Okay, so I’ve been asked if I’ve ever done fan fiction.
The answer? It’s how I got started; writing Star Trek actually. I’ve been tempted to go back and do another, with all the knowledge that I’ve gained from the last four years. But anyway, here’s my last attempt at proper writing media tie-in fiction, this for Warhammer 40,000. It was submitted to Black Library during their last open submissions, and obviously rejected. I was invited to put it up on a Wargaming site instead (you’ll find the link for the posted story here: Talk Wargaming).
THE ONE THAT SURVIVED
Two men walked out between the army of metal corpses.
One held the stump of his left arm in his hand, stumbling against the wreckage of a holed-out Chimera transport. He wore the braids and epaulettes of a lord militant, though his uniform jacket was torn and bloody. His holster was empty, the remains of a sword belt hanging limply from his waist.
The other stayed two paces behind. Always two paces. He wore the khaki-coloured uniform of an Imperial Guardsman, a specialised carapace jacket peppered with old scars and dents, and tattered camo-cape around his shoulders. In his hands he held a battered las-rifle, a chainsword strapped to his back. The cape was pulled up around his mouth and nose to protect him from the elements.
Harsh wind pelted them with dust, and caked them with it.
The dust was something else: a rusty red colour that blended the horizon with the sky in one huge miasma of confused landscape. It was dark and bright at the same time, the thick fog-like substance amplifying the light, making it claustrophobic to the extreme.
Their hair, such as it was, was red with it, their faces pale and bone-dry.
The lord militant –or at least the one dressed as one- stopped for a breather, trying to imitate the other by pulling his undershirt up over the tip of his nose. But it kept slipping off, exposing his dry mouth to the elements.
“Aren’t you going to give me some water?” the Lord Militant croaked.
The Guardsman snorted derisively, shaking his head with amusement.
“You could at least give me some painkillers, dammit.” He held up the cauterised stump that was left of his arm below the elbow. “This hurts you know.”
“Good,” the Guardsman growled.
The Lord Militant tried to spit at the Guardsman, but his mouth was too goddamn dry. He tried to flip a middle finger, and then realised it was the wrong hand. He swore, and felt the barrel of the lasgun tap his shoulder.
“You’re a bastard,” he cursed.
The Guardsman nodded, and gestured forward with his rifle.
Something thumped overhead, jets screaming as it headed towards the enemy frontline. It was followed by a crump of detonation, and a flash of explosive energy that lit up the dust behind them.
Something else with the blurred shape of a Vulture gunship followed the first, then another, and then another. Each time, it was followed by the flash and crump of air-launched munitions on a ground target.
The edge of a major offensive was only a few miles to their left: the combined might of infantry and armour regiments clashing with wave after wave of enemy hordes. The howl of the wind drowned out the noise of the fight, but both knew it was horrendous.
They walked on, passing through the metal skeleton of a downed Destrier bulk transporter. Its hull had been stripped of any useful armour plating, and its crew were strewn about the place, the blackened skeletons hunched over wrecked control consoles, as well as the burnt out corpses of their alien attackers.
The Lord Militant almost tripped over a support stanchion.
“This is intolerable,” he coughed.
“Suck it up,” said the Guardsman. He used his combat boot to push the other along. The Lord Militant stumbled again, but this time fell on his face. He rolled over, spitting out a mouthful of dust. “Get up,” the Guardsman ordered. He clutched the las-rifle tightly, cautious of a trap, the butt tucked hard into his shoulder, the barrel pointed towards the ground.
“Get. Up.” He repeated, stressing the urgency of the situation.
“I’m a Lord Militant, dammit, I deserve better treatment than this. I have served the God-Emperor for forty years, and won numerous medals and awards. I have a title, and should be treated with the respect it comes with.”
“You gave up that right,” the other sneered, “when you did what you did.”
“Naturally, Flacker sent you to retrieve me.”
“Naturally,” sneered the Guardsman. “I’m good at what I do.”
“So our relationship has nothing to do with it, of course?”
“None whatsoever,” spat the Guardsman. To highlight it, he kicked the Lord Militant in the leg. “You’re a coward. Don’t expect any special treatment besides what you deserve.”
“I’m sure you’ll be the one to pull the trigger in the end, won’t you?”
The Guardsman smiled for the first time. The Lord Militant found it to be a chilling and evil smile.
“The first in a long queue.”
The Lord Militant slumped for a second, appearing to accept defeat. The Guardsman relaxed his posture a little, and never saw it coming. The Lord Militant’s remaining hand flicked forward, throwing a handful of dust and ash at the Guardsman’s face. The Guardsman flinched away from it, distracted for a second.
The Lord Militant jumped unsteadily to his feet; he gathered what strength he could, and dove at the Guardsman. He collided with the flak armour on his upper torso. It hurt his shoulder, but the Guardsman let out a ‘whoof’ of surprise, and the two went tumbling to the ground.
The Guardsman smashed his head on the ground, and he was out for the count.
The Lord Militant rummaged through the other man’s belt-pouches and pulled out a cantina of treated water. He gulped a little down, swished it around his mouth, and spat it onto the Guardsman’s armoured chest, then downed the rest, soothing his dry throat.
He discarded the cantina, and tried to pull the lasgun away from the Guardsman. Unfortunately the strap was wrapped around his torso and shoulder, and wouldn’t budge.
He heard a skitter of movement off in the distance, like claws on metal.
He grabbed the autopistol in the Guardsman’s waistband –it had been his own before it was confiscated anyway. He still had a couple of clips in his pockets, where they had sat uselessly until now.
He slapped a fresh clip in the pistol’s grip, and pulled the action, loading the first solid round. Gripping the autopistol, he contemplated putting a round through the Guardsman’s head, and preventing the younger man from chasing him.
He aimed the pistol, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, his hand trembling.
That skittering noise came again, closer this time.
He hoped it wasn’t what he thought it could be.
The ground vibrated under his feet, and then again and again, getting harder and harder; he knew what it meant, and knew he would have to stay away from the source. The ground shook now, the source moving closer and closer.
Looking around, he saw what was left of an ancient stone building off in the distance, away from the Guardsman, away from the source of the shaking, and away from the skittering noise.
He bolted, ignoring the pain, until he was safe.
* * *
Chief Master Sergeant Reag Fellheimer awoke with a start.
In his unconscious state, he had been dreaming of claws and chitinous armour, and giant stomping feet that cracked the ground. Upon awakening, the pain in the back of his head throbbed like hell. His memory of the last few seconds before unconsciousness was blurry and full of dust.
He didn’t need to look around to know his prisoner had escaped. His waistband was empty besides his own battered body: the confiscated pistol had been taken –why hadn’t the General taken his holstered bolt pistol or the lasgun across his chest?
The autopistol had been a compact weapon, designed for emergencies not for sustained combat: it was a 0.22 calibre pistol with a ten-round clip, and a tendency to jam in dust conditions.
In fact, the dust had saved Fellheimer’s life, jamming the General’s pistol just as he was pulling the trigger when he caught up to the older man. He had lopped off the man’s firing arm before he could clean the weapon.
He used a twisted piece of metal sticking up from the ground to pull himself to his feet, wiping the black grime on his khaki fatigues.
This was when he discovered the source of the banging: he hadn’t just been dreaming that the ground was breaking and shaking, something outside of his dream had been influencing it.
A massive shadow fell over him as the ground shook with a boom-boom-boom of giant footsteps. He turned just in time to see a gigantic square foot with four massive outward-splayed toes coming down towards his head, blotting out the dust-covered sun.
He ran, and flung himself forward as hard as he could.
The Warlord Titan’s foot came crashing down, and crushed the remains of the Destrier, missing Fellheimer by millimetres. The resulting impact jumped him a metre into the air, and landed him on his chest.
Battered and bruised, he looked up to see the green-armoured Warlord stride on, its feet crushing the wreckage of several tanks, and kicking up clouds of dust with every step. Fellheimer watched in awe as it carried itself over the field of debris, and marched towards the frontline.
The green giant seemed unconcerned that it had nearly squashed an ally, and similarly unconcerned that it was walking on the literal bones of the dead. Fellheimer was sure the crew of the titan, sat up in the head far off the ground, were completely unaware of what was under their feet, viewing anything but a titan beneath their notice.
Who needs them, he thought angrily, when they do more damage to their allies and friends than to the enemy, and care nothing for others? His initial awe at seeing the Warlord titan had gone, replaced by the anger of nearly being killed.
He stood there, watching as it strode without effort almost the entire twenty miles to the frontlines.
Off in the distance, he could see a long line of other walking mountains in the distance. They were marching as one, their footsteps quaking the ground. The furthest was barely visible, obscured by the dust clouds, whilst the closest were grey and indistinct, like the gods of old striding in the mist.
A skittering noise off to his left attracted his attention to the devastated path the titan had walked. He knew the sound better than most humans. It was bad; at least for him. The distant titans wouldn’t have a problem with it.
Just as he said that there was a terrible inhuman screech that pierced the air, and the titan rocked backwards. Flames haloed around the titan, and it took a step backwards. Its void shields flashed and flickered. Its volcano cannon spat fire and something screeched again, much more higher-pitched this time.
And then the circular void shields died, and its volcano cannon was ripped to shreds by a pincer-wielding limb. Fellheimer felt horror fill him for the first time in a long time, and saw something’s massive shadow eclipse the Warlord. He could see long barbed limbs and a .
Something punched through the Warlord’s sternum, and the point of a vast leg protruded from its bulging engine stacks. The leg suddenly twitched to one side, and bisected the Warlord, the two halves falling apart like a Guardsman sliced in half by a power sword. The titan’s power core was touched off by detonating munitions, and the entire visage was replaced by an expanding mushroom cloud of smoke and flames.
The mushroom cloud blasted masses of dust that rushed over Fellheimer’s position, drowning out anything visible but the outlines of the very distant titans and their Tyranid equivalents.
He couldn’t help but flick his comm-bead over to some of the open Imperial channels. There were panicked and horror-filled screams piercing his ear. There were calls for reinforcements that were cut off by gurgles of pain, and screams for evac that was never going to come.
It was chaos.
There was one scream that seemed to cut through the lot of them, and it sent a chill through Fellheimer.
It was the worst possible thing he could hear, though he could see its distant silhouette for himself barely bigger than a small arachnid in the distance. The thing had been responsible for killing the Warlord, and now it stood in its place, rearing up and roaring. Hydraphants were the biggest Tyranid life-form that could walk on a planet’s surface, and thus the most dangerous and hardest to kill. They devastated worlds all by themselves.
Someone, he didn’t know who, ordered the retreat.
Soon, this area would be flooded with thousands of panicked Guardsmen, and alien killing machines chasing them down. He had a mission to complete, a prisoner to return to High Command. More than ever, he needed to prevent the ‘nids from capturing and absorbing a Lord Militant General’s mind and all the codes and tactical data that came from it.
If he had to, he would kill the General and destroy the body before letting it get into the claws and jaws of the ‘nids.
The skittering noise came again, and it was closer; a lot closer.
He tucked the lasgun’s butt into his shoulder, and scanned around. He discovered a path made by the coward: smudges where he had lent on debris with his stump, and the metal filings where the coward had used his autopistol to steady himself on other chunks of wreckage.
It was an easy enough trail to follow.
The skittering got louder.
He was being hunted.
There were clicks from all around him: more than one gaunt from more than one direction, and they were communicating in their own mindless way. They were hunting him. And they were hunting as a pack –bad for him, because they were usually mindless beasts directed by something else. This meant that a synapse creature or something similar was nearby, and it was hunting him.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
He moved as fast as he dared, still scanning to the right and left of him, his rifle ever ready, and still keeping an eye for the General’s trail. There was a clicking sound behind him, followed by another to his left and then again to his right.
The gaunts were no more than a few metres away, and yet he couldn’t see them. The dust was obscuring them, and they were already close enough to strike. And then there was sudden silence.
The first Hormagaunt came bounding out of the dust, head low so that it’s cranial and spinal armour plating was all parallel to the ground. Its scything claws were drawn back for a quick kill, and its long mouth was open, showing all its razor-sharp teeth. Its powerful muscular legs pushed it along between the twisted metal until it came to a large sloping piece of armour.
It ran up the incline, and jumped into the air, claws and talons extended, its mouth open wide for a killing bite.
Fellheimer span on the spot, and shot it point blank. The energy round slammed into the back of the gaunt’s open mouth, and blew out the back of its armoured skull from within, spraying ichor and brain matter backwards. Its dead body fell to the ground beside him, and the second and third gaunts made their move.
The second did much the same as the first, only this time it jumped from ground level, bounding straight for his head before he could turn his lasgun in time. The gaunt missed him as he twisted, but its leg caught on his shoulder, and knocked him to the ground.
The third gaunt was on him in a flash, charging through a downed pylon to snap at his feet. It bit at empty air, and he rewarded it with a single blast from his rifle. The las-round, hastily shot, hit the gaunt in the shoulder, and took its left forearm off, reducing its lethality by one. The gaunt jumped back from the pain, span, and then dove at him again.
He fired again, and this time caught it in its stomach.
The creature squealed, and fell to the ground, writhing in agony in the dust.
The second gaunt, recovered from its daze, tried to sink its teeth into his arm, instead getting a mouthful of lasgun barrel. Its teeth locked into the hard casing, its scything talons too far away from him, and its brain too small to try something else at the same time.
It shook its head relentlessly, trying to free its teeth.
Even with its incredibly strong jaw, it couldn’t do it. So Fellheimer let go of the lasgun, letting the sudden change in momentum carry the ‘nid backwards. He whipped the bolt pistol out, and shot it through the head.
The loud bang and the explosive crump as the round hit the creature’s hard skull echoed weirdly around him, making him wonder just what was out there besides the wreckage.
He tapped the commbead in his ear, and switched it to a secure channel.
“Gauntlet, this is Alpha-Four-Five. Need pick-up ASAP.”
The line crackled for a second.
“Understood, Alpha-Four-Five. Activate your beacon; be there in twenty.”
He reached for his belt, where the small vox-beacon was normally sat. All that was there was a mess of ripped wires and the case half-missing. The last gaunt must have smashed it, during the tug-of-war for the lasgun.
“Frak.” He tapped the commbead again. “Gauntlet, my beacon is smashed. You’ll have to lock onto my commbead signal.” He checked his position using a dataslate from his webbing. “My current position is fourteen point three klicks south-south-west of Command HQ, around the wreckage site of Heavy-789. I’ll be as nearby as I possibly can.”
There was a long pause, presumably the vox-operator checking with his superiors. “Acknowledged Alpha-Four-Five, stay close to the wreckage. Stay safe, a general retreat has been ordered and the area will be full of traffic.”
“Thanks, Gauntlet; hurry.”
As if to confirm this, Valkyrie assault carriers rushed overhead, escorted by dozens of Vultures. Fellheimer wondered who they were for: the troops or their privileged officers. It put into perspective his own mission here: the whole Army Group was plagued with the same elitist attitudes towards the troops. He knew it would be the end of the Group if such attitudes were allowed to continue.
Leave that to the commanders and tacticians, he thought.
He had a mission, and a target.
Unfortunately, his lasgun was beyond any real combat use. There were even teeth left behind in the casing, although he could make good use of those in the future. For now, the lasgun would be slung over his shoulder, a memento if he ever got out of here alive.
The General couldn’t have got far. Without water or food, or even medical supplies he would succumb to his injuries.
He ran to follow the trail left behind by the other human.
He knew something else besides the gaunts was hunting him, or had the gaunts been left behind by the last offensive, hibernating until something that smelt like food came along? Wouldn’t have been the first time a ‘nid or two had done that.
The cacophony of battle was getting louder as the legions of Imperial Guard fought a fighting retreat back towards headquarters. The noise was a distant din, but it was getting quickly louder.
The Valkyries he had seen before rushed in the opposite direction, their engines roaring, being pushed harder than they should. There weren’t as many as before, and two of those remaining were trailing smoke. The accompanying Vultures whizzed past faster than he could track, their munitions spent.
This was the moment when he saw a rather strange sight.
It was as if the dust was being pushed around by something, and yet there seemed to be nothing there that he could see.
Oh frak, he thought, lictors; at least two by the dust patterns.
He bolted then, sprinting faster than he thought possible. He was a veteran of many campaigns and had seen much, but being out here all alone with several lictors stalking him brought panic rising up inside him.
He heard a swoosh of movement behind him as something took a swipe at him. It missed him, and he heard something dig into the ground.
His hand went to the scabbard on his back, and pulled the chainsword out. He heard something swish through the air, and he dove to the ground on instinct. Something large, long, and dust-coloured passed through the air where his head had been.
He thumbed the chainsword to life, not waiting to hear it hum and chug as the diamond-hard teeth whirred to life. The heavy blade caught something equally hard, and blood sprayed over him.
The tip of a chitinous arm flopped to the ground beside him.
Definitely a lictor, he knew.
It screeched in pain, and he could just make out its outline, dark cold eyes staring out from its head. He could just see its feeding tentacles spasming below its large nostrils.
He had sliced one of its fearsome scything talons away, or at least a good chunk off the end.
It reared back, and its outline became a full-fledged lictor, presumably the pain cancelling out its chameleonic properties. Like the other organisms of Hive Fleet Leviathan it sported white flesh and purple chitinous armour.
Its scything talons reared up above it, rending claws poised for attack.
It leaned forward on its powerful long legs, preparing to strike.
Fellheimer stood his ground: if he ran now, it would kill him long before he could escape. He jumped to his feet, humming chainsword in both hands. He knew he didn’t have time to pull out the bolt pistol again.
With a rumble in its throat, the lictor jumped at him.
It moved faster than he expected, bounding in one move at him.
He dropped, this time rolling sideways, and swiping upwards in an arc with the chainsword, revving it at the apex of the arc. The whirring blade dug deep into the underside of the creature’s inner thigh, and carried on through the tough muscle. The leg fell away and the lictor fell screeching to the ground. Its talons and claws slapped at the ground in pain.
Now he pulled the bolt pistol, and shot it twice in the head, exploding the brain cavity, and covering the dusty ground with its brain matter.
He didn’t see the second lictor, waiting for him to turn his back. It swept him off his feet, dumping him on his back.
Pain erupted in his shoulder and collar as its scything talons pierced his muscle and bone. He could barely move it hurt so much. He found himself involuntarily being lifted off his feet, slowly drawn towards the lictor, and its quivering feeding tentacles. His chainsword fell out of his suddenly immovable left hand where the talon had pierced his shoulder joint, right between the two halves of the socket.
His other hand was moving, though fiery pain shot through his collarbone and chest.
The feeding tentacles dripped with juices, quivering excitedly.
The lictor’s evil alien eyes regarded him with calculating efficiency, coldly deciding how to dissect him and consume his brains for his information to be passed into the hive mind.
He didn’t dare struggle in case he lost an arm or worse, his head.
He was within an arm’s length when its tentacles started reaching towards him. Salivating juices dripped and spat on his legs as the scything talons ground in him, bringing him closer to the thing’s hidden maw.
It squealed excitedly as its prey was close at hand.
Just as the tentacles began wrapping around his leg, he kicked out, catching the lictor’s small eye. It flinched backwards, the tentacles retracting from his other leg. He punched it in the neck with his good hand, and suddenly he was falling to the dusty floor, the lictor having relinquished its piercing grip.
The lictor started scratching at its neck where he had supposedly punched it.
Clearly it was more intelligent than he had given it credit, as it started to panic, screeching right up until the moment it died.
The frag grenade he had shoved into the crook of its neck detonated, and turned its head and upper torso into bloody mush. The headless corpse sank to its knees, and toppled to one side.
Fellheimer breathed a sigh of relief, lying in the dust.
He closed his eyes for a second, and then heard footsteps.
He looked up, right into the barrel of a compact autopistol.
* * *
“For someone raised in the Schola Progenium, you swear an awful lot more than you should.” The Lord Militant stood over him, autopistol in his one remaining hand. His uniform was torn where he had obviously fallen and caught parts of it on wreckage. His breathing was ragged, and his face was pale. His lips were cracked and dry, and his eye sockets were ringed and shadowed.
His hand was shaking, the action rattling quietly.
“Maybe you’ve just been on the frontline too long,” he said, his voice hoarse and dry.
“Unlike you, who’s stayed as far away from the frontline as physically possible?”
“A man of my position is exempt from such duties.”
Fellheimer snorted, and then winced from the pain in his chest and shoulder. The Lord Militant raised a shaky eyebrow, eyeing the large bloody gouges. He was losing blood quickly.
Barely looking at the older man, he fiddled with his pouches, until he found the emergency med kit. He flipped it open, and ignored the shocked look on the other’s face.
“You told me you didn’t have a med kit.”
Fellheimer smiled weakly. “I lied.”
The Lord Militant’s face screwed up into concentration, as he weighed his options: he had only one hand, and it was occupied by an autopistol. He tucked the pistol in his armpit, and reached for the med kit.
Fellheimer lashed out with his good foot, catching the other’s ankle and dumping him on his arse. Without a moment’s hesitation, he reached into the kit, and pulled out an auto-shot hypodermic filled with high-dose morphia. He jabbed the needle into his arm.
