By TOM SULLIVAN
"Christ," whispered Pugh, "It looks like someone slapped a set of treads onto a dumpster!"
Kemmerman snorted his agreement. "And check out Buck Rogers there! Sticking his big, ugly ol' head outta the hatch, and not even bothering to stick a helmet on it! Think he's got a 'Shoot Me' sign on his back, too?"
"Cut it," snapped the sergeant, "We've got work to do here. Sorenson, have you got a lock yet?"
"Yessir," he replied, his gaze remaining fixed on the Scorpion's display. "Ready when you are, sir."
Nodding, the sergeant tapped at his com unit. "Jessup? You ready?" He nodded again at the reply. "All right then, on my mark...NOW!!"
There was a sudden sharp crack, and the enemy officer’s head vanished, replaced by a rapidly dispersing red mist. This sound was followed a heartbeat later with a loud "Crump!" as the Scorpion rocket penetrated the side of the APC. The vehicle skewed sideways, smoke and flame billowing from the hole in its side, as the second rocket hit, this time impacting at the rear.
The APC exploded with a satisfying roar, scattering pieces of men and metal across the field.
"That," Pugh said with feeling, "was abso-fuckin-lutely beautiful. You know that? That's a goddamn piece of art right there, Billy! You should get down there and sign it, you know?"
Sorenson shrugged as he repositioned himself, targeting the second APC. "It's eighty percent inspiration, ten percent perspiration, and one hundred and ten percent detonation, my man."
The APC shuddered, and obligingly lost a tread, as the rocket hit it.
"It's a damned good thing that you can shoot, buddy," Pugh said, 'cause you sure as shit can't add." He shook his head, waving at the men spilling out of the crippled vehicle. "Now look at that! Bright red armor? What are they, color-blind? Or just stupid?"
"Neither," interrupted the sergeant, "they're arrogant and very well armored. Now, shut up and shoot."
"Yessir," Pugh muttered, shouldering his rifle, "shooting away, sir. Doesn't seem to be doing much good, sir."
"When I want your opinion, Pugh, I'll be sure to tell you what it is, understand? Just keep firing. And Sorenson, wait for my command, dammit!"
The armored men seemed largely indifferent to the rifle fire, only a few even bothering to return it.
Miller shook his head as he sprayed bullets down the hill. "Jesus, what the fuck are they firing? Howitzers? Those are the biggest goddamn rifles I've ever seen!"
Pugh snorted. "Yeah, but do think they can actually hit anything with 'em? Might as well just throw the damned things at us for all the good they're doing!" He yelped, jerking back as a crater was blasted into the ground a foot away from his head. "Yeah, yeah...fuck you too, Murphy!"
"You know," Pugh noted after a moment, "they really don't seem very happy, sir. In fact," he added, as he changed clips, "they seem downright pissed. Sir."
The sergant ignored him. "Jessup? There's a guy down there with a very big gun. Yeah, the one painted yellow. Eliminate him for me, would you?"
There was a flash, a bang, and one of the men at the bottom of thehill collapsed, a neat little hole visible in the side of his helmet. Pugh made an approving noise. "Very nice, Jessup! You and Sorenson, you're like the...the..Boticellis of the battlefield, you know? Fuckin' artistes, I tell ya!"
“‘Boticellis of the battlefield’, Pugh? What are you on, anyway?”
“It’s called culture, buddy. Give it a try sometime. You’ll like eating with a fork, I just know it!”
"Um, sir?" Miller said, abruptly, "Sir? They appear to be charging, sir. Up the hill, sir."
"Yeah," the sergant replied with satisfaction, "Yeah, they certainly are, aren't they? The big bastards are nothing if not predictable. Just keep firing, private. Williams, Cook? Be ready."
"My God," Pugh marveled, "the guy in front has a sword! A goddamn sword! What’s in his other pocket, a flint fucking spear?"
They did, he had to admit to himself, certainly look impressive. Each stood at least seven feel tall, and their brilliant red armor made them look even bigger. "Kind of a shame they're such morons," he muttered.
Two of the charging men fell, neither making it even halfway up the hill, but the remaining seven kept coming, firing, apparently at random,as they did.
"Now!" the sergant shouted. "Now, dammit!"
The man in the lead, the one waving the sword, was cut almost in half by the incoming plasma bolt. Those behind him stopped sort, caught in the crossfire as William's and Cook's squads opened fire. Sorenson fired the Scorpion, catching one man squarely in the center of his chest. The result was, while interesting, far from pretty.
The concentrated fire of fifteen men proved sufficient. Almost. Only one man made it to the top of the hill, his armor cracked and pitted with innumerable bullet holes. Moving with remarkable speed for such a large man, he surged forward, grabbing the sergant by the throat before the rest of the squad could react.
"Now," the man rasped, his voice distorted by his helmet, "you shall die, in the Emperor's...."
Looked down.Saw the smoke rising from the barrel of the pistol pressed firmly against his stomach.
And fell, gently, to the ground.
The sergant stepped back, rubbing gingerly at his throat. "He was a tough bastard, I'll give him that much," he said, hoarsely. He prodded at the corpse with his toe, dislodging the man's helmet with a sudden fierce kick.
"Jesus, what did they do?" asked Pugh, "Shave an ape?" The man's features were grotesquely exaggerated, almost to the point of caricature.
"That," said the sergant, "is what happens when you combine several centuries of extensive genetic and bionic engineering with being raised from birth to worship an immortal psychopath. Makes you understand the Promixa Covenant, doesn't it?" He sighed. "Stupid goddamned fanatics. They think they entire universe should play by their rules. Well, fuckthat. We're gonna show 'em how a war is supposed to be fought. Space Marines, my ass!" He kicked the corpse again, not gently.
"How do you like life at ground zero, asshole?"