Rain lashed down on the shattered town, thunder and lightning hid the sounds of nasty little firefights punctuating the night.
Rifle Soldaty first class Stonnovich hunched into his overcoat as rain slowly dripped off his bearskin; the depth of fur ensuring that the rain kept out of his collar and off his face. His great great grandfather’s Achle-wood furnished las-rifle cradled in one arm, he watched out on the night with the precious NVG, turning the focus every so often as he scanned his set arc of responsibility.
Stonnovich and his fellow sentry, Gramnov, were perched in the fourth floor remains of an old adminsitratum block. They had walls on two sides, but the rain drove in through the windows which now just gaping holes in the fabric of the building. Gramnov had spent a part of their shift lugging old ammunition boxes up to make a small kitchen-cum-shelter. The wood-alcohol burner and pot of recaf making strong odours that assaulted Stonnovich’s senses in equal measure whenever the wind gusted and the rain temporarily stopped, as if it had been sucked back out of their eyrie but the breath of some vast creature.
Gramnov was snuggled down in both of their bedrolls, tucked into a corner, lined with wooden box panels as the rain continued to plink off of the smaller metal boxes that formed the outside wall. Stonnovich was not entirely unhappy (of course he complained a lot – too much marching, too little good weather, the food hadn’t been brilliant lately, too many officers and commissars around here, not a nice warm, dry billet like Randstad had been etc etc), the war torn town was not too dissimilar to the ruins on Vostroya where he had begun his training. And the advantage of guarding a Divisional HQ were that you got fed and were less likely to be too close to the enemy.
The rain gusted in again, taking the strong scent of the recaf and the acrid tang of the wood alcohol burner away and leaving Stonnovich in the cold. He glanced down at the HQ complex below; lightproof tents on the ground floor of the building and the vast shape of the General Commandant’s Crassus command vehicle looming in the darkness. Stonnovich had genuinely believed that all of the officers knocked off and went to bed after their evening meal; they did in his regiment, the 158th First Born. He had been mildly intrigued by the late night workings of 902 Divisional HQ.
The fact that place buzzed all day and all night without ever shutting down had surprised him; even whilst moving, one site remained operational whilst the next was being set up; even when co-located, the Ad Mech would be servicing and blessing the non-working equipment. The signallers, security detail and other ranks on the staff, all of which he would have previously described as REMFs, were always busy unless they were asleep. And the staff officers and command staff were obviously working for as long as they could physically manage. But above all, Rifle Soldaty Stonnovich was in awe of the General Commandant. The man from Armageddon walked calmly and quietly about the place; officers, men and servitors (most of whom were just those damned flyin’ skulls) swarming around him. A word here and an earnestly delivered order there and they would move away as he continued to cruise past the desks that Stonnovich now knew represented the different staff branches and the offices of the plenipotentiates.
Also he had learned to read the mood of the HQ as it worked; the levels of excitement, anguish and frustration were now all clear to him as an observer. A cold meal instead of a scheduled hot one was a sure sign of an impending move, whereas the collapsing of a vox antenna could easily be moving it a few meters to get a better signal. His fingers were now feeling the chill, he flexed them in his thick leathern gauntlets and shifted his great great grandfather’s rifle to his other arm and shuffled his feet about.
Only three more hours before they were relieved. He prodded Gramnov with his foot, it was about time they changed places.