Chapter Ten: Aftermath

Heller grimaced slightly as trooper Hall tightened the bandage around his upper arm. The wound was a nasty one, but not life threatening. His elation at their success was tempered by loss. Five of his men lay dead inside the quickly erected defenses. Five people who had entrusted their lives to him would never return home to their families. He thought back to his own family, many trillions of miles away. It was not a feeling he relished. Their sacrifice had not been in vain though, Heller comforted himself. Dozens of enemies lay dead around them, and their actions here today had secured the way for this campaign. They died so that others could live and yet more lives could be restored. They would retake this planet over the dead bodies of traitors and heretics, of that he was certain. He patted Hall on the shoulder as he rose, his wound wrapped well enough for now.

The area now buzzed with activity as Marshall Ukos and his troops joined them near the flak platforms and command bunker. Marshalls Gorendo had suffered a fate similar to Niekers, dying before he had made it to the ground. Thankfully, his platoons destruction had not been so complete, and there were survivors. The same could not be said for Marshall Hellenski and his men. The funeral pyres would burn high tonight. Larger, more ponderous drop ships could be seen overhead, merely black dots in the sky at this point. The remaining traitor guard sat lined up on their knees in the dust, nearly thirty of them, hands bound behind their backs. Heller spotted Ukos, a huge bear of a man, and the oldest of second companies Marshalls, yelling orders to the milling soldiers. He approached the man quietly, waiting for him to finish giving orders.

It had taken a few frenzied minutes of vox communication then brief and violent interrogation of a captured enemy officer to piece together what had happened. At the instruction of their masters, the traitors guarding the base had constructed a long range auspex antennae, something that a PDF garrison had never needed in the past, and was not noted on any maps the Imperials were using. Almost as soon as the drop craft entered the atmosphere, the station knew about it, and had several minutes warning to produce firing solutions for the speeding aircraft. Believing both Niekers and Hellers craft to be destroyed by the guns, the base commander (deceased) had ordered increased resistance be brought to bear on the south side of the base to combat the surviving platoons. Marshall Ukos had told Heller it was a losing battle for his men, who were caught off guard despite the supposed element of surprise, and were sorely out numbered. Hellers surprise attack from the downed ship had gone unnoticed until the charge of the gun pits. Unfortunately for the heretics, and rather luckily for Heller, the bulk of the garrison had already been dispatched, and could not be easily recalled. With the destruction of the command bunker, the enemy was left without leadership or direction, some units even left with incomplete or contradictory orders. Marshall Ukos quickly recognized the panic, and he and his veterans stormed from their defenses, cutting down the confused and fleeing traitors until the more repentant among them surrendered. Calls immediately went out for reinforcements, and that was what Heller wanted to know about now. From a platoon of forty men, he and seven others were the only survivors.

Ukos turned to face him, his cheeks puffy and red from exertion, "Don't worry Heller, we're only responsible for all this for about another ten minutes." The large man reached forward and clenched the younger mans shoulder, "That was a fine job boy. Damn fine. And don't let anyone tell you different. We lost a lot of men here, Niekers was a friend of mine too, but we did our job, and that's all that can ever be asked of you." He looked down, then gazed into Hellers eyes. "Hebrecht and the Lord Marshall would like to speak to you when they land." With that weighty bit of information he turned back to his soldiers before Mickael could do more than nod. Heller stood silent for a moment before striding back to his own men, who were still piling makeshift defenses around any building deemed worth defending. Jans approached him, putting his arm around his friends shoulder, shaking him excitedly.

"So? Come on Mick, that was a hell of a fight! Niekers would be proud." That made Heller smile. Like any other good Brimlock Lieutenant, Niekers had never been opposed to taking the fight to his foes personally, and had been quite an accomplished soldier, nobility be damned. He would indeed have relished the fighting they had just survived. "Come on Mick, Pratt found some amsec in one of the crates, we'll have a quick celebratory round."

"I can't Markus, I... I have to talk to the Lord Marshall." That turned Markus Jans face serious in a second. For grunts, a trip to see the Lord Marshall Norrington was almost never a good thing, and often enough a very, very, bad thing.

"When are you leaving?" He asked his sergeant, now worried.

"I'm not." That was enough to stop the soldier in his tracks. You went to see the Lord Marshall, he never came to see you. The Brimlock military hierarchy was somewhat archaic in that all officers were nobility. Higher ranking nobility supplied the higher ranking military officers, and though it was common practice for nobles to be promoted within the officers ranks, the highest levels, general and colonel equivalents, were still often held by high ranking nobles. The front line soldiers, like Mickael and Markus, were commoners. They were considered a different breed than officers, most especially those from the highest classes. To Heller, having a senior officer come to visit him personally was akin to having the Immortal Emperor himself come for caf and pastries. Commoners were never promoted into commissioned officer ranks, instead they filled non-com roles. As a sergeant, Heller was in the middle of the chain, with his only option being to survive long enough to be promoted to platoon sergeant, and then company sergeant, then if he lived long enough to retire he would be given the option of carrying the regimental standard, the highest honor one of his kind could hope to attain. It didn't make sense for the Lord to come see him. Senior officers did not give unit level promotions, though in Hellers opinion some here did deserve it. Jans deserved his own squad. Markus would never admit his desire to lead, but Mickael knew he had been put off when he was passed over for promotion to squad leader.

"Why?"

"I'm not sure Jans." Heller was lost in thought now, barely noticing they had reached the rest of the squad. Raquad was popping the stopper off a glass amsec bottle, spraying the clear alchohol across the room to the cheers of his squad mates. They were handling things quiet well. They knew they had suffered losses, but they had completed a mission, and that made it all worth it in their eyes. Heller turned away, afraid to indulge in anything lest his commanders notice. Jans turned with him, mulling thoughts of his own, worried on his long time friends behalf. "Go have a drink Jans, I'll be fine." The corporal gave him a reassuring smile before turning into the room. "And get rid of it before anyone notices, Raquad gets cut off at two." Heller and the corporal chuckled at the inside joke, remembering their early days as soldiers. Heller stood outside alone now, gazing off into the sky. Night set quickly this time of year on Valois, or at least so he assumed, and it was getting darker every second as the worlds sun sank below the horizon.

"Sergeant Heller, report to the landing pad."

Heller turned slowly toward the ships he could see landing some distance away, most unloading troops and support vehicles, others offloading supplies. He instantly recognized the ship he was looking for, sitting on the pad separate from the others. It was small, but he knew the inside to be rather luxurious. Its crew ate mess at a nearby table on the ship, and Heller had seen its inside once. It bore the Lord Marshalls personal heraldry. An older sergeant approached him, taking a look at his ident tags before leading him to the bottom of the ships boarding ramp. A squad of command staff veterans, recognizable by their bright uniform trim, stalked down the metal walkway, followed by High Marshall Hebrecht and a man Heller had seen before, and knew by reputation. His fatigues were virtually covered in medals and ribbons, and above them was the face that had earned them. He was old, but that was difficult to tell by looking at him, as he assiduously kept up with his personal fitness. Lord Marshall Norrington stepped off the ramp and set a strong hand on Hellers shoulder, who tried hard not to squirm out of his skin, and stood straighter than he ever knew he could.

"Sergeant Mickael Heller." The Lord grinned, "You and I need to have a talk."