He ran. Stumbling every few paces in the pitch black tunnel, his chest heaving and head throbbing from his exertions, but still he ran. A low, guttural snarl just off to his right caused him to yelp involuntarily, finding a hidden reserve he managed to push himself a little harder; if only he could reach the precinct house he might live to see tomorrow.
The night was foul as usual; wind and sulphur rain lashed at the desolate landscape and the small mining colony that clung on to life precariously, every day a struggle on this inhospitable planet. At the southern most edge of the colony stood the precinct house; a small Imperial Guard outpost that had been built at the behest of the planetary governor, ostensibly to protect the mining colony from piracy. Though in reality, it had acted in more of a policing role in the last few cycles.
In the pooling shadows that surrounded the base of the precincts outer walls, two guardsmen stood wearing battered Cadian uniform under heavy rain ponchos. Lasguns clutched tightly to their chests, they tried with little success to shelter from the worst of the night weather and occasionally scanned the deserted streets of the colony. A lone figure came stumbling along Main Street towards the precinct at a flat out run. Private Tonks nudged the man stood next to him and pointed.
“Here Corporal, what do you reckon he’s up to then?”
The Corporal looked up briefly, a studied look of indifference on his harsh features.
“Scope him Tonks, then you can tell me,” he said gruffly with hardly a second glance, huddling back in to his poncho muttering to himself.
Private Tonks hefted his lasgun to his shoulder, enjoying the small thrill of security and power that always came when he raised a weapon. He checked the safety, flipped the lens covers up on the scope and carefully sighted his weapon on the running figure for a better look.
The distant man drew closer as he continued running, now only five hundred or so yards away. Tonks could easily make out the tattered miners’ coveralls that he wore, though that was no large surprise, almost everyone in the colony had something to do with the mine. He noticed three large, parallel gashes that slashed across the chest of the man’s coveralls and could clearly make out dark, wet patches; obviously whatever had caused them had at the very least broken the skin in places. As odd as that might be, what unsettled Tonks was the man’s face. His face was flushed bright red, with thin beads of perspiration poring down his brow, his eyes puffy and damp from strained exertion. The man was clearly more exhausted than most people here would ever be, and yet somehow, he kept running.
“Corporal you should take a look at this,” said Tonks quietly. “This ain’t right.”
The closer the running man got to them, the clearer his face became in Tonks’ lasgun scope. He was terrified. More than just scared; Tonks had seen the expression he had only a very few times, only ever on a battlefield when the person wearing it truly feared for their life. The Corporal looked up angrily and dug his ranging binoculars out of his pouch.
“Stop with the fucking drama Tonks, this ain’t an action holovid you cretin!” The Corporal sneered in disgust and looked towards the running figure, now only a few hundred yards and closing fast.
Tonks looked over at the Corporal and watched in silence as he looked through his binoculars, there was a noticeable pause before the Corporal spoke again. His previously contemptuous manner seemed to have all but evaporated.
“When he gets here, take him inside to the Captain,” he said quietly. “And mind you keep your fucking wits about you private.”
Tonks gawped at the Corporal for a second; he had never seen him this rattled and didn’t like the odd feeling of anxiety that was stirring in his stomach, not one bit. He kept his weapon trained on the man as he approached, wondering what Captain Malfon would make of this.
He thought he could see the precinct house now. He could almost reach out and touch it. Only a few more feet; his vision was all but gone, just a dim awareness of what was sky and what was ground. The painfully bright lights of the precinct house drawing him onwards; he drove himself toward the two men at the gateway.
His mind seemed to slowly register his salvation; his next footfall nearly betrayed him and forced him to desperately correct to avoid stumbling. His breath came in great, ragged gasps. His searing lungs hawking deep, cold drafts of night air down in choking gulps.
The eyes. Fear and confusion. The nearest man’s face swam in to focus and showed a worried concern, the guardsman seemed to be saying something and stepping forward. Feet and inches. So close now. He thought maybe the guardsman was trying to warn him of something, as he felt his left knee buckle under him. Sky and ground came to meet him. His chin and temple smacked in to the asphalt with an audible crunch. A welcoming nothingness.
Tonks lifted the unconscious man on to his shoulder and carried him across the inner compound and past the two gawping and curious guardsmen posted there. The desk sergeant started to get up to intervene, but Tonks just strode past him in to the medi-lab, shouting to an orderly to go find the Captain. Tonks dropped the man on the nearest gurney; he was surprisingly light considering his height. He really looked a state, his dishevelled miners’ coveralls filthy and wet; dirt, blood and sweat spattered across his clothes and face.
