Kazakhstan is one of those countries that you almost never hear anything about. I honestly forgot it even existed until about a month ago, but now I fear it’ll be lodged in the deepest recesses of my mind until the day I die. I still don’t think I can even properly process what happened out there, but I’m going to try my best because the world needs to know.

You won’t find this story from any journalist or any major news outlet. Do a quick google search and you’ll probably find very few, if any pertinent results. I suspect this is partially due to the endless deluge of trivial matters that consistently clutter the news cycle, but also because of another much more worrying fact. No one really even knows who or what we were fighting.

It started about a week ago, when our contract officers received an encoded distress signal from Kazakhstani military outpost. It was from a place called Yeltya; a small isolated town with a population of about 3,000 in northern Kazakhstan. Normally, this would fall outside our jurisdiction, but since Russia had sent the beacon to begin with it became an exception. You know things are bad when the Russians actually ask someone else for help.

I left the Marines almost seventeen years ago now, and ever since I’ve been employed with a company by the name of Misnomer LLC. Officially we are known as private security agents and special investigation ops. Just a fancy way of saying mercenary really, but with the rates they pay me, they can call me whatever they want.

We specialize in surveillance, reconnaissance and private security escorts, but are no strangers to insurgencies and the occasional small-time liberation efforts. I’ve been on dozens of missions with them over the years, but nothing quite like this.

As you may expect this is currently sensitive intel, and as such, the names in this document have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Forgive me if they sound a bit ridiculous, but just be aware they are callsigns and not actual surnames.

From what intel we managed to gather, we were told that a group of terrorists had been holed up just outside the town of Yeltya. They didn’t elaborate much on what said terrorists were up to, but my AO(assignment officer) mentioned that his contact had sounded incredibly urgent on the phone.

The Russians were offering a hefty sum for anyone who could clean up the situation and discreetly liberate the small town. No doubt they were worried about an international frenzy if word got out, but the contract was too good for us to ask those questions. We expected to find some ISIS or Al-Shabab aligned sect that had burrowed into the hills. Needless to say, we had no idea what we were in for.

48 hours later and I’m on a Boeing C-17 with the 11 other members of my team on a flight halfway around the world. The sunlight spilt in through the hull window, stirring me from slumber as we neared our destination. I propped up the window shade, and saw the destitute desert hills and valleys of northern Kazakhstan. We touched down a half hour later on an airstrip some 30 clicks from our target. Waiting for us there was the local military police, accompanied by multiple armored trucks and even a ZTZ99 tank.

Their commander; a guy by the name of Yuri introduced himself and his petty officers. From there he led our team inside, fed us breakfast and set up the room for briefing. The other guys dug in to a feast of poached eggs, unleavened bread and goat sausage, but I didn’t join. I never have much of an appetite before a mission.

As the forks were cast onto the plates, and the small talk died down, Yuri approached the head of the table. He looked each of us up and down, then his concrete mug opened to reveal yellowed teeth in a crooked smile.

“Thank you gentlemen for agreeing to meet us here today. As you are probably aware, the situation has recently proven quite serious. Your expertise in this regard is most welcome, as is any input you may have.” He eyed each of us as he spoke with narrowed, greyish-blue eyes. He then pulled a bottle of clear liquid and a stack of cups from underneath the table and smiled.

“Local tradition.” He said smiling. The men let out a couple hoots and cheers; clearly enticed after the long flight. Yuri’s men poured out drinks, and the men accepted them graciously. They offered me one, but I stowed my hand. I wanted a clear mind, and frankly the whole scenario seemed a little too cliché for my liking. My refusal didn’t go unnoticed by Yuri.

“Not thirsty, sergeant?” I shook my head.

“I like to keep a clear mind.” Yuri nodded, and lifted his cup with the others. The group of them tapped their cups and downed their drinks one by one after a momentary salute. Yuri gasped as he gulped down the liquor, and set his cup down looking to me.

“After this Sergeant, you’re going to be wanting that drink.” He wasn’t kidding either, as the next twenty minutes were filled with one of the most head-scratching sitreps I’d ever heard.

