Signs of Life
By Kristina Blaise
The following documents were extracted from a DSD Outer Guard Corps mission report dated <REDACTED>. What follows was pieced together from recordings found on a field agent who was found roaming the area directly outside the Ark, badly injured and clutching a banged-up field recorder. Her uniform’s outer plating had sustained critical battle damage, sporting what appeared to be claw marks. These were at first chalked up to attacks from some sort of mutated wasteland fauna. The truth would appear to be even more terrifying. The agent seems to be the only remaining member of her squad. Whether she is the speaker on the recordings or not is unknown. She has not spoken to anyone since her return, and has been in HQ’s psychiatric ward ever since.
O Brave New World
Hello, or begin transmission, or however you start this sort of thing off. My name is agent Hannah Vasquez, DSD Outer Guard. Today’s date is <REDACTED>, and the weather is…cloudy nuclear winter bullshit, as always. My mom used to tell me the weather wasn’t much better before the bombs dropped, but I highly doubt that. I know ‘Canada’ or whatever they used to call it had a bit of a reputation for shitty weather, but I think the Exchange didn’t exactly help. Yeah, it isn’t fun, but it’s still nice to get off the Ark. Also, can I just say how comfortable these uniforms are? The armour weighs next to nothing, it’s awesome! Anyway, getting off track here…
My team and I got picked for field work today. I’m not sure if they pick us randomly or on a rotation, but we were the lucky winners! DSD’s goal with these patrols is mostly to collect research and push back the bandit clans, but I’m personally looking at it like an adventure. I’ve never been off the Ark before, and the chance to actually put my feet in the dirt of the real world thrills me. So, naturally, they gave us rifles and threw us on a boat. Orders were to record our findings, fend off any bandits, and get to the designated exfil zone by the end of our assigned three-day shift. Simple, right?
Looking at a Dark Mirror
First day out has been…sobering, I’d say. The rest of the group are all kind of freaking out a little. They’re all rookies that were born and raised on the Ark, same as me, so they’re all just losing their shit at how freaky this place is. It’s like looking at a dark mirror of the Ark. All these shattered, blown-up skyscrapers left and right. This city used to be the biggest in the country. It housed one of the tallest buildings in the world. Now it’s just a big garbage heap. I wonder how many people died when the bombs hit.
We set up camp amidst the shadow of all this decay. The snow’s kind of fucking with our tent, and we’ve got some leakage coming through the ceiling. I guess that’s military life for you. On our way to wherever it is we are–street signs are all rusted to shit, most of the old world landmarks are barely recognizable, yatta yatta–we met a trader and got some canned fruit in exchange for some of our extra ammo. Department-grade rounds fetch a decent price out here, so we didn’t need to give away much. Anyway, I wish I had something more interesting to say, but unfortunately today wasn’t super interesting. Signing off for now. More tomorrow.
“…I Didn’t Think There Would Be Any Green Left…”
Day two out here. Fuck, the cold is brutal. I was out trying to take a piss early in the morning—probably 0500 I think it was—and I almost froze to death. Damn near fell into the snow, too. Wind’s crazy out here. Fuck…
We had camp packed up by first light. One of the gals, Hicks, she was scouting ahead when she found something. She said it looked like a patch of bright colour amongst all this snow and rust. A patch of green. Isn’t that cool? I didn’t think there would be any green left. I’m not talking about the fake shit on the Ark, either. We’re talking about what could quite possibly be real trees. Naturally, we all agreed it would be best to head in that direction.
“…No Signs Of Life At All…”
Two days in and we haven’t seen any signs of bandits. No signs of life at all, really, other than the trader and this green thing Hicks saw. I hope the rest of the mission goes this smoothly. Still, I wouldn’t mind a chance to actually put all my Department training to use. Every damn day at the Academy, I thought about what it would be like to be out here, rebuilding the wasteland. Ended up with beat cop duty for like five years after grad instead. Fuck that. I belong in the field! So glad to be here! Woo!
We’ll likely spend the rest of the day marching towards the green. If we’re lucky and don’t end up getting mauled by bandits, we’ll hopefully get to the bottom of this. I’m hoping we see a tree. Big old tree, with fat red apples dangling from the branches like Christmas baubles. Just like mom said we used to have. Look at me now, mom.
