It’s Go Time.

How did it get to be Monday again, already? I didn’t even get around to a cigar this weekend..… ah well. Since we can’t go back in time, best to press forward so let’s dive in hard. I feel this book is almost anti-climactic to the first Tomorrow’s Demise. The story is completely different and on a smaller scale. Hopefully you all are enjoying so far. Like I mention last week, I finally found a good cover for book 1 and will be releasing it into the wild in Aug. Until then…..

SIXTEEN

The Mad Hosking

“Don’t hurt me! Please, please, please,” Hosking whined from his knees. “I didn’t do anything wrong. No, I didn’t. I swear it.”

He knew he was a dead man but refused to give up. There had to be some way to salvage what his life had become. He’d come to them, purposefully seeking them out. Why? Old familiarity that no longer mattered? Perhaps it was the sliver of imagination burrowed deep in his mind that made him want their help. Perhaps not. He didn’t know.

“No. Don’t. Berserkers, I want to help,” he rambled without looking them in the eye. Kane stared down at the young man who had once been overly proud. His arrogance had been his downfall, and there he lay, rotting in a corpse covered in disease. It was with sorrow that Kane looked upon him now, for the war had turned his youthful innocence into insanity. A lump was forming on the side of his head where Snake Eyes had been forced to knock him out. He’d been babbling too much about things the public didn’t need to know. Now he sat in the same chair the Viper had once found himself tied in.

“No, no, no. Not die. Must kill them all,” Hosking stressed.

“He’s crazy,” the assassin growled. “Crazy and a liability. I say we put him out of his misery and move on. Consider it an act of mercy.”

“There will be no more unnecessary killing,” Kane said. “We have all seen enough to last ten lifetimes, and I’ll have no part in it. This man came to help.”

Hosking’s eyes sparked. “Yes. Help. I must help. Must.”

The Viper spit. “Give me a break, Kane. Look at him! He has no idea who he is or how he came to be here. Even I’m not so cruel as to let the man live like this.”

Kane hobbled his way to the prisoner and knelt. “Tell us your name,” he coaxed. “I want to know who you are.”

He violently twisted and turned against his bonds. The changing colors in his eyes betrayed his fear. He was trembling and covered with sweat.

“Tell me. We will not hurt you.”

“I am….” He paused, momentarily uncertain if they were worthy of knowing. “I am Lieutenant Yonash Hosking, platoon leader in the 65th Infantry Regiment.”

Nathan cracked a thin smile. There would be no killing tonight.

“You think me crazy?” Hosking laughed, taking the time to look deeply into each of their eyes. “I think not. I have been blessed with a vision more clear than any have dreamed of.”

“Why were you snooping outside our window? Work for the bastards, do you?” the Viper accused.

Hosking kept his mouth shut.

“Never mind him,” Kane interjected. “You can talk to us.”

“I saw a man I once knew,” he answered. “I knew you, too. I knew a world now lost to decadence and rot. What happened to me?”

“Lieutenant!”

Hosking jerked upright, choking back his sobs. “Sir!”

He watched Snake Eyes move closer. “Why did you look through the window? This particular window. How does any of this involve you?”

“I am on a mission handed down by the universe itself! I saw two men I recognized and followed them in the hopes of talking. They entered this building, and it wasn’t hard to figure out which room they were in. I found it wise to stay out of sight else my mission be compromised.”

“Lieutenant, what exactly is your mission?”

“To seek out and destroy as many of the enemy as possible so that I may assume my rightful place among the planets,” he answered coldly.

Snake Eyes looked around the room for help. No one seemed interested.

“And you believe we can help you?” Kane asked.

“I will not trust to strangers.” Hosking slumped back and said no more.

The adventurers gathered in the far corner to discuss the situation and hopefully find a solution that didn’t involve hurting him. Hosking’s arrival threw much of their plans into upheaval. Coming to a consensus thus far had proven challenging enough. They were divided, virtually leaderless. The cohesion built in the quest to find Kane in Lucifer’s Gap steadily bled away. Nothing proved as frightening as dissolution.

“There’s nothing up there. He’s gone daft,” Braxton said.

The Viper folded his arms and said, “You already know where I stand. Let me know when you change your minds.”

