Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Have you ever tried to outrun God? An idle question, but valid. Can any sinner avoid their fate? Pondering such considerations passes the time.
Hunkered down in a grassy nook amidst the densely planted fields that surround Karnourie, a sprawling town that is, to be honest, a defensive nightmare. Villas and farmsteads scattered all over the place, no fortifications, no hills, barely a bump in the earth for miles around. Nothing but several species of exotic grass amidst the stands of hybrid maize that’s the primary crop hereabouts.
My talkbox crackles.
“Sleepest thou, trooper?”
“Nay, Leftenant. Merely resting my armour.”
There’s a laugh.
“Likewise.” He sighs. “These fields. Watching the wind bend the grasses is like watching waves cross an ocean. The synchronicity of God’s works is wonderful.”
I’ve never seen an ocean. Born in Titheport and recruited right off the streets, this galaxy is ever a source of marvels to a simple man like me.
The talkbox screams: one of ours warning us as they die.
The Leftenant may well ask. I feel a tremble and stand to confirm what I dread.
A division of Nadbar Monotracks burst from the concealing foliage, each rolling on a single jointed tread wider than two men. Their favourite tactic is to slot together and roll over anything in their path, the momentum of a two-hundred-metre-wide wall of treads crushing all before them. The howitzers they mount in their blocky turrets ensure very little remains to slow their advance.
I pause to launch a warning flare, then obey the same instruction.
Curse that Sellean Grass! It grows to six metres in height and is renowned for its sound-deadening qualities. Ideal when you want your armoured assault to go unnoticed until the ground shakes.
It’s a warm day to be sprinting to save one’s soul in fifty kilos of armour. Funny how the sustained exertion gives the mind a chance to wander. I recall my tactics tutor one day, warm like this, digressing into the amusing considerations that remain unanswered due to there being nobody stupid enough to try them.
“Lochstein postulated that a wall of monotracks had channels a man might pass through unharmed. One could argue that him dying when facing that very thing proved him wrong. I disagree, but am minded to pray I never have a chance to test it.”
I laughed, then. Not now.
The gap below the side armour, between the tracks. I chance a look back. What gains on us are not rigged for city storming – they have not the ground-brushing kilts to prevent close flank attack.
“I expect to see thee at the Pearly Gates, trooper.”
“Lochstein’s Gambit, Leftenant!”
“God’s teeth! It’s worth a try.”
I turn, pick a gap, and crouch. As the roaring wall looms over me, I utter the family prayer my mother left me and throw myself down on my sword arm, striving to keep myself taller than wide.
Dust chokes me, noise drowns me, and shrieking steel claws at my armour. I am about ready to meet my Maker when the storm passes. I drop onto my back, turning my head to see the mail across my shoulder where the shield pauldron has been torn completely away.
The Leftenant’s voice replies, sounding as tremulous as mine.
“Indeed. Dear Lord, pass our thanks to Emmanuel Lochstein. Beest thou hale, trooper?”
“Aye. My plate be breached, but my mail untouched.”
“Then rise, trooper. The Lord did not guide thee that we be idle for it. We have sinners to send His way.”
That we do.