Something’s Not Right…
Day three. Goddammit, knew things were just going too damn smoothly. I knew something was bound to go wrong eventually, but this…this is a fucking mess. No other way to put it. Here, let me fill you in: some animal hit us in the night. A bunch of our meat rations are missing, our tent has bigass claw marks in it, and—and this was probably the scariest shit imaginable for us at first—agent Mccreary was nowhere to be found. At least, at first.
We figured Mccreary was probably dead. That she’d been dragged off and eaten by whatever wasteland predator had happened upon us. That ended up not being the case, though. No, Mccreary showed up a few hours after we woke up. She helped us clean up the mess, offered to lend a hand mending the tent, even got us some food to fill the holes in our ration supply. Now, this is where it gets weird—both in good and bad ways—because what Mccreary dragged back with her wasn’t just, like, a mutant rat or something. No, no, no. She got us fuckin’ tomatoes. Least, I think they’re tomatoes. I don’t know what a natural tomato looks like seeing as how we don’t have those anymore on the Ark, but they were pretty similar.
“…I Can See It…”
Anyway, after we finished applauding Mccreary and picking our jaws up off the floor, I asked her where she’d been. She explained she just walked off to go piss and got lost, which I guess makes sense. The thing I don’t really get is why she didn’t just save herself the trouble of holding it in while hiking through the snow and just go close to camp? That’s what the rest of us have been doing. I dunno, man. It’s a plausible alibi, but fucked if I don’t think it seems a little weird that anyone could get lost like that.
So, back to the matter at hand. We’re pretty close to the green now. I can see it. Looks a bit like an old greenhouse. That kind of warms my heart, seeing nature start to fix itself again. Maybe in a couple of years, there’ll be more vegetation out here in the wasteland. Maybe things will be better one day. Well, I certainly hope so, anyway. I really don’t want my kids, and by extension their kids, to just be stuck on the Ark forever. I want them to get a better world. This will hopefully be how it begins.
Day four. Oh fuck, what the hell is going on? I got woken up in the night by some rustling in the tent; when I woke up, Mccreary was standing over me, staring at me. At all of us. I didn’t know what the fuck had gotten into her, but I figured she seemed like she wasn’t doing anything unsafe, so I went back to bed. When I woke up again, Mccreary just wasn’t in the tent. Her sleeping bag was unoccupied. The tent door was ajar, so I grabbed a flashlight and headed outside to see what was going on. I ended up waking up Hicks and Reece, so we all headed out together. Reece has always been a really tense girl, so she naturally took her service pistol. I’m fucking glad she did.
Eventually, we caught up to Mccreary. She’d been standing out in the snow in her underwear for god knows how long, and we were all freaking the fuck out at this point. What the shit had gotten into her?
“Mccreary!” I called to her, “Mccreary, you okay?”
She said nothing. Didn’t even turn around. I looked at Hicks, then to Reece. The former looked dazed more than anything, while the latter was sweating buckets and gripping her gun like it was a sacred object. We all stepped a little closer to our friend, our comrade…well, we thought it was our comrade, anyway.
An Unpleasant Surprise
By the time I stood right behind Mccreary, I was just completely losing it. I was standing close enough to her she could’ve heard my breathing, yet she wouldn’t budge. Something was incredibly wrong with her. Anyone could see that. When we all saw just how fucked up the situation was, however…aw, god, Mccreary. She deserved better than this. Than whatever the hell happened to her. Oh, the poor girl…
I put a hand on her shoulder. Just in an attempt to get her attention, y’know? And it worked, it definitely worked…I think maybe it would’ve been better if it just hadn’t, though. Mccreary–or rather, whatever the fuck was wearing her skin now–turned around real slow, like she was intentionally trying to be as creepy as possible. Well, the good news is I don’t think she needed to try. Outwardly, Mccreary looked pretty well the same. The biggest change, of course, stuck out like a big green sore thumb. Mccreary’s arms weren’t arms anymore. They’d been replaced with these godawful, gnarled stick thingies. That sounds silly, but please hear me out. Her new arms, they were like tree branches. Brown and green and wrought with leathery “bark” or some similar substance, dotted with leaves and moss. Just like a tree.