Tonks heard a commotion and approaching footsteps and looked over his shoulder towards the door. Captain Malfon rounded the corner and took one brief look at Tonks and the unconscious miner. A look of anger and bemusement flashed across his face.
“Private, what is the meaning of this?” he shouted as he entered the room. Two worried looking orderlies skittering along behind him.
Tonks came quickly to attention and whipped up a textbook salute; the image spoiled slightly by the sopping wet rain poncho that he wore, smeared liberally with blood and dirt. He looked briefly at each orderly; their nervous grins no help at all, then focused on the Captain.
“Sir. This unknown male ran down Main Street towards us and collapsed when he reached the gate. Corporal ordered him inside, Sir.” Tonks saw a question coming from the Captain and paused patiently.
“What is wrong with him?”
“Not sure, Sir. He was running for his life though, Sir.” Tonks pointed to the three large, parallel gashes that had slashed across the man’s torso, as if to emphasise the point. In the light of the medi-lab it was clear they had been pretty deep, the fabric around them caked liberally in blood.
A large explosion rocked the building and sent the lights blinking on and off wildly. Shouting from outside suggesting whatever had caused it was external. For a second Tonks felt reassured that it couldn’t be the main generator, then realised quickly that left only one real option. The deafening peals of the alarm system confirmed what Tonks had feared.
“What now?” shouted the Captain, his face a picture of exasperated resignation. “Private, you’d better have a fucking good explanation for this when I get back.”
Captain Malfon stalked off towards the inner compound before Tonks could reply. “Yes Sir.” he muttered to no-one in particular.
The inner compound was a confusion of smoke, shouting and running bodies. The Captain surveyed the scene in silence for a moment; the burning wreckage of the comms relay lay in the smoking shell that had been their only means of long distance communication. A gust of wind blew through the smoke in the compound and left the main gate visible for a brief moment, exposing a group of hooded figures gathered around a prostrate guardsman.
An eerie quiet descended over the compound, every man and woman focused on the plight of the Corporal held captive at the gateway. A hunched figure stood over him and flourished a lasgun, an Imperial lasgun; the lasgun of the victim in fact! With some difficulty the menacing figure pointed the weapon at the prone Corporal’s head. The weapon appeared to cause the bearer considerable trouble, but a bright flash ended the guardsmen’s life, burning a neat hole through his skull.
The gathered guardsmen watched in horrified silence as the lifeless figure slumped forward on to the wet ground; for a second or two nobody moved. The strange calm was rudely interrupted by the hooded figures at the gateway; they shuffled forward to gawp at the prostrate form of the dead guardsmen and threw their heads back, shrieking in mad delight at their misdeed. The Captain was the first to wrench his attention from the strange scene that had them all transfixed.
“Well what the fuck are you waiting for?” he bellowed at the gathered guardsmen. “A fucking invitation and party bag? Get and shoot the bastards!”
The garrison seemed to come round from their momentary stupor in unison at the sound of the Captain’s well worn refrain. Guardsmen across the compound brought rifles to bear and piercing bolts lanced across the compound from the gathered lasguns. The hooded figures at the gateway appeared indifferent to the death being meted out against them, laughing madly, some danced amongst the carnage of their brethren; others raised stolen weapons and returned fire.
Captain Malfon surveyed the compound quickly, he noticed the formidable form of the Sergeant stalking amongst the guardsmen issuing orders, directing fire and organising the heavy weapons teams. At the gateway he could see more and more sinister figures gathering for an assault. In the distance he noted streams of shadowy forms moving towards the precinct house.
“What in the name of the Emperor is going on?” he muttered to himself. Whilst he still had the chance, he resolved to go and find out more about the unknown male in the medi-lab, allowing himself to hope that it might somehow shed a little light on the situation.
He screamed. Claws tearing at his flesh. Blood running in thick, clotted streams across the ground. Bodies, hundreds of bodies, grinning skulls and bloated corpses mocking him for drawing air still, pitying him for living. He tried to run, but something held him down, pinned his arms and legs tightly, so tightly.
