Captain Nendel stood in the center of the parade ground, surrounded by the dead and dying. A gentle, misty rain fell, blurring details at any distance, lending a surreal quality to what was already an horrific scene.
He nodded to Bollinger. "Bring him."
The Master Gunnery Sergeant gestured. Some distance away, Second Lieutenant Jamie Thaler, commander of Third Platoon, shoved Colonel Henri LeClerc toward Nendel. He lurched to a stop before the captain, skidding slightly on the softening ground.
Nendel spoke. "Colonel LeClerc, I am Captain Horace Nendel, commanding, Indigo Company, Forty-Ninth Armored Battalion, Twenty-Second Regiment, Fourth Legion, Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps. This camp is under my command, and you are my prisoner."
The Imperial Colonel smiled thinly and spoke in Imperial French. Nendel, who had only a few words of that language, noticed the expression on Thaler's face. He inquired, "Lieutenant Thaler, you speak French?"
"Yes, sir," she replied. "He says he does not speak English, or 'other inferior tongues.'"
Nendel stared at the imperial officer. "Enlighten him." Thaler did, repeating Nendel's earlier comments. The colonel sneered and spoke again. "Lieutenant?"
"'What is that to me?'"
Nendel looked into LeClerc's eyes. "The dead must be buried to prevent disease. My troops are too few for this, and the surviving prisoners have suffered enough. You and your men will bury the people you have murdered." Thaler repeated her captain's words in the Imperial tongue.
The colonel spoke, and the lieutenant translated. "He says that is work for subhumans, and is unworthy of him or his men. He says to let them go on digging their own graves."
Nendel's face stiffened. Slowly, deliberately, he turned his head slightly, keeping his eyes locked with the colonel's, and asked Bollinger, "Do you have the second-in-command?"
"Right over there, boss," she replied.
The captain paused, as if considering; and then he smoothly drew his pistol and pressed the trigger. With a crack like lightning, a bolt of golden plasma leapt from the muzzle and seared a fist- sized hole in the center of Colonel LeClerc's chest. An expression of surprise crossed the colonel's face, and his hands began to fly up toward the wound, but even as they did his eyes glazed over, and like an old building being demolished he fell in on himself, down to his knees, back on his haunches, then over to one side, a melancholy wisp of smoke trailing from the blackened wound, leaving a delicately curved contrail like a miniature rainbow all in shades of gray. Ozone mingled with the all-too-familiar scents of death.
Trembling, his breath ragged with rage, Nendel roughly holstered his pistol. When he had found his voice again, he noted that Bollinger had brought Major Voire to stand, ashen faced, beside LeClerc's smoldering body.
Nendel turned to the Imperial major and spoke with the voice of death. "You and your... fellows... will bury your victims." Voire tried to look as cool and superior as his colonel, but failed somewhat. Nendel's brow furrowed. Frustrated, he turned away - then stopped, staring at LeClerc's body.
He drew his midsword and bent down, grasping LeClerc's hair with his free hand. With a single, decisive stroke, punctuated with a meaty thock, he severed the Imperial colonel's head. He stood, and hurled the ghastly object at Voire, who shied away as though it were a live grenade.
"You've shown us how brutal you can be, Major," Nendel rasped. "We can be brutal too. You're going to give your victims a proper burial, but first I have a special task for you.
"Find a pole, about three meters tall. Place it at the entrance to the Colonel's office, and put his head on top.
"Do it yourself, Voire, with your own hands, or by the gods I'll have you stripped naked and locked in a room with the women you've raped."
Voire fell to his knees, shaking violently. He vomited into the mud of the parade ground, while Nendel glared. Finally the major, pale and swaying, regained his feet and, moving like a drugged man, picked up LeClerc's head and staggered away, toward the administration buildings.
Nendel wiped his blade on the headless colonel's uniform and sheathed it. He turned to Thaler and Bollinger, but could not meet their eyes. "Get a medical unit here. New Israelis if they're available. They'll have a better idea what to do."
The lieutenant and the sergeant nodded silently and trotted off, Bollinger to her panzer for communications gear, Thaler to the offices to see what sense or use could be made of the records to organize the survivors and identify the victims.
The people of my world will have a better idea what to do, Nendel thought.
They've done it before.