“Let’s go back to your military… insights,” Corin said. “You are known for your unique tactics. Is there something you believe the standard troops could learn from your experience against the green horde?”
The man with the nose bone scratched his chin and then grinned malevolently with his black teeth. “Fire,” he said. “You need a lot of fire.”
“Firepower?” Corin asked
“No, I mean fire, literal fire. Even the orks are not stupid enough to walk through a blaze.”
“All right…” the bureaucrat said and jotted down ‘FIRE!’. “Ehem, something more specific?”
The four men looked at each other. They clearly had more things to say, but they either didn’t care to share them or thought he wouldn’t understand them.
“Look,” lieutenant Dolman finally said, “the boys out there, the guards, they are not armed to fight those things. Their tools are simply not designed to put down those beasts. You can, of course, like you can kill a man with a spoon if you want, or if you have a million men with spoons, but it’s not the ideal tool.”
“Inefficient weaponry?” Corin asked, hardly managing to suppress his unease at what he perceived as lack of loyalty for their part.
“Oh, they are good weapons, if you want to hunt down flea-infested hivescum, but to face, alone, a 300-pound monstrosity with barely any understanding of the concept of pain?” He said and then nodded towards the man who had talked earlier. “Therefore, fire. It works, and we use it a lot in the jungles. Burn two stretches of land,” he held out his hands in two parallel lines, “the artillery will then force the wandering tribe to go through that stripe, and then you finish them off from all sides.”
“That’s useful…” Corin said and wrote down what the soldier had said.
“Not really, unless you happen to fight only in jungles. Have you ever really looked at Armaggedon? This planet is mostly flat wastelands. Umh, you are not really much of a military man, right?”
“Uh, well, no.”
“Hmph. Look, if you want to write down something for your nobs, tell them you need officers who are not idiots and cronies.”
‘Nobs!’ thought Corin. Not only did these men look like orks, they were also starting to talk like them! How fast civilization could regress if one was away, even if only a few years, from the vigilant gaze of the Empire and its servants!
“Whole divisions of the planetary forces,” Dolman said, “were lost due to incompetent officers who had never seen combat and followed centuries-old manuals written with faraway battlefields and mundane enemies in mind.”
Corin began to write that but immediately realized his “nobs” would have his head if he did so. ‘Less incomp…‘ No. ‘No cron…’ That wouldn’t work. ‘No political appo...’ oh, that certainly was out of the question. The answer came to him in a flash of inspiration. ‘More versatile tacticians‘! He smiled. One had to be a master of words to survive and thrive in the Imperial bureaucracy.
“Great advice. I’ll tell them that.”
“Really?” Dolman arched a dubious eyebrow, then shrugged.
“About the xenos, you said…”
“Have you ever shot a man?” Dolman flat-out asked. “The answer is clearly no, but bear with me… No, let’s see… How should I put this for someone like you to understand… Why do you believe our rifles have bayonets?”
“Eh, for charging and melee combat?”
“How by-the-book. Yes, but against who — or what? Really, what would you do if someone charged you with a bayonet? Don’t answer, you’d more likely flee.”
“I, well, I…”
“Don’t worry, there’s no shame in that. Or not that much. But you would either flee or, as soon as the enemy poked you with it, you’d drop to the ground. Not dead, mind you — just drop. There’s something unsettling about being stabbed with long objects, and even if it’s not deadly, it usually stops you. The laser blast against unprotected skin does something like that. It’s a strange experience to feel a chunk of your flesh just explode and evaporate. A single shoot is rarely lethal, but it has great stopping power. But what do you think happens when you try those things against an ork, one of those big ones?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Very honest of you. Not much happens, and that’s the problem. We are talking about creatures whose idea of surgery is hacking someone with a saw and no anaesthesia. And not so much because they don’t have access to it but because they either don’t need it or think live operations are fun.”
“What I’m saying is that, unless you are a space marine, most of your weapons are not designed to be used against hulking abominations like the orks — or worse things out there. And many of our officers were unaware of that or didn’t care. So something like this happened: drumfire to soften the target, a few laser volleys, with some luck a smokescreen would follow, and then charge to finish them off. But in the real world then you die because even if you stab the ork in the face, he goes on as if nothing had happened and splits your skull in two. Sure, he may drop dead a few seconds later, but you are already dead.”
“Did this happen a lot?”
The four men all nodded, and one of the men who had been silent spoke. “All the time. You wounded them with a hit that makes you believe would drop a human, but the ork doesn’t stop and he is just looming over you with his axe already falling toward your face.”
Corin felt a knot in his stomach. Surely there had to be something a man could do in a situation like that. He told them that, and their reaction was blank faces.
“No, there’s not much you can do,” Dolman said. “There are no secret tricks, no mysterious technique. Sometimes you are just screwed, and expertise is to foresee when that may happen and avoid those situations in the first place. Or have the right tools at hand…” he said and as he smiled he pulled out a ‘scalper’, the large machete the ork hunters were known to use with deadly effect. “Better than a bayonet, and it can stop even an ork if used correctly.”
Corin had heard stories, everybody had, about the ork headhunters. “You mean… you, cut off their heads?”
The four men laughed. “You can do that, yes,” Dolman said, “but that’s mostly for trophies, to show off, and to keep up our fierce reputation. The hands and wrist are easier, and more likely, targets. Even an ork stops what he is doing if you cut off his hand. At least he’ll drop the axe. Joints, especially their knees, are good targets too — you should avoid the chest or other muscular and fleshy areas.”
“So, your advice is… fire, less incompetent leaders and… cut off their hands. Oh, and to keep them away, naturally.”
“Twenty feet away, if possible,” the man with the pierced nose said, and they all laughed and snickered at that. Some manner of in-joke, thought Corin, but he recalled something about that, something other ork hunters he had talked with had said. He went over his notes from other days and found it.
“Ah, yes, Bardo’s Twenty Feet?” He said, reading a line he had written five pages earlier. “I honestly don’t know what’s that. I guess someone mentioned it to me.”
“I’m sure they did,” Dolman said, clearly trying to keep a straight face. “But, really, you are not going to write down what that really is. The nobs will think you are messing with them.”
“If it’s an important strategy that may offer insights or improve our fighting capability, I will send it to my superiors.”
“Eh… I wouldn’t call it a strategy and I’m not sure it offers many insights, but it pulls together a lot of what we have been talking. I’ll tell you what… a friendly wager. If you write down Bardo’s story and send it to your bosses, you’ll win.”
Corin thought it over for a while, but not as much as perhaps he should have.
“I accept your terms,” he said.
To be continued
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