He fought at his attacker. He kicked and threw his head around with all his might, but to no effect. He blubbed great tears and snot of abject terror at his predicament then bellowed for all his pathetic worth in impotent fury. The cloying breath of his aggressor felt like death upon his face, he screamed and swore in pitiful, gargling blurts of incoherent self-pity.
“What’s the matter with him?” Private Tonks shouted questioningly at the nearest orderly over the deafening racket of the man’s unsettling screaming.
“He’s delirious,” muttered the orderly without looking up. He tightened the restraining straps across the man’s chest and legs, pinning his limbs by his sides. The orderly levelled an auto-syringe at the man’s mid thigh and waited for the wild thrashing to stop for a moment. “This should help shut him up and bring him round a bit.”
Tonks watched impassively as the man slowly calmed down. His arms and legs stopped fighting for the moment, sheets of dirty perspiration rolled down the man’s face and his chest heaved rapidly up and down as he gasped for air. Quiet tremors shook the man’s body in the aftermath of such frantic activity, his face a rictus of uncomprehending fear and confusion. His pupils gradually focused whilst his eyes blinked rapidly at the bright light of the medi-lab. His crazed expression lost a little of the madness that it had worn a moment ago.
The man looked questioningly at his captors, his gaze resting on Tonks for a moment. Tonks steeled himself for a second before deciding to try his luck questioning this bizarre, pitiable wretch.
“Ok, hopefully you can understand me; I am going to ask you a few questions,” started Tonks hopefully. “Just try to answer as best you can, ok?”
An almost imperceptible nod.
“Who are you?”
“Ok, no problem, we’ll start with the present circumstances and come back to other things,” said Tonks calmly. “Do you remember anything of the last few hours?”
Was that a nod, or just a twitch?
“What were you running from?” Tonks started at the intervention of the Captain, he hadn’t noticed him enter the medi-lab and hadn’t been expecting the question. He looked down at the gurney and its strange occupant for any sign of understanding. As he watched, Tonks noticed something about the unknown man’s demeanour change suddenly.
Claws! Teeth and claws! He realised dimly that the men standing over him were asking him something important. Beasts, monsters, death! He tried desperately to make his words work, but struggled to make any sense; just thinking seemed such a chore. Through the fog of his addled mind he could see his only chance of warning them slipping away. In angry frustration he tried to shout out the words. Shaking with impotence and thrashing his restrained arms at the gurney in temper. Teeth! Claws! Monsters!
“Sedate this man!” shouted the Captain. The wild ranting and shaking of the strange man was starting to get to everyone in the room. The orderly moved to sedate the unknown man, grasping another auto-syringe from the counter.
“He’s clearly gone; we aren’t going to get anything from this gibbering halfwit.” said Captain Malfon morosely to no-one in particular. “Monsters indeed! Those are just men at the gateway, misguided heretics without a doubt but show me their claws won’t someone?” he snorted.
As the orderly leant in to sedate the man, he thrashed around madly, gnashing his teeth and spitting blood in his hopeless attempt to avoid the auto-syringe. Tonks looked from the medical orderly to the wild-eyed man on the gurney and started forwards, attempting to intervene. He reached for the orderly’s arm to try and grab the auto-syringe before it made contact with the man’s flesh.
“Captain I think he’s trying to tell us something important, just look how much he’s fighting to avoid the sedation!” said Tonks quickly, snatching at the orderly a moment to late.
The click-thunk of the auto-syringe engaging was the only noise in the room as they all watched the unknown man intently, willing him to say something that wasn’t gibberish. His body shook violently, as if he was making one last effort to escape his bonds. He let out a long sigh as his consciousness faded.
A loud explosion rang out from the courtyard but not one of them said a word. The three men looked at each other in silence, each face hoping beyond hope that they had misheard those last three words. Each face knowing for certain without having to ask that they had all heard it. Genestealer cult. They gulped almost in unison as they absorbed the horrible truth of the situation they were in.
A series of loud explosions shook the building and sent the lights flashing on and off wildly, lending an eerie gloom to the medi-lab. Running footsteps approached the door and Captain Malfon swivelled automatically and raised his sidearm, covering the doorway just in case.
“Sir!” yelped the out of breath guardsman, with more than a little surprise at the sight of the bolt pistol aimed at his chest. “We are being overwhelmed, Sir. Sergeant told me to inform you he estimates 3-400 rebels and counting. They appear to be bringing up heavy mining machinery and detonation gear, Sir.”
