domingo, 28 de febrero de 2010

Chapter Four

In Transit

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
Unnamed Planet
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?

Geostationary Orbit
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
Unnamed Planet
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.

sábado, 27 de febrero de 2010

Chapter Three

Zone of Conflict
Unnamed Planet
Tauran Disputed Zone

The crack of the laser rifle was followed by an explosion of rock fragments which peppered Walters’ face. He ducked behind his temporary shelter and shouted across to Berbatov.

“Can you see them?” he flinched involuntarily as another round whistled past him.

Berbatov’s answer was to grab James by the scruff of the neck and drag him forwards, as an inhuman scream broke the charged air. The big man then pushed himself to his feet and disappeared into a dip in the ground.

“Here we go again,” thought Walters as he rose to his full height and sent round after pistol round in the general direction of the ambushing forces.

It had begun quietly enough as they had approached the remains of the Church trenches, with Walters striding purposefully forward and hailing the dug-in Church troops’ position. Initial responses had been favourable, but a tall thin Inspector had screamed something along the lines of “kill the heretic scum” and all hell had broken loose.

To their credit, the ex-Lutheran light infantrymen had responded instinctively, laying down a barrage of covering fire, allowing him to retreat graciously to their current position. He had maintained a small hope of being able to talk his way out of the situation, but this had been shattered when they had received incoming fire from their rear, they had been set up. Now, he knew that they would need a miracle to get them out of this. Then had come the inhuman scream and he was sure that the K’ran was behind this.

He watched as a decapitated head sailed skywards, followed by a maniacal laugh.

“Berbatov,” he muttered under his breath and with a sigh ran from behind his cover, passing a slumped headless corpse to his right. Glancing sideways he saw his troopers moving forward in a textbook manner; one trooper laying down covering fire as the other advanced, the favour quickly returned. There was however, no sign of Berbatov, and his only indication of the man’s presence was a blood-smeared trail, peppered here and there with body parts.

Running out from behind a boulder, he crashed directly into the back of a crouched Inspector, who had his sword held high above the head of a prone Corporal James. Their combined momentum unbalanced the man and sparks flew as the blade bit into the floor. Walters did not have time to explain the error of the man’s ways, before he dove backwards to avoid the expected pistol round fired at point blank range. The round did not have the chance to leave the pistol’s chamber, as James surged upwards from the floor, his combat knife grasped firmly in his right hand. The Corporal hammered the blade into the Inspector’s thigh and was rewarded by a high pitched scream. This was abruptly cut off, as James withdrew the blade, pulled the man backwards by his hair and buried the weapon up to its hilt in the man’s neck.

With a feral grin, the Corporal pulled the blade out as he dropped the lifeless body to the floor.

“I always wondered what it would feel like to give one of them a taste of their own medicine,” he pondered, as he wiped the blade on the black shirt below him. And, looking upwards at Walters, he laughed, “It felt damn good!”

With a rapid, “‘scuse me, Sir”, he picked up his rifle and raced off in pursuit of Berbatov.

Walters knew that many an Inspector, officially killed in action, actually lost his life to his own men. He felt little sympathy for the man; he was an idiot, blindly following orders, with an unswerving righteousness. Well, it seemed that this self belief was little armour against determined men, who had nothing to lose.

He heard the clink of metal against rock and spinning rapidly raised his pistol. There was no time to fire and using the momentum of his spin, he cracked the barrel of the weapon against the side of the face of the man in front of him. With a satisfying crunch of metal against bone, he saw the Church soldier crash to the floor in a crumpled heap. He thought for one moment, about emptying the gun into the man’s head, but decided against it as he heard Berbatov’s roar, now behind him.


Sat in the foremost trench and drinking from a bottle which he held in his hand, Berbatov looked scornfully on the men below him. Each was on his knees, with his hands behind his head and watching the K’ran. The beast was sat, to one side of Walters, cleaning its blood soaked paws with slow, licking actions. Now and again, it would stop, growl menacingly and then continue with its personal hygiene.

Walters was engrossed in the data slate in his hand, one of many they had found in the nearby command post. It appeared that this was a forward outpost, which had been charged with summarily executing all survivors of the original battle. General Hamner had made the decision that anyone who had survived both the Tauran-led attack and the Church cleansing must be tainted and lost forever.

Corporal James had found a poorly dug grave at the back of the trench, and a pile of stacked bodies awaiting burial. He had wanted to personally shoot all of the prisoners, when he had found remains of his former comrades tossed on top of the pile, but Walters had stopped him.

