" Armstrong called, resulting in the insurgents snarling at him, laughing and chanting as they thrust their weapons forward.

Those poor fools thought they were invincible, didn't they?

"You stand tall, next to this human rights violator! Oh, the perversions of the animal spirit!" The mohawk man in the middle yelled over the whirring of the gun's engine.

"Death to Presper! Death to the evil state!" He added, sprinting straight at them, forcing Armstrong to open fire.

Around 100 5mm rounds came spewing out if the barrel, reducing the woman on the far left to mist, the slightly chubby guy next to her to a mangled torso, the mouthy one to Swiss cheese and the fourth guy, with the stick to a pulp that nobody would recognize as human.

The gun wound down and smoke slowly emerged from its piping hot barrel. Armstrong had seen this before but never to a civilian.

"God damnit..." Armstrong sighed, his voice trembling and betraying his otherwise calm demeanour.

"Why didn't they run?"

Presper stepped forward, readying her plasma pistol.

"I expect there will be more of them and they will be less obvious about it from here on out." She suggested, though Armstrong didn't like this fact, it still was a fact and it wasn't going to bend itself around his feelings.

"Somehow, I know you're right. Though I hope neither of us are."

"The last time I heard that was when the war broke out." Presper said, seeming indifferent about the pasted corpses.

"Though I would entertain being wrong."

-

Presper found herself leading. It annoyed her, almost as much as Armstrong, due to him needing to lead as protocol or be side by side.

She understood it but she wished to be free to do as she pleased, it was a dilemma that most people, who rarely heard the word ‘no’ suffered. Not that she despised to be challenged, in fact, it was preferable. It was far more interesting to her than blind obedience, which was something that few people understood.

Most people treated her like a time bomb, just waiting to blow up. If she was so much as brushed by an arm or dropped her pencil, everyone fussed over her and assured her that everything was alright. She didn’t get it, not one bit. It made no sense to her as she had never raised her voice or expressed a single emotion in her life, that was deemed unacceptable and yet, everyone thought that she was one bump or scrape away from shattering into a million pieces or shooting up the place.

People were beyond weird…

You’d think that, by now, people would understand her neurological differences. Especially in the scientific community…

But, no, it was like she had cerebral palsy or brittle bones disease.

In truth, being with these large military guys was a step up. They treated her like anyone else, which was refreshing. They were also a lot more interesting, emotionally and socially.

Her train of thought was derailed by a small detail, a detail so brief that she almost chalked it up to a trick of the senses or a moment of madness. She was prone to either but no, not this time.

“Corporal?” Presper said, pointing to the doorway, where she saw the flicker of a shadow.

“In there.” She mouthed, pointing her fucking creepy robotic hand at it.

Armstrong wondered what was up with it, it was difficult not to ask but a lot of cyborgs were sensitive about it. They didn’t want to be judged as ‘less than human.’

Political sensitivities aside, her creepy robot hand was pointing to the doorway of a blown-out barber’s shop. His spool started to spin as he got ready for an ambush or to riddle the place with bullets, however, he was surprise to notice that the attack didn’t come from inside or outside but from above.

A shadow cast over him and the second that he looked up, he got a brief glimpse at the Silhouette in the air above him before a full body landed on his head. He stumbled back, losing his balance completely and falling to the floor. It wasn’t easy to lose your balance in power armour but given that his head had no protection, he was glad he wasn’t in a position to resist or else he might have broken his neck.

Presper was on it, in seconds, lifting her plasma pistol and taking aim. Though she had a split second to do anything before her gun was shot out of her hand and skid across the ground.

She was thankful that she was holding it with her cybernetic arm and not the other as a human arm could've been damaged or lost entirely.

Realising she was in someone's line of sight, she threw herself down, to the ground, hiding behind a wrecked vehicle.

It was then that she saw a clear shot. Ten feet away was a male assailant in denims, who Armstrong had caught in his hands and had successfully broken the neck of.

