SURVIVOR STORIES: AFTERMATH
I can’t see the Thor-class Chimeras from where I lay, but I can smell them burning. I gag on the cooked meat smell of their crew.
Twin-linked bolters which spat ferocious hatred at our enemies are now silent. The men who poured from within their holds roaring battle cries will not see another day. They can’t join me in our usual post-fight ritual, looking up at the sky, steaming mugs of caffeine in our hands, gazing at the stars. Now they stare ahead with blank eyes. I suppose each one is looking into their own heaven or hell.
I can’t see any of my platoon. However, I hear the buzzing of flies. Human blood is splashed across the walls, black in the darkness, vermilion in the day.
Vermilion – that’s it. Vermilion. That’s why we were sent here. The reason everyone died here. The Emperor wasn’t watching when those creatures rose from the blood-slicked mud to gouge men’s eyes out. The horror went on for quite some time. We got them all, wiped out every last one of the filthy things that lurched howling into the teeth of our firepower. They got all of us too.
I heard the rumours about our lasguns. Civvie-chatter, mostly, spread by people who have only seen civilian pattern weapons stamped with Necromundan hive markings. Officially they’re Gothic mark forty-fours. Junker-pattern, we call them. The rumours are true. They couldn’t blast the skin off a stagnant pudding. Not on low or medium power. High power, well, you don’t get too many shots, but you can do some damage before your cell dries up and the daemons bring you down.
Our top brass realised we were facing monsters who wouldn’t lie down and die when you burned them with hot light. It took the pointless butchery of four platoons for them to get the hint. We needed better weapons, ever better, and eventually the smart-boys gave us hellguns.
Triplex pattern, alpha quintus grade. How proud we were: a dog-dirt regiment given the best our Imperium could provide. We got our training during a lull in the fighting, when the enemy had dragged enough screaming captives underground to keep them occupied for a while. A hellgun set to maximum kill would vapourise the head straight off those shambling flesh beasts.
But there were so many of them, and our hellguns burned out so quickly… and everybody died.
I’m telling you about our weapons – something you may already know – to put my mind off the real story. You want to know? You really want to know?
Our Commissar was among the first to go. He led a charge of lunatic courage. Even I could see it was suicide. That’s why I hung back here despite the curses of those who left me behind. Fools, all of them, facing those monsters up close.
Twenty-seven men joined the charge. They were all dead within minutes of bone-snapping, flesh-rending carnage, but they bought the rest of us the time we needed to bring the Tarantualas on-line.
That changed things, sort of, and we started to think we might actually make it. But there were less than forty of us left by that time. The colony was dead, there was no question. Sometimes we found ourselves face-to-face with the colonists. Snarling, hate-filled beasts, demented with the knowledge of their own damnation; that’s what Commissar Whinsky said when we first saw them, as he shot them down. I think of him gutted by a woman – some flabby, rotting woman, who in her lifetime might have been a housewife concerned only with raising noisy little brats, who wouldn’t have stood a chance against a bastard like Whinsky.
I think of what she did to him and it makes me sick.
We fought like heroes. Even me, once I realised I had no chance of getting away. For the last time in my life I had no other way out.
The fighting didn’t matter. Everyone died, one by one, shot by possessed colonists, cut down by plague blades and hellish swords, until now there’s only one man left, sitting gut-shot in the wreckage of a place called D-Hab – a ruin which used to house twenty-three people and is now a shrine to the glorious dead.
Hah, glorious dead. Those words don’t go together except in the texts. How can the Emperor want this for his flock? He really must be a bloodthirsty son of a bitch. Whinsky used to tell us the Emperor set this whole unstoppable war in motion thousands of years ago, but he said it with devotion – something I will never understand. Why are we still paying for one man’s mistake?
Aah! Dammit, I need another shot.
This tetramorphine is good. Sometimes it’s all I can do to stop myself from crawling to my feet, flapping my arms and flying up towards the night sky. I know if I tried that, my wound would re-open and I’d die within half an hour. Maybe less. The stars mock me, showing themselves in their usual post-battle display even though they’ll always be out of my reach now.
