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17: Let Them Drop Dead

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Mar. 29th, 2009 | 10:12 am
posted by: latin_doll in dolltime

Title: Let Them Drop Dead

Fandom: Monstrous Regiment

Characters: Mal, Polly, OCs

Notes: Prelude to To Pieces, references There'll Be Children (although these two were not written with the intent of a shared ficverse). Knowledge of either is not required.

Everything belongs to Terry Pratchett.

Warnings: PG-13 or the equivalent, for violence. Character death, creepy!Mal, torture. I think it's pretty urgh, but that's my brain on exams. Well.

Let Them Drop Dead

Here, in the midst of recent slaughter and against all odds, some are still walking. Let them drop dead.

Maladict knows she is being approached from behind, and she's known for a few minutes. What she doesn't know is who it is; all the shed blood makes this a bit of an olfactory situation. A few hours ago she'd have turned around as if she'd been planning it all along and just now got around to doing it, but now she turns around like a person who heard someone behind them. In any case, she's freezing and her boots are wet.

It turns out to be Private Smith. He looks like someone who just saw a train crash after only ever having seen diagrams of the wheels, which, if you think about it, is more or less exactly what happened.

"What is it, Private?" she asks, after a pause to give him a chance to reconsider his query.

He swallows visibly. "I found Chomsky," he says.

Maladict sighs inwardly. He's stealing her time. "And?"

"He's dead," Smith says quickly. "I found him over there, and I need permission to -"

Maladict interrupts. "I believe I gave orders to only look for survivors."

"But sir, the crows -" Smith's face is shiny with something, and in her detached state, Mal remembers that humans sometimes cry when they lose someone dear to them. She wishes he'd keep that shit private. Polly would.

"Crows, worms, same difference," she says, and it is the truth: she doesn't find the thought of either appealing.

"Fucking vampire". This is out in a blink, and now that it's out, Smith himself seems a bit shocked about it. He's still standing to attention, though. It's a miracle.

This will have consequences, this is the army and you only get to insult downward ranks. Maladict ponders informing Smith of that, and decides against it. After all, this being the army is what got them into this mess in the first place.

That, and of course she's perfectly aware that she is being a bit of an arsehole at the moment.

That, and of course she doesn't care.

"You can bury Chomsky in your spare time," she says, "I'll assure you he won't walk away. Right now you find Whittaker and Klein -"

"Klein is missing, too -"

Well, it is a nice day for deserting. Which is, of course, the other possibility.

"Myer, then, and a stretcher... and take this one," she pokes at someone on the muddy ground with a borrowed crutch,"to the camp. I want him talking by tonight."

She expects Smith to argue that order as well, to point out that the sergeant at her feet is dead or as good as dead, and that in any case he's the enemy and they don't have enough Igors as it is. But Smith is off with a "sir" and a salute, even. Mal looks after him, thinking she can probably start composing the arrest warrant for Smith when she gets back.

Maladict gets down on her knees, vaguely aware that a new gush of blood drenches the makeshift bandage on her leg, to take a look at the unconscious enemy. A quick check tells her that while he does carry a curious little bottle - which she pockets - he doesn't have any documents on him, no copies of the marching order, no clacks transcripts, no strategic maps, nothing. It also tells her that the man at her feet is shit out of luck; his condition is severe, but he won't be actually dying for at least another few hours.

A sick little memory comes out of left field and breaks into the calm, a memory of two months in captivity in a country that they were at war with then, but at peace with now. Yet all prisons remain the same, and she wills the memory away. No, she is not doing this man a favour by saving his life, and no, it is not a great concern in her mind, and yet, she is not going to dwell on what will happen to him if he survives. She just wants to find out where the other side puts their captives.

She plants one of the small yellow flags next to the man into the mud. She has trouble making it stay upright, but it does, in the end.

Limping away, shielding her eyes to see in the now too-bright sunlight, one annoyance does flutter its way into the calm, much like a crow. She wishes all of these people gone right now, all of the soldiers shouting for their squadmates and rushing about with stretchers. She wishes to be alone with the dead and the almost dead, so she can make out the sounds of faint, slow heartbeats, in order to tell the two apart. Instead, all she can do is prod people with her crutch.

Annoyance is futile, of course. She can't search the whole battlefield by herself, and she can't carry anyone by herself, and that is that.

A hundred soldiers and twelve flags later she is still searching, and when the sun finally sets and everyone capable of leaving has finally left - when she has what she wanted - she's standing still in the middle of it, quite alone except for the fluttering tictictic of crow hearts, and a faint blue spark in the air, indicating a job well done. Now she wishes she had left earlier.