Yuri explained that a Russian philanthropist had purchased about 2,000 acres just outside the town of Yeltya about a decade earlier. Said philanthropist had also recently been shot and killed just outside Moscow as he was getting into a taxi. Apparently, the man had acquired his fortune due to his work in bionic augmentation and advanced prosthetics. There was a lot of rumors circulating his death, with many believing it to be foul play on behalf of a rival business.

A few days later and the people of Yeltya had sent an SOS to the Russian government, claiming that terrorists had invaded their land. Yuri and his team arrived a few days later, finding the small town in a state of chaos. Eight were dead, dozens were injured and nearly thirty were missing after an explosion destroyed a gas station in the town.

Yuri and his men approached the city, but were fired upon by the occupying forces within. They didn’t get a clear look at their would-be assailants, seeing only muzzle flashes and vague silhouettes in the homes around the town. They evacuated as many as they could, but they didn’t manage to get everyone out. That was two weeks before we arrived, and it was the last of any movement seen in the town.

Up to that point, the terrorists had made no demands or even attempted contact of any kind. No group had claimed responsibility for the attack, and they saw no flags or other identifiable symbols posted within the town. Yuri sent an ambassador and two guards to try and attempt communication, but the only response they received was a hail of gunfire.

It was clear the group was not interested in negotiation, and that we had our work cut out for us. The plan – as Yuri put it, was to enter the city and reach the church. He then told us something which I found really odd. Apparently, ever since the terrorists had taken over, they had been continuously broadcasting a radio signal from somewhere in the town.

Yuri’s men had noticed it a few days later, but they couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They said that 99 percent of the time it just played old-1950’s era music. He made no mention of what it played the other one percent, if he even knew. It was kind of a weird detail to emphasize, but Yuri was insistent that priority number one was not liberation of hostages, but rather finding the source of the transmission which they believed was the church in the center of town.

It’s fairly standard for a client to have secrets they don’t want to divulge, and I’m not in the business of asking too many questions. But a feeling in my gut told me that their secrets were more than the usual contractor’s.

Our basic strategy involved my team taking the eastern road into the city under the cover of night. Meanwhile, Hydra and Barlow would enter the hills towards the west side and provide a clear vantage point – and possible sniper cover from about half a click out. The Russian platoon, led by Yuri would wait on standby hidden just outside the town if things got too hairy.

We waited for nightfall to commence our approach. At about 2100 we set out in our convoy toward the city of Yeltya with Yuri and his men. We halted our approach just outside the town, under the cover of a grove of trees. From there we continued on foot, while Gamma team: consisting of Hydra and Barlow split off to make their trek up to the foothills to the west of the city. Yuri and his men stayed behind waiting for our signal.

After Gamma confirmed they were in position, we proceeded to move on the town. Around the premises were a series of crevices and ravines which we utilized to best hide our approach. Gamma kept a watch from the west, while command – AKA Persimmon and Lemur, circled above with small scouting drones that we call ‘hawks’. We reached the outer limit of the town, and after both vantages confirmed no sign of enemy activity, we moved in.

The town of Yeltya is a poor, indigenous community of the Nom-Kai people who have inhabited the lands for many generations. It’s little more than a trailer park, with the only buildings of any significant size being the community center and town church.

We moved on the house nearest to the main road; seeing no signs of any movement as we did. There was a large hole in the back of the house, looking as though something had broken out from the inside leaving debris scattered in the yard. Honestly, the damn town looked like the zombie apocalypse was well underway, except for the distinct lack of zombies. I signaled the team to move in, using my night-vision specs to keep a watchful eye on the vicinity.

The house we entered was little more than a single floor shack. Newspapers were scattered around the room from the wind leaking in a cracked window, and the place had a thick smell of dog odor and something else. Something metallic, but I was unable to identify it.

“The hell is this?” Diablo suddenly asked, prodding a rolled-up piece of newspaper at a puddle. The liquid was dark, but once stirred it revealed an odd shade of silver; like liquified steel or mercury.

“Motor oil?” Juniper asked, but Diablo shook his head.

