The Weight of Memories.
The Weight of Memories.
Heavy sadness as well as the unrelenting weight of remorse sat upon the sagging shoulders of the aging man. In the darkness he sat alone, closed off from the ocean of life and grandeur that had once consumed most of his thoughts and activities.
Outside, beyond the shadows that now clouded his keen mind the world still moved and gloried in its tech-advances, in its superiority of spirit and devotion to the Emperor’s will. Outside, just beyond the uncaring walls of his hab, the city swirled and flowed like electric rivers in the night, never stopping and always proficient in its existence.
The old man’s eyes were closed, but his memories were open wide and he wept from the conviction he now felt. The memories were as chains around his soul ever dragging him down into an unforgiving pit of despair.
His fragile frame shook, not from age but from the stress of memories of a life he had once lived long ago. Every breath brought sustenance to lungs that should have rotted away by now within a grave he should have been buried in upon a world that should never have existed.
He was young then and full of himself, arrogant and unrestrained, unruly and deceitful. His passions were for the moment only with no thought of the future. After all, he never expected to live until old age took him.
The Imperial guard did not have a track record of survival, especially when confronted by chaos upon a backwater planet beyond charted territories, separated from all hope of reinforcements. The old man still remembered the shock of those in his unit when they found out their transport ship, the Bountiful Harvest, had lost its way during a warp-storm that had separated them from the convoy headed home from battle.
The distress call from the Hand Of Vengeance drew the attention of the Admiral of the Bountiful Harvest and course changes were made to attempt a rescue. Fearful that the Hand Of Vengeance had also become separated from its escort and could be in danger, the Bountiful Harvest began its trek through uncharted territory in search of their distressed ally.
Three days later the Bountiful Harvest found the source of the distress signal upon an Emperor forsaken world consisting of wetlands and jungles, mountains that touched the sky and valleys that disappeared into the very foundations of the world.
The ruins of the Hand Of Vengeance could be seen from space, great mountains of iron and plas-steel twisted and burning still. The 19th infantry were sent to the surface to look for survivors within the crash site, but none expected to find anything more than death and destruction.
More than twenty-thousand men made up the 19th infantry, with more than five-thousand units representing the best the guard had to offer. Ricas Peard captained the 177th unit, respectfully called the Bone Breakers. The Bone Breakers had earned that name over time and only after each member of the unit had broken some bone, sometime during some battle or accident.
They were violent and brutal in battle but they also were reckless and abandoned safety for the assurance of victory. Captain Peard yelled to be heard over the sound of the descending shuttle-craft’s engines. ‘Men, we know not what we will find down upon the planet’s surface, but know this; the Emperor of mankind has called us here for this very moment. Be ready and vigilant in all things as the Emperor wills.’
Parsod Jaim smiled as the shuttle jumped unexpectedly and then seemed to fall for an eternity before leveling out once more. This was a ride he would remember not only because of the ups and downs of the shuttle, but because when the shuttle dipped, the captain bit the tip of his tongue off. Blood poured from his screaming mouth and he cursed because of the shock and the pain, but the men laughed all the more because of it.
The Captain was not a well liked man. He was an idiot with a gun and a lack of understanding in anything related to anything, Jaim thought. The shuttle landed hard enough to shake the bones and the men joined the captain in his cursing as they debarked from their ordeal.
As the shuttle doors opened the jungle humidity fell upon the Bone Breakers. Sweat poured down the men's backs and faces within moments of stepping foot upon this uncharted world. The 19th infantry spread out and began to move through the jungle vegetation in search of any who may have been able to escape the confines of the decimated ship.
Twenty-thousand men closed in on the Hand Of Vengeance and the source of the distress call. The smells of mold and rotten vegetation, were coupled with the vivid colors of red roots, green mosses, grey and blue mushrooms that grew as large as transports, brilliantly speckled leaves and massive trees the size of buildings with canopies that blotted out the sun.
But as the men drew closer to the Hand Of Vengeance the smell of smoke and destruction began to replace the natural smells of the jungle world. Fire burned anything it could touch and great explosions shook the mucky ground.
The Hand Of Vengeance would still be dying a month later if the reactors were not damaged. A ship that large takes time to die when its spirit longed for battle, but is forced to yield upon an unknown world.
