Why I Have Nightmares
03/11/2009 in Warhammer 40K
I can think of precious few things that scare me shitless like Tyranids.
Actually, nothing comes to mind at the moment, and I’ve seen some scary stuff out there. I’ve heard some guys talk about demons being worse, but they aren’t natural things. You expect something that comes straight from the warp to be freakish. To be honest they are so bizarre sometime that you are more confused than frightened. Maybe that’s just me, but the ‘nids, well, they’re natural creatures. They breathe and bleed and all that, so I suppose they are just recognizable enough to really give me the willies.
My first fight against the Tyranids was on Lylar VII. It was an agri-world that was almost a perfect sphere. Just flat wheat fields to the horizon everywhere. We made landfall and were supposed to prepare defenses against a Tyranid ground assault. Basically the plan was that the Navy would contain the Hive Fleet in orbit and force them to drop their pods in a contained space; then the Guard would set a massive perimeter around that location and keep what got planet side contained until the Navy could finish the Hive Fleet off. The idea was to keep from having to declare Exterminatus and wipe out the largest wheat producer in the sub sector.
Everything went according to plan at first. We dug trenches, set up razor wire and unlimbered artillery. My regiment was responsible for the defense of Fortification 261, a set of trench works half a mile long. It was a defenders dream, the weather on Lylar VII was so mild that visibility never dropped below five miles. We had beautiful positioning, perfectly designed trenches with over lapping fields of fire, and their was no way we could get caught unawares since it was just after harvest time and the wheat had been trimmed almost to the ground. We had orbital support, and more artillery than you could shake a stick at. I’d been in the Guard for a while and I had never seen so perfect a place to defend. The next positions was far to our left and right, with massive minefields that stretched mile out ahead of our lines between us and our artillery overlapped so the ‘nids would funnel into our positions. The only thing that we could have asked for was some elevation, but I wasn’t in any mood to complain. They didn’t have a chance it would be shooting fish in a barrel, or so we thought.
We were wrong.
I’ll never forget that campaign, it was the shortest and bloodiest I have ever fought in. Six days was all that it lasted from initial contact till it was over. The first day was just shelling. Between the complete lack of cover and the fact that every squad had an auspex on 27 hours a day, the Lictors were never a big threat, though one got within las rifle range of my squad before we spotted and took it down. That was the first time I got a chill up my spine. The thing had moved at least five miles in wide-open terrain without us seeing it. Still most were spotted and shelled out of existence in the first day and night.
The second day opened with a lot of explosions as they began to run herds of ‘gaunts at the gaps between lines. The Navy had done a good job of bottling them up in orbit and they couldn’t drop around or behind us. Nor could they scatter those damned spore mines over our positions. Since our artillery vastly out ranged their Biovores they couldn’t really support the ground fleet. Our mines were pretty thick between the lines, and with the overlapping artillery support they stopped testing the mines and pulled back at the end of the second night.
The third day was oddly silent. The ‘nids spent the day bringing more and more creatures to the surface. The Navy had reached a stalemate at this point. They couldn’t push any further into the small amount of orbit the Tyranids still controlled, but the ‘nids couldn’t break out of the blockade either. We spent the night watching the friction contrails light up the night sky as more and more pods dropped to the ground. Most of us couldn’t sleep knowing that tomorrow the attack would come. I remember thinking how pretty the sky looked as the fiery rails rained down in the distance like the mother of all meteor showers.
The irony still sticks in my mind.
The first attack came in the twilight hours of the fourth day. I had finally drifted off when the artillery opened up. I was on the firing step in an instant. Between the muzzle flashes of the artillery behind and the detonations of impacts before, the enemy was lit up with a strange strobing effect. I sighted in through the scope of my las rifle, but they were still along way out of range. A few of the men nearby snapped off shots anyway but the sergeant quickly shouted at them to conserve ammo.
The lieutenant was walking up and down the trench behind us, shouting up our courage and telling us to keep cool and fire accurately. I don’t remember much of it; I was too busy watching the rangefinder scroll down impossibly fast. They were coming so fast. Then the artillery stopped. It took me a moment to figure out why. As the swam had closed the basilisks had craned their barrels higher and higher so the rounds arced higher and came down closer. The enemy was now so close that the Earthshakers had to drop their barrels and fire directly at them.
I had been in the guard long enough to know exactly how far that was. They were almost on us. The Leman Russ had so far been silent, even though the enemy had long passed within their range. My guess is the artillery commander wanted to judge are long range stuffs effectiveness first. With a single thunderous explosion twelve Main Line Battle Tanks, eight Earthshakers, and three Griffon Heavy Mortars fired at once. I lost my target in the midst of what looked like a wall of fire. A moment later the mortar squads began dropping rounds on pre-ranged coordinates.
The heavy weapons squads began to fire short bursts of heavy bolter and auto-cannon fire into the depleted ranks of creatures charging us. Still they came at us, and that scared me most of all. We inflicted at least ninety percent casualties before they were in las range and they never even slowed down. I’ve never seen anything like that before or since. I’m no coward but I would have been making tracks long before I made it half that far.
My range finder finally hit optimal range and I opened up at roughly the same time as the rest of my regiment. A wall of las bolts sped across the smooth, flat ground and cut through them like a scythe. The next salvo was not as neat, but no less effective. It was less than a minute before the sergeant was yelling for us to cease-fire. The sun was rising and we could clearly see the rows of corpses. We had killed every one of them before they had come within a hundred yards.
Men were cheering all around me but I felt numb. There were thousands of corpses out their and that simply been their way of testing our defenses. The next wave would make this seem like child’s play. That’s when the Lieutenant caught my eye, his expression showed that he was thinking the same thing I was. We exchanged a silent nod as I reloaded my weapon.
They came at us four more times that day with similar numbers and similar results. We received reports that most of the positions had received similar probes. I lost track of the millions of casualties they must have taken just to gauge our resistance. It wasn’t until the first real assault came that I realized just how badly outnumbered we were.
About midnight on the fourth day I was awakened by the crack of artillery. Night turned to day as the illumination flares slowly began to drift down. There were Millions of them. It was if the tide was pouring towards us in the form of a solid carpet of creeping things. There were larger things in this swarm, huge creature twice or even three times the size of a man. The artillery began pounding out at them. The Leman Russ’s fired at maximum range this time. Explosions tore through their ranks and still they came on. I saw a creature take an Earthshaker round to the chest and keep coming. It just seemed more pissed off.
The Lieutenant still seemed calm though, and that reassured me a bit. He was walking up and down the trenches shouting to the heavy weapons crews to open fire at maximum range. We had plenty of ammo and it wasn’t like they could miss, they were packed shoulder to shoulder out there. The artillery would tear gaps in them and they filled them like a pond when you throw rocks into it. I remember thinking there were just too many of them.
