A storm of dust followed in the wake of the mechanized monsters rumbling across the continent. The armored formation was made up some of the last contingents of American armor left in Europe.
They were what remained of an old guard that had stood at the frontier for nearly a century with their colossal guns always pointed east. When the war finally came they never even got to fire a single round.
In a matter of hours, the world was in flames in an instant the command and control structure that directed the men at arms was something that existed only on paper.
Somehow the outpost that housed Lt Colonel Mason and his command and been spared from the storm of warheads. Besides a few minor shockwaves, the apocalypse had been a relatively quiet day for them. Not everyone could agree upon the precise day or time to mark the end of the world, but the last transmission they received was on Wednesday at 16:44 Atlantic time. It was a pre-recorded message assuring them contingency plans were in place, and they should stand by and await further orders. No orders ever came.
The days went by, and an eerie silence fell over the base. The soldiers carried on with their daily assignments, and the daily routines were carried out with an almost mechanical regularity.
The base commanders watched with quaking knees as the men ate quietly in the mess hall. The sound of chewing was as ominous as the high pitched noise from a tension twisted string seconds away from snapping.
The suicides began in earnest. Every day the soldiers buried a few more comrades. There were no eulogies just silent contemplation of their dwindling numbers. Every day the wheel was spun, and death held its cruel lottery. Every day someone's numbers came in.
Eventually, Mason was the only officer to show up for the morning staff meeting. He sat in the quiet conference room for over an hour before he accepted the fact no one was coming.
Before long the seemingly permanent machinations of the working military machine began to break down in front of Mason's very eyes. The discipline built on blind faith had dissolved; the uniforms were gone and the men no longer held together the facade of being soldiers.
Mason watched from the window of his office silently sipping bourbon watching the first visible signs of decay begin to spread.
One morning he woke up on the floor of his office. The signs of his rampage the night before were visible throughout the room. In the scattered papers, the jagged splinters littering the ground from the smashed wood of his desk, to the trampled NATO and American flags. All were signs pointing to his slipping sanity.
He took a handful of Advil, dressed in his combat fatigues and marched out to his tank. They had 62 combat vehicles in total, and 57 of them were in working condition. The men watched curiously as he confidently and quietly stepped around the piles of burning garbage the troops had made into bonfires. He stood astride the mammoth Abrams tank as if he were at a podium and like an old cavalry officer called for one last charge. Those who followed Mason became known as the suicide column.
Before they embarked on their death march towards the killing fields of the nuclear battlefield, the soldiers made sure to commandeer the base's supply of liquor. They even managed to raid the supply of speed reserved for the pilots who never made their return flights.
They were in Eastern Germany; the enemy was not far. Rushing headlong into the mighty expanses of Russia none had any illusion they were coming back.
The endless desolation would swallow them as it had so many other marauders. The ones hunkered down in the bowels of the colossal machines would be no different. The steel shell could only protect them for so long.
The liquor and speed created a macabre atmosphere of celebration. Heavy metal pulsated from the communications console. Sometimes interlaced with sputtering speeches about the glory of battle delivered by Mason in various stages of inebriation.
“We are the last ones!” He cried into the radio. “It is up to use to avenge our families, our homes, and our country! We are charging right into the enemies jaws, and we're gonna ram ourselves right down their throats. They may eat us alive, but we'll blow a fucking hole in their stomach and drive right back out!”
The enthusiasm for death was broadcasted across the countryside, and others, mostly stragglers from other NATO units joined the suicide column on its march to hell.
They were a legion left forlorn by the apocalypse and the last symbol of the once earth shaking might of a vanished empire.
They rolled around the clock. According to the maps, they were close to Russain territory, but no one could really tell. The piles of burning rubble that had once been cities were unrecognizable, and so were the countless refugees who were burnt by the atomic light.
The bombs had instantly dissolved all borders and before long the wondering formation was lost and could find no enemy to engage.
Soon the limits excess were reached, and the rolling party of mechanized monsters came to a grinding halt. The booze was nearly gone, as were the drugs, and now the gasoline needed to run their mad dash also stretched to the limit. Mason emerged from the tank donning sunglasses afraid of what the sun might feel like on his eyes after 18 hours of drinking in the dark confine of his tank.
Emerging from the steel belly of his tank was his birth into this new world. Just like a newborn his senses were overwhelmed. He wasn't ready for it.
The sights and sounds of this world awash in destruction had an ambiance of hopelessness and misery. His quick immersion was painful. There was something he instantly found familiar about the dismembered landscape, its cold indifference.
Swelling gray storm clouds swallowed the sky, and distant plumes of ebony smoke were gushing into the atmosphere from the remnants of cities with skylines that glowed like tinder on the horizon.
The burning corpse of civilization was falling back to earth in the form of white ash. It was slowly smothering the fires feeding on the desiccated remains of society. Soon it would all be buried forever.
The tidal wave of humanity shuffling away from the ruins were a much more stomach-churning sight when Mason looked at him without the electronic lenses of the tank. The revolting smell of cooked flesh assaulted his nostrils. He quickly held his hand over his mouth to keep from vomiting.
He looked at the refugees with an overwhelming mixture of horror, disgust, pity, and remorse. Collectively they were a collage of war's miseries. The dark crimson blood ran from ash covered wounds smearing the dirt and painting their bodies the color of mud. Melted flesh hung from their bodies; the fire had burnt away any distinctive features of gender or race.
Worse of all though was the collective buzzing of the millions of flies feasting on the fields of corpses. Sometimes the maggots began to slowly They were breathing corpses simply waiting to fall. They weakly held out their hands as Mason passed by them.
“water....water” they gasped.
Some could do little more than groan as they watched him from hollow eye sockets the melted pulp of their tounges oozing from their mouths.
“Please please,” They said faint voices.
Many fell where they stood. The tormented swarm was slowly descending upon Mason's column. Their whole world smelled like a crematorium. Chirping birds, crying children, and the delirious wails of the dying made a nauseating soundscape. Mason had to fight the urge to run back to his tank.
“Wait here.” he ordered the crew as he went to investigate the delay.
“Yes, sir.” PFC Johnson called poking his head out of the hatch.
Corporal Robins followed behind him. They looked out at the blood drenched swarm. Thier bubbling flesh that fell off their bones, hairless scalps, and charred faces instantly etched themselves into their psyches and those people who would die in that field would live on in their nightmares.
“Holy shit,” muttered Johnson
Robins looked up and held out his hand. The falling ash collected in his palm.
“Do you think this shit's radioactive?”
The men shared a glance before lowering themselves back into their tank and closing the hatch behind them.
Mason could see a crowd of men gathered around the fuel truck at the center of the mob was a young black American private and a German tank driver.
“This is our gas what don't you get about that?” The private shouted.
“We must make sure everyone gets at least enough until we can find more otherwise this expedition will fall apart!” The German yelled back in a thick accent.
“You'll get a chance you just gotta get to the back of the fuckin line until we gas up first!”
“It will run out if you keep filling up your tanks completely!” The German fired back as he took a step forward puffing out his chest.
“Step back.” The American hissed shoving the German.
The German threw a punch, and a brawl ensued.
“Attention!” Mason shouted, and the fight came to a halt.
“What the hell is going on here?!” Mason demanded.
“Sir I'm trying to tell this guy American Vehicles get gassed up first, and he's giving me shit about it.....sir.” The American private explained.
“And I'm trying to tell him that we need to ration fuel wisely if we hope to get where we are going as a unit.” Said the German.
As Mason was settling this dispute currently threatening the cohesion of his miniature international coalition he didn't notice the growing number of refugees surrounding the column.
PFC Olsen was watching with some intent as he smoked his cigaret with his rifle slung over his shoulder. He took the last drag and threw the butt down on the ground. When he turned around, he was face to face with the burned remnants of a human being walking towards him with outstretched hands.
“Please water...” Olsen recoiled from the ghoulish form he took a step back and regained his composure.
“Sorry.” He muttered as he lowered his head and walked away, but there were more of them the were gathering around the tanks some of them were even trying to climb in. The groaning masses were coming from all sides.
“I don't have anything!” Olsen shouted at the crowd. They didn't seem to hear him. They kept walking forward pleading for mercy.
“I said step back!” Olsen shouted holding up his rifle.
“Olsen get back in the fuckin tank!” A soldier manning the mounted machine gun ordered.
The private felt a hand grip his shoulder, and suddenly his finger squeezed the trigger.
It was like a domino effect. Mason's mediating was interrupted by the sudden eruption of automatic fire. The bullets tore through the refugees spraying clouds of crimson into the air.
“Holy fuck!” Shouted Mason
“Stop firing stop fucking firing!” He shouted as he ran back to his command tank. The thunderous clattering of the .50 caliber machine guns along with the popping of the rifles was reaching its crescendo as Mason was climbing down into the tank.
“This is Commander Mason cease fire cease fire immediately” He shouted into the radio. The gun fire slowly tapered off, and Mason stopped to catch his breath.
“Let's get the fuck out of here.” He hissed.
He ran his hand through his hair. He looked down and saw his palm covered with white hair. It was the early signs of radiation sickness. He took a deep breath and got back on the radio.
“Let's move out,” He ordered.
The engines started up, and the mammoth war machines began to drive away leaving those behind who couldn't get fuel. The last Legion continued its drive over the edge of the cliff into the abyss of history