It all started with the Traveler. That's what they called him, anyway. A lot of us are former marines who were recruited for something called Operation Makaria - a real hush-hush type of business, with the kind of orders you don't know until it's too late to say no. We were being dropped on the Algerian coast, and our objective was to secure the body of a ranking AQIM member before any hajji in the area found him first. His convoy had allegedly been hit, and he was carrying documents on him that would tip us off on an upcoming attack.
The insertion was rough, thanks to the wind carrying us into some rocky terrain, but all six of us made it down over the drop point intact, and got our bearings on the GPS. It was the kind of twilight where there's barely a sliver of light in the sky - just a dark, blue glow flooding over the black. It was storming out, the wind and rain lashing against us with a kind of fury I never seen before, to the point that it felt like wading straight through a hurricane, and carrying sixty pounds of gear on my back didn't help. Mother nature had our number, and I'm still convinced to this day that something was fucking with the weather.
Our optics could see through the dark just fine, but our pace was downright glacial. It was freezing, too. It was winter at the time, but the storm let you really feel it, and shivering in the cold is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you hear you're being deployed to Africa. That's the downside of growing up through Arizona summers all your life - you don't get used to the other side of the spectrum.
The terrain was not our friend, and the cliffs at the higher elevation were dangerous in our conditions, so we had to take a route through a canyon that would put us about one klick off from our destination. The upside was that it shielded us from the worst of the wind, but it was still the only thing you could hear, the date palms whipping around so hard overhead I almost thought they would snap. Our coms guy, Barry, was sent the coordinates of our extraction point, and apparently, the body was coming with us, provided we could actually find the thing. Some part of me wondered why they wanted the body so bad, but the military isn't exactly the place for asking questions, so I kept it to myself. I could tell I wasn't alone, though. The others started getting nervous, and it wasn't just the objective. Something in the air wasn't right, out there, and you could taste it. I don't know how to describe it, exactly, but all I could think of was being a little kid again and sticking my tongue on a nine volt battery.
We got out of the canyon, and started moving alongside the rock face, layers of sediment jutting out around us as the wind started to pick up again. Lightning flashed through the sky, and I started to notice distortion in my night vision, like the warping effect you get when you hold a magnet too close to a screen. Thermal was the same, until eventually, it failed entirely. It was the same with the others, and Barry was having trouble with his equipment, like something was interfering with our gear. We took off our optics and continued on through the dark, while Vasquez, one of the other riflemen, took point with a flashlight to conceal our numbers. We were nervous about him being spotted by patrols, but the twilight was history, and save for the occasional flash of lightning, it was pitch black out there.
The terrain started to dip, and Barry let us know we were getting close to one of the main roads, and more importantly, our objective. Cue my relief. I was soaking wet and freezing cold, and couldn't wait to be done, though we'd still have to drag a body for half a kilometer.
"Huh," said Barry. "That's weird." We turned to him.
"What's weird?" I asked.
"This guy was part of a convoy, but the coordinates of the body are way off the road."
"Probably crawled out there and died," said Jefferies, our sergeant. "Keep moving."
We took cover behind the palms as best we could as we made our way down into an open valley, our goal on the other side of a rock formation up ahead. My legs burning with exhaustion, we turned the corner, keeping low behind the sparse bushes as Vasquez went ahead. That was when we realized that our op had nothing to do with AQIM. The light illuminated the severed half of a man in what I could only describe as power armor, black, angular plating covering every inch of his skin, and sliced clean across the midsection with his bleeding intestines hanging out in the rain. It was like he had been cut in two by a surgical laser, but his lower half was nowhere in sight.
"What the fuck," muttered one of the riflemen, the rest of us leaving our cover for a better visual.
"Looks like a god damn space marine," said Barry.
"We've got prints," said Vasquez. I followed his eyes to the massive footprints embedded in the mud nearby, trailing off toward the main road - in the same direction as our extraction point. The ground around the body crunched beneath my boots, scorched black and glistening in the light, like it had been dusted with shards of obsidian. Jefferies ordered Barry and another to carry the body, and they lifted it up.
"Fuck, this guy weighs a ton," said Barry. From the looks of it, it wasn't just the armor. Even if it was only half of him, the man's body was more than twice the size of a normal human's.
"Let's get out of here," said Jefferies, the wind and rain lashing against his face mask. "There's something up with this place, and I don't like it."
