The room was dark, but not so dark that it was pitch-black.
The wide steel door remained shut, ugly burn marks indicating the beginning of the wall.
The smell of sweat and fear permeated the cramped space, compounded by the lack of functioning ventilation.
People made slight movements, making quiet scuffing sounds, and whispered about each other to kill the silence.
Despite the filters in my helmet, the air tasted of unwashed humans, of their fear and despair, the tang of salt omnipresent.
The gun felt heavy, heavier than it ever had before, and the fingers showing through tattered gloves felt cold steel, the sensation somehow welcome.
The pound of a lost ring finger, dulled by morphine.
Sarge glanced at his second, and motioned for her to come over. The young gal waddled over in an awkward crouch-walk, untempered by experience. I refocused on the door, knowing what lay beyond it. A horror beyond imagining.
The fourth member of our team sat curled up in a ball, legs clutched against his chest, the stump of where his right leg ended halfway down the shin still dripping blood, despite the bandages. The polarized glass that had once been his visor had been shattered, and wild brown eyes looked at his remaining foot with an insane intensity. His rifle lay next to him, ignored.
And all of a sudden, his shivering stopped.
His head snapped up to look at sarge.
“Why us, sir?”
His voice was barely a whisper, inaudible in a normal situation, but carried like a sonic boom in the tight space of the bunker.
Sarge didn’t move. His second looked to the soldier, her eyes unseen but conveying a truly heartfelt sympathy. The second was barely a year older than the boy who had spoken. We had just celebrated the second’s 17th birthday.
Several of the people glanced at the young soldier, before looking expectantly back at sarge. The second looked back at sarge when the latter tapped her knee. Giving one last glance at the young soldier, the second directed her attention back to sarge.
The young soldier kept his crazed stare on the back of the second. After an uncomfortably long moment, he would not be denied.
“Why must they hunt us so, sir?”
The second looked back at the younger man, but just as she did so, sarge grabbed her shoulder and must have squeezed, drawing attention back to him. I looked back at the young man, who was now sitting over a sizable blood puddle. He was clearly delirious.
His voice was quieter now, the hint of tears edging their way into those two words. Raw emotion had seized this child.
The second looked back at him, and this time would not be swayed by sarge’s attempt to draw her attention. Sarge visibly sighed, his chest rising and falling in a dramatic fashion. After another uncomfortably long moment, the sarge turned around.
He had long since dispensed of his helmet, showing his leathery face to everyone present. He had a scar down from his left temple to the corner of his mouth, one that looked relatively new. His buzz cut exposed his career militarism, but soft grey eyes subtly suggested a more caring soul buried under layers of shields. He stared at the young man, before finally speaking.
“They hate us.”
His voice was like walking on gravel, with boots made of gravel. Deep tones resonated throughout the space, warming the area as if a charismatic politician had just made the best promise in the world.
“Why. . . us?”
The boy must have been suffering from shock, or something, as his speech slowed and his wild eyes having some of the fire drain from them.
Sarge gave a slight smile, the smallest upturn of the lip, to the man. I had never before seen him smile.
“They hate who we are and what we represent. We’re a threat to them. All of us, whatever they may think of some.”
He glanced at me, drawing an obvious reference to my caste.
The boy practically mouthed his last word, his voice all but lost as the last of his strength left his mortal shell. His eyes remained locked open, and staring at some point past Sarge’s left shoulder, but the intensity that had laid behind them was all gone.
One of the people in the back of the room approached him, their features obscured by the darkness that shrouded the room. His silhouette reached and touched two fingers to the lad’s neck, before withdrawing and turning to the now three of us.
“He’s. . .”
The man gulped, clearly not at ease with the obvious.
The huddled people looked to each other. Mothers hugged their babies close to them, fathers drew their sons in close, and husbands touched their wives for what would most likely be the last time. It was remarkable that not a single child cried. Not a single baby shrieked. The space was dead silent, save for the undercurrent of shuffling cloth.