The Power Armoured Soldier rolled onto his front, slowly pulling himself back up. The damage done was minimal, though he was a little shaken by the ordeal. He was fortunate enough to be wearing Power Armour or else the impact from that pouncing would have surely have broken something.

It was at this point that Presper drew the mirror from her lab coat and held it up. She could see the one, who had shot her gun from her hand, who was seemingly aiming for Armstrong's head.

It baffled her why they dolled him up to leave such an obvious weak spot. Perhaps it was about visibility?

Armstrong was quick to counter by raising his hands in front of his face and running straight for the insurgent. He felt the bullets hit him, one by one, like spots of rain on a mac.

It was a pretty sweet feeling. Taking a whole clip of a small arm to the chest and shrugging it off.

It was like being a somewhat fragile God.

As he reached the Insurgent, he drew his laser pistol and fired a fiery hot laser between their eyes. It burned a hole right through their head, leaving them a charred crater, with a molten glow around the rim, where their eyes and nose bridge once stood.

As Presper observed him fall, she noticed something shimmer beside her, prompting her to draw the zip gun from her back pocket and twist to meet them.

Holding out her sparking palm, she sent a jolt of electricity through the body of her assailant, sending them straight to the floor, in a stunned state and allowing her to take a shot at her head.

"Nice moves." Armstrong commented, scooping the large Gatling gun off of the ground.

"I didn't think a scientist would have use for a taser."

"I'm not supposed to have it." She admitted, holstering her pistols.

"But when my life was threatened, I figured I had best prepare. I was going to put a pistol in the index finger but there was no way to make it work on my model."

"Well, good job, regardless." Armstrong shrugged, heaving as he rested the large weapon in his hands.

"Let's get out of here before more show up."

He could see some movement, nothing worth reacting to. They were like rats, scattering before they were fully seen.

His armour illuminated the path ahead as they cut through an alleyway. They technically weren't supposed to but what the hell did it matter? Just a bit more to go before the road, straight up to Boulder.

The alley wasn't exactly inviting. If anything it was so devoid of anything that it was unsettling to look at. It was like boredom for the eyes.

Sam found himself looking up, expecting something to appear. To his surprise, it actually did. A lanky, leather clad, greasy haired insurgent peered over, pipe bomb tightly gripped in his hand.

Sam quickly drew his laser pistol and shot as the pipe bomb went off. It did some surface damage to the dilapidated roof and blew the insurgent away.

"Fucking moron! Open fire!" Another insurgent yelled, tossing down pipe bombs, like a shower. Armstrong and his companion readied their weapons and fired, detonating the explosives in mid-air. All six went off, like fireworks of little imagination. Each explosion hit the walls, causing both buildings to tremble.

Acting almost out of instinct, Armstrong saw that the rooftops were falling apart and promptly grabbed Presper, pulling her into an embrace and letting the debris hit his power armour’s outer casing, rather than her. He shielded her with his body and shielded his head, with his free hand as huge chunks of concrete dropped from above, hitting him with a loud metallic thud.

It was like hail stone, literal hail stone. With each piece of debris growing stronger, until it finally subsided and was little but dust and granite, trickling onto opening hatch.

At that point, the Insurgents grew desperate and tossed down a pipebomb, hoping to finish them off. The prospect of this was somewhat terrifying to the both of them as Presper would be vulnerable to the explosion. As a result, Armstrong scooped his charge up and fled, down the alleyway, passing the grey deathstick on the way. His lumbering, metallic feet hit the ground, repeatedly, not a single thought as to where he’d be going with Presper just that he needed to get away.

The detonation was slightly later than anticipated, almost as if seconds were longer in the heat of the moment.

As the shrapnel and debris flew overhead, Armstrong found himself a little shaken. After all, how does one suitably prepare for a blast, like that?

‘Preparing for impact’ was something he never got. How do you prepare for an Earth-shattering explosion, less than a stone's throw from your ears?

