Halloween is right around the corner…are you ready? Our house usually goes all out, but this year is different. You see, we already lost the Halloween war before the first box came down from the attic. Our neighbors crushed it, forcing us to change tactics. Instead of a graveyard stretching across the yard we are opting for a 10×10 haunted house in the driveway. Good luck getting to the candy this year kids!
At any rate, here is my offering to the gods of pen and paper. And to you of course. Enjoy.
The sounds of heavy snoring drifted through the ship’s cabin. The lights were dimmed. A soft hum competed with the sounds of sleep. Aside from that, the ship was deathly quiet. Kreegin Faul was able to stand about five minutes of Fint’s snoring before strapping a blaster to his hip and walking out the ramp. The desert was cold at night, but at least it was relatively quiet compared to the racket going on inside.
Faul stared off into the desert night from his seat on a flat rock a few meters from the ship. His crimson eyes watched the skies for more of the flying reptiles. They were fun to shoot but not much sport. A corpse already lay on the edge of his eyesight, shot in the neck by a silenced ion round. He could sit here and shoot the damned things all night if it meant finding some peace of mind. A deep screech from the dark brought a tight smile to his lips. The scavengers smelled the blood and were on their way. Kreegin Faul double checked his ammo and waited.
Constant beeping gradually growing louder finally woke Leggis Fint from the best sleep he’d had since taking this job. The green-skinned Idorian stretched long and hard and wiped his eyes. “This had better be good,” he whispered as he swung his legs over the back of the couch. The smell of ion residue tickled his nose. He’d have to remind Faul just how dangerous their situation was out here. Carelessly firing off into the night was a surefire way to give their position away to more than one enemy.
The beeping continued to get louder.
“All right, all right,” Leggis announced. He almost wished the computer could talk; at least that way he’d have someone to bark at when he was displeased.
Leggis grimaced from the taste in his mouth. He regretted talking altogether. He punched a button, and the main screen whirled to life. He wasn’t surprised to see Menzel’s face looking back at him.
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” Menzel said.
Leggis snarled. “You know damned well you did. What’s so important that it has to be taken care of in the middle of the night?”
He caught the double ion blast in the background and shook his head. What else could go wrong?
“Things are changing. I need you to meet me in the town of Reeves. I’ve already transmitted its coordinates to your central computer. Meet me there in two hours. We have much to discuss.”
Menzel’s image blinked away, leaving the mercenary staring at a map of the eastern Wastes. Reeves was an old ion-mining town just north of the Illand Mountains and less than a half a day west of the Angril River. There was a large marsh on the outskirts with enough natural cover for them to land without being seen. Leggis couldn’t care less about the locals, but the less they knew about what was really happening, the better off they’d be. A dying argot wailed in the distance.
“Damn it, Kreegin, you keep that up and the whole Imperium will be on top of us in a flash. Pack up your gear. We have to leave.”
Kreegin looked up at the top of the ramp where Fint stood and nodded. He knew the look on Fint’s face and wasn’t about to test him further. Slinging his rifle, he paced his way back into the ship. The ramp wasn’t even closed all the way before a pack of kyals swarmed over the Argot corpses.
“What in the Hells were you doing out there anyway?” Fint asked him while they both buckled into their seats in the cockpit.
“A man can’t sleep very well with you snoring, you know. Sounded like you were about to suck the rivets out of the hull, chief.”
Leggis Fint shook his head with a confused look and punched the ignition. Maybe he’d be able to salvage a little more sleep out of this if they got it done quickly.
It was considerably cooler outside of Reeves than it had been in the desert. The river and surrounding marsh added enough moisture to the air to drop the temperature another ten degrees. Faul rubbed his forearm in an attempt to get rid of the goose flesh while cursing his decision to not wear a jacket.
“I don’t like this, chief,” he whispered to Fint, who was far enough away for them both not to be shot with the same round. The first homes were in sight now, dull black lumps against the even darker landscape. Nothing was moving. No one stirred. There were no dogs barking or scurrying about. The only sign of life was a handful of smoke spires coming from a few of the chimneys. Fint had seen cemeteries with more life.
The mercenaries stayed apart but never out of eyesight. They both knew enough to stay quiet as they advanced. Something wasn’t right here. Faul slid the rifle off his shoulder, taking some measure of comfort with the weapon’s feel in his hands. He dropped to his knees as soon as the green light started blinking from a second-story window at the end of the street. One eye shifted towards Leggis, who, after reacting the same, gave a curt nod. That was the signal.
