Tycho Crater, 9th Company Private with S4 Gozer Slip-Mine recoilless rifle.

There’s a flash of light. Then the brief strobe of muzzle flash somewhere in the distance. Seconds later the audible report of small arms fire reaches our ears. I figure that whatever is happening is happening less than two miles away. Somewhere near the crate dump. North of our position.

The other members of the squad glance at each other nervously. Ramz is grinning. I don’t think he knows what else to do. Bedder checks his magazine before throwing himself against the dusty inclined wall of the nest. Rifle trained on the horizon.

‘This is gurtz-shit!’ mumbles Chicio to no one in particular. ‘This can’t be right! Nobody told me we’d end up in the shit! I’m only here on some gurtz-shit misdemeanor!’

‘Shut up Cheech,’ interjects Sergeant Ade, his irritation barely hidden. He raps the radio angrily but there is the same static there has been for the past forty minutes. The last we heard; the North Gate was breached.

We follow Bedder into position at the perimeter of the nest. A five feet wall of earth and dust between us and the sudden no man’s land to the North. A crappy hole, half-heartedly dug by the ill-trained conscripts of the South Tycho 17th Penal Militia regiment, less than two weeks ago. Part time militia acting out their short sentences, the result of various minor crimes, expecting some hard pointless graft. Digging holes in the Northern Dust Fields. Instead, we’re pointing rifles at the horizon. Scanning for some vague threat we know is out there, yet to be revealed.

‘You ever even fired one of these things?’ asks Chicio, eyes darting left to right along our pathetic thin red line. His rifle waving nervously. There is another strobe of light in the distance.

‘In basic!’ replies Bedder.

‘Exactly! This is total gurtz-shit! We’ve never even-

Cheech’s whinging is interrupted by the zip of bullets whizzing overhead. There’s a pattering noise as live rounds crash into the dust less than three metres in front of the nest.

‘Balls to this!’ shouts Chicio. I glance sideways as he shuffles backwards down the defensive wall. In a barely controlled state of panic, he breaks open one of the storage crates in the centre of the nest. He grunts, and hauls the recoilless rifle onto his shoulder. He gives a slight nod of satisfaction before returning to his original position.

More shells slam into the dust in front of us. A higher concentration this time.

‘Load me!’ yells Chicio. No one responds. I realise I’m on the move. Down to the ammo cache. My hands fall on the greasy wooden crate. Gozer slip-mine high explosive shells. My fingers grip the plastic seal holding the lid closed.

‘DO NOT OPEN THAT CRATE PRIVATE!’ screams Sergeant Ade. He waddles towards me, crouched low, his head well below the crest of the wall.

‘Sir?’ I ask weakly.

‘Private! You have any idea how much paper work I’ll have to fill out if you break that seal?’ he jabs a finger towards the box. ‘There’s only about thirty of those damn shells left on this rock! There will be incident reports. Requestion ledgers, live ammo deployment assessments. They’ll haul me in to make a statement to battalion. Maybe even regiment! Colonel Hannaker will give me one hell of a talking to! The 241’s and the 620’s will take me days to complete! Not to mention-

There’s a yellow flash. There’s a rush of air. Then a tooth loosening boom. We wince from the noise as earth and debris rain down on us. Smoke. The stench of cordite.

Six feet in front of our defensive wall, the ground has been replaced by a black impact crater. A big one.

The squad look back at me. I look at Sergeant Ade. He looks from me to the slip-mine crate.