It was hard to brace for an explosion that shook you from the inside. He felt like everything came loose and was slapped back together again. It was not an easy thing to come to terms with, not in the slightest.

The alleyway behind them continued to rain debris. Armstrong wondered if the structural integrity of the two buildings on either side of the alleyway was at stake. It seemed very likely.

Regardless, they were through and it was now open roads to Boulder. He just hoped that it would be as picturesque as he imagined or else they would be in trouble, out in the open.

-

The rest of their journey was mercifully uneventful. The worst of the Insurgents were behind him and the Dome grew ever closer.

"You know..." Presper began.

"This wasn't as bad as I expected. To be escorted by someone human for a change, instead of my usual stuffy agents.

"Well, the military is a more human organization." He figured that was fair, given that the Feds pride themselves on their inhuman appearance.

Some civies conspired that they were lizard people in disguise. If only they knew how they were up close.

"You make insults sound like compliments." Presper smirked, folding her metallic arm in.

"I like it."

"No insult implied at all, ma'am. The evil have an excellent work ethic."

"Oh, I know." Presper nodded in agreement. She sounded as if she was speaking from experience.

As she spoke, she found herself in the shadow of the Boulder Dome.

"This is where we part ways." She said, offering him her hand.

"It's been an honor Steve."

"Sam." Armstrong countered as he shook her hand.

"Likewise."

"Oh. When I saw your initial was 'S' I assumed you were named after the wrestler. Your parents missed some potential there."

"They were a bit too prudish for that." Armstrong shrugged as he released from the shake.

"Tithonous." She said, casually.

"Hmm?" Armstrong asked, somewhat baffles.

"Just a word for you to give to your CO..."

Armstrong paused, thinking on it as she spoke.

"Tithonous?"

-

Armstrong's CEO recoiled as he heard that. It was clearly the last thing he expected to hear out of his mouth.

He Rose to his feet and shut the door, swivelling back around, on his heel and staring Armstrong down.

"I barely have the clearance to know about that. Who the fuck told you!?"

"Presper. It was the last thing she said to me, told me to repeat it to you."

"Fucking crazy woman! You haven't been screened. We don't even know if your loyalty can be relied on."

"My loyalty? I haven't once questioned an order or wavered at all in my entire career!"

"It isn't about that! It's about corruptibility and dedication to the cause. I've turned down so many, under the suspicion that they could compromise the entire operation and this Presper bitch can just pick folk, Willy nilly?"

"Hold on, I wasn't asking to be signed up, I just..."

"You have to sign up! You're a liability, if you don't. We will have to take you to the facility or else it will compromise the entire operation."

Sam hadn't felt this way before, it was like a hollowness, that rendered him completely immovable. What had Presper gotten him into? What had he just said? Was he under arrest?

As his thought rattled in his head, unable to complete each other, Armstrong found himself in shock as the two armed guards stepped into the doorway.

"Sam, you are to be escorted to a motorcade, heading to Boulder. From there, you will be briefed and will undertake any and all instructions assigned to you.

Only then can you be discharged."

-

At the point that the project was revealed, it started to make sense. The secrecy, Presper's betrayal...

She wanted him frozen at this facility. Why was still unclear but somehow, he got the feeling that it was more than some sick joke.

The old witch made an offhand comment about the war and how she saw it coming. It made him wonder what else she knew... Was something worse coming?

The presentation revolved around the idea that an extinction event was coming. Nuclear Holocaust was no longer a concept best saved for idle fantasies. It was reality.

Monica was at home, blissfully unaware of what was happening. How could anyone but Presper know this?

He would have to warn them, he'd have to get to a phone and warn them. They had savings, she could get into a Vault if she wanted to. Just $9,999 right? They could afford that!

His skin began to crawl, he almost felt like breaking ranks but he hadn't lost his senses. He knew that any attempt to do so would get him shot.

Surely they'd let him call home. Given how abrupt his signing on was, he never got a chance to tell her.

Wait, did anyone? Was he remotely a special case? Would they just tell her that he's MIA? Hell, they might even say he's KIA.

He didn't listen to a word of the briefing, it sounded like a load of delusional bullshit. Ideas of China trying to take over their nuked country.

How long would it take to get it into the thick skulls of people on either side of this never-ending nightmare that none of it mattered? Why did every generation have to live in fear that their leaders would kill them?

"Go forth and take pride in being the team that'll keep America's heart beating!" The Schmuck at the front declared. He didn't know who he was or give a shit. He just wanted an out!

Everyone began to March out, single file.  He tried to get the attention of a standing officer, however, the few words he could get out were insufficient to get his point across. He was quickly shoved away by an armed guard, who just gestured towards the corridor ahead.

This was one of those nightmares. The kind that has you wake up in a sweat, gasping for air, from drowning in fear.

This wasn't human, it wasn't natural or in anyway real.

The regiment entered the room, finding themselves standing over a dozen open cryo pods. Finding himself at a standstill, Armstrong could do little more than watch the others climb in, as if getting into bed.

"There a problem, corporal?" One of the guards asked, stepping up. It didn't sound like the kind of question that had more than one answer.

"My wife doesn't know! I didn't get to tell her or-"

At that point, he felt the firm grip of the guards around his arm.

"Can't risk any external communication. You'll just have to tell her, in three months."

"The world will have ended by then! Just let me-"

At that point, he felt a sharp blow to the back of the head. Little pain but more disorientation as his consciousness was ripped away.

-

After leaving the old world behind him, Armstrong didn't exactly expect to wake up again. He awoke to the darkness of a sarcophagus, with the faint image of a human in the other side.

"H-Hey! Let me out!" Armstrong gasped, almost instinctively as his arms lightly thumped the glass lid.

He realizes at that moment; how weak he was. His arms barely moved on command and his impact barely made a sound.

Everything was so stiff and weak, like rigor mortis and he could feel himself shivering uncontrollably.

All he could do was stare through the frosted glass at his would-be rescuer. Assuming that they got in with it.

As he began to pay attention, he noticed how wrong it all looked. It was dark, dirty, a few of the beams looked twisted or flat out broken.

"Open this thing!" He called out, raising his foot and kicking the roof.  He began to wonder if getting was trapped or the thing had malfunctioned at some point.

How long had it been?

At that point, he heard the hiss of the hinges, slowly opening up the pod. He decided to speed up the process by sitting up, suddenly, trying to force it up with his hands but found that his hips moved faster than them. He winced on impact as he hit his head on the casket lid, gasping frantically as he climbed out.

He immediately noticed that his vision was dark and that his reviver was now standing over him, pushing him down with both hands.

"Sam, you're concussed! I need you to lie back down."

"Get out of my way!" He growled, shoving the figure aside. He was almost blind at this point; his legs didn't move properly and he was being driven by pure instinct.

He wasn't sure how far he got as the world faded in and out but one thing was certain, he had to get out and find them. Monica, Jax… maybe they were at her parent’s?  He struggled to walk in a straight line and eventually collapsed to his knees, crumpling into a small heap on the floor.

“I can take you to them.” Presper said, her voice echoing inside his head.

“Though not in this state. I need you to do exactly as I say.” Her last words echoed inside him and dissolved, like water.

Blindness doesn’t exactly feel temporary, when concussed. Your lack of reasoning ability is trapped in the hear and now and the here and now was just darkness, confusion and pain. He just hoped that it would pass soon…

-

Some time passed as Presper dealt with his injuries, his cryo sickness and his concussion. The entire time, he could feel his hands twitching as if he wanted to just break free and go looking. His family were gone and all he had was some doctor, he barely knew.

“How long?” He asked, somewhat weakly, prompting Presper to place her human hand on his forehead.

“A day or two, at most.”

