An extract from ‘No Known Grave’ by Peter Kendell
from the illustrated short story anthology
The Last Post
‘Okay, guys, gather round.’ Corporal Summerscale sat in a corner of the Clarke’s refectory and waited while the men and women of her section took their places at table. They put down their chow trays and looked at her. Rudi, Harpal, and Francoise, Yuri, Freda and Ian. Section Three of Second Platoon, C Company.
‘What are you?’ Summerscale asked her crew.
‘Not fit to suck your toes, Guvnor.’
Smiles all round. They were the best, and they knew it.
‘I’ve got news for you. I’ve just been briefed by the boss. We’re going in at oh-four-twenty tomorrow. It’s an extraction job. Here are the details. Oh, and you can eat if you want.’
An extraction job. That meant taking the Thieves out. This would be a short and brutal engagement, with a potentially high attrition rate. They would debouch from the Clarke and hide behind Deimos until the moon passed over the Thieves’ Martian base. Then guided freefall to one hundred metres, followed by full retro. A ground rush from all four quarters. Objective: mine the installation’s periphery, blow its defences and penetrate the inner compound. Hunt down and kill. Take no captives and leave no survivors. When the job was done, await pickup by one of the Clarke’s landers.
‘Why don’t we just nuke them from orbit?’ asked Private Freda Whitby. ‘Cut the risk, cut the casualties. No need for the quick in-out.’
‘Blast the fuckers all to hell,’ added Yuri Medvedev.
‘You’ve been watching the wrong films again. You know damn well that no robotised or ballistic attack has ever succeeded against the Thieves. They can predict physical trajectories and machine decisions. They can’t predict human actions. Their brains don’t work the way ours do. They don’t grok us. Comprende, amiga?’
‘Girl has to ask. Girl doesn’t ask, girl doesn’t get.’
‘Eat your steak, kitten. Drink your milk. Now listen, team. I want you cannoned-up, armoured and ready to drop by oh-four-hundred tomorrow. In twenty minutes’ time I will be at the midships bar on B deck where I will buy each of you an alcoholic beverage of his or her choice. That, my children, will be your one and only drink of the evening. I don’t want any of you nursing a hangover tomorrow. It’s going to be bad enough changing your nappies when we hit go.’
Copyright © 2012 Peter Kendell
Purchase the Kindle ebook edition of The Last Post: