SO THERE I was, the youngest Trooper in the entire regiment, and thrown straight in at the deep end, as the saying goes.
The regiment, designated the 3rd Imperial Guard Regiment (Jirmania Prime), the “Deathshead”
Regiment, had a history stretching back into the mists of time. Its roll of honour was long and prestigious; a veteran regiment ruthlessly forged in the crucible of battle.
But I was just a Jungen
, a derogatory Jirmanic term for a child, and straight out of training; a fact that I was reminded of on a daily basis, with insults and thrashings. I imagined that they did; indeed, loath me, and I beleive that the first few weeks of my arrival were deliberately made intolerable. After the tenth beating for some minor infringement, I felt at my lowest ebb, lonely, miserable and a long way from home.
“This is nothing to what its like on the battlefield, you filth”, a veteran cursed one day ‘get used to it; you don’t get a second chance out there”.
But during those darkest hours, when I lay in my bunk at night, I would think of my Grandpa Willi, and even the myth of my father, and I would feel a new strength building up inside me, a hidden power that could not be defeated. I would shake myself out of my melancholy, and grit my teeth. I would stand tall, and I knew that I would make it. I would show them all. I would see it through to the end, and make Grandpa Willi, and my father, wherever he may be, proud of me.
To do that, I knew that I had to prove myself worthy to wear the uniform, the cuff-titles and the medals, and the only things the grizzled warriors around him respected were other warriors, and a warriors fighting prowess and creed. I would have to become a master of both.
I was a Kopftjäger
now but only in name. The [I]Kopftjägers[/I always lead from the front and the whole regiment looked to them for guidance and example.
For now, I was nothing more than a snivelling wet-nosed Untermench*
and I knew that if I was on my own and in trouble, none of the men around me would lift a finger to help. When the brown stuff hit the fan, I would be very much on my own.
When I stood in their ranks, I was always mindful of this. I stood out from the others, but not just because of my youthfulness, because there were young warriors in other units who were not much older than I ... it was the beards.
In war-like Jirmanic society, a warrior was distinguished by his beard. Only a soldier who had proved his worth in battle was deemed worthy to grow one. I was un-blooded, fresh, and had yet to prove myself. As the weeks passed by, it gnawed at my bones.
On Jirmania, a mans ultimate goal was to become one, to fight and die for the God-Emperor. Warriors occupied the positions of power, protected the weak and looked after the poor, it was the Jirmanic way.
In order to fulfil his life, a Jirmanic warrior would achieve victory, unflinching in the face of adversity, whatever the odds, whether injured, infirm or aged. A glorious death was the only fitting end to a glorious life.
I became consumed by the desire to walk tall amongst them, but I knew, that to get there, I would have to kill, and I would have to kill the Emperor’s enemies in large numbers.
I knew that out there in the vastness of space, they were waiting for me…. And I, Trooper Dietz of the Emperor’s loyal Imperial Guard, would have plenty of opportunities to achieve my goal…….
* * *
SO HERE I am, crouching in soft white silica, hot, sweaty, and thoroughly peeved off, on a planet, billions of light years from home.
This planet, this hostile lump of rock with its twin suns, its unbearable heat, and persistent, driving winds. It was a hot sticky hell-of-a-place that spawned swarms of biting insects and was host to a myriad of strange creatures, which had adapted to the harsh desert environment, creatures that would fill me with wonder… and dread.
It was roughly two in the morning, adjusted Terra time but it felt like the middle of the afternoon. The suns were just over the horizon. The temperature was already rising and it was beginning to get uncomfortable in all my combat gear. Soon it would be in the high forties and topping fifty degrees and then it would be unbearable.
Distant birds began to call out; eagerly greeting the new dawn in a crescendo of high pitch squawks and shrills.
I was now bent almost double, with my senses strained to breaking point. I had slung my Lasgun over my back and I could feel its reassuring weight against my shoulders. The Lasgun was a fearsome weapon with a simple but sturdy design. It pumped out rounds at a high rate of fire but was not known for its accuracy. It mattered not, it was designed solely to kill, and it did that job very well.
I had never fired it in action yet, despite being on the planet Handshaar these past two months. The enemy always filtered away when we approached, or they hit us from a long distance away before we could return fire. I was a frustrated wannabe-warrior who longed to feel the weapons heavy pulse in my shoulder. I could think of nothing better than taking the fight to my elusive enemy.
But I was not going to be using it today, not yet at least. Today I would use the age-old favourite, a weapon used by billions of soldiers throughout history… the good-old fashioned boot knife… and I could not afford to fail.
I had found a large clump of tall spiky desert grass, known locally as Flyfax. It stood about two metres high with long pale-green stems with bulky, red-pettled flowers at their ends. A ragged bush of meter-long spikes surrounded its base. The spikes were razor-sharp with serrated edges, and quite capable of piercing our uniforms and even the soles of our boots. My arms and legs were already sticky with blood, from a hundred lacerations.
Some, like Warren Cholitz from third squad, known with affection as ‘The Professor’, would describe the flowers of the Flyfax as beautiful. But he was a well-educated ex-teacher, who appreciated just about everything.
But their deep red flowers did not disguise the odour that they gave off. They stank of what one wag described as a combination of rotting flesh and mouldy cheese. This odour attracted a multitude of white-eyed, thumb-sized carrion flies who were mesmerized by its smell. The flower’s pollen carried its own hazards. The small yellow grains were highly corrosive, and if a few of them got onto exposed skin, blistering and open wounds would result. The pain was supposed to be excruciating. I did not have the slightest inclination to test out this theory. Most of the troopers wore gloves in this climate and were ordered to wear their helmets, with the visors down, to protect their faces. But in the unendurable heat, the head and brain could literally boil, so most of the men discarded them for simple sand-coloured field caps.
Unfortunately, I could not afford to be so blasé. I was not in a position to do anything off my own back. I had not earned the right. I continued to wear the Tri-dome, the standard-issue Imperial Guard helmet, but when I moved into the grass, I dared to flip the visor up. It helped slightly, but the heat still sapped away my energy. I avoided the spikes and pollen but could not avoid the flies. One of them, a big, flat-headed monster with a long probing labium
hovered just above my head, watching me with what appeared to be curiosity, through large compound eyes.
I had something that it wanted, a commodity so precious on this planet that it was worth more than gold… liquid, but to be more precise, the saline solution protecting my eyes.
At first, I tried to ignore the fly, but it was persistent, languidly hovering just out of my reach, and waiting for its opportunity to strike. Every now and again, it would dart forward and flick my cheeks with a pair of tiny silver wings. It appeared to be taunting me. I blinked rapidly and even tried to blow the creature away, but it kept coming back for more, until it would not leave at all. Eventually, it landed on my right cheek and closely observed me.
I could do nothing now, the Beddo scout was too close and any sudden movement was sure to be detected. My enemy had moved to within arms reach but was oblivious to the danger he faced, lurking in the Flyfax. I was so close, that I could literally blow on the mans face.
The fly shuffled forwards another couple of centimetres.
Please, you disgusting creature, just leave me alone for a
few more seconds, and when this is all over, hell, you can drink my whole canteen… but please, just for the time being, leave me alone.
* * *
... (literally) sub-human