Kingdom of Falkland, 2311
Smoke and ruin surrounded them, the crackling of burning timber and the occasional crash of collapsing stonework an appropriate backdrop to the desolation of his soul at that moment. He was tired of running, the day's efforts leaving him an exhausted mess that could barely take another stop forward let alone bring his rifle to bear against the hateful invaders of his homeland. Now, sitting amongst the rows of bottles and packaged food, he waited for his pursuer to find him.
He didn't have long to wait, the heavy bootfalls echoing softly in the street just outside quite easy to hear even with his hometown slowly crumbling into ruin. A tall, dancing shadow cast by the funeral pyre of the apartment across the street fell across the entryway to the store he was in, growing shorter and shorter as the heavy treading of his pursuer came ever closer. If he had wanted — or had the energy and strength to do so — he could have blown the invader away, but instead he just watched. It was all he could do at this point.
A tall figure stepped through the entryway, and for the first time that night he had his first good look at his pursuer. Clad from head to toe in thick, body-hugging armor that looked almost as though it came from an old Pre-Fall magazine of the past, the invader stood alert and ready. In contrast to the sleek looking armor that they wore, their armament was anything but; a hulking combination of two weapons mounted one over the other in the same frame, the more conventional assault rifle with a side-mounted magazine on the bottom with a much more foreign weapon set on the top, one with a barrel wrapped in glowing coils. It was brutish, but he had seen weapons like it destroy both men and armored vehicles alike.
The invaders helmeted head snapped over to him, easily bringing the heavy weapon up in line with his head. His name was Fan Dalmedo, and at that moment he knew he was going to die.
It hadn't always been like this, though. He was once just a boy in a small coastal town, his family having for generations made use of the oceans bounty, the meat of countless species of fish and the occasional grappler-eel and spider-orca setting the table for many a household across the Islands. Hilly, windy, and wet for most of the year the Islands may have been, life was getting better every year under the rulership of King Alfred Varela II. Opportunities were plentiful and news abounded about the existence of other peoples having been made contact with on the continent.
The Union. The first time he had heard of it had been in a newspaper, back when he was just beginning to learn his letters. It was such a simple name for a people from a place so far away and so different from themselves. The capital of the Union was apparently in a place in the far north, in a city called New Flagstaff in an apparently grand canyon, which was itself in what was once the United States. In a completely different hemisphere, no less.
For centuries the people of the Falkland Islands had been isolated from the world, a world that had been burnt by radioactive fire and depopulated by the Shiva Plague. The Islands' distance from the mainland and barren nature had been what protected it from the effects of both such calamities, and during the first few years of the Fall both people and infrastructure had been moved to the Islands to create what would one day be the Kingdom that it was now. Once, they had thought themselves to be alone in the world. Not anymore.
King Varella II was an optimistic leader, and by radio had welcomed envoys from the Union to come visit his Kingdom so that a friendship based on trade and mutual understanding could be developed. The Union had been all too eager to take the King upon his offer, and promised to send both envoys and gifts to what they proclaimed to be their new friends and allies.
People had soon took to the coasts in a wave of excitement, spending their free time to watch the horizon for that of ships approaching to make landfall, to see strange new peoples and they gifts they would bring. The Union never did come in by the sea though, but instead on the buzzing metal frames of machines that cut through the air as though they were birds made by the hands of man. Such things had been thought lost to the Fall, but somehow the Union had rediscovered such things and made them their own. It should have set people on guard, but instead it just made people even more and more jubilant. In reality it was just a sign of things to come.
Just as soon as they had come, the envoys had left. It left people scratching their heads and wondering aloud about what they had even come for if they were only going to stay for a day. Those reasons were made clear when by radio King Varella II shocked the kingdom with the so-called gifts the Union had offered: that of vassalship backed up by the threat of conquest. He called upon the people to arm themselves to protect their land and their homes, to fight off any would-be invaders from taking didn't belong to them.
Previous excitement and jubilation was swept away by the white-hot rage directed toward the Union and the hope that they had both kindled in the hearts of the Kingdom and immediately quenched. It was a betrayal to the hope of peaceful co-existance with a people not of their own, their offer of friendship having been stepped upon as though it were nothing more than dirt.
The Kingdom's military was quick to mobilize for the defense of the Islands, but the Union was quicker. Again they surprised everyone by their mastery of the winds, hundreds of blossoms opening up in the evening skies above each and every city. Each blossom carried with it death, death in the guise of human form. For every parachutist that was shot down in the air, two more would make landing and kills dozens of people with weapons capable of destroying both man and machine alike.
The invaders were outnumbered and outgunned in every battle, their weapons and armor no match for the combined onslaught of armed citizenry and well-trained military discipline. Even so, every night those same blossoms opened up over the sky, and every night more and more parachutists were killed. They didn't stop coming though, and unlike the bodies of the native inhabitants that just kept piling up the invaders corpses always disappeared and faded to dust along with their equipment.
It was only by happenstance that someone had been removing the helmets of dead invaders and noticed that sometimes they would happen to see the same face every now and again. More and more people began making the same conclusions, and the terrifying truth of their attackers was made clear to them; every time they were killed, they just came back. Staunch resistance soon crumbled in the wake of this new reality, and many people ran for the hills to get away from the nightmare that plagued the city every night.
Either filled with the broken bodies of the dead or simply abandoned, the cities soon fell to the Union and their soldiers — whom the Falkland people had dubbed Immortals. The invaders weren't content with their victory though, and from the cities the nightmare spread out into the countryside. Vehicles of both military and civilian function soon came pouring out of the cities, the invaders having no need to be supplied with further Union equipment when the cities had been depopulated and their supplies were free for use.
Still, despite the fall of the major cities the Kingdom still gave fierce resistance to the enemy. Cramped city streets and alleyways were the perfect killing ground for those who feared neither death nor collateral damage, but in the open hills and fields surrounding the cities the Immortals easily fell prey to artillery and other long-range weapons. For a while the forces of the Kingdom were quite able to contain the enemy in the cities.
Their newly regained confidence was short-lived, for when the invaders removed their armor and weapons and donned civilian clothes they were able to seamlessly infiltrate the surrounding towns and hamlets that dotted the countryside. Those too began to fall as mistrust and paranoia set in, the Immortals poisoning water supplies and spreading man-made plagues and nano-swarms that decimated any real resistance.
With the cities and the areas surrounding them finally secured it was safe enough for the Union to send in its real military, hundreds of helicopters depositing soldiers and engineers to make the cities their own and turn them into production centers for a war that was already quite nearly over. With areas already conquered now being held down those who were left alive were left at the mercy of the Union, who had in but a short few months halved the Islands' population.
Fan's hometown had been one of the last bastions of armed resistance, and it appeared as though he might very well be one of the last men alive in it as well. The man's body visibly sagged as he let out a resigned sigh, the will to live flowing out of him in that one breath. There was nothing for him left now, his homeland, family, and even his King having long since perished.
The twin-barrels of the Immortal's combination weapon hung there still, the owner behind it staring at him through a visor that reflected distant firelight.
"I have been chasing you for a while, you know." The voice hardly had any emotion in it, the words more a statement of fact than of vexation at having been on the chase for several hours. A hand fell out from beneath the weapon, rising up to work at the helmet and removing it from the person's head.
It was a man alright. The Immortal had a strong, rounded jaw bearing a thin chin with a respectable looking nose set between low cheekbones, the face as a whole bearing the expression of someone who looked out at the world with distrust and probably rarely smiled. From the man's soft, peaches-and-cream complexion stared out a pair of hard, blue-grey eyes that met Fan's own brown.
"You already won," Fan ground out through gritted teeth. He was ready to die, but that didn't mean he wanted his death to drag on. "Just do it, get it over with."
The Immortal grimaced on hearing that, face turning away a few degrees almost as if he and his kind new shame.
"There has been enough killing, and I certainly do not need to add a scared teenager to tonight's tally."
Fan's eyes widened at that remark, a baleful look in his eyes as he stared at the man. He didn't think he had the words to express the words he felt at the man's callous disregard for all the people he had killed, and he didn't think he was in any position to make the man regret those words either.
The man seemed to want to talk though, his voice speaking English quite well even with its strange, foreign accent. That powerful weapon he carried didn't stray from being aimed at him though, despite it only being carried with one arm. The other was holding a helmet in the crook of the elbow.
"I have been alive before you were even a twinkle in your father's eye, alive when the Union only controlled a city and had to pay thugs and terrorists to scare towns into accepting "protection" from New Flagstaff," the man told him, tone having a somber note to it as though recalling such a time.
"I have killed more men in the last several months than I have in the past one-hundred and fifty years. Please believe me when I say that I find no joy in taking the lives of innocent men and women and children, or arriving in foreign lands to find people who have rebuilt towns and cities and then clearing them out so that the Union can add another factory to their list."
Fan didn't find it within himself to either forgive the man's crimes against his people and homeland, nor to believe that the man was over a century in years when he looked to be no more than that of thirty. Unbidden, one of his hands edged closer to the rifle beside him.
"You can kill me if you want," the Immortal said, nodding over to how far his hand was from the rifle. "I am done killing tonight, people like me are too valuable to the Union for chemical-lobotimization. Before you turn that on me though, you should know that I am currently ignoring the radio messages of five people asking for my location. If you kill me, my collar will ping each and every one of them with my location."
"You have a chance to run, run and fight another day to save those you love," the man said, donning his helmet once more.
"You already [i]killed[/i] all that I love," Fan growled out, snatching up his rifle and aiming it at the disgusting Immortal.
The invader just stood there, expression unreadable behind the helmet and his posture still holding the confidence of someone fully aware that whatever life threw at them was a learning experience.
"Do it for revenge, then," the invader said plainly, before turning their back to him and walking back out into the street.
Fan watched him go, the urge to unload the contents of the rifle's magazine creating a maddening itch in his trigger-finger that could be scratched with just the barest squeeze. He never did pull the trigger though, no matter how hard he tried, and his weapon dropped back down to clatter again the wooden floorboards.
"What's your name?" Fan called out, determined to at least know the name of the man who was willing to talk to him instead of blowing a hole through his chest.
The Immortal stopped in his tracks, turning just enough to look over his shoulder. "Why do you ask?"
"Because," Fan started, face turning into a scowl as he clenched his hands into fists, "I want to know the man that I'm going to kill someday!"
Both just stood there for a long moment, Fan's words hanging in the air like the smoke that covered the town. The Immortal just shook his head, looking away from him.
"Kiako," the invader said quietly, just loud enough for Fan to make out over the sound of ruin. "It's Kiako."
With that the foreigner departed, bootsteps lacking the clear purpose that they had earlier and now had an almost dejected feel in how they echoed throughout the streets. Fan watched as the man's dark armor blended in with the smoke around him, eyes burning from the soot and rage that he felt within him. He knew the name of the man who had killed helped destroy this town, who had killed his family and everyone else he loved.
Before his mind realized it his body was already on the move, blister covered hands scooping up his rifle and bringing the weapon up to his shoulder, cheek pressed against the stock to aim down at that faraway figure in the distance. His life was over, but that didn't mean he had to die. So long as the enemy lived, so too would he. He promised himself that much.
Another staccato of gunfire cut across the night, and it wouldn't be the last.
Union Triumphant: Men from the Sky
Kingdom of Falkland, 2311