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The seven ton 6x6 half-track rumbled down the flooded trail shooting water and mud in equal measure up into the smoky air.
“Just the six of us?” Corporal Gale asked raising his voice nearly to a yell so that he could be heard over the roaring engine.
“Well it wasn’t you know, huge, I mean it was a decent sized skirmish but it definitely wasn’t a battle.” Corporal Hughes replied.
Gale turned around in his seat looking out the rear window at the four men sitting quietly in the cargo hold. Lance Corporal Sarah Caras a young, pretty woman in Gale’s opinion, with short dirty blonde cropped hair and a nasty scar that ran horizontally across her lips. She sat alone, distant from the world her right knee bouncing up and down in anxiety. Across from her sat Victor Terry, another Corporal with bad teeth and a horrible disposition. The two of them had come to his unit together almost a week ago and he still knew little about them. That isn’t to say he hadn’t had a chance to talk to them. He’d caught up with Terry the day before in the mess hall and attempted to strike up a conversation without much success. The man had been far too preoccupied with keeping tabs on Caras’ whereabouts to pay the Corporal too much heed. When Gale confronted him about his ‘obsession’ LCPL he’d replied ‘just keep an eye on her’ and left to join her table.
The other two troopers, Corporal Yakes and Lance Corporal Gren sat off near the exit sharing jokes and chattering. The two were similar in mind and body, both about 5’9” with brown hair and wide chins. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were from different worlds one would think they were brothers. Gale was good friends with both and had been serving with them for the last three years. Gale looked away from the window and at his driver. Hughes was a husky man, slightly overweight but still robust. He wore a pair of black stylized sunglasses that was at odds with the tan and brown digital BDU’s they all wore. He’d only been with the unit for two months but still Gale counted him among his friends. The two of them had spent a lot of time down at the bars in the rear where Gale had learned he shouldn’t let the man drink but did anyways. He wasn’t a spectacular NCO, none of them were but in their line of work you didn’t have to be.
“So how much longer till you get out?” Hughes asked in an attempt at light conversation.
“Wait…out of what, GD?” Gale said as he peered out the passenger window. Outside the world was a mess, smoldering craters everywhere, not a tree in sight. Only a few scrubs and bushes remained in the desolate realm and Gale was sure they’re time would be up soon as well.
“Out of the Guard, I mean.” He clarified.
“What are you talking about, out of the Guard? I don’t understand.” Gale replied.
“I mean when’s your term up? When do you leave the Guard? I get out in three more years when do you leave?”” He said turning to look at Gale.
“When I’m dead.” Gale snapped, glaring at the other man.
“Oh.” He said as he returned to the road ahead.
They spent the rest of the ride in silence. Fortunately for Hughes the ride didn’t last much longer and in fifteen minutes they arrived at the coordinates as instructed. Hughes parked the seven ton in the middle of a field that had once been a farm. Rows of diseased, badly decomposed vegetables amid black smoke from tiny fires stretched for a quarter mile in every direction giving off a rancid stench. There was another kind of death however and Gale knew it all too well and for far too long. Before shutting off the engine both men did a quick one over the entire field to ensure there were no enemies in hiding. After a few seconds with no one firing at them Hughes flicked the ignition disembarking along with the rest of the detail.
Gale walked off a dozen feet from the rest of his unit and took in the field. Impact craters dotted the landscape and an abandoned auto-cannon lay a hundred yards away partially obscured by the black fumes that rose from the smoldering grounds.
“He’s hidden them for there’s more sand than man.” He whispered to himself.
“What was that?” Yakes asked as he came up from behind and handed him a large black plastic bags.
“Nothing.” Gale said dismissively.
Gale watched as the other troopers carrying their own bags dispersed among the field.
“Come on you two stop dickin’ around I wanna get out of here before night falls!” Hughes called out.
With a shrug Yakes departed and Gale turned to begin his search. It wasn’t long before he found the first. An older man, perhaps 27 lying on his back, his blouse stained crimson from two shuriken rounds that had impacted his chest. A lung shot, quick but painful. He stared up into the dirty brow sky with eyes that spoke nothing of peace. Gale closed them before unzipping the bag and setting it down next to the man. With a grunt of effort Gale hauled the man inside zipping it back up and dragging it back to the truck. It took a few minutes to get there and by the time he did Gren and Caras had joined him. They helped each other lift the bodies up into the truck before they returned to the field with new bags.
As Gale was walking away from the truck he heard Hughes call his name. “Ay! Gale! Gale! Go get some shovels for me?”
“Alright gimme a sec!” Gale said as he doubled back to the seven ton. He climbed up the back and dug around the storage locker they kept secured to the bench. He produced two shovels before hopping down and running over to where Hughes and Yakes were. They stood sentinel over a still smoking crater with what appeared to be a pair of human bodies. He wasn’t sure. The two looked as if they’d been fused together by the fire that had consumed them both. Gale could clearly make out a head, screaming in its final moments of agony and he was fairly sure the sunken globe that lay in the man’s belly was another head. Gale leaned in close trying to make out what appendage it was. The second body didn’t have a torso and to Gale it didn’t look as if there were any other arms but he could swear that there was a head in the man’s belly. Or maybe the man’s legs had wrapped around and stuck himself in the gut. It could have been a foot.
“Well get to those…him…those two in a sec.” Hughes said. They of course weren’t what the shovels were for. A few feet away lay another poor fellow caught just outside the blast. He’d been a heavy man, fat. His belly had been ripped open and the entirety of him had emptied itself in a neat little pile. Gale handed off a shovel to Yakes and motioned for Hughes to hold a bag open.
They began shoveling, thrusting the shovel in and scooping up masses of flesh, organ, muscle, and fat. Flies buzzed incessantly around the corpse, even more so than the rest and already Gale could see maggots squirming around inside the man’s carcass. It would have been mundane, the shoveling and pouring, if it weren’t so revolting. In one instance Gale scooped up a shovelful of watery fat and miscalculating dumped some of it on Hughes holding hand.
“Shit!” Hughes said repelling from the thick substance.
“Ah shit sorry Hughes.” Gale said genuinely sorry. Hughes simply held up his, the other covering his mouth. He stood still for a moment before bending over as vomit exploded violently from his mouth. For the next minute they waited for him to finish and when he was he returned to his place and held the bag open.
“You gonna be alright?” Yakes asked as he swatted at flies buzzing round his head. From off in the distance Gren asked the same and Gale responded with a thumbs up.
“I’ll be fine, just took me by surprise is all.”
“Real sorry it was an accident.”
“Its fine, really I’m fine.” Hughes insisted.
“Owe you a beer when we get back then I guess.” Gale said as he resumed shoveling. It took the three of them five minutes and another bag to finish with the man. In Gale’s mind it was back ass-ward stupid to bag every ounce of the man but so much of was still inside that to do otherwise they would have had to rip it all out with their bare hands, though even if the Munitorium did supply them with gloves they’d still be more than hesitant. When they finished packing the man away Gale and Hughes carried the ‘meat’ bag while Yakes hefted the ‘body’ bag. The three of them threw the man in the cargo hold and returned to the field.
One might have thought that it was a one sided battle for all the bodies they’d been carrying but the slender forms of the Eldar littered the field in as great a numbers with as much damage. As always though orders strictly forbid tampering with the corpses and for that Gale was eternally grateful. He didn’t want to touch anymore bodies than he had to. As he was bagging a young lad of perhaps seventeen Gale heard a shouting from across the field. He could see Caras and Terry arguing but he couldn’t make out the words. The two looked furious and Gale decided he should investigate, as did the rest of the crew.
As he came closer the bits of the argument flowed to his ears.
“You can’t put that ****ing arm in there!” Terri raged.
“It’s a ****ing arm what difference does it make?” She screamed back.
“Its’ not his, find his ****ing arm!” He retorted.
Gren having arrived late chimed in. “What’s the problem here?”
“He won’t let me pack the Throne damned ****ing arm!” She screamed pleadingly.
“Is it that guy’s arm?” Yakes asked.