I looked over at sarge. He had turned back to his second, who had seemed to forget about the young boy already. But I turned back to him, and stared into his eyes, into the potential lost and legacy shattered. I turned around just in time.
“Who are they?!”
“They’re the enemy!”
“And what do they deserve?!”
“And what shall we give them?!”
“What they deserve!”
Sarge sure knew how to make an inspiring speech. To make even the most mundane task seem like an event. Of course, every one of these operations was an honour.
I turned to my friend, a young lad who had just been ‘conscripted’. He was shaking, his nerves clearly shot, but by what, I couldn’t fathom. Dispensing justice shouldn’t be a tense occasion, it should be a joyous affair! I elbowed him, catching him unawares and causing him to jump.
“Hey, why the long face?”
He looked at me, the bike helmet he was wearing only mostly turning with him. The straps dangled uselessly by the side, the buckle long gone. He had the faintest bit of stubble across his upper lip and chin, making him look older than he was.
“I. . . I. . .”
He stammered on for a good ten seconds before I cut him off.
“Come on, lighten up, we’re about to make the world a better place, one planet at a time. Something to be happy about, yeah?”
He nodded hastily, like someone under threat. I laughed in his face, creating a horrified stare from him. I slapped him on the back, before walking off to find the sarge.
The pigs had welded a massive steel door shut, and our engineers were working on blasting it open. Not a necessary step, but one which would illicit fear and panic when we made our grandiose entrance. There were at least twenty of us, assigned to going about and cleaning out any last infestations of surviving bourgeoisie and their collaborators, like stamping out cockroaches after eliminating a hive. My friend was lucky we picked him up when we did. If we hadn’t found him before Cdr. Black gave the extermination order, he’d have been just another collaborator.
Sarge was directing the engineers in their duties, after consulting with his council, of course. I approached him, saluting him by standing with my feet firmly together, a bother in the rubbled streets, and holding my right arm out at a forty-five degree angle. He returned the gesture, and nodded following that.
“Excuse me, sir, but how far along are the engineers?”
One of the council members swooped in and grabbed me by the arm, leading me away. The sarge didn’t so much as look up. The soldier led me away, explaining to me exactly what the engineers were doing in some techno-babble I didn’t quite understand, nor was I convinced he quite understood it either.
“In short, we should be blowing the door within the week.”
He said, proudly. A week sounded reasonable. I thanked the man.
“Hey, hey! We got a runner!”
I turned at the sound of the shout, given by one of my older squad members. He was pointing at someone who was running down the road towards the bombed-out shell of a building some fifty metres away. Acting on instinct, I crouched down and let loose a withering burst of fire into the traitor. The rods hit him and had instant effect; the runner pitched forward, blood exploding from his back and from the front of his face as a rod pierced his cranium, and a suspiciously familiar bike helmet. I jogged up to the runt, and turned his convulsing corpse over. It was the young boy we had just picked up.
Said the counselor, who had followed me.
“Well, he didn’t have it in him.”
I replied. Walking away from the grisly scene, I caught the familiar smell of superheated concrete. I looked around and noticed some of the lads handling a flamethrower they had pried off the corpse of a power-armoured pig, using it to scorch the rubble around them. Curious, I walked to join them, reveling in the further destruction of all the enemy had built.
“Wanna try it? We’ve all had a turn?”
One of the guys asked me, euphoria built up in his vibrant green eyes. I nodded, and they handed me the unwieldy contraption, holding on to the massive fuel tank it was attached to. I pointed to a switch towards the barrel of the gun, and they nodded enthusiastically. Flicking it, I heard the whooshing gas spray from the nozzle of the flamethrower. Finding it, I pushed the big red button on the side.
Fire erupted across the pale grey ruin, painting the rock with black scorch marks and creating a red wave in the air. I let go of the button and the flames stopped, as did the unbelievably hot backwash produced by the flames. My skin felt as if it was almost burnt.
It was at that point that I heard a voice shout out.