Surprisingly enough, all it took was a quiet word from the “Leftenant”, and James had backed down.

“Okay,” said Walters as he stood up, the K’ran watched him for a moment and then continued with its ablutions.



“Bring me the first of the prisoners and tell Corporal James to join us.”

Berbatov laughed inwardly at the growing assurance of ex-Corporal Walters and his instant response to Walters’ growing authority. However, he moved to obey him, finding himself liking the feeling of being a Sargeant and the kudos associated with the position. He liked how the others both respected and feared him, as well as how easily “Walters’ Army” had bonded together.


K’san watched attentively as the pack leader drew closer to the prisoners, he could almost taste their fear. This was also confusing. This could be almost a pack within the Lord’s army; they killed with relish, the leader inspired fervour in his pack members and particularly the large one, delighted in sending trophies to the Dark Lord. Or so it seemed.

As each moment passed, K’san felt as one with the pack. He had been ostracised amongst his own as being too small, too clever, too questioning. Here his leader trusted him with the most dangerous of assignments, scouting and ranging in front of the pack. He was allowed to be close to the leader’s person, fight alongside him and kill. This was nothing like he had expected. He licked his lips as others moved to join the pack leader, augmenting the palpable stench of terror. Avidly he waited, he knew what would happen.


“Jimmy’s on his way, Sir”, grunted Berbatov as he returned.

“Jimmy?” queried Walters.

“Jimmy, Jimmy James, Sir”, laughed Berbatov.

“Should have bloody known” mumbled Walters. “I suppose it’s your job to name them all, huh”.

“Yup,” agreed Berbatov sagely, “Everyone needs one, a name that is. The Leftenant, Puppy, Jimmy …..”

“And you?” questioned Walters, raising one eyebrow.

“Sargeant Berbatov, Sir!” shouted the brute, springing to attention.

“Right …” agreed Walters, as “Jimmy” James approached.

“Corporal James”.


“Pick one of these men and bring him to me.”

“As you wish, Sir”, responded James gleefully, grabbing randomly from the group and, placing a large boot in the subject’s backside, kicked him to the floor in front of Walters.

Walters ignored the man and spoke to the others, numbering eight in total.

“I have had to change my opinion a little of you men. We walked in here, arms open and received a poor welcome. In fact, it was downright discourteous. We simply want to get back to barracks, a barracks that is far from here. We don’t want much …. But, as I said, no-one wanted to listen.”

“It seems,” and here he encompassed them all with a wave of his arm, “someone convinced you that we were the enemy. You all decided to shoot us and,” here indicating the pile of bodies behind the trench, “we are not the first, you have welcomed this way.”

“I have already had to restrain my Corporal once, who as you can see is busy polishing his very large, and very sharp knife, in the hope that one or all of you answer incorrectly to a couple of my questions. Yes …?”

He could see that Berbatov was bursting to say something, so he ushered him forward.

“Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but I don’t feel that they’re paying attention”.

“What would you suggest Sargeant?” inquired, Walters, knowing he would not really be prepared for, nor like the answer.

“This ….” replied Berbatov, cleaving the halberd into the lone prisoner’s neck, blood fountaining upwards and splattering onto Walters’ greatcoat.

“Sorry, Sir,” apologised Berbatov as he moved away. Walters watched him go in momentary stupefaction then turned to the now quivering block of frightened troopers.

“Well, it seems as though the questions have become a little pointless. Let me explain the situation to you clearly. You turned your back on fellow soldiers and I am going to allow you to mend your ways. You can, if you wish, join our little adventure, or …” and he indicated the crumpled body below him, “the Sargeant can try to sharpen up on his overhead cutting technique.

“The Corporal here, will approach you individually and have a little chat on a more personal level. I trust his people skills and am sure you can convince him of your usefulness, or not as the case may be.”

With that Walters sauntered away, trying to hold in the revulsion at the clinical way in which Berbatov had dispatched the man. Walters knew that his men would see it as another demonstration of the Leftenant’s ruthlessness and that soon he would have some new recruits. Self-preservation was a real leveller and these men were used to the rigid brutality of the priesthood. Swapping allegiance was not a difficult choice, as he had never asked them to fight against the Church. Well not really, anyway.

viernes, 26 de febrero de 2010

Chapter Two

Deep Space
Church Fleet High Command

Colonel Ibrahim Wolfe watched the details flow down and across his data slate, tutting in dismay at the information contained there. Although a Colonel in name, he was in fact an officer without troops, and without portfolio. He had been sent by his commanding officer to check on the potential of forming a further regiment on his homeworld of Luther, however he had found the planet riven by disease.