“…Whatever Stood There Wasn’t My Friend…”
Whatever stood there wasn’t my friend. I could see that now. The Mccreary-thing reached out, its mouth hanging open in a way that was so freakishly wide it shouldn’t have even been possible, and tried to grab or point at me or something with those awful tree arms. Its hands were gnarled and twisted, with each finger splitting off into one, two, three additional thinner digits. As the creature opened its mouth, this noise like wind blowing through an old house screeched out at me. I barely even had any time to react before I heard Reece scream and put a bullet in the Mccreary-thing’s skull.
“…None Of That Could’ve Prepared Us…”
We all sat there, minutes feeling like hours. All three of us were just left staring at this goddamn monster corpse. We’d all heard stories of what was beyond the Ark. Muties, bandits, all kinds of scum. None of that could’ve prepared us for this shit. Mccreary was just barely twenty. A goddamn kid. Something happened to her, and now some beast was wearing her skin; whatever it was now lay there with a bullet in its fucking brain. Poor kid.
The rest of the day was quieter than the grave. We didn’t bother with burying the Mccreary-thing. I urged Reece and Hicks not to eat the fucking fruit, too. I don’t trust it. What if this is some kind of fucked-up wasteland virus or parasite, and the fruit’s how it spreads? I can’t lose more of my team. I just can’t. We got to the greenhouse today. It was almost 2300 by the time we got there, so we decided to just set up camp nearby and hope for the best. I told the others to just piss by the tent and carry their guns with them if they needed to go in the night. Can’t have anyone getting taken away by whatever got Mccreary. Assuming that is what happened to Mccreary, of course.
Day five. Shit’s a little fucked, but I think we have it under control. We finally went into the greenhouse. I understand now. Mccreary, all the silence, all of it. The bandits must know to stay away from this part of the city. Other than the radiation spikes, this place’s pretty exterior conceals something horrible. Here’s hoping HQ reviews these recordings thoroughly, elsewise a whole lot of people are gonna go through the same shit we had to go through. I wouldn’t wish this kind of fate on my worst enemy. No one deserves this.
When we got to the greenhouse, the first thing we noticed was the complexion of the plants all around us. Firm and brown, dotted with green, just like Mccreary’s arms. Blossoming with some kind of fruit that looked identical to the fruits Mccreary gave us. It was all starting to make sense, and I didn’t like it. I knew we’d came too far to turn back now though, and I knew the others wanted closure. Well, Hicks did; I don’t know about Reece.
If we end up making it back home alive—keyword if—I hope the Department takes this recording seriously. Stay the fuck away from the old greenhouse, it’s not safe. Something’s out here, and it knows us. Oh god, so many skeletons…I don’t even know how to make sense of whatever the hell this is, but I do know one thing for sure: Mother Nature is fucking pissed.
If any of our other field agents come across this place, fucking burn it to the ground. If not, people will die. We barely made it out with our lives. There were more of them…more things like whatever got Mccreary. We managed to lose them, but we’re out of ammo, almost out of food. Christ, I hope evac gets here soon. Signing off to save my breath.
A Final Stand
Jesus Christ. Our ride got here, but the spinner, it…gah, fuck! The others–Reece, Hicks, both of them–they changed, just like Mccreary. Idiots! You couldn’t have gone without food for just a little longer! I told them not to eat the fruit, but did they listen? No! Well, now I’m stranded in the outer layer outside the Ark. No sign of bandits, but they’ll be here soon for the spinner wreck, I’m sure. I’m alone out here with nothing but the pilot’s sidearm. Armour’s fucked, and I think one of my legs is broken. I’ll try and hold out until the next border patrol gets me–what? No, god, no…stay back, Reece, stay ba–
The audio stops after this. Agent Vasquez remains silent as of this report being published. Future patrols into the wasteland are encouraged to avoid the greenhouse near what used to be Princess Margaret Hospital. Agents are urged to secure their camps more tightly at night, sleep in shifts, and watch for suspicious activities. If one agent disappears only to suddenly reappear, surviving agents are encouraged not to trust them. Clean up crews equipped with flamers will be dispatched to the greenhouse area in the next few business days to contain the situation, but until then we must remain alert.
<NAME REDACTED>, Director-General, Department for Special Defence