“How the **** should I know?” She yelled back.
“Check to see where it breaks off, if it’s longer or shorter it’s not his if it’s the same it’s his.” Gale replied calmly.
Caras wiped her tear streaked face as she bent down and compared the arm to the body inside.
“It’s the same.” She replied as she began to pack it away.
“Like hell it is!” Terri shouted. He lumbered over pushing Caras aside and grabbing the cadaver by the scruff of the neck hauled it out. He turned and ripped the arm away from the shrieking woman. He bent down and compared to parts and even from where he stood Gale could tell it was not a match.
Her lie uncovered Caras became hysterical. “You want a ****ing arm here take this one!” She cried as she picked up another arm and hurled it at Terri.
“Here’s another one and a ****ing hand did ya check that one or how about a ****ing head does that fit?” She continued to bombard Terry with various limbs until he raced over and slugged her hard across the face sending a spurt of blood from her already scarred lip. She fell to the ground then scrambled across it as Terry kicked her in the ribs.
“Hey that’s enough man!” Gren called out as he, Gale, and Yakes rushed to intervene. Hughes unmoved by the display remained where he was. Yakes and Gren pulled the raging Corporal aside and the three of them fell to the ground as he struggled against their restraints. Gale rushed to Caras’ side who kneeled on the ground her hands held to her face.
“I…think I…broke.” She said between sobs. He did his best to comfort her when Terry, having freed himself called out.
“Don’t feel sorry for that little ****! She… that ****er slit her wrists to get out of combat! ****ing bitch ditched her platoon, check her wrist if you don’t believe me! I got dragged along with her! They wanted me to make sure she didn’t kill herself!”
“What?” Gale said as he looked into Caras’ tearful eyes and then to her wrists. He checked and sure enough her left wrist had deep scars running across. Frustrated Gale released his grip on the girl and turned back to Terri.
“That doesn’t matt-
“Hate to be against you in this Gale but it matters.” Gren said his tone almost apologetic.
“Gren’s right man, that was a shitty thing to do, I mean we’d all, I mean I would, I’d **** my grandmother doggy-style if it meant I got out of this gig.” Hughes said as he waved his arms for dramatic effect.
“Yeah and what are you all gonna do about it.” Gale shot back accusingly.
“I say we fuc- Terry was about to continue when Hughes cut him off.
“Throne Gale were not gonna lynch the woman, but something’s gotta be done about this. This isn’t exactly the best place for a suicide to be hanging around. We’ll get her some help.”
“No!” Caras suddenly burst out. “No! No! No!”
Terry was about to move again but he was intercepted by Yakes who’d remained mysteriously silent for the duration. Gale knew it was because of the scars that ran across his own wrist but he didn’t bring it up, that was years ago. And like Yakes, Gale had no intention of just throwing Caras in an asylum. Places like that were far worse than any battlefield. Despite the horrors of Graves Detail he still got nightmares from when he picked up Yakes.
“Get out of here Terri.” Yakes said coolly. If Yakes’ had been on his own Terri might have just brushed past him but sensing his friend might need support Gren moved to assist. Terri stared them menacingly at them both until Hughes walked over and grabbing him by the arm and dragging him back into the field where the dead awaited.
The situation dealt with for the moment Gale turned to Caras. “Go back to the truck and wait for us to finish. When we get back we’ll talk. Alright?”
Caras nodded her head as she got up and trudged towards the seven ton. When she’d safely boarded the truck Gale gave Yakes a knowing glance and turned to begin his search anew. It took them the better part of three hours to gather up all of the bodies, many of which were in several pieces and required sorting and matching. It wasn’t that they were trying to haze the girl but the bodies were going to be shipped back to their homes and no parent wanted to see their son or daughter’s body with the wrong head.
When they finally finished loading up all the bodies they stacked them neatly in the front of the cargo hold before climbing in themselves. Caras stayed up front with Hughes and Gale, not wishing to be around Terry anymore than was necessary. With a flick of a switch the seven ton roared into life and Hughes drove away from the farm and the dead.
Corporal William Gale of Lima Co pulled his mud encrusted boot from the earth, felt it go under again then adjusted the Las rifle slung around his back, scratched an itch on his nose, shivered, coughed and finally, when he felt the nausea recede found the courage to return his gaze upwards only to see their newly assigned Commissar nodding lightly in his direction. He responded with a hateful glare and swore vengeance on him and on Hughes.
It was a cold miserable morning in a partly flooded meadow just south of the town of Marieglise and there was a Lieutenant, lean and with sandy skin lying face down in a puddle of warm tepid water that had a hint of ruby and smelled awful. His body was nearly submerged and his tan fatigues made him stick out amongst the dark browns and greens that covered the landscape. Taking a deep breath and holding it Gale grabbed the Lieutenant’s blouse and pulled as hard as he could. A loud sucking sound signaled the earth’s refusal to release its captive and Gale strained his muscles one final time before the blouse tore and he gave up and began stomping on the Lieutenant’s back in frustration.
All around him the scene was repeated as the rest of the detail struggled with their own bloated cadavers. Their postures showed varying states of extreme exhaustion and their faces bore promises of violence to any that bothered them. They worked alone with the exception of Terri who was still shadowing Caras’ every move, much to her growing agitation. For the entire miserable night they’d scoured the flooded meadow prodding the waters with the muzzles of their rifles while freezing rain pelted their heads until they found a bloated body that they would spend the better part of a half-hour digging up with rifles, E-tools and their hands. The tension was almost electric; their nerves were on a hair trigger.
Once during the night they’d been allowed an hour break for food and without muttering a word the six of them bounded back towards the seven ton. Gale had crawled into the truck’s cabin after Gren and Yakes and was followed by Terri and Caras. The five of them passed out almost instantaneously, collapsing amongst each other in an unseemly heap of bodies. Hughes watched them from the cargo space for a while weeping softly, looked around to make sure the Commissar was not watching then stuck himself with a needle, let his head sag then fell into a deep peaceful sleep.
An hour later exactly they were all shaken awake then ordered to return to the meadow to finish. That had been nearly six hours ago.
Gale wiped his sweaty brow then let out an impressively long string of obscenities that drew attention from the rest of the detail and more importantly their newly assigned Commissar who strode over as fast as he could without tipping over and sinking into the mud.
His name he’d told them in broken gothic was Senior Commissar Sheik Raamiah and that if they addressed him as anything but he’d summarily execute them on the spot. He demanded perfection in every aspect of their lives and anything to the contrary was blasphemy against the Emperor and no less than forty-two saints. Like all of his kind he was a hard-ass and resented by the rank and file but he at least made the effort to pitch in during times like what Gale found himself in. That small fact however left no impression on the detail and they hated him one and all. More than the Commissar they hated Hughes for bringing him down on their heads.
“You have trouble Corporal?” He asked when he arrived.
Gale responded by blowing air through his nose loudly and muttering, “****,” under his breath over and over again until Raamiah put his hand on his shoulder and motioned for him to take hold of the Lieutenant’s shoulders. Still breathing loudly he bent down and together the two of they struggled to pull the body up. Their progress was measured in centimeters and after a minute Gale fell to his knees and worked his hands underneath the Lieutenant’s chest to see if couldn’t push the body and when he did something gave way and his hand punched through so far that Raamiah could see its imprint pushing against the skin on the other side.
Gale coughed wildly, doing all he could to resist the urge to wretch he withdrew his hands and placed them on the poor Lieutenant’s ribcage and pushed with everything he could muster. Moments later there was a sound like a suction cup being torn off a surface and miraculously the body came free with such force that Raamiah nearly fell over.
For a while Gale watched as the Commissar grinned, apparently pleased with their work then looked at the Lieutenant whose chest cavity was nothing but a ragged hole and then at his hands which were covered in viscera. Quickly he sunk them in the water and scrubbed them with his sleeves while Raamiah took the black plastic bag he’d laid out earlier and turned to the labor of shoving the Lieutenant inside.
When he’d finished he zipped the bag up and Gale struggled to his feet then the two of them grabbed an end and began the long march back to the seven ton parked on the elevated dirt road that ran alongside the field. As they walked the earth gave yielded beneath them and they constantly had to stop to pry their feet from the mud. The six of them had wanted to remove their boots to make the trips easier but Raamiah had stopped them stating that there were probably a number of knives and swords and pieces of shrapnel lying just beneath the water’s surface. He was probably right but that hadn’t stopped them from despising him for it or Yakes, Caras, and Terri from sneaking their boots off anyways and storing them in the locker at the back of the seven ton.
So far the Commissar hadn’t noticed their little mutiny mostly due to fact that he’d issued the order in the dead of night during a monsoon like downfall and because the water obscured anything below the knees. Though exhaustion gripped his mind he couldn’t help but wonder what kind of punishment there would be from a man who’d have them practice drill for six hours in the night because Caras had walked with her head down.
As they marched on that embarrassingly long night in front of the battalion his thoughts drifted back to 1st Lieutenant Evart’s dingy bunker where accusations of drug use had been laid, figuratively of course, at their feet.
“Now I know you all got the shittiest job in the Guard,” 1st Lieutenant Evart had droned, “ that, the fact that most of you are NCOs is why you all got a little bit of leniency when it comes to things like protocol, SOPS, the like.” He paused to lick his lips then to consult a glowing data scroll on his mahogany desk. “Narcotics however is not on the list of your privileges and for your information I’m not talking about Throne-damned stimulants I’m talking about the heavy duty shit resol, heroin, obscura, pasil. Any of you know anything about this?”
Quickly they affirmed him as respectfully as possible that all allegations were false and that none of them would ever shame the regiment by doing such a thing. The Lieutenant looked skeptical. Unlike most officers he hadn’t been commissioned, instead after sixteen years in the guard he applied for OCS a year after he made Gunnery Sergeant. Nearly thirteen years of commanding troopers had done wonders for his bullshit detectors.
He cleared his throat then said, “You all are sure about that?” They gave a positive. “Anything’s going on now’s the time I can go grab the Chaplain we can sort this all out…” He trailed off realizing no one was going to speak up and without the proper supplies there was no way to test them. He sighed then picked up the data scroll and browsed through it with his index finger. After a while he set the pad down, glowered at Hughes then clapped his hand and said, “Regiment got a cadre of Commissars coming in and we’re gonna have a few extra so I’m going to request that one be assigned to the Graves Registration detail. If any of you guys decide to change your mind well, you know where to find me.”
His tone was serious but they’d thought nothing of the threat when they left Evart’s gloomily lit province. Yakes laughed the whole thing off with Gren before disappearing in the direction of their hooches while Gale encouraged Terri to go get himself a drink while he escorted Caras back to her own hooch where he’d lie next to her on a moldy cot listening to her myriad problems while hoping she’d have sex with him. She was a bit more worried than the rest about the turn of events but he appealed to her sense of logic claiming that there was no reason to worry that there’d be no greater waste in resources than to assign to a six man detail a Commissar even a junior one, which if she was wondering would be the one they’d get and everyone knew you could walk all over them because they didn’t know their ass from their elbows. Despite his attempts at placation she remained worried so he kissed her on the mouth and as if by instinct she pulled away and scrambled out of the hooch only to return a few moments later with an odd and quickly accepted apology. For the rest of the night they’d laid next to each other frustratingly chaste.
Since the incident at the farm almost three weeks ago things had begun to look up for the lonely detail that worked for Graves Registration. The war had slowed a little and Bravo Co had formed their own graves detail that consisted of twice as many men which afforded them far more downtime than they knew what to do with. Not that they didn’t find ways to pass the time. Yakes spent most of his time with Gren who gambled with the mechanics at the motor pool during the day and spent the winnings at night on alcohol. Hughes would disappear for hours at a time returning stealthily back to his hooch with arms full of cases of beer and chocolate and other ill gotten goods. He’d store them under his cot whereupon he’d lie for the rest of the day reading Chapayev and enjoying life in general. Caras had returned to something cousin to normality thanks in part to a good deal of nurturing from Gale during long walks around the perimeter of the FOB. And even Terri managed to lighten up though he still wore his scowl as if it were a family heirloom.
All that had changed one morning when Senior Commissar Raamiah had appeared in front of their morning formation wearing his black commissar outfit bolt pistol in hand barking out the changes that were to come and would disrupt the somewhat pleasant routine they’d fallen into. Shortly after, Senior Commissar Raamiah dismissed them to the chow hall whereupon they would eat and then assemble for formation at which point he would instruct them as to the order of the day.
While they were there, munching pensively on an awful tasting stew, Raamiah burst through the heavy paneled doors of the mess hall and tromped over to them. His cheeks were flushed and sweat dripped off his brow. Loudly he informed them and everyone else in the mess hall that he’d spot inspected their hooches and declared them unfit for the whores that had worked the cobblestone streets of his birth.
Quickly without allowing room for discussion he ushered them all out back to their hooches and instructed them in meticulous detail how they were to order the living spaces. At that point a general consensus was reached that Raamiah was a dick of massive proportions. Silently, dejectedly they went about tiding up their hooch until four hours later the Senior Commissar deemed them satisfactory, though only barely, then directed them to an empty loading dock, a 30x40 foot slab of gray metal resting between the chapel and the S2 office, where they practiced ground fighting until they broke for chow then went on to clean their las rifles then returned to their hooches and slept.
The next morning Raamiah woke them up at 040 sharp for formation in the blistering cold before marching them off like a bunch of boots to the mess hall where he screamed at Gren for slouching and punished the rest of them by having them skip their meal and ground fighting until noon when they were covered in bruises.
Twice they packed themselves in their seven ton and followed the winding dirt roads to a distant battlefield to collect the recently dead. Oddly enough on both occasions Raamiah had or at least it seemed to Gale struggled to find a medium between stern overseer, examining their every move, searching for some instance of resentment or drudgery of which there was much and genuine helper. He refrained from punishment in the field only resorting to it when he felt the situation allowed no other recourse like when Gren had shot a vicious remark about the Commissar’s cock sucking mother and he’d slammed the butt of his bolt pistol into his nose, shattering it then handcuffing him to the seven ton. He stayed there until their work was done and upon return to the FOB he uncuffed him, took him into Lima’s supply depot, beat him until he couldn’t stand then dragged him out into the Co area where they waited at attention while 1st Lieutenant Evart’s assistant, a leathery old Senior Commissar like Raamiah but without the accent PT’d them until their muscles begged for mercy. Thus the weeks passed and with it their patience and nerves.
Then one night two days before they were ordered out into a flooded meadow where the earth sucked them into its womb and it rained icy waves and fog settled over the land so they had to prod it with the muzzles of their rifles Raamiah spotted Caras plodding wearily through the head high trenches her head down, hands in pockets, while chewing a stick of gum that Gale would later deny giving to her, stating that really she’d just taken it from his pocket and he hadn’t protested.
Suffice to say he was upset.
Without warning he cuffed her on the back of the head sending her spiraling to the ground then kicked in every the door of their hooches and ordered everyone to his favorite loading dock for drill. They marched for six hours to his throaty barks in fatigues that did nothing to keep out the cold.
They practiced column lefts and eyes right, spent an unseemly amount of time change stepping and held salutes until their arms dropped.
After a while he shouted, “About face!” Then, “Detail dismissed,” and walked off into the night leaving them to themselves, their hate, and their imagination.
Now normally resentment for these kinds of punishments generally fell on the offender who incurred the Commissar’s wrath or if the person in question was well liked, in Caras’ case by Gale who vehemently prevented hazing on the part of Terri and occasionally Gren, the Commissar himself. In this instance however all of their woes could be traced back to a slightly uneventful night in the gloomy confines of 1st Lieutenant Evart’s bunker where he inquired about drugs and had spent a noticeably longer time looking at Hughes than any of the rest of them.