The rest of us followed behind Vasquez, the trail of footprints continuing beneath us as we moved through the storm. Ahead, a light flickered in the darkness, quickly revealed to be the remains of a hajji patrol stricken across the muddy road, the final remnants of the fires burning out in the rain. The jeep looked like it had been sheared in two, the viscera of several men and their discarded rifles splattered across the ground, gaping, charred holes faintly glowing in their mangled bodies, like something had blown straight through them. I couldn't see any casings on the ground. Those guys didn't even get a shot off.
"They get hit by RPG fire?" asked one of the riflemen. Jefferies shook his head.
"I think we all know this is a little above our paygrade," he said. "Keep it going. Stay tight, and eyes open. This couldn't have happened more than half an hour ago."
We continued past the sinking road, and moved down into a dark mountain pass, dirty rainwater spilling over the cliffs above and the rocks at our sides. Thunder rolled through the sky, and we paused to wait for Barry and the rifleman to catch up, the weight of the body clearly wearing on them.
"Equipment's starting to work again," said Barry, panting and out of breath. "It's that place - where we found this guy. Something ain't right with it." That was when I noticed that I could only faintly taste the electrical sourness on my tongue, like it was fading away the further we went - but something was still wrong. I started to feel like I was being watched. I kept a careful eye on my surroundings, but I couldn't see anything through the storm, and I could tell the others were getting paranoid as well. The pass opened up into a shallow canyon, and a blur of motion rushed through Vasquez's light. I swore, and we stopped dead in our tracks, my heart hammering in my chest.
"Lights on. Everyone," said Jefferies. We took out our lights and quickly mounted them on our rifles, sweeping them across the cliffs that surrounded us. We had eyes on us, and they weren't letting up. A rustle of dirt sounded from behind me, and I spun around, shining my light over the sparse bushes and dripping palms, but nobody was there. Then, I saw it. It was almost invisible, like a barely noticeable distortion of space molded into the outline of a hulking person, standing in front of the trees. I backed away, getting the attention of the others as I kept my light on the motionless blur. My finger twitched on the trigger, but something inside me told me not to fire. It was like a sense of absolute danger, like I was on the precipice of a decision that could end my life in that very moment. The blur rushed away, startling me as it passed into the darkness faster than I could track it. Stomping footsteps sounded from all around us, but none of us fired, remaining utterly still and paralyzed with fear in the invisible stampede. The footprints of another blur splashed into the mud nearby, moving inhumanly fast as the raindrops beat against a faint, momentary outline, but then, they were gone, the sound vanishing into the distance of the storm.
I don't know how long we stayed there, but eventually, Jefferies got us moving again, and we continued through the canyon, wordless and shaking with panic and adrenaline. There were more of the footprints embedded in the mud, easily three times larger than anything a human could ever make. I still felt eyes on me, but whoever, or whatever was stalking us - we didn't see them again. They were letting us live. But why? Did they want us to find the body?
Eventually, the canyon leveled out into an elevated clearing, the lights of an osprey shining faintly in the distance. We made our way over to it as quick as we could, myself and another taking over the carrying of the body. The gunner behind the M240 waved at us, the blades of the helicopter rushing above our heads as I helped push the body inside, and we all climbed up. Jefferies gave the all clear, and the pilots took us up, the soaking terrain rushing beneath us as we disappeared into the storm.
The body we found was something else. I don't know too much about it, and from what I've heard, it's way above any of our researchers' heads, but from what they figured out so far, it'll be responsible for a lot of the new tech coming out. The plating on the armor was nearly indestructible, and was outfitted with advanced anti-gravity and teleportation systems, all running on some sort of antimatter core that scares the shit out of the guys in the lab, on account of it having enough energy inside to vaporize the entire planet. The guy himself was decked out with cybernetic implants, with eyes that could see for miles, track magnetic fields and ultraviolet light, and apparently even process a fourth spatial dimension. His brain was nothing but self-replicating nanomachines, but he was definitely human - or used to be. I could go on for days about all the shit they found, but we got to use some of it in our later operations, so I'll leave it out until then.
Most important of all, the armor had a cloaking field that they still can't manage to replicate, enough to make its wearer and anything they're holding nearly invisible. The implication being, there's still a group of them out there. We don't know why they're here, or how their friend got killed, but we have a strong, educated guess that they aren't from our universe. We think they're some kind of scouting party, but what they're looking for - I have no idea.
Ever since that day, though, we've had a lot of strange things happening - things that don't play by the laws of our universe, and they're only getting worse. I don't know if it's because of the scouts, or more likely, the reason they're here in the first place, but either way, that was the birth of the BREACH initiative. Don't ask me what the acronym stands for - nobody knows.
I'll do another writeup next week - we had an op in the high arctic a while back that I still have nightmares about.
Until then, stay safe.