Heresy Fiction Comp 2012: Memories Denied
“Memories Denied” ( 4996 words)
I had not been prepared for them when they came to my home world of Patin. None of us were.
No-one alive knew for certain when they had last arrived, nor even why they came. All we knew about them were merely whispered stories and half-baked legends.
As is the way of humanity, such tales were laughed at by the youngest of us, whilst the eldest of my kind had prayed that the newcomers’ gaze would pass over us without notice. Such entreaties proved to be fruitless.
Mysteries and rumours accompanied these outsiders, shrouding every one of their heavy treads.
No matter what the tales, or where they came from, all shared a common bond: not one person who heard the stories desired the visitors’ presence.
Unlike my planet’s sporadic contacts with other kinds of passing traders, they were not simply looking to make a few quick credits and hasty trades before moving on.
Instead, they were the vanguard of an army: human to our eyes, yet truly alien in their nature.
As soon as the cargo holds of their huge aerial landers opened and their mute phalanxes marched onto our awed streets, the purpose of the visit was simple and clear: a hunt for raw materials.
We had expected them to be searching for mined ores, or in need of some place to repair their baroquely-decorated vessels.
However, their concept of “resources” was flesh: recruits and volunteers. Little did we know that such people were regarded as nothing more than unsuspecting sacrifices for their masters’ far-flung and unfathomable causes.
Of course, their idea of “voluntary service” was nothing of the sort.
Taking what they wanted, their plans consisted -at least initially- of emptying the local prisons of their motley assortment of murderers, rapists and thieves.
Being a largely peaceful nation, there was no way that our capital city, Dessellern, could provide what they regarded as “sufficient due tithe” via this sole method.
So they expanded their remit, resorting to little more than press-ganging any nearby defence force regulars or civilians whom they could lay their brass hands upon.
Thus, almost the entire complement of experienced Guard troopers and Judges disappeared inside of a week.
Usually fractious, the noble families who had governed us for centuries suddenly became of one mind and did nothing, whilst our people were herded aboard like so many beasts.
Our leaders had immediately acquiesced to their demands and requisitions without even a whisper of discontent or naysaying.
I was never told why they had given in so easily, yet the visitors’ weaponry was clearly far in advance of anything we could engineer.
As far as our records told, we had never achieved communications with any other planets in the void, let alone managed to accomplish anything as adventurous as off-world travel.
All we knew of The Imperium was gossip from passing Rogue Traders about a Golden God: one whose enormous, double-headed eagle did His bidding whilst He ruled from an equally gilded throne on Holy Terra...wherever that was.
I, Felix Tyrall, was one of the first prisoners they incarcerated.
A former frontiersman, then Army Trooper, I had been sentenced to termination for disobeying orders and the killing of fourteen of my fellow Guardsmen.
They did not know -and would not care- about the twenty seven criminals and gunrunners I had dutifully eliminated on the way to the top of my career as a scout.
Despite my dutiful record, I felt no particular urge to apprise them of the correct kill-count.
Even a single episode of manslaughter was enough to sign my end, so the other forty would not have mattered anyway.
Once upon a time, I had been a woodsman in the Northern Provinces, then an explorer for settlers establishing frontiers.
When this was no longer necessary, I located picturesque havens for the vastly rich lords and ladies who grew fat and idle off the work of others.
Later, as a Guard Sentinel pilot, I tore and burnt down centuries-old forests at the behest of such “worthy citizens”.
My planet lacked invaders and was bereft of most natural predators, so my role was reduced to creating scenic vistas for abominably expensive hunting lodges and aesthetically vile manor houses.
When I finally refused to be a further slave to credits and such pomposity, they sent my own kind against me.
As they hunted me and despoiled the forests I had once tended, I was no longer a comrade; little more than “target practice” for the rest.
After two weeks of pursuit, I unwittingly accounted for all four of my dismounted unit and their attendant infantry when my battered walker malfunctioned, exploding at the moment of my surrender.
How I survived when they did not was nothing short of a miracle.
Of course, the accidental circumstances of this calamity didn’t matter to the presiding Captain-Judge, so my life was due to be ended the next morning as an example to the loyal population.
