We fell from the night like vengeful gods and swarmed across their world like maggots on a corpse. When they started killing us we fell back to the high ground, dug in and fought like human beings.
Battlefield weapons vary across the galaxy but the principles are the same. From sharpened stick to Haxzer rods, from brass candlestick to Charm grenade, the aim is to poke holes in the enemy corpus until it stops working.
We found the aliens gave as good as they got.
Our 2ic, Giminez, had been in charge since Brigadier Caldicott caught the edge of a Haxzer scintillation. The aliens had captured several of our weapons and had quickly learned how to use them.
We built a lean-to for Caldicott up among the things that looked like pine trees, where the gorge narrowed and turned. Ever since we carried him there the ‘trees’ had been moving away from the hut at about a metre a day. Some headed upstream, some down, each left a deep furrow in the ground.
The lean-to gave our final redoubt a focus. During the day the darkness inside gave Caldicott some respite from his photosensitive wounds, at night we fell back in squads to rest and talk.
Caldicott refused to be evacuated by the Clever-boat. Sometimes he was delirious, most of the time he lay on his back, pale and sweating in pain from his metastasing injuries.
Giminez and I crawled into the lean-to. There was just enough room to crouch beside Caldicott’s bed. The air in the gloomy interior tasted sour and sharp, both metallic and organic. Caldicott lay naked on a bed of leaf litter, covered by the lining torn from a combat suit. His skin glistened green and coppery, a wet sheet draped over the bones of his ribs and pelvis. His right shoulder and upper arm formed a livid canker, his left hand fused to his hip in a raw-mince mass of flesh and white bone.
I told him about the cease-fire.
Caldicott opened his hollow eyes. ‘What do they want?’
‘At the moment, sir, nothing,’ Giminez said.
‘Time to regroup?’ I said.
Caldicott shook his head, ‘They’ve got all the time in the world.’
Giminez traced circles in the dirt with her finger. She looked up. ‘Final push.’
Caldicott tried to say something and he started coughing again, struggling for breath. We helped him sit up, he tried to push us away, his free hand pale and thin as a bird’s claw. ‘Best not to touch… No, don’t help… That’s an order, soldier.’
We ignored him and avoided touching the weeping edges of his slowly spreading wounds.
I handed Caldicott his water flask. His eyes sparked with sudden enthusiasm. All at once he was back, his smile wide bright and charismatic. ‘You know what I’d do?’
‘I’d go home.’ Exhausted by the brief rally, he fell back onto the bed, ‘It’s all I want to do. All I ever wanted.’
‘Sounds good to me, sir.’ I looked at Giminez, she shook her head.
‘A quiet place, next to water. With a veranda. Somewhere to watch the sun go down.’ Caldicott tried to sing, a weak enervated croak: ‘Come on boys, take me back…’ He coughed, spasmed, fell half off the bed.
‘Hell with it.’ Giminez scowled, she didn't want to touch him again. She backed out of the lean-to. ‘Come on, Greensmith. He’s passed out. There’s nothing we can do.’