This is the beginning of a novel which a friend and I are working on. It's about the Invictors Space Marine chapter, but they don't actually appear in this intro, which serves as a character development device before the actual carnage, mayhem and slaughter begins. Feedback is appreciated.
Looking in the Imperial registry, one would find just a single, insignificant word-entry as proof of its existence: Galates, a remote system comprising of five planets revolving around a single sun. The two closest to the sun were uninhabitable, the radiation and the extreme heat making them little more than barren rocks devoid of any form of life, with unceasing fire-storms raging across their scorched dead surfaces.
There, in the black void of the airless vacuum a single vessel drifted towards the third planet, having entered the system days ago through the outer asteroid field. It shifted slowly in the darkness, adjusting its course. The craft was the size of several Imperial Thunderhawks, but it was a mystery as to how it could actually fly.
It bore nothing even remotely resembling a design and was truly repugnant, a misshapen parody of a space vessel. Its prow and stern side were indistinguishable. The whole ramshackle craft was made of scrap metal and rusted debris, held together by some unknown forces or perhaps sheer luck. The shabby faded red paint job made its derelict appearance even more evident.
Inside, a giant figure stood in the viewing bay. It snarled in anger, its huge tusks reflecting off the glassy viewport. It had been too long. They were meant for battle and desired blood on the battlefield, and soon they’ll have it. And after that, the G’tar and the power contained within would be his to wield. The giant’s mouth widened into a ferocious grin at the mere thought of it and he bellowed a deep, growl-like laugh.
Its fiery red eyes were filled with frenzy and battle-lust. His entire body trembled at the anticipation of the slaughter that would soon take place on the brown-grey orb turning quietly on its axis, oblivious to the approaching vessel and the events that were to transpire.
Sorun was suddenly awoken by a blaring klaxon, its din echoing through the habitat quarters every morning at the same hour marking the beginning of their shift. The illumination panel embedded in the ceiling cast an unnatural white light that sent a jolt of reverberating pain through his skull. He kept lying in bed with eyes closed shut, massaging the temples with slow circular motions of the hands. As if that would somehow help the constant throbbing in his head to subside. He sat upright, barely registering the cold when his feet touched the metallic floor. Sorun reached for and began rummaging through the messy drawer of his night closet without looking, the desired object’s cylindrical shape very familiar by now. Within moments, his fingers found the little stained-glass cask, its tap making a popping sound when opened. Two red ampoules the size of a finger-nail fell in his open palm, their acrid taste causing him to grimace as he gulped them down. Before putting the cask back he took another one. Just in case.
Sorun got up with a sigh. Workers all around him were doing the same, and from the look on their faces he could tell they were all feeling the aftereffects of the night before. It was always like this the morning after payday. The men worked hard and needed to let off some steam every now and again. Receiving your hard earned money was always a good occasion to celebrate. And spend it foolishly. He knew men who trifled away their earnings in a single night of gambling and drinking themselves into a stupor of cheap amasec. Not him, though. He had a purpose for being here and certainly didn’t intend to grind his life on this Emperor-forsaken rock until he grew too old to be of any use, or worse. After all, he had a family that needed to be taken care of. That, of course, didn’t mean he wouldn’t treat himself with a drink or two. Or a dozen. The siren finally fell silent. Too late, as the damage had already been done, the headache so strong Sorun felt as if someone was trying to crack his skull open with a blunt object. It would take a while until the painkiller medicaments have any effect.
Someone slapped him on the back, not all too gently. ‘Had one too many?’ asked a gruff voice belonging to Marius, a man Sorun now thought of as his best friend. He was of a broad, strapping build, in contrast to Sorun’s lean physique. Despite the big man’s intimidating appearance he had a lively character. They arrived at this mining facility at the same time, a little less than five years ago in the very same transportation shuttle. There were many happy faces that day among the newcomers of the workforce, Sorun's included. But Marius had been the only one that kept his smile after the first week. The promises of fast and easy money were one thing, but actually plodding away on this mining colony was another, the two diametrically opposite. They had all soon come to that realization. The harsh, unforgiving environment and the Golems made sure of that.
‘What happened last night?’ asked Sorun indistinctly, his voice slurry and the ampoules’ foul taste still stuck in his throat. The events of yesterday were no more than a blur in his mind.
‘You know, I have to hand it to you. I’m surprised you can even stand. I thought you’d be out cold for sure. Seems like you finally decided to cast off that non-drinker façade of yours and show yourself for the drunkard you really are. Even Lago was amazed. Your unquenchable thirst cost him a fortune’ said Marius with a wink, followed by his characteristic harsh laughter and another hearty slap to Sorun’s the back, who again winced at the unpleasant pain it sent through his skull.
