The binocular elements over her eyes painted Shaw in pointilistic green against the gable wall. He looked up over his shoulder from the crouch he had assumed to plumb the contents of her pack, holding perfectly still for an elastic moment before shifting a hand toward the assault rifle on the floor beside him. She covered the movement with her own weapon and he abandoned it, sitting on his haunches. Pushing back her visor slowly, Josephine stood in the glow of the night light hanging from the rafters while the rain dripped from her fatigues and he awaited the subtle easement of her posture that would allow him to rise. She looked instead at the sleeping figure on the floor nearby and kicked at its legs.
“A One...” she muttered. “Get up.”
Two hours squatting in a bed of gleaming briar canes had deadened Josephine’s feet to the point where she could barely own their presence. Beside her, hunkered amid their weapons, Shaw and the four conscripts watched the second eidiré through the same barbed tracery, the treeless midst of the surrounding glade guarded by one half of the remaining C corps. Any loyalty they felt toward their isolated compatriot had proved soluble in rain and darkness; the smoke drawn from his cigarette drifted toward them, the slow precipitation blurring his shape and hissing as it struck the solitary ember. Shaw experienced his vulnerability as a constriction of his throat. The sentry opened the fly of his camouflage trousers and released a steaming stream onto the rank, bowed grass.
Behind him, the vapour lying stagnant under the trees began to drift, curling around the corners of the longhouse and creeping forth between its stout, drab piles. Josephine sank further and dropped the visor to her eyes as the figures she awaited began to coalesce beneath the eidiré, gathering black materia from the obscuring mist and drawing it into determinate shapes, their stares flashing like coin silver in the darkness. An arrant, dreamlike silence bore them out into the rain and two broke from the incursive party, passing through the grass toward the oblivious sentry as he stood wiping his hand on the leg of his pants. They closed on him from either side, so unhurried that his notice seemed assured until they seized and gagged their victim in a smooth, wordless accord, slicing open the great vessels in his thighs with dripping blades before he could utter a syllable.
While he bled out, the remaining the alujha turned back toward the longhouse, Josephine's visor casting them in cold, tarnished relief through the pluvial static until they were lost to observation. That they had somehow ascended into its interior was betrayed by the cries escaping it, then stuttering volleys of automatic fire crashing wildly through the thin plank walls. Two inmates struggled from the doorway, lost their footing and fell in a tangle, Wessner kicking free from his subordinate before they were both snatched up and dispatched like cattle drafted onto a killing floor. The percussive speed and terse perfunction of their deaths worked on the hidden conscripts; they shuffled thickly, altering their grasp upon their weapons and working their jaws so that only the rain preserved their concealment. Familiarity had muted Shaw’s own reaction, the same dull principle warning him of the decapitations that were an inevitable sequel, that they would be performed with no particular efficiencies or flourishes. From doubling over the corpses, the alujha rose in turn with smirks greased red, swallowing down the morsels they hacked out of and sliced from their victims, grunting over their division. They had set down the choice munitions and equipment looted from the eidiré; with their trophies consumed, it was examined and re-packed, then passed amongst their number. Saplings cut from the edge of the forest were replanted in the glade, their denuded crowns replaced with the slack-jawed heads of the slain, their labile fluids oozing thickly down the smooth bark.
When they had disappeared into the southward trees the conscripts remained within their crouching silence while Shaw examined the glade through two sets of visors. Declaring it clear, he rose and gave the signal to advance, only to look back to find he had stepped out alone and that the men had lain down and writhed amid the thorns, clutching their heads. He strode toward their tormentor.
"What the hell are you doing?" he hissed, snatching at the fob in Josephine's hand. "We are done. We walk out, right now."
Her victims climbed back onto their feet, shedding the wet debris gathered from the ground by their clothing, still too impressed by their erstwhile adversaries to audibly deplore their treatment.
“Toss their bunks.” she told them. Shaw put out a hand to stay the remaining corps, but they looked to Josephine, and pushed on into the glade.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce.