A tiny part of Relle Lawsea’s brain was having a conversation with itself. The rest was struggling mightily to keep him alive.
“How the feth did we end up like this?”
“We? Your gunner is dead. You’ll join him soon enough.”
“Shut up. We’re not dead yet.”
Beeping warnings, flashing runes and a dozen or more dead systems were enough to tell a straight leg infantryman his Vulture was dying.
“Come on girl, give me something,” Lawsea begged. The banging on the port side suddenly picked up in intensity then stopped abruptly.
“Well there goes the wing.”
“No it didn’t. We aren’t in a flat spin stupid.”
“Feth you, you dying piece of grox crap. Just give me a chance.” he screamed.
A new light started blinking. Fast. “Oh no, that can’t be right,” he thought. The fuel indicator was below one hundred pounds. And the Vulture was burning fifty pounds a minute.
Two minutes of flight time to go at least two hundred kilometers. Going Emperor-knows how fast. The very first shell impact had torn the whole augur package away. Airspeed, ground mapping radar, altitude, everything essential gone in an instant.
‘Too bad the ejector is broken.”
“Thanks for remembering.”
Yanking the activator bar he tried again. Nothing.
Suddenly the pitch of the engine changed from the thrumming roar of a redlined turbine to a grinding screech. What he couldn’t hear were the impacts of fan blades shattering and smashing against the inside of the engine housing.
The RPM’s lurched upwards when the blades broke free. The needle stuck hard against the stop causing another light to start flashing.
He tried the thrust-vectoring control again. Did his forward thrust start dropping?
“Yes!” he almost shouted.
Flipping a switch he turned on the forward floods. Bright spotlights illuminated the ground. The rubble-strewn Emperor-damned rough ground.
“Hey, did you notice we aren’t hovering?”
“Then why is forward speed dropping?”
“Engine is out.”
“No, it’s not. Listen.”
“I am. And feeling. Feel that? That is a shaft losing blades.”
“What do you know?”
“No up thrust,” Lawsea noticed.
“No fething up thrust.”
Pushing the vector lever forward again did not increase thrust. The noise of the slipstream dropped enough so he could hear the dying buzz of the turbine. The banshee wail caused him to feel the engine for the first time since the warning lights had started up.
“Oh no,” he realized.
“Sacred Father of the Imperium…” he began.
The impact was bone-jarringly rough. The light frame of the Vulture collapsed around the dead gunner and the live pilot smashing them against unyielding metal.
Before the blackness took him he tried vainly to finish the prayer.
“…take us to your bosom, we faithful, we servants…”
And all was black.
“So this is death.”
“Are we dead?”
Were you not there for that crash? Yes we are dead.”
“Oh? Did you expect something different?”
“Yeah. A bright light. Everyone says they see a bright light.”
“I don’t know. They just say that.”
“No bright light.”
“No bright light…”
Utter blackness. And pain. Terrible, burning pain. “Why do we hurt? Shouldn’t death be painless?” Silence reigned. Silence and utter, impenetrable darkness. Distant sounds and a faint spot of light disrupted the nothing. Just barely.
“Is he alive?” one faint, female voice asked.
“I think so. His pulse is very faint,” answered a deep male voice.
“Will he survive?” the female voice asked.
“I don’t know,” the male voice replied.
The noise and light faded. Silence and dark.
Gradually the silence faded again. Was it again? Or the first time? What caused the silence?
“The crash. We crashed.”
“I didn’t ask anything.”
“Did we crash?”
“I think so. Why?”
“Then what is that noise? The engine sounds terrible.” A keening wail, metal on metal abruptly broke the silence.
“That is not the engine.”
“What is it?”
Bright light invaded the dark. Bright light and unbearable pain. They only lasted a moment.
Through the quiet, noise began to filter in.
“A fan. Air recirc maybe.”
“Yeah. And a constant beeping. What the feth is that beeping?”
“Low oil warning.”
The sounds were muffled. Or filtered. Something about the noise was off. They were so muffled as to be incomprehensible. There were smells too. Not the smells of flight and combat. Different smells.
The pain was suppressed somehow. Suppressed to just below excruciating.
“I don’t want to die.”
The light and noise and pain leapt into full being. The light was so very bright, painfully bright even. And the pain was unbearable.
“He’s crashing!” a voice yelled.
“Ressetrex is charging,” another voice answered.
“I told you there was a bright light.”
Utter blackness enveloped everything again. In the deep dark time was meaningless. The total lack of sense was a bit disconcerting.
“Am I dead?”
“I don’t know. How could we tell?”
“I don’t know either. I thought you’d be able to tell somehow.”
“It still hurts.”
“I don’t think we’d hurt if we were dead.”
“So we’re alive?”
“I think so.”
“Morlan didn’t make it.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Fething stupid lucky shot by a backwater, chaos-damned PDF.”
“It hurts so bad.”
“Don’t be weak. Fight the pain. Never show them you hurt.”
“I remember the mantra.”
“Then live it. Fight the pain.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, the light filtered through the dark. What is dark anymore?
“Hey trooper,” a familiar voice said.
“He’s waking up,” another familiar voice.
“Where are we?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know those voices.”
The light and sound still seemed filtered and strange.
“Hey Relle. You awake?”
“He knows me.”
“I know him. I think.”
Gentle pressure on his shoulder broke through the pain, the fog, and the drugs.
The pain was lingering, a backdrop to consciousness.
“Hey buddy. Can you hear me?”
“Come on Relle. Wake up buddy.”
Relle opened his eyes. Bright, powerful lights flooded the room, chasing shadows away.
“Where am I?” Relle asked quietly.
“The medical annex.”
“You don’t remember?”
“I remember the crash…”
“Loyalists found you and brought you in.”
“How long have I been out?”
“You died. Three times.”
“You’ll live. Welcome back.”