Her leg is giving out underneath her with every step as she walks back in the afterdusk, and she's pausing every once in a while to strain her ears and get her breath back in order. She hears the sentries rustling through the underwood as they're getting close enough to check if her uniform coat is the right colour; she passes the off-duty privates digging a large hole in the ground, for tomorrow; she passes the guards at the camp entrance - it's the night shift and they haven't seen her on crutches yet, and there's the badly hidden astonishment of soldiers realising for the first time that, yes, the vampire corporal can get himself injured. It's probably the same astonishment that earned her the 'fucking vampire' today. She needs to find herself a new army, this one's not very flexible.

The inhabitants of the officer tents don't seem to happy to see her when she graces them with her somewhat irritable, but short-lived presence for the purpose of 1) debriefing (they never seem too sure on who is debriefing whom), and 2) warming herself up. Good to know the officers still have coals when everyone else hasn't even seen a turnip for two weeks, and are completely unashamed about it. It would be such a shame if one of them caught a cold.

As is to be expected, the centre of everyone's attention today is the medical tent and its surroundings. Maladict probably won't be very high on the priority list, since dying is at this moment not a threat to her, or even an option. So she drops in to present the Igors the curious bottle she nicked off the sergeant, guessing they could need all of the illegal boot schnaps they could lay their hands on, and getting it right; and throwing a cursory glance over their current patients. It's useless, Polly'd been on the list if she were here.

Igors are even stealthier than vampires, and before she has even gained an overview over their inner ranks in order to figure out who to ask whether the enemy sergeant has already been patched up enough for her to threaten him a little, someone has taken her by the arm and leads her to a secluded corner of the tent. There's two people in there: the sergeant, who is sitting, handcuffed and slightly more awake than before, on a wooden chair, and Smith, sword in hand and still on duty, both greeting her entrance with a strangely similar, silent hostility. The sergeant even goes so far as to spit on her, and Smith at least looks like he would like to join in.

"I won't need you for a while, private," she says, wiping the spit off with a handkerchief that isn't as fancy as it used to be. "Wait outside."

"With all due respect," says Smith. "Does your present state -"

On the whole, Maladict feels she very much isn't getting due respect these days, so she hands him the handkerchief, after a brief struggle with the sudden impulse to just feed it to him. That hint he gets, and leaves with a "yes, sir". The nerve. Of course, he may just listen on the other side of the stained linen that separates this square from the rest of the medical tent, but now she has a captive to focus on.

"I'm going to make this short," she says. "We're going to skip the part where you tell me you won't cooperate under any circumstances, and especially the part on were you lecture me about what one is and is not to do to prisoners of war, and come right to the bit where you tell me where the captives are."

"And then you're going to let me go, right?" says the sergeant. He's a tough one. He dares irony against a vampire.

"Then you're going to be rid of me," says Mal. "For a little while."

He's a tough one, but he's also a tired one, a pale one, and one that's in pain. He may just go for it. He does, in a way.

"We haven't made any captives, to my knowledge, which of course only lasts until the moment I became incapacitated. If we had made any captives, I wouldn't know where we kept them. I will not tell you anything else."

"Oh yes, you will," she says. She is tired of this. "Where do you keep your captives?" She could, of course, go through the enemy camp tent by tent. But a general direction would shorten things considerably.

There is no answer, just silence. She lets it stretch for some time, watching the man sweat, to see if he'll break on his own. She walks around him, since most people find a vampire behind him even more threatening than a vampire in front of him. Still nothing.

She touches his neck with her cool fingertips, searching and finding a pulse, and she leans down and breathes into his ear. It's probably the gentlest sensation he's felt in at least a few months, and he tenses, suddenly, his heart rate soars, as he in all probability speculates what she is planning to do to him for him. He may not have had this in mind when he signed up for the army.

"You are a Ribboner," he bursts out, "you're not supposed to -"

The ribbon on Maladict's coat is drenched in other people's blood. "I don't have time for this bullshit," she says, and her fingernails dig in.

(What she does not think of: how she's had this done to her and got over the nightmares all right. Eventually. This is not an excuse.

What she also does not think of: Polly, who may just now be tied to a chair much like this one. This is also not an excuse.

What she does think of: she thinks of the long and frustrating day she's had, which is probably going to get longer and even more frustrating, and this man is an obstacle to her putting an end to that day. This is not an excuse at all.)

He doesn't scream when she breaks into his mind, they never do. He just slumps down a bit. It doesn't take any effort on her part, on the contrary, it's more like giving up a long-familiar restraint, and it's also like learning a whole new language in just under five seconds, and then she rifles through his mind, recent images and sounds and naked fear from the battle hitting her first before she gets to more complex concepts. It's not a terribly valid method of interrogation, it very much relies on making out just the thoughts he's hastily trying to suppress as he figures out what's happening. That never works for anyone.

