Chapter Eight: A Dark Alley

Mickael Heller wiped a sleeve across his face to clear the sweat and blood dripping from his brow. He was going to have a terrible headache later. His armoured boots plinked across the floor as he made his way toward the door in the side wall of the cafeteria, followed by two of the men from his squad. He touched the vox bead on his collar.

"Jans, take whoever can still move and book it to the building on your left."

"Yes sir." came the reply, buzzing through the static.

He continued toward the door and kicked out as he approached, in to much a hurry to bother with the lock. The door swung open with a satisfying crash and he dropped out into the dusty alley. There was another door in the side of the opposite building. They had likely been conjoined at some point, and then separated for some unfathomable reason, leaving the doors suspended in the brick a few feet above ground as the only reminder of how things used to be. This now presented a problem. The door was too high to kick down, and there was no device on the exterior to open it from this side. Heller searched for a few moments for another way in before touching the vox bead again.

"Raquad? Hall? Someone? We're stuck in the alley on the right side of the building you're in. Somebody get this damned door open!"

"... .eller?... I... Raquad, This pl... ... a maze. Theres box... ... ... . the place. We're... ... ... . on it." Static filled the vox line, cutting off the young trooper before he could continue. Heller was left standing in the dust, the sound of anti air and small arms fire filling the air with a distant rumble. He paced back and forth for a moment, unsure of what to do. The last ten minutes or so had been hectic, non stop. Now he was standing in a dusty alleyway, separated from his men and the rest of the fighting by an inconvienently placed door. He closed his eyes and sighed in frustration, perhaps he should just take the moment of peace in stride. When was the last time he had been able to sit and relax in some back alley? Surely not since he'd shipped out as a guardsmen... One of the men still with him, trooper Niko, slumped against a wall and laughed, "Anyone got a smoke?"

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Mickael slumped against the crumbling brick wall and lit the end of his lho stick with a small lighter. He puffed the noxious smoke into the cold air.

"Light mine?"

Heller reached out to light the rolled paper sticking from the lips of his companion, a young girl named Marie. The motion brought him numbingly close to her lips... Sel knew he had become addicted to the things, and knew who he smoked them with, but had thankfully refrained from telling his mother. Strictly speaking, it was illegal, but as long as nobody important caught them then they could get away with it for another year, at which point no one would care. He let out another puff of smoke, letting the mild narcotic clear his head and calm his nerves, as Marie pulled in closer. It was cold this time of year, frosting all the buildings in the hive with a thin lair of acidic snow (work gangs removed the potentially damaging substance regularly now), and forcing the cities occupants to bundle themselves in thick coats. That is, if you could afford a thick coat. Mickael and Selena had been given some old, worn winter jackets that had belonged to their parents. As good as things were on Brimlock, at least compared to most of the Imperium, new clothing was still a luxury. He put an arm around his girl, as much for warmth as any other reason. Normally, huddled together alone in a dark corner, they would be kissing passionately, but lho sticks had the unfortunate side effect of bitter taste and smell. He shrugged inwardly, you couldn't have everything. She smiled up at him, her bright red hair falling from his shoulder, then laughed.

"What'd you tell your mum last night?"

Mickael took the 'stick from his mouth and grinned, "Worked a late shift. Never enough bullets of course... Sel knows though." His younger sister had an irritating talent for always knowing exactly what he was up to, "She doesn't approve of you. And mom says I'm just like my dad was."

"Mm and how's that?"

"A beslubbering idiot." That elicited another laugh; the narcotics letting the tedium of daily life slip away. His mother had said those exact words a few nights ago, when he had come home long after his shift was done, lip stick smeared on the collar of his working trousers. "I cant use that excuse forever though. She'll start to wonder where the extra pay goes."

"You'll figure something out." She leaned up and kissed his cheek. He smiled in appreciation. "Come one, let's go score a drink." She stood and began to wander off, giving him a mischievous look that said -follow-. He smiled, stubbing out the remainder of his lho stick in the snow, wondering what he'd done to be so lucky.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .

Mickael pulled out of the brief reminisce about his young adult (juvenile, his mother always said) life, trying to figure out how the hell he'd turned into a halfway respectable person and a decent soldier. The sound that had caught his attention was the snap of las fire on the other side of the door. It swung open, the interior lock dropping to the ground in a blackened, smoking heap. Raquads strong arm reached down to help the sergeant up, giving him a smart assed grin.

"You look like shit sir."