On The Steppe, Part Three

Authors Note: This follws a section written by someone else, wherein Eddington and co. steal some Imperium supplies from a Logistics group.
Marcus Eddington was getting an education, that was damn sure.

“You alright Ed?” queried Jant, sitting in the driver seat of Whopper VII, his legs stretched outside the door. “You’re looking a little flushed.”

“Eddington” Marcus corrected for what seems like the hundredth time. They were standing around the Tauros, surrounded by
Ultonian Guardsmen. The staging area, the new staging area that was, was packed with troops scurrying back and forth, checking weapons, shoving equipment into packs, attaching and reattaching bayonets, scrounging for ammo, barking orders.
Marcus shuddered. The feeling in the air was a stomach churning mixture of expectation for the coming fight, annoyance at the lack of support, anger at what had happened at the pad and fear. Fear for what might happen next.

For Marcus, it was fear and disgust. He had just seen Guardsmen, Imperial Guardsmen, steal supplies. He couldn’t believe it. It went against everything he had expected of the armies of Terra. And he was an accessory!

“What if we get found out?” he said turning to Jant and Larson. The three man crew were just lounging about it seemed.

“Found out?” replied Larson, confused. “What are you blathering about?”

“Oh he’s just worried some officer will launch a full-scale investigation over a missing crate” said Jant jovially.

“Is that it?” said Larson. “You’re worried about a fugging crate?”

Eddington was stunned. “Some crate? We just stole off…”

He stopped, unable to continue over the sound of their laughter. Even Quietus was bobbing his masked head up and down silently.

“You’ll get over it Ed” said Jant, standing and slapping Marcus on the back good naturedly. “It’s the way of it out on the campaign. Welcome to the Guard.”

He was just going to sit again, when he turned and stared at Eddington with a more serious look in eyes.

“We’re not going to have a problem now, are we Ed?” he asked, an unmistaken edge to his tone.

Marcus swallowed, suddenly noticing how broad shouldered Jant was. Think fast Marcus, he thought to himself.

“Ah, problem? About what Sergeant?” he said flashing a nervous smile, that he realised again, too late, Jant couldn’t see.

The moment passed. Jant laughed and resumed conversing with his team. Marcus wandered away, wanting some distance from their ribald jokes and technical jargon.

At least he felt more comfortable. When they arrived, the first thing Jant had done was drag Marcus into a nearby ship and grab an unoccupied IG suit. Marcus could only presume it came from one of the injured Guardsmen, convalescing onboard. Jant had thrown it to him and Marcus had quickly discarded the oversized fatigues he had previously been wearing, for the better fit.

Jant had quickly torn off some insignias, and removed an identifying label (Branx, it almost looked like?). When they were done, Eddington looked like a regular old Guardsman, minus any sort of rank. It fitted better and felt better, though the smell remained the same. Luckily for his sanity, he had failed to notice the fading splotches of red around the neckline.

“Ah, thanks” he had muttered to Jant, surprised by the seeming concern. He should have known better.

“No problem Ed” Jant had said, ignoring another correction. “Least this way you won’t be as much of a target.”

Marcus had gulped. “Target?” he asked trepidatiously.

“Oh yeah” Jant had replied, heading back to the airlock. “Wearing a different colour to the rest of us? Those rebels would have thought you were an officer for sure. No point in drawing fire. Anymore then we already will.”

So now, Marcus looked like the most worthless kind of Guardsmen. As a mean of identifying himself, he had scrounged some white paint, and smudged the letters RB on his left breast. The small letters insured no one around tried to give him orders. In fact, they all seemed to shy away from him, more than usual. Word had got round fast about the Tauros team, in the unexplainable way rumour seems to run at the speed of light.

They were trouble. They got men killed. They came out of fights while their regiment didn’t. Not that Jant and co. seemed to mind.

Marcus sighed, and took some more captures of what was going on all around him, wondering when he was going to get a chance to write something. He still had his pads and pens, but it didn’t look like held get a peaceful opportunity anytime soon.
He considered going up to some of the Ultonians and asking some questions, but thought better of it when the nearest squad gave him some bowel loosening looks of warning. He trudged back to the Tauros. Jant and Larson were now sitting on the boot.

“This reminds me of Fartheid” said Larson gazing out in the distance.

