The Inevitable- 978 Words
“Alright. We’re going.” announced Lieutenant Schonn, drawing his laspistol with shaking hands. “Get ready.”
It wasn’t an unexpected order. Hell, they’d been sitting in this damned trench doing the same damned thing for… how long now? Aric checked the chronometer on his wrist reflexively, even though he knew the thing was broken. It felt like they’d been there forever, anyway. The lieutenant knew it, Aric knew it, every other trooper in the platoon knew it- this was pointless. But it was what was going to happen.
Schonn was the only proper officer left. The captain had bought it early on, in the first wave. First lieutenant had been executed by Commissar Nikov for refusing to send his men on another wave. Nikov was dead out there in no-man’s-land, after leading that charge out. There were only two platoons, maybe, left out of the original company. And they all knew damn well that they’d just keep getting thrown at the heretics until there was nothing left.
Aric plucked the lho-stick from between his lips, mashing it into the gritty dirt of the trench. He’d come to terms with this hours back. Or days. He didn’t know how long, but it really didn’t matter when this was the endpoint, did it?
The other troopers were pushing bayonets into the trench walls, securing letters and keepsakes for their loved ones. Some were offering up prayers to the Emperor. Some were fortifying themselves with the last of their secreted-away illicit liquor. All their eyes were dead, flat. They weren’t humans anymore, just machines.
Aric knew he looked the same way, if not more so. He didn’t have any loved ones to write to. Didn’t have any words for the Emperor above. No need for drink, either. He was already numb inside.
He brought his lasgun up, wrapping his hand around the battered metal of the handguard. It had felt like he was dreaming up until now, like he’d been watching someone else move his body from a distance, but now he was present. Looking out of his own eyes, moving his own hands. That was refreshing.
Maybe it was just that now the outcome was sure. He chuckled at that- maybe whatever had been working his body before had just decided that he couldn’t screw anything up now, so he could be left to his own devices.
Retrieving his bayonet from where it hung at his belt, Aric reached up and fixed it onto the barrel of his lasgun. Most of the other troopers weren’t bothering, knowing that they’d be dead far before they made it to the heretic lines. Hell, fixing bayonets at this point was just pure optimism.
“Men, you’re…” Schonn started, voice trembling and trailing off. He took a deep breath, eyes closed, fist clenching over the whistle he held in his left hand. “You’re men of Vesstri Ultra. You’re the Tenth Light Infantry.” Another breath, trying to quell the shaking. “Don’t forget it.”
The troopers prepared, propping their lasguns up on the trench wall, steeling themselves to climb up. There were still a few muttering prayers, but most of them had just gone silent. Soon, the prayers too dissipated, leaving nothing but calm in their wake.
The calm before the storm. Aric hated to be cliche, but that was what it was. In seconds, there’d be chaos. Light, sound, screaming, dying. But now, just… silence.
Lieutenant Schonn broke it, lifting his laspistol above his head and clicking the safety off with a surprisingly loud click. Aric glanced back, seeing him lift the whistle to his mouth with shaky hands. This was really it, then.
Schonn blew the whistle. There was a great shout, and what remained of the Vesstri Tenth Light Infantry surged up over the top.
Las-fire filled the air, the chugging crash of a heavy bolter complementing the sharp cracks of lasguns. The trooper to Aric’s left caught two las-bolts as soon as he cleared the trench, collapsing face-first into the dust and the piled bodies of the first three waves. The trooper to his right made it a bit further, maybe five steps, but then detonated suddenly, struck by a bolter shell.
Fifteen paces out, they’d lost at least half of their little force. Aric had his lasgun up, set to full auto, panning it about to spray the enemy lines with bolts. Didn’t do much, but it didn’t matter, did it?
Hell, he’d thought it’d be chaos, but it was actually peaceful. Sure, there were his comrades dying left and right, ripped to pieces and blown to shreds, but it was the best kind of peace. He didn’t have to worry about anything anymore.
Aric smiled. He’d dreaded going over throughout most of the battle, and then he’d realized that it was gonna happen anyway and come to terms with it. Now it was different. All choice taken out of his hands, all worries whisked away. Tranquillity. All he had to do was go forwards. That was all that was required.
Schonn was alongside him now, screaming incoherently and snapping las-bolts as quickly as he could. Aric turned his smile upon the lieutenant for a brief moment, seeing a crimson bolt take half his head off, before returning his eyes to the goal.
The weapons fire was dying off now. Aric realized that although he was still pumping the trigger on his weapon, it simply clicked uselessly- he’d expended the power cell already. Reaching down, he retrieved a new one from his belt.
Something struck him in the chest; ignoring it, he fumbled with the power cell. Damn thing wouldn’t go in. Another impact, and the weapon fell from suddenly nerveless fingers. He slowed to a stop, looking for where it had fallen, and then realized that all he could see was clouds.
The sky was beautiful. Shades of grey and white, mixing together.
"You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honorable man."