Zone of Conflict
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.
“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.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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