The planetary authorities had declared the world in quarantine and had turned his ship around, for all he knew, there was now no world left. Church priests had been chanting about taint and the cleansing light of Him. He didn’t really want to consider what that might mean, although it did mean that there were no more replacement troops on the way.

His anxiety was caused by the fact that his regiment had been sent as a combined force to liberate some ball of dust and in his absence had been decimated, almost entirely. There were less than three hundred active Lutheran soldiers on the lists and these had been amalgamated into the command of an apparently incompetent General Hamner, who had managed to get embroiled in a skirmish on an unnamed planet, of little significance. He knew that the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry was no more, but they were his men and he wanted them.

He had hitched a ride on a military transport and had rejoined the fleet, but no-one was willing to give him passage to his troops. Of course, he was told that they were no longer his troops, but it hurt deep down that the pride and joy of Luther had lasted for only six weeks in active combat and were no more. Also he carried a burden of guilt that he had not been there, he had left them in the capable hands of his Executive Officer, who had also been lost.

Wolfe decided to run a check on outgoing transports once again, maybe persistence might pay off, where influence failed.

Zone of Conflict
Unnamed Planet
Tauran Disputed Zone

“Attenshun!” shouted the soldier at the front of the group, his tattered Corporal’s stripes flapping in the breeze as he snapped a salute in Walters’ direction.

Walters knew he had two options, he could lie, or he could shoot Berbatov. He glanced sideways at the hulking brute, whose mis-shapen teeth were on prominent display as he grinned at Walters. Then he had a brainwave.

“At ease men, Sargeant Berbatov can be a little overzealous at times.” As he spoke he watched, the grin slowly disappearing to be replaced by a puzzled frown. It looked for one moment that Berbatov was about to say something, but then the grin reappeared.

“You heard the sodding, begging your pardon sir, Leftenant. Put your backsides at ease!” screamed Berbatov, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth.

As the Corporal relaxed, he seemed to notice the tattoo on Walters’ forehead and his hand twitched towards his laser rifle. Walters noticed the movement and casually replaced his pistol in its holster. He nonchalantly removed his cap and spoke.

“I always seem to have that effect on people, Corporal ……?”

Military discipline kicked in and the Corporal replied, “…James, sir of the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry. My section here got separated from our platoon in the fire-fight and we were about to try and find our way back, Sir. Begging your pardon, Sir, but can you identify yourself? It’s just the tattoo, Sir?”

Walters could see the man fighting with the urge to call him a liar, which he undoubtedly was, and the soldiers need for leadership. He wanted to believe Walters and for this Leftenant to take over responsibility. He had also just told an obvious lie and wanted it overlooked.

Beginning to enjoy himself, Walters spoke.

“Okay, Corporal James. I don’t normally indulge in reminiscence and couldn’t give a flying fox’s fat ass if anyone takes offence at my beautiful body art. However, in the extenuating circumstances, I will make an exception.”

He paused motioning for the troopers to resume their places around the fire, rummaged in his pack for the brandy bottle he had recently thieved and sat down on a nearby rock. He took a pull from the bottle and passed it first to Berbatov, who after half emptying it, passed it around the watching men.

“As you can see, Sargeant Berbatov and I are but recent graduates of the Penal Battalion. I personally was given the choice of commanding a platoon of my fellow criminals or being shot. No, no don’t interrupt ….” he growled threateningly as James made as if to speak and his fingers caressed the holster of his pistol.

James almost choked on the fiery liquor and protestingly motioned for Walters to continue.

“I will not bother you with the details of my crime, however I was sentenced to a three month tour of duty with a CF regiment, and Sargeant Berbatov kindly offered to join me. We appear to have lost most of our platoon to a particularly unpleasant friendly fire incident and I have decided that I need to speak personally with General Hamner about this matter.

“We,” and here he indicated his Sargeant, “have decided to find a way off this planet in order to keep our rendezvous with our beloved General. If this means that we have to fight our way through the fortress up above, or we have to shoot a couple of Inspectors in the process, that is one and the same to us. If you wish to join us you are welcome, as we could use a pair of hands or two, but, if you would rather go your own way ...”

Here, Berbatov belched and then stretched his hand out to the nearby halberd.

“Sir, we’re with you, sir”, agreed Corporal James rapidly, “we don’t have much of a regiment nor army left, sir”

Grinning, Berbatov took the bottle of alcohol out of the Corporal’s rigid hand and raising it on high, made a toast.

“To Walters’ Army,” he roared and the soldiers gladly joined in.

K’san remained hidden behind the rock outcropping at the top of the hill, staring curiously at the group of humans below. The pack was now bigger, the new members behaving correctly and deferring to the lead male, as was expected. At first he had wondered if it was wise to continue with this new pack, as they were alien to him and all of his teachings preached the foulness of the human scum. However, he had been accepted by the pack leader, they had fought together and paid respect to his fallen brother.

He lifted his head to the breeze as he recognised a familiar scent, which was closely followed by the howling call of a hunting pack. He saw the leader swiftly rise to his feet, calling something in his strange tongue to the others and without conscious thought stood and moved to take his place by his side.


The recently christened Leftenant Walters scrambled to his feet, as the now familiar howling of the K’ran reached his ears. He saw the rest of his makeshift army scrabble for their weapons and take up a hastily formed defensive circle. Corporal James stiffened and almost subconsciously Walters knew that the “puppy” had returned.

“Hold,” he barked, as the silver furred beast glided to his side. He could see the awe of the faces of the troopers, as the K’ran calmly approached and faced outwards.

“But sir …..” protested James.

“Shut the frak up and take cover,” spat Berbatov, moving close to Walters and turning to face the same direction as the beast.

Walters raised his hand demanding silence and looked at the K’ran, he could almost feel the lack of nervousness in the beast, see the quiet confidence in its posture.

“They’re close, but are not hunting us. We do however need to move. Sargeant?”

“Yes, sir”, responded a smirking Berbatov.

“Let’s get our gear together and move out. Away from the fortress in the first instance. We need a couple of troopers flanking us, our friend here,” indicating the K’ran, “will take point.”

The beast glanced at him and then began to move away from the slowly receding sound. As though it had understood every word and again the men looked at Walters almost reverently.

Berbatov motioned for the Corporal to take over and hung back next to Walters.

“Got a plan, sir?” he asked in a barely concealed stage whisper.

Walters waited until the men began to move about before he spoke, “Yup. My plan is to make this up as I go along. You got me into this and now we’ve got to play it out fully. “

He glanced around the makeshift camp, adjusted his pistol in its holster and thought hard before he opened his mouth again.

“Listen, Berbatov. My little impromptu speech yesterday wasn’t far off the mark. We have got to get out of this warzone and if at all possible off planet. Our lovely leader could not give a damn about us. In fact he did his best to kill us. Probably, his Inspectors and personal troops have direct orders to shoot us on sight and we have an army of crazed beasts and half human soldiers who also want us dead.

“I personally don’t want to hang around and find out who gets the first chance at us. Our situation has improved and we have convinced the Corporal and his men that their best chance of survival lies with us. But, you know that this charade can only last until a real officer or Him forbid, an Inspector checks up on us.”

“Don’t agree.” mumbled Berbatov.

“With which part?” questioned Walters half-sarcastically.

“About the checking up on us,” replied the huge man, nervously switching his halberd from one shoulder to the other. His face twisted into an unrecognisable grimace and Walters suddenly realised he was thinking. Then he began to talk in a surprisingly reasoned voice.

“It’s like this, Sir.” he began, “Most officers know shit about being an officer. They tell people what to do and the Sargeants and Corporals do what they were going to do in the first place, as you well know. Any trooper will follow the cap and greatcoat, without asking too many questions.

“You’re right that some jumped up tart of an officer could question you. However, they probably won’t if you act the part. The Church-loving Inspector who asks too many questions, can be easily convinced,” and here he affectionately patted the weapon on his shoulder, “not to.”

Walters looked enquiringly at Berbatov, “When did you become such a frakking scholar?”

Berbatov furrowed his brow, spat on the floor and resumed his usual expression. “Don’t need to be, that’s why we made you the officer.”

Watching the big man move away, Walters wondered again where Berbatov had come from and what real chance they had of pulling this off. The truth was that they were committed and could not back out now. He realised that he needed to be convinced that he was an officer and not just playing a part. Reflecting on the good and bad of his situation, he decided that he really had nothing to lose. Shaking his head, he followed Berbatov, at first slowly and then with more confidence as he finally accepted the paper he had chosen to play.