Not that I had any say in the matter, but those bizarre off-worlders who had arrived during the night held other ideas about my future, whisking me away before such ‘justice’ could be enacted.
Thrown into the stinking, sweaty blackness of a ship’s hold, the accommodation was at least better than the ‘standing-room-only’ gaol cell I had previously occupied.
Perhaps two weeks into the journey, I never knew why they threw me and a handful of others into another cell, apportioning us off from the thousands of other captives.
In such slightly lighter and not-quite-as-cramped conditions, I discovered that I was accompanied by another twelve.
Here they fed us on ration packs and increasingly raw meats instead of the mealy gruel we had previously been forced to grow accustomed to.
Denied entertainment, or tasks to occupy our time, meals became all we had to look forwards to.
Held in such inhuman conditions, what had once been a gaggle of men and women eventually evolved -or should that have been devolved?- into their more feral natures.
Such must have been our masters’ plan, yet to what end could they apply the erosion of intelligent thought..?
Inside of what felt like two months, our whispers of hope and fading thoughts for the future had turned into snarls of anger, whilst each sought refuge in their own space amongst the flickering shadows.
After -perhaps- another four months of snatching food and trays from the guards, meats had to be thrown through the bars of our cell from several feet away.
Whilst they ensured that none of us went hungry, our gaolers had taken all we owned except our clothes. Yet all of us still possessed the inherently human craving to acquire as much as possible.
Therefore, because food was the only thing we were permitted, we all fought amongst ourselves in debased competition for it.
Soon it mattered neither when our meals came, nor how recently we had last eaten, for we battled each other with the strength of the insane.
When this food had all been claimed, each of us clawed at each other and at our grated metal cages with bloody nails (as well as with broken stumps which had once purported to be fingers) in our efforts to salvage the animal carcasses which had proven too big to bypass our prison’s walls.
Sherann, Teggel, Herren and Drinett had died quickly. Beaten or trampled by the rest in our bestial lusts for sustenance, even when our bellies were already full.
Over time, even their corpses began to shrink until they were naught but ribbons of skin and cleaned bones.
Nothing remained of the brave and hopeful people I remembered from my first month with them.
I could not point the finger at merely one person as the cause of such atrocity, for I had heard the snapping of limbs and the slurping of marrow being drunk in various shaded corners.
At such times, my heart died a little inside, for I knew that most of the others here had gleefully taken their fill.
Looking back, because I cannot entertain any other outcome, I would like to think that I had held onto enough of my sanity not to fall into such degradation, for I had not awoken with bones between my teeth, nor covered in fleshy gobbets as others has done.
Yet this was a ‘nowhere-place’. Somewhere the normal rules of decency and sanity did not seem to apply. Where time could have stood still without any of us realising, or even caring.
I do not believe any of us could be completely sure of our roles in the events of each day that passed upon that accursed vessel.
Eventually, after an indeterminate time, there are only four of us left.
Blinking into the harsh yellow flare of ancient sodium lamps, we are brought before our veiled and robed masters, little more than animals and beasts in appearance. There is barely any humanity left in our natures, either.
I had striven to retain as much of it as I could, yet it was only hanging on by mere shreds.
I cannot tell which of them ‘speaks’, but a metallic voice screeches out, a jumbled assortment of whirring, clicks and bleeps.
Our four unresponsive bodies speak volumes about the hateful treatment we have received and about our lack of comprehension.
Whether it is borne from their frustration -or just because they hold the power of life and death over us and need to inflict further brutality- their eight staves beat down upon our quartet until we are face-first on the steel grates and can only see their brass boots.
As we groan and stagger back to our feet, a shrill cacophonic series of clicks, static and whistles follows.
Like the old ‘radio’ devices we used to have back home, they seem to be changing through frequencies until they find one which is a vague approximation of the language and timbre of our Northern Continental dialect.
