6.5

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6.5

The artificial light from the floodlights cast eerie shadows over huge mounds of charred corpses.

Bennett had to crane his neck back to see the top of them.

‘Holy shit,’ he said to Slade. ‘Did you know any of this was going on?’

Slade shook his head, but he seemed very quick to deny it.

‘Gonna be here all fucking week,’ Bennett scowled.

A dump truck was stationed to the immediate right of the closest pile. Its tipper was down to the ground, low enough to lift a body over the side.

‘Want to work together?’ Slade asked.

Bennett thought about it for a second. ‘Na. Let’s make it interesting. First one to a hundred wins.’

Slade laughed and shook his head. ‘Same old fucking Bennett.’

‘Whoa, the fuck’s that?’ Bennett asked, pointing over his shoulder.

Slade turned and looked around.

He heard Bennett laugh and turned back.

Bennett had already slung one body over his shoulder and was stood at the lip of the dumper truck.

‘Kicking your ass already, old-timer,’ he beamed as the body hit the bottom of the truck with a wet thud.

 

After a five hour stint of hauling corpses, Bennett’s back and legs were on fire.

Mercifully, they were told to stop.

‘How many… did you… get then?’ Slade wheezed.

‘Fuck knows, I lost track after sixteen. Too fucking many.’

‘Shit, me too. I was really hoping you’d remembered.’

‘Well let’s just agree that I won.’

Slade began to argue but realised there was no point. ‘You won,’ he said, resigned.

Neil told them to go to the checkpoint where they were hosed down with water.

In the suit everything echoed strangely, like going through a car wash on acid – something Bennett had indeed done as part of his misspent youth.

They were marched, on weary legs, back to the city.

‘You’ll have three hours decontamination time then you’ll be back out for another shift,’ Neil told them, the glee in his voice impossible to miss.

‘Fuck’s sake,’ Bennett said.

‘I’d suggest you get some more sleep.’

Bennett fantasised about putting his fist through Neil’s visor and wringing his scrawny neck.

 

Bennett’s next few days were like a hamster wheel.

Nudged out of a hard-earned sleep.

Five hours of back-breaking labour throwing mangled corpses into the back of the truck.

Return after a meagre sleep to find an even bigger pile of bodies.

‘The fuck did you sign me up for here?’ he drawled, fixing Slade with a furious glare.

Slade shook his head. ‘Trust me, it’ll be worth it.’

‘I’m done, me,’ he muttered, his right trigger finger tapping the outer edge of his right thigh.

‘No, don’t do anything stupid. This is the best place to be, in spite of the way we are being treated.’

‘This shit doesn’t sit well with me.’

‘I know. But we just need to do the smart thing and ride it out.’

Bennett growled under his breath and stared Slade in the eye.

‘Let me tell ya; I’d rather die this fucking second as a free man than live forever as a slave.’

‘Promise me you aren’t going to do anything to fuck this up for us.’

Bennett was silent, staring at the floor, his finger still tapping out its tattoo on his thigh.

‘Bennett? Bennett!’

‘I don’t make promises. You know that.’

Slade nodded. ‘Can you make one now?’

Bennett thought about it for a second. ‘Na. I get the chance to go, I might just be gone. Least you could do is help me, since you got me into this shitstorm in the first fucking place.’

 

The one good thing that came from them being there longer was that more people were slowly being added to the clean-up patrol.

Bennett had lost track of how long they were there; the day being broken up into five hour work shifts and three hour sleeps so on and so on, ad infinitum, made it impossible to keep track of time.

That, combined with the darkness that blanketed the city every second of the day, made it seem like it was one drawn-out night.

Finally there seemed to be a levelling off where there were no more piles of bodies waiting for their weary arms.

There were plenty remaining from the previous shift, but there were no extras which made it feel like they’d worked all day and night for nothing.

It finally began to feel like they were getting somewhere.

Bennett’s mood lifted a little; he could see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

Still, he was eyeing the dark horizon for potential escape routes.

 

His opportunity came some time in the next shift.

The pile of bodies was slowly dwindling before their eyes.

And he felt a grim sense of satisfaction at a job well done.

He had been constantly weighing up the pros and cons of living in the city with its slave labour and brutal rule.

For three shifts now, he had decided that he’d rather take his chances out in the unknown than work his ass off only to get a bullet in the back of the head while he slept.

This had happened to other cleaners on each of the last half-dozen shifts.

The lame and the lazy had already joined the vast mountains of dead.

He was well aware that he had made himself out to be a pain in the arse and knew that they were often the first to go in any hostage situation – which this undoubtedly was, in spite of Slade’s promises.

So he’d watched and waited.

The fact that the mask hid his eyes was a godsend as he was constantly glancing around, assessing his chances.

That they also hid the eyes of anyone who could be keeping tabs on him was the downside.

When all the other spacemen were looking away from him, he picked up one of the bodies and carried it over to the dumper truck.

The tipper was relatively full, so he figured this was his best chance.

He took one last look around, pretending to be adjusting the weight of the body on his shoulder.

Then he threw the body into the back of the truck.

Without pausing to check again, he stepped into the back of the truck himself and shot forwards on his belly.

He could see someone else picking up a body, their back to him, but they were only a dozen feet from the truck.

He didn’t have long if he wanted to escape detection.

If he fucked this up he was a dead man, of that he had no doubt.

He crawled fast, like a toddler in a ball pool, lifting dead limbs and smearing all manner of blood, ash and charred flesh onto his suit.

The mass of corpses was a dead weight on top of him, and he struggled to breathe as they crushed the air from his lungs.

But still he crawled further in; craving the shelter these broken bodies would provide.

He managed to turn, saw someone carrying a body towards the truck.

They were about to come in view of the tipper.

He could see the top of their helmet.

Panicking, he looked around and noticed that his arms and part of his head were still on show.

There was no way that he would have time to hide.

 

Next chapter is here

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