Lago? Yes, it was all coming back in a flash. Sorun and Marius had been sitting at the tavern, going through the usual topics and retelling the same old stories they’ve all heard countless times before, when Lago burst in with a grin stretching from ear to ear. The message just came in from home, he was now a father to a healthy boy and to share his joy he treated the whole place with a round of amasec. None objected, naturally. Others joined in the festivities, he remembered laughing and singing and drinks flowing in rivers. It seemed whenever his glass got empty it would suddenly fill itself again. The consequence was this awful hangover. Sorun wondered if alcohol had any effect on the giant that was Marius who must have drunk at least as much, and yet seemed like he had just awoken up from a refreshing 10-hour sleep. But then again, it was a well known fact Marius could hold his liquor well.
‘Come on, hurry up. Our shift begins in half an hour.’ reminded Marius, but Sorun was already in working overalls.
He took a folded, worn out pict from his back pocket that he always carried with him. There was a handsome woman, possibly in her early thirties. Wavy shoulder-length brown hair limned her oval face. She was smiling warmly, but her clear eyes, fixed directly into the imager, spoke of a deep and distant sadness settled within. The newborn baby cradled in her arms was his daughter, a little girl by now. She was born eight months after Sorun’s departure and he had never held her in his arms. He was doing this for her. For them. They won’t have to live in poverty and endure the hardships like he had in his childhood. To make life worth living a man had to have a great love or a great cause, and Sorun had both. That’s what kept him going all these years.
His gaze fixed on an indistinguishable point on the plain, windowless white walls. But in his mind’s eye he could see through it and beyond, light years away into the vast reaches of space. That’s where Galates IV was, his homeworld. The five year contract with the Mining Amalgamate was coming to an end, with only three more weeks left. He had earned more than he would in 20 years back home, but every coin came at a price of sweat and blood.
‘That pretty wife of yours, I wonder what she sees in you? You’d think she’d fancy a real man?’ said Marius jokingly, flexing his bicep and interrupting Sorun’s reverie. ‘Sod off, will you?’ replied Sorun without malice in his words. This sort of teasing was a common ritual between the two, played out countless time before. He brushed the pict gently with his thumb and put it back in the pocket of the worker suit, making his way towards the exit along with other miners.
A thick defensive wall of reinforced rockrete made the roughly circular, two and a half kilometers wide perimeter of the mining colony which was bustling with activity. Miners, administration, maintenance and support personnel scurried in all directions like ants, the thousand feet rising particle clouds as their hurried to their destinations over the dusty ground.
The military hangar and the soldiers barracks were a short distance due north from the habitat quarters in the south-east. A detachment of 200 Imperial Guardsmen were always present in the colony, tasked with maintaining order and defending it from possible threats. The former usually meant putting an end to short-lived tavern brawls that erupted in the midst of heated discussions or simple disagreements on certain matters, ending in a few bruises and a broken nose at worst. The medicae facility to the north-west was perhaps the most frequented of all. Injuries were not all uncommon, whether from an accident in the mines or the attacks from the Golems, which was the primary reason for the presence of the Imperial Guard.
‘Golems’ is what the name inhabitants of the colony bestowed upon the indigenous species of Galates III. They were a primitive species, ape-like in their behavior and appearance, acting solely on primal instincts. However, what they lacked in intelligence was compensated in their brute strength and peculiar physiology. Dwarfing a normal man by double the height, the hulkish beasts were completely covered in rock-hard scales forming a carapace that provided a natural shield proof against standard lasguns and small firearms. On his own, a man didn’t stand a chance against a Golem, their oversized fists capable of smashing a person into an unrecognizable pulp of gore in a single blow. They mostly dwelled underground but would eventually emerge to the surface.
The manned heavy weapons emplacements on the perimeter proved sufficient defense against them. Because of their substantial firepower, they could penetrate the Golem’s armour and keep them at bay. It worked to the colonists’ advantage the beats were not organized in any form of community, their attacks always coming at random and never in number larger than three or four. However, were they to gang up and onrush all at once, this colony would be overwhelmed in a matter of hours, or less.
The mine-pits were located outside the actual colony, and out there, in the case of an attack the miners placed their lives in the hands of Guardsmen, counting on their skill and military training. Sorun had a few close encounters with the beasts. One earned him an ugly scar across his back, courtesy of a piece of flying debris after a transport truck exploded. The man standing next to him had not been so lucky, the shrapnel cutting through his neck as easily as a knife would through butter. In a way, he understood what drove the savage animals. It was humans who invaded their natural habitat. Wouldn’t we also bark and bite to defend what we hold dear? Sorun offered a short silent prayer to the Emperor, like he always did in the morning, that this day would not be his last.
The miners continued past the landing bay located in the centre of the circular colony, and made way towards the transports near the main gates on the north that would take them to the mines. The atmosphere on the planet was thinner than on the homeworld. At the depths were they were working on, oxygen was very scarce, but Sorun, like many other veterans, had grown used to it and his lungs adapted accordingly not needing the aid of the rebreathers. However, one thing that you could not get used to, but simply cope with it, was the heat. Its proximity to the system’s sun made Galates III several degrees warmer compared to the homeworld. On the surface, it was a mere nuisance and the cause of many sleepless nights only.