For some inane reason -taking humour where I can, I suppose- I find it amusing that their mechanical voice-boxes seem to have trouble pronouncing the letter ‘s’:
“You’sss are all that iss left of the oness we ssectioned off. Your appearancess dissgustss uss, yet ssome amongsst our organissation feels you’ss sstill have the meritss we sseek.
“Doess sshredss of humanity sstill lingerss in your weakened bodiess? Or has the beasstss taken too much hold on you’ss?”
As the first finishes speaking, Hellet snarls and leaps for the eyes of this thing which might once have been a man.
Degraded and denied revenge for way too long, she attempts to gouge out his orbs with her thumbs. Those formerly dexterous digits now bear far more resemblance to talons.
The sharp, whip-crack retorts of seven lasguns bark out and her perforated corpse hits the iron meshed floor, mere inches from carrying out her goal.
Even from metres away, I can smell the burnt meat of her body, yet I somehow manage to suppress a snarl of hunger and desire to rend this dead-thing.
A ragged duet of cowed anger and hunger from my fellow survivors tells me that I am the only one who has a degree of self-control.
Never before had I been able to sense death so keenly.
Nor had I ever needed to apply any willpower to restrain myself from the insane act of cannibalism.
'Gods! What had they done to me to make me think this way?!'
Clearly it’s a test, yet I cannot say what brings me back from the brink.
Call it ‘humanity’, or merely ‘self-preservation’, but the fires in my heart and eyes subside. The once-man who had been speaking nods at me. Only at me.
Perhaps he is pleased?
Maybe I have already displeased him and he is marking me for a messier demise at some later date?
The former would genuinely surprise me. The latter thought comes to my mind as easily as breathing.
Both imagined outcomes shock me to the core.
Either way, he does not display any emotion, nor any preview about what is to come.
I have no idea how long it has been since then, for time has no place here and fatigue doesn't seem to be a factor to those around me.
I cannot escape the feeling that perhaps this is a former frailty which has been eradicated not only from the bodies of my captors, but also from my own? Before, I recall that I used to sleep...I needed to have ten hours’ rest per day just to be able to function upon the next sunrise.
Yet there are no chronometers in the walls, nor upon the wrists of the figures which shamble around the dimly-lit corridors.
How can people function when there is no knowledge of day or night?
How do such entities fulfil their tasks in time?
I try not to think of the possible answers, yet it is something that unnerves me every so often.
If I still possessed my grandfather’s pocket watch, I could at least have traced how frequently these images occur, or the timing of my cooked ration-trays.
Such would have afforded me a degree of comfort, repetition and stability in wherever this place is.
However, lacking even this most basic form of reference serves to undermine my reasoning even further.
Some time later, I am pushed into a harshly-lit hall to finally meet my promised companion.
Hunched over and stooped from months of cramped conditions, it takes me some time to become re-accustomed to standing erect.
A silent sentinel stands before me, tall enough to cast shadows across my blinking eyes. For a minute or two, I find that looking anywhere near the tube-lights is too much for my underused vision to cope with, so they try to pierce the shadows instead.
As my eyesight eventually acquaints itself with the glare and vision returns to normality, I can now see his slab-sided armour plates, giving him an air of invulnerability.
The chamber’s strobing white lamps reveal his armour is a matt blue-steel in colour and minutely etched with a hundred words of what I assume to be prayers and benedictions.
Seals of fatty blue wax attach scrolls to armour joints and hang from his shoulders...such litanies of faith speak about centuries of loyal service.
His forthright and martial stance tells me: ‘Here is a killer. Not a madman. Nor a mere bludgeoner. But a veteran. A tactician skilled in myriad ways to end life.’
He does not speak, yet I know he has already evaluated all that I am...perhaps even all that I will ever be.
He sees me as something small, insignificant and ultimately subservient to him.
Tall and thickly armoured, he seems impregnable. Yet both of his arms have somehow been shorn off at the elbows.
Undoubtedly his -no, our- captors’ victory over him could only have been achieved at a heavy price. I feel a thrill run through me at this vicarious retribution against my gaolers.
His right forearm has been replaced with by a double-barrelled rifle laden with pure energy.
A shudder goes through me as I recognise the unmistakable, flared vents of a fearsome plasma weapon.
