General Wolfe relaxed back into the form-hugging chair and contemplated once again his situation. He had finally managed to convince his peers of the need for a senior officer to review current operations under Hamner. The reluctance of the Fleet Command was more political than operational and although the reticence was there, the constant requests for advice from the aforementioned officer had finally made people admit that there was something wrong.
Wolfe had trawled through the fleet hospital and managed to put together a Company of Lutheran Light Infantry. Normally commanded by a Major, Wolfe had requisitioned them and with a pair of borrowed junior Leftenants had boarded a Navy Transport bound for General Hamner’s command.
The trip would take them three more days and he was not quite sure what his reception would be. His orders were to carry out a non-invasive audit and advise Hamner on the outcome. His objective was much clearer; he wanted to recover as many of his men as possible, show how incompetent Hamner was and if necessary relieve him of his command. As of yet he was not entirely sure of how to do this, although the Regulations gave him a number of options. He would just have to wait and see.
Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
Leftenant Walters scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of encroaching Tauran Forces or returning Church Guard. He had decided to make the forward outpost their base of operations whilst he figured out what to do next. He felt fairly secure in his choice, as the data slates had indicated that there was little regular contact between the outlying units. It appeared that General Hamner’s lack of ability extended beyond command decisions and his cobbled together army had absolutely no idea of their orders. The communications unit they had recovered and were monitoring, had little traffic, some requests for re-supply, occasional reports of the sighting and execution of tainted soldiers, but nothing of contact with the enemy, nor plans for the taking of the Fortress.
The last two days had been spent in reshaping his recently formed platoon. He had split the men into two sections, something whose structure he understood, with Sargeant Berbatov taking their new recruits under his wing. The Sargeant’s eye-catching call to attention, had convinced all of the men that their future, and not only the immediate one, depended on them joining “Walters’” Army. They were a rag-tag mixture of men, pulled together by the extinct Inspector. Originally they were cooks, scribes and medical assistants, who had been given basic training and a rifle. Their assignment of shooting unsuspecting Guardsmen had been about to their level, although when they had faced the combined assault of Berbatov, the K’ran and the rest of the men, they had easily folded.
Berbatov had used them to clean up the trenches, removing various body parts, discarding useless weapons and for digging a grave for their victims a respectable distance from the outpost. Walters could hear Berbatov’s dulcet tones now, berating some unfortunate for their inability to know which hole they were supposed to talk out of, never mind the right end of his rifle.
Corporal James had led his section out on a number of patrols, in the process he had restocked their supply of weapons, ammunition and dry rations. He had also found two Lutheran Light Infantrymen hiding in the surrounding hillside and incorporated them into his section.
Now Walters was worried about the K’ran, or Puppy as he was affectionately known. The beast has been gone since daybreak, on one of its solitary scouting missions. It seemed to have attached itself to him, leaving his side only for sporadic forays into the surrounding countryside. What was taking it so long?
K’san had been following a familiar scent for a while now. It was a mixture of K’ran and the semi-human troops in the Lord’s Army. They had not seen or heard anything of other K’ran, since the howling of the hunting pack two days before. This in itself was unusual due to the wide ranging patrols which would normally have preceded the Tauran Troops. However, K’san did not know why the offence had been halted, surely the bombardment could not have changed the Lord’s plans so drastically.
He stopped. There was something …. Then he rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding the slash of sharpened claws.
“K’san ...” hissed a voice behind him. As he turned he saw the mottled fur of K’tar, one of the lead scouts for his father’s pack.
“You are dead”, growled the scout, “or that is what we were told”.
K’san heard the snick of claws on rock to his right and saw another two K’ran slide into view, their eyes gleaming and spittle beginning to drip from their fangs.
“Hold!” barked K’san and the warriors pulled up short at the command in his voice; they were young males, not yet blooded and very unpredictable. Their pack imprint was strong, but they had yet to either bond or be accepted fully. Freshly hatched, thought K’san to himself, I may just have a chance.
“Who are you to command us, whelp?” gruffed K’tar, himself unsure as to why the lone K’san was so confident.