Then the orbital guns fired. The lances hit first followed by moments later by the melta-torpedoes. I had thought that the artillery barrage had been devastating but all those Earthshakers got shown up for the peashooters they were. The firepower was so extreme that it carved a series of massive pits out before our lines. The earth was slackened by the heat and formed a slope that the ‘nids had to climb to get at us.
I may have cheered at this point, I don’t really remember.
As the barrage concluded, I turned to Polonis, the private next to me, and shouted over my ringing ears, “That showed ‘em, eh?” He never replied. As he opened his mouth to speak his head exploded. A shard of crystal cut past me and struck the trench wall behind. Polonis’ headless corpse tumbled off the firing step and into the trench.
I distinctly remember screaming at this point.
My scream was drowned out by the sounds of the heavy weapons team behind me. Auto cannon and heavy bolter shells began to reap a bloody toll. That meant they were nearly close enough for lasgun fire. My hands were shaking as I checked my range finder and I had to steady my breathing.
I slapped myself awake again. I had seen worse than this; I had fought Chaos cultists accompanied by demons, I had fought swift Eldar raiders, I had gunned down Ork hordes. Was this really any worse? I realized as I raised my gun that I really couldn’t answer that.
I started praying more earnestly than I had in a long time.
Our guns drove them back at close range. Their horrific weaponry took a toll up close but the orbital barrage had broken the back of the assault. I remember shooting a hormogaunt out of the air as it leapt at me. Its body landed in the trench behind me and I raked it with auto fire to make sure it stayed down. When the last of them were driven back, I stepped down and looked at the body.
It was a vicious, spiky looking thing. Evolved for a single purpose, it was on of the ugliest and nastiest looking creatures I had ever seen. And I have seen a lot. I didn’t relish the thought of fighting one of these things up close. Then I realized there were millions of them coming for me.
I’ve not had a decent nights sleep since.
The next morning the final assault began. I call it that because there was no break in the fighting for the next thirty-six hours. They had finished testing our defenses, they were coming en-masse this time and for some reason they decided that our sector was the weakest link. They hit every defensive perimeter within ten miles of Fortification 261 and we were right in the center of the attack.
Our orbital support opened up before they were even close enough for the Basilisks to target. I had hoped that would stop them, but the orbital support was soon engaged by a thrust from the Hive Fleet and they were forced to pull back and fight their space borne opponents.
Our artillery was in top form. They never let up for a minute until the end; their rate of fire was hard to believe. But it wasn’t enough; I knew it wouldn’t be. It took the Tyranids three hours to get close enough for las fire range. By that time the pits carved out by the orbital bombardment were full of corpses. The slope was littered with the dead, but still they came on. They never slowed for a minute, they would crawl over the piles of their dead and come at us hissing and shrieking the whole time.
The sound still echoes in my dreams.
Our heavy weapons and las fire held them back for another twenty-six hours. The piles of spent clips could have filled a bulk transport. We had plenty of ammo though, as long as the orbital blockade held our supply ships could keep shipping stuff to the surface and in all those hours not one gun ran out of ammo.
Occasionally a cruiser would make a pass close enough to shell them from orbit and that more than anything saved us. It broke them up into waves instead of a never-ending flood. But we just couldn’t kill them fast enough. There were so many of them. A few men fell to their weapons, in a few other places they actually got into hand to hand to hand and we had to force them back with flamers and pour in the reserves before they could capitalize on the breakthrough.
Then it happened, on the dawn of the sixth day all hell broke loose.
Afterwards I found out that Fortification 265 had been over run and that is how they had managed to get through. At the time my only clue was when the artillery stopped firing. I thought the silence was the most frightening sound I had ever heard.
Then the screams began.
Their were ‘gaunts all over the artillery crews. The Leman Russ and Chimeras turned to fire at this new threat and suddenly we had almost no support. They were all over us in a second. The Sergeant was screaming at us to fix bayonets. I was able to get my knife locked on before the first one hit the trench.
It was a termagant. I hit it with full auto so hard that it exploded. But their was another one behind it, and another, and another. My clip ran dry and I didn’t have time to reload. I stabbed the next one as it leapt on top of me. Then another one as it tried to shoot one of those devilish beetle-bullets at me. Men were fighting all around, the shouts of men dying, those things hissing, and steel meeting carapace.
I got up and reloaded quickly then shot a hormagant as it came bounding up the trench at me. The Sergeant was next to me firing his bolt pistol and swinging his chainsword. Then a claw buried itself in his neck and he went down gurgling. I stabbed the thing that had killed him over and over, but I was all alone, my entire squad was gone. Tyranids were pouring at me from both sides.
Someone shouted, “Get clear!” I looked up, there were men standing above me behind the trench. I grabbed the lip and hurled myself clear just as they began to fill it with burning promethium. I continued to fire at the approaching hordes, but our entire line was full of them, we were all about to die. I reloaded again and commended my soul to the emperor.
We were hit from behind. One of the flamer men screamed as a hormagant landed on his back and stuck a talon through his promethium tank and into his spine. They both went up in a plume of fire. I sprayed full auto at them, but they were all around. My back was to the burning trench and hormagants were leaping it even as another brood of termagants poured at us from the remnants of our artillery.
I figured if I was gonna die I was going to do it like a man. I charged straight at them, firing and screaming as I went. I killed a few but the rest turned to look straight at me, a cold intelligence gleaming in their eyes and raised their hideous guns in unison.
The first of the drop pods landed squarely on top of them, mashing them flat. Blue armored space marines bearing the markings of the Ultramarines poured out of the half-a-dozen pods and opened fire. The bolts cut through the enemy like a scythe. I spun and began to fire as well, my lasgun seeming weak in comparison to the massive guns of the Emperor’s finest.
To my left I saw a Carnifex swing a massive claw that buried itself into the weapon of a great Dreadnought. Then the Dreadnoughts powerfist took its head clean off. To my right a marine Captain and his command squad fired upon Hive Tyrant and its bodyguard. A meltagun blast blew one of the guards in two the other fell to concentrated bolter fire. The Tyrant cleaved one of the marines in half. The squads color-sergeant swung a powerfist that shattered the beasts chest.
With contemptuous ease the Tyrant impaled the marine and tore it into pieces with its claws. Another marine grabbed the company banner before it hit could the ground while the Tyrant decapitated another marine. I was running at the firing, screaming my rage.
It turned to face me and raised its claws, but I plunged my bayonet into its shattered chest. It roared in pain and swatted me aside. I struggled to get up but one of my arms was broken. With my good had I drew my las pistol and emptied the cartridge. The thing ignored the pitiful fire and raised a claw to finish me.