Even with him immobile, it yet burns with the inner fires of vengeance and promises excruciating, burning death to his foes.
His left is similarly mutilated and cut clean, bearing a multi-barrelled, belt-fed weapon the like of which I have never witnessed.
It takes only instants, however, for information to unconsciously invade my mind: ++Bolter, ‘chaingun III’ configuration++
Though it has surely been months since I was freed with the other pair of survivors, I still cannot get used to the feelings of numbness and detachment I now feel: the ability for schematics and tactical data to flood my mind unbidden; the way sight turns from full colour, to heat-seeking infrared, then to night-vision green, all with the merest of blinks.
The implants around my neck and at the back of my head scratch at the base of my mind. It took only one near-death experience for me to learn that trying to dig them out of my flesh would not release my mind from them.
Looking at this guardian, there is something fundamental which I am missing here...some assault that my acute hunter’s senses should be screaming at my brain as being utterly wrong.
However, all I can do is hold my head in my hands, sinking upon bruised knees to the freezing cold marble floor in lack of comprehension.
The painful temperature is nothing compared to the unknown reasons which have clawed at me since that first day, perhaps a year ago: “Where am I?” “What the heck did they do to me?” But, ultimately, the most important question is “Why me?”
My mind reels from these questions, my insistent, angry and pleading questions...the ones which nobody ever answers, even partially.
I must have made the same enquiries to a hundred different figures.
It didn’t matter what the colour of their robes was, or how intricate the detailing upon their cloaks, for all displayed the same blank expression to me every single time.
Contrary to what I had expected, it was not the idiot grin of torturers planning my end and unable to contain their excitements.
Nor was it the faraway stare of people who either cannot comprehend my language, or of menials who are themselves not permitted to know the answers.
Instead, it was the unpitying gaze of those who do not care what my feelings are. Nor what my questions are. Nor what they will ever be.
Thus, in an effort to try and comprehend at least some of what this all means, I turn my attentions back to this warrior:
I wonder what multitude of invasions and surgeries they must have performed upon him in order to bring this being to servitude. Even armless, he looks like he could walk straight through walls completely unscathed.
Dark green fires glint in the eyes behind his visor and -for a moment- the rational side of my brain tries to convince me that these are just tricks of the hall’s sporadically sputtering lamps.
Yet –as I stare up the length of his ferocious form- those same verdant blazes slowly flare up again, before dulling back down to a hate-filled simmer.
The ancient, bestial side of my human consciousness immediately surfaces, unbidden. In an instant, I sense recognition and fear thrusts through me like the most keenly-honed of knives: ‘He sees me! He sees right through me!’
This should be a safe place, otherwise why would they have done such things to me and brought me here, instead of just killing me like so many others?
However, this place holds no safe refuge in which a rational mind might hide. I cannot help but let loose a howl of terror, for his motionless form has finally acknowledged my presence.
I am hypnotised, lost in the glance of a true predator...he knows me for the feeble prey-beast that I am!
“He is...magnificent, is he not..?” A thin voice wheezes behind me.
I cannot reply, for I am still awestruck and the reedy chuckle at my back tells me that this third person knows my fear, even without needing to see my quivering visage.
“His armour was forged on Mars...did you know that?”
I shake my head and I finally find my voice but -after months of abuse and hardship- it unknowingly falters into insult:
“Where is this fething Mars that you speak of, old fool?”
A whine of motors precedes a sharp blow to my back, sending me reeling and skidding face-down across the polished floors until I come to rest against my companion’s solid boot. It’s stoic owner does not even grace me with a downward glance.
“Your insult to me is...understandable. But take the name of The Holy Red Planet in vain once more and your carcass shall be ground down and fed to the workers.”
“Your patience, cunning and rebellious nature were traits which drew us to you and -thus- what brought you here. Yet the galaxy holds millions of such underhanded scum. You can be replaced.
“Not only will the sector shed no tears for your demise, but I am certain that it shall rejoice at losing such an abject failure.”
Rubbing the back of my neck, I touch the still-tender spinal implants for what must be the thousandth time since I acquired them.
