Chapter 5 Mine-sweepers
Smirking wasn’t sure how it happened but he was back under the bonnet of GogGob’s wagon. He noted with some confusion that the engine was nowhere to be seen only a thorny shrub and some rocky ground underneath. Only seconds ago, he was sure of it, he had been riding high with the wind in his hair-squig. The road was clear ahead and the angry ork mob left behind. The dazed grot struggled to his feet levering the heavy vehicle hood off his back. It fell with a clang that underscored the surrounding silence. Smirking was alone again.
He watched as a detached wheel rolled along the ground still going its own merry way before promptly exploding in a shower of dirt and smoke. Realisation froze Smirking to the spot. There were bombs in the ground! Someway distant lay the upturned ruin of GogGob’s wagon. It looked not unlike the other vehicle wrecks scattered about the valley mouth. Most of the front of the vehicle had been blown off and the cabin was badly mangled. The rear looked to have survived more or less intact and Smirking could make out a few of the other grots starting to emerge from the wreckage.
SkagNet detached his peg leg and slipped himself free of the mangled frame of the cabin. He prized his metal peg free and winced at its bent shape. He had a throbbing headache but was otherwise relatively unscathed, GogGob however hadn’t fared so well. The Snakebite ork had gone to meet his makers. He’d bought the farm afterall, SkagNet joked.
SkagNet did what any ork would expect of a close friend and promptly fleeced the corpse for anything of value. He slipped a Snakebite charm from around GogGob’s broken neck; a string of large yellowed grox tusks and boars teeth all carved with religious glyps and orkish wards, and smacked out a couple of good canines to boot. The only other things worth taking were a pouch of dried squig meat and a reddish brown hair-squig.
“Fanx Goggers. Go wif Gork me ol’ chum. Gorksagoodun.” he added superstitiously. He swung himself out to sit on top of the upturned vehicle and screwed his wonky leg back on. Stuffing a strip of squig jerky into his cheek SkagNet considered his next move.
The truck hadn’t made it very far into the minefield before it hit a mine. The momentum of the vehicle aided the explosion in pushing it further still into the danger zone. SkagNet’s wreck lay almost a quarter of the way in but Smirking had been catapulted with the engine hood still further right into the centre of the minefield. Behind SkagNet a throng of angry and frustrated orks bayed and kicked their heels, unable or unwilling to go any further. Off into the open valley beyond, SkagNet could see a small signpost about as tall as a grot which he presumed denoted the boundary of the minefield. A warning sign left by the humans to warn other humans not to enter.
\”’ere, Nurd. K’mere.” He groaned through his soggy jerky. His grot of higher-than-average intelligence scampered gladly up on top of the vehicle.
“Waddya make o’ dis?” Asked SkagNet not rhetorically.
“Der’s bombs in da ground boss.” Nurd informed his ork of less-than-average intelligence.
“I know dat! But ‘ow do we get fru em?”
Nurd pondered the problem.
“wot way Boss?”
That was a good question. SkagNet looked both ways. On one side he had a mass of maddened orks, pent up and ready to lash out. On the other a free and open country, albeit one mined with explosives. Smirking smiled and waved at him in the near distance.
A large mob of Defkopptas flew overhead eliciting a flurry of gunfire and rage from their grounded kin. One caught fire and went down into the minefield on SkagNet’s left causing a cascade of explosions all along the path of its collison. A roar of approval went up from the mob and SkagNet could see one of GrodMek s Flashgitz grinning from ear to ear in triumph. Nurd had an idea.
“Cud we frow stuff?” he pondered aloud. “’eavy stuff. Chuck it like, onta da bombs?”
SkagNet liked having this little grot around.
“Get da wheels off.” He ordered. “An’ anyfink else ya reckon I can lob.”
Nurd smilled and set about putting his plan into action. Before long SkagNet had, stacked on top of the vehicle three tyres, one of which was already in very bad shape, a crate of small scrap metal bits which on their own wouldn’t have weighed enough but together in a crate made for a sizeable object, and a truck door. Unki and Nurd were still at work on removing the wagon’s tailgate but SkagNet decided to make a start. Taking a well inflated tyre in hand he rolled it in Smirking’s direction and carefully marked it’s path as it went. It rolled for some distance. The assembled grots stared intently as did the engrossed mass of orks behind.
The tyre was launched skyward and landed with a metallic thunk near another wreck.
“Gorkdammit SkagNet!” called an ork from the mob “you’re a Gorkdammed genius!” It was none other than GorGoff NarGrim the warlord himself. Nurd ground his teeth with resentment at the misplaced compliment.