Sudden Dearth - Chapter One

Chapter One

Unnamed Planet
Tauran Disputed Zone

The wind-driven rain stung wildly onto Walters’ upturned face as he huddled in his barely dug trench. The prison guards had driven all of them here, as fodder for the enemy forces, leaving little doubt as to their worthlessness. “The Prelate Protects” was tattooed on each of the men’s foreheads, a sign to remind them of their indoctrination now thrown away by each of their heinous crimes, or at least that was what the Inspectorate had screamed at them before they were herded like cattle to the battle front.

Ex-Corporal Walters spat on the ground in disgust at the memory of the cruelty they had received at the hands of the Church’s enforcement squads. He had little time either for the Glory of the Great One or the fanatical forces of the Church. Personally, being stripped of his rank and thrown into Penal Battalion 3246 was more than enough to occupy his mind at present. He was still unclear what he had actually done wrong; he had neither raped, murdered or plain spoken badly about anyone. Oh, sure, he had broken two of Inspector Wurtz’s teeth, when he had hit him with the laser rifle's solid wooden butt, to stop him from whipping the civilian any further. Possibly the fact that he had given him two new Adam’s apples didn’t really help, but shit weren’t you supposed to protect your own?

He had been extremely lucky, apparently, to not have been summarily shot on the spot by the Inspector, if he could have raised his head above the horizontal that is, but maybe the fact that his troop commander agreed with him saved his sorry ass.

Whatever the reason he had been blessed with two months of rehabilitation in the 3246 for his troubles and was now to be given his glorious moment. He knew that in ancient times this had been called the Forlorn Hope, an opportunity for men to redeem themselves by an act of unspeakably stupid and deadly foolhardiness. Led by an officer who was looking for rapid promotion and arm in arm with men who would either die here today or would rejoin some regiment. They would however always wear the tattoo on their foreheads to remind them of their tawdry past.

Walters spat again and this time his spittle landed on the boot of the hulking brute next to him, a man as wide as he was tall and who looked as though he had probably landed himself in the battalion for all of the right reasons. He grunted and leered wickedly at Walters, before spitting back with a stupid grin on his face.

“Not to your liking, huh?” he grunted again through badly misshapen teeth.

“What do you think?” replied Walters.

“Don’t, just get on with it” muttered the man whose tunic was stencilled with the name Berbatov

It was then the first rocket lanced through the rain and struck nearby their position, Walters heard the crunch and thump of the close impact, followed by the screams of wounded and dying men.

“Ah, crap!” he muttered and dived to the ground, twisting to follow the train of fire of the ensuing fusillade. To his surprise he saw Berbatov, standing where he had left him, calmly squinting into the fiery trail and watching the carnage unfold. Berbatov looked down and grinned at him,

“Lot of folk gonna die tonight, but not me. Stick with me son and you’ll live too.” With that he began a shambling run towards the source of the rocket fire and to his surprise, Walters found himself scrambling to his feet and following, yelling at the top of his lungs.

Field Headquarters
Church Command

General Hamner looked over the battlefield from his hilltop vantage point; he knew that many of his junior officers disdained his use of “old technology”. His night vision scope gave him a perspective of the real death and suffering, he could never have hoped to comprehend through the use of the holo-tank in his command post. Tonight many men would die, if only to satisfy the whim of the strategists. The enemy position looked unassailable, and surely was. That was why the penal battalions were being thrown into the fray. He was sorry that Captain Wiseman had volunteered to lead; he was a good man, though young and hungry. Not for him were the political connections which allowed rapid advance, rather he had earned his pips, or so he liked to tell all his avid listeners.

Penal or CF battalions, cannon fodder, as they were better known, were a good way for the Inspectorate to cleanse ranks. Now and again there were a few mistakes made, but not often, and what were a few errors in the overall scheme of the Church’s grand design? He was a little worried about the heretically cursed enemy though. They had received reports of new troops, similar to the Tauran forces but somehow different. Men talked of deformed monsters, almost human animals, who stalked in front of the normal soldiers. They had yet to capture one, but if description was anything to go by, they were facing the worst cross between a dire wolf and some form of ravening lizard. The beasts came in all shapes, sizes and colours but were deadly effective. They had already lost one platoon of Church Guard on night patrol, well not exactly lost, they had found the shredded remains of uniforms soaked in blood, mucus and gore. Already the rumours were circulating through the troops and the General knew they needed a good old massacre in order to remind the faithful of their true purpose.

