Warhawk - Those Who Count
“Do… do you know what it means..?”
Macharis could just barely hear it; Just a pained whisper amid a din of crumbling earthworks, bellowing explosions and the chatter of guns and lasers alike.
He looked down over his shoulder with a kind of horror and disgust, suddenly aware that the body at his feet had not yet met peace.
It… he looked up at him, cracked lips in the barest of smiles, eyelids hanging as if about to pass into sleep. The impression was beatific, the scene almost picturesque, all a startling contrast next to the trailing gore that stemmed from what was once the man’s lower half.
“What?” Macharis yelled. He could not keep the wince from his face now that his mind registered just where that stench was coming from…
The fallen soldier seemed to lapse into the abyss for but a moment. Then, with a groan, he heaved his torso up against the shattered remnants of the wall nearby.
“Do you know what it means to be alive...?”
Somewhere across the next block of habs there was an explosion and a series of screams. Macharis flinched despite himself; the sound of shrapnel ricochet echoed around him.
“You’re… You’re alive,” the fallen one said, gaining volume with his conviction, “Don’t you understand…?”
The smell was getting worse. Or maybe it was simply his imagination. Or maybe the animated corpse at his feet was possessed, seeking to toy with his mind. Or perhaps… perhaps…
A three-story domicile across the street caved in with a deafening roar. A mouth of burnt gold punched through the nearest end, followed by a cannon’s barrel, and finally the hulk of a glacis plate adorned by spikes and wire.
Macharis’ eyes were bulging now, the prayer to his God-Emperor caught in a dry throat caked with dust and debris. He had heard stories of daemons and creatures of all kinds on this campaign, but the sight of this contorted and blasphemous image of a once blessed fighting vehicle gnawed at his innards…
“You think… think that it’s all hopeless and you’ve lost…”
A kind of claustrophobia set in, his mind running wild at what seemed like creeping death from all directions. Knees buckled and knuckles turned white around the stock of his rifle, both without his awareness. All that remained was that stench…
“No idea what… you have…”
He almost heard his nerves as they shattered, mixed in with the clattering of treads against tortured earth.
“What do you want from me?!” Macharis screamed, half at the approaching tank, half at the bloody pulp at his knee, “What do you want?! For God-Emperor’s sake!”
He finally looked down at the man, wild-eyed and on the verge of frenzy. Shades of green and khaki mixed with the brown earth and caked blood, and it was only then, when the image of this broken man filled his whole sight, that Macharis saw the offering in his hand.
It hung there from a limp and shredded arm, held up by the last vestiges of this man’s strength.
As Macharis grabbed it, abruptly and by instinct, the man’s arm fell for the last time.
A terrible howl drowned out all thought as the tank’s engines gunned. It powered through the remains of rockcrete and twisted beams, pitch and volume increasing from within a shroud of black exhaust. Its turret leveled in his direction and stabilized on the way up the small embankment.
Macharis’ took a step back and found that his balance had left him. Tumbling backwards over a legless table, he rolled into the crater at the center of the rubble and looked up in time to see the window frame ruthlessly crushed between a dozen tons of unholy iron.
Time seemed to wait, to drag out this scene just for him. His heartbeat slowed despite his adrenaline, and for a moment he felt his own life leave him where he lay.
He looked to the item in his hand, the gift of a corpse now thoroughly churned into oblivion.
A krak grenade.
It wasn’t the scream of an animal, or of a man being tortured. It wasn’t a scream of desperation, or of horror. He couldn’t describe what the scream was about, but it no longer mattered, because he had already gone over the top of the crater, grenade primed.
In mere meters he had reached the front of a tank which could not depress its cannon enough to hit him from such close range. Its sloped glacis plate seemed to beckon him onwards. And so he went, sliding between the spikes and cutting his body through the wire.
The cannon was at his feet, the commander’s cupola before him, and an instrument of righteousness firmly in his hand.
Yes, he was alive. And so long as he was alive he could fight.
And that was the greatest gift of all.
He saw to it that such a gift was not wasted.
Somewhere behind the front lines, a Munitorum servitor sorted a pile of twisted and bloodied identification tags. Many had been charred beyond legibility. Others came clutched in dismembered hands, as if those who returned them for sorting were reluctant to defy the wishes of the dead.
It picked one up with a pincer apparatus and examined it with the calculating stare of an algorithm. The tag was still caked with burnt flesh, atomized in the explosion of some such mechanical device.
The servitor detected only the word “Macharis” and deftly tossed into an adjacent pile for unknown and irretrievable data.
In another age, the one doing this work would have cared. But what did a machine care for the labors of the living?