Malone was dying. They had done their best to
beat the infection, but with nothing but rainwater too
brackish to drink, and no shelter to be had in the
soggy, miserable trench, the infection had spread.
For Malone, it was a blessing, the fever dreams taking
him from the hellish reality; for the others, a grim
herald of what was to come.
They had been bright, once, Sarge Rogers and
her fighting men. Bright and proud in their gleaming
Einherjar. The band had played and the great guns
had saluted as they marched off to war, to win the
battle and bring peace to the country once again.
Malone was dying.
They had fought, these brave young soldiers
in their fighting machines. Fought and raged against
an enemy that gave no quarter, spoke no threats. How
could they name such an army? Their warbeasts blindly
creeping ever onward, groping with hands the size of
half-tracks. And still Sarge Rogers and her shining men fought on.
When the supply ship was brought down by the skate-like flyers
they fought. They fought and they raged against their foe;
when the ammunition ran dry, the Einherjar had charged,
bellowing death chants in their booming, thrumming tongues.
They had fought... and they had lost.
The rain fell, splattering off the wearied
squad. The rain fell, Malone was dying.
"Soon, Sarge." Jameson the medic confirmed,
removing the scanner from about Malone's wrist, "He's
Nodding, Rogers continued to stroke Malone's hair,
pillowing his head on her lap. "Jameson... see if Balteus
will let you get on the horn. Try to contact the Capital. I'll
sit with him."
Jameson saluted, slogging his way towards Malone's
Einherjar, the great beast Balteus. It loomed above,
providing what cover it could from the driving rain. Malone
lay dying, and the great war machine could do nothing to stop it.
Approaching the Einherjar, Jameson sang the supplication of the
warrior, straining to be heard above the rain. Balteus rumbled,
a low mourning note that carried to the other Einherjar, and with
a groan, the communications unit extruded the access ladder, its cockpit sliding
While Jameson climbed, Rogers continued to stroke
Malone's hair, humming to the feverish communications tech.
He panted, breath drawn in short barking gasps. No rag to soak,
no cloth to place on his burning brow, Rogers instead scooped
up fistfuls of the cold, clinging mud. "Shh... easy Johnny,
easy." she smoothed the mud on his face and throat, the falling
rain washing it away almost as quickly as she applied the sticky earth.
The rain fell, Malone was dying. Two truths, two
constancies that gnawed at Rogers. She could change neither,
stop neither, do nothing but sit and observe. This drove a spike
of anger into the woman, this soldier who had her entire
life been a doer, a changer of ways. "Damnit Johnny..." she
turned her head, looking to the south. South, where the nameless
army inched closer each day, guided by their groping hands
and the shrieking of their flyers. "We're not going to win this
one." Johnny Malone's breathing quickened; a shuddering cough
ripped through him, leaving his lips flecked with blood.
Looking down in alarm, Rogers grimaced. Wiping her hands
on her dirty, ragged tunic, Rogers wiped the blood from her
squadman's lips, "Goodbye, Johnny. You were a damn fine soldier."
She bowed her head, kissing his brow.
The rain fell, pattering off sightless eyes. It soaked
to the bone and stole the heat from the flesh. The rain fell,
and Malone was no more.