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Orwell

Insurrection

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As we emerged from the thickets, we could see the spiraling tufts of smoke float down to meet the water's edge from the ordnance that just took out an entire sector to the north. The whole sky was lit up like Fed Day. Even some of the more seasoned guys among us were astounded at the scale of the spectacle. For the most of the locals, though, they never would've dreamed of seeing Fleet do the rounds on their home planet, nevertheless their neighbors. A bunch of doe-eyed faces highlighted by the raging inferno across the marsh, mouths agape. In the twilight, you couldn't really see how ill-fitted and slipshod their gear was, but now, the pitiful state of their accommodations were made visible. The winds carried the smell of burnt material across the water, mingling with the humidity of the marsh, stinging the insides of my nostrils. I squinted at what was left of the treeline on the opposite side of the marsh.

 

I saw one of the poor bastards across the way try to make it to the water, but he collapsed before he could. We'd spent the last couple hours confirming intel and designating an airstrike with these guys' RTO that they must've pushed through boot like he was a suppository. One of the guys from Baker's fire team had to step in and wrench the damn thing from the kid's hands and do it himself. Since the president, or governor of this podunk province went off his rocker and started to seize government assets with a militia comprised of deserters, cops, and bleeding-heart locals, there's been a general evacuation ordered for the whole province by the planet's administration. We were unlucky enough to be nearby when all this shit went down, and now we're attached to a bunch of green conscripts sucking the hind tit of the Federation's love out on some neglected backwater colony. Our CO's reassured us that she expects this guy to buckle pretty quick, and we'll be finished in time for Christmas leave. For our sake, I hope she's right.

 

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It's been some time since we've started pushing towards Warwick.

We spent the night in a blown out movie theater with the locals we were attached to. In that time, I've gotten my fill of socializing with these country bumpkins.

Their CO is some stout cunt with a penchant for pocketing whatever's valuable that we come across. By the time he shakes hands with the Lieutenant, he's got three new watches on each wrist. His men tend to follow by example, taking anything that's not nailed down. 

My mind wanders to what bullshit Alpha and Bravo have to put up with on their end.

After leaving the latrine the next morning one of the conscripts meanders over to me and waves a glossy photograph in my face.

The guy can barely speak English, tapping the photograph of a dead body with his dirty finger. 

"Insurgent. Insurgent."

He points to the body and then to himself, grinning, 

"My job."

He pressed it into my kevlar with his wiry hands.

Motherfucker signed it.

At least, I think that's what that is.

 

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So far, this has been a pretty pitiful expedition for Charlie. We broke through the outskirts of Warwick several hours ago, tasked specifically with securing a munitions depot that was seized when all of this shit broke out a few days ago. Intel suggested heavy resistance, but by the time we made it to the depot the place was practically deserted. The dozen or so guys they had guarding the place immediately surrendered when they saw us roll up. Apparently there was some kind of internal struggle, and a bunch of their guys made off with most of the ammo, leaving the rest to these guys. By the locals' standards, these guys weren't much better off in terms of equipment. Makes you wonder how bad things must've been before everything blew up. Some of the guys from Desmond's squad were talking about how much of a cakewalk things've been so far. The only casualties we've taken have been a handful of GSW's fired at us by retreating OpFor. The absence of wealth was pretty glaring out in the country, but things don't look much better on the outskirts of this shithole's capitol. Couldn't have helped since we've been shelling them since Intel gave us the all clear on civs being out of the picture. That didn't stop us from running into a few frantic families hauling ass north and south when we first started this operation, however. 

I get the feeling even Fleet knows there's not much worth being careful over down here. Since we've begun there's been near constant forest-fires spanning our route thanks to the TAC jockeys. You switch shifts with your buddy to go sleep under a tree, and you wake up covered in ash. 

We're situated in what used to be some kind of nature reserve, for now. El-tee says the worst is yet to come.

So far, it's practically been a parade.

I took a walk up along this ridge with Sanders last night to pass some time.

 

"Hey, I recognize this place."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah. They shot a movie here a couple of years ago. Some sci-fi flick with Kat Messinger. Killer fucking rack. You know what I'm talking about?"

 

"No."

 

"Maybe they'll make a movie about us when this is all over."

 

He turns around and I catch the glint from the fires in his eyes.

 

"Maybe."

 

 

 

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El-tee broke the news that we're gonna be staying through Christmas yesterday. Everyone's moods are in the dumps as a result. On top of that, Tavare bought the farm when he stepped on some kind of landmine in a side yard when we were clearing houses. There wasn't much left to bury, but our Chaplain performed a small service in the ruins of a church a few blocks from where we've been staying. I was the next house over when I heard it go off. Shook the dust out of the ceiling and smashed a set of china some family left behind. It's become a pattern that after we go in to clear buildings, the local yokel conscripts'll follow behind and pilfer whatever's left. It's starting to get to some of the guys. We talked about it with the el-tee, but the impression she's got is that everything's so fucked with these guys' leadership to begin with, any attempts at doling out some kind of reprimand seemed to disappear through their chain of command. Gives me a bad taste in my mouth. These are these folks' neighbors, for Christ's sake.

