Cpl. John Rowen

“What bloody planet are we on?” Private Harris said, blowing gray snow from his slug rifle sights.

            “Is this Zephyr? No, wait. It’s St. Albans.” Another rifleman, Horn offered.

            Corporal John Rowen switched off his comm and turned to his squad. He looked at them until the banter stopped. He never waited long.

            Harris swallowed. “Sorry, Corporal.”

            Rowen waved a finger at his HUD. A holo-screen opened. He spun it around and made it visible to his six squaddies. “Right. Here’s our orders.”

            Dark snow fell around them. The battle trench was cold and muddy. Distant explosions sounded like gentle pops. The occasional pulse bolt or railgun round streaked by high above, addressed to no one in particular.

            The men moved in to look. They squinted, cursed, and muttered. PFC Ferrell, the medic was the only one to offer an actual good question. “Corporal, since when do recce patrols go out by themselves? Are we linking up with another unit?”

            “We’re heading to these coordinates.” Rowen pointed to his battle map.

            “Oy! That’s not far. An hour hump at most. We don’t even have to leave the trench complex.” Harris said, grinning.

            Horn’s face soured. He turned towards his squaddie. “Are you daft? You think we’re just gonna walk for an hour and that’s it? Maybe have some tea?”

            “I’d love some tea.” Harris said wistfully.

            Horn spat. It turned to ice before it hit the gray mud.

            Rowen sent that look again. They grew quiet. He waited one more heartbeat then spoke again. “Once we reach this point, we will get another set of coordinates and further orders.”

            Harris groaned again. “So much for that tea.”

            Rowen shook his head. “Whoever wants a cup, go and get it.” He said pointing towards the mess bunker. “We roll out at midnight local, you have ten minutes.”

            A few of the squaddies slung their rifles and headed for the hot beverages. The trench junction was getting crowded as various types of troops passed by. Rowen saw his medic sizing up the other troops. They wore fancy power armor and carried pulsers and railguns.

            Rowen looked down. “I’m sorry, Ferrell.” He looked at his own weapon, an old style slug thrower, scarred with age and hard use.

            Ferrell took a step forward and lowered his voice. “Look, I know you pled our case to Command.” The medic shrugged. “All we can do is hope these big, well-armored lads will be right behind us.”  

            Rowen smirked. “I’m not sure if that actually comforts me.”

            Ferrell laughed. “Well, look at the bright side. Maybe we’ll fight other conscripts.”

            The men shuffled out of the mess bunker with steaming hot cups, hurriedly gulping the hot tea. The heavy gunners, Dorn and Owens cross checked each other gun mounts and gear.

            The traffic in the trench was picking up. A squad of Death Dealers parted the crowd. A couple of those guys stood almost three full meters tall in that fancy power armor. The black of their plates seemed to pull the light right from the air.

            Harris had a cup in each hand and was crunching towards his squad leader. “Oy! Corporal, I didn’t forget-“

            A Death Dealer with sergeant’s stripes casually pushed Harris out of his way. He followed both steaming cups to the cold ground.

            The rifleman sprung back to his feet ready to make an issue of it. The behemoth barely broke stride. He turned his closed helmet towards the conscript. “Go on, bait! Get out there and do your thing.” It said through the darkly filtered vox.

            “Bait? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Horn said, getting ready back up his battle buddy. The giant marine just kept going.

            Harris brushed dark mud from his pants. He glowered as he quickly tightened up his battle rattle. He muttered to himself. “Bloody high born bastards, let me catch you in Cheapside without kit.”

            “Hey. Quiet that noise.” Rowen said. “They’ve got good sensors.”

            “Sorry, Boss. I just hate being made to feel like shite.”

            Rowen just nodded. His six men formed two columns and they marched out into the dark night.

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