They operated in eight worker shifts, each group designated to a different location within the mines. Sorun’s group was currently allocated in the deeper sections and down there it meant hell. Heat would often rise to intolerable heights, also partly due to the vicinity to the planet’s molten core, capable of making people collapse from sheer exhaustion. Miners were known to lose ten pounds in a day’s work through perspiration. But they endured, they had to.
The common practice across the Imperium was to utilize servitors, mindless drones of flesh and metal designed by the Mechanicum for menial work or laborious and dangerous duties such as heavy mining. They never got tired and never complained, but most important of all, they were cheaper. However, deep down below, something in the mineral composition of Galates’ III vast ore deposits interfered with the Mechanicum’s technology and rendered every but the most basic of machines completely useless.
When all of the workers boarded the back of the trucks the massive main iron-grey gates opened and with the rumble of engines the convoy began advancing through the bumpy terrain, flanked by a Guardsmen escort on each side. Clouds of smoke billowed from underneath their tracks and Marius cleared his throat by spitting out the accumulated brownish phlegm.
‘Cursed dust! This sort of place is not for the delicate individuals like myself’ he joked, never losing the sense of humor. The overalls they were wearing concealed a tattoo on his upper left arm, but still could not hide the muscles of his robust body. Sorun had once asked Marius about the tattoo, and that had been the first and only time he had seen the big man’s expression darken and turn sour.
‘My past is an undeserving and unworthy one. I’ve done things I’m not proud of, things that I’ve tried to leave behind, things that I’ve managed to bury and forget through the years. I would wish them to stay that way’ replied Marius and Sorun, respecting Marius’ wishes, had not pressed on the topic ever since.
‘Then come with me, back to the homeworld. Your contract expires when does mine. You’ve always told how you dreamed of running your own tavern. “Shady Rest”, was that how you wanted to name it? The more I think about it the more I’m warming up to the idea. How would you like to have a partner in your endeavor?’ asked Sorun placing a hand on Marius’s shoulder. He had to yell to be heard over the noise of many engines.
‘I came here never expecting to find a friend, and yet I had acquired the best friend a man could wish for’ he replied with a smile, but a trace of uneasiness was present on his face. The two never properly discussed future plans, both delaying and avoiding the topic as much as possible in fear of the outcome. Sorun also shared equal feelings about their companionship. It had grown deeper than some simple acquaintance and neither man wished for it to end.
‘But?’ asked Sorun
‘ But my memories of the homeworld are not as fond as yours’, said Marius looking him directly in the eyes. ‘I have no family. There is no one waiting for me, I have nowhere to return to, no reason to go back.’
‘That’s a lie.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know damn well what I mean’ said Sorun. ‘Mira and I would welcome you with open arms. I’ve told her of you in my letters and she expressed her wishes to meet you on more than one occasion.’ He finished awaiting a response that never came. Marius diverted his stare, visibly uncomfortable with the development of this conversation.
‘You talk of friendship, and yet you seem to think so little of it.’ Sorun said with a frown. The tone in which he spoke the words bordered with anger.
‘Now it’s you who tells lies!’ Marius raised his voice, offended by the words. ‘It’s not like that!’
‘Then what’s the problem?’
‘I…,’ began Marius and suddenly paused, searching for the right words he could not seem to find. Moments passed, drowned in the noise of truck engines. Seeing Marius troubled expression brought memories of their earlier conversation about the tattoo and his choler drained away. ‘I’m sorry,’ Sorun apologized realizing he had been too harsh on his friend who did not deserve such treatment. ‘I lost my temper back there. Forgive me.’
‘No, you’re right’, replied Marius clasping Sorun’s outstretched palm in a sign of piece. ‘It is I who has to apologize. You merit an answer. And I promise you’ll be granted one. Just… just give me some time to think it through, will you?’ Sorun nodded in comprehension, letting the matter go for the time being.
The first pinpricks of sunlight on the horizon made his eyes water. Diverting his gaze from the searing yellow brightness, he glanced around the never-changing dull and monotonous landscape stretching out as far as the eyes could see. The patchy terrain was all rock with no vegetation, streaked with furrows, natural depressions and elevations, and others that were a result of earlier mining ventures and excavations. Numerous hill-sized rocky boulders protruded from the planet’s belly. Nobody would’ve spared Galates III a glance if it weren’t for its precious ore deposits.
Their destination, the large elevators that would take them into the ceaseless maze of subterranean tunnels that slithered like snakes below the planet’s rocky mantle, were a few kilometers away. The elevators were used for lowering personnel and equipment into the cavernous chambers beneath. Every current excavation site had to be secured by the Imperial Guard with weapons emplacements to ward off the Golems in the case of an assault. The circular pit on which the elevators rested was surrounded by a high railing to prevent someone from accidentally plunging to his inevitable death into the black abyss.
A sudden sense of ill-fate passed over Sorun and sent a shiver down his spine, but he quickly dismissed it. Now was not the time for such thoughts. ‘Another day in hell awaits’ he muttered to himself with a false, unconvincing grin.