“Doc… Tell me. What happened? What did you do?”

“Do?” Presper asked, wringing off a damp cloth and applying it to his forehead.

“I did nothing. All I did was save us from what the Governments of the two biggest power houses on the planet, did to themselves and anyone unfortunate enough to be associated with them. I reckon that around 22% of the world’s population was destroyed?

That’s just assuming that only the USA and China were nuked to oblivion, which given how many countries backed them? I have no idea…

All that I do know is that the war is over and everyone lost.”

“N-Nuked? The doomsday event happened!? What about my wife? My Son!?”

“Well, I doubt they got into a Vault of their own volition. Even if they did, that was… Well, nearly two hundred years ago, Sam.”

“Two…” Armstrong found himself pausing, feeling incredibly hollow.

Was this some sort of experiment or joke? What the fuck did she mean? Two hundred years, since the world was destroyed and vaporized his wife and kid? If she knew this would be the outcome, why the fuck didn’t she do something? Why did she make him survive!?

“You, can’t have… We can’t have survived that! You’re fucking with me!”

“I assure you, Corporal, I’m not testing you on any level. I have laid reality out bare for you.”

“Reality!? This is a fucking nightmare! You’ve dragged me into it as well, tricked me into being forced to survive! Why!?”

“Why did you give your Commanding Officer that code phrase? It’s because you had ambition, Sam. I knew that you couldn’t resist, thinking that you’d be assigned to something that got you back into the field. I knew that they couldn’t let you leave, knowing that name. I knew that they would have to put you on Ice, to shut you up. I mean, it only made sense. Between killing you and putting you on ice, the latter was less of a conspiracy waiting to happen.

I knew that they would have to do that as they didn’t have time to detain you properly, not without having you risk communication, with the outside world. I knew that if I gave them two false alarms, telling them that my best three predictions should be treated as the real thing, that after the first one, their standards would lax.

Unlike the President and Emperor, playing their pathetic checkers game, aboard the HMS Titanic, I was in the background, loading up the life boats.

I needed soldiers, a way to preserve myself, a facility and B.O.M.B. 001 and I was ready to lead the new world. All I needed was a man of sense, a good combatant, loyal to his cause but not liking the path that it was going down. A man of ambition, who could see himself being the general of the revived United States army.”

“I… General? Are you out of your fucking mind, lady!? There’s only us two left!”

“No… Sam, all of the reserves survived. All those put in cryogenic stasis were saved and when I decide to wake them, you will lead them all, into the new world.”

“What… What about the scientists?”

“Same… Though I will lead them and I’ll decide, when I want to wake them. In truth, I’m not sure I will never need them. Though, we’ll see.

For now, I owe you a promise of taking you to your family. I needed you to be prepared for what you were to witness as it’s impossible that they’re still alive out there.”

“Well… So long as I know, I… guess I can’t ask for much, anymore.”

“This is a beginning for us both, Sam. I know you’ve lost everything but now you can’t lose any more and you can find a new home here.”

“You talk about my entire life, as if it’s all transitory. As if it’s all replaceable. My wife and son aren’t trinkets, Doctor. You ripped them from my arms and threw me into a dead world and the only reason, that I even entertain your ideals right now is that I have literally no one or nothing else.”

“That’s all I ask.” Presper shrugged, adjusting her glasses.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make.” She admitted, she was telling the truth in this as she found herself torn between Armstrong and several others but found him to be the most skilled and malleable. Despite being a soldier, conflict wasn’t really in Armstrong’s nature as his psyche profile informed her.

He didn’t really have the energy to hate others or get into arguments or hold grudges and would usually return to a docile state, if given the space and time to do so.

“Somehow I doubt that you’ve lost any sleep over this.” Armstrong shrugged, leaning back in his chair.

“I want to get out of here, first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Good, tonight you can sleep in the director’s quarters. I have no use for it.” Presper shrugged, deciding that it would make a suitable gilded cage for the boy.

