War does strange things to some people. The mind can only take so much before we lose a little grasp on reality. Take the recent hostage situation in California. That poor man went to war and came back with his mind not right. Now four people are dead- that didn’t need to die.
Our heroes each suffer their miseries in the aftermath of the battle of the Gorge. Not all came home and some of those who did aren’t the people they once were. Read on, my friends. Read on.
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“He’s mad!” whispered a visibly shaken orderly creeping from the supply shed. Witnessing the racket coming from the shed, Private Kossen didn’t doubt him. She’d just come on shift too. Kossen wasn’t an MP, just a communication specialist augmented out during the drawdown. This was the last thing she needed.
“Is everything all right in there?” she called, keeping a safe distance should the person be more dangerous than anticipated.
A torrent of ripped boxes flew through the doors. Her flashlight showed most of the interior in the same condition. Whoever it was had done a good job. Kossen took a step back and drew her blaster. She was going to need help.
“I need security at the supply shed. Hostile encountered and considered dangerous,” she whispered into her helmet low enough for him not to hear.
“Roger that,” came a broken reply. “We’ll have a unit there in a few minutes. Stand fast, and do not engage. How copy?”
She copied well enough, but she also figured that this was her one chance to get some revenge for all of the friends she’d lost. If beating this man down gave her a small measure of gratification, then screw the orders. Kossen stepped into the dark.
“Well,” she mumbled. “It’s just you and me, kid.”
White-blue sparks of electricity flared up when the cut cables struck the side of the shed. The smell of burnt hair gagged her. Her prey was in the back of the shed, tossing boxes this way and that. And then it stopped.
“Sir?” she called again.
“What do you want?” came her reply in a disturbed voice.
“I’m going to have to ask you to stop what you’re doing and come out in the open where I can see you clearly.” She hoped that was authoritative enough. Violence wasn’t her strong point, and she doubted she’d be able to overcome him if he attacked.
A pained laugh filled the shed, echoing from wall to wall. It made the hairs on her neck stand on end. Kossen doubled checked her blaster.
“Go away, soldier. I am well beyond your petty concerns.”
This was starting to get freaky.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t let you continue. You need to stand down before the military police arrive.”
“Such clearly defined rules of engagement. I don’t think I wish to play.” His voice turned shallow and deceiving. “You see, I have been extended above this life. Evolved. Were you there?”
The question was enough to throw her off guard and frighten her. “Yes.”
“All that blood and murder. How many close friends did you lose?”
“Too many,” she whispered. “Why are you asking me this?”
Another laugh answered her. “I can hear sorrow lacing your every word. How can you live in guilt and depression? You can’t answer. No one can. Dark spirals of pain await you if you persist. Let go of the darkness you wallow in, and embrace the light! Only then will you achieve redemption for your life.”
Kossen was regretting her decision. The best thing she could do was slowly retreat back into the street where someone could see her.
“You just sit tight,” she told herself. Crazy bastard. I’ve got something for you. Just wait until my friends arrive. Then we’ll see who’s really in control here.
The silence mocked her. She had another five meters to the door. A box fell from the top shelf. Her reflexes were enough to avoid being hit, but she dropped her blaster in the process. More boxes came crashing down on top of her, forcing her to flee. The weapon was lost. The urge to run was overpowering, but she fought it off enough to back away.
One more step, and she was home free. Just a few more inches, and her fantasy nightmare was going to dissolve. She’d been afraid in the Gorge. This seemed worse. Her left leg eased into the open. Kossen’s senses screamed in warning even as her hips and back twisted out of the shed.
Of a sudden the noise stopped. She caught the faintest rustling of a uniform. The ragged draw of breath. Kossen reached for her side arm but wasn’t in time. She tried to brace herself in those precious few seconds before the world turned sideways. It wasn’t enough.
The Mad Hosking exploded from the binding shadows with such force she was thrown off her feet. In the absence of all he had know, the rugged military structure and harsh discipline of comradeship, she had become the enemy. Hosking viewed her as little better than the Berserkers. His mind played tricks. One moment he saw a terrified woman. The next a drooling monster ready to rip his head off. Tilting his head back, Hosking laughed wildly.