He was one of life’s cynics, not wasteful of his resources, rather benignly indifferent. This did nothing for the chances of the CF troops fighting below. The General had little intention of amalgamating this rabble back into his real forces and he was silently wishing them a glorious victory and an even more glorious death. Sighing inwardly, he placed the night scope in front of his eyes once more and surveyed the nightmare scene below.

Penal Battalion
Front Line Assault

“Berbatov, you clown,” screamed Walters, “Where the hell do you think you are going?”

“Over there,” indicated the giant, vaguely waving his meat cleaver of a hand in the direction of the attacking troops.

“Shit!” cursed Walters, “another bloody genius”, and then “Well wait for me, at least you give them enough of a target that they’ll forget I’m here.”

Berbatov grunted, in a sort of muffled laugh and continued his shambling run forward. His rifle was still strung across his back and he had picked up a large chunk of wood from somewhere, which he swung viciously in time with his awkward gait. Walters had his rifle clenched at high port and had little thought of doing anything more than running behind the big man. It was then the monsters appeared and the world went pear-shaped.

Walters slammed into the back of Berbatov as he ground to a halt, and then ducked as the club whistled past his head. Looking around he could see that they were well in advance of their fellow unfortunates and were surrounded by what could only be described as a pack of trouble. The monsters varied between six and eight feet tall, covered in mottled fur and with huge canine teeth and even larger claws, and they had stumbled right into the middle of them. They seemed to be attacking a smaller version of themselves, from what he could see, a twisting writhing mass of silver grey fur and blood. At least three of the larger wolf-like creatures sported wounds and luckily for them they appeared rather occupied. That was until Berbatov roared and charged into the melee, his club whirring around his head. Walters flicked the rifle onto semi-automatic and followed, spraying bursts of fire into the back of the nearest creatures.

He ducked wildly as a huge slashing claw narrowly missed and pumped pretty much the full cartridge into the beast, slamming it off its feet in a bloody mass of destroyed flesh. Walters grabbed the empty cartridge and flipped its identical mate into place, taped conveniently to its twin, and continued firing. The archaic chemical propellant guns were all the CF were given, after all, they weren’t supposed to survive the assault, just die gloriously. However, in this case he was thankful for the oversight. The heavy lead-jacketed bullets tore a swath through the pliant fur covered bodies, cutting a path for him right through the middle and he kept on, in hot pursuit of his idiotic companion, who was laying left and right, crushing limbs and skulls as he moved inexorably forward.

Walters heard the whistle of the razor sharp claws as they barrelled towards his unprotected head and knew that he at least had fulfilled the Church’s wish. There was a blur of grey and he was bundled to one side as snapping teeth rent his attacker. As he rolled to his feet he saw that the victim was now the attacker and was tearing into the throat of a brownish-blue beast with gusto. Then there was a flash of silver and a second beast joined the fight.

He looked for Berbatov and from a kneeling position began to use his ammo more conservatively, driving the remaining wolf lizards from his comrade’s back. His work was so effective that two of the beasts split off from the five surrounding the idiot giant and charged straight at him. He flicked the magazine to fully automatic and let them have it. The first beast, eight feet tall and fully rabid, disappeared before his eyes, but the second, even bigger and even angrier came straight on. He could almost feel its foetid breath on his face when he heard the leaden click of the empty chamber and threw his rifle forward, drawing his bayonet and preparing to meet his death.

Cursing Berbatov once more, he leapt forward to meet the beast, getting inside its claws was his only chance, and ducked his head to avoid the slashing jaws. Again he was blessed by the intervention of the smaller creatures as they attacked the beast from the rear. As the monster raised its head and roared in pain, Walters drove the bayonet fist deep into its throat and chest time and time again. The hot blood poured over his hands, the beast’s feral roar rang deafeningly in his ear and suddenly, there was silence. He stood panting, with the blood-soaked weapon in his hand and stared over the steaming corpse at the two remaining creatures. They stared unwinkingly back at him and then looked around sharply as a whistling Berbatov returned, blood streaming from numerous gashes, but otherwise the total picture of serenity. He swung the club harmlessly around, blood and skin flicking off in all directions and stopped in front of Walters. The giant dropped his weapon and then picked Walters up in a bear hug and swung him round gleefully, like a child at a fair.

