Don't speak to me of atonement. I've poured my soul into atoning, all the mercy and compassion that I have in my heart.
And do you know what gets me the most? How grateful they are, that we sit here and do nothing more than hear them out. Praise be, hail the Him on Terra, you are atoned, let's call in the commissar. Though as often as not, a bolt isn't needed to finish off the poor bleeders.
This one time, for instance. This was back between Two and Three, before it became clear that the Beast would be back. We were out on Piscina, picking up the pieces afterward, and this guy's regiment got torn to shreds. He was one of three to make it out alive. By the time I got to him, he was the only one left—injuries and rot had done for the other two.
This boy kept calling for “Federen,” his tent mate. Federen, of course, was dead. Hadn't even made it off the planet, in fact. But the poor bastard was so feverish that I could take Federen's place by the bedside and he couldn't tell the difference.
Turns out they'd promised each other not to die. They were going to head off to some deserted backwater and be deviants, or something. It was all he could do to mumble that he was sorry that he couldn't keep his end of the deal.
He died there, holding my hand. I don't really know when—his grip just slackened, bit by bit. I didn't even feel his hand fall away from mine at the end, when he finally let go.
'Course, that was when I had only just begun my career. There were all the long years between then and Three to have to deal with, and then, well, the past two years, too.
Two years of hell. Two years of such an endless procession of corpses that mountains of bone can now be erected in any hive on the planet. Two years of such rivers of blood that the Ash Wastes themselves have over-gorged, and spit it back out in disgust. What hath man and xenos wrought but such a ruin as this, eh?
Since it began, I haven't had a solid night's sleep. Fighting, being on the move, and fighting on the move. That's my life. The few hours I have managed to grab, here and there, haven't been all that restful, either.
I haven't had to serve in the trenches and in the field, sure. I can thank the Emperor and an accident in the reconstruction of Hades for that. I never was high enough to rate a bionic replacement, so there's my armless sleeve and twisted leg. So there's old Padre Sawbones, hobbling his way to the next poor sap who got his face bitten off by a Nob.
It's curious, I suppose, my mess of skills as a medic and a priest. My beliefs—well, they've taken something of a battering over time. You might say that my faith is a tad bit tarnished, after watching a generation fed into the Munitorum and right back out as spools of ground meat. But I came into the job not knowing an artery from a vein, so there's an improvement. Not that I'm all that great a help at the operating table, what with having only one hand, and all.
There was that time the medicae had a heart attack, though. I had to clench off the posterior tibial of the poor bugger being operated on until a replacement arrived, with my hand. I didn't let him lose a drop more of blood. A minor miracle, I suppose—though that's all we get out here. Minor ones, never major ones.
Of course, by that time, the medicae himself was dead. Take what's handed to you, 'cause that's all the Emperor is giving.
Now then. Enough about me. The colonel.
I'll freely admit to not having liked him. He was a vindictive, sadistic bastard. He—warp, he made me abandon my whole flock of crippled lambs when we were pulled off Infernus Quay. Yes, we had to get out before the Gargants trampled it into a mush. Yes, he had to make the call. I get that.
He saved us, again; as much of the regiment as he could. Wasn't the first or the last time, by any means. Doesn't mean that I have to like him or the choices that he made, though.
Then he also ordered the execution of our head doctor, too, when we couldn't save the life of Captain Breasts—sorry, Captain Brenst. It wasn't our fault that she choked on...that, was it?
Heh, and you should have seen the faces of the new blood whenever we merged with another regiment to keep up strength. The third time, for example. I think that was the time he gave the boys the speech about “riding those Orks like they're your new sweetie.” Their expressions were caught somewhere between horror, embarrassment, and amusement. Until he started giving practical demonstrations.
He and the commissars got on famously, of course. No fear from that man, for the enemy or the black-coats. He should have been a commissar himself. The whole issue with spit-shining our section of the dirt trench—I've never seen a man so happy to be holding an electro-whip.
You know for yourself just how sane he was. Serving under him was...a calculated danger. We knew he would keep us alive to kill himself, rather than letting the Orks finish us off. And he was really coming apart there, near the end.
Case in point: his last hospitalization. Who puts a shotgun down their pants and gallops around the camp firing into the air? Even he knew that the recoil would have some nasty repercussions.
It's hardly my fault if his bandages were applied sloppily, was it? And that he bled out when it was just the two of us alone, him giving his ribald "confession"?
All he did was crack rude jokes right to the very end, you know. His favorite—he kept repeating it—was about a bionic replacement for his...damaged goods. Oh, and don't get me started on what he said about Sergeant-Major Drake and the regrettable Ice-World of Juridicae.
Then his bandages unraveled themselves, I suppose.
So don't go asking Padre Sawbones if he's sorry for anything he's done in his long and illustrious career in the Armageddon Steel Legion 11,104th Armored Regiment. Atonement? To warp with that.
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!
Last edited by Mossy Toes; 06-08-10 at 05:51 PM.