I have no idea what these things do, or what was done to me, yet I know they must be the sources of the muscle-weakening headaches and the forbidden information which insidiously drills into my mind.
Whether it is merely one intense repeating nightmare, or myriad such separate hells, I recall tens of times where I have been dragged through cold metal corridors and later held down by unfeeling claws and vices.
As the fourteen scalpels dug inside, I had screamed until my lungs bruised and my vocal chords collapsed. Or at least that is what they had told me after each sequence, when sanity eventually returned and the pain had dulled to mere excruciation.
Picking myself up on shaking limbs, it is all too easy to fall into anger at the injustices done to me and I do not deny the rage, giving full vent to it:
“You took me from my planet! You forced me to become a caged animal, no longer human!
“You then invaded my body with those...things...and I saw how they tore Grannak’s body apart when they malfunctioned!
“You kept me alive because you need me alive! Because I was the only one who could remain stable. Therefore, never presume to tell me what to do, Michalinus!”
Unfazed by my tirade, the object of my fury pulls out a data-slate and begins to quickly reel off details as dispassionately as appraising the faults in a machine.
It is the same, soulless way in which the data-packets explode through my mind from time to time.
I do not know when these started, but somehow I know that they occur increasingly frequently now than ever before.
“Felix Tyrall, aged 46 years, formely of PDF regiment 6, Patinus Prime, sentenced to death fifteen years ago for the crime of murder.
“Felix Tyrall is the former marriage-unit of Lyssa Tyrall. The cause of that unit’s expiration was due to lack of maintenance...malnutrition in their language...and myocardial infarction as a result of overwork during the Seige of Patinus Prime fourteen years ago.
“Felix Tyrall is DNA-donor of five units: Alla, Marriusz, Hantii, Zollov, and Tehtt. All such units also ceased functioning fourteen years ago. They were terminated by virulent plagues inflicted during threat level Alpha incursion by seven companies loyal to Captain Typhus (refer to Destroyer Plague and Fourteenth Legion Adeptus Astartes) and by nomadic Traitor Titan Legio: Storm Lords (cross-reference with Forge World Glaridon, purged 31.928).”
Too quickly to even process the deaths of my family, my mind reels...I thought I had only been aboard for two years at most!
Yet I am not allowed any rest to take in these revelations and he speedily continues in the same, uncaring, tone:
“We kept you away from Imperial justice and wiped clean your record. So you owe us your past.”
“We kept you safe from the same demises as your family...if that is the correct term for them? So you owe us your current existence.”
“We also now keep you fed and alive to enable further service. So you owe us your future.”
“We own you...just like I own this data-slate...just like my masters own me.”
“The other form in this chamber is your companion. He shall stand between you and harm. His weapons shall allow you to visit revenge upon your enemies if you cannot. He possesses the killer-instinct to gun down all who oppose you. In return, you shall offer advice to him as you see fit.”
My one thought is of yearning to use this figure to kill Michalinus where he stands. The aged adept laughs -a mirthless cackle- as he sees the desires of retribution flare across my face.
Faced with death, his craggy face creases into a smile -the only one I have ever seen him give- as he adds:
“Of course, you may only offer suggestions to him under the auspices of my direction. My masters have no wish to sacrifice me to your base fury yet.”
“This warrior does have a name, but you do not yet possess the language to speak it. Nor will your mother-tongue be able to comprehend the true depth or history of it’s meaning.
“Be advised: he is not yours to fully command. He is true to our cause and you should attempt to understand him. But do not envision a day where you completely leash his mind under your control.
“I am no Seer, yet I know that his defiance shall continue until his end-time, for he has never been completely tamed from the time of his birthing.”
“In the words of your fallen world, you may call him ‘Brother Merciless’. Now, begone from our sight, your untutored presence offends us. ”
Some time later:
“Evasive action, pattern dexter secundus, Felix. Berzerker!”
The shrieking roar of the enemy’s weapon -a bizarre flail of chainaxe heads- whips past my face and tears chunks out of the wall I had been standing behind.
