The air split with a howling crescendo, as the pair of fighter bombers screamed low over the rooftops. Instinctively Daste and the rest of her motley crew ducked their heads and winced as their thrusters’ vibrations rattled the fillings in their teeth.
Officially, Daste and her squad were on a clearance sweep. In reality, they were looking for a bank. No particular bank, just one that would show its appreciation by depositing a generous contribution towards their fighting fund.
Daste shook her head and carried on down the street, her situational awareness high. Not for hostiles –they were pretty much wiped out anyhow-, but for something more insidious, Commissars and their lapdogs; the military Arbites.
The pack on her back contained more high explosive than it should, and her squad were carrying more flamers than usual. The official reason was room clearance; the unofficial reason, was that the illegally modified flamers made excellent thermal lances. The modified flamers were absolutely useless for room clearance, but were unsurpassed for cutting through ferrocrete and steel.
The area was quiet and people free. They had pulled this duty, exactly because it was quiet and free of prying eyes.
Sned, their vox op with his illegally modified vox-caster was casually listening into the Commissars supposedly private vox channels. ‘Were still clear.’ He informed the surrounding Guardsmen.
‘Good,’ Returned Grond, their leader in this financially nefarious mission, ‘as it looks as though we have a target.’
Up ahead, was a small open square that once had probably contained trees, benches, winding paths and possibly even a small pond. Now, it only held a few tattered sand-bags from a hasty and futile fighting retreat, some burned out cars and the large and imposing crater from the payload of a fighter bomber.
Banks, no matter which planet you were on, all looked the same. They were even laid out the same inside. The signs outside might have been removed, but like the old saying, “A Rhino troop transporter, is still a Rhino, no matter what colour the camouflage.”
The door looked secure, but they were expecting that. They’d done this before. Heading past the imposing main entrance, they moved around to the side of the building to where the staff entrance would probably be. Sure enough, there was the little recessed door.
Daste reached into her flack jacket for the preformed charges. With the practised ease of repetition, she deftly fixed the charges in place. Reaching out an arm, she removed the cigarette from Olegs mouth. The fuses started to fizz as she touched the ends with the lit cigarette. With a nimble twist of fingers, she reversed the cigarette and placed it back in Olegs mouth.
She watched the fuses shorten. ‘CLEAR!’
No one moved.
The small charges detonated. Stepping forward, Grond delivered a measured kick and the door fell back inside the bank to land with a clang on the floor. Grond liked the dramatics of the action and sometime could be found practising the move. No one else in the squad was allowed to kick doors in.
Once, for a laugh, Daste had deliberately reduced the amount of explosive in the charges so the cuts would not have been total. Grond had stepped forward, and with his usual dramatic and smug pose, kicked the door. Only the door had not budged. He had gasped aloud as the shock travelled up his leg too his hips, the rebounding blow almost knocking him from his feet.
Daste could not help but laugh at his stunned expression. Her laughter had proved contagious enough to start the rest of the squad laughing. This had been before she knew Grond and what he was capable of.
Grond did not take his humiliation well. His answer had been to smack the stock of his modified flamer into her face. Her jaw and a cheekbone had shattered under the single impact. The blow knocked her onto her back, dazed and in agony. She learnt another lesson that day- Anger fired Gronds blood in more ways than one.
After the door had been breached –properly this time- Grond had sent the rest of the squad off into the darkness of the bank towards the vault. Grabbing her by the hair, he had dragged an almost insensate Daste into a side room. Barely conscious because of the pain, she had not felt the removal of her combat trousers and pants, but she felt Gronds brutal, dry entrance. Her dryness had proved no hindrance to his violation, she had tried to call out, to scream, but her shattered jaw restrained her voice in a way a smothering could not. She had tried to fight him off, but the agony robbed her of all strength and he had easily held her hands down above her head.
Her face had been awash with pain, her hips were awash with pain, yet her pain only seemed to fuel him on more. Her sensitive and dry lining could not take his brutal thrusts without lubricant and small ruptures appeared, coating his member in blood. The fresh blood may have lubricated him, making his thrusts easier, but they made him no less violent.