 

I thought about Sanders talking about making a movie about this shit. The amount of crap they'd have to redact to make the Mobile Infantry seem like some kind of noble fighting force would be enormous. People would be astounded if they knew what these chump locals in MI uniforms are getting away with. 

 

We're stuck in a cake shop for tonight.

Top officiated a little gift exchange along with some helpings of stale red velvet cake that had been left untouched. It took our minds off of our predicaments for the rest of the night.

I managed to walk away with a new deck of cards and a novelty knife that doubles as a bottle opener from Kleinmann. He said it was from Tahiti, on Earth. Some tropical place he had gone to a few shore leaves ago.

I fell asleep listening to the guys talk about holiday memories from the past. I dreamed about Tahiti. 

 

 

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Christmas night. We're meant to rendezvous with Bravo, who took some heavy casualties yesterday. 

We've been following the river that cuts through Warwick. Long marches with the conscripts in the dark. The power that hasn't been shut off in the city is knocked out.

We spotted some fellow lingering by the river earlier in the day, knee-deep in the water, sifting through it with some kind of vessel he held. We tried to call out to him, but he must not have spoken English. We got one of the conscripts over to talk to him. He explained that because of all the fires, the ash that fell down on the river leached into the water, creating an abundance of lye. He assumed he could get a leg up by collecting it to produce his own soap, something to support himself and his family. Several of his family members had fallen ill, and he had no means to provide for them after the invasion began. These people are stubborn. It puts a knot in my stomach every time we pass a dead civilian. For all that the brass is concerned, they disobeyed the evacuation mandate, and became as complicit as our enemies when they refused to leave. Bloated bodies face-down in the street, coated with ash. I try not to think about whether it was our bombs or the opposition that was responsible. Sometimes we see curs roam the streets, yanking chunks of flesh off of corpses. I shoot them when I see them. I wouldn't risk my life to make soap, but I hope we don't find him floating downstream.

 

According to the lieutenant, Alpha and Bravo have been really laying into the opposition. We've been able to keep up contact with Alpha, but Bravo's RTO got wasted, taking out their LRR in the process. We've been able to keep in contact with Bravo periodically whenever Fleet drops by after doing MEDEVAC rounds. We took a look at the maps that we had, but a good portion of the AO's been rendered unrecognizable due to the shelling. We eventually settled on firing off a flare once we figured we had allowed enough time for Bravo to come close enough. We'd send up the star, and Bravo would serve as our wise men, navigating through the dark to meet us. For now, we were to stand by to receive them.

 

On an unrelated note, Sanders got a message that his sister back home gave birth to twins. His excitement was palpable. In the middle of this dark shit hole, we all kind of clang to his burgeoning pride. We didn't have much to be happy about, but we were more than ready to be happy for him. Something to keep our minds occupied while we waited.

 

 

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"Wakey-wakey. Captain's coming down."

 

"What for?"

 

"You think I'm his secretary or something, sarge?"

 

Schwab gave me a little half-smile. I rubbed my eyes and listened to the birds outside while everyone shook themselves awake.

 

"Can't blame me for asking, Schwab. Where's Top?"

 

"He's outside with the el-tee."

 

Schwab was a lanky American who got the 'luxury' of being trained at Camp Currie. He used to be a cab driver before he enlisted. He's never told me why, and I'm not incredibly keen on finding out. It certainly wouldn't change our predicament, but the Captain coming down might. Only reason he'd be coming down was if there was some big development. You didn't need to be a military tactician to figure that out.

 

We'd finally managed to secure ourselves a spot to sleep after a few days of fighting in Warwick's old historic downtown alongside Bravo. Our forces combined, we were something to be reckoned with. We hated this place, but just by looking at the faces of some of the guys from Bravo you could tell they really hated it here. They lost a lot of their buddies on this godforsaken rock, over the holidays, no less. All things considered, Charlie was lucky. 

 

Top was outside with the Lieutenant exchanging cigarettes and a thermos of warm broth. A cold front had set in, unseasonably so according to the conscripts. We could see the breath in front of our numb faces. 

 

"Morning Top. Lieutenant."

 

"Sarge."

 

She took a pull from a cigarette and adjusted her collar. Had a bug not slashed up the right side of her face and took her eye, she'd be quite a looker.

 

"Is it true, ma'am?"

 

"Aye, the big man's coming down. We're to move out and clear an LZ in uh..."

 

She took a worn map from Top's bag, pointing to a big clearing with her gloved finger, 

 

"...Swope Park. Any combatants should've hauled ass out of their by now, but, you know how it goes."

 

...

 

We marched through old downtown, passing blown out shop fronts, blackened car chassis, and drab buildings pocked with bullet holes. We ran through here a night ago, evident by the dead in the gutters. A lot of these guys wore the same shit as us, albeit more poorly maintained, but it's always more challenging when the guys you're supposed to waste wear the same shit you do. From what I heard, we fared better than Bravo in terms of friendly fire. They got a recent transfer of guys from another unit that had spent most of their tour stuck on the AQZ, and hadn't been trained for this sort of combat. The casualties that Bravo could bring, we helped escort to the park. I thought about Tavare, resting in that shallow grave on the side of that church. I don't even think he was Christian, but I think he would've appreciated it. I've always believed in the sanctity of graveyards. You live your life, however it was, you at least deserve a plot in the ground to lie undisturbed.

 

The whole park was laden with ash. It stuck to our fatigues. As the sun broke over the horizon, we could hear the rumbling of the Viking engines approaching.

Soon after, the Ballad of Ira Hayes could be made out through the loudspeakers. Our calling card.

 

"...Now, Ira's folks were hungry
And their land grew crops of weeds
When war came, Ira volunteered
And forgot the white man's greed..."

 

The dropship door opened right before it touched down, and you could see the Captain, front and center. He had this big grin on his face, and he shouted to us,

 

"We got him boys! We nabbed our guy!"

 

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Schwab was outside the courthouse, sitting on the curb, trembling.

The kangaroo court for this guy, Tenenbaum, was underway. Hanging from the streetlights along the boulevard were members of his cabinet. They slowly rotated in the air, their faces purple, eyes and tongues bulging out of their swollen faces, ropes taut around their necks.

 

I didn't need to say anything. I put my arm on his shoulder and sat down next to him. We all had bigger things on our mind.

 

"For what, Sarge? All this, for what?"

 

"I know, Schwab. Everything's been, well, turned upside down."

 

He wiped his eyes, sniffling. He waves his arm behind him,

 

"No point in trying to bring some fuck to justice if Geneva's gone. Everything's gone. There's no point. There's-..."

 

His shoulders shook as much as his voice. He got up, and looked around. 

 

"Out here, on some- some fucking dirt colony! Some worthless fucking rock!"

 

He kicked the rubble outside the courthouse, shouting. His voice was dripping with rage, and it echoed down the boulevard.

 

He brought his gloved hands to his eyes, wiping away tears. 

 

"Out here, instead of where it mattered the most..."

 

He slumped back down to the curb.

 

"Out here, instead of home. I could've- I could've done something-"

 

"Schwab... You're one man. You couldn't have possibly-"

 

"-And so what if I am?! I'd have rather died trying, trying like so many others did. That was our species' crowning achievement, Sarge. Forget the fucking spaceships, the colonies- that was our fucking cradle. Thousands of years of history- a testament to our collective greatness, gone, gone in an instant. It's all gone."

 

I tightened my lips. I was never very good with emotions.

 

"It's not all gone, Schwab. There were survivors. We've still got records. Things we can show our kids when all this is over. Her legacy will live on through her diaspora."

 

He said nothing.

 

"I'm sorry, Schwab. I'm sorry that we had to be here instead of there. I think everyone would agree that that's where they'd rather be."

 

"This whole planet can rot in hell, sarge. I feel like I'm going to explode. I know you're a colonial, but I'd easily trade a dozen of these shit holes just for a fraction- just a slice of the worst fucking piece of earth."

 

I loved my home too, but I let Schwab have his point. Nothing to gain from arguing with a man who just lost his home. Judging how things have been the past week, I'd be inclined to agree with him.

 

"And after earth, what's to stop them from doing what they please with anywhere else? If we couldn't protect the most important planet to our species, what hope do we have?"

 

I tightened my grip on his shoulder.

 

"...We've got hope as long as we can fight back. That's all we can do now. Tooth and nail. It's all we were trained to do."

 

"But will it be enough?"

 

"We'll have to see."

 

Inside, you could hear the smacking of a gavel, and the shouts of locals. A verdict had been reached. Our guy would be joining his friends on the streetlights.

There was no FedNet, there was no word from Sierra Mike. Just a kangaroo court in a shot-up courthouse on the edge of the universe. Another corpse to add to the list that would never reach home.

 

 

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A few guys from Baker's fireteam disappeared last night. In total, a corporal, two lances, and a private first class. 

Baker took it pretty hard. I overheard him talking with Desmond. He felt personally responsible for it.

Desmond was from Strelitzia. He used to be a bouncer and a short order cook prior to enlistment. When he had the time, which he often did, he'd sometimes scrounge up ingredients and throw together a good home-cooked meal for Charlie. 

I'd thought that morale was at a pretty low point a few days ago, but since we got the news about earth, it's reached rock bottom.

We were eating one of Desmond's concoctions around a fire when Kleinmann started up.

 

"I just don't get it. Why desert here? Why now? What the hell were they planning to do?"

 

I listened to the fire crackle, eyeing the ragged faces around the pit. Nobody really had a proper answer. Then Desmond spoke,

 

"They're confused. In shock."