As he shoves into our opponent, I see that Brother Merciless still clasps his bolter arm to his ruined side. At best, this is a vain attempt to protect the power-cells of his armour which are now visible through the gashes in his side.
Although such an action limits his offensive stance, we have both seen that his left gun serves little purpose, except to flatten ammunition in futile protest against this debased monster’s thick ceramite armour.
Even in the madness of battle, this devoted warrior of Khorne...the Blood and Skull God...discerns the biggest threat and hurls himself in return at my protector.
Any ideas our assailant might have had concerning defence are now obviously abandoned in favour of frenzied, all-out attack.
The nearby impact of their collision knocks the breath out of me and as I lurch unsteadily, trying to keep my footing, I wonder how I could possibly know the portfolio of a God whose worshippers I have never encountered? Let alone without ever having heard of it’s name?
The debased flail lashes around, catching both of us in it’s sweeping arc. The writhing chains prove impossible for either of us to avoid and catch us in our left sides, causing deeper injuries.
Those same chains also latch upon my companion’s huge bolter, wrenching it to one side -rendering it useless and immobile- as his horned brow headbutts into my protector, sending him staggering backwards.
However, this attack opens their stances, allowing Brother Merciless to jam his plasma gun deep into our foes’ unguarded belly.
Both barrels blaze repeatedly, sending rapid bolts of white-hot fury into the enemy’s already injured body, eventually exiting out through its' ravaged back.
Finally blasted to pieces, the remnants of our deceased assailant shred the surrounding area with shards of ornate armour and coat the ground and bricks with it’s malefic bodily fluids.
With no more foes to defeat, we stagger back to our lines.
It has been another example of our comradeship, one which is increasingly strengthened in battle and rage. Am I deluding myself if I hope that these bonds might one day equate to a kind of unequal friendship between us?
As he limps and judders in pain, I do what I can to scout out the safest paths and care for him as best as my meagre skills will allow.
Despite the battering we have both received, neither of us has been broken by our ordeal. The marrying of my honed senses and his greater strength and endurance gives me hope that we could survive this campaign.
In the years to come, I would learn the intricacies of hololithic training programs and of how to invest those simulations with characters and personalities.
I would discover that the walls I had sheltered behind during this fracas were almost thirty feet tall, not merely shoulder-height for a human.
I discovered that the Berzerker who nearly accounted for both of us was not merely a depraved man in armour, but a humanoid daemon-engine of vast size.
I learnt to traverse the psychological bridge between the uneven, constantly warring feelings of first and third person which exist in the interface between man and machine.
Most keenly of all, I would intimately feel the reasons why Warhound Titans like Nemo Clemens (’Merciless’ in more base languages) cannot survive without Princeps who are cunning and almost feral.
Tortured, starved, invaded by myriad implants and with their humanity hanging on by slivers (all in the name of bringing out the best in the machines’ ferocity)...such humans are the only ones deemed capable of having a chance to tame these Titans’ inherently bestial natures.
All such are the things which I would learn during the future decades.
Looking back upon that moment in time long ago, I recall that both of us only had sufficient strength to let out howls of victory, followed by the words which truly cemented our life-bond:
++“Do the units still function, Adept Sertertius?”++
++“Acknowledged. They both ‘survived’, yet we found this incomplete narrative upon a data crystal whilst tending to their injuries. Evidently there are others. Interrogative: Tyrall did not want us to find them..?”++
++Whatever he intended to happen, matters not. We need their rich history and keen cunning for the coming wars. Yet this information is ours, just as surely as they are ours. It shall be kept from them until sufficient time as they are deemed suitably ready to receive it.”++
++ “Meaning ‘never’, High Magos Michalinus?”++
++“Should even a century-past insult be rewarded, Adept Sertertius..?”++
Urgently trying to trace any living relatives of Private Sam/Samuel "Jock" Wilson (Black Watch, No. 6 Commando, UK Army Service ID 2764432, died 10.06.44). Any info/suggestions gratefully received.
"Mockles! Pent on silpen tree, blockards three a-feening. Mockles! What silps came to thee, in thy pantry, dreaming?"
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