Chapter 1 - Malaki- Part 3

Malaki’s eyes snapped open. Ants crawled along the tree bark just a few inches from his face. The heavy stench of mold and fungus filled his nose. His right leg still ached up into his thigh, hip and lower back. He felt much more lucid than the first time waking up. His head didn’t hurt as much which allowed him to think a little more clearly.

Looking around him, it appeared he had slept through the night, but there was no real way of knowing. He lied there for only a few minutes before deciding that he needed to figure out where he was.

Sweeping off as many of the leaves as he could, he set his left leg up onto the ground outside the hole he lie in. Digging his left heel into the ground and pulling with his left hand, he managed to drag himself out from under the tree trunk. Not wanting to lose the momentum, he continued up into a sitting position, his back against the tree just as before when setting his fibula and tying on the splint.

His chest heaved, drawing in short breaths, still painful, but bearable so long as he didn’t breath too deep. Doing so brought back the sharp pains which Malaki assumed were caused by a broken rib or two.

For the first time since waking up, he began to do a quick survey his body. At least four ribs were broken, making breathing difficult. He was cut and bruised just about everywhere, and the back of his head was matted with thick dried blood. The worst of it seemed to be his right leg, but the splint was holding up well and the bleeding appeared to have stopped.

Looking up again, he noticed the same dark clouds rolling above the trees. The ground around him was dry, so it had not rained since the last time he noticed them sliding across the few openings in the thick canopy.

Determined to figure out where he was, Malaki reached back behind himself, placing both arms up onto the tree. Using as much shoulder and bicep strength as he could, he pulled himself up, being sure to place all of his weight on his left leg. He again felt the wave of dizziness. He closed his eyes and let the feeling pass.

Slowly, he began transferring weight onto his right leg, and his fear was immediately confirmed as pain shot hard from his leg, up through his hip and lower back and straight to his brain. The wave nearly knocking him over, he shifted his weight back again to his left leg.

There was no way he was going to easily walk out of here without help. He needed to find something to help absorb the weight as he walked. Looking down again at the rubble around the tree, he found a branch that could be used as a crutch. He cleaned it up enough and placed it firmly under his right arm. He began to slowly shift the weight to his right leg.

This time, the branch took the brunt of the weight, and Malaki stumbled forward into the first steps he had taken since waking up. They were short and labored, but he was walking. He had only gone a short distance before pausing where he first woke up, the imprint where his body lied still in the ground. Looking up he noticed what he had not before. Many branches were broken directly above him,  all the way up to the sky.

At this moment, his memory was flooded with the events that led to where he now stood, battered, broken, and nearly dead.

It was supposed to be a test. Only a test. The Manst government had perfected their Weapon of Mass Destruction, a bomb they code named “Zerah,” which meant protector. It was decided that a test was needed to confirm that the project was indeed a success. Damon’s brother, who had earned senior rank in an elite task force, was selected to lead the mission. Damon chose Malaki, who had earned an officer’s rank on the plane that had been chosen to deliver the prototype of the WMD to the test site.

After prepping the plane, “Zerah” was loaded onboard and the rest of the small crew strapped into their seats for what was to be a short and hopefully successful test.

Malaki realized that something was wrong when the plane banked hard towards Cermon City just before the countdown began. He assumed the pilot wanted a second pass over the test site. Before he realized what was happening, the drop sequence had been initiated and hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost as the bulk of Cermon City had been laid to waste by “Zerah.”

After a few moments of disbelief, Malaki jumped from his seat to confront his brother. He found Damon in the cargo hold of the ship hanging out of the launch door watching as fire and ash plumed high into the air. As the ship banked back towards Manst, Damon lost his balance. Malaki caught Damon and they both fell to the steal floor of the plane. Before he could protest, Damon explained that he was following orders. He said the Manst government decided the test could also serve as a warning to other nations.

Malaki stood up, not breaking eye contact with Damon. He was shocked to see the look on his brothers face as he justified wiping out an entire city to “send a message.” Damon almost seemed relieved and satisfied.

“We have to sacrifice the few to save many,” Damon’s words still rung in his mind.