The pain seeped away, and he managed to stuff bio-foam into his wounds, sealing them shut temporarily. Eventually the foam would dissipate, by which time he would need to consult a medic, or a coroner.
But for now, he was able to fight.
Which he was going to have to do.
The General was recovering, struggling to rise to his feet.
Fellheimer wasn’t exactly bounding to his feet either, though he managed to find his bolt pistol easily enough. He brought it up, and aimed it at the General, who was even now aiming his autopistol.
“Well, here we are again,” sneered the General.
“Be sure you don’t lose another hand; you only have one left after all.”
“Perhaps I should take one of yours, see what it does to your famously strong constitution. Then again, using one of your hands to replace my own might infect me with your insipid concepts.”
“What, duty, loyalty and honour?”
The General snorted. “Duty? Loyalty? Honour? There’s no such thing these days. With the Tyranids getting closer and closer to wiping us all out, how can there be such thing? They certainly don’t believe in it.”
“So that was your excuse when you ordered three thousand men to their deaths to protect your miserable life? Just because the ‘nids don’t believe in them?” Fellheimer had to laugh. “That’s lame, even for you.”
The General shrugged; a motion that hurt him a great deal. Fellheimer knew he had to be aching like a bitch from the pain of losing his hand, and the dehydration, not to mention the adrenaline that had to be coursing through his body. Although judging by some of his comments, Fellheimer was sure that the General had lost his mind, or at least was in the process of losing it.
Admittedly, Fellheimer had had that opinion of the Lord Militant General standing in front of him for as long as he had known him. Which was a very long time.
“So, you’ve become Flacker’s errand boy, have you?”
Didn’t we just have this conversation –the same one that had ended with the older man losing a hand to his chainsword? In fact, that conversation had ended when he had burned the stump with a flare to cauterise it in the field.
“Flacker’s a good man,” he countered instead.
“He doesn’t have the balls for command of an Army Group. Nobody does, especially against the ‘nids, and especially given what the Inquisition have in mind for this sector.”
Fellheimer frowned; this was news to him.
“Oh yes, being a grunt you aren’t privy to such information; I only heard about it from an acquaintance in the Inquisitorial stormtrooper companies.” Fellheimer noted that the deluded man seemed to relish telling this story, as if he’d been bursting to tell it to someone. “Certain members of the Inquisition are backing a plan to sacrifice a large swathe of Imperial planets to make a cordon to stop the Tyranids gathering more bio-resources.”
“What? How can they?” he spluttered in reply.
There was an evil grin on the other’s face.
“Their intention is to lure the Tyranids into the Orkdom of Octavius. Though how they’ll do that even I don’t know.” He admitted this with the first sign of humility Fellheimer had ever seen in him. It didn’t last long. “But at least this planet will go under soon.”
Fellheimer snorted, though his face fell when he saw another of the giant titans fall under the bio-weapons of the ‘nids far in the distance, its silhouette falling backwards like a man shot in the forehead.
The titans were retreating as well now, though they were walking backwards, their massive weapons pounding the enemy hordes even as they cautiously strode backwards.
Plumes of smoke and dust billowed over where the Tyranids should have been, the tank companies of at least five regiments speeding towards the Group’s ground-side headquarters. Among them, Fellheimer could imagine the tens of thousands of Guardsmen running for their lives. It wouldn’t be too long before they’d be all around him, panic-stricken.
He needed to wrap this up and quick.
He pointed to the retreat in the distance.
“If they were so intent on sacrificing planets like this, why has there been a general retreat sounded?”
The Lord Militant scoffed. “That’s just your friend Flimsy Flacker, trying to save as many as he can before the final action.”
“What’s wrong with that?” growled Fellheimer. He could feel his blood rising, his temper coming to the fore. If he wasn’t careful, he would end up blowing the General’s brains out, and leaving the corpse here for the ‘nids.
The Lord Militant was flagging though, the barrel of his autopistol dipping slightly every twenty seconds or so. Soon, the adrenaline would wear off, and he would collapse. But if he wasn’t careful, the General could have a spasm and shoot him by accident.
Gunships still screamed overhead, emptying their payloads and returning to base for reloads. He saw no more Valkyries or other transports making runs.
In the far distance towards where he knew the gargantuan command Leviathan to be, he could see massive shapes moving in the dust. Were they the troop transports, or were they the transports that carried the titans from one warzone to the next? He dreaded to think that the Tyranids were already overwhelming the headquarters. If the headquarters went, along with the Leviathan, then Arol was lost, and he and hundreds of thousands of others were stuck there.
There was a sudden flurry of sharp explosions nearby, and a Chimera came flying out of the dust, its carcass on fire, and flinging flaming Guardsmen in every direction. The rolling tank tumbled over their heads, and came to rest only metres away.
Another Chimera came flying out of the dust, its turret missing, and smashed into the first. The Lord Militant was distracted for a second, and he took the opportunity. He rushed the older man, and grabbed his firing arm as best he could, and kicked out at the General’s legs.
The old man tumbled to the ground, cursing.
He pulled the autopistol out of the General’s abused fingers, eliciting a groan.
“Frak you!” he coughed.
“Not very nice language for a Lord Militant General,” Fellheimer pointed out.
“Well, we must all follow the example our beloved Stormtroopers lay down for us,” he said, his voice high-pitched and strained. He really was losing his mind.
He held both guns on the old man, though he kept the bolt pistol in his good hand, the other barely able to hold the autopistol despite the ridiculous amounts of morphia running through his system.
