The musty smell of stale sweat and the remains of a half-eaten meal permeated General Hamner’s private quarters. He had spent the previous evening locked within his room, accepting no callers and feigning a headache. Each day his officers asked for more information as the situation worsened and he found it easier to avoid answering their, to him, ridiculous questions.
Today he would make an effort to instil some level of discipline within them, who were they to question his judgement? He swung his legs off the bed and tugged at the front of his crumpled jacket. His nose wrinkled in disgust, as his own scent wafted to his nostrils. It was time to get cleaned up and face the day.
It was then he heard raised voices outside, followed by the sound of a falling object, and a pounding began on the door, almost matching that in his head.
“General Hamner, open this door,” roared someone from outside the portal.
Hamner cracked open the door, ready to demand an explanation for the impertinent attitude, but was roughly bowled backward, catching his knee against his desk and sprawling unceremoniously to the floor.
“What the...” he began.
“Say nothing, you miserable excuse for a human being.” A man stood in the doorway pointing an accusing finger at the cowering General.
“I am General Wolfe of the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry. It appears I have arrived none too soon.”
“Guards!” shouted Hamner, backing away from the furious officer.
“They can’t hear you. My men have taken them into custody and you, sir, are under arrest for gross incompetence.” hissed Wolfe
“How dare you,” spluttered the General.
“How dare I? You have managed to decimate your command. You have lost all control over your men. The troops are in open rebellion and we have an unknown quantity of Tauran Forces, up to He knows what, on our doorstep. You are lucky I don’t summarily execute you right now!”
“That is a clear misrepresentation of the facts!” screamed General Hamner, beginning to recover his normally bellicose nature. “Men from your own command are the rebels, they have turned away from Him and joined those same Tauran Forces. Do not preach to me about competence …”
Hamner’s tirade was abruptly terminated, as Wolfe’s fist crashed into his jaw, cartwheeling him across the room. Before he could react, he was struck again and again, sliding blissfully into unconsciousness.
“Sargeant!” shouted Wolfe, breathing heavily as the non-com entered the room and saluted. “Get this thing out of my sight!”
“Yes sir!” replied the Sargeant, indicating to another soldier to help him lift the limp body upright.
General Wolfe followed the men from the room, stooping in front of one of Hamner´s staff.
“You,” he said through gritted teeth, “Take me to the Communications Centre. I need to get this mess cleared up right now!”
The man nodded obsequiously and, not waiting to see if the General followed, rushed off down the corridor.
Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
Their outpost was now a hive of activity, men coming and going, organising supplies and re-supplies. James had recently returned from a foray into Imperial territory. His mission had been to scout the area and locate supply dumps and positions. He had struck lucky, when he had followed a group of transports to a nearby depot. It appeared that word had spread and upon seeing the emblem displayed on their tunics, the supply group had not only turned around, but had stopped to pick up further ammunition at the depot. Those self same transports were now being frantically unloaded.
He heard welcoming yips and saw Berbatov and his men returning. Gambolling like puppies alongside him was a group of K’ran. It seemed that the beasts had an affinity for the big man, who was striding through them kicking and cursing. Walters had decided to concentrate Berbatov’s attentions on the Tauran Troops, his wholehearted murderous frenzy was much bettered suited to this field of operation. The truth be told, Walters was a little uneasy still, with the idea of unleashing the K’ran and Berbatov against Church soldiers. It did not seem strictly right. He could stomach it, if it had to be done, but under preference tried to avoid.
“Sargeant,” acknowledged Walters as he came closer.
“Leftenant, Sir,” grinned Berbatov, “now that was fun.”
“Fun, Sargeant?” queried Walters.
“Oh yes, Sir, lots of fun,” he replied.
“What exactly was so much fun, Sargeant?” asked Walters, knowing that he would regret the question shortly.
“Well, Sir. You remember asking me to have a look see at what our mangled friends were doing?” and not waiting for his Leftenant to respond, he continued, “Everything was going along peaceful-like, when we happened upon one of their routine patrols. The puppies decided that they couldn’t wait for me and dived right in. Now, I couldn’t let them have all the fun, could I sSr?”
Walters snorted in disbelief, but waved the Sargeant on.
“The boys and I got stuck in. They seem to have caught onto the idea of hitting hard and taking no prisoners. So we did, and they didn’t. As I said, Sir, fun .” ended the Sargeant, waiting like one of his ‘puppies’ for some praise.
“Did you retrieve any information? Any idea as to what they were up to? …” his voice trailed off, noticing the blank expression on Berbatov’s face. “Yes, Sargeant, glad you had some fun. Carry on.”
Berbatov saluted sloppily and ambled off to join his men. Next time, thought Walters, I’m doing the scouting and taking James with me.
Rank upon rank stood before him in abject terror, incapable of meeting his eyes as he stalked back and forth. Now and then he stopped, drew the serrated blade from its sheath and plunged it deep into the chest of the nearest of his followers. Each time, he twisted the blade savagely, tearing it free, revelling in the torrent of blood. Almost absent-mindedly he raised the blade to his lips, licking the rapidly congealing mess and then starting his pacing once more.
“Where are my Generals?” he roared, and the front ranks parted to allow them access.
“We are here, my Lord,” they chimed in unison.
“You!” he snarled, “Come here.”
The K’ran General flowed across the ground without fear and rose to his full height, muscles rippling beneath his silver fur.
“You were created to serve me, yet, I hear tales of desertion, stories of your youths leaving to find the truth about the K’ran. To test themselves against others of your kind. And now, I hear that amongst the followers of this W’ratr, in fact at his side is one of your offspring. Speak K’shir.”