The fire consumed everything for miles around and what was burning now would surly go unchecked if the rains did not come. The whole of the 19th infantry moved warily closer for fear of the explosions and the thick clouds of black smoke lingering along the ground, trapped beneath the thick jungle canopy.
It was clear there would be no survivors from the crash site. The guardsmen knew that from just the sight of her, but they were under orders to search the wreckage and report when the task was accomplished. Guardsmen were nothing if not obedient. It was not for bravery or glory that obedience was awarded, most of the time; but for the fear of the commissariat that pushed from behind.
The 19th began to walk into the thick fog of smoke and at once began to fall to their knees and die. The toxins released from the burning plants were deadly to the lungs of men but many did not find out until their companions collapsed before them.
‘Respirators now!’ Captain Peard exclaimed. The 177th Bone Breakers obeyed the order without grumbling and with practiced swiftness. It was hard for Peard to speak because of his swollen tongue, but he knew his responsibility; duty ends in death, not when the tip of the tongue is severed by one’s own teeth.
Quickly, those who still lived among the 19th infantry donned their respirators and continued to advance upon the dying ship unaware that the true danger did not linger upon the world’s surface, but in the heavens above.
Captain Peard stepped out into the newly made clearing and beheld the devastation that the Hand Of Vengeance had wrought upon its collision of the planet’s jungled surface. A newly formed canyon a mile deep scarred the surface of the world and its end could not be found by human eyes.
The devastation was complete and total; the land would forever be changed by the destruction of the Hand Of Vengeance. One by one the entirety of the 19th entered the clearing and stood upon the precipice of eternity. There before them lay the burning wreckage of the Hand Of Vengeance.
It was clear that whatever distress signal was echoing out into the dark coldness of space was no longer coming from here. Even the commissars had to concede the ship’s total loss. There would be no rescue today. Nothing could have lived through that.
Above the clearing the sky grew dark. It was not the smoke, although that was contributing to the graying of the skies, but something greater, something heart stopping in its burning descent. Across the skies the wreckage of a ship screamed as its dying spirit bled into the planet’s atmosphere.
Electric lightning spewed forth as fragments of the Bountiful Harvest emerged into full view of those standing upon the ground. The commissars began to shoot people as the guardsmen began to run from the sight. ‘Cowards!’ the commissars screamed as they shot the fleeing men.
Captain Peard pulled the bolter from its holster and shot one of the commissars in the forehead. The man fell down flat upon his back, arms splayed out beside him like he was expecting a loving hug. The Bone Breakers all stood there stuck to the spot, mouths agape as they looked at their captain.
‘If a commissar or anyone else tries to bar the way from our escape shoot them where they stand.’ the captain said. His pronouncement of the words would have been funny if not for the situation the Bone Breakers found themselves in; the way he lisped each word and cringed when he was done speaking.
The concussive pressure expelled from the debris of the Bountiful Harvest shook the continent and sent shock-waves rippling through the jungle floor like tsunamis from the ocean’s depths. Distant volcanoes erupted and mountains crumbled, trees splintered and fell to the ground. Fires burned and rivers flash dried instantly and faithful men died in an instant. Those who remained wondered about aimlessly confessing their sins and praying for death to come.
Death did come to the jungle planet, but not the death the men were praying for in their dissolution. Chaos fell from the skies in the wake of the refuse of the Bountiful Harvest. Thousands of shuttles dotted the sky and blotted out what was left of the sunlight.
Thousands lay dead amidst the destruction, but those who were left were not in a much better condition, so when the enemy attacked they did not put up much of a fight, not that the guardsmen could have anyway.
Chaos troopers backed by the Iron Hands marched through the destruction boldly with no fear of those they came across. The slaughter was great and not many survived the initial melee, but those who did witnessed the mutilations and crucifixions of their comrades.
The Bone Breakers, for the most part, were still intact and able bodied. Captain Ricas Peard spoke in low tones to his men as they hid in a deep cave they had found. ‘We have to survive no matter what.’ he said. ‘We do whatever we have to in order to live. Do you understand me?’
Parsod Jaim lit an iho-stick and began to smoke it. He sucked in the smoke and exhaled it away from his face in the darkness of the cave. In the darkness he heard shuffling from beside him and then felt something slam into his face with the force of a hammer against a wall. He saw white stars in his mind and cursed as he tried to get up.