For Gale the suspicion had been there long before 1st Lieutenant Evarts had given rise to the notion. Hughes had a record of larceny as well as a well-documented tendency to disappear for long periods of time upon which he would return a jolly fellow that everyone wanted to hang out with. Honestly Gale couldn’t have cared if he was shooting up, smoking, getting plastered or participating in a circle jerk with the mechanics while wearing a gas mask and staring at a picture of his sister, just as long as nothing he or anyone did ****ed with his well adjusted routine. This as it so happened was exactly what Hughes had done.
Furtively, while the tiny formation dispersed, Gale took Terri by the arm, counting on his dislike of the man to convince him to help, and led him away into the night where he told him everything he knew about Hughes. It turned out that Terri was more than willing to help and for a while they stood silently feeling conspiratorial in the night before racing off.
The two tailed Hughes and over the course of an hour he took them on a tour of the FOB. His first stop was at his hooch where he stayed for ten minutes before moving on. After a while they found themselves at the regimental motor pool where Hughes stopped to talk to a gruff looking mechanic with a hearty laugh and an amiable demeanor. The spies rested on their bellies watching patiently until the mechanic handed Hughes a small object they couldn’t identify then departed heading towards the Lima Co armory. They found him inside leaning against a stack of ammunition crates a large syringe protruding from his left forearm.
“Sorry,” Hughes had said sheepishly when Gale and Terri entered the dusty room, “I can’t help it.” Sadness flashed across his features as he pressed down on the syringe and pumped whatever fluid the syringe contained and his eyes took on a glossy haze and Gale could see it would be pointless to talk to him.
Gale had almost managed an understanding smile but the effort of restraining Terri from beating the doped up soldier to death prevented him from doing so. He pinned him to the sandbag wall and told him they’d grab someone first thing in the morning and think about it, he needs help not a fist. It took a while but after assuring him they’d deal with the problem and be rid of the commissar a dozen times he managed to talk Terri out of murder and what might also have been a medal or prison term depending.
“****ing shit bag.” Terri growled and though he tried to think of Hughes as a friend he couldn’t help but agree. Silently the two left the dreamer to his dreams in the Lima Co armory.
Outside in the cold night Terri had sworn up and down, kicking the flak boards of the trench wall then departed saying he needed to make sure Caras hadn’t hung herself over the whole affair. Gale laughed at this saying that if he was going he might as well check on her too so to save him the trouble of having to take her down all by himself.
The next morning, a bright one without a cloud in the sky, after formation Hughes strode up to them joking about the night before, saying he really thought Terri was going to beat the shit out of him. With an anxious smile he thanked them both for keeping his secret and when he saw the indifference on their stoic faces his smile faded and he pleaded with them to remain silent. He swore that he’d get help, that starting that day he’d never touch a drug again, ever. Terri and Gale listened like two judges hearing witnesses’ testimony, impersonal and more or less unmoved but when it seemed like Hughes was on the verge of tears Gale sighed promising not to tell anyone so long as he stopped. With some difficulty he made Terri agree to the pact. Hughes thanked them both profusely then set off for his hooch. Once he was out of sight Gale turned to Terri and said, “Shall we?”
Terri smiled and they headed for 1st Lieutenant Evarts bunker where they told him all about how Hughes shot up in the Lima Co armory.
“Figured it was him,” 1st Lieutenant Evarts’ muttered when they’d finished, “but I couldn’t do a urine test so that’s that.”
“Well now you know. How ‘bout getting rid of the Commissar for us…sir.” Gale requested.
1st Lieutenant Evarts put a hand through his salt and pepper hair and acquiesced. “Give it about two weeks, I’ll have him transferred. Hughes will go with him.”
“Thank you, thank you.” They’d said then turned to leave.
Later the sky panned blue and Gale spent the rest of the day sitting on his hooch watching as flocks of rainbow colored birds passed overhead.
On the final count of three Gale tapped into his drained reservoir of strength and heaved the dead Lieutenant’s body into the back of the seven ton with Raamiah’s unwanted but grateful help. Deftly, with aching muscles that screamed at the strain he boarded the seven ton and dragged the plastic bag to a large pile at the back of the cargo. He took a moment to catch his breath then leaned against the seven tons steel railing. Back in the meadow by the Chimera Terri was yelling at Caras for some misdeed. Yakes was trudging alongside Gren a plastic bag held between them. They were fifty yards and probably twenty minutes away. Hughes was on the far edge of the meadow next to a group of stubby trees sulking half-submerged in the water.
“I hear about him.” Raamiah spoke softly.
The sudden interruption surprised Gale but he was too tired to do anything more than a half-hearted flinch. “Hughes?”
“From 1st Lieutenant Evarts,” Raamiah continued, “Druggy. No place for them in the guard most likely he’ll give cause to be executed. My peers would argue his behavior warrants lashing.” He looked over at Gale who wondered if he’d just been asked a question.
After a moment Raamiah continued, “He also tells me I’m transferred to Oscar Co before the week is over. You going to return to normal SOP eh?”
This was a question and Gale nodded his head. “Yeah a return to normalcy, that’d be nice.”
“Yes familiar is always good.” He spoke sagely then tapped his shoulder and pointed towards Caras whose bare feet were clearly visible on the loading ramp of the Chimera. Her argument with Terri was a disturbance to the peaceful ambience of the earth. Raamiah leveled a finger at them shaking it up and down. “When I was junior, in Commissariat Senior Commissar Nakid tells me to pick fights wisely. He said Cadet Raamiah you must always remember that your troopers may be guardsmen but they are human too. He said too many Commissars forget that and get shot in the back of the head or are stabbed in their cots.”
Gale eyed him curiously. “What’re you saying sir?”
“I say, I don’t know what I say. Maybe I am a very stupid man. Come on we’ll finish our business here and go home. Tomorrow if there is battle we’ll clean up again and go home. Always go home. Familiarity is good yes?”
“Yeah I guess.”
Just then Yakes and Gren strode up, exhausted and moody. “Give us a hand.” Gren said with a demanding tone. Raamiah frowned, admonished them softly then helped them lift the bag that sloshed noisily and leaked smelly fluids from a tear at the end.
Raamiah eyed Yakes who eyed him back but Raamiah said nothing. Instead he sighed and bounced out of the back of the seven ton and called to Terri and Caras who’d finally made their peace on whatever issue had been aggravating them and were now hefting a big black bag. The two exchanged a glance then quickened their pace. Then he yelled out at Hughes who did not turn until Terri began screaming obscenities at him.
After a while the two of them left the flooded meadow behind and struggled up the hill, followed by Hughes, depressed and despairing.
They packed the bag into the seven ton and then Raamiah informed them that all 26 bodies were now accounted for and that they could go home. His proclamation had an instantaneous somnolent effect and they forced their bodies into the truck with the rest of the bodies and promptly fell asleep. Gale awoke hours later in the Lima Co motor pool of FOB 32. It was evening and a deep orange had stained the sky. Scattered around him were the other five of his detail, sound asleep, leaning against the railing, lying on the ground. The bodies were still there and the stench nearly made him want to vomit but he suppressed the urge. Sitting on a stool smoking an Iho-stick almost defiantly next to one of the seven ton’s chest high wheels with a ponderous look was Commissar Raamiah. He looked up when he heard Gale stir but said nothing.
When Gale saw the Commissar he made to salute than thought better of it and sat down on the asphalt beside him. They sat until the orange had faded from the sky and a purple creeped up to take its place and Raamiah had gone through a pack. A few times Gale had seen the Commissar’s lips twitch then open as if he were about to say something but whatever was on his mind he kept his peace.
A little while after the purple had established dominance over the sky Senior Commissar Sheik Raamiah stood up threw away his Iho then turned to Gale and said, “Yes I think I failed,” then walked off.
Gale stayed seated for a while wondering what the Commissar had meant until a Valkyrie screamed overhead and landed on a pad thirty feet behind him. He watched as a dozen weary troopers hobbled out while a flock of corpsman rushed in and exited moments later bearing stretchers laden with the screaming injured. For a while he watched the crew chief argue with an outline before getting up to unload the bodies.