 

Desmond was blessed with a rich baritone. You could pluck his voice out of a crowd of screaming infantry.

 

He gestured with his kit fork, directing it around the fire to each of us,

 

"You feel it too. We all do. Some are just better at handling it than others, I suppose."

 

"Do we know if they're all from earth?"

 

Desmond shook his head. 

 

I was familiar with the corporal. A small-framed bespectacled trooper on the cusp of his twenties. Patrick Bauer. An accident at his previous place of employment cost him two fingers on his left hand. The others, I felt bad to say, I was unfamiliar with.

 

"I don't know. It's been a pretty extraordinary week. Things've happened that I'd... Well..."

 

A TAC squadron swept overhead. It shook leaves out of the dormant trees. 

 

"...Might've just been too much for them. Too much all at once."

 

I thought about Schwab. I never asked about whether or not his family made it out. I have a feeling I know the answer.

 

After the Captain got wind of the desertion earlier in the day, he gathered us around. 

He told us that although things look grim back on earth, we still had a job to finish. 

He told us that we were a family, and it was our duty to be there for each other. Especially now.

We still had the Ira Hayes, we still had Sanctuary. The Federation still had her colonies. Humanity had a contingency plan just in case this exact thing happened. All was not lost, far from it, in fact. 

 

We knew that the job here wasn't finished, but after that, we really had no idea what the hell we were supposed to do. But the Captain seemed confident that things would work out.

He believed that we could ride out the storm, no matter how bad it got. Even if it might've been empty words, it put a little spring in my step. The Captain himself was from a station on Greenland, after all. If he was buckling internally from the pain, he made absolutely no indication of it. The man with the plan. The patriarch of our peculiar family. I think he understood how important it was to remain strong and steadfast in a time like this.

 

Cap told us that he was in contact with regiments from Gauss and Neubreslau. This little insurrection now had to be wrapped up by its neighboring countries. Someone had to pick up the pieces. According to Cap, they had a number of people lined up to take Tenenbaum's place. Loyal to Geneva. Feels funny saying that now.

In the meantime, we were to dispose of any opposition still holding out for Tenenbaum.

The Mobile Infantry would have to retain some measure of a presence in and around Warwick in the time to come- not us, he assured.

I sure fucking hope not.

 

 

...

 

 

We were sleeping up against an earthen rampart under the stars when the sentries started to make noise.

 

I didn't bother sleeping. Fireworks from the conscripts celebrating deeper in the city made it a fruitless endeavor.

 

"Four figures, approaching... southwest. Got eyes?"

 

"Confirmed, I see 'em. Stand by."

 

We had a spotlight oriented on the rampart. The shutters slid open, and bright white light shot across the scorched field.

 

The sentry to my right broke out a megaphone, flipping it on with some feedback.

By now, most of us were awake and ready to spring into action.

 

"Hands in the air, identify yourselves!"

 

It was faint at first, but I heard Bauer's voice straining across the distance.

 

And over the rampart, they came. Their fatigues and faces swathed with dust. Bauer came over first, followed by the others.

 

Bauer had a black eye, and one of his lenses was cracked. His face was stained with tears.

 

By this point, we were all on our feet. Moritas at the ready. We looked at Bauer, and he looked at us. 

 

In the darkness, they were surrounded. A wretched look on all their faces. Bauer staggered around, waiting for some kind of response. Some kind of reprimanding. Nobody said anything.

 

Our lack of a reaction must've frightened him. He started acting frantically, looking around at each of our faces, trying to get the words to escape his lips.

 

He bumped right into the Captain, and fell to the ground with a thud. 

He looked up at his face in the dark, fireworks popping off in the distance. That's when he started to break down, sobbing.

 

Through streams of tears, he choked out apology after apology. He admitted he had been the mastermind of the desertion, but he had realized he'd made a horrible mistake. 

The others helped him realize that. He begged for forgiveness, grovelling at our Captain's feet, expecting the worst.

 

He clasped Bauer's shoulders, and brought him up to his feet. 

Cap, steadfast and broad-shouldered, held Bauer's shivering body across from his.

He brought him close and held him in an embrace, grasping him tightly.

 

 

 

"It's alright, Corporal."

 

 

 

 

 

"It's alright."

 

 

 

 

 

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Today was the day that we saw the first leaflets.

 

According to our most recent intel, the fools that hadn't dropped their guns were now slowly trickling out into the countryside north of Warwick. Regrouping, possibly rearming. Infantry holdouts from Gauss and Neubreslau were slowly going to push in, blocking any routes for escape.

 

Smoke from the fires congregated over the city, leaving a sickly brown haze over most of the sky. 

 

I picked up one of the leaflets and read it. 


 Your leader is dead, amnesty will be offered to those who surrender. Nobody else has to die. Stop the bloodshed.


I crumpled it up in my fist. We all knew what happened to the people who raised arms against the Federation. 
Well, we knew what traditionally happened to them. Now, everything seems like a different ball game. Like we switched rule books two-thirds of the way through our match.
Maybe they actually were going to be offered amnesty.