“You have got to be the most popular man in the Wastes. Can kids hire you for parties?” Snake Eyes asked him. “Whatever he is now, he used to be an Imperium officer. You don’t make it that far by being a slacker.”

“Can we let him go?” Nathan asked. He was disgusted with the whole affair. Nothing he could think of made him a judge of others, and he was ill at ease with it.

Snake Eyes laughed. “Turn him over to the Military Police? I’m sure they have a nice padded cell waiting for him.”

“So much for his defense,” the Viper chided. “At least he’ll be alive.”

“In your eyes,” Kane said.

“Some of us have more to live for than blood and money,” Xill said, trying to end the argument before things got heated. The obvious dislike between Snake and the assassin was threatening to boil over.

“Look at him,” Emerald pitied. “He’s so sad. He’s alone in there. I feel sorry for him. No one deserves to die like this.”

“I agree with Nathan,” Xill added.

The arguments went on. Each had reasonably sound solutions, with the exception of the assassin. An hour was spent in discussion, now forced to travel in circles. Clearly Hosking had just become their greatest liability. One in which they might find their doom. Kane quietly listened to every argument and point of view. The intensity of debate was good, but only to an extent before it bubbled down to redundancy and, in the briefest aspects, necrotic.

Kane closed his eyes and tried to blot the others out. They would not find consensus. He knew that. Previous deliberations of going into the Berserker hive told him as much. No, any answer he needed for resolution in the matter had to come from within. He, Aradias Kane, was the linchpin upon which this tiny band would succeed or fail. Kane cleared his mind and listened to the depth of his soul in search of the answers.

It was becoming tedious when Kane finally decided to end it. The Slayer turned his back on these few he called friends, going back to the tied madman. Hosking’s fear was gone, replaced now with a burning sensation.

“Do you wish to finish your task?” Kane asked him. A gasp of disbelief came from the back of the room. Hosking’s eyes blazed. A reprieve!

“No choice. None for you either, Aradias Kane.”

Kane gave a start. This man knew more than he was letting on. “We are going to their lair. The hidden Hive itself. Will you join us?”

Six mouths fell open in shock. Not even the Viper was expecting this. The mission was already dangerous enough, and bringing this madman along would merely seal their doom. What was Kane thinking?

“Are you out of your ever loving mind?” the Viper choked. “He’ll get you killed, and you know it!”

“I have looked to my heart for guidance and am left with no choice. His soul is dying, and there is but one way to avenge it. I cannot turn him away. It is his destiny,” Kane said.

The choice wasn’t his to make. He didn’t actually know much about destiny, nor cared for the term all things considered, but it was a powerful word to throw around, especially when several of his companions were superstitious to begin with.

“Destiny or not, he’s a liability. As if you needed any more! He’s a greater threat than any dragon or raider will prove. You need assets in this idiocy, not what you’ve been collecting so far.”

“You piece of squaffa!” Snake Eyes exclaimed. “Like you have room to talk. I don’t remember you throwing your hand up to tag along.”

The Viper leveled his gaze on the man and said, “I have my reasons.”

“Right. You won’t do anything unless there’s a price involved.”

“Yes!”

They stopped and found themselves under the daunting scrutiny of the others.

“Yes,” Hosking said through the silence. “I will join you.”

 

Nathan and Emerald sat in the first floor parlor in uncomfortable silence. For his part, Nathan played the confused party much better than even he thought possible. Then again, he felt more confused than ever before. Helscape was a complicated world. Much more convoluted than any of his experiences back on Earth.

Across from him and halfway down a mug of lukewarm ale, Emerald couldn’t help but glower. She’d come so far in the hopes of acceptance by her friend and former mentor. Yet every move she tried to make was blocked by Kane without any thought. Thus far she seemed content to let that rift stew.

“Keeping that inside isn’t any good for anyone, leastwise not you,” Nathan finally said. He knew only too well the anguish of being rejected out of hand by those closest.

She finished her ale with a mighty gulp and slammed the mug down. “He treats me like a child. A child! As if I’m incapable of handling my own business.”

Here we go. “Kane’s just looking out for you. I imagine he’s trying to do that for the rest of us but we’re damned pigheaded. Something that will likely get us all killed.”

“Who is he to decide who gets to die?” Emerald countered. “I have just as much experience fighting Berserkers as Kane. This is my world too, Nathan. What right does he have to tell me, or you, no?”