The Captain leapt onto it from behind and plunged his powersword into the base of its brain. The beast collapsed heavily on to the ground and the Captain lifted himself off the ground. He looked about him. Thunderhawks were landing and disgorging Whirlwinds and Land Raiders while the marines began to re-secure the trenches. The might of the Adeptus Astartes had broken the assault.
The adrenaline was wearing off and I began to feel the broken arm more sharply, but I was determined not to pass out. The Captain looked at me and stooped down to offer me his hand, lifting me lightly. “You showed exceptional bravery guardsman, a testament to His Glory.”
I snapped up a salute with my good hand. He looked me over, “What is your name guardsman?” I felt pride that such a being would take notice of me, “Private First Class…” But I had pushed my injured arm to far and I choked on my name. My embarrassment was plain, but I was having trouble staying upright.
The Captain muttered something into his comm-link and the marine Apothecary came over. “Brother Cetus, have squads Appolus and Brutus sweep the area behind the trenches for any survivors. And take this one to the field hospital.” He looked at me once more, “You acquitted yourself like a worthy servant of the Emperor this day guardsman. Live on and see that you continue to do so.”
I tried to speak my thanks and re-avow my loyalty before this most formidable warrior of the Imperium, but all I manage was a tired nod. With that the Captain left me.
* * *
I learned later that the reinforcing Space Marines had turned the tide of battle in space as well. The Hive fleet was utterly destroyed, and though they had to sterilize the planet within twenty miles of the battlefield, the bulk of the planet survived. In time even the battlefield would once again be verdant soil. We had saved a planet of the Imperium, what greater reward could there be? What greater justification for the 80% casualties my regiment had suffered?
I was made a sergeant for my efforts and, I was told, because the Commander of the Space Marine force had mentioned me specifically. To this day I never let the honor of such a thing be forgotten. I am true to my unspoken words that I longed to speak on that day. I will show my self to ever be a worthy some of His Imperial Guard.
But not a day passes that I do not remember the terrible horrors I witnessed on Lylar VII. The events of those six short days will haunt me to my grave. A lot of good men died before the almost unstoppable onslaught of the Tyranids. Every once in a while I hear the new recruits talking too much about their own prowess and I tell them that story, and they generally quite down. Maybe it’s just the look on my face when I tell them, I don’t know. I do know that I will never forget Lylar VII though.
Every night the memories of that place haunt my nightmares.
When I said that my first encounter with the Tyranids was on Lylar VII, I meant my first and not my only. On Lylar VII I saw things that give me nightmares to this day. But it wasn’t until Thuros that those nightmares became reality. I had thought that never again would I see such things as I saw on the plains of Lylar VII. And I was right; I Thuros didn’t match any of those horrors.
No, Thuros was much, much worse.
Thuros was a budding planet that had not yet become a full on Hive world yet. Still the metropolitan sectors could spread for dozens of miles in every direction and massive skyscrapers brushed the sky in the densest areas. In the early summer the city architects were just beginning to discuss plans for a series of connections between the existing skyscrapers that would allow them to support more weight, when the remnants of the Hive Fleet fell upon them.
Irony seems to be the chief driving factor of my life. Three years before we had all but annihilated the Hive Fleet that fell upon Lylar VII. One Hive cluster had escaped. A single ship out of thousands; how much damage could it do? I have only heard this opinion voiced once, and that was by a young Private who was soon to fight and die on Thuros.
As I said, irony.
It was also ironic that the very fact that the Tyranids had almost wiped our regiment out three years before was the chief reason we were chosen to ship out to this battlefield. Some genius tactician figured we had the most experience in the sector. The Adeptus Astartes were too busy to send anyone to such a small theater; it would be up to the guard to flush them out.
The Hive ship had actually dropped out of orbit and straight into the center of Thuros Primus, the capitol of the planet and its largest city. The PDF and nearby regiments had quarantined the entire city at once and set up a massive perimeter around it. There orders were to contain the infection at all costs. They were ordered to shoot anyone trying to leave, lest genestealers infect anyone of them and send them out to spread the infestation.
Some of the PDF troopers were forced to shoot people they knew as they tried to flee the Tyranids.
After three weeks the streams of refugees had stopped, either shot dead by the encircling forces or consumed by the Tyranids. All was quiet along the perimeter, the Tyranids didn’t have the numbers to break out and the perimeter forces had no desire to throw themselves at the enemy lurking within.
So we were called in.
Thuros Primus had suffered a lot of damage from the initial planet fall, which I suppose is bound to happen when something the size of a hive ship falls out of orbit on top of a city. Still, most of it was intact, and the planetary governor figured if the center of the Hive Mind could be destroyed, the Tyranids would fall into disarray and the city could be retaken intact.
My regiment had experience against the Tyranids, and since we had just finished mopping up an Ork Waaagh! nearby we were called in to lead the initial sweep.
I can still recall setting foot on that world for the first time.
* * *
I step off the transport in lockstep with the men to either side of me. We are supposed to be the solution to a horrible problem and Command wanted us to march out before the public in full combat kit. I though we looked like a lot of toy soldiers on some young boys carpet, marching in pristine rows to meet the horrors of the universe.
But then my perspective was somewhat tainted by my memories of what we were facing.
The Tyranids. By the Emperor how I had prayed nightly to never hear that word again. I fought of the horrors of my past as I marched through that sun lit square. The people around me were cheering. The men to either side of me were smiling broadly. They were both new recruits that had not seen the action on Lylar VII. I felt sorry for them, they had no idea what they were walking into.
I envied them that too.
Still the Colonel had been ordered to lead us into Thuros Primus and those orders had come straight from the Lord Commander of the Sub-sector. It was the will of the Emperor that we fight and die on this world, against this foe.
That was enough for me, in spite of all my misgivings.
I whispered a prayer to Him then and there.
And then I painted on a smile for the crowds and for my men. Let them not see my fear. Let them live in this happy moment for as long as possible.
Soon enough they would know the horrors I had seen.
I decided to brief my men before we went in. The standard briefing had been given by the Colonel himself. It made me sick. The data on the creatures was accurate enough, weak points, how to destroy larger creatures to disrupt the whole, and the particular armaments they carry. All clear cut and very simple.
What they left out was the most important factor in fighting the Tyranids. In all my time on Lylar VII I can’t remember having had time to take aim at the weak points on one of them. When they got up close enough that my lasgun could hit them, I was firing at full auto at anything that moved. They never mentioned the cold cunning or the fearless determination of the beasts.
Most of all they didn’t mention the un-manning fear that they evoked.
The plan was simple; the Colonel had re-iterated that point many times. Platoon strength units would be dispatched to sweep the city. Our primary goal was to identify viable entry points into the Hive. Then we would assault it, find its heart and crush it. Once that was done the creatures should become disorganized and the rest of the infantry could mop up the city without having to shell it, or blast it to atoms from orbit.