He began to argue against the madness that he just witnessed, when the plane again pitched and banked. Malaki stumbled to catch his balance. Damon lunged forward, and with a kick of his boot, he sent Malaki sailing out of the open door of the warplane, which quickly flew away from him as he plummeted towards Tronun’s surface.

Damon, who ignored all of the chastising and ridicule Malaki had endured for the majority of his young adult life, who had never seemed to care much, whoe never participated in any of the torment, but who had never stood up for Malaki finally, after all these years, he took a side.

Still standing there in the thick forest, tears rolled down his cheeks. Malaki had survived being kicked from a plane when he should have been killed. He didn’t know how or why. He didn’t know where he was, but he needed to find out.

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Ahead of him, the ground began sloping upwards. From where he stood, he could barely make out what appeared to be a trail that continued up the hill. Not a man-made trail as much as a rut, worn in the ground from the passage of animals of various sizes. Looking around him, he quickly decided that up was the best direction to go. Perhaps he would manage to get high enough to view his surroundings better. So he started shuffling off in the direction of the animal trail, slowly at first, but picking up speed as he regained strength and settled into a rhythm, stepping with his left and leaning on the crutch with his right.

The trail didn’t twist or turn much, but it continued to get steeper. His pace slowed considerably as his right leg burned with pain. Deciding to take a break, Malaki found a large boulder just off the path to his right which he slumped down on, sliding back far enough to allow both legs to dangle just above the ground. The tree branch he was using as a crutch seemed to be holding up pretty well. He sat it next to him against the rock, and fighting the urge to breathe deeply, he took several slow measured breaths.

It had gotten considerably warmer the further he walked, which he assumed meant that the sun was about as high as it could be in the sky. The higher he walked the more he was able to see the sky above, enough to know that it was indeed early morning when he had begun walking. He still had no idea where he was, but the warmth he felt now must mean it was at or past midday.

Malaki looked down at his right leg, checking for any signs of bleeding. Satisfied, he again grabbed his crutch, stood up, and pressed on up the hill.

He walked on for what felt like an hour or so when the trail in front of him seemed to level off. He noticed it made an abrupt turn to the right. But this detail was lost on him, as just past the bend in the trail, there appeared to be a wide opening. Quickening his pace, he approached the bend and discovered that the trail turned to avoid a rather large drop off to a valley below.

As the trail turned right, Malaki continued for a few steps and stopped as his breath was taken away. Any relief he would have felt from reaching the top of the hill was overshadowed by the view before him. Stretched out in front of him was the large valley where Cermon City had once laid. But instead of a city, Malaki only saw plumes of thick black smoke rising high above piles of rubble and waste.

The center of the city, where the WMD code named “Zerah” had landed, was completely flat. There was nothing left. The people who lived and worked there experienced no suffering. It was instant death. The piles of rubble began to form as he scanned outwards from the center. This is where the black smoke was coming from. The people who lived here, and even further away, suffered the most. They had time to hear the blast and feel the heat as it burned its way to the edge of the city. Malaki’s eyes finally came to the very outskirts of the city where the thickest of walls still stood, but all of it was on fire. The fire would continue to burn for days, perhaps weeks.

A map of the area popped into his head. Standing here, he knew where he was. Behind him, in the direction he had come was Manst. To his left and right were the wastelands, the barren wilds where outlaws and bandits ruled. They served no law but their own, and outsiders were not welcome. Especially those with government or military affiliations.

He realized the sun had begun its decline to the horizon. He needed to move, to find shelter for the night, but he couldn’t. The question of where he would go now loomed heavy in his mind.

There was no way he would ever return to Manst. He was disgusted by the destruction that laid Cermon City to waste. He could never again set foot in the city of his birth.

Neither could Malaki venture anywhere near Cermon City. If anyone survived, his Manst military uniform would give him away, and given the destruction, would likely illicit a vengeful response.

No, it appeared his only decision was to wander into the wastelands and hope that he could find mercy among the bandits that ruled those lands.

With one last look at the destruction that was once a great city, Malaki turned and began to follow the trail again. He had no idea where he was going or what was going to happen. But if he was going to survive, he needed to rest and deal with his wounds. He also needed to burn his clothes.

Part 3- Written by Matt Henderson, Created by Micah Metz, Edited by Alex Gergely

Matt Henderson