The worst kind of defeat is forgetting. Forgetting those who we served with, not honoring those who fell. Because then what is it all for? – Anonymous Astra Imperium Soldier
Flash. Open your mouth. Keep head down. Blast.
Give the order to hold or move.
The report is always followed by a second volley. This is the most fatal. The dazed and bewildered tend to wander out of cover and make for easy pickings. Training doesn’t teach you that. The field’s lessons are swift with no do-overs.
Debris rained down and the sensation of something wet registered on the back of my head and neck.
Helmet gone. Well, fek.
Vision still black. You must keep moving. The enemy would have our unit zeroed in now. You need to direct the men. I can’t even hear myself yell to my Sergeant. Sergeant… I can’t remember his feking name.
Ears still ringing. Keep your damned face to the ground. The ground? It felt strange, it was smooth – shouldn’t be. This wasn’t the oil and blood soaked dirt of…
I’m falling. Grab onto something damnit.
A broken bottle of amasec.
The dimly lit room of my hab.
A thin line of light shooting through the window blinders.
Blinking, I moved to my cot, getting onto my knees. I felt the back of my head. Cursed. Cut. Bleeding.
The nightstand is tipped, amasec spilt. Now blood dripping onto my shoulders and floor. I grabbed a blanket and pressed it to the back of my head.
Sighing, I stood, got my bearing and moved to the window. Slowly.
I reached the window and winced. The thin beam of light crossed my face and then I felt it again, another volley was coming in. I gripped the edge of the window sill, squeezed my eyes shut hard. It’s hard to get moving and through the day when these dreams hit. What the hells was his name? Sergeant… W… something… Damnit.
The same damn dreams every morning. This is the burden of leadership. It’s my duty to remember these men, it’s the least I can do. But there’s been so many. So many lost.
I can taste the metallic tang, that taste of blood in the back of your throat. That and oily dirt in the teeth. It was in damned near everything. Your rations, your kaf, your fatigues, the crack of your ass.
I should make some kaf. Our Apothecary enjoyed his kaf. The moody guy, but always there when you needed him. T… something. Damnit.
I threw the blinders wide, the light blasting my eyes. The sound outside slapped me in the face. It was deafening. Hundreds of people lined the streets as they cheered the parade of newly conscripted.
Cymbals flashed in the light and crashed as field drums thrummed out the triumphant march. Boots locked in time. It was always an impressive sight to behold. The Hammer of the Emperor.
I glanced from face to face. Did a double take. Hey, wasn’t that… our Comms officer. Donald? B-something? For fek’s sake! The enemy had their day but I won’t let them take their fekking names!
I left my room, grabbing the wall as I staggered a bit. Moved too quickly. I threw the towel to the small table in the kitchen and opened the front door.
The cadence of boots on asphalt and snare drum-attack hit me full force. Two valkyrie’s screamed by overhead. I gripped the door well frame. I blinked and I was jumping from a Valkyrie with my men into a hot zone. Faces looked to me for direction. For orders. For hope.
I blinked and returned to the present moment. So many young faces. Clean shaven. Determined. Resolute. Cannon fodder. Skulls. Screaming. Entrails. An explosion. A mist of blood and fleshy debris.
I yelled in anguish.
No one would hear me in this crowd.
I yelled again. Louder.
The names. I want their feking names!
You traitorous fekkers took their names. I want them back. I started as I felt a tug on my leg.
A small boy looked up at me. He was holding one of the regimental flags that they hand out to the civilians, emblazoned with the Aquila.
He couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 summers of age.
His young, clean and unmarred face looked up at me. He was awestruck. I then realized I still had my fatigues on. Now marked with blood on my shoulders.
Tears streamed from my eyes as I met his. Blue. Strong. Unmolested by the horrors of war.
He handed me the small regimental flag.
I slowly took it.
He snapped to attention. Perfect form. Saluted, and then ran back to his friends. They disappeared into the crowd, the endless stream of soldiers marching on.
And then I saw them.
Their faces. I could see them all.
Sergent Wallace. Smiling.
Comm. Officer Danby and Apothecary Tobias. Drinking their kaf. Around the fire.
In the mess hall:
1st and 2nd Lieutenants John Hapustedt and Walther Telasnikov…
Troopers Sebastian, Jago, Georgii, Vidal…
Every one of them. They’re mine. I’ve reclaimed them you bastards. You can’t have them.
About the Author
Troy Sterling Nies is a classically trained and award-winning composer. His music has been placed in a variety of media including film, television, stage, audio dramas and video games. Some of his most notable works include HPLHS: The Whisperer in Darkness, The Call of Cthulhu & Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.