Chapter 12
Blood in the Snow

2nd of Fourthmoon, Saintclair 12
Karlsen Glacier, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

The buggies weren't designed to carry an entire squad, but after what happened to Fourth Squad, mounted was the only way to go, even if it meant Cockburn and Helms had to hang awkwardly off the sides. The terrain was too uneven and unstable to roll out at full speed, but they could keep pace with Cale's dogs, which was at least twice as fast as going on foot.
The skies were overcast, but some sunlight still filtered through the clouds. There was a chance of snow, but the weather was nothing like it was when Root set out with Fourth Squad on the first scouting mission. It was crazy to send people out in that, but that was the Blackamoors for you. Were it not for Root, the entire section might have been sent out and killed.
It was easy to wonder if this was the same path Fourth Squad took. Tempting as it was to try to look for the bodies of their fallen comrades, by now they were buried under some forty or fifty senches of snow. Finding them would be almost impossible and with the enemy about, they couldn't afford to be rooting around in the snow. Sadly, these mountains were their graves.
There wasn't much to see. Snow and rocks and snow-covered rocks. It was easy to get complacent, which played right into the enemy's hands. They were out there, somewhere. Even if this mission made it to the target and back without incident, it would be little comfort. The Blackamoors wanted to launch a big operation. The enemy could easily wait until then to strike. Worse, they could track them back to the Junker Jorg. If something happened to the ship, their frozen death was all but guaranteed. Unless they were shot dead first, that is.
Normally, you stayed buttoned up during tactical movement, but the buggy could be heard from a mile away, so Sergeant Hight had little reason to rebuke Private Schooner when he decided to break their relative silence.
"Mighty cold out, ain't it, Sarge?"
Of course it was bloody cold. They were up in the frozen wastes of Neveland. What did he expect?
"Aye, 'tis," Sergeant Hight replied.
"I'm not used to cold like this, Sarge," Schooner continued. "I come from Carramain, you see. Barely even snows in the dead o' winter."
"Ye'll not like ta fine colder less'n ye go allaways doon sooth."
His mother's accent tended to come out with whenever he pronounced his 'ows'. It was a strange time to think about her, but maybe it was because Schooner was talking about where he came from. Sergeant Hight's father was was a seaman in the Royal Navy, always going from port to port. That was how he picked up Hight's mother, an Astley girl who worked at a pub near the Navy base in Caradoc. Both have them died before the war. Without a family, the Army was all Sergeant Hight had, no small part of the reason he'd stayed in so long.
Schooner was talking about his own family, but Sergeant Hight had gotten so lost in his own memories that he wasn't really listening. He didn't even hear it coming.
The ground exploded underneath the back end of the buggy, flipping it head over tail and sending it tumbling down the slope. It rolled until it hit a rock outcropping, leaving Sergeant Hight hanging upside-down by his harness, his vision blurred and his ears ringing. He fumbled at the buckles for his harness, but failing that, he drew his bayonet and cut himself loose. He landed roughly and struggled to untangle himself from the knot of his own limbs.
His first instinct was to grab his rifle even before he'd regained control of his senses. Schooner was hanging upside-down just like he had been. He didn't seem too obviously dead, so Sergeant Hight shook him.
"Schoonah, Schoonah, pull it togethah."
Schooner moaned weakly. Sergeant Hight set down his rifle and cut Schooner free of his harness. He landed about as roughly as the Sergeant, but not quite so hard as he was a good twenty-five kilos or so lighter. Sergeant Hight patted his cheek to try to bring him around.
"C'mon, Schoonah, snap to. We gotta move."
Schooner made a lazy attempt to bat him away. Maybe he hit his head or something. Sergeant Hight shouldered his rifle and pulled Schooner out of the wreckage of the buggy, then went back to try to get Schooner's rifle, but the damn thing was wedged in tight.
Bringing his rifle to the ready, he looked around for any sign of the enemy or the rest of his squad. What was left of Goluff was still hanging from the gun in the back. Between the explosion that went off right under his feet and rolling fifty meters down a mountain, there wasn't much you could identify as human.
Up the slope a ways, he could see one of the others--Helms judging from his size. There was a lot of blood in the snow. Looked like he was missing a leg. Even if he could be saved, it'd be suicide to go up the slope out in the open like that.
Sergeant Hight grabbed Schooner by his webbing and dragged him over to the other side of the outcropping. That would at least give them a little cover.
Though he still couldn't really see straight, Sergeant Hight scanned the slopes for the enemy. So far, no one was firing on them yet. The way the buggy was hit, it was probably a rifle grenade, which meant they could have hit them from fifty to a hundred meters off at least. While he was looking for the enemy, he was also looking for another place to take cover. If he were the enemy, he'd hit the wreckage of the buggy with another grenade just to be sure and he was bound to feel it through the rock.
He heard the telltale whistle this time. There was no time to make a run for it, so he threw himself on Schooner. The rock absorbed most of the blast, but the shock wave further disoriented him.
The fuel in the buggy was burning, raising up a thick plume of black smoke. It made it all the more difficult to look for enemy movement when Sergeant Hight got back up. He at least had to get them back for the men they killed, but his side was probably going to lose if it was man-for-man.
His vision started to dim. No, he couldn't afford to lose consciousness. If he closed his eyes, he wasn't likely to open them again. He had to stay awake.
Blood dripped into his eyes, as if he needed anything else making it hard for him to see. He wiped the blood away. He didn't know how bad he was hurt. He couldn't think about it. He had to keep looking so he could put a bullet into the first thing that moved.
He blinked.
He blinked again.
Only this time he didn't open his eyes.