Comments and critiques are welcome!
Ne Cede Malis
Please leave comments! What you think, ways to improve, criticism, opinions anything at all03
The next morning Gale awoke on his miniscule bed, naked, muscles in agony, unsure of how he got there but dimly aware that it wasn’t pleasant. Slowly he tested his muscles and upon finding that they all hurt forced himself up anyways and began to rummage through the foot locker at the foot of his bed. Wrinkled green skivvies, brown socks, green undershirt, a firmly pressed digitally camouflaged blouse and trousers, and finally mud caked boots still soggy from the night before and he was dressed and consulting his chronometer that read 04:19. His still groggy mind only barely registered that he had more than a half-hour before formation.
Yawning he stumbled over to the tin bucket in the corner of his room and splashed the cold water within on his face. The chilly water acted as a stimulant and he felt the fog recede a little from his mind. He grunted incomprehensibly as he brushed his teeth than spit and turned for the door and stepped out into the trench works. It was still dark outside and would be for several hours. His muscles still whining he spun around and climbed out of the trench and urinated for what seemed like an hour on the ceiling of Yake’s hooch.
After he finished he walked off almost like a drunkard towards the small dugout next to the chapel that served as the detail’s meeting spot. He arrived at 04:51, nine minutes early but still late to find the dugout devoid of life. He frowned and then quietly he pulled the shoddy wooden door open and stepped inside. The lights were off and all that was were only rumors of silhouettes and outlines of imagined monsters and work to come. For a while he leaned against the boarded walls, head down, eyes closed, waiting for someone to appear.
After a while he sighed and glanced at chronometer. It was 051. No sign of the perplexing sandy skinned commissar in his flowing black cape and starched leather boots. It was unheard of for a Commissar to be late, even an odd one like Raamiah and doubt began to gnaw at his being and he wondered if there was something they knew that he didn’t. With more effort than what should have been necessary Gale drudged up and rummaged through the events of the night before only to discover he couldn’t remember much after Raamiah had departed. Memories of waking the rest of the detail were foggy but he did remember Hughes staring at him angrily, sadly as they unloaded the seven ton. He tried to remember more but the night had been mostly mechanical, higher functions shutting down to keep the body from shutting down. He sighed.
A few minutes past and he dreamed of sleep and a grassy knoll somewhere far away from FOB 32 full of sun and song and birds. Later he checked his chronometer. 05:14. He was just about to leave when Caras slipped inside, her blouse unbuttoned but getting there, panting hard. For a moment he stayed still watching her as she finished closing up her blouse and running a hand through her hair. Then she reached up, pulled on a string and revealed the room in blinding glory. He averted his eyes then rubbed them roughly with his hands.
His silent form startled her but she quickly recovered. “Hey.” She said softly.
“Mornin.” He replied then said, “Is there anyone else up?”
She shook her head and said she hadn’t seen anybody. He sighed then grabbed the dangling string, pulled it and threw the room back into darkness. “Why don’t we go find someone then?” He suggested.
She shrugged her shoulders then said wryly but still depressingly, “Aye aye Corporal.”
He smirked then they left as quietly as they came. Outside dawn was still a distant promise and so they felt their way along the trench until their eyes adjusted. The FOB which never slept but sometimes relaxed was coming back into its own. Towards the motor pool the low hum of motors could be heard and every few moments a voice cold and alone would call out to another. The deafening whine of a Valkyrie, maybe the one that had landed the night before, rose as it banked then shrieked over them, giving them a case of instant tinnitus and then dulled as it flew away to lands unknown.
“Busy this morning.” Caras remarked. He grunted in reply and they continued on until they stood before Terri’s reinforced door. He rapped his knuckles against the iron plating while Caras stood off to the side obviously nervous about waking her overseer.
After a while a voice, tired and aggravated emanated from within.
“Terri,” he said, “it’s me Gale. Get up.”
“The **** do you want?” The disembodied voice asked.
“What’s up with formation?”
“Ain’t till eight.” Gale glanced down. 05:28. He muttered a string of curses.
“When did this happen?”
“Last night after you left.” The voice paused and Gale glanced over to Caras who was rubbing her temples in frustration. “Evart’s gave us tomorrow off. Tomorrow we’re getting a pair of 96s.”
Gale smiled then scratched a bit of rust off the door. “Where at?”
“Holy shit, in the Emperor’s name will you piss off? Ask me later.”
Gale laughed gently and gave thanks. He waved goodbye to Caras and walked down the trench to his hooch. Once there he pried his boots off, set the chronometer, and embraced his cot like an old lover. As he lay there he imagined he was far, far away in a chilly land of ice and snow sitting atop the peak of a massive glacier overlooking a rippling, crystalline lake teeming with rainbow colored fish that broke the surface in mighty leaps that carried them to the stars. He smiled warmly and the glacier transformed into a skyscraper. Above him gray clouds lulled across a bright blue sky as planes raced in between their lazy forms. Down below the sounds of the city the laughing, shouting and cursing, the squeal of tires, the hum of engines, and the chants of the chapels wrapped around him like a warm blanket, comforting him, shielding him from reality.
Then he dreamed he was on a ship, many tiered and just leaving dock. It would be a luxury liner on its maiden voyage sailing forth into the gentle waves of an endless blue ocean. He willed into life the hundreds of annoyingly squawking sea birds, speeding in between masts and superstructures, he dreamed of looking on them and smiling knowingly. He dreamed…then drifted into sleep.
A while later his door shot open and he jolted awake ready to beat whichever idiot decided to interlope into his territory. He looked up to find Hughes, in full gear, las rifle aimed dangerously in his general direction.
He put his hands up in front of chest, palms towards his wide-eyed comrade, “Hey man it wasn’t person-
“Shut up asshole!” Hughes shouted then turned to rummage through his belongings. He found his las rifle leaning in a corner and he flung it at him. Gale caught it but before he could do anything Hughes grabbed his sleeve and dragged him outside.
“What the **** are you doing?” He yelled as they emerged into the trench.
“Saving your dumb ass come on!” Hughes replied than jumped out of the trench and sprinted across the green expanse then disappeared into the trench on the other side. Unsure of what was going on but sensing the tension and hearing the shouts full of worry he decided to follow. He climbed up, cutting his bare foot against a nail in the process, then over the lip and into a hazy red dawn.
He followed Hughes’ example and sprinted across the cool grass though with a slight limp. When he reached the edge he dropped down then spotted Hughes running towards the eastern line, along with about a dozen other troopers from the 88th Hyki. Gale could see the panic on their faces and without further hesitation went after them, hoping to find out what was going on along the way and dreaming that it was all a mistake.
Hughes led him to a small bunker composed of planks, plates, plants and a profusion of sandbags built on the edge of a bushy ridge overlooking a golden field of grass swaying gently on either side of the wide gravel road that led up to the northern entrance. Inside Gren and Yakes were hunched over a crate of 14.5x115 50rd belts and did not notice their arrival but Senior Commissar Raamiah who waited for them by the bulky AT machinegun at the bunkers firing slit turned precisely at the moment of entry and informed them in a curt low growl that they would be manning the gun.
Gale felt a flutter in his stomach but suppressed it. “What’s going on?” He asked as he took his place in front of the gun.
Commissar Raamiah stood up and straightened his pointed black cap and said with a surprisingly understandable tone, “A gunship spotted enemy force before shooting down. We must fight them off, in the name of the Emperor, we must hold.”
“How many?” He asked his pride barely concealing the quiver in his voice.
Raamiah who’d been a commissar for almost a decade picked up on his apprehension and said almost fatherly, “Command does not know but there is to be an air support within the hour.” He turned to leave the bunker, “I need go now, prepare the line,” he said then paused and said, “Corporal?”
“Do not run Corporal.” And then he disappeared into the red rising sun.