If I don’t die, the Inkies will get me. They’re on their way. Count on that. I’ll be taken aboard one of those freaky black-painted warships and ‘debriefed’. I know what that means. They’ll put a lasbolt through my head. A headshot to match the hole in my gut. Then they’ll make up some orkshit story about how greenskins looted the colony and slaughtered everyone. I’ve seen this before. It’ll all be hush-hush, covered up. Nobody will bother to ask questions about some unregistered colony in a secret system which a thousand dog-troops died trying to save.
Then again, I killed enough enemies to make my death matter. I took their leader out too. That’s how I ended up with the gut-wound. That big, ugly, bull-headed monster only had to look at me, and my borrowed armour – looted from an enemy corpse three days ago, which Captain Drake would have loved if he hadn’t already been screaming while daemonic children rummaged around inside his stomach – just burst away from me. Yeah, he burned me, the alien bastard.
I don’t know what happened next. I remember pulling my trigger once as I fell backwards; I think that single shot hit him in the eye. That was his only weak point, his one sick-looking eye. The daemon children, the three of them left alive by this point, came gleefully up to disembowel me and play in my blood.
What I did to defend myself wasn’t pretty, and then there were no more enemy left on… damn, what’s this planet’s name? I think it was a name followed by a load of letters. Hullond NDB or something. It’s getting hard to think, harder to remember. I believe we called it “The Galaxy’s Toilet.”
We died painting this planet red and I can’t remember its name.
For some time now I’ve been watching a star that’s brighter than the others. It’s not a star, it’s a starship. I can’t hear it yet. It must be hundreds or thousands of miles away. I can still see the light. I think it’s making planetfall or something. They must be brave; despite our lowly status as “scum of the universe,” we came in on a top-of-the-line stealth cruiser, the kind even Eldar don’t see coming.
I think I’ve passed out a couple of times, since the light suddenly resolves itself into a big, burly shape. The air is reverberating with sonic booms. I see the craft coming in slow motion. The underside appears to be glowing red; heat shields glowing fresh from atmospheric entry…the single bright light has split into four separate winking lights; running lights. A human vessel, then. One which is confident of Imperial victory. You know what? They’re right. We won. Hooray.
The next thing I know, the craft is on the ground, perhaps five hundred yards to my left in a ruined stretch of parkland where we found the body of a murdered child – our welcoming committee. My skin feels funny on my face and hands…I can’t recall why…maybe it was the backwash from the ship landing…
A massive figure leans over me. Spotlights from its shoulder-lamps are dazzling me, but it’s not so bad, because I’m seeing things through a tunnel, and maybe the figure isn’t so tall and imposing after all. I keep blacking out…
“… Ki’Tano of the Salamanders… Where is your regimental commander?”
“Ghha…” I gasp.
“I have found a survivor,” the figure grates into his vox. Emperor, his voice is loud… He grows quieter with every heartbeat…
“…try to stay conscious,” the figure is saying, shaking me back to wakefulness. “Is there anyone else?”
I try to speak but can only make a gurgling noise. I think I’m crying, but I can’t feel my tears. Then I’m being carried through the air, flying at last, bobbing as the figure makes an effort to be gentle. His armour is cold and heavy. I’m being carried into the landing craft. I might as well be a rag doll for all the strength he has to use to lift me.
I hope they’re taking me home. If I’m heading for my long-overdue execution, I doubt I’ll last long enough to take the bullet. These people, these green giants, won’t waste their medical expertise patching up a dead man. Or will they?
“…safe now,” Ki’Tano says. “Your war has ended.”
I wish I hadn’t thrown the apple at that dignitary’s head now. That’s how I ended up assigned to this penal legion. He had my brother’s son locked in irons for a week just because the boy stole some fruit. My scream of “You like fruit so much, cop a load of this, you banana chinned bastard!” still makes me grind my teeth.
I think you asked me what I thought about this situation. Or maybe you didn’t. I keep hearing you talking to me, but I can’t answer you, because you’re dead. You’re all dead. I might be joining you soon.
Our story is not a happy one, but if this is my last statement, let it be this: we won the battle. We wiped out a strongly superior enemy force. Life is a shit sandwich, but like true heroes, we all had a bite – and we chewed, and swallowed.
= The End =