“Doesn’t look like any motor oil I ever saw.” He tossed down the newspaper with a sickened look on his face.

“Just leave it, we got other things to worry about.” I told them as I passed to look out the front window of the home.

“Hey Gamma, you got eyes on the church?”

“Affirmative… still no movement.” They responded just as a cold wind blow through the town, scattering a pile of newspapers around the splintered home. I felt goosebumps rise on my arms as the breeze chilled me to the core. It was too quiet, and all of us knew it. We were about to move out, when Mystic hollered from the other side of the house.

“Hey Sarge hold up… look at this.” I turned back to see him pointing at the wall. The wall looked like it had been blasted with buckshot, with little holes scattered all around along with a few spackles of blood. I told Mystic as much, but he shook his head.

“No come here… look closer.” Reluctantly I did, and then I saw it. The holes weren’t from shotgun pellets, but instead there were little shrapnel pieces of shiny metal embedded into the wall. Like shards from a pipe bomb or something. It was unusual no doubt about it, but we didn’t have time to sit their contemplating.

I ordered the team out of the house, and we moved to the other side of the street. The houses there seemed equally derelict as the one we had first entered. Rather than spend precious time scouring each home for evidence and survivors we opted to continue onward towards the church.

We spent the next few minutes maneuvering our way through the neighborhood, our heads stuck on a constant swivel. The only things in sight were more homes and empty vehicles. At one point we got spooked by the sounds of rustling from beyond a fence. Mandrake and Hammer moved in for a closer look, only for a gaggle of raccoons to come hissing out of their trash buffet.

Mandrake jumped as one of them bolted towards him only to scurry past and into the night. The rest of the team had a hushed chuckle at his expense, but I didn’t share it. Their demeanors might have been growing more confident and even jubilant, but mine was not. Every minute I spent there with no contact felt like we were just walking right into a trap.

We moved another block closer to the church, seeing a few more abandoned vehicles and empty homes. One of the houses had a massive, gaping hole on the front portion of the house, and it was instantly enticing. I ordered two of the men to check it out, while the rest of us kept a watchful eye on the vicinity.

The two men reached the house, and I watched as their rifles slumped in their hands. They looked to one another as if seeking reassurance or silently questioning what they found. One of them then turned back and motioned for us to join them. Once we arrived at their side, I felt all of my preeminent assertions erode in my gut.

In the ground of the home was a massive hole. It looked as though something had broken our of it from beneath, rather than it having been dug out by equipment. A vast tunnel stretched downward, plunging so far down that I couldn’t even see the bottom.

Juniper sparked a flare and dropped it down the cavern. We watched as the pink glow plunged further and further down; bouncing of the wall multiple times. It finally came to a rest some fifty meters down, but it’s light illuminated a passage that clearly continued further into unseen crevices.

“Didn’t know ISIS was in the mining business.” Saffron joked, but no one laughed. I found myself at a loss for explanation as well. Truth is, it looked nothing like a mineshaft, and the fact that it was right in the middle of someone’s home made it even more bizarre. It honestly looked like some massive worm creature had dug up from the bottom, but obviously I didn’t voice that opinion.

The mystery got even stranger when Diablo called out from the bedroom to the right of the hole. I shimmied my way around the hole until meeting Diablo, and smelled what he had found before I saw it.

There was a corpse in there; an older male by the looks of it. It was in the early stages of decomposing, with jaundice cheeks and gangrene discoloration on it’s skin. Clearly, he had been dead for several days at least, but that was not nearly the strangest aspect.

His upper body appeared relatively normal as far as human corpses go, but it’s lower body was almost fully skeletonized. The bones were like nothing I’d ever seen though, appearing to be more metallic than biologic. I’ve seen many dead bodies in my time, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that.

The men continued to debate amongst themselves, but I paid it little mind. Whatever atrocities were going on in that god-forsaken town were irrelevant to me, as the only thing I concerned myself with was reaching the church.

I ordered the team onward, and we exited the building en route to the church. A couple minutes later and we had traversed another few streets when the church first came into full view. Much like the rest of the town, the church was dark and appeared void of occupants. We regrouped just behind a house that stood adjacent to the church. After confirming with Gamma and command that they had still seen no one, we decided to move on the church.