My only problem with the plan was the part between where we enter the city and the part where we destroy the Hive. In short, I didn’t like it. But that was the plan, and I was a Sergeant, my job wasn’t to like it, it was to get the mission done. That didn’t mean I could give a few extra words to my men.
My advice was simple. Stay cool, stay together, shoot anything that moves. Even that was even that was likely more than I could expect from them under fire. One of them finally asked me, “What’re they like Sarge? Up close, I mean. I hear they can be nasty.” I just look at him for a moment, and I can tell the light in my eye unnerves him. I shake my head and try to think up a way to explain it to him.
“Remember, back on Jorgan’s World? When we held that hill against those Chaos bastards?” They all nod, all my men survived that campaign, and I’m damn proud of it. I meet every one of their gazes before continuing, “Remember when those Chaos Marines came at our center and Demons started cutting through us and we only just drove them back.” They all shudder at the memory, an entire company had been slaughtered before we finally pulled down the last of them.
I look straight at the one who had asked the question, “Not once in all that campaign, among all those demons, even looking at those twisted Marines did I feel half the sheer bowl loosening terror I felt on Lylar VII.”
That stops them cold. I’m no soft man, I’ve seen a lot of nasty stuff in my time. All of them look at me and one of them tries to squawk a denial, but he catches the look on Private Cole’s face. Cole is the only other man in my squad to have survived Lylar VII. I have always been able to count on his courage in battle, he has a reputation for fearlessness, just like I do. Just like most of the men who were on Lylar VII.
Now though, his eyes are distant, his hands trembling as he cleans his flamer. As he remembers that hell, his courage wavers for a moment, and that shuts the rest of them right up. I nod, “Yeah, their nasty, especially up close. But they can be killed. You just remember this, boys; you keep your eyes open, your hands steady. It’s okay to be afraid of them, just make sure that you make that fear keep you sharp and quick. If you let it freeze you up, you’ll be dead.”
I can tell I’ve shake them, but I figure its better than letting them waltz in there and dying because they don’t know what they’re up against. Still I know that nothing I san say to them will begin to prepare them for what is to come. My worst nightmare on Lylar VII was having to fight those beasts up-close, without artillery support and three years later, here I am.
The men turn in for the night; I hope they all get a goodnight in, because it will be the last they get for a long time. One way or another they’ll never sleep this well again. Cole and I just spend the night cleaning our weapons and inspecting our gear. We both know that we’ll not sleep well with this hanging over us, and we want to make sure that no matter what happens tomorrow, it wont be our equipment that fails us.
The night passes slowly; I polish every single bolt pistol round. Then I clean every one of the ten spare mags I’ll be carrying and hand load then testing the spring tension and the smoothness of the release. Then I do it again just for good measure. Cole checks the seal on his flamer tanks at least a dozen times each. His flamer is one of the new models out of Necromunda. Instead of a massive tank of promethium on his back, the flame uses cartridges that clamp in front of the pistol grip, like the models the Adeptus Astartes use. I knew that Cole preferred this style of weapon over the more traditional Guard style that sported the massive P-tanks on the back, so I made sure I procured him one before planet fall.
He keeps checking the cartridges, making sure they’ll slide into the receiving port tightly and cleanly. He keeps tweaking the settings on the pilot light, making sure it lights quickly and wont go out if he moves too quickly. He hangs and re-hangs the spare cartridges from his webbing, making sure they are easily reached. I do the same for my bolt pistol clips, and then I place the compact las pistol I carry as a backup in my ankle holster with its one spare power pack.
As the sky starts to turn to a light grey we both sit there lost in our memories, sharpening our knives until both are far past a razors edge. We are still sitting there and hour later when the company wake-up call sounds.
The men roll lazily out of bed, stretching and yawning, just like any other day. Then they stop as they see us sitting there, already in full combat gear. I see Simons start to ask a question, or perhaps just make a smart-ass comment, but the look in my eye as I slide my knife into its sheath shuts him up before he starts. Now that it’s over the night seems to have passed too quickly.
Nothing I can do about that though. I just stand and stretch, testing my range of motion with all my gear on. The men are soon ready themselves, and I give them a quick looking over as they head out of to muster. All I can do know is adjust a strap here and a buckle here, and offer a final prayer to the Emperor.
The whole company is shuffling onto the muster field now and I offer a salute to the Lieutenant as his command squad assembles. He returns it and smiles as he looks my men over, “Ready for a good days work, Sergeant?” I don’t like him much, he wasn’t on Lylar VII and I wish to hell that I had an experienced officer leading me into this. That’s not a call I get to make though, so I simply shrug and say, “As I’ll ever be, sir.”
He isn’t listening though, he’s already moved on to the next squad. Perhaps that was his attempt at a motivational speech, hell if I know. I take my place in the ranks and snap to attention as the Colonel steps up on the podium and looks us over. He’s dressed in full carapace armor, his powersword hanging at his side. He looks every bit the warrior, though it’s all just a show for the men, same as the battle gear the Commissar is wearing, neither of them will be mixing it up today.
Still he is a hell of a motivational speaker, he leaves the men confident that it will be a hard fought victory. Every one of them feels he is already a hero. There is plenty of cheering at the end of it, though I note that most of the veterans aren’t huzzah-ing as loudly as most.
Me I keep silent, but I ain’t really a cheery sort.
The Commissar steps up next and leads the regiment in a long prayer commending their souls to the Emperor and asking for His guidance and that he grant us courage, honor, and victory. I heartily agree with his sentiments, though I always favored the less wordy soldiers approach.
Most of my prayers going something like, “Oh most benevolent Emperor, please keep my unworthy ass in one piece.” Never popular with the Chaplains, but I believe in being honest with the Devine One. After all, the Emperor was a warrior too was he not? So I imagine he can understand me well enough.
When the Commissar finishes, we fall out to our respective staging areas. Every platoon is going in from a different angle to maximize the search area. We’re spread far out enough that we will be unlikely to see another platoon while we’re out there, Thuros Primus is just that big.
The Lieutenant gathers all of us Sergeants together to give one last motivational speech. He’s not nearly as good at this as the Colonel though, and I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes at his clichés. He lets us go back to our squads five minutes before we’re scheduled to enter the perimeter. I pull one of my fellow Sergeants aside on my way back.
“What do you think, Bob?” He looks at and shrugs, “Probably the same thing you’re thinking. That Lylar VII didn’t teach them a damn thing. That I’ve got a squad full of soldiers green against the ‘nids. That our Lieutenant is the greenest one of the bunch and doesn’t know the first thing about fighting in a cityscape, let alone against this kind of enemy. That we have a snowball chance in hell of making it out of this one alive.”