 

"You're wrong, Kaczka." 

 

"Get out of my head, Weaver. You didn't even knock, for fuck's sake."


Weaver wasn't a full-fledged psychic. At least, not enough that warranted her attachment to a psi-ops unit. She rode the line between being your run-of-the-mill trooper and 'once in a blue moon' miracle worker. Inept enough that you couldn't really call her an ace up your sleeve, but just 'gifted' enough to get under your skin. Something which she seemed to revel in when it came to yours truly.

 

"Didn't need to. Your face says it all."

 

"Is that right?"

 

"Sure is. These leaflets? Pure bullshit. Earth getting fucked doesn't change the fact that these people are traitors. Take a look around. Even if we did give 'em mercy, the second we left, the locals'd tear 'em apart. More streetlight ornaments than you could count."

 

A while ago, back on the ship, Sanders tried to make a pass at Weaver, against almost everyone's advice. 
He sauntered over to her confidently, grinning like a jackass. He hadn't even opened his mouth when she almost put him through a table. 
Lord knows what she saw.

 

"I'm pretty sure the locals here would just as soon tear us apart if it meant an end to this stupid conflict."

 

"Hear hear, sarge. I'm just saying."

 

"Yeah, yeah."


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My team was tasked with clearing out an old football stadium on the northern edge of town. 


Had the city not been in the state that it was, I might've wanted to stick around a little longer. The last time I'd been to a football game was when I was seventeen.


The stadium was, as expected, in a state of serious disrepair. 
The windows on the press box had all been blown out. The synthetic turf had been torn apart and burnt in a few places, and there was a section of the stands that had been blown out by a stray shell. Torn and singed banners for local teams, sports drinks, and local shops were strewn about the stadium. Busted screens hung across from each other. Leaflets everywhere.

 

To cover more ground, I ordered my team to split up. This was my first mistake.
I headed up to the press box- alone. My second mistake.

 

There was broken glass all over the floor. I heard it crunching on the far side of the room when I was heading up the flight of stairs to enter, followed by someone scurrying out the opposite door.

I started after them, sprinting as fast as I could, shouting after them.

The door led out to a concrete tunnel where patrons would come and go from concessions to their seats.


There he was, fumbling with a pistol a good fifteen feet away.

 

I lined up my Morita and managed to squeeze off a round that hit him in the leg.
After that, I felt the warm dampness of blood running down my side.
Then the searing hot pain. Like someone skewered me with white-hot rebar.

 

He dropped to the ground, grabbing his leg, cursing. 
His pistol fell just out of arms-reach from him.

I slumped down the wall, clutching my side as I hit the ground.
My Morita stayed within reach thanks to my sling.


My squadmates were trying to ascertain my location over the radio, but their words weren't registering.
Right now, it was just me and him.

I clung to my Morita, angling it towards him.


He was writhing around on the ground. I've seen what .308 can do to someone's leg, he wasn't going anywhere.
The pain was overwhelming. I was breaking out into a cold sweat, and my hands were shaking. My wound was throbbing now.


But I saw him thrashing towards the pistol, reaching out with his bloody hand.

 

"Don't you fucking dare, asshole."

 

He grunted, keeping his hand outstretched. I tried my best to prop myself upright. I wanted to get up and kick it away, but I couldn't do it my state.

 

"You make one more move... and I blow you away. You understand?"

 

I was losing blood, fast. 

 

I got a good look at him while I was trying to key my radio. A ratty looking guy with gaunt eyes, wearing mismatched fatigues. He was nursing his leg, groaning and moaning.

 

I could feel my head pounding. I started to see stars.

 

Time seemed to slow down. It became harder and harder to keep my Morita up. I heard boots rushing up through the press box, then I passed out.

 

The next thing I remember was waking up in a MASH tent.

 

 

 

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I learned that shortly after I had gotten wounded, Desmond bought the farm. From what I've heard, They were clearing a series of caves for holdouts when they heard a baby crying. They heard arguing inside. Someone threatening to kill it if they couldn't get it quiet. Inside were a few ratty fucks in tattered gear, towing around a woman and baby, possibly as leverage.

Desmond tried to get them to come out, but things went sour and he got hit by a stray round, according to hearsay.

All the others were killed besides the civilian and kid. 

 

The logistics of sending off bodies back to a trooper-in-question's next-of-kin for burial have been somewhat complicated, as of lately. We sealed him in plastic, the chaplain and a few of the other guys said some words at a memorial that they held. We're holding on to the body for now.

I doubt he would want to be buried here. Poor Tavare.

It must feel insulting to die out on the edge of the universe, far from where the real fight is happening.

 

Here's to hoping my next wound isn't fatal.

 

Regiments from Gauss and Neubreslau are getting pretty close to our position. We're expected to meet in the next few days, should everything go according to plan.

We've rounded up what's believed to be the last major group of holdouts, on the bright side. 