The best that can be said for this is that it's over quick.

She looks down on the sergeant, who appears as if like he's going to be sick, and breaks the touch. "You told the truth," she says, slowly because her head and throat and tongue suddenly feel like they're the wrong shape. There's a reason she's never told the ruperts that she is capable of this little trick.

The man doesn't answer, just breathes, like someone who has just figured out that he isn't even safe in his own head. Mal knows fully well that it's not a terribly nice thing to find out. She feels no remorse, and anyway it's time to give up on him.

Mal pushes through the linen that separates this little room from the rest of the medical tent, gesturing for Smith to come closer and take over the captive.

"Maladicta," comes a gleeful voice from two steps behind her, where the sergeant is still hand-cuffed to his chair. She actually drops her crutch, something that shouldn't have happened in front of all these soldiers and especially not in front of Smith, who is now just half a room's length away.

But why be surprised, this is the risk she's been taking. It doesn't work any other way.

"You miss your friend, Maladicta," comes the voice again, and Mal is still rooted to the spot. No-one else seems to have noticed, and then Smith is with her, picking up the crutch for her, which must be the best thing that happened to him all day.

"You know what? I think I've seen your friend," says the bodyless voice from behind the curtain, louder this time, and they both hear it. "I think I've seen her dead on the ground. You know what, I think I killed her myself," and by then she doesn't worry anymore that he may repeat her name to the world.

Smith looks from Mal to the curtain and back; it's been a long night for him as well and it probably takes him a while to count how many friends Mal has in the army, and how many of them go by 'her'. But then, he's with the sergeant in a second, waving his sword in the general direction of his face. He's swaying a little, they all are at this point, and almost takes his nose off.

"You killed Sergeant Perks?" he snarls. Mal knows she should step in. "Private," she says. Got to make an effort in that general direction, at least.

The man is shaking, silent at first, it looks like he's crying, but it turns out to be laughter. He's laughing at all of them, at their grief and their fatigue and at the Igors who gave him better medical service than whatever he would have received in his own camp, at himself for having such a short and miserable life in front of him, at the clown threatening him who doesn't even seem to have a steady grip on his sword, and especially at Mal, who had the brilliant idea to break into his mind when she was at her most vulnerable. He's laughing and he isn't going to stop anytime soon, as the joke is going on forever or until he dies.

"Private," she says, again, and Smith finally seems to hear her. "Take him to the ruperts, see if they can figure out a use for him. And then get some sleep." The private snorts, derisively, it seems like a reflex, and on account of being a bit of a bastard she adds, "or go help dig the hole, or something."

After the stuffed, smelly atmosphere in the medical tent, the night air hits her like a brick, a brick made out of sweet, cold nothing. She limps to nowhere in particular for a minute or so, than decides she's taken this business too far today. Mal sits down on a tree trunk, for the first time since she'd bandaged her leg up, and lights up one of the cigarettes that have been in her pocket all day. She braces herself against the coming dizziness, swallows a handful of dark roasted espresso beans, like pills. Someone is screaming from inside the tent, a sure sign that the army has run out of pain medication already.

Her fucking boot is full of her own fucking blood.

Memories are an incredibly personal thing, tinted and distorted by attitude and knowledge and fear, and they are hard to read even if you share the mindset. Still she wonders how she could have missed that one. There's a bunch of unfamiliar memories scattered all over her brain now, and she's afraid to poke at them and also doesn't know how. Suddenly she does not want to know. She does not want to be certain. Captivity was a good option to follow. Or injury. Or getting lost on the way to the camp. Death isn't.

But it's been a long night, and as she turns to watch the wandering soldiers, they suddenly don't look familiar anymore. They are red-clad adversaries, they bring nothing but death, and this seems to be the key. Hatred for them comes up as she hasn't felt before, images arise and they feeel like her own memories only she's certain this is the first time she remembers them, a bunch of them are of the devils in red coats, one of them a blonde who looks nothing like Polly, because she is a devil in a red coat and then she is dying and then she is dead and for a moment, it is Mal that feels the hatred for her.

She wonders, shortly, whether she should follow Smith and the still laughin sergeant, and kill the sergeant, not for knowing her name or even for killing Polly, but for having her last impression of Polly be one of distortion and hatred. But that, too, is part of the risk she's been taking.

There is just one thing left to do. She will get up and she will limp back the long way to the battlefield, and she will have to look for Polly among the dead, not the living, and she will find her, and she will shoo the crows away until her leg has healed enough so she can bring Polly back.

It is a good plan, and easy to follow through. And so she does.

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