What the hell had thrown those tanks, and why wasn’t it all over them?
Those explosions, he realised, could have been from one of the bio-titans, taking a pot shot at the retreating tank formations. That seemed to be the most likely situation.
If it wasn’t, it meant that a Carnifex was loose and on the rampage far away from the main lines, and they usually couldn’t get past tank formations without being spotted, nor would they without wanting to tear apart those same formations in a rather noisy fashion.
Again, the explosions roared nearby, throwing everything into the air.
Above it, he could hear the whine of something familiar, but his drug-addled brain refused to latch onto it with any certainty. Why couldn’t he remember?
The explosions tore up the ground again, throwing more than just dirt. There were blood and body parts in the air, some of it clothed in the uniforms of Valhallans and Cadians. Screams rent the air, and machinery was torn apart.
And yet still that whine, getting louder.
He grabbed the Lord Militant, and dragged him to his feet.
“C’mon, you coward. The Commissariat wants you alive for your court martial.”
He started half-marching, half-dragging his prisoner away from the explosions.
And still that damned whining noise.
“You wouldn’t understand,” the General said groggily. “You’re a stormtrooper; you’d never have risen to a great enough rank to understand the position I was in. I had to sacrifice the lives of those men to save the information in my brain.”
Fellheimer dropped him again, this time bellowing in his face.
“IT WASN’T ANYTHING NOBLE, YOU BASTARD! YOU SENT THAT ENTIRE REGIMENT TO THEIR DEATHS, AND THEN YOU DESERTED YOUR POST! YOU RAN AWAY LIKE THE COWARD YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN!” Fellheimer paused, gathering his breath. “WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE REGIMENT I WAS ATTACHED TO, HUH? WHY?”
The General started blinking furiously, his eyes lacking anything approaching moisture. Was he crying, or was he just trying to get the dust out of his eyes?
“What do you want me to say?” spat the General. “That I picked that regiment simply because you were assigned to accompany that unit’s command staff? That I picked them because of our… association?”
“If it weren’t for me, you self-righteous prig, you would have been a no-good son of a whore, and stuck in that dreary city with your mother. Instead, you were taken to the Schola Progenium. There you were trained and sent to serve in the most prestigious Storm Trooper Company in the Segmentum.”
The General coughed, though Fellheimer wasn’t sure if it was a laugh.
“So what? SO WHAT?! Thanks to me, you’ve become the greatest Imperial Guardsman of this Army Group. Thanks to me, you’re now the most trusted man to my successor. Hell, they may even make you an officer at long last.”
Fellheimer, his rage and internal temperature rising steadily throughout the other’s rant, snapped and pistol-whipped him across the cheek.
The officer spat blood on the dust.
Still with that damn whining noise in the distance, closer now. Why couldn’t he remember what it was?
He pressed the barrel of the bolt pistol into the General’s temple.
His finger was tightening on the trigger just as something barrelled into him, and knocked him to the ground. He was about to shoot the ‘nid responsible when he saw a Guard-issue boot come stamping towards his head.
* * *
Fellheimer, realising what was happening, rolled, and lashed out with the bolt pistol.
Sure enough, the Guardsman who had been about to blindly stamp on his head fell to the floor, yelping in pain, and grabbing his now-broken shin.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.
Literally thousands of Guardsmen were fleeing en masse towards the headquarters. Most had dropped their weapons, even parts of their armour to make themselves that much faster. Many were panicked, barely understanding what was happening around them.
The Guardsman Fellheimer had downed was a Cadian, his helmet missing. His lasgun was also missing the end of the barrel, shorn off by something chitinous. Only now did the panic seem to dissipate from his eyes, and he relinquished his vice-like grip of fear on his rifle.
Tanks roared past, and several other Guardsmen, snapped from their own fear, came running over, curious to know what had happened. They saw Fellheimer standing over the Lord Militant General, and began raising their weapons.
“Stand down,” he shouted. “This is my prisoner.”
That whining noise again. What was it?
“I’m Chief Master Sergeant Fellheimer,” he explained, and he was somewhat pleased to see them all relax, noting the rank tapes on their uniforms. Most of them were Cadians, although there was one or two Valhallans among them.
The group of twenty gathered around him.
“A Valkyrie is on the way to pick me and this dirtbag up. You’re all welcome to catch a lift. Assuming it gets here before the ‘nids.”
The ground shook, and then shook again.
One of the Cadians voiced his opinion that it was just one of the titans retreating.
But Fellheimer had seen at least two of the Imperial titans go down in the vicinity. He knew whatever it was, was coming this direction. And whatever it was, it had a huge shadow.
“Where’s that Valkyrie?” he whispered.
The dust parted, and hormagaunts began bounding across the wreckage towards the new ad hoc squad. As one, the group of non-coms began blasting away at them, bringing down two-thirds of them in a single volley.
The gaunts leapt at them, mouths slavering, their scything claws extended.
Three of the non-coms were ripped apart in an instant, their screams lost in the thunder-clap of detonations and the rumble of the incoming giant. Their killers died as quickly, gunned down by the survivors.
Fellheimer personally decapitated one gaunt and then bisected another before the brood was destroyed. The ground shaking got worse, jumping the group with every step.
He was about to suggest their own retreat when the dust parted again, this time behind them. The whining noise coalesced into Gauntlet, the callsign belonging to the Valkyrie crew temporarily assigned to his mission.
