In the scant shadow of the guardhouse, a greenhorn Border Legionnaire was waiting for the end of his first watch shift, gasping for the heat.
Below him, there was the stretch of sandy desert that the XIX Floating Fortress patrolled incessantly, moving back and forth in the sky like a surreal and phlegmatic cetacean, with the low and incessant buzz of the managems that powered it.
Behind the line of Fortresses, the Lands of Man ideally began. In that marginal strip, there were meager pastures and stretches of scrubby bushes, attacked for miles and miles by a fine sand, like yellowish talcum powder, that made the desert gain extension every year.
"This year the wind has put so much sand down," the marshal told him, biting a gray mustache, one of the last days before the Duty Beginning ceremony. "And behind the sand, the Those arrive".
He was glad he no longer had just a stunner to defend him from the Those, like the guardians of the border in former times, before the Legions. Once, it was thought to direct the Those into reserves to prevent them from doing too much damage with their insatiable hunger, but then they started to run away, to strip the flesh off every head of cattle, to waste fields and orchards, to devour even the people... and more and more came from the desert.
He had been among the first in his draft class in combat and shooting exercises, but in his heart he was afraid of when he would found himself in front of a real That, and not an illusory image created by the trainers. It took him months to get used to the slouching and snappy movements of those lean and black illusions, all teeth, which he found horrifying.
During that first day of service, however, only an armored convoy had passed, transporting ordered and dull clusters of goleminers to the mysterious and vital mines of managems, on the other side of the desert. The Those did not find goleminers edible, luckily.
The Horn of Danger snatched him cruelly from his thoughts. Intruders in the fortress! How did they get in? How did they pass under our noses?
He grabbed the heavy terminator and ran down the spiral staircase, toward his team's collection point, his heart in his throat.
A scraping noise from a corridor to his right made him stop. Pointing the terminator in the dark, with a trembling grip, he shouted "Who goes there?!?"
The Those came out, completely different from the illusions of the trainers...
His itchy trigger finger actives before his conscious mind catches up. Making strides toward the steel door in order to shut it, he sees one of his team members running down the hall towards him. "Move it, Hearty. I've got them pinned down behind you."
Hearty dodges a Those that jumped out from a doorway by smashing it in the head with the plated forearm armor. The long-toothed creature lets out a loud, gruesome sound and falls to the ground. Recovering in a flash, it trips up Hearty's leg, making him fall to the ground. As he scrambles to get back up, as a those snaps its jaws into his back. The Border Legionnaire sees his friend puke up the last thing he ate before slamming the door shut, throwing down the steel bar to reinforce the door.
The those run full force into the door. Slamming against it sends reverberations clapping like Zeus's thunderbolts touching the ground. They punch at the thick glass window.
He runs to the next room where the rest of the team should be found. Empty. Looking around with his flashlight, he saw the blood that covered the walls. He felt the crunching beneath his feet. Another sound snapped his attention to the left. His face visor cracks as the black arm connects. The terminator is batted away from his hands with two more power hits. He grabs the Those and wrestles it the ground. The those takes a bite into his arm, but the plate armor protects his arm from being severed from his body.
Toaster comes around the corner just in time to save him from the fatal blow about to come as he jumps kicks it in its rib cage, blasting it with his pistol in the head while in mid-air. "Get up, Newbie. Get your ass into the next room." Toaster picks up the barrel of the flamethrower, whirls around, and squeezes the trigger. The those fall down from the roof, half burning, and still coming fast and snappy.
Getting to the door, he turns around to check on the status of Toaster. Toaster is 20 feet away, standing in the light of the fire under the door's archway when a those jumps up from his side, taking Toaster's head away with the slash of its foot.
He slams the door shut and turns the large wheel that locks the door. Fear grips him, sending him back to the happy memories of his childhood on the planet full of love and beauty. He wished in that instant he had made a different choice. Fucking Idiot! Apart from the cracked visor, he couldn't tell if it was sweat or tears burning his eyes. Dropping down to the floor, vomit comes up and out, completely covering the visors shield. He throws his helmet off.
The radio crackled in his ear. "We see you in the Camera's Eye, Newbie." He looks to the wall where the camera is. He sees his cold, terrified expression starring him down. "You need to make it to Hall B before we have to shut you in. We will have your back with the eyes. This is not a training session. You need to move your ass!"
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