Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
Walters knew there was something unusual going on; it was not common practice for the majority of the men to be huddled around Berbatov, in fact they normally did their best to avoid him. Yet, since yesterday’s battle, there was a change and now this. He sauntered over to the rear of the confiscated Carrier and Corporal James jumped up with a guilty, “Sir!”. Instead of the normal rapid dispersal following his appearance, the men stood together, their heads hung in embarrassment.
“Berbatov?” he queried, causing the man to back out of the rear of the vehicle.
“Yes, Sir?” he replied, sheepishly.
“What’s going on?”
“Well Sir, it’s like this,” began Berbatov. “The boys and I,” and here indicated the troopers, “we were thinking it wasn’t right, Sir?”
“What, wasn’t right, Sargeant,” queried Walters exasperatedly.
“That we don’t have one Sir.”
“One what, Sargeant?” Walters could see that this was going to be painful.
“A picture, Sir, “ and seeing Walters’ incomprehension, “ for the boys sir. Oh, and especially for you, Leftenant.”
With that he pulled what looked like a bundle of cloth, from behind his back, and continued his explanation. “The Lutheran’s had one, even the Penal guys had one, Sir. So we decided “Walters Army”, had to have one. Especially with Williamson being so good at it, Sir.”
Walters had a strong urge to pull out his pistol and shoot Berbatov there and then, but he just managed to restrain himself and smiled encouragingly. With a quite theatrical gesture Berbatov unfurled the cloth, revealing a remarkable likeness of a snarling K’ran in silver, stitched onto the green background.
“What do you think, Sir?”He asked, a huge grin on his face.
“I like it,” gruffed Walters, turning away to hide the emotion he felt and it was then he noticed Williamson with his needle and thread, stitching a smaller version to one of the men’s tunics. He now looked more closely and saw that the majority of them had already passed by Williamson’s clothing outlet; the emblem had been hidden as they had huddled around the Sargeant.
He almost fell over the K’ran as he turned away and called back to the Sargeant.
“What about them, Sargeant?” and here he indicated the animals.
“Sorry, Sir. They are the emblem,” replied the Sargeant.
“Well, following your logic, they need names and I’m sick of calling this one Puppy. What do you suggest?” Walters was sure he had caught the grinning brute out.
The Sargeant thought for a moment and then with a laugh said, “Easy Sir. Kran One and K’ran Two.”
Walters turned back to the beasts and feeling slightly awkward, he pointed at them in turn, indicating the silver one initially. “Okay, this one is K’ran, to the blue-grey beast, K’ran One and to the green K’ran Two.”
The animals howled as one and began leaping and cavorting around him.
“Looks like they like the names,” quipped Berbatov, and turned away laughing.
“We have been named,” they howled together, “we are pack!”
Church Fleet Command
As the shuttle docked into the larger vessel, General Wolfe unbuckled his seat restraint. It had been a tedious journey: the officers accompanying him had been poor company. His impatience had gotten the better of him on a number of occasions and he was sure that the two young men thought that he was close to madness. At last however, they were here.
A navy rating was waiting for the General in the docking bay, to show him the way to his quarters. He had been assigned an office on B deck and had asked that all of his belongings were placed there as soon as possible. In the meantime, he wanted to study all of the available information on the current campaign, in particular anything to do with the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry.
He was a little lost in thought, but as he glanced upwards he saw the markings for A deck.
“Where are we going, son?” he asked the rating.
“Sorry, Sir. My orders were to take you directly to the bridge, where the Captain is waiting for you.” replied the man.
Wolfe started to speak and then thought better of it. There was little chance that the lowly rating would know his Captain’s mind and so, he waited.
On entering the bridge he received a number of perfunctory salutes, which he returned impatiently. It was only when he reached the raised dais containing the Captain’s chair that he relaxed slightly. The man there, in middle age, rose to meet him with an outstretched hand and a welcoming smile on his face.
“General Wolfe, Captain Arnesson. Pleased to meet you, Sir”, he began, “I thought that it best I greeted you personally, especially in the current circumstances.”