“Fartheid? What you mean?” said Jant questioningly.

“Well, that was desert and gas too, remember?”

“Yeah, but this is different. That was all dried mud and green vapour. This is just sand.” Jant looked around disdainfully. “Lots and lots of sand. More like Belson. Remember that place?”

“Well, yeah of course. But Belson wasn’t a desert when we started.”

“Well, it was when we’d finished” said Jant with almost a sound of longing in his voice. Marcus thought quickly, and went for it.

“You sound like you miss it?” he asked. He knew the story of Belson, a primitive backwater, that had been burned to glass by a mix of planetary bombardment and scorched earth tactics.

Jant looked at him. “Miss it? Well, it was a good fight, was Belson. That was proper war, that was. One of the only times we got anything like decent support from above. Even the Marines seemed nicer. After we took Sintra, that was the capital, I swear by the Emperor one of them nodded at me. Not that anyone ever believed me.”

“That’s because you’re a fuggin liar” Larson said, playfully. “Ain’t no EsTARDes going to pay you attention. If he was nodding at you, it’s because you’re fly was open.” Jant laughed and thumped him on the shoulder.

“But it was still a bloodbath, right?” Marcus was trying to choose his words carefully.

“Well, aren’t they all?” he answered rhetorically. “But Belson, man…there is no greater feeling then calling in an artillery strike and it actually coming in a few seconds later. Seeing that piece of grac whose got you pinned down from some rickety guard towers be vaporised in the blink of an eye. Back then, we had whole platoons of Tauros crews. They’d give the signal and we’d charge across desert plains in formation. You should have seen the natives run and scatter, We’d breach their lines and they’d just flee.”

He sighed contentedly. “You see Ed, I think I know what you’re going to end up writing here. Some piece of nonsense about the horrors of war, with some glorious sacrifice thrown in. But I’ll tell you something.”

He looked at Eddington.

“I like war. I know lots of people say that in this army but I really do. I like guns. I like explosions. I like the feel of a bolter in my hands, the kick it gives when it fires. I like running down some xeno who thinks he’s faster than Whopper VII. I like to win, and we never lose. I like the sound shells make. I like the smell of smoke on the horizon. Anyone who tells you, war is hell?”

He snorted. Marcus thought he’d have spit if he could.

“They’re either a liar or they’ve never fought in a battle. This is what being a man is all about it. This is life. This is good. War is heaven. If it wasn’t, why would we still be doing it?”

Marcus nodded and subtly clicked of the recorder at his side. He noticed Quietus, up on the main gun rolling his eyes. Same old Jant he seemed to be saying.

Marcus would have asked more, but an officer had walked up to them. He realised it was Mochel, the Captain they had…done absolutely nothing with 20 minutes before.

“Listen up boys” he said to the group in general, offering a brief glance at Eddingtons new outfit. “We’ll be moving out shortly. 10 clicks or so down that road” he said pointing down a dirt path heading south, “is the objective. We think it used to my some kind of farming complex years ago. Enemy is dug in, with significant armaments. Any questions so far?”

Larson raised a hand, only to be immediately swatted down by Jant who kept looking forward at the Captain.

“We’re going in standard convoy formation” continued the Captain. “You in front, troops behind flanked by the Hellhounds with the Medusas bringing up the rear. You’re recon for this mission. Colonel Howard wants you to keep a click ahead of the main group and keep an eye out for any hostiles or ambushes. Think you can handle that?”

Jant stirred as if only suddenly realising it was his turn to talk.

“Oh yes, sir. We stay way in front of the group, all on our own, so that the enemy can expend their ammunition on us before you turn up.”

Marcus winced silently.

“Spare me the attitude Sarge” the officer replied with a sigh. “You know the deal. If you get into trouble you can get away the fastest. That’s the ROE boys. You’re to return to the main group in the event of discovering stubborn resistance.”
He stopped for a moment, looked at each of them in turn, ending on Marcus.

“Because of your newest recruit, the Colonel is insistent you take no unnecessary risks.”

Jant scoffed, Larson laughed and Queitus shrugged. Marcus raised his eyes in surprise.

“That’s very nice of the Colonel if I may say so” he said, meaning it.

“Yeah, yeah” intruded Jant. “So what numbers we looking at?”