I nod, “Yep pretty much what I was thinking too.”
He sighs and puts out the cigar he was smoking. “Damn, this is gonna be ugly. Worse than Lylar, I’ll bet my stripes.” I shrug, “It’s our job, though, so it’s gonna get done. Good luck, Bob.” He nods, fishing around in pocket for another cigar, “You too.” With that I return to my squad and look them over.
I wish I could say something inspiring, but I figure that it’s past the time for that. I let out a little sigh and twist me head slightly, popping my neck. Then I nod to them and give them one last piece of advice, “Fix your bayonets now boys, when the time comes you need them, you wont have time.”
They all do so except for Cole, whose flamer doesn’t have a lug, and Simmons who is carrying a heavy bolter.
Then the Lieutenant blows his whistle and we cross the Perimeter and head into the city.
I’m surprised at how intact the cityscape is. Of course the whole objective is to preserve the city as much as possible, there was no shelling or orbital bombardment. Still there are plenty of wrecked cars and burning buildings from the internal conflict when the Hive first touched down.
The silence is eerie. I’m glad the weather is clear because it shouldn’t be too hard to hear them coming in this dead silence. I’m jumpy, twitching at every piece of falling rubble or every pop from the still burning fires around me. I tell my self to calm down; I can’t let myself get so worked up that I’m exhausted when the attack comes. I hold my bolt pistol in one hand and an auspex in the other.
My squad, three squad, is just to the right of the command squad, with Bob’s four squad to my right. Similarly One and Two squads are to the left of the command squad with five squad out front a short ways. I don’t give two credits for their chances out there alone if they come across a Lictor.
But better them than me.
Three hours pass painfully slowly. Just regular reports to and from command, nothing particularly important. Some platoon on the west side engaged briefly with no losses. Probably shooting at shadows. I’m watching the ten blips that represent Five Squad pretty intently. The time has started to fray my nerves and I’m not sure whether silence is a good thing or a bad thing.
Then I think I spot an eleventh blip on the screen. Maybe it’s just my nerves getting to me, it disappears again almost instantaneously. Still I could have sworn I saw something. I decide to err on the side of caution and key my intersquad comm, “Five Squad, I thought I saw movement in your area.”
The Sergeant in Five Squad comes on, “My scanner’s negative fore hostiles, you sure?” I start to respond but I hear gunfire ahead. Then I hear a scream, then more gunfire. I don’t try to raise Five Squad again; they’re gone. I hear the Lieutenant screaming for a report, I switch to the squad frequency, “Look alive ladies, close in tight.” I switch over to Four Squad’s frequency and say, “Bob, pull in on the flank, close up with the Command Squad, we’re sitting ducks spread out like this.”
He doesn’t respond, but his squad is already moving our way, his men crouched low, eyes alert. Together we fall back to the Command Squads position, we’re the Lieutenant is still yelling the name of Five Squads Sergeant.
All he gets in response is static.
He throws the mike back at his comms man and looks at Bob and me for the first time. “What are you doing out of formation? And what the hell happened to Five Squad?” I don’t like the panicked look in his eyes. Nor do I much like the confusion and uncertainty in his voice. I bite back a sarcastic retort as gunfire erupts from where One Squad is supposed to be.
I signal to Two Squad to fall back to our position and double check that my bolt pistol has a round in the chamber. The Sergeant of Two Squad hesitates, but what’s left of One Squad is already running straight at him. He fires a couple of shots then orders his men back to where we are.
The Lieutenant is yelling at me something about the chain of command, but I cut him off as I raise my weapon. Hot on the heels of One Squad I see no fewer than three purestrain genestealers. One of the guardsmen tries to turn and fire, but a stealer takes his head off before he puts the weapon to his shoulder. I open fire, a pair of bolts punching a genestealer off its feet.
A few shots ring out but most of the men freeze up looking at the hideous visage and equally horrifying speed of the creatures. Cole is fingering his flamer, willing the men falling back to get clear so he can fire. I shoot another stealer and yell at my men as half a dozen more appear, “God damn it fire your weapons!” A few of them come to as Two Squad reaches our position, most of them look like they want to keep running but the think better of it.
The Lieutenant is yelling into the long-range voxcaster for reinforcements, his plasma pistol still in his holster. I empty my clip into another stealer that is almost on some poor soul from One Squad. The beast staggers but stays up right until its hit by a burst from a las rifle.
Simmons finally opens up with his heavy bolter and cuts one of the genestealers in half with a stream of high caliber rounds. “Short bursts Simmons! Save your ammo!” He nods and sights in another burst of fire. A frag missile from Bob’s Squad takes two of the stealers down, but more seem to appear out of nowhere.
As the lone survivor of One Squad reaches us, Cole lets loose a stream of burning promethium out before us. One of the men from Two Squad had stumbled and was being ripped apart as the fire washed over him and his foe, both consumed in an instant. I key up Bob’s frequency again, “Bob, they’re gonna try and flank us, I’ll send three men to cover our flanks, you send three of yours.” He looks over at me from where he is firing his laspistol and nods.
“Johnson, Meeks, Cole; you boys move over to that park wall and watch our back, Four squad is sending three to back you up.” They look at me and start to move, Cole letting of one final burst flamer go through the window on a nearby hab block. The windows blow out and two genestealers come through the door trailing fire.
Then Cole is moving to the rearguard, already ejecting the spent canister and reaching for another. Four Squads reinforcements are already firing, one with a grenade launcher, at something I can’t see. I hope they can keep our rear safe because I don’t want a small-scale repeat of Lylar today.
The Lieutenant is still screaming into the voxcastor when a stealer takes the comms man’s head off. The things other claw crushes the set and would have taken the Lieutenants head off had it not gotten hit hard by a bolter from Two Squad. The Lieutenant blinks and wipes the bloody mist out of his eyes and seems to notice the battle around him for the first time.
Then he starts yelling at me.
“Sergeant, what are those men doing over there?” he asks pointing at our rearguard. “I didn’t authorize that! I am in command here! I order you to push those things back, then move on to the hive, soldier! Do you hear me? I order you to…” He’s cut off as borer beetle cuts through his abdomen.
Then he’s on the ground screaming.
I leave him to the medic and survey the situation as I reach for a fresh magazine. The genestealers are all dead, but a wave of more conventional Tyranid infantry is sweeping towards us in a hurry. Simmons heavy bolter blows three termagants in half and las fire drops another half a dozen before a flamer cuts them off for a moment.
Still judging by their numbers, we don’t have a chance in this close terrain. I switch over to the platoon frequency and shout out my orders, “Fall back by squads to the manufactorium down the block. Two Squad go!” The manufactorium was a small two story factory with few windows and only on e large door we had passed minutes before the ambush. I hope it will be defensible enough to hold.