She had passed out before he had cum. Was spared the feeling of his fluid erupting into her womb, the look of hate and pleasure that dressed his face, the grunts of his release. He softened and his flaccid member slipped from between her bruised and battered lips. He cleaned the blood and cum from his limp cock with her pants and pulled his trousers back up.
Before he left her, he injected her with painkiller and a shot to wake her from unconsciousness. When she came too, she was alone in the dark with nothing but memory and the fear.
When she had finally staggered to the vault, Grond didn’t spare her a glance and the others wouldn’t meet her gaze.
She never made fun of Grond again.
As the others entered, turning on their lights to pierce the banks darkness, Daste found herself stroking the outline of her jaw in memory. When she had got back to the Imperial Guard camp, Grond had explained her injury away as damage received from being to close to a collapsing building. The medicare had appeared –correctly- sceptical, but there had been no-one willing to say differently.
Her broken jaw and cheekbone had proved easier to live with, than the rape that had followed. Even though she had been almost unconscious, the violation haunted her dreams at night, the knowledge that he had been inside her, that she had carried a piece of him inside her, tormented her. The only saving grace was that Grond showed no inclination to rape her again, and she was determined not to give him cause. It wasn’t as if he had lost the desire, many times she had been on route to his bed space and had met a distraught woman staggering away, cut, beaten and abused. Several times he had issued orders to the troop, a naked girl lying sobbing quietly at his feet. Those were the worst; their eyes would search out hers and plead for release, from one woman to another, a salvation she was too scared to give. It was either them or her, and having been on the receiving end of Gronds intimacy, she preferred it, if it was them.
She shivered and forced the unwelcome memory into the dark recesses of her subconscious and followed the rest of the squad into the bank and towards the vault.
In the darkness, the vault looked imposing, they all did. Power had been cut to this segment of the city long ago. There was no power to the lights or the alarms that should have helped to protect the vault and its contents.
Grond slipped a pair of darkened goggles over his eyes, as did Morn with the other flamer. The pair of them ignited their modified flamers and jets of pure white shot forth.
Daste looked away, partly because of the brightness, partly because the image stirred memories she’d rather forget.
Grond and Morn touched their white lances to the steel of the vaults doors. Fountains of red molten droplets sprayed from the door as the pair of them expertly cut away at the mechanism inside.
No one said anything; the only sound in the vault came from the hissing roar of the flamers and the sound of the molten steel droplets hitting the highly polished marble of the floor.
Eventually, Grond and Morn stopped cutting, turned off their flamers and stood back, making sure the superheated flamer muzzles came into contact with nothing but air.
Slipping on thick gloves, Ford and Thenner approached the door. Taking a firm grip, they slowly pulled it open.
Torchlight light lanced into the polished steel that covered every surface inside. The Guardsmen moved inside and started to attack the safety deposit boxes stacked in neat rows along the walls.
Strangely, another high security safe was mounted into one wall. The door, about three feet square, was positioned about chest height.
She looked towards Grond, who was pointing to the new safe. She nodded and headed towards it. The safe door was too small to have a thermic-lance brought against it. Not without being a risk to whatever lay behind.
Daste slipped off her backpack and fished out packets containing charges she had pre-made earlier and handed them to the other members of the squad, who quickly opened them and started placing the contents against the locks of the safety deposit boxes.
At the bottom of her bag lay slabs of high explosive, kept there for unforeseen events. She pulled one out and broke it into pieces. She studied the door and started to push lumps of the mouldable explosive against the door.
Bangs started to erupt around the room as the pre-formed charges detonated. Daste paid them no heed, concentrating on her own task. Satisfied, she dipped back into her pack. She had no det-cord left, so she pulled out a small battery powered initiation set. Nimbly she inserted cable ends into the explosive and the other ends into the initiation set. She stood to the side and looked around. No one was in the blast radius and her finger twitched against the button. The charges ignited.
She made to open the door, but Grond, ever vigilant, walked over and unceremoniously shoved her out of the way.
The door sung open, the view inside obstructed by Gronds bulk. Rooting around inside, Grond slipped items into various pockets secreted around his person. Paper documents and photographs he casually tossed aside, to flutter unheeded onto the floor.