“Layout of the enemy positions?”

“Ah, how far is commands head up its own ass?”

The Captain smiled. “Unknown, but I’ll do my best to get back to you on that.”

Larson chimed in. “What do we get to kill here?”

“I’ll leave that to your discretion. But if you spot any real trouble, you doubletime it back to the regiment, understood?”

“Aye-aye” said Jant giving a laid back salute.

“Good. You’re callsign for this mission is “Canary”. You’ll be in contact with “Miner”. At your discretion gentlemen.” He
departed, hefting a bag of supplies over his shoulder.

Jant stood up and turned to the group.

“Canary? What the throne does that mean?”

“Beats me” said Larson.

Marcus cleared his throat.

“Ah, I think…what the Captain meant…you see on some planets, miners will use…”

He trailed off. Quietus was gesturing to him behind the other two, the flat of his hand jerking back and forth against his throat.

“…ah, it’s a bird, it’s a type of bird.”

“A bird huh? Weird” said Jant. “Alright, that’s enough standing around. Ed, get in the back. Quietus, keep the gun cocked. Larson, side seat. I’m driving this one.”

Eddington sidled into the rear of the Tauros. The inside was worn, the seats faded. They were smooth and uncomfortable. Conditions were cramped as Marcus took position next to the right window.

“Oh, I almost forgot” exclaimed Jant, as he sat into the drivers seat. He pulled on odd looking metal device out of a bag at his feet and offered it to Marcus. “I was able to rustle this up for you.”

For a moment Marcus started at the lump of metal uncomprehending, before realising with horror it was a gun.

“You’re giving me a weapon? I don’t want a weapon!”

“Oh, come on, don’t be stupid” replied Jant straightforwardly. “We’re going into a hostile situation, and you are not riding with us if all you got is that razor sharp wit. Won’t kill many heretics with that. We get into trouble, you’re going to need it. Here.”

He leaned into the back, and slapped the gun into Eddington’s left hand. It was frightfully heavy, and Marcus clumsily righted it, until he held the thing by the grip. It was thick, made of dulled metal, scratches evident all along it. He started at it with dreaded fascination. He had never held a gun, let alone fired one.

“It’s easy” offered Larson. “Point, squeeze the trigger, repeat. We couldn’t get you no extra clips, but this’ll do till we pick something better up.” Larson was carrying a larger rifle, across his torso. Both men also carried grenades in puches on their suits, with clips of ammo and other weapons put where ever room could be found.

“Well stuff it in your holster and let’s get moving” said Jant impatiently.

A still stunned Marcus fumbled for the holder at his die, not even aware the suit came with a holster until Jant had said so. It was all becoming a bit much. This was it. He was really going into battle. The adrenalin started to pump. He tried to control his breathing, tried to master his fear.

You can do this Marcus, he thought to himself. These guys do it every damn day. You’ll be fine. Just keep a lookout and make sure…

His train of thought was interrupted by a sudden jolt as the Tauros rumbled into motion, the engine giving a loud thrum.
“Alright, here we go boys” yelled Jant cheerfully. “Next stop; rebel scum!”

Larson gave a triumphant whoops and even Quietus tapped the roof of the car twice in acknowledgement. All Marcus could offer was a low groan. Once more, unto the breach? He remembered reading that phrase so many years ago, in a different time, a different…

His maudlin train of thought was again interrupted as the engine coughed, retched then did the mechanically equivalent of throw up. The car rolled to a stop, just outside the staging area as the Ultonians looked on with interest.

“What the…Larson, you fueled her up at the depot like I said right?”

“Ah…wasn’t it Quietus’s turn?”

“Quietus? You thought I sent the mute to requisition fuel off the Logs guys?”

“Well, he’s getting pretty good with the sign language…”

“You brain dead, son of a whore!”

There followed a minor scuffle in the front seats as Jant grabbed Larson by the shoulders, the two wrestling back and forth, cursing as they went.

“Ah…Sarge? Guys, shouldn’t we…um, guys?”

Marcus stopped as Quietus tapped him on the shoulder with his boot. He just shook his head silently.

Marcus felt the fear rise again as the two Guardsmen continued their personal duel in the front seat. Yep, definitely getting an education today, he thought mournfully.

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