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War in Heaven

Gavin G. Smith

Prologue

Dog 4 Eighteen Months Ago

There’s nothing good about being buried in a pile of bodies for seventy-two hours. Try to ignore the stench. Try to ignore what soggy, rotting flesh feels like against you. Try to ignore the feel of larvae hatching and crawling around, particularly when the maggots make their way under your inertial armour. Try to ignore the creeping cold. Try to ignore the cramp from staying in the same position for that long. Try to ignore the post-mortem movements of the dead guys you’re bunked up with. Three days of speeding and sleep deprivation, try to ignore the obscene urge to giggle.

‘Still, it could be worse – it could be raining.’ Try to ignore Mudge breaking comms silence to highlight the added misery of the driving rain. Rain that was causing us to sink into a soup of mud, flesh and body parts. He only did it because we were close to being compromised. Still fucking irritating. Unprofessional. A grin spread across my face at the thought of being unprofessional and I just managed to stifle the urge to burst out laughing.

Try not to ignore what you’re doing and where you are. That was made easier by Them. They were helping us remember by taking the bodies from the piles They had made and impaling them on spikes of metal cut from the warehouse walls of the overrun supply depot. They were arranging the impaled, mutilated dead in a spiral pattern.

An attractive arrangement, both industrious and difficult to ignore.

However, the more bodies They spiked, the closer They got to finding us, buried under the corpses. This was an issue. Though if I was honest I was more concerned with the tenacious maggot that seemed dead set on crawling up my arse, but then sleep deprivation was making me giddy and the maggot tickled.

It had been a big push as part of a planet-wide offensive. The depot had been twenty-five miles behind our lines. The trenches had buckled and They had surged through and kept going. We were struggling to retreat fast enough.

The depot had been a major one. Over two thousand people had worked here. It had cargo mechs, road and rail links and facilities for heavy cargo shuttles. It had also contained all the food and ammunition for that part of what had been the front. They had walked through it.

Then some bright spark in Command, who I can only assume has no knowledge of special forces and what they are for, tasked us to recce the depot. Before we got there I could have told him that it was overrun with Them. Hell, Command could probably have got a shot of it from orbit if they had tried hard enough.

A hairy gunship ride. A night insertion, in the short night of a planet in a binary system, and then a hard tab to set up an Observation Post. The OP set-up had not gone well, the area was too heavily compromised. Hence the buried in bodies and hiding rather than any form of useful recce. It was just a matter of who was going to be compromised first. I was pretty sure it was going to be me. I felt that lucky.

It wasn’t. It was Gregor.

Shaz, our quiet Sikh signalman from Leicester, brought the tac net up. Immediately windows showing the view from each of the other seven members of the Wild Boys appeared in the Internal Visual Display of my cybernetic eyes. Gregor’s guncam was kind of interesting. It seemed to be pointing down at the mud and corpses as if it was being held off the ground and shaken.

There was an explanation from Mudge’s feed. The odd-looking journalist’s camera eyes showed Gregor being held up by his neck. The Berserk holding him was using a pincer-like appendage on its weapon gauntlet to try to crack open the hard armour breastplate that Gregor was wearing. Attempting to get at the meat. It was like watching someone trying to open a tin can, an angry, struggling tin can.

I don’t know why it surprised me. I had been expecting it. I was still startled when the Berserk pulled away the corpses covering me. Did I hesitate? It felt like it, but time moves differently when your reflexes are boosted as high as mine. Still, it felt like I looked at the Berserk’s off-kilter appearance for a long time. They were mostly humanoid, I guess, a kind of chitinous armour over a smooth black material that looked like some kind of solid liquid. They had heads but no visible features.

It didn’t even have the common courtesy to look startled at finding a heavily armed SAS trooper under the pile of corpses, but then we were already compromised, and if one knows they all know.

I was aware of Mudge firing his converted AK-47 at the Berserk holding Gregor off the ground. The smartlink putting the cross hairs, in theory, where the bullets were going to hit.

‘Watch your fire,’ Gregor sub-vocalised across the tac net. He sounded calmer than I would have with a Berserk trying to peel me and an overexcited junkie journalist firing in my general vicinity. Still, I had my own problems.

I raised the Heckler amp; Koch Squad Automatic Weapon and pointed it at the Berserk and then made a mistake. I fired the underslung grenade launcher at the alien. The chambered grenade was a thirty-millimetre High Explosive Armour Piercing grenade. At point-blank range, the velocity and the armour-piercing tip of the grenade meant that it punched straight through the Berserk, leaving a hole I could see grey sky through.

I felt that if the Berserk had any sense of humour it could at least have done a double take at the sizeable hole in its chest, but it just kept reaching for me. I pulled the trigger on the weapon again, but the grenade launcher’s unreliable semi-automatic feed system jammed. The Berserk’s long talon-like fingers wrapped around my face, its clawed nails trying to break through my implanted subcutaneous armour. I worked the pump on the grenade launcher, ejecting the jammed round and chambering another.

I started screaming. The Berserk’s nails had penetrated the armour and blood was pissing down my face. It hurt. That was reassuring. It’s nice to still have nerve endings, I guess.

I pulled the trigger again. A flechette grenade. A better choice. In a hail of hundreds of razor-sharp, needle- like penetrators, the Berserk ceased to exist. That was all right – there were a lot more.

I moved into a kneeling firing position. Almost absent-mindedly I started firing. It was a target-rich environment. Or, as we preferred to say, we were surrounded, by fucking thousands of Them.

Squeeze the trigger until that Berserk falls over. Move the weapon, fire some more. Repeat until overrun and you’re sitting on your very own rusty metal spike.

While my hands and smartlink were occupied I tried to get an understanding of the situation. Frankly, it was shit. The rest of the patrol were rising from their piles of bodies covered in viscera and looking like monsters out of some pre-Final Human Conflict horror viz .

Gregor was gamely and repeatedly stabbing the Berserk who had him in the head with his triangular-bladed sword bayonet. Black liquid was spurting out and covering Gregor’s arm with each violent thrust. The Berserk dropped him. Gregor landed on his feet and kicked the Berserk, knocking it back slightly. This gave him just enough room to bring his railgun to bear on its gyroscopic harness. He triggered a short burst at point-blank range into the Berserk. Destroying it. Turning it into a puddle of black liquid junk of whatever passed for DNA with Them.

‘We’re fucked!’ Mudge shouted helpfully. ‘Again!’ He was laughing. I found myself envious of his drugs. Fire, change target, fire again. I was taking multiple hits from black light beams and shards, but the integrity of my armour seemed to be holding.

‘Nobody dies until we’re out of ammo!’ I shouted. Brilliant leadership, I thought.

I could hear Shaz’s voice over the tac net. He’d recorded a request for fire support and evac and put it on repeat, as he was busy. He was slowly backing towards me, firing short burst after short burst from his laser carbine. Each hit, and he couldn’t miss here, turned Berserk flesh into black superheated steam. His voice was like a mantra but it wasn’t very calming. It was an old song we’d sung time and time again. Our request was so futile that Command weren’t even granting it the dignity of a reply. They were just ignoring it.

Mudge’s tactical assessment seemed right on the money. Not bad for someone who was ostensibly non- military. Fucked we were. Most of Their forces were still trying to batter the fuck out of our forces, who couldn’t

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