THE FOURTH CHUFFTER: GHOST FROM THE FUTURE
It took a few moments for the disorientation to fade, then Calgar gasped with horror. He reached immediately for a helmet, forgetting his wasn’t armoured up, then covered his mouth with his hand. He needen’t have bothered. If this was anything other than a vision, he would have died in the airless vacuum of the moon he stood upon.
Calgar looked around. There was naught but ruins, essentially burned rockerete rubble with spars of broken metal jutting from it. The ground was blasted. He looked at the sky, seeing the emptiness of space and a chain of moons. That was a surprise; he had expected to be looking up at Macragge, since this was clearly one of its moons. Calgar called out, wondering where the third spirit was, and who it would be.
As he moved, he kicked his foot against something on the ground. Calgar bent down to pick it up, brushing grey dust from it as he stood up.
It was an emblem of the Ultramarines: tarnished, burned, but recognisable as the one that hung above Calgar’s front door. He could make out lettering beneath the logo: CALGAR AND BRIN MILO.
“Oh, feth,” Calgar said, looking around with new eyes. “What happened to Ultramar? And more importantly, the ghost from the future is not going to be that whiny Wesley Crusher wannabe Milo?”
There was a sound from outside. Against his survival instincts, for nothing could truly harm him in this vision, Calgar left the ruins of his home, chucking the Chapter emblem away as he did so. Whatever waited for it, he would greet it with his bare fists, the weapon every human was born with. He was Marneus Calgar, the leader of the Ultramarines, and no enemy would best him at Christmas time.
A pile of rubble was moving. Something seemed to be buried underneath it. Calgar moved towards it, hoping Milo wouldn’t burst out. He was now feeling regret over the young Tanith’s death, although Calgar’s pride would not let him acknowledge it.
Once again the rubble heaved. Chunks of rockrete fell clear. Calgar jumped back, crying out.
“Milo, if that’s you, one is gonna -”
There was an explosion of movement. Rockrete fell all around the Ultramarine. Something hideous was slithering out into the street before Calgar… and the Ultramarine suddenly wished it had been Milo.
The Tyranid towered above Calgar. It was green, with carapace like yellowed bone. The creature’s head was elongated to an extent Calgar hadn’t seen before, and it bobbed under its own weight. The creature possessed six scything claws which it held against its chest. While it looked like a Hive Tyrant, this creature possessed a tapering tail instead of legs.
Before Calgar could even think what to do next, the Tyranid leaned forward and screeched right in his face. Saliva and gooey ichor plastered Calgar’s face and hair, causing his hair and eyebrows to stand on end in humorous fashion.
“Thanks for that,” said the Ultrasmurf. “You just scarred me for life.”
The Tyranid looked at him. It had long slits for eyes which had two pupils, one above the other. Alien intelligence regarded Calgar. Knowledge seemed to stab its way into Calgar’s brain and he fell to his knees, clutching his head and screaming in agony.
Tyranids did not appear to communicate with words. This one, at least, told its story in images and sensations. Noise like a million crickets chirruped and gnawed at Calgar’s brain.
He saw a devastating future, one nearly as horrible as the triumph of Chaos. Calgar saw Christmas prevailing on Macragge, yet this did not last; he was merely pretending to embrace its spirit to appease the three spirits and the kilt-wearing Finnigan who had instigated this whole affair. While this was enough to prevent Chaos from consuming the galaxy in the immediate future, it was not enough to unify Macragge and provide a fighting spirit to the battered Imperium.
Invaders from another galaxy swept across the galaxy, chowing down on every world – inhabited or otherwise – they came across. Humanity organised itself, but too late, and its fightback became a last stand. Orks fleeing the Tyranids fought humans for possession of the remaining worlds, yet as the Tyranids consumed Segmentums Ultima, Pacificus and Tempestus, what remained of humanity joined forces with the Orks. It was not enough. The Tyranids had finished with the Andromeda galaxy and who knew how many others before that; they had faced more powerful races with technology Orks and humans could not even dream about.
Even the might of Chaos receded like a tide returning to the sea. As life in the galaxy began to dwindle, the Chaos Gods lost much of their power, gradually being confined to warp rifts like the Eye of Terror and the Maelstrom. The combined forces of the Chaos Gods could not triumph against the Hive Mind, since the Hive was effectively a single organism obeying the prime directives of life: to live, to feed, to grow. There was nothing to corrupt.
Nurgle came the closest to stopping the Tyranids of all the galaxy’s forces, seeding Nurgle’s Rot and the Destroyer contagion within the heart of the Hive Fleets. The Tyranids had evolved through eons of death and slaughter and even magical plagues were not beyond their ability to overcome. Rotting hive ships were discarded, left to drift in the void as small shrines to a God which would find no new worshippers, and the Tyranids moved on.
Calgar understood the beast before him was an evolved form of the Tyrant genus, a creature which combined the speed, ferocity and cunning of a Ravener with the strength and willpower of a Dominatrix. This creature might resemble the monsters Calgar was familiar with but this foe was beyond his ability to defeat. It had out-evolved the Astartes, had out-evolved the Gods themselves.
As these terrible visions began to fade and the creature faded out like a slain opponent in Final Fantasy VII, Calgar dropped to his knees and wept, realising in full what his arrogance might cost the Imperium.
THE FIFTH CHUFFTER: WHY ARE THEY CALLED CHUFFTERS
When Calgar looked up, he was safely back in his bedroom where this horrible adventure had begun. The ghost of Finnigan stood before him, looking down at the Lord of the Ultramarines with no sign of his earlier hostility.
- Do ye see the importance of Christmas now, laddie? Finnigan said gently.
Calgar rose, unembarrassed by his tears.