“Excuse me, Captain. What exactly are the current circumstances?” Wolfe questioned a little anxiously.
“No one informed you General?”, and seeing the expression on his face, “Obviously not. Let me fill you in.”
“Please do, Captain,” replied Wolfe, taking the proffered seat at the Captain’s side.
“Well Sir, and getting straight to the point. It appears that your ex-command has rebelled directly against General Hamner’s forces, that is to say Church Forces. The overall details are still sketchy, but after the original assault on the fortress objective, and the subsequent retreat from the Tauran incursion by the CF battalion, the General ordered a clean up of the area. Both aerial and ground bombardment was ordered, which meant some regular troops did not have time to get out of the target zone.
“Once carried out, the General issued a proclamation that anyone who had survived this cleansing operation must be tainted by heresy and sent a clear instruction that these men must be eliminated.
“It appears that those Lutheran troops on our side of the line, refused to fire on their returning comrades. Inspector French led a team in to re-educate them and it appears he met with some trouble, terminal trouble that is.
“The General received a communication from an unknown source, which we assume was a member of the rebellious and hence heretical ex-Lutheran troops. This basically promised him a similar treatment to that received by the Inspector.”
“How do we know that this unknown source was one of my men?” queried Wolfe.
“We do not have clear confirmation, but General Hamner appears convinced,” responded the Captain, obviously a little uneasy at the tenuousness of his argument.
“And where is General Hamner right now? I would like to speak with him straight away, Captain.”
“He’s planet-side, General,” said the Captain, “directing our operations.”
“Right, never mind getting me settled in here, I want a shuttle organised to take my men and I directly to General Hamner. It seems my auditing skills are urgently required.”
Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
‘Jimmy’ James counted slowly to ten and peered over the rock ledge, for once he felt like he was part of something. Spread out beside and slightly behind him were the men of the two sections with which he had been entrusted. Every day more men were joining them and poor old Williamson was constantly busy at his tailoring duties. The Leftenant had decided to give James a field promotion to Sargeant and had bumped up Chivas, one of James’ original squad to Lance Corporal. Chivas now ran the second section under James and was inordinately proud of the responsibility.
James was trying to instil some sort of military discipline in his men, unlike the maniacal Sargeant Berbatov, who basically taught his men to fear him first and the Leftenant second. Any fear of Him, the Tauran Forces or just about anything else was laughed at and it seemed to be working. Just yesterday Berbatov had led his men in another of his suicidal charges; they followed without pause and spent the whole time hooting with laughter. Totally unnatural it was.
A muted whistle was the signal he had been waiting for and he crouched down, checking that he had a fresh power pack in his laser rifle. He looked across at Chivas and nodded, after a short delay he heard the crump of detonating explosive and stood up, opening fire on the Tauran Troops below.
Walters was situated on the other side of the valley, waiting for the fighting to begin. He had thought long and hard about their next move and realised that they could depend on no one but themselves. They were hemmed in to the rear by the Church Forces under General Hamner and above them the unknown Taurans. Unknown as to motive, he knew that there were K’ran amongst them, but little else. He needed more information and he needed breathing space.
It was a dangerous gamble. Annoying both sets of forces could very quickly get them killed, but he needed to build on the unity of his men, and K’ran. Berbatov had given them an identity, he needed to give them a purpose. The only real purpose he could see right now, was to avoid getting shredded to pieces. So, he had decided to start small. First they had made the outpost their’s, then a small radius around it and now they were pushing out little by little. The Carrier had been turned into a gun emplacement, it’s auto cannon their first line of defence. Here and now he needed to make his enemies respect their zone of influence, “Their Shit” as Berbatov had so succinctly named it.
He felt the K’ran move beside him and placed a hand on the silver shoulders, it looked up at him and whined questioningly. One and Two were quiet, waiting in anticipation.
“Okay,” whispered Walters and drew his pistol, “let’s go”.
This time K’san did not race recklessly ahead, he paced along by W’ratr’s side, his packmates ranging to the right and left. He was sure of himself, of their victory. There would be death ahead, killing for everyone. He could be K’ran alongside W’ratr and he howled gleefully.