Captain Peard held him down and leaned in close to his ear and whispered, ‘If you give away our position again I will kill you and not think twice. You better believe I will you fekking piece of scum.’
Jaim no longer thought of captain Peard as an idiot, but as a monster who would rip his head off and consume it if he screwed up again. Fear and anger burned within him as he soothed the ache in his jaw and he swore he would make things right between him and his captain.
By morning’s light all but the Bone Breakers were dead, consumed by the hoards of Chaos or by their own hand, suicide having been preferred rather than falling into the hands of the Iron Warriors or the legions that followed them.
The cave was deep but not well hidden and it was only a matter of time before the Bone Breakers were found. From the entrance of the cave a cruel voice lashed out, ‘I will speak with your captain.’ The voice was like the scraping of iron upon iron and terrifying to hear.
Captain Peard moved from the shadows and into full view of the Captain of the Iron Hands. ‘I’m Peard. Captain no longer, survivor only.’ he said. ‘And what will you do to survive… Peard?’ the Chaos Marine asked.
Ricas Peard walked closer to the entrance, hands held high to show no sign of aggression to his captors. ‘Whatever I have to do I will do.’ he said. When he was done speaking he reached into his shirt pocket and pressed the button of the detonation device hidden within. The earth shook as the cave collapsed behind him and voices could be heard screaming in pain and confusion.
The Iron Warrior smiled and moved past Peard without saying a word. He motioned to one of his brothers as he moved down into the dusty, smoky depths. A weapon was placed into the hand of Ricas Peard as the other Iron Warrior passed him by. ‘Follow.’ he commanded.
Peard followed the Iron Warriors down into the cave with deep fear and regret warring for control of his emotions, but he held them in check and steadied himself so his captors would not see his pain. Of the fifty Bone Breakers that had landed upon this nameless world, only three men survived. One was a traitor and the other two were going to die.
Parsod Jaim looked up at his former captain and spat into his face. Blood covered the man from head to foot, but he stood defiant with hatred for the man before him and not so much for the hosts of Chaos. ‘You’re a traitor.’ he spat, ‘I hope they flay the flesh from your body and eat your soul.’
Peard looked down for a moment before meeting Jaim’s eyes. ‘I will do whatever I have to do to survive.’ he said before stabbing him in the heart.
He was alone even though thousands of people moved about him through the burning jungles of a dying planet. The great enemy no longer looked at him as if he were some disease, but as an ally. The thought made him sick, but hid his dread and continued on.
For seven years he lived among them, ate with them, warred with them and worshiped with them until finally one day he was able to escape and make his way to Turan.
At first he was wary of being found out, scared that his past would claim him. He was terrified of being discovered and made to pay for the crimes he had committed. But as time passed and the years grew into decades he knew that none, save for himself knew of his past treachery.
He found work and was honest with people, went to the temple twice a week and offered sacrifices to the Emperor of mankind. He found those that he was able to get along with and some he even counted as friends. He spoke wisdom and gave advice to those who struggled and gave of his time and money to help the poor. As time passed he became a well respected member of society and honored by his peers.
He grew old, never married, never had children.
His life as far as anyone knew was the ideal example of how to live the Emperor’s walk. For seventy-three years he moved among the citizens of Turan trying to make up for his past sins.
The memories never left his mind, no matter how many good deeds he did. No matter how much he prayed, no matter how many people he helped and no matter how much he gave. The guilt was constant, the shame of his past overwhelming. Tears ran down his face as he remembered once again the cost of survival. He remembered those he had betrayed and knew that no matter how much he had changed he was still guilty.
The weight of memories clutched at his mind and tore at what little part of his soul he still had. Outside the city still moved and lived. Outside the world still swarmed with the Emperor’s faithful not truly understanding the depths of despair that dwelt in those who walked her streets.
‘I am truly sorry for my sins, but I know my memories bear witness against me. There are things more important than survival.’ he spoke into the recorder beside his chair.
As he pulled the trigger and fell to the floor, the world outside continued to swirl, move, live and survive.
A good reputation take a long time to build, but only a moment to destroy. Wow, that's deep!
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