It came tearing towards them, engines shrieking in the dust. The transport raced over them, spun in a wide loop, and then its scramjets burst to life, screaming as the winged transport slowed its descent and almost slammed into the ground. The side doors opened, and the crew chiefs waved Fellheimer in.
He shouted for the non-coms to get aboard as he grabbed the General.
More gaunts, hundreds this time, were rushing towards them. He loosed off a few explosive rounds towards the broods, blowing the heads off of two gaunts. His fire was joined by the others, whom he had to shout at to get aboard.
The Valkyrie’s crew chiefs seemed reticent about letting strangers aboard their craft. One look from Fellheimer made them stand aside, and the non-coms tumbled through the doors.
The General resisted him, and Fellheimer resorted to literally dragging him across the dusty ground. The chainsword was neatly stowed in its scabbard on his back, and the spare autopistol was tucked in his waistband.
He emptied the bolt pistol’s magazine into the oncoming horde, before finally pushing the General into the waiting arms of the crew chief manning the door. He threw himself in as well, and shouted for the pilot to take off.
The engines cycled louder just as one of the gaunts dove for the open door.
Its head, and most of its body, exploded in an orgy of blood and ichor as the crew chief swung the door gun round, and blasted it to pieces.
The dusty ground fell away, and the Valkyrie was roaring into the air.
And once again, the dust parted, a massive silhouette changing into the nightmarish form of a Hydraphant. Its giant arched limbs smashed through formations of Leman Russ battle tanks, and its bio-weapons slaughtered entire regiments of guardsmen.
It roared at the sky, as if knowing the Lord Militant was just out of reach.
Its pointed legs smashed into the ground, and it turned its bio-weapons towards the fleeing Valkyrie.
“Move faster!” Fellheimer shouted over the vox, reminding the pilot of what was behind them. He turned to his prisoner, and found the Lord Militant’s lifeless eyes staring back.
“Frak!” he shouted, banging his fist against one of the bulkhead supports.
He looked out through the open rear door, and watched as the Hydraphant seemed to take out its apparent rage on the fleeing Imperial Guard units on the ground. The problem was that he knew they couldn’t just let that Hydraphant get near headquarters, not to mention the morale-smasher it currently represented.
He looked at the corpse, and then a set of demo charges stashed in the webbing above the canvas seats.
“Looks like you’re going to be useful after all, old man.”
* * *
There were shouts of complaints and curses from the rescued non-coms when he declared his plan.
“You can’t be serious, Chief!” one sergeant complained.
“Deadly,” was his reply.
He grabbed the corpse, and ordered one of the others to pass him every single piece of explosive they could find. He strapped the demo charges to the General’s chest, tucking them into what was left of his jacket.
“Pilot, turn this thing around, and take us up out of that hydraphant’s reach. I’ve got an idea, and you’re not going to like it.”
“Since when do I ever, Fellheimer?” countered the pilot.
He finally allowed himself a small smile, dragging the corpse over to the rear door, and he steadied himself against the frame. The view through the door blurred and lined for a few seconds, until they could see the monolithic Leviathan in the distance.
The ground rushed by underneath, and then disappeared itself, falling away until only dust could be seen, highlighted by the flashes of weapons fire beneath. He didn’t register any screams over the engines, but they could all hear the vox, and how badly the regiments were being slaughtered down there.
There was no order to the retreat, no fighting, just running.
But if we could do what I hope will happen, things could change, he thought.
He wrapped the body with webbing and duct tape, and took a handful of the webbing, pulling the body up to waist height. Fellheimer ignored the stares from the others, feeling their eyes on the back of his head. His long hair whipped and thrashed behind him in the wind, and he felt the dust blast his face from the inverse wind created by the Valkyrie’s wake.
He kept his eyes on the dust below until he saw a familiar shape from a new angle.
Fear gripped his abused body as he looked upon the enemy.
The Hydraphant didn’t seem to be aware of them at first, concentrating on the ground troops. When it seemed as though it had run out of targets, it heard or sensed the Valkyrie circling over it.
The fear speared him in the gut as the creature looked straight at him with its giant head, its mandibles stretching out to expose its fanged maw, itself big enough to swallow a Baneblade. It roared, and turned its hunched bulk around, faster than Fellheimer thought possible for something of its size.
Its massive bio-weapon arms swung round with it, smoke, or something worse billowing from the organic barrels.
Fellheimer looked at the corpse of his prisoner.
You better do this for me, you old bastard.
The giant bio-weapons opened up, and the air was filled with screeching rounds that exploded in the air, banging the Valkyrie about as it tried to evade as best as the pilot could. One near hit bounced the back of the craft up, and one of the Cadians tumbled out of the side door, screaming as he went. Everyone else was gripping straps and seats tightly, their faces grim.
Fellheimer knew they wouldn’t last long.
With a grunt of strength, he levered the corpse out of the rear door, and watched his nemesis fall aimlessly towards the Hydraphant.
The Tyranid creature seemed to see what was falling, and manoeuvred itself until it fell into its titanic maw.
Fellheimer stared at the creature’s multiple eyes, wondering if it knew what was happening, or what was about to happen. The creature roared at the sky in triumph, and its titan-killing weapons fired again, missing the transport.
Fellheimer cut a heroic figure, silhouetted in the doorway.
One of the Valhallans looked up at him, and saw the evil smile on his face. And then he saw the detonator in his hand and the trigger button lit red under his thumb.
The explosion came from within.
