-(This is a good line.)-
D’Erlanger looked up. Motara was surveying one of the berms that bounded the endless Falgar paddy-fields, posing dramatically, as if the dead epistler’s camera was still on him. It looked like every other berm they’d seen in the last fifty kay of retreat, a big, long, flat, pointless ridge of red earth standing between one poxy puddle of crops and the next. The column’s heavy transports and armour were parked along the one he was sitting on, huge and white and still. Small arms cracked in the middle distance.
He turned back to his lap, ignoring the old fool Q’orray. There were twenty-nine hammer rounds lying in the mud-stiff fabric of his tunic. There had been twenty-nine rounds there the first time he had counted them, and every time since. That answer did not please him. He started counting again.
Sarjane walked over, her visor up. Power was too scarce to use the eslinks when you didn’t have to. “Technicians reckon transport four’s a bust. We’re blowing it.”
“They took three hours to tell us this?”
Sarjane shrugged. “It would have been worth it if they’d managed to get the wheels spinning. As it is, your team gets to carry a nice heaping helping of fifth-cal. Reckon they can handle ten rounds apiece?”
“Yeah. Wish it was thirtieth-cal.” He indicated the pathetic clutch of munitions in his lap.
“Wish for some air support while you’re at it.”
He started thumbing the gleaming rounds back into his murderer’s magazine, and only then noticed his superior was drenched in fresh blood.
D’Erlanger raised an eyebrow. “Woman troubles?”
“Ain’t mine,” said Sarjane, not laughing. “Some stats were hiding in one of the shacks. One had a grenade. What the shit’s going on here?”
D’Erlanger nodded towards Motara, still striking a pose with his hand shading his head-eyes. “He likes the mud here.”
-(We can make a stand here.)-
Sarjane didn’t even bother. “Supply promised me a drop as soon as we get onto hard ground. Nobody’s slept in days and the stimulants are running out. So is the ammo, so is the fuel. We stop here, we die by inches.”
Motara’s grasp of spoken languages was shaky even when he was trying to understand. Now, he wasn’t even listening. -(Look. Auxiliaries along the parapet. Dismounted guns at intervals. It’s a ready-made line. Stop the transports in the field behind, hull down, use the fifth-cals for support. We could hold out for relief.)-
Sarjane looked at the berm for no more than five seconds. “If you want to make a stand here, you’d best know you’re going to die alone.”
Motara’s response was cut off by a rolling blast that made the rice stalks all shiver together. Pillars of smoke rose from what was left of transport four. The other vehicles were powering up, their huge fat wheels slithering in the red mud.
D’Erlanger slotted the magazine back into his murderer, shouldered it, and set off wearily towards them.
-(This is a good line.)-