 

Big long trains of people. Shuffling lines of mismatched fatigues, and gaunt frames. Talking to each from time to time, but mostly quiet. 

We've only had two incidents of runners, and they were dealt with pretty quickly. 

We're gonna march them to a processing station. They'll be boxed up and sent on rails to wherever it is they're going.

A few days by foot, if we're all healthy.

 

One of the side-effects of the conflict that's starting to manifest was the resurgence of a type of disease that's endemic to Hathor. There's almost always a resurgence of disease after wars, but this one was particularly nasty.

It's similar to typhoid and cholera. The name escapes me.

 

I remember watching medical inoculating them.

 

"Why bother? Fuck them, let them die."

 

Schwab was getting worse.

 

"I hope whatever they've got rots them out from the inside."

 

He spat.

 

 "Waste of medical supplies. They'll get rope necklaces soon enough."

 

Schwab was getting more and more anxious to be back on the Hayes. Anywhere but here. He keeps pestering leadership about it. 

We all miss the ship, but Schwab's really feeling it hard. He's snapping at people. Getting restless. Staring off into space.

 

I'm not entirely sure what Schwab was looking for when he first enlisted, but I think recent events have done a number on his soul.

He looks broken. I'm trying to picture him back in his cab, but it never looks right in my mind. Not anymore.

 

Captain's apparently in contact with representatives from Hathor's government. He's insisting that we leave things tied up in a neat ribbon now so we can get the hell out of here as cleanly as we can. 

According to the lieutenant, he's been adamant about putting this whole thing to bed so we can go back to business.

What's left of business. 

Whatever happens next, I've no idea.

 

 

 

It was the second day that we were marching that I noticed he was there.

I was up ahead, looking over a ridge towards the next stretch of road that we were to traverse.

The land was barren and burnt. The fires were finally starting to gradually die down.

You could see the incinerated remains of forests all around.

 

I looked back, and his face caught my eye. The ratty face, the hollowed and gaunt eyes in those ill-fitting fatigues.

 

His ankles were shackled to the men ahead and behind him. 

 

He looked up from the ground and saw me. 

 

He did a double take, and we made eye contact for some time. 

 

I moved my hand over the wrapped wound in my side, and pressed it through my kevlar, still baring the hole from when it got through.

 

 Still sore.

 

 

 

 

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"Do you reckon' you'll know what you'll do now, then?"

 

 

 

"No. I hadn't given it much thought."

 

 

 

I had. I'd tossed and turn the idea in my head the second I heard.

 

Top handed out the forms this morning.

 

 

"Why don't you come with us?"

 

 

"And go where?"

 

"Far away. Away from all this. Someplace remote and safe enough. Kleinmann's coming too. Our whole families are."

 

"And you're just going to wait?"

 

 

"You have a better idea?"

 

 

We spoke over the incoming breeze.

 

 

"Stay. Fight. Do something rather than nothing."

 

"Sarge, every day shit's getting worse and worse. You think we've got a shot at whatever those things are that took out earth?"

 

There was a long pause between us.

 

I listened to the waves rush up to meet the shore. We were out on a beach, watching the fishermen haul in nets full of Anaveat. 

 

"You're stayin' aboard a sinking ship, Kaczka."

 

"Have you so little faith? Faith in your fellow trooper? You'd be letting the Captain down."

 

"Sarge, give it a rest. MI can take care of itself, I'm talking about the higher-ups. This coup. The whole state of the Fed. Nothing lasts forever, y'know?"

 

"So you're happy to hide on some clod of dirt in the far reaches of the galaxy? Waiting, waiting for everyone else who had the backbone to do something die? And then what?"

 

I started to realize I was raising my voice. Something I did rarely.

 

Sanders sighed.

 

"Every empire that ever existed fell, sarge. Maybe this is it for the Fed. For real. I want to spend the rest of my days with my family. Don't you?"

 

My family was all gone. I had no siblings, and my parents died in an accident when I was seventeen. It was on their anniversary. A trip to Zegema Beach. Something happened while they were in transit, and they never arrived. Whole ship was gone. Nothing to bury, nothing to cremate. Just gone. Snatched away.

 

"I've got nobody at home."

 

"Maybe you don't understand, then."

 

"Maybe. I signed up for the thick and the thin, Sanders. This is my job."

 

"I get it, sarge. I think you're a good guy, that's why I'm offerin' you."

 

"I appreciate the sentiment, but, my place is here."

 

Sanders half-smiled.

 

"Stubborn-as-always, Kaczka. Holding out through the storm."

 

"Yeah. Holding out through the storm. Besides, whatever happened to that movie idea?"

 

He chuckled, and sighed once more. Then he spoke again,

 

"I'll miss ya', sarge. Hopefully you'll get a chance to knock some shit off your bucket list before they send you and the others to God-knows-where. Seeya' round."

 

Sanders got off the sandbar and walked back to the camp.

 

Out on the water I watched the boats gently sway from side to side. Fishermen were beginning to return to the waters around Warwick.

Rumor has it that the evacuation mandate will be lifted soon. We're close to leaving this joint for good. They're even starting to work on putting out the fires.

 

I pulled the form out of my pocket, and looked it over.

 

I'd never be given an opportunity like this again.

 

I looked over the beach. Heaps of alien kelp bundled together and mixed with the litter where the uprush reached its furthest point on the beach. 

 

I inhaled deeply, filling my nostrils with the ocean air.

 

I tossed it, and closed my eyes.

It was done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I don't know if I've ever seen a twin engine airplane before. 

 

Red and yellow. Big ballasts on the undersides of the wings. Nowhere near as fast as our birds.

They passed over the last of the fires and dropped their payload. Great white pillars of water, crashing down on the scorched hills. 

Whisps of white smoke slinking up to the sky after the fires were drowned out, mingling with the overcast.

 

This happened over, and over.

 

I listened to the low drone of their propellers. 

 

I haven't slept much. 

I feel like I'm in a stasis of some kind. 

Stuck between living and dead. 

 

Like you're in the tank, with the hose in your mouth, giving you air to breathe.

 

You're just floating there, and all you can hear are the warbles of words from outside the amniotic fluid, or whatever the hell it is that you're floating in.

Everything's blurry and distorted, and you just float there while everyone else carries on. Business as usual.

Stuck there, frozen, while everything else moves around you.

 

There's no books to read, no shows to watch, absolutely nothing to do when you're in the tank besides wait. Wait, and watch the machines work on your insides.

If you were lucky, your buddies might drop by to see how you are, or an orderly might come by and ask if you're comfortable, but they'd never be there for long.

 

After they'd leave, you'd be all alone again.

 

Once I'd had my first introduction to it, I was determined to never put myself in a situation where I'd need to be put back in.

 

I was terrified of the tank.

 

 

Everyone seemed to have some kind of idea about what's to happen next. 

I've been pushing my concerns about it further and further back in my mind, the closer we get to our stint finally ending.

This whole outing. These series of events, handed out over the holidays. 

Some kind of twisted gift I can't seem to pull myself from thinking about.

Some horrible speed bump in a downward spiral.

 

And the end, it's so close. We're so close to finally leaving. 

 

But then what?

 

Focusing on the here and now has always worked for me in the past. 

But now, I can't seem to smother my anxieties for the future anymore.

The conventions and remedies of the past have all been turned on their heads.

It's a brand new ball game with terrifying implications.

 

I've been watching guys that I've served with for my entire career slowly trickle out. 

Men and women who've held their own against the things that go bump in the night.

 

Captain's got a list of men he knows aren't going to come back aboard the Ira Hayes.

We were told a while ago that arrangements would be made for the safe transport of those who wanted out.

 

Alpha and Bravo would be merging together to make up for losses. Comparatively, Charlie retained a fair number of its troops, but, it feels like a different crowd now with so many gone.

 

The last time I saw Sanders was at the beach. I managed to catch Kleinmann before he took off to Warwick, where the shuttles were to land. 

I gave him my blessings, and he gave me his. Don't lose the knife. 

Weaver was heading out too, from what I heard. 

Back to wherever she came from.

Figures.

 

We started seeing the first of the troops from Neubreslau and Gauss several days ago. The sweep was practically finished, and rehabilitation efforts for Siduri had begun. 

The mandate was lifted, and we've spent the past few days overseeing civilians returning to what's left of their homes.

 

The smoke still lingers in the sky.

 

 

 

I stay awake at night now partly because Schwab makes it somewhat challenging not to.

 

He's developed these night terrors recently.

 

I remember jumping out of my bunk with Schwab, screaming, screaming and crying.

I managed to get a little light, and he's got this horrified look on his face. Tears streaming from his eyes.

 

He won't stop screaming.

 

He just wouldn't stop screaming.

 

I remember throttling him, trying to tell him it was a dream. Trying to shout over his frantic shrieking, just to get him to calm down.

Nothing I said worked. He was trying to swing at me, screaming and crying like an absolutely petrified child.

 

Soon I felt tears start to leak from eyes as I shook him, smacked him, tried anything and everything I could to get him to snap out of it. 

I became more emotional the more it dragged on.

 

Nothing worked.

 

 

It shook me deeply. 

 

I think Schwab was one of the first to really grasp how terrifying our situation was now. 

Maybe how little of a chance we actually stood.

Maybe that's what he saw in that state of his.

 

My friends were leaving me one by one, either by their own volition, or they were prematurely taken from me on this godforsaken far-flung rock.

I felt so powerless watching Schwab shriek and cry, looking beyond my fearful gaze, bawling at some horrifying unseen threat in the darkness of our tent. 

 

His petrified voice shook the burlap walls.

 

I just wanted to help one person. To show them that even now, at least one of us can be strong.

 

But I couldn't. 

 

I looked into those eyes, and I saw a reflection of myself.

 

And now I realize I'm truly afraid. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think about Sanders when I hear Schwab sobbing at night.