“Thanks.” Sam sighed, rising to his feet and looking a lot better. He’d probably need to be kept under observation or the closest thing that Presper could give him but he’d otherwise be fine.

Well, physically.

-

It didn’t quite hit Sam until he saw his house or what was left of it. That everything he knew or was familiar with was scorched off the face of the earth, centuries ago and now that he stood before the wreckage of his garden fence, the white painted picket now chipped and gnarled, he found himself truly at a loss.

The once lush green lawn was now a black, wrinkled bristle, not one shard of glass remained in his windows and he didn’t even know where his mail box went.

Armstrong knocked his shattered gate aside and forced his way into his old home, the door didn’t put up much resistance as its top hinge had long since been hit with the force of an atomic bomb. The Corporal was tempted to call out for Monica as he bound upstairs, though the splintered remains of each step brought reality back to him. His Monica was about as alive as Emmeline Pankhurst would’ve been in his.

He was looking for a corpse or at best, a ghost.

His room was opposite the stairway, when he was in a hurry, he could just swivel on his heal and charge in as he did on occasion. Usually when he realised that his socks didn’t match or he’d forgotten his damn watch again.

He managed to force his way inside and was immediately greeted with all of the answers he sawt. It came to him in the form of two charred skeletons, one was merely a fifth of the other’s size, lay on the dark pink, flowery quilt that once protected them from the cold.

Monica’s flowery dress was torn to shreds and badly burned but he could see some of the purple fabric in the spots where the fire or perhaps just the atmosphere over time, couldn’t reach.

Armstrong found himself unable to move as he took the sight in, trying to piece together, what the scene was like as the end came for them. Whether or not they panicked or were at peace. From the looks of things, they had just lay back and accepted it.

Sam approached the remains, examining them to see if they were holding anything or had anything on their person. As it so happened, she was holding what looked like a blank piece of paper, though Sam knew what it was, quite quickly. He could tell as the photo frame, next to their bedside table was on the floor, smashed and photo of Mother’s Day was removed.

It was taken in this bed, with a tray with a badly cooked breakfast and a tall glass of orange juice. Monica was beaming, despite the bed head and pillow lines. It was an expression that Sam rarely got to see of her, just pure, unadulterated joy.

That was the closest thing she had to a husband in the end. The closest thing Jax had to a father. It ached to wonder what they thought of him, during that time. What they thought was going on…

It didn’t matter now; whatever brains had made those thoughts had long since rotted out of their skulls. The only thing he could do now was to give them a funeral, that was due to them one hundred and seventy-five years ago.

-

Sam continued to dig up the dirt, on his lawn, humming the only hymn that he knew, that wasn’t military related. At least he thought it was a hymn. What does it matter? It’s not like there are any priests left, to scold him.

“What’re they doing in heaven today?” He lightly hummed to himself, tossing some more dirt over his shoulder.

“Where sin and sorrow are all done away?

Peace abounds like a river, they say.”

Sam paused, looking over to the skeletal remains of his loved ones, wrapped up in the quilt that they clung to in their final moments. He took a breath and approached them, kneeling down and taking them by the feet as he tugged them forward, side stepping around the grave and gently lowering them in.

“What’re they doing there now?” He whispered, slowly removing his dog tags from his neck and holding them over the hole, feeling them slowly slip out of his hands.

“Don’t.” Presper said, prompting him to look up and see her, stood at the foot of their graves. She resembled a spectre of what remained uncertain, all he did know was that she still chilled him to the core. Not in the juvenile way that she initially did either.

“You still have a job to do. You still have a country to fight for and a war to win.”

Armstrong paused and continued to stair at the tags, sighing heavily as he slowly draped them over his shoulders.

She was right of course and the sad reality was that that was the only thing that he could be certain of now. The rest of the world was just a question mark.

Regardless, he’d be responsible for a world, where no man would ever have to bury his family again.

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