They started forward again at a faster pace just short of a run. Both had weapons trained on the building awaiting them. It would be a shame for something bad to happen when they were so close to finishing this. When they were twenty meters from the house, the front door opened. A man bathed with the light behind him filled the doorway. It looked like he was waving them in.
“Come on,” he called to them. “We’ve been expecting you.”
A warning went off in Fint’s head, but he kept quiet. Tipping them off now would only give them plenty of time to start shooting. He was positive that snipers were on adjoining rooftops as well as the second floor of the building in front of them. If he or Faul stepped into plain sight, they were dead.
“We’re coming,” he barked back at them, hoping to keep them off guard.
A curtain stirred in the third window from the left on the second floor. Fint almost had to grin to himself. Menzel had double-crossed them but left the task of getting rid of them to amateurs. That was his mistake. The only way the Imperium was going to win tonight was by sheer numbers. He stopped at the edge of the last building and waited.
“Well, where’s your partner?” the soldier asked. “Captain Menzel is expecting both of you.”
“Fine by me. I want to get back to bed as soon as possible. I don’t like being woken up in the middle of the night like this.”
He thought he heard a laugh from the silhouette before gunfire broke out from the roof of the house across the street. Leggis dropped down behind cover before he realized none of the rounds were directed at him. Three crisps blasts followed by silence. A body was pushed off the roof, and it landed with a squishing noise. Leggis Fint smiled. There was the possibility that the corpse was Kreegin, but it was highly unlikely. Any doubt he had was laid to rest when the same rooftop erupted in a pattern of gunfire sent out across the roofs where the remaining snipers waited.
The man in the doorway brought up his own rifle and returned fire. He only managed to squeeze off two rounds before Leggis chopped him down. The mercenary shot three quick thermal grenades into the building and hid before it exploded. A part of him felt sorry for the people who lived there, but that couldn’t be helped. This was survival, after all. The house exploded in a horrific meltdown, surely killing everyone inside before they knew what hit them.
Picking himself up from a pile of debris, Leggis brushed some of the dirt off and waited for Faul. The man’s pasty white hair was a dead giveaway, just as it had been up on the roof before the shooting started. Leggis wondered when he’d managed to sneak up there without being seen by Fint or the soldier in the door.
“What the Hells was that all about, chief?” Kreegin roared. “Damned bastards just signed their own death warrants!”
“We got screwed over by Mister Menzel,” Leggis shrugged.
“Let’s go get him out of that nice bed of his and wring his scrawny neck.”
“If you really think we can get on base,” Leggis said. “Besides, he’s not our main issue. We have to get Kelg out of there before they get to him. If it’s not already too late.”
An explosion from the outskirts of town threw them to the ground and shattered windows as the blast blew through Reeves. Dark black smoke could be seen billowing up in columns from the site, leaving Fint no doubt of what had happened. Kreegin howled and clutched his arm. A piece of shrapnel was embedded under his bicep. Knowing better than to rip it out, the mercenary pulled a bandage from his trouser pocket and tied the wound off. He wasn’t going to bleed to death, but the risks of infection were high.
“What the squaffa!” he roared.
“Come on,” Leggis said in an emotionless tone. “It looks like we have a long walk back to Minion.”
Menzel was a smart man for thinking to blow up their ship but not smart enough to evade his wrath. With eyes as cold as the winter’s heart, Leggis Fint set off on the trek back to Minion and the revenge waiting.
Kicking a small piece of charred timber aside, Smythe Menzel scowled with disgust at what he saw. Half of Reeves was destroyed, which normally wasn’t an issue; however, the part that was ruined used to house his forces. There was no way of telling what went wrong.
Everyone associated with this was either dead or missing. He’d viewed the wreckage of Fint’s ship, leading him to believe that the mercenaries were dead as well. It was all speculation at this point.
None of the bodies had been identified yet, and he was in no hurry to give away this little secret. Only a handful of people throughout the entire Imperium knew what was going on, and no one else needed to find out. He had to assume that Fint and his partner were dead along with fifteen of Menzel’s own men. The loss was unacceptable, but who was he kidding? Every last one of them would have been dealt with in one way or another.
This was a critical time in his plans, and if even one man was around to spill the details, he was ruined. The 76th was deploying to its forward staging areas tomorrow and would soon be getting ready for the invasion. Time was not Menzel’s friend, and there were still many things he needed to work out.
Tapping the intercom on his bracelet, Menzel told the pilot, “Prepare for take-off. You know what the heading is.”
He caught the hum of engines heating up in the background. Menzel wondered if the deep desert was as cold as it was right here.