Kossen felt her stomach tighten. This man, clearly an officer, was not only deranged, but highly unstable. She feared that any movement would trigger another outburst. Still, through the madness smoldering in his eyes she managed to catch a gleam of recognition. Almost as if his mind was at war with itself.
His deceptive glare studied her features. Hosking wanted to attack almost as much as he merely wanted to flee. Voices argued in the corners of his mind and it was all he could do to maintain a modicum of composure. Barely. Two distinct personalities emerged from the wreckage of his sanity. Two who would not settle for joint domination. Hosking reached for a weapon and froze.
No. Don’t do this. Not her. Not this one. She was not to be destroyed nor avoided. Timing was too dangerous to properly deal with this threat. Hosking was no fool. He knew that she’d summoned the MP’s before entering the shed. Laughing again, Hosking leapt over her prone figured and hurried off into the complex maze of tents and sheds.
She lay struggling to catch her breath enough to defend herself from the next attack, but Hosking was gone. Sweat covered her body, and her stomach hurt, but she was alive. Helscape’s suns were setting, though it seemed like the temperature continued to rise. Kossen let out a sigh. Another miserable day was over on this miserable rock. The face of her assailant stayed with her no matter how far she tried putting it in the recess of her mind. That was the last time she decided to stop and play hero. The MPs came running down the street. Perfect timing. She snorted in distaste. Damn, it was hot.
A depressing haunt hung low over the walls of the abandoned command hut. The division commander was dead, along with a good majority of brigade, battalion and company commanders. Over eighty percent of the division’s troops and equipment lay in the ruins of disaster.
“How did this happen?” a recovered Gladak asked an audience of empty chairs.
The door hissed open, and eight men walked in. Captain Menzel was sipping on a cup of coffee, distanced from the group. He was a natural loner, often appreciating to be treated as one. He was also one of the best interrogators in the Imperium. This made him a very dangerous person. “A spy is a terrific asset to have during war, Colonel,” he answered with his slick voice.
“What did you say?”
“They had to have someone working for them on the inside. How else can you explain the sheer size of this debacle?”
Gladak snarled. “Who in their right mind would stand to gain from such a thing?”
“Hard to say,” Menzel lied. He handed over a thick file and went on. “This is a list of all known deviants known to be in the Wastelands, human and alien. Your culprit lies within.”
“The end result is still the same.”
Gladak’s head swiveled towards Hernron. “That being?”
“Defeat, sir. They knew we were coming and when. We, on the other hand, had the location to their hidden lair. It was a small matter to strike when they did. High command won’t authorize another offensive. Air strikes might succeed in collapsing their stronghold, but they still have substantial tunneling abilities. Retreat is an unpopular word in this business, but I know it’s coming. It’s a matter of time.”
“Which brings us to the issue of body recovery.”
A major covered with thick, green fur stood slowly. “At present strength, it will take a full week to bring what’s left out of there.”
“Has the final body count been established?” Gladak asked.
“No, sir. Smaller units have reported in, but the bigger ones are in complete disarray. The hospital is overcrowded, and we’ve been forced to seize several hotels for the extra wounded. Ten thousand is a safe estimate,” the major concluded and took his seat.
Gladak growled. His double rows of teeth showed fiercely to the onlookers. Anger seethed through his words. His reptilian speech, filled with hissing and snarls, only added to his species’ ferocity. Gladak may have been born a warrior, but he’d learned how to care for his soldiers along the way. “They were soldiers of this division and died heroes. They deserve better. We’ll not wallow in defeat so long as I am still in command. Get the troops up and working. Have them clean their weapons and fix their vehicles. Get them out there doing physical training again. I don’t care if you have to spend your paychecks buying them drinks after duty hours, but get their minds off of the pain. We had a reputation to sustain. Let’s start acting like it.”
Head nods and quiet cheers accompanied him.
“Captain Menzel, find me who did this. The rest of you figure out the details for recovering those bodies. They will be out of there as soon as possible. Questions?”
They snapped to attention and saluted as one. Some were angered by his words but would come to see the wisdom of it. Pierce’s spell of invincibility was gone, washed away in a storm of blood, but they were determined to set things right again.
Gladak returned the salute and strode off in search of work. His pains were just as big as the rest of theirs.