Gren flashed Gale a grin then handed him a belt of rounds that were as long as his hands and as thick as his fingers. Their weight told him they were armor-piercing rounds meant for light vehicles. With shaky hands he took them then examined the gun. It was a Syganov heavy machine gun; 1300mm barrel capable of firing 750 rounds per minute at an effective range of almost a mile and a half. The gun, which rested on a greased T and E tripod, was an out of sector design, developed (after many decades) by the Adeptus Mechanicus for use against Tau armor in the Damocles Gulf. The gun was reliable and rarely jammed when properly maintained even with its high rate of fire and disintegrating belt. Due to the nature of the enemy on Tundinattas Lord Commander Jansu of the Hyki Army had selected the gun to help bolster their heavy support weapons overall numbers. The Syganov was recoil operated, closed breech, belt fed, air cooled, anti-tank machine gun about to be used on infantry.
Gale could have treated the weapon with respect. Instead he took the rounds, opened the breech, set them on the feed and slammed the breech shut without so much as a prayer then sighted in on the golden plains in front of their position. The view went on for about ¾ of a mile, almost two hundred yards on the right side of the road and another thousand on the left, terminating at the edge of a small forest. There were two points of dead space, one behind a gentle lump perhaps 600 yards away and another just underneath a gun starting at 30 yards.
Quickly he stuck his head out the gun slit and looked to his left. A dozen yards away interspaced by a double layer of sandbags an obscured gun’s muzzle swiveled left and right looking for targets. He figured from its position the gun would have a better angle on the hill than he did but would still not be able to engage anything closer than fifty yards.
“Is that field mined?” He asked Yakes. Yakes nodded, nudged Gren then turned back to him and said, “We’ll be down the line.”
Gale wanted to reply, wanted to shout ‘why are you leaving me with him?’ but Yakes and Gren had already disappeared to an undisclosed location somewhere ‘down the line’. Where was Terri? Where was Caras? Where was down the line? He risked a glance at Hughes who glared at him with eyes full of hurt and betrayal.
Quietly he requested that Hughes lay out the belts for easy loading. Hughes complied and set half a dozen belts, links down, rounds right beside him.
Gale remained silent hunched over his gun, his muscles sour and tense. His chronometer read 06:52. Somewhere in the vast berth of the trench Raamiah’s coarse but impassioned voice competed with the other Commissars of the Hyki in inspiring the line to future feats of bravery. One voice demanded they remember their home-world, a conglomerate of apparently beautiful islands that ran round the world in a massive ring. Another called out for a glorious bayonet action where they would defeat the enemy face to face. Yet another declared with fervor that the Emperor’s chosen, the Hyki 88th, could never be defeated in battle, that to admit defeat was blasphemy. They proclaimed their foes unworthy dogs, feeble creatures whose aesthetic figures broke like china.
But islands, they’d said and he dreamed, long grassy islands with cool mountains and rolling hills and coconut trees under which to lie on sandy beaches with only the sounds of the waves breaking to soothe one into a peaceful lull. What an island it would be without encroaching aliens wanting to maim and disfigure and rob him of his future, his Elysium solitude. And no bitter Hughes, he looked behind him to see that the druggy wasn’t getting ready to stab him in the back, he wasn’t, no reason to look over your shoulder.
The Commissars rang on and suddenly at 073 Hughes inched up to him until they were looking at each other eye to eye, mere inches apart then said sadly, “You’re a damn liar.” As if by uttering that simple sentence he was vindicated. Gale tried to say sorry but couldn’t.
For a while they remained crouched there breathing heavily. A trooper laden with jingling belts of ammunition ran past and it was 07:59. Commissar Raamiah was reciting an epic of his desert world, a tale of overcoming great of odds and Gale wondered just how many of the devilish creatures were on their way. A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? The thought made him nauseous. Raamiah had mentioned air support. That wasn’t given unless circumstances were dire. Painfully he imagined an army of glittering soldiers being carried atop hover craft bristling with utterly lethal weapons. And walkers too! Inhumanely lithe machines ready to tear him apart, to grind his bones to nothing. He imagined flying devils dropping elegant balls of flame that would explode into flame and melt away his skin. He imagined the pain; running around while on fire, his nerve ends screaming, ululating agonized screams, alone in a fiery hell that no one would touch.
A terrible rattling saved him from his death and he realized he was shaking the gun. Slowly he glanced at Hughes who sneered at his cowardice. He looked away and at his chronometer. 07:59. Where are they? He thought frantically. With white knuckles he ran the muzzle against the hill 600 yards away. Are they under the ground burrowing inexorably towards him in tunnels? Sweat dripped from his brow. Maybe they would teleport and kill him before he could react. Maybe they were cloaked and there was one standing right in front of him, staring with alien eyes, contemplating his fate.
Throne he wanted to go home. He wanted to vomit. He wanted to go far, far away and never look back at the golden plains and the gravel road. He closed his eyes and when he opened them it was 08:11. Just then a pair of gunships flew past, their screaming engines shaking loose dust from the boards above.
This is it, he thought, the ships are going to bank just over the hill and someone is going to spot a dazzling army hiding in the golden grass and then the plains will catch fire and the enemy will charge the whole FOB will open fire, every man and woman will level their weapons and hold the trigger until nothing is left but a hundred thousand bodies waiting to be collected.
His heart began to pound.
The Valkyries flew over the hill but nothing happened. They continued on for a few minutes until they disappeared out of sight. Gale was getting restless. Very quickly so as not to be left exposed he flipped the breech open and checked the rounds. Then he sighted in. Then he remembered he didn’t have a Kevlar or boots. Dread welled up in him and he couldn’t shake the feeling that one of the slant eyed Commissars from the Hyki would rush up to find him missing his gear and make an example out of him. Fifty lashes, ten for no boots, forty for no Kevlar and maybe a reduction in rank.
He imagined Raamiah whipping him in front of the regiment. There was 1st Lieutenant Evarts shaking his head in disappointment. Standing behind him would be Terri, stone cold next to Caras who would try to apologize somehow, maybe by sleeping with him. At parade rest next to them would be Hughes grinning wildly and Yakes and Gren would be there figuring out a way to wipe it from his face without letting anyone know.
He felt the cool grass between his toes, no socks or boots; he’d get those after the whipping. Being the odd Commissar he was Raamiah would walk up to him before he began and whisper a few comforting words then he would walk back, his every footstep an exploding grenade. He’d uncoil the lash and begin to count: One! Two! Three! All the way up to a hundred and maybe more if whoever found him was cruel enough.
Gale rubbed his eyes then scratched his scalp nervously. His breaths were shallow almost gasps. He prayed for the enemy to show themselves or otherwise go away.
Time took flight for a while then landed at 08:27. The golden grass swayed in the morning breeze. The sun was up, a glowing yellow globe in the sky. It revealed nothing so Gale, his ability to suppress his fears at its end, closed his eyes and continued to imagine things wilder and horrific and thus the ground rumbled and the sky fell.
Rockets shrieked overhead and deformed the land and suddenly a hundred-thousand elegant warriors appeared from nowhere then danced across the battlefield. The entire line opened up, las rifles, artillery, napalm, airstrikes, cluster bombs, shotguns and machineguns and plasma rifles and auto-cannons and heavy bolters and they chewed up the land and mashed it into pulp but the elegant dancers, cart-wheeling and sliding and flipping could not be touched.
Then Hughes came up to him and just as he did he was struck by a small crystal shard that pierced his helmet, passed through his skull and brain, erupted from the other side and finally lodged itself in his temple. The force threw him to the ground. He looked over at Hughes who was dead on the ground his mouth slightly open, tongue hanging out, a tiny hole dripping blood and other fluids from his fractured skull. He watched the blood drip from his head for a while and let the battle take him into its terrible womb.
Smoke, thick and toxic, belched through the gun slit. The chattering of fire reached new heights and then ceased as he went deaf. He felt the explosion that took off the roof and exposed him to the warmth of the sun. The Eldar were at the lines and they were hacking apart his friends and comrades with whirring swords that crackled with mysterious energies. Outside the Commissars were fighting a losing battle in keeping the men from turning tail. How easy it would be, he mused on the dusty floor, how easy it would be to slip out the back and then run, run, run until he was far away on, resting on the sweet islands of Hyki.