“K’mon.” grunted SkagNet turning his back on GorGoff. He had never liked the Boss and he wasn’t about to start grovelling for his praises now. He hefted the door onto one shoulder with his arm through the window space, swung another tyre on top and picked up the ragged wheel with his free hand. The grots were impressed at his orkish strength. Nurd gathered up his tools and slung them in his belt, having distributed as many working weapons around the mob as he had fixed he felt this an ideal opportunity to unburden himself of the responsibility of fixing any more. Fungrot carried all their food supplies in a back pack almost as fat as he was himself, and Unki and Smudge struggled with the remaining crate of heavy vehicle parts. Following SkagNet in line they trod the thin path to the newly made crater. Once there SkagNet unburdened his load with methodical care before trying again.
Smirking sat with rapt attention watching his approaching saviour’s gallant rescue attempt. Never before had he felt so valued, so appreciated as to warrant such devotion and downright reckless heroics. He smiled and wept like a crazed buffoon.
SkagNet’s second tyre didn’t travel nearly as far as the first before it went up in a shower of grit and fire. Smudge jumped and dropped his end of the crate spilling vehicle parts all over the place.
“Pick’em up.” Groaned SkagNet, painfully aware of his limited progress and equally limited resources.
He plodded off with his raggedy tyre and door to make another attempt while the grots gingerly tiptoed around sweating and trembling as they refilled the crate. An explosion went off behind. For a second SkagNet thought his grots were toast but it was only another vehicle wreck survivor aping his own genius strategy. He laid his door down carefully and flopped the damaged tyre out in front. It didn’t go very far.
“Oi, where’s Naff?” Nurd slapped the grot in question over the back of the head and directed him toward the ork. Naff plodded innocent and dutiful as ever to his Boss’ call.
“Push dat wheel for uz, willya?”
SkagNet pressed the grot into service without waiting for an answer. Naff pushed hard and the wheel rolled a wobbly windy path which veered to the right and would almost have begun to turn back in on itself if it hadn’t exploded in a shower of green muck. SkagNet felt it a worthy effort for such a pathetic excuse for a grot.
Smirking began to have his doubts. Where were they going? Were they letting Naff take the lead? Had SkagNet and his buddies given up on him after all? He snapped a twig off the bushy shrub and started banging on the truck bonnet with furious desperation.
SkagNet looked up, hearing Smirking’s din he observed that the grot possessed another lob-able item for his service. He hefted his truck door onto his shoulder and moved off.
“Folla me you lot.” He barked. The grots eyed him suspiciously but had little choice in the matter. Unki and Smudge lead the reluctant train with their heavy cargo.
Once in Naff’s crater SkagNet inspected the vehicle door. It’s outer side was a little rounded and after he applied a bit of pressure on the frame it was a little more rounded. He aimed for Smirking and slung the huge improvised discus across the ground, it skipped and skidded and ground to an uneventful stop.
“Hmmmpf.” He mused. “Go geddit ladz.”
Nurd stopped beside him and looked up incredulously.
“Not you.” The ork muttered at him.
Runt made a hop into the skid and tip toed forward followed by Snikkit and Fungrot. Slakka yawned and plodded on like a sleepwalker. SkagNet waited until they had reached the door before proceeding himself. When he arrived he inspected the ground around them. An explosive device was clearly visible sticking out of the ground almost dead centre between them and the eager smirking grot. SkagNet sat down on the door and scratched his chin. Smudge and Unki dropped the crate noisily beside him and groaned with relief of their burden.
“Yeah dat’ll do it.” SkagNet grabbed the crate up and flexed his sizable arms muscles testing its weight.
“Get b’hind da door youzunz.” he suggested without much import.
Nurd was already there and Smudge and a few others soon followed suit. Fungrot simply turned his heavy backpack to face the blast and crouched in its considerable shelter. SkagNet lobbed the crate into the air and held his breath as it landed just next to the device but failed to trigger it. Snikkit drew his weapon impatient for some explosive action and fired a flurry of rounds at it. The resulting spray of shrapnel almost took his head off as flying vehicle parts blattered against both the door and Smirking’s bonnet.
“fanx.” said SkagNet twisting a sliver of crate wood out of his forearm. “I fink.”
Smudge, relieved of his burden and apparently convinced of his own safety proceeded forward. The diminutive dirt encrusted sneak was the first to reach Smirking’s island and reunite the stranded prodigal with his mob. SkagNet was less convinced of the path between them and let each of his grots go first before he joined them with his door. Snikkit picked up a particularly spiky looking shard of crate wood on the way.
Smirking beamed at his hero. His smile dropped slowly as SkagNet passed by without a glance, dropping his door almost on top of Smirking and grabbing up the engine hood. He tested its weight in his hands briefly before tossing it like a boat out into the lake of mines. It went an impressive distance on the now stonier ground before it was launched skyward. It landed some distance away behind them and bounced before setting off another mine. SkagNet’s mob watched it fly again. Smirking imagined it might come to rest back on the front of the wagon but it fell short.
Looking back SkagNet could see the ork mob now fully mobilised in attempts to cross the mines. Wheels and armour plates were being stacked and other gretchin mobs were being harassed into service as mine sweepers. A flurry of explosives erupted all along the length of the valley mouth as the effort began in earnest. SkagNet felt it was time he hurried up before the less timid tactics of the mob caught up with them.