Nathan held out his hands. “Hey, I’m not from here. Neither is Xill or Snake Eyes.”

“You know what I mean.”

“All right, fine. My take is that Kane doesn’t want to see you get hurt like the rest of us. I’m not saying you can’t handle it so don’t get defensive on me. Chances are this is going to be a suicide mission. He isn’t willing to let you die because of his decisions.”

Emerald gestured for another round, for them both, and looked Nathan squarely in his eyes. Soft eyes, she mused. “He doesn’t get to decide.”

Nathan resisted the urge to slam his forehead down on the soiled tabletop. They sat without talking for a while, both pretending to enjoy the almost rancid brew which Nathan was fairly certain was part poison.

Finally, Emerald said, “the least he can do is apologize.”

Nathan finally relented and smiled.

 

It had been decades since the dawn looked so promising, at least that was how Gladak saw it. Helscape’s twin suns were barely cresting the far horizons, not enough to bring light to the desert but just what it needed to dilute the harshness of the night. Today was the last day of the great recovery operation. Most of the bodies still intact had already been taken back and shipped out. Scavengers helped keep the battlefield policed, but it still wasn’t enough.

Gladak stood atop his command tank with a look of sickness. Putrid smells of rotting flesh half-baked from days of exposure clung to everything. His skin stank of it after he showered, and it wouldn’t come out of his uniforms when washed. That it came from so many he once knew added to the sickness. His stomachs churned. The men and women of his division went about the task the same as usual. They had to be extremely careful to keep from falling into a Berserker hole. This made Gladak wonder how many had been dragged down into those holes never to be seen again. War was a gruesome business, and his experience would never get any worse.

“So it’s come down to this,” he mused.

“What’s that, sir?”

Gladak looked to his freshly promoted commander; he’d forgotten others were present. “Such a waste of life I have never seen, Commander.”

Hernron looked over the decay and said, “Happens most every day, sir. We just don’t see it. Seems to me we should have gotten used to it by now, but I’ll be damned if I ever do.”

“Commander, do you know my planet is a battleground for young warriors to hone their combat skills and the old to take their place among the honored ranks of the dead? Death in anything less than combat is dishonorable. Even I have my limits.”

“This is a damned fine group of men and women you have here, sir. I’d still put them up against any regiment in the Imperium,” Hernron announced. “What would resigning now do to their morale? They’ve been hurt enough already, Colonel. Help them save their pride if nothing else.”

“Look around you, Hernron. This is all that’s left.” His arm swept across the scattered remnants of the division. “The division died the day it entered this fell place.”

“It wasn’t your defeat, and they fought damned hard to make it out. Who’s going to step up and take them home to rebuild and rearm? They need heroes.”

Heroes. What are heroes but the corpses of our comrade left to rot in this wretched place? No, Hernron. There are no heroes anymore. There never was. We are merely ghosts awaiting our turn to join these fallen brave.

“Colonel Gladak!”

A gruff-looking man who hadn’t shaved since the battle climbed his way up the tank’s turret and reported, “Sir, we’ve found something I think you should see.”

Gladak couldn’t think of anything requiring his personal attention but obliged the man. Maybe Hernron had a point. He decided to go ahead and give the survivors a role model to look up and seek guidance from. He decided to be a professional officer once again. Perhaps in doing so he could lay his ghosts to rest. The sergeant led him through patches of spoiled remains, friend and foe. It was a depressing sight, but Gladak was amazed at how well his troops put the death from their minds and went about it as a regular task.

“We found his remains a few minutes ago,” the sergeant explained and stopped by a body. He then executed a crisp about-face and walked off.

Sudden realization sank Gladak to his knees. Blood-stained rocks beneath his feet looked drawn in tribute to a past greatness. His piercing eyes stared at the body, the slits narrowing further. The armor was rusted from over-exposure to the elements, and most of his skin had been picked clean save a patch here and there. It was all that remained of one of the fiercest warriors Gladak ever knew.

“Well, General,” he whispered, “things didn’t go quite as planned. We made a grave mistake, but I’ll not let the same happen again. I’m going to take this division and make it whole again.”

His left fist slapped Joneth Pierce’s armor in tribute, and he rose. Gladak calmly strode back to his jeep. This matter was almost over.

Tomorrow's Demise I

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