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When the ringing in his ears stopped, Corporal Olsen shook himself back to the here and now. The rest of the squad were checking the other bodies for survivors, kicking and prodding them to ensure no one was faking death. His mouth was dry, and he couldn’t stop staring at all the blood. Approximately sixty percent of the human body is composed of water, so it broke his heart to see so much wasted. The loss of human life didn’t matter to him anymore, it was normal. It was also necessary according to command. The ratio had been sliding further and further in the wrong direction for generations, and yet none had stepped up and did what was needed until the war began.

            His parents went willingly, they were very old and happy to be of service to the species. Bree, his younger sister, had also gone willingly. Mass suicide groups had formed all over the globe and tens of thousands had offered themselves up for the greater good. Many cried out on the web that they were doing it for the future of mankind but had really been crying in fear of what the future had in store. Olsen had signed up.

            Civilizations had toppled like dominos, one after the other and with an unprecedented knock-on effect. Sure, neighbouring countries always got affected when strife struck, but this had been different. Nations closest to the sources had thrown up dams, broken pipelines and armed themselves. Those countries along the coasts fell in the worst possible ways. Mass migrations led to all the worst imaginable horrors. At first, the western imperialists saw it all as nothing more than an extra payday. They sold more weapons than ever before. The less educated nations resorted straight to force and religion instead of cooperation and science. The West watched the slaughters, and counted coin, until they realised that they too would soon be feeling parched. Then the invasions began.

            Olsen tasted his sweat, and despite knowing better, sucked at his upper lip and tried to ignore the taste of salt. His mask soaked up most of it, but some was swallowed. He figured it didn’t matter now anyway. His brothers in arms slowly gathered before him, their black boots covered in dirt lining up were all he could focus on. Then he heard the whir of the filter.

            The technology had only been developed a few months earlier. A mechanism that incorporated magnetic nanoparticles, and some other things that Olsen hadn’t understood in the briefing, to bind with the haemoglobin and separate the iron. The white coats had been very insistent that it should only be used on the living, something about dead blood being toxic.

            “I guess this is ground zero,” said the sergeant. “Document everything,” he instructed one of the other corporals.

            Back at the barracks Olsen had joked with the squad that they should all brand themselves with fangs or a bat stencil, now he didn’t find it so funny.