“I am K’san, lead scout. I follow W’ratr.” He tried his best to repeat the sound he had heard the human pack call their leader, “a great warrior.”
“Who is this W’ratr? He is not of us, I do not know him”.
“Why would you?” replied K’san, “you are not worthy to be in his pack. None of you are.”
K’san saw the impact on the young males, their hackles rising as the challenge stung their pride.
“What?” roared K’tar, leaping forward. his intention was clear, but K’san had been waiting for the charge.
As K’tar launched himself in what he thought was an unexpected attack, K’san stood his ground. At the last moment he sprung to one side, twisting in the air, his front claws slashing across the unprotected stomach before him. The moment his back feet struck the ground, he used his momentum to flip himself around in order to face his adversary. He opened his mouth in a lop-sided grin, baring the jagged row of teeth within and stalked forwards.
K’tar lay on his side, a long glistening string of intestines stretched out behind him. “You have no right …” he gasped, as K’ran’s jaws closed on his throat, crunching through flesh and sinew to end his life.
K’san stood slowly and faced the two young K’ran, his muzzle was streaked in the blood of his fallen adversary. “Down!” he growled and the two warriors dropped to the floor, their necks stretched forward in submission. K’ran closed his jaws gently across their necks one after the other, biting deep enough to mark them, but not to injure.
“Come,” he barked softly, “you belong to W’ratr. He has called you and you must answer.”
With that he turned his back on them and moved away. He did not look back, he knew that they followed him, he could smell their excitement, they were now pack and soon they would be blooded and named.
The troopers scrambled to their feet, rushing to take up their assigned defensive positions, as the K’ran slowly descended the hill. Walters climbed up to stand on the earthworks to get a closer look. He heard the rapid breathing of one of the troopers next to him, one of Berbatov’s section called Williamson. He was a pimply faced youth, the youngest of the new recruits and sweat poured down his face.
“Steady, son”, said Walters in a soft and reassuring tone. “Do nothing unless the Sargeant or I say so.”
“Y-y-y es, Sir”, he stuttered nervously.
The closer the beasts approached the defended position, the more tangible was the state of expectation. Walters moved forward to meet the K’ran on his own, a state of recklessness overwhelming him.
“Sir!” shouted James leaping to the top of the trench.
Walters waved him back and moved to meet the group. Behind the silver furred animal, walked two other K’ran. Their gaze flicking from side to side, and as the lead beast halted, the growling began. The other two K’ran were larger than Puppy, one a blue grey colour, the other green with brown flecks on its shoulder fur. Almost nonchalantly Walters strolled forward, causing the K’ran to halt.
“Behold W’ratr”, growled K’san, “and fear”.
“He is human,” whined the blue grey animal.
“He is my master, and yours” snapped K’san, bowing his head to Walters.
The two young males, hesitated for a moment and then prostrated themselves, their necks pushed forward. K’ran wondered what W’ratr would do, how would he know the correct response? He looked quickly back at the other two and felt W’ratr’s hand on his head. What was this? Then he realised that although the hand was clawless, the gesture was one of approbation and he mewed softly.
W’ratr moved away from him and pausing slightly he placed his booted foot on the neck of the first K’ran. He pushed his weight down sufficiently that the beast whined in pain, but remained still. W’ratr repeated the gesture on the green furred beast and then both K’ran leapt to their feet, howling with joy, they were pack.
“I don’t believe it”, gasped Walters, “you do realise that we’re well and truly frakked?”
“More than usual?” queried Berbatov.
“Well, we re-educated an Inspector, so to speak, we executed a couple of Church Guardsmen, we have aliens as allies and we are pretending to be people who we are not. Did I miss anything?” asked Walters.
“Nup, that about sums it up. And your problem is?” replied Berbatov innocently.
“What?” screamed Walters.
“Now, now, Leftenant sir. You’ll scare the children”, the Sargeant admonished his officer.
Throwing up his arms in exasperation, Walters stormed off, and Berbatov watched him go, with a smile on his face. The boy was shaping up, he was beginning to realise the futility of their situation. There were really no sides to choose in this game, whether the Inspectorate brainwashed the common man or the Tauran Forces induced religious fervour in their followers, all that mattered was the man at your side. He chuckled to himself as he saw one of the K’ran climb back into the trench. Did he say man?
