It’s already been 27 weeks since I decided to start posting this book? We’re getting there. Thanks for sticking around. This week I wanted to say to the ‘internet’ that I don’t need any help in deciding what I should be mad about. I’m a grown man capable of making personal decisions. Thank you, but no.
Here is this week’s ditty- Enjoy. Oh and PSA- I might suspend this story for the rest of the month as it is October and I feel like I should put out a little horror to get us in the mood.
A Dread Calm
Artur Russell knew he was losing control. The last week had blinked by before he knew it, dropping Pierce’s impending arrival right in his lap. The suns were barely up, and his garrison was already lining up to receive the General. Military police had spent most of the night fending off large civilian crowds protesting the way the war was being run. Tensions everywhere were rising, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. Add the recent Berserker attack in Minion’s housing districts, and he was barely able to control his own base. Gray hairs were springing up faster than he could pluck them, and the lines around his eyes had doubled. He hadn’t slept much since the attack, and there seemed little opportunity for it in the near future.
Russell slid from his covers and showered and dressed hours before the dawn. He smiled when he realized he was whistling an old tune his mother had taught him and his brother long ago. He, in turn, had taught it to his children with the hopes of them doing the same when they grew up. His heart clutched at the thought of his children. Thade was already twenty and about to follow in his father’s footsteps in the Academy. Jocen was entering her teens and was more like her mother. Russell closed his eyes in fond remembrance. All he really wanted to do was go home. His real home, not some new post the Imperium decided was right for him. How much had he missed by not being there for them? The years went by so slow, and he often wondered if they still remembered him. Some days, he felt as if he was never going to see them again.
Adjusting the polished belt buckle on his dress trousers, Russell eased into his jacket, smoothing the front down. His two dozen ribbons of assorted colors and numerous badges were a proud representation of a distinguished career, and for it all, he wished none had been necessary. A little piece of him died with each award. There was no telling the extent of his personal suffering brought about through various conflicts and campaigns. There was that little girl on Arolbas. She was the cutest thing, right up until she pulled the pin on a thermal grenade. His best friend from the academy had saved his life from a mortar round on Genden III, only to lose his own in the process. Instead of the pride associated with such a display, he felt only exhaustion.
The stares and gasps from the soldiers he passed lifted his spirits some. Most of them wouldn’t stay in long enough to gain his fortunes. The common trooper was intent on doing his time and going home. His salutes were returned with textbook flawlessness, sharp and crisp. Rumors spread that he was losing it because he was too old to command a line unit. Let them make their own minds up on events long past. He’d earned some of these ribbons well before half of the garrison was even born. Suddenly proud and determined, Artur Russell strode across the compound’s main parade field and into the chow hall.
A new company of troopers was just sitting down to their trays of food when the call to attention sang out. Men, women and aliens snapped to before Russell was able to tell them to carry on. He was met with smiles and an overall joyful atmosphere. The majority vote said they’d all be going home soon and reassigned after that. Some of them were dressed to go out on patrol. Those were the ones who sat off to themselves, tight lipped and brooding. No one wanted to risk getting killed before the biggest invasion since the Berfulgo War nearly five years past and half a galaxy away.
Russell filled his cup with a dark liquid the cooks claimed was coffee and found a seat in the middle of a group of new privates. They smiled and offered greetings, as was befitting military customs and courtesies, but it still wasn’t enough to cover the resentment coming off of some of the older troopers. He was the one responsible for sending many of their friends off to their deaths. No one knew this better than Russell. He’d spent more time at night writing letters to troopers’ mothers than at any point in his career.
“You’re not eating this morning, sir?” asked a gaunt-faced female.
He smiled at her. “No. Today is a big day, too big for me to eat.”
“Too big to eat?” chimed another trooper, failing to see what was so important that it needed to be faced with an empty stomach.
The privates shared curious looks and laughed amongst themselves.
“Believe it or not, but there are still times when my stomach tightens and excitement courses through me, like I don’t know whether to be afraid or happy.”
He hoped the lie was believable enough.
“Sir, are we going to be able to go home when this is all finished?” a hard-faced corporal asked.
Russell knew the man. He was one of the ones who’d made planet fall with the first detachment. Now, the man was bucking for sergeant and ready to leave.
Swallowing hard and hoping it went unnoticed; Russell cocked his head and replied, “I can’t think of any reason why we should stay. Can you?”
“Then we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and pray for the best, won’t we?” Slapping the nearest trooper on the shoulder, he rose and made ready to leave. “Enjoy your day, troopers.”
“Yes, sir,” the managed in unison.
Each of them was more than eager to begin this offensive and give the Berserkers what they’d been forced to take. One way or another, the Imperium garrison on Helscape was going home.
“Good morning Sergeant,” Lal-owk said with a toothy grin.
Snake Eyes managed to nod, wiping his eyes from the glaring sunlight. The morning came much too fast for his liking. Making things worse was the fact that his platoon was assigned motor pool guard for the next week. Snake looked the primate up and down, amazed at how the man stayed so motivated. Most of the troopers were so drunk the APC stunk of alcohol. Ardn Kelg and Seli T’lain were fast asleep atop a pile of rucksacks. Xill and Klausky were already deep into a card game. Amazing, am I the only one who values a good night’s sleep around here? Throwing down his hand, Klausky rattled off a string of curses and began shuffling again. Xill broke out in a deep, rumbling laugh.
“You need to watch this one, kid,” Snake Eyes offered. “You’re not the first one he’s hustled out of a pay check.”
Klausky’s face reddened. “Damn it.”
“Morning, Chief. Sleep good?” Xill asked. He did his best to keep a straight face, and the question alone was enough to let Snake know that none of the platoon suspected what they were about last night.
“As good as can be expected with this bunch of rogues around. Anything interesting happen this morning?”
“Nope. The Colonel came by for a little while but didn’t say much. Guess he’s getting pretty wound up about this invasion. Can’t really say as I blame him, though.”
“Yeah, well, I imagine a whole string of surprises is heading our way.”
Snake Eyes stared off into the desert where a large cloud of dust was steadily growing and moving closer. The roar of hundreds of engines drifted to them, and the anxiety he was feeling went to a new level. The 76th Assault Division had come at last to the Wastelands.