Death or Glory | Chapter 20 of 25 - Part: 1 of 11

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

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SIXTEEN

THE IMPROVEMENT IN morale that followed our arrival at the temporary oasis was quite remarkable, even to someone as used as I was to tracking its ebb and flow. I suppose that was because for the first time in my career I was being forced to deal with civilians en masse. Up until then I'd only encountered them as individuals, usually in some protocol constricted social environment, or bearing self-righteous complaints about some piece of off-duty misbehaviour by one or more of the gunners whose moral welfare I was supposed to give a frak about. (The latter kind seldom getting any closer to me than my outer office, where Jurgen could be relied on to hold the complainers off indefinitely unless the infraction in question was particularly serious or amusing). I must confess, I was agreeably surprised by the resilience our unlooked-for charges had displayed so far, although I suppose the orks had done a pretty good job of winnowing them down to the hardiest of the inhabitants of the unfortunate community they'd come from.

The first thing I did was vox the PDF and militia leaders, ordering them to move up the convoy as soon as the trail had widened enough to permit overtaking, so that by the time the bulk of the civilians arrived there was a cordon of armed men and women standing between them and the lake. I could picture, all too vividly, the lamin rush1 which would otherwise result, and had no intention of allowing the precious liquid to become so contaminated with churned-up mud from scores of careless feet that we'd be unable to drink it after all. Luckily, that, and the promise of hot food now we had the wherewithal to prepare it, was enough to keep them quiet, for a while at least.

'How much can we take?' I asked Norbert, savouring the mug of recaff Jurgen had thoughtfully provided me with. The Scrivener shrugged, a broad grin on his face for the first time since I'd met him, and juggled some figures on the slate in his hand.

'If we fill every spare container we've got, I think we can forget about rationing,' he told me, something suspiciously close to glee threatening to break through his bureaucratic reserve. 'That'll be more than enough to see us to the supply dump, and a few days beyond that if necessary.'

'If the place turns out to have been looted, you mean,' Tayber put in. The three of us were sitting slightly apart from the throng, in the lee of one of the trucks, enjoying our meal in as much privacy as the makeshift camp would afford.

Norbert tilted his head in acknowledgement. 'Quite. Even in that unfortunate event, we can worry mainly about food and fuel.' He took another forkful of the salma omelette that Jurgen had prepared for us with every sign of satisfaction.

'We'll do that, then,' I said, 'if you can get your people collecting the water as soon as possible.'

Norbert nodded. 'I'll get right on it.' He seemed almost on the point of abandoning his meal to commence the task, and I urged him to sit down and finish it, which he seemed more than happy to do. 'Anything we should take care of after that?'

'Well I don't know about you,' I said, 'but I could do with a bath. And perhaps it wouldn't hurt to organise a laundry detail while we're about it.' I glanced at Norbert again. 'We won't need to extract any more water tomorrow morning, will we?'

'By no means.' If anything, he looked even happier than before, despite the extra work I'd just dumped on him. 'We'll have more than enough.' He cleaned his plate with a lump of bread, and departed, still chewing.

'Well, that's some good news,' Tayber conceded, not quite managing to conceal the lifting of his own mood now I'd suggested bathing. Emperor knows I felt itchy and foetid enough after only a few days, let alone the weeks of privation he must have endured.

'Glad to hear it,' Felicia said, appearing around the corner of the truck with Grenbow's vox pack dangling casually from her mechadendrite. 'What is? Ooh, salma, haven't tasted that in a while.'

'Help yourself,' I said. I glanced up at Jurgen. 'Can you fix another one of these for the enginseer?'

'Of course.' Jurgen started fussing with his portable stove, and I waved Felicia to the folding chair Norbert had just vacated. She sat gratefully, depositing the vox set on the sand next to me.

'I've managed to fix it,' she said. 'But don't expect too much. I had to take some parts from a power drill we found in the roadmen's hut to make a new flux capacitor, and I ran out of sanctified oil, so I had to bless some lube gel and dab that on instead.' She shrugged. 'It's more or less functioning now, though.'

'More or less is a lot better than not at all,' I assured her. 'What sort of range has it got?'

'Couple of kilometres I should think.' She accepted a plate of food from my aide, glancing up at him with a cheerful smile. Thanks, Jurgen, you're a cog.'2

'You're welcome, miss.' He flushed uncomfortably, and busied himself with some small task, which seemed to require his urgent and undivided attention.

'Excellent,' I said. It wasn't as much as I'd have liked, which would have been something with enough range and power to call in a shuttle to extract me (along with a fighter escort to be on the safe side), but we could relay the commbead signals through it and increase their range dramatically. That meant we could spread out a bit more, and perhaps deploy a few scouts so we weren't moving quite as blindly as before. All in all, our chances of survival had just been materially improved.

'Who's going to operate it?' Tayber asked. 'Grenbow's running one of the militia teams.' An assignment he'd been given purely because, with the vox out of commission, there was no call for his specialised skills, which were suddenly in demand again. On the 1 A small rodent native to Kengraym Secundus, which migrates across the central continent in kilometre-wide, swarms devouring everything in its path. They breed in coastal inlets, spending the entire summer in the shallows, breaking into a run as they first scent the sea. In the course of this final frenzied rush the smaller and weaker members of the swarm are trampled to death (and then eaten).

2 A phrase common among enginseers and junior tech-priests, expressing appreciation of a favour or considerate behaviour. The connotation appears to be something generally unnoticed but essential to keeping things running smoothly, which I suppose does sum Jurgen up rather well.

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

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