Leftenant Walters surveyed the aftermath of the battle, there had been in fact not much of a fight. James’ men had caught the enemy totally by surprise and had laid down a devastating wall of fire. Those that had not died or been mutilated by the carefully laid explosives, were caught in the hailstorm of laser bolts.
Walters looked down on the remains of one of the semi-human soldiers, its uniform a mimicry of a Church one. During his original training he had been told of the strange tatoos which would be plainly in view on such an enemy, either traced on cloth or directly into tissue. It was hard to say about the latter, as there was little recognisable of the body left. Their weapons were obviously stolen Inspectorate issue and poorly maintained. With a shrug, he turned away, he had wanted to give a message to the Enemy Commander and he hoped there was enough rationality left in the remains of his mind to understand it.
He spun as he heard a snarl behind him, but he was too late, crashing to the floor under the oppressing weight of the charging K’ran. He rolled to one side, managing to avoid the backward slash of claws which snagged on his greatcoat pocket. Walters didn’t try to clear his pistol from its holster, he simply discharged the weapon against the side of the raging beast above him. It was risky, but so too was doing nothing.
There was a smell of burning fur and charred meat, and he was free. He shrugged his way out of his greatcoat, throwing it to one side and drawing his sword, the weapon whistling reassuringly as it cut the air.
“Come on then,” he growled through gritted teeth as the massive beast charged.
Walters planted one foot forward, meaning to swing the weapon at the beast, but a stone rolled under his foot and he fell to one side. Determinedly he held onto the sword and the edge of the weapon bit into the back leg of the K’ran, half shearing it at the knee cap. Not waiting for his luck to change he scrambled to his feet and plunged the point into the back of the beast’s skull. His action was rewarded by a fine spray of blood and bone and then the weapon rverberated, it’s tip caught in the rocky earth below. He felt a hot breath on the back of his neck and reached slowly down to his boot, removing his combat knife. Things were about to get really ugly.
K’rin watched unbelievingly as his champion was downed by the puny human, one strike of his weapon and he was no more. Now though, the weapon was disabled and it was his turn. Bunching his muscles he readied himself for the killing leap. It was then he was struck simultaneously from the side and the rear, claws ripping into his flesh and severing tendons. He pulled himself up by his front paws, his rear set were useless as he had no muscle control due to the damaged ligature.
He saw something unexplainable, the human was surrounded on three sides by K’ran, but instead of dismembering him, they waited for him to recover his weapons and only then, they followed him towards K’rin. He heard his kin approach too, forming a circle around him, there were five of them left and they waited, growling softly.
K’san barked threateningly and pushed his way through them.
“Brother,” he hissed, “how low you have fallen.”
“How can this be,” mewled K’rin, the pain causing his breath to catch in his throat. “K’shir outlawed you, spoke the death words.”
“Our father’s words mean nothing to me. You and the others, decided that you would do the Lord’s bidding, murder your own brothers and why? Because we chose to question the need to forget who we are?”
Foam flecked K’san’s lips as he leaned closer, the words spat from his maw.
“We are K’ran. The Lord has fooled you. There are other ways to please the Dark One.”
“Blasphemy!” screamed K’rin, as K’san’s claws slashed through his throat.
The words were quietly spoken by K’ranwon, but echoed by K’rantu. As he looked at the others, he heard first a murmur and then a roar.
Walters heard the scrunch of gravel as James approached.
“What the frak is that all about Sir?” he asked pointing to the K’ran.
“I really don’t know, Jimmy, I really don’t know. But whatever it is, we should be thankful they’re on our side.”
Within the Fortress, the being known as the Lord stirred, something had changed. He had felt a thread part, a reduction in his vital energy. This world had been given to him to do with as he willed. It was his, as were all upon it. Raising his arms, he screamed his rage to the sky. There had been a birth, an unplanned event, a wrongness not created by him. It would be found, crushed, ground and brought pleading before him to beg for mercy and ultimately be destroyed.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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