Death or Glory | Chapter 12 of 25 - Part: 1 of 10

Author: Sandy Mitchell | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1532 Views | Add a Review

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EIGHT

THE REST OF the day passed without incident, despite my natural apprehension at the prospect of attracting attention from any enemies in the immediate vicinity. (Not to mention our own forces. If a Guard or PDF unit noticed us before we noticed them, given our mode of transport, they could hardly be blamed for opening fire before we got close enough to identify ourselves as friends.) My fears in this regard were far from unfounded, as any unseen lurkers would have had more than adequate warning of our approach: the roar of our engine echoed from the dunes surrounding us loudly enough to blot out almost any other sound from my ringing ears, and I blessed the foresight which had impelled me to pass one of the commbeads to Jurgen before we set off.

Without them, conversation between us would have been impossible.

Not that it was exactly easy even then. We progressed in a series of spine jarring jolts, each one of which drove the breath from my lungs, so that whatever remarks we did manage to exchange were generally interrupted by staccato hesitations every other word.

After a while, I discovered that the discomfort was marginally less if I stood at the bolter, or to be more accurate clung on to the thing for dear life, letting my knees flex with the bouncing of our sturdy little vehicle, and that this allowed me a better view of our surroundings. Using an amplivisor would have been impossible under the circumstances, so I had to make do with what I could see with my own unaided eyes, and I have to admit that this wasn't a lot.

This wasn't to say that the landscape was unvaryingly monotonous, however Occasional outcrops of reddish brown rocks broke through the sand, like reefs in an ocean of dust, and thin patches of desiccated scrub clung grimly to whatever crevices they could find. Lichens, too, speckled their surfaces, in an astonishing profusion of colours, although perhaps the eye simply picked them out more easily because of the contrast they made with their surroundings. Of animal life I saw no obvious sign, although I have no doubt that it was there. If there's one thing I've learned on my travels around the galaxy it's that life is incredibly tenacious, and will manage to find a way of getting by even in the most inimical of environments.

At length, with the shadows beginning to stretch and the sky becoming tinged with purple, I decided to call a halt. Jurgen complied with alacrity, which was hardly surprising given that he'd been wrestling those cumbersome controls for most of the afternoon, and coasted us to a halt in the lee of one of the outcrops of rock. I jumped down gratefully, almost stumbling as the sand gave way beneath my boots, and tried to stretch some feeling back into my cramped and knotted limbs.

'How far do you think we've come?' I asked, reaching for the nearest bundle of survival rations and heaving it onto the ground beside me.

Jurgen shrugged. 'About eighty klom1,' he said, beginning to set up the stove.

I raised an eyebrow, surprised. 'That far?' I asked, trying not to sound sceptical. Jurgen nodded, taking the rhetorical question as literally as he tended to take everything else.

'That's pretty fast given the conditions, and the way the buggy's loaded down,' he said. I couldn't argue with that, so I left him to set up camp and wandered up the side of the outcrop, searching for some firmer footing where I could try and work some flexibility back into my limbs with a little chainsword practice now that the air was cool enough to make physical exercise feasible again. Fortunately, I found it, and by the time I'd finished running through the familiar routines of attack and defence, I was beginning to feel a great deal calmer and more comfortable.

I returned to the campsite in a mood I can only describe as mellow, to find that Jurgen had been busy in my absence. Darkness was falling in earnest, bringing with it the night time chill, and I retrieved my greatcoat from the buggy. After a hot meal and a mug of recaff, I retreated to the survival bubble he'd erected, rolled myself up in the sleeping bag I found there, and drifted off into the last night of untroubled slumber I was to enjoy for some weeks to come.

NOT THAT THE following morning gave us any presentiment of what was in store. I woke to find Jurgen already abroad, stirring something grey and lumpy in a pan on the portable stove, which, despite its appearance, smelled surprisingly appetising. He glanced up as I stepped carefully over his bedroll, which he'd laid down just outside the bubble, and handed me a mug of recaff.

'Almost ready, sir,' he assured me, and went back to tending his porridge. Emperor alone knows what was in it, but it was packed with enough nutrients to leave me feeling ready for anything (which I suppose is ironic, considering how the day was to turn out).

I began whistling cheerfully as I started the job of breaking camp. After I'd stowed some of the equipment and carried a couple of bundles back to the buggy, my aide's silently reproachful look finally succeeded in reminding me that this was supposed to be his department, and I decided I'd better let him get on with it without any further interference. Jurgen was, if nothing else, a stickler for protocol, which normally made my life considerably easier than it otherwise might have been. In the years to come even generals were to find themselves politely but firmly fobbed off when I couldn't be bothered to deal with them.

Knowing that to persist in what he undoubtedly regarded as a menial task far beneath my dignity as a commissar would leave him disgruntled for the rest of the day, I returned to the outcrop I'd climbed the evening before with an amplivisor, and scanned the horizon, hoping to gather some clue as to our whereabouts. From my elevated position, I found I could see a great deal further than I'd expected in the clear desert air, and my attention was drawn to a faint smudge on the horizon, roughly in our direction of travel, (which, naturally enough, had been the first way I'd looked). My curiosity piqued, I magnified the image as much as I could and tried to make out a few more details.

'I think we're approaching a town,' I told Jurgen, the faint rattles and bangs being picked up by his comm-bead telling me he was stowing our equipment in the buggy with his usual efficiency. I tried to bring the image into clearer focus, but the heat haze was already beginning to shimmer over the sands, and it was hard to make anything out other than the vague outline of walls and buildings. Try as I might, I was unable to resolve any details of the inhabitants, if indeed there were any. 'It could be the splodge on the map we've been heading for.'

1 Kilometres, a common Valhallan colloquialism.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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