The battle was reaching its climax and the winner was not in doubt and he knew that right then would be his only chance and then from somewhere he could hear Raamiah scream urgently as if he were trying to save his soul, “You do not run Corporal!” before his voice gave way to the din and the discord.
It was 08:49. There were screams now, from gun and machine and man. His head was throbbing and with a mighty roar of defiance he rose up took the gun in his hands and opened his eyes. He found a target almost instantaneously, a silhouette on the top of the hill. With white knuckles he pulled the trigger and the gun roared into death dealing life. A thirty round burst; six tracers, shot through the air and hit the silhouette, exploding it and sending pieces of it all over the hill. Troopers began to shout and Hughes shook him but he continued to fire and fire and the hill almost six hundred yards away chiseled away and finally Commissar Raamiah rushed over and grabbed him and dragged him away kicking and screaming.
There was no attack. Later in the afternoon it was reported that a returning flight of bombers spotted the enemy force going north and spent the last of their armaments on them. At 139 1st Lieutenant Evarts passed on the order and Commissar Raamiah ordered them to stand down.
After a while they left the line for the mess hall and as they sat eating Gren jokingly told the tale of how Gale had smoked a deer at 600 yards even though Hughes, who was sitting quietly with his head down at the end of the table, shaking, was right next to him when it happened. With wide grins they all agreed it was fine shooting and no they didn’t think a single round had missed. Gale smiled, a little proud but mostly embarrassed.
“I saw the thing’s come ****ing apart. A goddamn meat grinder. Pissed the holy steel rains on its ****ing head.”
The next morning at formation 1st Lieutenant Evarts stopped by and told them he’d salvaged their liberty. The news was met joyously and when they were dismissed they rushed back to their hooches, almost like children, and began to prepare for their departure later that day. Gale waited until the rest of the detail had filed out and then turned to Sheik Raamiah who was busy sorting out a few affects on the baize desk.
After a while the Commissar noticed his presence and looked at him as if to ask, ‘what is it Corporal?’ Gale swallowed then moved his lips but there words to suit his needs. Language had failed him.
After a few moments of silence Raamiah smiled a knowing smile and said, “Later we go down and see.”
An hour later they were standing in the golden waist high grass, 600 yards from the FOB at the top of the hill, before a small patch that had been scythed down to below the ankle. The deer had been ripped apart. Its fur was bloody and torn. The head dangled from a few strands of muscles. The eye was gone and the skull caved in. Both is antlers were shattered. The animal’s stomach was torn open and its intestine lay coiled almost neatly in a pile. One leg was missing another two were hanging loose. Here and there discolored spots marked where the flesh had turned putrid. The smell was revolting, crisp where the tracers had burned the fur. It smelled like people.
Gale shut his eyes as a breeze cooled him. Then he forced them open and looked at the deer and knew he’d been brave.
“You did not run Corporal.” Raamiah said.
And he hadn’t.
Ne Cede Malis
“So I was thinking about the wedding…”
“What a jerk…”
“Pork tastes like shit.”
“Can you believe it? An hour commute and I have to be there at six…”
Gale listened, hunched over his plate of cheap aida at a kidney shaped table of ugly azure, to the ramblings of the customers of the Gorda Strip restaurant. He chewed his food slowly, savoring its awful but sweet taste. Opposite him Terri and Caras munched on their dishes, a rack of ribs and a plate of fried noodles. Despite Raamiah’s creed there were several glasses, some empty, some filled to the brim with a dark beer that had quickly inebriated them.
Terri, hunched over his meal looked at Gale and with the aid of his ail came to the spurious conclusion that he was a faggot and told him so. Caras giggled nervously as she slurped down her noodles. Gale glared across the table at his gladiatorial opponent for a moment then spit in his face then punched him as hard as he could in the nose. The pub silenced immediately. Caras stopped her giggling and looked ready to flee. Terri, his nose gushing, threw the table over and slammed a fist into Gale’s throat then sent him to the black matted floor gasping for breath. A few people stood up seeming as though they would step between the two brawlers but Terri looked them over and bellowed, “The **** are you cock sucking ****s looking at. I’ll **** your bitch asses up turn the **** back around!” And they did.
Curled up in the fetal position Grace whimpered as Terri kicked him sadistically in any place not covered by his arms. A boot to the forehead opened up a terrible gash that spewed blood all over Gale’s face. Caras rushed to his side and caught a boot to the ribs that made her yelp in pain.
“Stop It! Stop It!” She cried as she recoiled from Terri’s boot while attempting to drag Gale away at the same time.
Terri paused in his assault, staggering a bit then looked out at the staring faces and clasped gaping mouths in the bright light cast by the green head lamps that hung from the ceiling. The alcohol exacerbated the light and he squinted almost painfully ah he wiped his still bleeding nose. Suddenly he knelt down pushed Caras aside and then grabbed Gale and held him close to his face. Gale could smell the strong incense of beer on his breath.
Suddenly without as much as a word Terri released his hold and Gale fell back onto the floor. He stood up, muttered something under his foul breath and stormed out the wooden swinging doors.
Gale hung onto the too big white button up shirt that hung loosely from Caras’ shoulders. The blood from his face dripped onto her sleeve and ran down the thin white fibers like red currents in an ocean of milk. One of the waiters walked cautiously over and helped them both to their feet and then to the door.
The duo staggered down the dark city streets, arms welded to each other for support. They brushed past meandering groups of angst-ridden teenagers that crowded the seemingly polished sidewalks and filled them with their youthful woes. A few jeered at them as they passed and Gale straightened his back, let go of Caras and then a few malevolent glares and shouted threats later they scattered.
At one unlit corner a prostitute waltzed up to them dressed in knee high stockings, a too big skin tight long sleeved shirt underneath a fishnet dressing. Her skirt revealed much of her ass.
“Hey.” She said warmly as they approached in an almost childish voice her hands clasped behind her back. Caras looked the call-girl over and guessed that at best she’d just come out of the scholam.
“Want some company tonight?” She asked obviously not noticing the blood dripping down Gale’s head in the non-light.
“Not interested.” Caras replied brusquely then grabbed Gale’s, who seemed moderately interested despite his head, and hurried past.
Behind them the girl’s smile dissolved and she kicked a can across the empty street before following it.
They arrived at their hotel ten minutes later, moody and without the patience to deal with the concierges’ dirty jokes and intrusive questions. Gale, furious with the night’s events and still a little drunk spat in the blubbery man’s bearded face, told him to mind his own business then tottered over to the pair of elevators on the other side of the lobby. Caras retrieved the key from the stunned Concierge’s hand then rushed after him. Once they were upstairs they headed down the red carpeted hall for Gale’s room where he removed his bloody green undershirt and fell upon the bed, spent from the beer and the fight.
Caras examined her surroundings. It was a typical hotel room with a single meticulously made bed with clean sheets, a small head with hot water, carpeted floors and a glass door that led out to the balcony that oversaw a portion of the city. Set up against the wall next to the 32in pict-screen was a full length mirror. Hers was an exact replica save for the second bed that Terri occupied on the nights when he decided to come back.
“He does that when he’s drunk.” Caras explained as she examined the ghostly reflection in the room’s mirror, “Goes out looking for fights, it’s the reason he’s here.” She brushed a few straggles of hair out from her forehead as she spoke then turned around and paused as if she was considering disclosing a great secret. “It’s not me you know…he was lying about that. Terri I mean, he’s here because he…Gale? Corporal? Will?”
Gale looked up at Caras. The moonlight from the glass balcony door shone through and illuminated her and for the hundredth time he found himself wanting her. She wore a pair of loose carpenter jeans and a white button-up shirt that, while it did have an unsightly blood stain, did wonders for her figure. The scar that marred her lips had been hidden ineffectively beneath a layer of makeup but he couldn’t bring himself to mind. He let out a sigh and probed the gash at his forehead. The gash had stopped bleeding but Caras crept forwards and examined it.
“We should probably clean this.” She said as she prodded it with her fingers. “Wait here.” She disappeared into the head then returned a minute later with some gauze she’d drenched with alcohol. She took her place by Gale’s side and leaned his head back. Gale felt his head come alight with pain as she dabbed but he made no attempt to move. She hummed as she scrubbed away the thin streams of coagulated blood from his cheek and forehead.
After a while Caras declared the wound clean and turned to leave. Suddenly Gale grabbed her by her arms and pushed her on down on the bed. His lips were on hers before she could protest and his hand had torn through her shirt and found its way to her breasts. He smelled of beer and flesh and she turned away and not noticing he began kissing her neck. Sweat rolled down his gaunt cheeks and dripped off the cliff of his chin. With great effort he slid a hand down her pants. She squirmed as he did and she grabbed his shoulders and kicked off with her leg until they fell to the floor.
“Ah, ****.” He spat to no one in particular as he disentangled himself and climbed to his knees. He searched for his lover and when he couldn’t find her mumbled, “Sarah, Sarah where’d you go?” as he crawled along the floor.
Caras was on the other side of the room when he asked, knees to her chest back to the wall, palms down on the floor, breathing hard and illuminated by the moon. Her face was twisted in anger and frustration but the alcohol prevented him from recognizing it. Assuming they’d simply fallen he crawled over and tried to wrap an arm around her.
“Don’t ****ing touch me!” She shouted as she batted his arm away. “The hell is wrong with you? I’m trying to help you and stick your hand up my ****!”
Gale recoiled from her words as if they were punches thrown from a boxer. “Wha-What?” He stammered as he backed up. “I wasn’t trying to…” He trailed off as something in the back of his mind told him he had. He tried to apologize but the words came out jumbled.
“Go away.” She said as she inched away from him. “Just go away I don’t want to see you anymore. Get the **** out!” She yelled and Gale more horrified then the first time he saw a body hung his head, grabbed his shirt and hurried out the room. Outside in the hall he banged his head against the white plaster walls until there was a small dent and his head began to bleed again.
He sighed and started down the hall stopping for a few minutes at a water fountain where he drank heavily then towards the elevators all the way down to the lobby. The Concierge glared at him as he walked past but said nothing. Gale paid him no mind, left the hotel and began to walk the streets.
The night was warm and welcoming, more so than when he’d left the bar. The belligerent kids and their troubles had vacated the sidewalks and save the odd passerby Gale was left to his thoughts, which he did his best to banish to the recesses of his mind, more or less without success. He wondered the city streets never straying more than a few blocks from the hotel hoping that Caras would find it within herself to forgive him and come out searching. It was a forlorn hope he knew but thrice he found himself in front of the hotel staring at the balcony of his room praying to catch a glimpse of her in the moonlight. Once he thought to storm up to his room, barge in and profess some feeling of love but cast it aside when he realized all he wanted was to have something other than his hand.
It was on the corner of 17th street that he met her for the second time. He was sitting on a wooden bench under a glowing street lamp trying to devise a plan to get Caras to forgive him. The alcohol had, much to his displeasure, worn off leaving him with the full knowledge of what he’d done. Much to his surprise he found himself angry with her. After all, he mused, he’d spent hours listening to her goddamn problems and was ****ing really too much to ask? He sighed wearily and felt shitty for even thinking that way but a part of him screamed he was right and that the bitch should just put out or else find another to hang her head on.
He was just about to get up and go back to the hotel when a can skipped across the sidewalk and he looked up to see a figure materialize down the street. Eyes blinking to rid the last effects of the beer he stood up and faced the fast approaching figure.
Without warning the figure let out a short burst of speed and called out to him.
“Hello?” He said confused as to the identity of the stranger until she stepped into the light. “Oh its’ you.”
“How you doin?” The fishnet girl asked gingerly. “Where’s your friend?”
“Bad and none of your business.” He replied curtly.
“Oh well things happen, I understand.”
“Whatever.” He said then turned to leave.
“Wait!” She nearly shouted causing him to turn around. “You could spend the night with me. I don’t cost much. It’s four hundred usually but since you’re having a bad night I’ll make it 250. Sounds good right?”
“Not really.” He said and continued on.
She gave chase and made a final offer of 200 and nothing less. Gale considered this. Without being too obvious he regarded the girl. She was pretty by any standards, green eyed petite with raven hair that dangled a little past her shoulders. Her skin had bit of pallor but he could forgive that considering her line of work. Her face had a likable quality, good humor, something he’d done a long time without and could appreciate.
“Well?” She asked impatiently.
Gale scratched his chin and down the street. At the end he could see the hotel and his empty balcony. After a few moments in which no one appeared he turned back and gave the girl a smile.
Her name it turned out was Mary and despite her age, which she claimed was seventeen, knew everything there was to know about the business of love. She took him back to a decrepit apartment a few blocks away near a boarded up eatery whose only adornment was a mattress and a Van Gogh painting, The Potato Eaters. In a swift businesslike manner she informed him that he was required to use a condom that she’d provide, that she trusted him to pay in the morning due to his soldiery appearance, a courtesy he assured her was greatly appreciated, that certain acts were beyond her capabilities to stomach and that if he tried any of them he’d be booted out, no refund. She then went on to list several depraved acts that he happily told her at the end he had no inclination to do even if he actually knew how to pull them off. She grinned wildly then stripped down and motioned for him to do the same.
Moments later they were on the mattress legs locked in a lusty embrace. He pushed into her and instantly forgot the endless fields and farms and the people of his life and Sarah Caras that plagued his life. Mary was a generous lover. Her liquid like movements sent him into spasms of ecstasy that he wished would never end. In a sultry, vixen like voice she encouraged him to dominate her and after a while great shouts, ones that couldn’t be faked, rang out from the room and lasted long into the night.
The next morning Gale awoke with a start. He looked out the window and saw that it was still dark. Gently he removed Mary’s arm from around his shoulder and eased himself off the mattress. Quietly so as not to wake her he dressed and then ran a hand through the call-girls silky hair. She murmured a little in her sleep and flopped over.
After a while Gale stood up and with a last glance at the sleeping girl snuck out of the room and headed back to the hotel, whistling the whole way.
Ne Cede Malis
this story makes no sense at all... why the hell would that woman want an arm? Actually, i don't get most of the story, the excessive swearing distracts most readers from the actual story. Oh, and please add a warning sign, most parts are innapropriate for young children (the swearing and last current scene especially)
Last edited by Hive Fleet Hydra; April 16th, 2008 at 18:03.
"What is Mercy? Does it taste Nice?" Hive Tyrant on Reth V
"Kill-kill! Death to the Enemies of the Horned Rat!" Warlord Bweekq at the Battle of Hrad
Thank you Hyrda for your comments I appreciate them, honestly I do. Now to clarify a bit. Obviously GD deviates greatly from the typical 40k and you're right I should probably have put up a warning as this is geared towards adults.
Graves Registration are the people who police up the the bodies of those killed in combat. A detail is the group of bodies assigned to the task. Hence the name of the story.
Now the idea behind her wanting an arm (I'm assuming you're referring to the first chapter) is that when you ship these bodies back you can't have them all mixed up. An arm from one body can't go to another. Its a very casual horror, which is basically the theme of this story. Its simply the things these people have to go through on a day to day basis and how they deal with them. Obviously I'm doing a not too great job of this so I guess I'm just gonna have to work on it.
There isn't a rhyme or reason because things happen randomly and while I understand that good story telling does away with this I just wanted to do something that was spurious, had no moral or overarching goodness, and definitely no closure. Something far too many war stories have.
I want to elaborate more but I gotta go to work. Feel free to refute or whatever I'm all ears and again thank you for your comments.
Last edited by Nikolaevich; April 16th, 2008 at 19:45.
Ne Cede Malis
...I liked it :-)
It seemed more of 'a while in the life of' than 'beginning, middle, end' story
though yeah - should probably have a warning
Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.
Thanks for the comments Apacheater. And its true the story, in retrospect, is a bit episodic though I think that's ok.
Ne Cede Malis