“Yes,” he said. “One realises… I realise now that I was wrong. I treat people like dog crap. I always spoil everyone’s Christmas. Yet am I regarded as a hero of the Imperium. That is not fair; it is not just.”
- Aye, ye get it now, Laird Calgar.
Calgar was surprised to hear his name being spoken with respect.
- Dinnae look at me like that, mate, ye’ve been through summat that would turn most men’s baws into little useless pebbles, and ya came out of it a better man.
“Is the galaxy saved, then?”
- That depends on ye, Laird Calgar. Are ye just grateful to be back at home, and ye’ll revert to being an arsehole soon enough, or did it change ye permanently?
“We’ll find out,” Calgar said. “Can you do me a favour? Can you…”
- Bring Milo back? It’s Christmas, Laird, there’s all kinds o miracles going off. Can I ask ye a question?
“Certainly,” said Calgar, surprised.
- Will ye put some bloody trousers on? It’s putting me off ma brew just lookin at ya wee nads.
“I will,” said Calgar. “Now be at peace, spirit, for I’ve got some phone calls to make.”
It was Christmas morning. The Ultramarines had gathered in the mess hall, staring at an enormous Christmas tree, wondering where it had come from. It was a real tree. Fake snow had been sprayed all over it. There were coloured lights and magnificent baubles. The angel sitting on top of the tree was properly old-school, its age lending it a mystical beauty.
All the flat surfaces in the room had been edged with white tinsel which resembled snow. Large baubles hung from the ceiling in each corner. Gold trimmings also decorated the ceiling. One section of the room had been screened off by a corrugated metal enclosure with crude images of Father Christmas being pulled across the sky by his reindeer (he was in his fething sledge, don’t start!) spray-painted on them. Weirdly, the enclosure was rotating. Each side had a different image painted on it. One side, the best-painted, had three kings riding camels through the desert, heaving towards a distant star.
“What the feth is this?” said Dick Bannerman. “Milo, come and look!”
Brin Milo stepped out from the mass of Ultramarines and gaped at the display.
Suddenly, the metal screen walls stopped rotating. As everyone stared, they fell open like the petals of a flower, causing everyone to flinch back.
A vast pile of presents rested before the Ultramarines. Some were small, some were huge, but there were enough for everyone to have about twenty each. The Ultras practically leapt onto the pile… but not before allowing Nessa and Milo first dibs. There was still much merriment about there now being two Tanith – particularly for Milo, who had been alone among brothers for some time now – but the excitement for the prezzie pile was ferocious.
Milo picked up a box wrapped in cheerfully-coloured paper, and looked at the gift tag.
“Who’s Mr Duncan?” he asked Dick, who shrugged.
“Let’s dig in!” Dick roared, and there was no stopping the Ultramarines. Soon they were up to their pits in woolly jumpers, XBox 360 games, new Forge World models, quad-core Android phones and Jeremy Clarkson DVDs. Surely nobody could want for a better pile of presents, apart from the woolly jumpers of course.
Milo came to his senses while he was halfway through opening his presents; he glanced across at his fellow Tanith, noticing her strange behaviour. She was heading back to the kitchen. Milo put his latest unopened gift down, excused himself – not that Dick was really paying attention, so overawed was he with the Fighter Craft of the 41st Millennium calendar – and followed Nessa.
She was looking at the Christmas stockings hanging above the fireplace. The fire had died down and the Termagant had been eaten during last night’s drunken revelry, which probably meant sickbay would be overflowing with xeno-botulism cases within the next hour if previous years were anything to go by. There were stockings for all the main Barmy Army characters, but now there was a new one.
“What’s this?” Nessa said aloud, pointing at the hand-sewn lettering on the new stocking:
In loving memory of absent friends
From Marneus Calgar’s Barmy Army
Calgar wanted to stand behind a sliding door, and have it slowly roll up to reveal him, inch-by-inch, while “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade played, but since he wasn’t making an American TV show he couldn’t face such embarrassing melodrama. Instead he walked into the mess hall carrying more presents under his arms. A massive cheer went up from the Ultramarines as they hailed their leader… who was dressed like Father Christmas.
“It’s time I started acting like a true leader,” Calgar said, and his men bellowed. “There is a galaxy to save, but first, please enjoy these presents provided by the finest toy chest in the world!”
Later, as the entire Chapter sat at the feast table waiting for the servitors (and Milo and Nessa) to serve their Christmas turkeys, they busied themselves fighting over roast potatoes (to see who could get the most) and sprouts (to make sure none went near their plates). Calgar did his party-trick by finding the biggest sprout and swallowing it whole. Unfortunately he was distracted during the act when the servitors came in and the sprout got lodged in his throat.
“Sir, you do this every year!” Dick laughed. “You always pretend to choke on it.”
“Grzzzht! Ghaaaaa!” Calgar gasped.
“Look at him, he’s turning purple! You’re really selling it this year, sir!”
Calgar was saved from certain death when Nessa took enormous satisfaction in whacking him round the back of the skull with a silver serving tray. The sprout blasted out of Calgar’s mouth like a demolisher round and took a servitor’s head off. Nessa gave her Lord a semi-apologetic grin as he glared at her, rubbing his head.
“What the feth’s that?” Dick exclaimed as the rest of the Ultramarines cried out in alarm.
There would be no mere turkey for the servants of the Emperor this Christmas. Carried between six cargo-servitors came a massive silver dish with the curled-up and perfectly cooked carcass of a Tyranid the likes of which nobody had seen before.
Nobody except Calgar.
“Lady and gentlemen, our dream dinner has been served,” Calgar said, smiling at the in-joke. “Everyone, raise your port & lemon: a toast to Marneus Calgar’s Barmy Army, to Guilliman, to the Emperor and his Imperium… and to the reader, who’s wasted probably an hour of their life reading this fethery!
Merry Christmas everyone!”