I ordered the team to surround the premises, but remain close enough to be in visual sight of one another. The windows of the church were blacked out, covered from the inside by what looked like some kind of paint. Mystic and I moved on the front door, but before we could open it the radio buzzed.

“Alpha… you got movement down there.” Mystic and I swiveled around to glance around the desolate streets.

“Where?” I replied.

“Northeast corner of the town, next to the house with the green van.” I looked down the road, and saw the van he indicated.

“How many?”

“I don’t know it… just one I think. It just… it moved so quick, keep an eye out. I lost it behind that house down the block with the cracked garage door. No sign of it now.” I looked down the road, and saw the house, but no sign of anything else. The squad regrouped and I gave the signal to take defensive positions. We waited for a good minute or two, but saw no movement anywhere.

“Kick the door.” I gave the command and Mandrake followed without hesitation. He tried prying against the door of the church, but it refused to budge. He then got to work setting a small demo charge, while the rest of us kept watch.

“All set.” Mandrake confirmed a moment later. I motioned for the team to take over around the side of the church to avoid the concussion.

“Light it.” Mandrake hit the switch, and the charge ignited in a muffled bang. The door erupted with shards of wood and metal, leaving smoke wafting into the area in it’s wake. Diablo and Saffron moved on the door, and within moments passed inside. I followed soon after, but found they both had paused only a few feet inside. I was about to demand why they had frozen, when I looked past them and got my answer.

At the pew of the church was a vast array of wires, screens and other mechanical devices. Thick bundles of cables wrapped with metallic coating sprawled the room, stretching upward into the rafters, and downward into holes and cracks that had split the floor of the church. At the center was a large terminal that seemed to be at the crux of whatever the conduit was intended for. Once again, no trace of people.

“Looks like Isis has been upping their computer skills too.” Saffron’s joke was again met with silence, but the implications were vast. I knew then this was more than a simple terrorist syndicate. Something very different had happened there.

“Sarge we got contact.” Suddenly Mystic shouted from behind. I turned and scrambled back to the front door. Two men stood outside, and beyond them, someone was standing in the road.

The person was covered by a large cloak which concealed most of their body, and stood motionless some fifteen meters away from the church. I couldn’t see much of them at first, but I could tell they were small; only about the size of a child. They just stood there motionless, as we trained our rifles on them.

“Who are you?” I called out, but of course the person did not reply. Zero tried asking the same question in Kazak, only to be met with the same lack of response. I eyed the rest of the team, and motioned for them to hold as I buzzed command.

“Command you read? We got contact.” I awaited a response, still eyeing the motionless person standing in the road.

“Say again Alpha, we did not co…” Before the broadcast could finish an immense, whining screech reverberated through my ear piece. A lot of things happened simultaneously in that moment, but I’ll try and relay them as they happened.

That screech was painful, and out of instinct I tore my earpiece out. At the same moment I saw an immense flash emanate from behind me coming from the church. As soon as that happened, my night vision specs went dark. After briefly trying and failing to repair them, I tore them off as well. I then realized the other members of the team were doing the same.

“My specs are down.” Somebody stated, but in the momentary confusion I couldn’t tell who it was. The environment was suddenly near pitch black, and had it not been for the luck of a full moon above then we would’ve been near blind.

Suddenly gun shots broke out, but they weren’t coming from us. They were far off and distant, coming from what I later learned must’ve been Hydra and Barlow on the hillside. They stopped after only a couple seconds, and the unnerving silence returned.

“Juniper flare out.” I called. A second later and the vicinity was bathed in a reddish-pink light as the road flare sparked up. The light was momentarily blinding, but I managed to regain my bearings after a moment.

“Where the hell did they go?” Juniper asked, sounding frantic. I then realized that the cloaked person was gone, and my adrenaline really went into overdrive.

“Form up, watch the perimeter. Do not engage.” I shouted the command and began fidgeting with the radio once more. I tried raising command and Gamma several times, but got no response. I cursed and checked my wristwatch, only to discover that it had lost power as well.