For how long though I don’t know. I don’t expect reinforcements, if we get pinned in there it’s just a matter of time until we run out of ammo, or they run a Carnifex at us. Either way we’re dead. I resolve to worry about that later, if I can keep myself alive for another fifteen seconds I’ll be doing good. Let fifteen minutes from now worry about it self.
Two Squad reaches the position of our rearguard and splits its fire two ways, half holding of the flanking forces and the other half covering the Command Squads retreat. Three hormagants come flying at us. I shoot the first dead in the air. Simmons heavy bolter cuts the second in half just before clicking empty. The third lands on Parker just as his clip runs out as well.
He thrusts up, and the creature impales itself on the bayonet even as its claws lay his chest open. The hormagant is dead before it hits the ground; Parker lasts a little longer. I throw a frag grenade and wave Four Squad back. I bend over Parker and he grabs at my uniform, “You… you…” He coughs, his lungs filling with blood. Then he smiles, “You we’re right… about the bayonet. I never would have had time to…” He trails off and his grip slackens. “You did good soldier.” I whisper.
Then I strip his ammo webbing off him and lift his rifle, before signaling the squad back.
The covering fire from the other squads whistles past us as we fall back. I can almost feel those damn things breathing down my neck. But somehow I make it into cover alive. Cole is lighting a cigarette with his pilot light as I wave Two Squad over to the Manufactorium. He smiles and then fires the flamer over the car he was standing behind. I don’t see what he is aiming at, but I do hear a lot of hissing and shrieking as a three car pile up suddenly ignites.
Five minutes later, Cole puts out the cigarette on the internal wall of the manufactorium. I look around; the building must have been little more than a storehouse, and a mostly empty one at that. I send Two Squad to the second floor to make sure nothing comes in the windows up there.
It’s not a bad spot to defend, few windows and a single heavy door we have wedged. Still, our ammo supplies are limited and we can’t even call for reinforcements with the long-range voxcastor out of commission. Still if I’m gonna die, I intend to take as many of those things with me as I can.
I always knew they’d be the death of me.
We’re surrounded now, but they have pulled back, probably hoping to lure us out into the open again. I sit down in the corner and just collapse. I have no idea what to do. As the adrenaline starts to wear off I realize I really want to live. I don’t want to die here, no matter how glorious my last stand. My hands are shaking like they haven’t in three years. I see Cole sitting next to a crate nearby staring blankly into the space.
It’s not the first time either of us has seen this sort of fight but even my memories didn’t do justice to the viciousness of the Tyranids up close. My squad was down a man, Two Squad was down four, One Squad was down to a single trooper who was shaking and crying in the corner. The Command Squad was down one man and the Lieutenant was going to bleed to death soon. Someone had dragged him with them all the way here but he was babbling incoherently and wailing in a pool of his own bodily fluids.
Five Squad had been completely wiped out.
Only Bob’s Squad had yet to lose anyone, but like most of the survivors, his men were so shell-shocked, they were almost useless. I grip Parker’s lasgun tightly, trying to cut down on my own shakes, and it helps a little.
Simmons sits down next to me and offers me a cigarette. I shake my head, “I don’t. They say those things will kill you.” He just stares at me a sec and then as the hilarity of that statement, given our circumstances hits me, we both start laughing. Around us men jerk their heads at us, eyes wild with fear, before slipping back into their private stupors. I don’t much care; I let some of my tension out of me with that laugh.
I still wave away the cigarette. And Simmons shrugs and lights his own still chuckling. He takes a long drag and holds it for a second before letting the smoke stream out his nose. He turns to me, “Pretty nasty day, sir.” I nod and look at the appropriated weapon in my hands, “Tonight will be worse and tomorrow worse than that.”
Simmons thinks on that as he takes another puff at the cigarette, “This what Lylar was like?” I think for a moment then shake my head, “No, Lylar was different, less anticipation, they couldn’t sneak up on us like that really. Still the hand to hand was just as bloody, those things are absolute murder up close.” He nods, “I saw them get Parker, a damn shame, he was a good man.”
I didn’t know him that well; I had never gotten close to the new members of my squad. Never gotten close to anyone who hadn’t been on Lylar. I realize just how inferior I had thought of them all. Lylar was a hell of a trial by fire, but nine of my men had survived a day up close with the Tyranids. That made them all veterans in my book. I look at Simmons and say, “Yeah, a damn shame.”
I sigh, “All you boys made me proud today. You did good out there, kept your heads and fought like devils, every one of you. Because of that there are still more living soldiers in this platoon than dead ones.” Simmons looks at me kinda funny, and I shrug, “I just wanted you to know I thought you did good today, in case there isn’t a tomorrow.”
Simmons finishes his cigarette and smiles, “Don’t go digging your grave yet Sarge, we may yet get out of this.” I don’t look to optimistic on that one and Simmons laughs again at my expression. He starts to say something, but the Command Squad medic limps up and he stops.
The medic’s fatigues are covered in blood, and his expression grim. I can guess what he’s gonna say. “The Lieutenant’s dead. I did everything I could but…” He trails off and Simmons and I stand up. Simmons takes his helmet off, I would too except I realize I lost it somewhere. I pat the medic on the shoulder, “You did your best man, see to the rest of the wounded.”
The man nods dully and limps away. Simmons looks at me and arches and eyebrow, “I guess that leaves you in command, Sarge.” I nod, “Damn…” I want to say more, but I can bring any more up. Simmons smiles bravely and shakes his head, “Don’t you go giving up, Sarge. We’re the Emperor’s own soldiers, and I’ll be damned if I let you go disgracing that name after all the sit you’ve talked about these damn beasties.”
I start to respond and stop myself.
I realize he’s right, this green trooper who has taken his first encounter with the Tyranids better than I have taken either of mine. I am a soldier in His service; I won’t give up like this. I’ll die with a weapon in hand and His name on my lips. That is my duty, and duty is everything.
The approving face of a certain Space Marine Captain comes to my mind and I remember the vows I swore silently before him on Lylar VII. I look at Simmons and nod, “Go get some rest Private, you’ll need it if they come at us tonight.” My eyes narrow and I smile, “They may kill every one of us but we’ll bleed them dry in the mean time. We’ll kill so many of them that the next regiment who comes in will be able to walk straight into the hive and knock the damn door down unopposed.”
Simmons snaps up a salute, “Aye, aye, sir!”
The Night passes slowly. I have set a watch schedule and ordered the rest of the men to sleep as much as they can. Most of them won’t though; the sounds of things scuttling in the night, just out of the range of our auspex have every one on edge. I sleep lightly but sound enough, I am used to such sounds in my dreams. I know I’ll need the rest when they decide to come in and dig us out.