 

You're stayin' aboard a sinkin' ship, Kaczka.

 

Nothing lasts forever.

 

 

It gets to a point where I feel the shameful pangs of doubt about my decision.

 

That stinging pain.

 

But then I remember my place. 

One of the few things left that still brings me some measure of comfort.

 

We still had enemies that needed to be dealt with.

I had to make sure the people who died out here didn't die in vain.

For their sake, I had to continue.

If I could still carry out orders from my superiors, then I still had a job to do.

If I still had a job, then I still had purpose.

 

 

But now, I can start to see the signs of fatigue and worry on their faces. 

Almost undetectable, that tinge of concern in their inflection. 

The uncertainty for the future.

Even when the Captain speaks, I can hear it.

 

 

 

It's been a trying time for all of us.

 

 

 

But then I remember what I told Sanders before he disappeared over the sandbar.

 

I was in it for the thick and the thin. 

 

Someone had to fight. Someone had to be the line of defense for those who couldn't defend themselves.

 

Even if it might be suicide.

 

 

 

The planes are heading back to refuel.

 

I could see the outline of the Ira Hayes hanging in the sky.

 

I wanted to be on board so badly, but at the same time...

 

...I was still so unsure about what the future held.

 

 

 

This was all I had.

 

I so desperately wanted to back to the way things used to be.

 

Before all this.

 

But now, there was nowhere to go but forward.

 

 

 

I could hear the crunching of burnt wood underneath boots slowly coming up behind me.

 

"Sarge. Top wants everyone to know we're heading home in an hour."

 

I turned around.

 

It was Bauer.

 

He still had that black eye.

 

A chill had developed and our breath was visible in front of our faces.

 

We looked at each other for a moment before I nodded.

 

 

 

"You've had a chance to say goodbye to everyone you want to, Sarge?"

 

 

 

"Yeah. You?"

 

 

 

"Yeah. I uh..."

 

 

He fit his hand between the back of his helmet and his collar, and scratched the scruff of his neck.

 

 

 

A breeze blew and shook the trees nearby.

 

 

 

A storm was coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I'll see you back on ship then, right Sarge?"

 

 

 

 

 

"Yeah. Back on the ship."

 

 

 

 

 

Bauer stood there for a moment longer, nodded once more, then turned around and walked back down towards the camp. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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END

 

 

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had a lot of fun writing these, hope they brought you guys some enjoyment as well. i was originally planning on having these tie into the server back when i first started writing these, where alpha company would actually meet with the 311th to help with the aftermath of the fighting, handling POW's, etc, a mission or two perhaps

 

but i didn't account on the whole earth getting fucked by neons in the beginning, so i had to make some changes in the middle of it. i decided it wouldn't really make sense for the 112th to go assist on a way way way the fuck out there planet with POW's when they'd more than likely be taking the fight to the neons. so! changes were made, but I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, and i hope you were too 

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EPILOGUE

 

 

 

It wasn't my first hanging. Even from before the war. I knew Hammond. He was a resourceful sergeant, someone who finished your sentences before you could. Eager, you could say.

He managed to get his cadre of friends, about a squad's worth, to defect. They were meant to sneak aboard a resupply boat, but got compromised before they could board.

They slipped the bag over his head, and tightened the noose around his thick neck. The floor comes out, and that snap of the rope going taut. I watched his boots swing from side to side. They still had mud on them from when he was caught. Hammond was lucky. My first hanging, the victim's neck didn't break. He struggled, dangling and kicking his legs about while he tried to take in air. We had to listen to him die for some of the longest two minutes of my life.

 

I had been reintegrated, since Hathor. The 311th had been reduced to a fraction of itself, and had to be reformed. A lot of guys got moved around. Schwab got sent to a mental hospital, El-tee and Top bought in a dropship crash. The rest are either dead, or somewhere on the Coalition, Skinny, and Neon front.

Things were becoming tense. I avoid FedNet, but I hear the calls to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Federation coming more frequently. The last time I was on leave I saw an assembly of veterans, wrapped around the recruitment office. Disfigured, scarred, and burned. Things were becoming more fortified. There were more drills, and more warships in the sky. It's becoming suffocating. There are some places you can get away from it, though.

You just have to look hard enough.

If you're ever on Sanctuary, visit the Copernicus Summit. It's remote enough that you can be reminded of what this place used to be before the war. 

The air is clean, and you won't see any corvettes, dropships, or TAC's in the sky. A bunch of transplanted conifers from Earth. I've never been, but some of the people I've asked say it's like the old forests of Europe. They reach high into the sky, and their branches provide ample shade.

Alone in the woods, separated from the rest of the planet on this tiny undeveloped summit, you can more easily trick yourself to forget.

 

At least for a little while.

 

We're heading to Epsilon Prime tomorrow. This is the last night I'm here. It might be the last time I'm here.

I looked up and watched the dying embers merge with the stars in the night sky.

 

 

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