“What the hell is this place?” Before any of us could do anything the radios suddenly burst back to life with the sounds of music. Old fashion jazz, like from the 1950’s or something. We just stood there stunned for a couple moments, and I don’t think anyone could even believe what we were hearing. It was incredibly eerie given the circumstance, but it didn’t last long.

I held up an arm to hush the muddled conversations of the men. That’s when I heard a voice coming through the radio. It was a female voice, or a text-to-speech function made to imitate one. The way it spoke was almost robotic, with no vocal inflection on the words spoken.

She spoke in Russian, though none of us understood what she was saying at the time. We learned from later review that she was reciting a series of numbers. It went on for about two minutes, before resuming the music once more. Then the music lasted a few more seconds before fading back into silence.

A shadow then emerged in my peripheries further down the street. Before I could even turn, I heard someone fire their weapon. I looked just in time to see a cloaked figure fall to the ground a couple meters away. I then turned back, finding Mandrake with a smoking barrel and horrified look on his face.

“Hold your fire.” I commanded, but obviously the order came too late. I motioned for Diablo to accompany me to the fallen person as the others waited behind. My heart sunk as my worst fear was confirmed.

It was a young girl, maybe ten years old; the same person we’d seen earlier. Her breaths were shallow, and the bullet had found it’s mark in her chest. Despite the fatal wound, she showed no real sign of distress. No tears, no facial contortions, just a deadpan expression with vacant eyes. She wouldn’t even look at us.

Around her neck was what looked like some mechanical collar. I quickly realized the device wasn’t just some fashion accessory, but a piece of machinery that was melded directly into her neck. It expanded and contracted as she breathed in and out. Little pieces of it spun and clicked, and the apparatus appeared to extend further down her torso but was hidden underneath her cloak. The bullet had struck her dead center in the chest, and there was nothing we could do. In less than ten seconds she stopped breathing.

Her head slumped back, and I watched the life fade from her eyes. So many questions and intrusive thoughts rushed through my mind I couldn’t help but step away.

“I didn’t know, I didn’t mean to…” I watched tears roll down Mandrake’s cheeks as he muttered the words over and over. I turned my attention back to Zero and Saffron back at the entrance of the church.

“You find anything?” Zero shook his head.

“Just wires and screens. Could spend days tearing this place apart but… I don’t even know where we’d begin. Or what we’d look for.” I nodded back to him and thought for a moment. The whole night had suddenly taken on a completely different and altogether terrible tone. But according to the details of our contract, we had fulfilled our end of the bargain and liberated the church.

“Let’s pack it in.” I ordered the team to prepare to return from the way we had come. They all began to prepare; all but Mandrake who stood there silent.

“Mandrake…” I put a hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump. We met eyes, and I could almost feel the unparalleled regret emanating from within his.

“You couldn’t have known.” Mandrake just looked away. I felt for him, but that moment was not the time to feel sorry. We were prepared to move out when Hammer suddenly shouted.

“Sarge, on your six.” I spun back and saw someone standing further down the road. There was a person garbed in a raggedy cloak shambling towards us. The person was clearly much taller and bulkier than the young girl, and was dragging something on the ground behind them.

“Toqta!” I shouted the Kazakh word for ‘stop’ at the person. They continued towards us, and I chambered a round in my rifle.

“I said fucking stop!” I stepped forward, and the person broke into a dash. In seconds they were charging towards us with reckless intent. I briefly saw the face of a man flash underneath the cloak before I fired. I fired again and again, and the other team members joined in.

The man must’ve been struck two-dozen times, but he barely seemed phased. He lifted his arm, holding a long piece of metal and prepared to strike. That’s when a bullet split his face right down the center, and he fell in a heap. The first thing I noticed was the metal accessories that were attached to various portions of his body. His entire left arm was missing, replace by a bionic one.

Before any sense of order could be reestablished, another figure emerged further down the street. Seconds later there was another to the right of the church, then one on a nearby house, then another that crawled out of a fissure in the road. In seconds there were dozens of them encroaching from all directions. There were too many of them, and I gave the only order I could. Retreat.

We began to run, knowing our weapons would not be nearly enough to hold off the approaching bionic horde. We hadn’t gone more than ten feet before one of them fell from the rooftops. He landed on Diablo, and began tearing away at his flesh with metallic fingers. The man was elderly, with his lower jaw being fully metal and devoid of any flesh.

A couple shots to the head and chest and he slumped away, allowing Diablo to escape. From there all sense of order was lost entirely. It became essentially a free for all, with everyone running from the ever-increasing mob of bionic fiends. It kills me to admit it, but I ran like hell.

There was nothing we could do. If we hadn’t ran, then they would’ve got all of us. I watched those people… those things plunge their metallic hands into Saffron. I watched them tear handfuls of flesh and intestines out of him, all the while with those flat, emotionless looks on their face. It’s like they weren’t even human, at least not anymore.

Mystic finally put Saffron out of his misery with a shot from his pistol, before he too was seized. Saffron, Mystic, Hammer and Zero never made it back. The mob consumed them after we had long since spent the last of our ammo. There had to be hundreds of those damn things there. Gamma team; consisting of Hydra and Barlow were also never found. Six good men lost in that hellhole.

We would’ve all been goners, if it weren’t for Yuri and his team waiting just outside the city. They managed to drive the denizens back as the remainder of my team scrambled away from the town. Before we got out, one of those things did something very strange. I saw a middle-aged woman approach us. Her stomach split open into some canon-like appendage, and seconds later launched a volley of metallic shards. I felt multiple of them strike me, and blood begin to pool down my head, chest and legs. I must’ve lost consciousness not long after.

When I woke up, I found myself in a bed with bandages covering various portions of my body. Yuri was there waiting for me, and he stirred when he saw me awake.

“Did you find the church?” I nodded weakly, erupting into a fit of coughs as I did.

“And what did you see?” It took me a while between the coughing, but I basically told him we had found some kind of terminal with all the wires and conduit. Yuri seemed interested by the answer, but clearly wanted more.

“Was it there?” The way he emphasized the word made it seem strange.

“Was what there?” Yuri just nodded, and rose from my bed without another word. He put his coat on and was on the verge of leaving the room when I asked again.

“Was what there? What are you talking about?” Yuri then paused, and sauntered back over to my bedside. He then looked me dead in the eye.

“You wouldn’t be asking that if you saw it, and if you did see it…” He then uncurled his fist, revealing a small metal orb that looked somewhat like an eye.

“Then you wouldn’t be able to ask.” He gave me an ever so slight smirk, like his words were meant to convey a deeper meaning. I found it hard to care in the moment though. Mandrake killed himself about a week after we got home. I know his mistake with that girl just ate at him, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

Last I heard the Russians were planning to carpet bomb the entire town of Yeltya. My commanding officer told me a few days later that things had exacerbated well-beyond their ability to contain it, and they were considering more drastic options. He then told me something which really made my hairs stand on end.

“You know that church you guys found?” Persimmon asked, and I nodded.

“Well apparently there was more to it than we thought. After we left, I was notified that the church was demolished, but not by the Russians. There was something underneath it, and it finally broke out. They didn’t say what it was, but they sounded terrified. Last I heard it burrowed back underground in the foothills. No tellin’ where it is now.” There was only one question I could think to ask in response.

“What the hell is it?” Persimmon paused for a long time; as if he knew the answer or at least had a guess, but had no way to phrase it. In the end he opted for a cop out.

“Just… something that was never meant to exist.”

I imagine that thing – whatever it is was also what Yuri was referring to. I can’t imagine what it even is, but I suspect it is the reason for the townsfolks macabre bionic transmutations. Never thought I’d see anything like we saw out there, but at the same time, I’ve always known that technology is far beyond what is readily available. There’s a good reason governments and various agencies work so hard to keep it hidden.

God only knows what really happened out there; or what will become of all of it. I’m not sure I even want to know anymore. That damn place took several good friends from me, and now I just want to forget it. The days of me risking my neck for a paycheck are over. I just hope the Russians can take care of that thing before it finds another town to infiltrate.

ghost town