Damn the 1000+ word limit. Had to take the knife out (alot).
1088 words - not including the title.
Into the Fire
WHEN DOES A recruit become a veteran?
Pletea thought it was a reasonable question, but the drill sergeant thought it was stupid, and for the next five minutes, the young Guardsman found himself doing a series of muscle-numbing exercises until the drill sergeant was satisfied.
“Obviously’ the drill sergeant continued ‘. You are recruits’ he paused ‘and I am a veteran”.
Pletea rejoined the ranks, cursing and sweating.
“The vast majority of you will never stand beside me. Most of you here will be dead a year from now. Most of you will never fire a shot in anger. Most of you will never even see the enemy. Some of you will clamber aboard your first troop ship, and be reduced to your component parts before you even draw your weapons. Only a lucky few will make it through’ he grinned ‘and when the time comes, you’ll know when you are a veteran”.
Pletea tucked his chin into his chest, closed his eyes and prayed.
Beloved Emperor. Guide us through this storm today. Protect this ship, and the men’
he opened an eye and looked across at the Guardsman opposite ’even Garbanowski, though he is a complete retard. Put us safely down onto this hunk of rock that has been deemed a priority target…”
“In the old days’ shouted his companion ‘before the great wars and even the Emperor”
“Blessed be his name”
“Even before the blessed Emperor’ Garbanowski continued ‘Terra was a place of peace and prosperity…”
“Get on with it”
“… The people’ he growled ‘had so much spare time that they devoted themselves to leisure activities. They constructed huge apparatus of plasteel that stood hundreds of feet above the ground. The people would climb into small containers and then be shoved off the side. The containers would follow a route that would take them up and down, in and out until all the people inside puked up their breakfasts”
“That does not make sense”
Garbanowski smiled and waved a dismissive hand.
“It’s true; it was called a carousel. They paid credits to go on them, just to gip up on their mates’ he paused for effect and then continued ‘You see, being on a drop ship is almost like a carousel”
“Except the incoming, I bet the people of Earth did not have to face Macro cannons”
Garbanowski spat “It’s my story, stop interrupting. It’s like a carousel but without the flak. I love assault landings. They don’t bother me. I can eat a breakfast of raw meat and eggs washed down with dogs urine served in a latrine bowl, and it would not affect me one bit. Up, down, left, right...”
Pletea coughed and hot bile filled his throat followed by the contents of his stomach. A loud Hurrah went up as he was sick into his lap.
“Well done Garbanowski!”
The loadmaster, a bearded Navy lifer punched the front of Pletea’s helmet, knocking his head back against the restraining cushion.
“Not on my deck boy!” he roared, which caused a further flurry of insults.
Pletea groaned “I’m sorry…” and threw up again.
“Get this thing sorted out sergeant” growled the loadmaster, glaring at the squad leader over to the right ‘I don’t want anyone slipping over when the ramp drops”
The sergeant released his straps and limped over to him. He knelt down, carefully avoiding the pool of steaming goo at Pletea’s feet. He lifted up the youngsters chin.
“You alright Trooper?”
“Yes sergeant, I’m sorry”
The sergeant turned abruptly.
“Nice one Garb, really nice touch”
“A pleasure sarge”
“There are only two types of sarge in this universe; sos-sarge, and mas-sarge, and I am neither of them. It’s Sergeant to you”
“Yes… Sergeant”, grinned Garbanowski.
“Hey’ added another Trooper ‘why do we always get the babies on these drops. They are useless and always get killed”
The sergeant readjusted Pletea’s shoulder straps and gave him a reassuring wink.
“You were a recruit once, and you Garbanowski’ he turned to the rest. ‘All of you were sitting here puking like him. All of you did the same, without exception. Some even wet their pants ‘he looked at Garbanowski.
“Untrue. My canteen exploded when the hull depressurised”
“So tough, so hard; veterans scared of nothing. I know you all. You give him a hard time because you are all scared and want to take it out on an easy target to cover your own fears”
“I’m not scared of anything sergeant” clipped another Guardsman hugging a multi-barrelled chaingun. The sergeant laughed.
“You cried like a baby when you dropped your lasgun”
“… And Garbanowski screamed like a girl when he saw his first decapitated body”
“Kemp here ran away from that Tyrannid on...”
“I paid for that”
“… Six months in a penal battalion, I know”
Pletea looked around and suddenly he did not feel so bad about ruining the loadmaster’s pristine deck. The sergeant placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder pad.
“You ridicule him, rib him, and belittle him. One day, he might be the one who picks up the discarded lasgun for you or be the one who comforts you when the sight of death becomes too much. He might be the one who stands beside you when the enemy threatens to overrun the line. He might become your trusted friend”
The sergeant sat back down.
+ Entering Defence Zone +
“He deserves your respect”
The drop ship jolted to one side bringing a moan from the squad. A bright flash lit up the interior and Pletea saw pale faces staring back.
The ship dropped and banked right.
+ Thirty seconds +
A loud bang caused Pletea to jump. A ripping sound could be heard to the rear.
+ Evasive Manoeuvres. Landing zone acquired +
Small flames appeared in an alcove to Pletea’s right.
+ Ten seconds +
A hydrant erupted in a white cloud and the flames disappeared. A panel exploded nearby.
+ The Emperor be with you +
Pletea faced hell as the ramp dropped with a dull thud. A wall of flame greeted him.
Explosions, streaks of missiles and heavy weapons fire filled his ears. Men were on their feet, an instant later, they turned into a cloud of pink liquid and gore.
“Move it!’ shouted the sergeant ‘Move it!”
Pletea was working on instinct, with his lasgun in his shoulder and his legs pumping like pistons. He had survived his baptism of fire... as a veteran.