So they had finished ahead of schedule! That was good news indeed. I yanked the flamethrower and the other guys followed with the fuel tank, giddy and ready to see the flames in proper action. We took cover behind the shell of a tank, long busted, and waited for the ear-shattering explosion. As I peeked over the tank, I looked at the door just in time.
It seemed that the door just melted into nothing. Liquid steel had quickly flowed across the floor, but thankfully away from the people. Smoke from what must have been an explosion shrouded my vision. I aimed into it, not wanting to take any shots I didn’t know I could make. I only had six left.
After a few moments, the first ones came in.
They ran in, guns blazing, sweeping the room with automatic fire, and butchering the first row of people behind us. Sarge, second and I gunned them down with disciplined fire, taking only one shot each from us. Screams from those startled mixed with those who were dying and those who had discovered the death of a loved one. I didn’t dare look back at those people.
Another wave came in, kamikazee-ing and firing wildly. They, by freak chance, shot the sarge full of lead, leaving holes through his once-white coat and cold eyes. Again, we gunned down the wave with precision fire, and the terrified cries behind us intensified.
It was the third wave that held true terror.
They came at us again, flailing wildly and being shot down, but among them was the scariest horror of my life. A man lugged a flamethrower torn off the corpse of some poor Cataphract, while a posse of giggling pyromaniacs carried the fuel tank. The man took one look at the second and engulfed him in a conflagration, adding the stink of burning meat to the smells of battle.
He turned his eye on me, as I fired my last shot at one of his lackeys. He pushed a button, and the world became pain. Fire engulfed me, burning off my coat, my armour, and parts of my skin. He didn’t quite finish me, though, as he turned his wrath to the cowering people in the back. Through my remaining eye I thought I caught a smile cross his face, a wide, demented thing.
Through the pain, I woke the last remaining neurons in my brain, the last nerves in my arm, and reached for the pistol in my boot. I had fallen in a contorted fashion, and thus my hand was close. Never-before imaged pain criss-crossed my body as spent muscles were called upon to perform their duty one last time. My fingers enclosed about the handle as the arsonist pushed a button on the flamethrower. The room was showered in light, even as people’s lives ended in darkness.
I aimed the pistol at the fuel tank and fired.
At first nothing happened. But I smelled fuel on the wind. Tasted gasoline. Heard the hiss of doom.
The canister exploded, a fireball engulfing everything within a twenty-metre radius.
In the last second before my death, I wondered:
“What had we done?”
The door melted in a shower of silver liquid. Sarge sent in a group of his most elite shock troops, men I served with for years. Seconds later, he sent in the next group. And then, the next.
I stood, pulling the lads with me. They stumbled to their feet in a hurry.
I marched forward, joining my brothers in righteous combat. We passed through the smokescreen produced by the engineers, and into the dank hidey-hole of the bourgeoisie. The dark space held some three hundred pigs, and two soldiers who dared to oppose us.
I released the full might of our cause on the first, he being part of the oppressing class. Fire poured from my weapon and engulfed the swine in heat and death, burning away his crimes. I felt the weapon sag as I ended the pathetic creature’s existence, and briefly glanced to my crew, seeing one now dead on the ground. Spying the other soldier, I briefly mourned the green band on his helmet and tan of his coat: he was one of us, forced to fight us by his masters.
But I had to do what I could to free him. So I pointed the flamethrower and let loose justice, burning him as I had the other. After ensuring his death, I turned to the horde of undesirables, and smiled as I imagined the great service I was doing to humanity. It was my privilege to rid the race of those who are unwilling to accept progress.
I unleashed the flames, feeling the backwash on my face not as pain, but as bliss, knowing that soon, another den of cockroaches would be crushed. It was at that point I felt a slight shudder in the flamethrower.
A fireball erupted from behind me, cleansing the surrounding area of life. I felt pride. Pride I had done humanity a service, and that my sacrifice would prevent that of so many of my brothers.
“Sir, we’ve detected an explosion about two klicks from the city centre.”
“Can you detect any survivors?”
“No, sir. It appears that everyone that may have been there was killed.”
The commander stood from leaning on the rail.