I awake realizing that I let myself sleep more soundly than I intended. Vaguely I realize I was awakened by a sound. Cole is looking at the ceiling clutching his weapon tightly. The night is jet black and I can only see him by the light of the cigarette he is sucking on. He thumbs on his pilot light with a sharp his and I can more clearly see the fear on his face. Cole doesn’t scare easy, either; he normally plays it pretty cool.
He notices that I am awake and looks upwards again, “You hear that?” I look towards the ceiling, my eyes trying to cut through the rockcrete and see what is on the other side. I pull my own pistol and whisper, “Maybe.” He gestures with the flamer towards the single staircase leading up and I nod. First I check with our sentries, they are looking out into the night, auspex in hand and start when I move up beside them.
“Anything, boys?” They both shake their heads, “No sir, nothing.” I start to leave but on of them says something that stops me, “It’s weird, sir.” I turn to him, “How so, private?” He shrugs and gestures out into the night, “When they first hit us, they did it quick and fierce, they were all over us and it was only a matter of time before they over ran us. Now they suddenly seem to not want to attack us. I wasn’t on Lylar sir, but by all accounts these things think nothing of throwing themselves at a fortified position. I can’t figure out what they are gaining by giving us time to rest and maybe be reinforced.”
I realize he’s right, and not knowing what they are doing and why they are doing it leaves a bad sensation in my stomach. One thing I had never seen in the Tyranids was indecision. Nor for that matter had I ever heard of them doing anything other than assaulting head on in situations like this. They were up to something and not knowing what that was made me nervous.
I decide to keep my mind from the men; they have enough to worry about. I shrug, “You just keep your eyes on that scanner boys, Cole and I are going to check on the squad up stairs.” The sentries nod, “Yes sir, I think the doc went up there a little while back to check on their wounded.” I nod and move over to where Cole is pointing his flamer up the stairs casually. He’s switched his cigarette for a stick of gum now and he gnaws at it nervously as he looks up into the darkness above. I lift a small flashlight in one hand and my bolt pistol in the other as I head up the stairs.
I can’t shake that uneasy feeling as I start up the stairs.
I make two mistakes. The first is I am walking in front. While I do like to lead from the front, in a narrow corridor, having a nervous flamer man behind you in a recipe for disaster. At the very least it completely negates his usefulness. My second mistake is that I ignore my misgivings in favor of taking action. That more than anything proves a costly mistake. The upper story of the building consists of a short hall that terminates in two doors. The first leads straight out of the hall and is a small office room with no windows. The second leads to the right off of the hall and is another large empty store space where Two squad is bivouacked. Across from that door is a small window. The stairs come up at the other end, thirty feet of empty hall short of the doors and window.
My misgivings turn into fear as I notice the two sentries that should be near the window at the other end of the corridor are not there. The door to the office is closed, but the other one is open and there is not a sound coming from the other side. I shake my head and hope that the guards simply left their post, though I know better. I still have to hope. With a shake of my head I whisper to Cole, “Where the hell are they?”
I get no answer.
I turn and look back only to see Cole standing there with a massive scythe-like talon sticking out of his chest. The thing quickly retracts back into the smooth hole it had torn through the rockcrete wall. Cole slumps to the ground, already dead. Only lightning reflexes save me. I throw myself against the opposite wall. A massive talon rips out of the wall straight at my head.
It stops less than an inch from my face.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding, the thing isn’t as long as the corridor is wide and it can’t reach me. Still if I’m right about the owner of that talon, I have about six seconds to live. I rush towards Cole, grabbing a frag grenade are I move. Simmon’s head appears at the top of the stairs, his face blanching slightly in my light as he sees Cole’s body.
It blanches further as he hears the blood curdling screech behind me. I throw him the light and yell, “Go, go, go!” The light catches my face for a moment then passes over my shoulder I hear Simmons swear. I rip the grenade’s pin out with my teeth and let the spoon flip away, “Get out of here godamnit!” I shriek, spitting the pin out.
I shove my hand in Cole’s mouth and whip the chewing gum out.
I smash the gum onto the side of the grenade, praying it will be enough.
I grab one of the flame canisters off of his belt and squish it against the gum.
I throw the make shift bomb over my shoulder as I hear the Lictor running down the hallway.
I throw myself onto Cole’s corpse and use the momentum to roll over the lip of the stairs just as I hear the familiar “crump” of a grenade detonating in a small space.
Almost the same instant there is a loud “fwoosh” as the flame canister detonates. Cole’s body takes the worst of the flamer wash as the entire upper story goes up in flames. Two squad is long gone anyway, the Lictor killed them all without showing up on our auspex or making hardly a sound. The thing might have been on top of us before we even knew what was happening if Cole and I hadn’t heard something.
The ride down the stairs is painful, but fortunately very little of the burning promethium makes the trip behind me. I have to bat out the fire on my sleeve quickly though. Then I rip Cole’s harness off, but his flamer bent in the fall and is useless. The adrenaline that allowed me to think and act so fast lets go slowly and I begin to notice my surroundings again.
Men are screaming and fighting and dieing. The main doors buckle as something heavy hits it from the other side. Every single window is filling with hormagants and men are falling back firing wildly. Simmons is firing his heavy bolter into one window, dicing the creatures swarming outside it like flies around a porch light. He looks at me and yells something.
“We need to fall back to the basement, sir!” I start at that, “What basement?” He points as he reloads. A small trap door is hanging open near the wall and several men are already jumping down it. It had been covered with several boxes and I had never even noticed it. I shudder, if they had come up out of that we would be dead already.
There’s no time to kick myself for my own lack of thoroughness now. “Fall back! Fall back!” Most of them didn’t wait for my order though and are already moving through the trap door as fast as they can. Simmons is firing again and I snap shots off with my pistol covering as many of them as I can.
A few are too slow and get hacked down, Bob among them.
Simmons and I are all that’s left now and they are about to swarm us. Then the heavy bolter clicks empty. He reaches to reload, but there’s not time. “Leave it!” I scream and all but hurl him down the escape hatch. I grab the door and take half a second to examine it. A single iron ring sticks up out of the top of it allowing it to be lifted, otherwise it is a six inch think piece of rockcrete that will seal almost seamlessly with the floor. I fire a single shot into the ring blowing it clear then throw myself down the hole, yanking it closed behind me as I fall.
I hit hard, but the satisfying thump of the slab closing behind me makes me forget the pain for a moment. It will not be easy to get through, and they’ll not be able to open it without the ring, even if they were clever enough to use it. It will give us time to organize our last stand anyway. By my count I should have perhaps fifteen men left, but if they have only one way in it might be possible.
“Sir…” Simmons voice snaps my head around and I notice what most of the lights in the room are pointing at. A large tunnel, leads out of the other end of the small basement. It is the single most hideous thing I have ever seen. The walls of the tunnel look as if they are covered in oozing flesh. The whole thing pulses in time, like some tremendous alien heartbeat.
Worst of all is the sound, a slow hissing, like the tunnel is breathing slowly into and out of the room.
I shudder. No I know why they didn’t attack immediately, why they tried to kill us without assaulting and driving us down here. We have completed out objective, we have found a tunnel that leads down into the hive. Miles away in the center of the city, where the city was devastated by the hive ships decent, what ever alien brain that is in control of these creature had commanded them to keep us out of this basement.
The only problem is that we have no way to tell command what we have found. Without our long-range voxcastor we can’t hope to let them know about this find. And in seconds the Tyranids will swarm out of that tunnel and slaughter us all. Behind me I can hear the booming of something large pounding against the trap door.
We have nowhere to go except down that tunnel.
I step up to it and shine a light down it. A thousand alien eyes glitter back and with a hiss they charge.
In this moment I know that I am dead. Behind me the booming grows louder and more frequent. Before me my men start firing down the tunnel as genestealers pour out of it. The nearest ones are dead in seconds. Death is inevitable and I can do nothing but smile. I will die having failed my mission. The deaths of my men will be in vain and I will carry that burden into the afterlife.
Thinking of the afterlife, I think of the Emperor. In seconds I will be before him and He will weigh my deeds on the scale of His divine justice. In moments I will be before His Golden Throne and I will have to convince him I am worthy to bask in His divine presence for eternity in paradise. Am I really worthy of that?
That though brings me back to reality and I whip my chainsword out, revving it to life. Simmons is firing a recovered lasgun at full auto. He drops a genestealer, but another leaps at him as he tries to reload. I cut it in two then flip my bolt pistol to full auto and hose the back end of the room. Half a dozen hormagants fall as my divinely guided bolts cut into them. I reload and yell to the remaining men, “What man here will fail his final duty to the Emperor!”
A wave of lasgun fire forces the enemy back again. I fire over and over again, “Who here will be disgraced now in the moment he is sent to judgment!” Their roar of denial makes me proud. We are running low on ammunition and we will not hold them off again. Simmons is praying as he slaps his las cartridge in place. The other men’s faces are set it grim determination.
I set my chainsword down for a moment hurling Cole’s harness, six promethium tanks dangling, down the hole. Lifting my sword again I see them rushing up at us again. I point my bolt pistol down the hole and laugh at them. Simmons nods towards me and makes the sign of the Aquilla over his chest as I cry, “Serve the Emperor…”
“Until death!” they echo as I fire.
The blast takes me off my feet and I hit the back wall hard enough to see stars. The tunnel is in flames and its walls shudder as if in pain. I try to shake my head clear. The room is still spinning slightly as I see a single hormagant emerge from the flames. I level my bolt pistol at it and squeeze the trigger. The pistol clicks empty. The hormagant leaps as I whip my chainsword up.
My blow cleaves it from head to tail and the two halves fall to either side of me. I look down at the ground where on piece of it has fallen and notice a human arm lying there. The hand is clutching a bolt pistol and something odd strikes me about it. It is a very familiar arm, clutching a very familiar bolt pistol. On the sleeve is a very familiar set of Sergeant’s stripes.
It takes me a moment to notice the stump of my right arm is spraying blood. I hit the floor hard, but I don’t really notice, I seem to have transcended pain. Simmons is standing over me, yelling something, but I can’t hear anything but a strange rushing in my ears. As my vision tunnels inwards the last thing I see is the ceiling starting to cave in.
I wake up again and my first thought is that I didn’t expect paradise to look like the inside of an old warehouse. My second is that I didn’t expect paradise to hurt so bad. I slowly begin to come to terms with my surroundings. The familiar sounds of the inside of a field hospital come to my ears and I slowly realize I am not dead.
“You’re gonna be okay, Sarge.” It’s Simmons’ voice. I slowly roll my read to the left, which takes a ludicrous amount of effort. Simmons is in the next bed over, looking at me, a mass of bandages around his head. “You’re gonna be okay,” he repeats. I try to speak, to ask him how I got here, but all I can croak is a moaning, “Wha…?” He smiles, “Easy, you lost a lot of blood, almost didn’t make it, though we all were a stones throw from death for a while.” He takes a slow breath before continuing, “I thought they were digging us out, those damn bugs. The booming coming from above though was our navy boys. Apparently command figured we were meeting such fierce resistance because we were near to something important. When we lost comms they sent in reinforcements. Took them most of the night to find us, but when they got there they had fighter support hit the Tyranids hard. They actually brought down part of the roof on us. I took a piece to the head.”
He lays back down sucking in breath. Apparently he’s worse off than he is letting on. He tries to continue, but he is cut of by a commanding voice, “That will be enough, Private Simmons.” The Colonel passes into my view. He nods approvingly, “I’ve heard what you did, Sergeant. What you and your men did. Damn fine job.”
He looks at Simmons then at me again, “Your men held out against incredible odds, you truly are a shining example of the courage and sense of duty that make the Imperial Guard what it is. The reserves are storming the hive now. The casualties are high, but it is only a matter of time now. If your men hadn’t found that tunnel we would have lost a lot more me trying to get into the center of the city.”
He pats me on the shoulder, “Rest now, Sergeant, you have served the Emperor well.” I struggle to speak, “My platoon… how many…” He arches an eyebrow at me, “Your platoon? I suppose you have earned the right to call it that.” His face goes grim, “We pulled eight me from the rubble, yourself included.” I choke on that, eight out of fifty-five.
I suppose it’s a miracle any of us made it.
The Colonel nods again, “Rest easy, they died in the service of the Emperor, what more could they ask for.” He turns and walks away leaving me to my thoughts. What indeed? Perhaps they did die the most glorious death in His service, but I wonder if I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for not dieing with them. As the heat of the moment passes, some of my religious fervor passes as well. I did my duty for Him, but at what cost? Will I ever be able to forget those men who I lead to their deaths?
Will I ever be able to shake free of my nightmares?
It was years ago, but I still remember with crystal clarity the events of those two days of hell. The metallic lump of my bionic right arm will never let me forget. Nor will my ceaseless nightmares.
I continue to serve the Emperor to this day. That was the last encounter I had with the Tyranids, but I still fear that one day I will face them again. I fear that a new set of nightmares will come to haunt me. I fear that they may still one day be the death of me. Most of all I fear that I will one day be forced to watch them kill all those that placed their faith in me. But until that day comes I will do my duty for Him. Every day I will wake with a prayer that I never have to face those things again.
And every night, a thousand alien eyes will haunt my nightmares.