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datatime: 2022-12-01 01:04:30 Author:oRtIcLIz

Mallory touched his arm.What is it, Dusty?

Abruptly Miller's smile vanished and he nodded.

Just one more, Gawd. The quiet voice was almost a prayer.That's all I ask. Just one more.

I would not be using these, my Captain. They have betrayed us once already. I have been thinking, and it can be nothing else. The sunlight reflecting from the lenses . . .

The frenetic stammering of the machine-guns stopped abruptly and in unison, the sound sheared off as by a guillotine. The sudden silence was curiously oppressive, louder, more obtrusive than the clamour that had gone before. The gravelly earth beneath his elbows grated harshly as Mallory shifted his weight slightly, looked at the two men to his right, Andrea with his impassive face empty of all expression, Louki with the sheen of tears in his eyes. Then he became aware of the low murmuring to his left, shifted round again. Bitter-mouthed, savage, the American was swearing softly and continuously, oblivious to the pain as he pounded his fist time and again into the sharp-edged gravel before him.

Mallory stared at him, slowly released his grip on the glasses, nodded several times in succession.

His last words were caught up and drowned in the tearing, rapid-fire crash of the automatic carbines. With four machine-guns in their hands-two Brens and two 9 mm. Schmeissers-it was no war, as he had said, but sheer, pitiful massacre, with the defenceless figures on the slope below, figures still stunned and uncomprehending, jerking, spinning round and collapsing like marionettes in the hands of a mad puppeteer, some to lie where they fell, others to roll down the steep slope, legs and arms flailing in the grotesque disjointedness of death. Only a couple stood still where they had been hit, vacant surprise mirrored in their lifeless faces, then slipped down tiredly to the stony ground at their feet. Almost three seconds had passed before the handful of those who still lived-about a quarter of the way in from either end of the line where converging streams of fire had not yet met-realised what was happening and flung themselves desperately to the ground in search of the cover that didn't exist.

Ah, well, mebbe I was mistaken, Miller said magnanimously. He squinted again at the guns, forehead lined in puzzlement.That first one's a mortar, I reckon. But what in the universe that other weird looking contraption can be-

Also a mortar, Mallory explained.A five-barrelled job, and very nasty. TheNebelwerfer or Moanin' Minnie. Howls like all the lost souls in hell. Guaranteed to turn the knees to jelly, especially after nightfall-but it's stifi the other one you have to watch. A six-inch mortar, almost certainly using fragmentation bombs-you use a brush and shovel for clearing up afterwards.

Any second now, Mallory said softly.I only hope that our friend Turzig isn't among this lot. He reached out for his field-glasses but stopped in surprise as Andrea leaned across Louki and caught him by the wrist before he could lift the binoculars.Whats the matter, Andrea?

That inhuman bastard that sent these poor devils up that hill, Mallory said quietly.Make a wonderful pietare seen over the sights of your rifle, wouldn't he?

Mallory touched his arm.What is it, Dusty?

Jus' daydreamin', boss he said easily.Jus' daydreamin'. He shook out his pack of cigarettes.Have one?

What Loiiki told you

Gawd help us, Miller muttered.Fragmentation bombs, you said He lapsed into gloomy silence.

That inhuman bastard that sent these poor devils up that hill, Mallory said quietly.Make a wonderful pietare seen over the sights of your rifle, wouldn't he?

Of course, of course I had been wondering. . . Someone has been careless. There was no other way, therecould have been no other way. It would only require a single flash to tip them off. He paused, remembering, then grinned wryly.It could have been myself. All this started just after I had been on watch-and Panayis didn't have the glasses. He shook his head in mortification.Itmust have been me, Andrea.

I would not be using these, my Captain. They have betrayed us once already. I have been thinking, and it can be nothing else. The sunlight reflecting from the lenses . . .

Also a mortar, Mallory explained.A five-barrelled job, and very nasty. TheNebelwerfer or Moanin' Minnie. Howls like all the lost souls in hell. Guaranteed to turn the knees to jelly, especially after nightfall-but it's stifi the other one you have to watch. A six-inch mortar, almost certainly using fragmentation bombs-you use a brush and shovel for clearing up afterwards.

I do not believe it, Andrea said flatly.You couldn't make a mistake like that, my Captain.

Also a mortar, Mallory explained.A five-barrelled job, and very nasty. TheNebelwerfer or Moanin' Minnie. Howls like all the lost souls in hell. Guaranteed to turn the knees to jelly, especially after nightfall-but it's stifi the other one you have to watch. A six-inch mortar, almost certainly using fragmentation bombs-you use a brush and shovel for clearing up afterwards.

That's right, Miller gowled.Cheer us all up. But he was grateful to the New Zealander for trying to take their minds off what they had to do.Why don't they use them?

His last words were caught up and drowned in the tearing, rapid-fire crash of the automatic carbines. With four machine-guns in their hands-two Brens and two 9 mm. Schmeissers-it was no war, as he had said, but sheer, pitiful massacre, with the defenceless figures on the slope below, figures still stunned and uncomprehending, jerking, spinning round and collapsing like marionettes in the hands of a mad puppeteer, some to lie where they fell, others to roll down the steep slope, legs and arms flailing in the grotesque disjointedness of death. Only a couple stood still where they had been hit, vacant surprise mirrored in their lifeless faces, then slipped down tiredly to the stony ground at their feet. Almost three seconds had passed before the handful of those who still lived-about a quarter of the way in from either end of the line where converging streams of fire had not yet met-realised what was happening and flung themselves desperately to the ground in search of the cover that didn't exist.

I do not believe it, Andrea said flatly.You couldn't make a mistake like that, my Captain.

Just one more, Gawd. The quiet voice was almost a prayer.That's all I ask. Just one more.

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