The hydraphants, like many of the larger ‘nid creatures, were heavily armoured, more so than the Imperial counterparts. Conventional destruction of the bio-titans was impossible without serious firepower only titans and super-heavy tanks could dish out.
But they were vulnerable from within.
The hydraphant’s head exploded, and its massive body dropped to the ground. The impact shuddered the ground like an earthquake, and the Valkyrie felt like it had been kicked again.
Fellheimer stayed conscious long enough to see white hot beams of light flash down from the sky, an orbital bombardment that vaporised thousands of square acres of ground. He could almost hear the collective shriek of the Hive Mind as it realised it had been beaten.
He fell backwards into the arms of the non-com survivors.
* * *
As Gauntlet retreated to the command Leviathan, the Army Group hit back.
Bolstered by the sight of the dead hydraphant beaten by a single Valkyrie, the Imperial Guard regiments turned and slaughtered the surviving ‘nid creatures, who were suddenly deprived of their now-vaporised synapse creatures sheltering under the titan.
The Army Group, led by Lieutenant-General Flacker, bit back, and what remained of the Imperial Guard were the first to expend their fear through rage, shooting even the confirmed dead creatures as they charged through.
Rhinos of the Falcons of Garm Space Marines chapter chased the Guard formations, joining in the slaughter.
Above it all, a single black Thunderhawk flew slowly over the battlefield, heading in the opposite direction. It had no identification aside from a silver stylised ‘I’ on its side.
* * *
An old man stood over Fellheimer’s medical bed.
The flagship’s medicae staff were avoiding the old man, and the eight foot armoured giant stood behind him. In fact, the small ward had been emptied besides the three figures. Fellheimer was unconscious, unaware of his two guests.
“This puny Guardsman is the reason you came to this place?” the giant growled. In all fairness to him, his voice always sounded like it was growling. His black armour and silver pauldron and arm reflected the blinking lights of the instrumentation around them. His other pauldron displayed the blue and white of an Ultramarine, the symbol obscured by purity seals.
The old man lifted a silvery eyebrow, glancing behind him.
“This ‘puny Guardsman’ has survived events even one of your ilk has to respect.”
There was a rumble of consent from the giant’s augmented throat.
“In his current condition he is of no use to us,” said the giant.
The old man idly played with the gnarled cane in his hands, the weight of the universe on his wizened shoulders. He was deep in thought.
“He could be quite useful to us on the Octavius project,” he added. “You’re right though, he is in no condition.” He looked over at Fellheimer’s uniform, which had been cleaned and hung over the chair. “Why do you hate the Imperial Guard so much, Brother-Captain? Is it jealousy?”
There was a rumble of annoyance, and he could almost hear the argument about to come out of the giant’s mouth. He interrupted his companion before he could make an angry retort.
“This man has survived unbelievable horrors with nothing more than a lasgun and some plates of carapace armour. He hasn’t been genetically modified, he doesn’t have access to the absolute cream of Imperial armour or weapons. All he has is his instincts and strength. That’s why men like Fellheimer scare you.”
It was an old argument between the two, and the old man found himself drifting off into his memories, staring at the young man’s face.
“My lord?” the giant asked. “Lord Inquisitor.”
“I can hear you, Brother-Captain.”
“Inquisitor Kryptman, we have to leave now to make it to the rendezvous for the Carpathia mission.”
“We must keep an eye on this young man’s progress.”
He followed the Deathwatch Space Marine Captain out of the infirmary.
* * *
The newly promoted Lord Militant General Flacker watched as the young Fellheimer got dressed into his clean uniform, slipping his armour plates over his torso and upper legs. What was left of his lasgun had been sent to the enginseers to be repaired and sent to the armoury. The young man had been unconscious for over a week, and was now ready and raring to get back into action.
He slipped the camo-cloak over his shoulders, cinching it together at the throat. He slung the chainsword and scabbard over one shoulder, sliding his unloaded bolt pistol into its leather holster.
“Are you sure you should be up and about, Chief?” Flacker asked; there was genuine concern on his aging face. They had had a long and rather odd relationship over the years, going right back to the days when Flacker was his Colonel. “I’m sure I heard the chief medicae say that you needed to stay in that bed for another week or more.”
Fellheimer winced as he moved, trying not to hold his side.
“I’m sure that was just a guideline, sir; you know how these medicae are –always exaggerating these things to scare patients.”
Flacker adjusted his new uniform, trying not to catch his hands on the gold braiding. His medals, the majority forced on him, jingled as he moved.
Fellheimer limped towards the door.
“What’s my next assignment, sir?”
Flacker sighed. They were about as close as their respective ranks allowed, and Flacker saw him as the greatest military asset in his arsenal. The man was dangerous to a point where he could give the Officio Assassinorum a run for their money.
“The Army Group has been ordered away from the Carpathia sector, though the Inquisition has… requested that we engage a splinter fleet of Hive Fleet Leviathan. Apparently the main thrust of the Hive Fleet is suddenly veering towards Ork-held space.”
“And me personally?”
“Get some rest; we won’t be there for another two weeks.”
Fellheimer grimaced, nodded, and was almost out of the ward’s doors when Flacker spoke up again.
“Why did you take that last assignment? You could’ve turned it down, and I never would have reprimanded you; in fact, I almost hoped you wouldn’t take it.”
Fellheimer shrugged, his vest of carapace armour restricting the motion.
“I had to take it; nobody else would’ve been able to do it. After all, he was my father.”