Luc wiped the sweat from his forehead. The late summer sun was oppressive and the southern heat was only making things worse. The column marched along the railroad tracks, looking for evidence of sabotage. The Orc rebels had raided several stations and destroyed a military train over the past two weeks.
“Would somebody tell these greenskin bastards that the war is over?” Tobias grumbled as he shifted his pack. Tobias was right. The Orc kingdom had fallen over a decade ago and the resistance had refused to die for the past eight years. Luc hated this sweaty and miserable shithole of a colony. It was hardly worth the brush that filled the landscape. The lieutenant ordered the column to halt as they came across a section of upturned track.
“Typical Orc craftsmanship,” Thomas scoffed. It wasn’t a severe disruption, just a minor break. The lieutenant was busy writing a dispatch to be taken back to the garrison to send for engineers. Tobias tapped Luc on the shoulder and gestured for matches to light his cigarette. Luc fumbled to remove the matchbox from his breast pocket but dropped them. He bent down to pick them up when he heard a light thud sound and Tobias collapsed to the ground next to the matches.
The distant report of a rifle echoed across the land was soon replaced with the whizzing of bullets. A few more men in the column fell to the ground. What everyone could hear best was the sound of confusion and panic in the soldiers’ voices.
“Ambush! Form a line!” the lieutenant screamed as he tried to bring his men back into order. The men formed into two lines amid the chaos of passing bullets and dying soldiers.
“Take aim!” the lieutenant ordered as he cocked the hammer back on his revolver. Luc couldn’t see the enemy but he could sense the gunfire was coming from the west. The man next to Luc screamed as a bullet tore through his stomach.
“Fire!” the crackle of rifle fire was loud and sharp. The volley was aimed at where they thought they saw muzzle flashes. In the cloudless light and against the scrublands, distinguishing anything was difficult. Luc tried to keep calm as another soldier collapsed dead.
The volleys seemed to be useless as they fired into the countryside. The lieutenant must have recognized it and ordered the men to take cover behind the railroad line. The platoon laid down and returned a withering stream of fire. Bullets were smacking into the ground in front of them, kicking dirt into their faces.
“Fucking Orcs!” Gerard screamed as more dirt was kicked into his face. The sweat pouring off their faces made the dirt cling to them like perfume on pleasure garden harlots. Luc could have kicked himself for thinking that a unit of 50 men was excessive. Now all he wanted was the entire garrison and a big armored train.
The lieutenant ordered them to cease fire for a moment. Thomas crawled forward to look over the railroad cut. He slowly rose into a crouch and peered across the landscape. Just then a puff of dust and blood shot off his back and he slumped forward.
“They’re behind us!” Gerard screamed as the platoon turned to face the new threat. Behind several small boulders and rocks, Orc sharpshooters had their position completely covered. The men started dying quickly now. The lieutenant ordered them to return fire. He raised his revolver and fired a few rounds before a bullet struck him in the eye.
Luc was panicking now and he wasn’t the only one. He could hear it in the voices of the men around him. They were trapped and there was no help coming. Gerard was the first to break and run. He was shot down before he took a dozen steps. Despite the futile effort, the survivors decided it was better than staying to die. Luc scrambled to his feet and started running down the track.
A few of the other soldiers acted as shields against incoming bullets as they all fled back from whence they came. Luc dropped his rifle and pack. He focused every fiber of his being on sprinting as fast as he could. He could hear bullets whistling past him and felt adrenaline surging in his body. He couldn’t tell if any of his comrades were behind him. If he could just get far enough away, he’d hide in the brush. They wouldn’t waste their time looking for one unarmed straggler. He just had to get far enough away-
A bolt of pain shot through his throat and his breath disappeared. Luc fell to the ground, He could feel blood pulsing out of the hole in his neck. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t do anything but hold his neck. He rolled onto his back and stared into the sky. It was blue and cloudless. His vision was growing gray and fuzzy. The sun kept bearing down on him. Even in death, this miserable land was unforgiving.