“Good fight” he laughed as he dropped Walters to the ground, “who are your new friends?” With that he picked up his club and once more began to walk towards the enemy lines, without a care in the world.

Field Headquarters
Church Command

The general saw the CF battalion decimated before his eyes as the ravening hordes streamed forwards. Laser rifle fire did little more than infuriate the packs of creatures who charged onwards. The Tauran infantry behind them laid down an incredible barrage of fire and the Church troops wavered, turned and then ran. They were lost, he saw Captain Wiseman intent on trying to rally his troops, fall beneath the jaws of at least three of the wolf-like creatures. His men waited no longer and charged back towards their own lines, flinging their rifles and equipment to one side in order to lighten their burden.

Then the Inspectorate-led Church troops opened fire, cutting down the remnants of the CF forces, whose only escape had always been in death. The Inspectors and their men lasted little longer as the enemy hordes over ran them. General Hamner spoke briefly into his communicator and the firestorm began. He saw the full effects of the aerial bombardment, followed by that of the ground artillery. The enemy forces were swept away in their thousands, but still they came on. Calmly the general turned toward his command post, signalling his orderly to call for his transport as he spoke once more into his communication device. There was a muffled roar and the ground opened up in front of the advancing troops, bathing them in white hot fire. He had saved the plasma charges until last. They may well have wiped out his own troops, but the area had been sanitised. He looked up as his ride arrived and waved to his command staff as he moved towards the aircraft. He took one last look through his night scope, surprised to see movement on the plain below and even more surprised to see fresh troops pouring out from the hillside fortification. He shrugged and strode into the aircraft, this would now be a cleansing operation and the next call would not be his.

Penal Battalion
Front Line Assault

Walters groaned as the world once more turned the right way up, he didn´t know what had hit him, but it hurt. He spat mud and stones from his mouth and groggily looked around. To his left, Berbatov sat on a rock, staring out across the plain and picking his teeth. He heard a muffled whining to his right and found one of the creatures pawing at a clump of shattered earth. Crawling closer he could see one bloodied paw sticking out of the ground. The grey furred beast looked at him and whined again, and shrugging, Walters unclipped his bayonet and began scraping at the loose earth. Personally he felt it was a waste of time, but he had nothing better to do right know and it at least gave him something to concentrate on.

As he worked away, he gradually uncovered a foreleg and then the head, but he knew he was too late. The animal’s head was bent backwards at an unnatural angle and was bathed in blood. Its twin whined again and Walters continued, until the creature was fully exposed, what was left of it that is. Where the earth had been shorn was also where the creature’s torso ended and Walters backed away as the grey wolf moved forward. The animal began to howl and in that moment became no longer a tainted beast to Walters but one more soul in torment and he shuffled forward again to sit next to the beast, mumbling nonsense soothingly. The heavens opened again and there they sat, incongruously as one in the midst of a man made chaos.

Berbatov looked over and was struck by the scene, he was a simple man given over rather too easily to the baser pleasures in life, but he was unswervingly loyal. He had seen something in Walters and saw it again here. A man who was unafraid to risk himself for a companion of whatever sort. He had been right, Walters would do. With that, he turned round and watched the remnants of Tauran and human forces struggling to survive amidst the inferno caused by the plasma charges. They were safe for now, but soon they would come again, he thought and then grinned; more to kill and maim, just as he liked it.


K´san was alone, more alone than he had ever been in his short but violent life. His pack-brother lay dead at his feet and he knew he would soon join him. The human at his side was strange, he had fought well, saving them once and then fighting with them as a pack against K´rasa. The larger of the two humans had also fought and had celebrated with this one their victory. They too must be pack, but he was different, he had vengeance to fulfil. Soon, no doubt their paths would part, the humans joining their own to fight against the Lord’s Army. He knew he could not join them, not with their filthy false God’s Priests. His life would not be worth seconds if he followed them, as he should to repay his blood-debt. Soon he would add that shame to his others and turn back towards the fortress and the death that awaited him there.