He grabbed up his door and made a dash along the skid trail of the bonnet. The grots followed a bit surprised at his change of tac. No sooner was he at the edge of the crater when he slung his discus door another length along the ground. His last piece of scrap triggered another mine and flew away leaving him empty handed. He plodded slowly the short length of safe road and slumped down to ponder the last leg of his journey. The little human signpost stood not far off daring him to have a go. The grots gathered round and struck similar poses of deep contemplation.
“Oi, Nurd. Where’s me tailgate?” Asked the ork, knowing the gretchin had left it behind.
“We couldn’t geddit loose boss” Nurd snivelled “we didn’t ave da propa tools an…”
“Awright, awright das nuff.” SkagNet huffed.
He knew he could have stomped the tailgate off himself but he had been too eager to get on, out from under the gloating scrutiny of GorGoff and the rest of the other orks. He gazed back at the wagon longingly. A pack of Deathskulls had reached it and where stripping its precious bits with savage enthusiasm.
“Zoggin lootin goodfernuffink…” he muttered under his breath.
He was out of time. There was nothing else for it. If he didn’t just move now he would find himself surrounded by rolling mine triggers and roaming grot mobs and flying projectiles all likely to set off every explosive in his vicinity and put an end to his last Waaagh! before it had really begun.
“Ok fellas.” He sighed “gerra move on!”
He kicked the nearest grot in the behind and it landed clumsily on the virgin turf of the minefield and instantly froze in terror. SkagNet winced; it was Smudge, his best sneaker. He looked at his remaining grots deciding to choose a little more carefully who went next. He unslung his grabba stick from his back, picked up Smirking by the waist and tossed him over Smudge a little further out. Smirking landed in a heap, arms and legs sprawling with a mouthful of grit. The next to fly was Runt. He landed with a little more skill and quickly turned to see who was next.
SkagNet was rubbing his chin and squinting down the line of grots. There wasn’t far to go until the sign. Another stepping stone ought to do it but it was further than he was willing to toss a grot without risking a long skid in the dangerous ground.
“Awright Snikkit, op it!”
Snikkit took a run up. Smudge caught the first hop full in the gut and Smirking got the next in the back. Runt didn’t wait around to be another stepping stone and promptly squirmed to one side. Snikkit kept up his pace none the less and in another bound and a leap was past his intended spot and first to reach the sign. Runt made a leap onto the same approximate spot and followed him to the finishing post which Snikkit had already ripped out of the ground to inspect its pointy end.
SkagNet almost pulled out his hair squig. Typical grots, he thought. A mob of Storm boyz was just passing his position flying overhead. In an oily jet propelled leap they cleared the edge of the minefield and promptly formed an orderly drill line trying to look as officious and orderly as their smug young faces would allow. SkagNet would have spat if not for fear of triggering a mine. A flurry of blasts too close behind for comfort shocked SkagNet into action he glanced back at the oncoming horde. A merciless wall of vehicles belching smoke trundled impatiently behind a huge swarm of snotlings and grots driving them forward in their terror and panic. SkagNet grabbed up a grot under each arm, Nurd and Slakka, and legged it. Smudge narrowly avoided the crooked peg leg which dug into the ground where he had lain. Smirking caught the boss’ boot and rode on his leg as he continued out of the minefield. With another carefully judged vault on his peg and a clamouring, bounding hop SkagNet had made it.
He shook Smirking off his boot and dumped the other two. Safe on the other side SkagNet watched his remaining grots as they worked out an elaborate series or leap frogs. Smudge hopped forward into Smirking’s spot and Unki filled the vacant space. Runt made for the goal opening the way for Smudge to move on. Fungrot moved as soon as Unki had space to go and so the last four made their way one by one to safety. As he waited SkagNet considered his luck; or was it skill? He had just successfully navigated a minefield only losing a single grot; and a weedy pathetic naff one at that. Naff was so useless he hardly counted. As he congratulated himself on his own unprecedented genius his eye lit on a fat toadstool growing in the shade of a rock. His eye naturally wandered to Fungrot who, in the same moment had spotted it too. It was too late. Fungrot hopped off course, eyes glazed with fungus lust.
“Fungers!” SkagNet yelped as time slowed to a crawl. “Noooooooo!”
Smudge dived for safety closely followed by Unki who landed on top shielding him from the spray of green guts and gravel. SkagNet slumped bereft as all around him emerging orks and gretchin roared past in huge battlewagons and trucks, bikes and wartracks with a deafening chorus of engines and chants of “ere we go, ere we go.” He didn’t hear any of it. All he could hear was his tummy rumbling. Fungrot his cook, the stupid fungus obsessed grot had gone and got himself and all SkagNet’s tasty treats blown up. He felt something rummaging in his pocket. It was Smirking. He pulled out a strip of squig jerky, offered it to SkagNet and smiled.