Blasting out the words this week. Approaching 40k all in. Here's another excerpt to keep those appetites whetted--as usual presented pre-edit, pre-proofread:
They all looked up, human and slug alike, as something boomed in the air above them. The ground trembled, and a few rocks loosened from the tops of the cliffs either side.
‘What the hell was that?’ Connor asked.
There was another boom, and another. The ground shook with greater urgency. More rocks slammed into the canal, shattering on impact.
‘That… sounds like incoming to me,’ Weaver said.
It was. The canal blossomed with flame. The slugs turned tail and fled. The jeep rocked as shells detonated throughout the chasm.
‘Jesus Christ, Connor, get us the fuck out of here!’ Velterson roared over the din.
Connor slammed his foot on the accelerator and put the jeep into a hard turn. Screeches pierced the air behind them where all four lashca were killed by a single shell. The noise was deafening, like a thunderstorm had suddenly erupted around them at ground level. Rocks pelted them like bullets. One clattered off Velterson’s helmet with such force it made his eyes water.
‘Get on the net!’ Velterson roared to Sal, and turned to see Weaver had already snatched the field phone free from the unit and was desperately trying to call a halt to the barrage.
‘Sir!’ Connor shouted. Velterson turned. Connor was pointing ahead to a kink in the canal. Just beyond, half a mile away, was one of 1st Platoon’s Guardians. They had moved up a few miles, but then had stopped short.
Velterson keyed in his short-range comlink. ‘Martin it’s Velterson,’ he shouted over the roar of exploding shells. ‘Call off the artillery! Do you hear me? Call it—’
‘—off, the armour, all of it, I need to see his chest.’
Velterson blinked. The sky. The orange Venusian sky. And slabs of black rock. The smell of fuel and blood and cordite. Wind in his hair. His helmet had been removed. In fact, all of his armour was in the process of being removed.
‘Captain Velterson? Can you hear me?’
‘Yes,’ he mumbled.
‘Are you hurt?’
‘He must have internal injuries,’ Linton said to someone outside of Velterson’s field of vision. ‘No-one could survive that unscathed.’
‘I can’t see anything,’ someone said. ‘Not a scratch.’
‘Look at his fucking armour!’ Linton snapped.
Velterson looked over. His ceramic armour was in tatters. It looked like it had been mauled by an enormous beast. Parts of it were actually smoking.
He looked back up. Linton was leaning over him again, this time with a torch. He shone it into Velterson’s eyes.
‘Follow my finger,’ he said, holding up an index finger and moving it from side to side. Velterson obliged him. ‘Can you hear this?’ Linton clicked his fingers next to Velterson’s left ear.
Velterson shook his head.
‘Is your right ear ringing?’
‘Like a bitch.’
‘OK,’ Linton said. ‘I’m going to press different parts of your body.’
‘Buy me a drink first,’ Velterson said, smirking.
‘I’ll give you a nice big shot of morphine real soon,’ Linton replied with a grin. ‘I just need to know what hurts.’
‘Motherfucker,’ Velterson shouted.
‘Possible rib fracture,’ Linton said to his invisible associate. More feeling around. Linton kneaded his torso in the disagreeably inexpert manner of a man who had had no more than a week’s medical training. Most of it hurt, but it was a dull ache, like someone had used his abdomen as a punching back a few days ago.
‘Just had the wind knocked out of me,’ Velterson wheezed.
‘Yeah, that and seven shades of shit,’ Linton replied.
Velterson laughed, then abruptly stopped as pain lanced through his ribs.
‘Wanna see something?’ Linton said. He reached over to Velterson’s side and picked up his ceramic cuirass. The right side of the armour looked like someone had fired a cannonball at it.
‘What about the others?’
Linton shook his head. ‘Sal and Connor are dead. Weaver is—’
‘Fine,’ Weaver said, appearing over him. Apart from a nosebleed, Weaver did indeed look fine. ‘Sorry about your men.’
‘What the hell happened?’ Velterson asked.
Weaver held out a hand. Velterson took it and allowed himself to be hauled up. The pain in his chest brought tears to his eyes. He looked down. His fatigues had been cut away down the middle and the rags floated about his torso, tugged by the breeze. There was a dinner plate-sized bruise under his right armpit.
He turned around. Camouflage slickers had been laid over the bodies Sal and Connor. Beyond them lay the wreckage of the jeep; beyond that lay a fresh moonscape of craters where some trigger-happy gunners had doused the old canal with high explosive.
He turned back to Linton and the man who had been assisting him—Trooper Quinlan, as it turned out. Beyond, he could see Lieutenant Martin on his field phone, sitting on the open debarkation ramp of his Guardian. The man sagged, as if the burden of the conversation was a physical weight pressing him down.
‘What the hell happened?’ Velterson repeated.