Grond paused in his search for a moment, studying something. He shrugged and tossed the item that had caught his attention dismissively over his shoulder.
Daste followed the objects progress with her eyes. The surface of the item glinted enticingly in the light of her torch as if fell to the ground. It came to a rest and Daste darted over to it, crouching to pick it up.
Perfectly square, the object nestled comfortably in her palm. The fall onto the floor had failed to mark its black and highly polished surface. She turned it over, looking into the dark depths that seemed to call to her. The more she stared into it, the more she started to make out. Intricately entwined within the blackness, was a fine line of gold filigree. Her thumb traversed the line gold. In the distance, she heard bells, or were they chimes? She paid the sound no heed and slipped the box into a pocket. She stood and headed for the door, she had lost all interest in what other treasures the vault may hold.
Outside the bank, nothing had changed. She stepped over the fallen side door and stood in the suns warm embrace. Unbidden, her hand went to her pocket and pulled out the black cube.
Light reflected off its surfaces. Surfaces surprisingly dust and smudge free. The darkness appeared deeper in the sunlight, more beautiful, more enticing.
A face swam into the edge of her vision within the darkness, yet, when she shifted her gaze towards the apparition, the face disappeared. It happened a few times more. She twisted the cube one way and then the other, to see if it was her own reflection she was catching.
A hand placed on her shoulder stopped her search and she almost dropped the cube in surprise.
‘Is that all you are taking?’ Asked Grond.
Daste nodded her head and slipped the cube into a pouch as the rest of the squad appeared, laden with heavy bags.
Grond and Ford lifted the side door back into place. Morn slipped his goggles back over his eyes and igniting his flamer, tac-welded the door against its frame. Mud smeared over the craters left by the shaped charges disguised the explosive entry. It would never pass even a clumsy examination from several feet away, but from the entrance to the alleyway, everything looked fine.
Adjusting bags and weapons, the squad headed towards the pre-arranged pick up point.
Safely ensconced inside the Rhino, Grond dropped a small bag next to the driver. His share for the drop-off, pick-up and for keeping his mouth shut.
Back in camp, everyone bar Daste headed for the various black market fences in the camp. Daste headed towards the tent she shared with nineteen other women.
Inside the tent, privacy was almost non-existent. A fact you grew accustomed to rapidly. There was no other choice.
The tented camp was split into two. Male and female, with communal areas like toilets, wash facilities and mess tents splitting the two sexes apart.
Still early in the day, the rest of the tents occupants were still out on various duties. To make life slightly more bearable, those on night duties were separated to their own barrack tents. Each tent slept twenty and their associated military baggage.
Dropping her las-rifle at the foot of her cot bed, Daste shrugged out of her webbing and armour. Folding her legs under her, she sat in a lotus like position on-top of her cots covers.
She retrieved her box and sat hunched over it, staring into its inky darkness.
The swirling blackness probed at the darkness of her soul, testing, probing.
Daste turned the box around and around in her hands. It was lighter than it looked, implying that it was either hollow or made from a solid block of some light material. She shook it speculatively. Nothing happened, nor had she expected anything to.
What was its point, decorative? She wondered.
She hunched over further, brought it closer to her gaze. The darkness within was so deep she expected to see out through the other side of the box.
Faces flittered across the black surface, faces from her past. She felt her soul open up, the horrors of her past rising to the surface.
She saw the faces of her two children. Saw what she had done to them, what had happened to them.
Shame, bitterness, grief and agony smashed through the frail barriers of her resolve. Loss welled up from its confines, breaking the bonds that had restrained it. A broken sob escaped pitifully from her mouth, and then the tears started, pouring in a torrent of rage down her cheeks.
One tear separated from the others, making its way down the bridge of her nose, to linger at the end, a small ocean of depression. Another tear joined it, then another. The growing pool of desolation slowly parted from the bowed head. The link grew longer, more tenuous, until it snapped.
For the briefest moment in time, the tear hung suspended in air, shimmering with the pain of a thousand hurts, before dropping down. It landed with a small explosion across the black surface, the tear splitting into droplets of darkness across the cubes surface.
Eventually, the sobs subsided as sobs do and Daste looked into the cubes tear stained surface.