Church Fleet Command
General Hamner was confused, no more than usual but confused anyway. Reports from the front were patchy, no-one seemed to be able to take the initiative in this conflict. He had given strict instructions that all returning soldiers were to be treated as the enemy and things seemed to stall there.
He had already heard of two rebellions, particularly amongst the ex-Lutheran soldiers and he had information that three of his most forward outposts had failed to check in with their commanders. He had decided that this wasn’t good enough and had despatched a Company of men, under the command of his personal Inspector to re-establish order. That was well over three hours ago and they should have reported back by now. What was going on?
Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
Inspector French ordered the Troop Carrier to a halt and waited for the soldiers to deploy in a protective cordon, before he left the vehicle. They had already dealt a summary justice to two positions and were chasing the remnants of the remaining troops to ground. He had decided to personally supervise the clean up of the final group himself.
He had been glad to leave the headquarters and looked forward to a little more action. So far the hunt had been unsatisfactory, dumb protestation followed by the feel of his sword biting into flesh, was hardly satisfactory. He motioned the section leader forward, and the men moved in tandem, scanning the surrounding terrain. He was still contemplating the praise he would receive when the first explosive round struck.
Leftenant Walters had been warned of the approaching transport by the K’ran, their short yipping barks usually meant they wanted to show him something. He had seen the vehicle and knew that there could only be one response. Corporal James had taken up position on the high ground to the left of the trench and he had kept Berbatov and his men as a backup. They had watched the Lutheran infantry pass through, staying hidden as their bait circumvented the obviously defended outpost and waited for the Church forces to arrive.
The K’ran hugged the ground close to Walters position and he knew his men were waiting for his signal. When he saw the command given for the assault to begin, he fired first, the satisfying spray of blood signalling a direct hit.
A rapid fusillade of laser rifle fire decimated the packed ranks of Guardsmen around the Troop Carrier and with a wild yell he charged forward, the K’ran surging past him.
French saw the K’ran first and screaming “For Him!” he raced to meet them. The last thing that passed through his mind, just before the explosive round, was that this was why he had joined in the first place.
Walters saw the Inspector’s body fly backwards as the round punched clean through his forehead, exploding in a spray of blood and gore from the back of his skull. He raced to keep up with the K’ran, who sped past the first troops and launched themselves inside the static vehicle. The tell-tale screams spoke volumes and he suddenly found himself alone and faced by a screaming mob of Guardsmen.
It was just about time to pray for forgiveness, when the comforting laughter of Berbatov could be heard, as the giant Sargeant, pushed him to one side and jumped straight into the defending Guardsmen. Walters had time to fire off one more round, and then he lowered his pistol, the danger of hitting his maniac Sargeant becoming too great.
Berbatov was not alone, whatever he had said to convince his men was effective. They obviously feared him more than the incoming laser rifle fire and rushed to join him. Their coordination of fire was poor, but they made up for it in enthusiasm and once at close quarters the infectious madness of the big man took hold. Rifles became clubs, knives were drawn and the carnage began.
Walters saw the K’ran leave the Carrier, and watch the fighting below. He felt the gaze of the lead beast on him and he smiled reassuringly. It seemed as though the K’ran were content to let Berbatov and his men have their fun.
It was soon over, there were no survivors. Walters strode past the crumpled bodies and entered the transport. The stench of faeces and blood was overpowering, the mangled remains of the driver and communications operator gave him pause, but he pushed the corpse out of his position as an incoming transmission could be heard.
“French, French, report”.
“I’m sorry but he is unavailable”, he replied into the instrument.
“Who is this? This is General Hamner, I need to speak with him urgently”.
“Oh, so you’re General Hamner. I have a message from the Inspector. Sorry, can’t talk right now. I’m a little dead. Please accept my apologies. But don’t worry, I am sure that you will soon be receiving the same treatment from my friends here.” and with that, Walters flicked the switch to the off position.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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