Captain Janet Harker stood tall in the bright halogens. She held the forty page report in her left hand, staring at the black ink waiting on the innocent white page. The words stamped across it are blades that cut deep into her soul.
15 JULY 2020
She focused her dark green eyes on those words, raising the glass of whisky in her right hand to rise to her lips. A slow sip later, and she flicked through the pages, one by one until she reached the final page. She read those printed words aloud, rolling them around her mouth, off her tongue.
‘We find that the actions undertaken on 15 July 2020 lead to the approval for OPERATION HESSIAN. The intelligence gathered and potential further intelligence outweighs the risk. Following the overwhelming success of CALICO, Captain Harker will lead HESSIAN. Briefing is 13 December at Renfield Barracks.’
She grasped the papers tight. HESSIAN had been an insane proposal. A full frontal assault on the border, intended to push the Aberinese back to Carapur. CALICO had revealed a weak point in the Aberinese defences, a tendency to cluster to the sides and leave an effective chute through the middle. It would be suicide to take a section through the centre, but a positive enough thrust could get them to follow, leaving them to get rounded up by the following company.
And that’s what HESSIAN was. A run down the centre. They were asking her to lead her men to their deaths while they sat in their offices. Some of them haven’t seen active service in fifteen years and they were expecting the charge. It was madness.
She picked the phone from her desk. Slowly punched in eleven numbers.
‘Castor.’ A groggy voice rolled slowly through the speaker, like thunder over the plains.
‘Cas, it’s Harker. I need to see you.’
‘Harker? Are you for real? It’s four o’clock in the fucking morning?’ Sergeant Castor Ferkin had responded in his usual manner. Gruff, but vaguely well meaning.
‘Cas, I’ve not got time for the crap. Get to my office. Now.’ She ended the call before he could protest, then smoothed her uniform down. She took long strides to the desk and poured another glass of whisky. A large one this time.
It took Castor twenty-three minutes to get to the office. Not that Harker knew, she just registered it as three whiskies. He broke her from her stupor by crashing through the door like an angry bear, his shirt buttoned up in the wrong holes, odd socks adorning his feet. ‘This had better be something big, Harker.’ He growled. For most people, that would be hyperbole but Castor’s voice was a genuine growl, a legacy from CALICO.
Thirteen men had been captured, Castor among them. Aberine practice was to cut a prisoners throat and dump his body in the river. They called it returning, part of their religion. Well, Castor got returned. They slit his throat and dumped him like illicit chemicals into the Arabine. Whoever killed him did a real botch job though. His vocal cords took some damage, but the tendons in his neck had stopped the knife cutting the carotid. Hence the growl.
Harker just pushed forward the crumpled stack of paper, taking another sip of whiskey as he picked the papers up, rifling through them.She placed her black boots on the desk, staring into the glass. ‘We’re going back to the border, Cas. They approved HESSIAN.’
‘They approved it.’ Castor put one of his giant hands against his scarred throat, pulling at the skin in desperation. ‘Well, shit.’
I think I’ll be returning to this world in a future episode. I’m enjoying the characters and scenery, but unfortunately, like all mortals, I have to sleep and have a tendency to get caught up in this sort of thing. So, stay tuned. Captain Harker and Castor will be back.
The Idiot in Tin Foil