“Lord. I too have heard these rumours and myself have chastised those who speak of this. The one they talk of is dead to me. I personally will tear the living heart from his body and feed it to you. Let me lead my warriors into battle and expunge this stain upon our honour. The Dark One will feed deeply, I swear it,” and with this he bowed fully down before his Lord.
“Do not fail me, K’shir,” he menaced, placing the edge of the serrated blade against the K’ran’s throat. “You will not live long enough to regret it.”
“What is going on out there?” asked General Wolfe, to no-one in particular.
Reports were patchy, but it appeared that there was at last movement from the Enemy. Unusually the impending attack seemed to be concentrated on one of the former positions held by Church Forces, and from which had emanated the damning message cited by Hamner. In the last few days information had been arriving of continued skirmishing with apparently heretical personnel, however the local troops seemed to be playing down the severity of this threat. It just did not make sense.
Why would Tauran Forces be concentrating on this outpost, if indeed it was a hotbed of anti-Church sentiment? Who was organising these men and what were their plans? Whatever the situation he needed to know the truth and as such he motioned to the communications operator.
“I need you to transmit a message for me, soldier. Put it on a tight band, and repeat it word for word. Keep transmitting the message until you get an answer of some sort. When you do receive a reply, call me at once.”
The soldier merely nodded in acceptance and began his transmission. His job was not to question the General’s sanity, merely to obey.
Zone of Conflict
Tauran Disputed Zone
“Sir, Sir!” the communications man, hurriedly interrupted Walters’ thoughts. “We have an incoming transmission from Command, direct from a General Wolfe.”
“General who? Never mind, what does it say?” inquired Walters, putting aside his data pad.
“It’s better that you come and hear for yourself, Leftenant, Sir,” replied the soldier, worriedly.
“Okay, let’s go,” replied Walters climbing to his feet and following the man.
There were a crowd of men waiting anxiously for his arrival, including Berbatov and James. They said nothing, but moved aside to give him access and the operator flicked a switch, allowing all to hear the message clearly.
“This is General Wolfe, calling Lutheran 5th Light Infantry forces currently operating outside recognised authority. Report in immediately. I repeat, report in immediately. This is an emergency.”
“And?” queried Walters, “What exactly has this to do with me?”
“Sir,” stammered the operator, “this is on a fixed beam transmission. It’s directly meant for us, Sir.”
Walters looked at the expectant faces around him and spoke, “Oh, alright. I’ll speak to him, whoever he is. Yes, James?”
“I know the name sir. He’s on the General Staff of the Lutheran Command. He’s the bastard who left us here with Hamner!”
“Well, well.” mused Walters, “then this should be interesting. Patch me in.”
Once he was given the go-ahead he made as if to speak into the communications apparatus, but Berbatov interrupted him.
“Sir. I think it’s only right that I speak first. A kinda introduction, Leftenant, Sir”
Walters arched his eyebrow in surprise, but passed the instrument over to Berbatov.
“Hello. How can we help you?” he asked, smirking at Walters.
The Leftenant snorted in disgust and waited for the reply. It was not long in coming.
“This is General Wolfe. With exactly whom am I speaking? Please follow formal communication protocol. Over.”
“Me.” responded Berbatov, “Oops, sorry….Over.”
“Is this a joke? I would like to speak with your Commanding Officer. Over.”
“Sorry, he’s indisposed at the moment. I’ll have to do. Over.”
Walters could feel the anger emanating from the equipment in palpable waves and snatched the receiver out of Berbatov’s hand.
“This is Walters. Never mind the protocol, General. What can we do for you?”
“I want your name, rank and serial number, soldier,” answered the General coldly.
“Okay, General. Let’s do this by the numbers, well in a fashion anyway. You are speaking with Leftenant Walters and I’ll agree to remain civil, as long as you do.”
“This is gross insubordination …” began the General, but was cut off as Walters snapped his reply into the transmitter.
“Enough, General. Let’s stop playing games. You called me, something about an emergency. Oh, and whatever happened to General Hamner?”
“General Hamner has been reassigned. For now I will overlook your insubordination, but we will have a reckoning. Leftenant, I do not remember a Leftenant Walters in the Lutheran 5th?”
“Good news, saves me a job anyway and no you wouldn’t, remember me that is, General. What is the emergency you called to discuss with me?” insisted Walters.
“Very well, Leftenant. Your position is about to be overrun by a large force from the Fortress above you. I will be sending someone to relieve you immediately and take over your command. You will report back here to me, for debriefing.”
“Hmmm, debriefing a lovely word,” mused Walters. “However General, we need to clarify a couple of points. One, it would be unwise on your part to assume that you can send someone to relieve me, the last person to try that ended up being reassigned. And two, I don’t think the make-up of my current command exactly fits within the textbook definition of a normal Church Guard unit.”
“The 5th Lutheran Light Infantry fits perfectly within the definition …” the voice trailed off.
“Ah. You seem to be getting the point, General. This is not the Lutheran 5th, let’s call it an independent command, with an attached mobile unit,” and looking at the K’ran, “extremely mobile and rather experimental. We have so far managed to secure this area, repelling all attempts to displace us. I can assure you that we will continue to do so.”
Walters looked at the men around him, “Oh, and General, thanks for the warning. Please do feel free to call and chat at any time. Walters, out.”
The General turned and kicked out savagely at a nearby container, sending it skittering across the room. He glared at the communications operator, daring him to say something. When no reply was forthcoming, he turned abruptly and left the room, leaving the soldier gazing pensively after him.
Making sure the General and his staff had left, the man reached once more for his equipment. He paused, thinking for a moment and then began to transmit a new message.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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