Field Headquarters
Church Command

General Hamner looked down on the devastation; he had little remorse over his order to blow the plasma charges. He now knew that they had two choices; planetary bombardment or planetary bombardment and sending in further troops. To him, he would rather just continue striking the planet until it was a cinder, but he knew that many of his more zealous colleagues would want to return and “recapture” the world for the Prelate’s Divine Glory. He had actually become bored with this world and wanted another one to play with. His communicator pinged and he heard the detail of survivors left fighting on the planet, now he would have little choice, but to risk more of his troops, fighting for who knew what. He sighed and turned to look at the remaining battalions left to him, sorry that they were not CF troops. These were real soldiers he now had to waste on this useless planet, or did he? He noticed that there was movement on the battlefield and on zooming his screen he could see that some CF troops had survived. Maybe he could send in the last remaining CF units, with weapons, fail miserably and then wipe out the planet. This needed to be thought about carefully.

Geostationary Orbit
Church Fleet Command

Looking at the planet below and studying the incoming reports from the battlefield, General Hamner once again shook his head. He could not understand why anyone would want to fight over this insignificant ball of earth. Prelate save us, the planet didn’t even have an official name, only a number. His fleet had been directed to a real battlezone, but urgent information had reached them and they had dropped out of fold-space directly into this conflict.

No-one could convince him of the reason behind the enemy forces' determination to garrison this world, nor why they were stubbornly defending the remains of the fortress below. He had requested orders from the main fleet, but the only reply had been to stay here and fight. He had wanted to obliterate the planet directly, but he had been denied the right of doing so. Within his forces, he apparently had sufficient resources to cleanse this world, according to command and therefore that was his job.

The bald truth of the matter, was that General Hamner was neither well thought of nor particularly necessary to the war effort. His main regiments were mixtures of various worlds and specialties. He had used what little political influence he had to take this command and had convinced himself that the Prelate had chosen him personally to smite all Tauran-led forces with a righteous wrath. The penal battalion had been added, or rather transhipped during the short rest stop the fleet had taken and again he took this as a demonstration of how well thought of he was.

In total he could count on two infantry battalions, including the penal battalion, an artillery regiment and a light tank regiment. Nothing of any note, but at least something.

With the loss of the majority of the penal battalion, he had already proven that the fleet staff officers were correct in their assumption of his incapacity to command and had helped remove a thorn in the side of High Command.

He decided to once again request instructions, as he could not see the necessity of wasting any more of his crack troops. His decision taken, he left the bridge and made his way to the communications room. He would wait a while longer, the ground bombardment had appeared to have stalled the enemy troop movements and the criminals below, would either die for the Prelate’s Glory or he could clean up the remains of this mess once he had received further orders.

Penal Battalion
Unnamed Planet

Walters felt much better this morning, he and Berbatov had managed to re-equip themselves splendidly from the corpse-strewn terrain. He had managed to appropriate a long officer’s greatcoat and cap, nice leather boots and had found a serviceable pistol, a sword and plenty of ammunition. His companion had recovered a new laser rifle and from somewhere had found a huge halberd. Probably from one of the Tauran forces, but he had an inane grin on his face and now and again swung the weapon, delighting in the sound it made as it cut through the air.

Berbatov seemed to have accepted that Walters would make the decisions and trailed along behind him whistling tunelessly. The alien ranged in front of them both, almost like a hunting hound. Suddenly it appeared and growled quietly, both Walters and Berbatov stopped and looked at one another questioningly.

“I think your puppy’s upset!” chuckled Berbatov

“Yeah, but about what?” asked Walters.

“Don’t ask me, I’m just the hired help,” and pointing with a grubby finger at Walter’s greatcoat, “you’re the officer.”

“Ha, bloody, ha,” responded Walters, “let’s follow him and see what he’s found”.

“Yes, sir!” replied the huge man and swinging his halberd round his head once more, shambled up the hill.

Walters was the last of the group to reach the crest of the hill and joined the other two behind the sparse cover afforded by some tumbled rocks. In a small clearing amongst the devastation below he could see four or five soldiers, hunched about a makeshift fire. Their equipment was strewn haphazardly around and they looked as though they were waiting for their end.

“Huh” grunted Berbatov as he stood and ambled down the incline, his halberd resting against his shoulder. Walters watched him go, and then with a disgruntled sigh followed.

“Oy,” shouted Berbatov as he neared the group, who were apparently unaware of his approach. “On your sodding feet, there’s an officer present.”

Walters started in surprise as the soldiers hastily scrambled away from the fire and rushed to their weapons, before coming to a stop as they noticed the cap and greatcoat. Now, he had to follow this charade through, and cursing a leering Berbatov, he drew his pistol and strode towards the group.

Cover Art

This is the proposed Cover Art for Sudden Dearth. It was created by Diggory Steele-Perkins, as have been those for Books Two and Three.