November 15 story: Twenty Feet, Part III

Part I, Part II

“Who is, or was, this Bardo?” Corin asked.

“Is, he is still alive as far as I know,” Dolman said and a faint smile crossed his face. “He was discharged. His place wasn’t the army. Oh, he was pretty good, but…” his voice trailed off and the smile became a chuckle.

“He was one of von Strab’s Morons,” one of the hunters explained.

“That’s uh… an officer?” The scribe ventured.

“No, those were von Strab’s Idiots. The Morons were then brain-scrambled boys they grabbed when the war got really nasty.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Corin said.

Corin shook his head. “You know even the Penal Legions have some standards, right? Not many, but there is some bare minimum of intelligence and competence required. Well, during the war von Strab decided to lower the standards so that even the lobotomized fodder could get into the action”

“I was not aware of that,” Corin said, visible surprised, even shocked. “No servitors, you mean…”

“No, just morons.”

“I see. And this Bardo was one of those unfortunate souls?”

“Yes. Some sewer kids may grow up with three arms and a transparent skull, so weak they can barely breathe, Bardo just… grew. We used to joke he was a cross between an ogryn and a ratling. A lusty ogryn maid and a lecherous ratling sniper I believe was the original theory.”

Corin ignored the lascivious comment.”I understand the ogryn part but ratling…?” He asked.

“He could pop off someone’s eyes from a hundred paces. He was a moron, yes? He could barely focus enough to remember his own sector of fire, but damn, if he started shooting…”

“He was good,” said another hunter, and they all nodded.

“Fascinanting, but what about his tactic, or strategy, the…” Corin looked down at his notes. “Bardo’s Twenty Feet?”

Again, the men chuckled.

“Sure, you have a wagger to lose after all, right?” Dolman said and winked. “He didn’t invent anything. Any grunt who survives his fist encounter with the orks realizes that you don’t let them get close to you, no matter what. Twenty yards or a similar number is the buffer zone that has become popular. If you let them cross that distance, even if you blew one of their arms, they will still stumble towards you and wreck you with the other arm.”

“All right, then what… wait a moment,” Corin looked again at what he had written. “You say it’s twenty yards, then why Bardo’s twenty feet?”

“Very observant! I’ll tell you how it happened…”

Dolman got ready to retell a story that his men had probably heard a dozen times, but by their looks one would have thought it was the first time.

“We were holding a line against some ferals… feral orks, and ‘some’ means… around five hundred. And we were two platoons so, even if better equipped, we were dangerously outnumbered. I was yelling at Bardo, and mind you we don’t use lasguns but proper shootas, so you can imagine I had to yell a lot. Anyway, I was yelling at him, reminding him to, as we say, switch fire, which basically means to shift your zone of fire if you see there’s one nearby that isn’t being pounded enough by one of your pals, you follow me?”

“That seems a straightforward tactic,” Corin said.

“Yes, but not for Bardo. So I gave up and told him to simply shoot at any greenskins in front of him. But to get through his thick skull, well, actually, it may have been soft… whatever, I told him to keep them at a safe distance. This was the jungle, remember, not the ash plains, so distances were much shorter. I didn’t want to confuse the poor boy, so I ordered to give me twenty feet, for safe distance you know…” The rough men giggle at that point but let Corin continue, “and that was more or less the distance between our line and the thicket from which they were coming so I assumed he would understand what I meant.”

“He didn’t, I presume?” Corin asked.

Dolman laughed  “He did understand something. If you had seen his face… He looked at me like I had asked to kill his mother. ‘Twenty feet?’ He asked me. ‘Why?’ He asked.”

More laughs.

“Why, yes, that was Bardo’s favorite word. Anyway, I don’t exactly remember what I told him, or even if heard me, but I basically tried to tell him that way they would not attack us and would flee, seeing that we were too powerful. Imagine that, like I was trying to explain it to a child… a bull-sized child, that is.”

“And what happened?” Corin said.

“The ferals had looted some vehicles and crudely patched them together. They sent them to us and we dispatched them easily but oh, hell, that smoke… The wrecks began to spew the filthiest crap you can breathe. And with that smoke, our smoke from our flamethrowers… I could barely see my hands.”

“And what did Bardo do?”

“He broke cover. He had been ordered to shoot them but didn’t see them, so he just went to find them, ripper in hand.”

“You had ordered him to keep the distance…”

“Oh, he followed orders, or what he understood anyway. Remember that Bardo was huge, I mean, really big, if there was someone who could take an ork in close combat, that was him.”

“And he did?”

“Yes. He came half an hour later, when the remaining orks had already fled. He looked bad, really bad. Half the skin of his back was flapping about, he had lost three fingers, one eye… Ah, it was awful. But he was covered in so much ork blood even we found it disgusting…”

“I still don’t get the…”

“Let me finish. The guy was spent, and he dragged a sack, a common burlap sack we use to carry stuff. And he comes, pulling that filthy-looking sack and says ‘Boss, here it is. It must have worked because the orks were all fleeing from me.'”

At that point the other ork hunters lost it and burst out laughing.

“Oh, don’t tell me…” Corin said, disgusted.

“Yes. Twenty feet. He literally gave me the tweenty feet I had asked.”

“Ugh… and that’s your platoons motto?!”

“Sure, it’s a great story and it’s also our mark of excellence. Others need twenty yards between them and the green beasts, but we can hold them up until twenty feet,” he said and winked.

Corin looked down at his notes like it was food that had gone foul. Yes, he had lost the wagger. He was not going to send that to his superiors.

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