Chapter 4

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Benson's flushed, ruddy face broke out in a jowly, repugnant smile. He called out, "Kishchan!"

Atriya hated being called by his first name. He hated it so much that he habitually told people it was Christian instead of Kishchan, Christian being the older, root form of it. Benson had always called him Kishchan.

He knew that Benson somehow understood that it pissed him off, and made a deliberate effort to call him by it. Benson was possessor of that inexplicably powerful magic that all bullies had. The one that allowed them to unerringly hone in on what was irritating and disrespectful and-without being blatant or overt about it-patiently prod away until there arose a slow burning, soul rattling fury.

As Atriya made his way toward his old boss the skin around his eyes stretched with the effort of holding a fake grin. It was physically uncomfortable.

Three heads that had previously been directed towards Benson turned to face Atriya, curious. Looked like Benson's new crop of goons. The man had always been able to utilize the charisma that occasionally flared brightly in petty tyrants. He was perpetually surrounded by an entourage of thuggish fucking numbskulls.

Benson gestured grandly with a glass of something alcoholic. "I was just talking about you man. The good old days. You were green as hell and I was assigned to mentor your clueless ass. You remember that shit? Clearing city and wasting Dissidents like you read about."

Benson's lackeys leaned closer, interest growing. Atriya saw that they all had drinks in their hands. Their skin was flushed but their bodies-and more importantly their eyes-looked steady. Coiled and mean. Not in the mood for this. The pained quality of Atriya's false smile went up a notch. Boozy war stories and chest thumping was not his thing. He decided it was time to make a quick exit.

"Well, Sergeant, it was great seeing you, but I got someplace-" Atriya shifted his body, taking a purposeful step back towards the street, but one of Benson's hands rudely jammed itself into his chest. It was clutching a bottle.

"What the fuck, Kishchan? Don't be a pussy. Stay and chat a bit. Here's a drink." Benson's smile gleamed huge and unattractive. His face tilted in, and Atriya's eyes were hit by the unappetizing sight of bloated pimples; his nose assaulted by breath that was stained with dip and drink. He glued his smile in place so it didn't become a snarl. His fingers felt wooden as they grasped the bottle.

"Thanks Sergeant." In the careful and measured tone he might use to guide somebody frozen on a mine through a set of avoidance measures so as to avoid getting blown to shit.

"I was just telling the boys about when we were drop-shipped to 'Scape 31. Think it was five years back." Benson turned to face his flunkies. "Clearing city on that op was painful. Dissidents dug in like fucking ticks. Me and Kishchan here-" He slapped a smelly hand on Atriya's shoulder. Atriya saw what he thought was old snot on the index finger. "-were entering probably what was our fiftieth fucking room that day. We were both down to pistols. My rifle had taken a hit in the receiver. Useless. Some Dissident sniper. Guy had taken out half our squad and burnt our heavier guns with well-placed rounds. Damn good shot. Had some kind of ranged energy weapon-you guys know how accurate those are on account of them having so little recoil. We had no working suppressive guns and our rifle ammo was starting to run low." Dramatic pause. Benson let the peril build up in his audience's imagination.

"Anyways, our remaining guys were providing cover fire for another squad that was in trouble and trying to shift to a better position. Suddenly we hear over the net that there's an officer pinned down in a building and to send our guys in, but seeing as how we're close to being completely fucked over ourselves, all we can spare is me and Kishchan-we need our leftover guys to cover our approach. Think we were down to eight from sixteen." Benson paused, taking a swig. His audience of three rookies huddled closer, eagerly drinking in the ambience of guts and glory.

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