We came out of the drop and into complete and utter chaos. They were on us before our chutes even hit the ground. Out of the woods into the clearing they came, faces stretched taut in rage, their jaws mashing, their horrible bloodshot eyes burning.

I had my rifle out and was firing before I even got my footing. Brick was already on the ground next to me, screaming, going full auto.

We were overwhelmed.

They overtook Parsons and his rifle fell back with him, the muzzle flashing up into the sky, and I heard him scream as they bit into his flesh. Brick turned and unloaded everything he had into the group they fell like the sacks of meat they were. Still shooting I glanced back over my shoulder and saw all the new recruits had landed further south. It looked like they were being overrun.

I fired at the last one running toward me from the trees but it was too fast. Almost on top of me, lightning fast I bayoneted the fucker. It spat blue blood in my face, then its eyes rolled back. It was already starting to swell when it fell off the end of the blade.

Somehow, against all odds, we took them out. None of the juniors survived. Green, Oslo and Backtrack didn’t make it either. At the end there was only me, Brick and that quiet kid I’d never spoken with, Blohjek. Just us and all those pale swelling bodies, tumescent bags of flesh turning white in the grass of the clearing, surrounded by shell casings.

“He’s gone,” said Brick, and kicked the ballooning corpse of Parsons. “He’s swelling up just like them.” Most of the skin was still there but the puncture wounds were everywhere.

“Come on,” I said, “the rendezvous point’s at the top of the hill.”

We walked and we walked and we walked, on high alert the whole time, but we saw no more of them. Finally we reached the top and set all the gear down. Brick sat on one of the bags and took off his helmet. The kid lit a fag and the cherry glowed in the day’s dying light.

“What the hell is that…?” he said, pointing to the horizon, back from where we came.

Streaks of fire shot up in the sky, long burning pillars of orange light rising from the ground and up into the dull blue-grey of twilight. I picked up the binocs and looked.

It was them. I saw their bodies within the fire, rising up to back from where they came, their swelling shrinking within the flames, the death falling off them and burning away. I saw our guys in there too. They were burning up and becoming part of the cycle just like the rest.

I remember the horrible weight sinking in my stomach, and the glassy reflection of those pillars of fire in Brick’s watering eyes.

“They are reborn,” he said.

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