“That damned governor, I told him we’d not defend a poxy precinct house against a full uprising” grumbled the Captain. “Private Tonks with me, you… Private Fisher is it? Tell the Sergeant to fall back in to the main building, hold the building at all costs, if they get inside it is over.” He added, striding down the corridor without glancing at Tonks.
Tonks ran after the Captain wondering what he was wanted for, daring to hope there might be a way out of this somehow. The Captain stopped at the armoury door, the heavy set blast door was reinforced to withstand even a direct hit from a Leman Russ, but it would only be so long before heavy mining equipment got through it. Tonks knew what Captain Malfon was planning; they couldn’t possibly let these weapons and ammunition get in to the hands of the cultists. That could only end in dishonour for their regiment and a much harder task for whoever followed them.
“Tonks, you know your det. drills, correct?” asked the Captain curtly.
“Yes Sir,” replied Tonks immediately, already guessing what Captain Malfon would say next. “I passed my explosives tech. course last time we cycled through for refitting.”
The Captain snorted impatiently and punched the security code in to the access panel. “We cannot allow the enemy to access this armoury,” he said quietly. “There are plenty of promethium tanks and melta charges there, rig something up that will destroy everything in there and put it all beyond use when we have no other option.” He nodded at the salute that Tonks threw up and stalked off down the corridor, before adding without turning, “make sure it has a fail safe Private and meet me in the medi-lab when you are done.”
Tonks got to work on the improvised demo charges; he placed promethium tanks strategically around the armoury with melta charges attached to each one and jerry rigged to a command line. As he worked he could hear the increasingly desperate sounds fighting from the front of the building. The occasional explosions from heavy weapons fire and screams of dying men reminded him all too clearly how pressing and how final his task was.
He stood back and surveyed his work. He couldn’t help feeling that he should be more upset about his impending death. His training had taken over as usual and he had got the task done, but it felt a little silly to be proud of the job. After all he would probably never know if it worked properly or made the slightest difference to the outcome of this uprising. Tonks sighed to himself and grabbed the blast door meaning to close it firm, so that the explosion from the improvised demo charge would be contained and concentrated in the small room. Though, he knew without even bothering to work it out that there was enough promethium and miscellaneous ammunition in that room to level the entire precinct house. As he pulled it shut he noticed that the door enclosed a small corner of the corridor when fully open, there was space for about four men behind there at a pinch. He filed the thought away for the moment and headed off down the corridor to find the Captain.
The Captain was stood at the door to the medi-lab, power sword humming gently in his hand. He fiddled idly with the safety on his bolt pistol with his other hand, standing silently surveying the battle going on to the front of the building. The corridor stretched for about 20 paces until it reached the front desk, hastily deserted by the desk sergeant. The whole area was strewn with debris from the day’s tasks; requisition forms, duty rosters, role call with attached absentee notes, even the odd pay chit, one and all scattered widely and trodden in to the floor under the boots of the guardsmen rushing about in the sudden chaos of the attack.
A sharp flash and deafening explosion caught Captain Malfon’s attention; a cultist had thrown a frag grenade through the smashed window to the left. The grenade had not been noticed by the four guardsmen huddled beneath the window, ducking las fire and taking the odd pot-shot when they could. As it exploded it had torn the four of them to pieces, gobbets of flesh and tattered uniform sprayed all across the room in a macabre fountain. A cultist began climbing through the window, quickly followed by another, both wielding scavenged lasguns and lengths of metal rebar that they were using as crude maces. Captain Malfon raised his bolt pistol and snapped off two pinpoint perfect shots, each tearing a fist sized chunk out of the torso of the cultists.
“Fill the breach! Repel the cultists, if we lose that window we lose the upper hand,” he bellowed, guardsmen running to the undefended window at the sudden order.
The Captain watched another grenade sail through the open window with dismay, wincing involuntarily at the coming death of the guardsmen. He prepared himself for the explosion and readied for the inevitable cultists. Whilst he expected a fairly powerful explosion, he was far away enough that the blast would not reach him sheltered as he was by the bulk of the front desk.
The explosion that followed was far more powerful than the Captain ever expected, it tore a vast hole in the floor and half of the upper floor collapsed in to the massive void that had appeared. Captain Malfon was thrown bodily across the medi-lab and near enough knocked unconscious by the force of the blast. He sat in a confused stupor, blinking hard and trying to focus. His ears rang and his head felt like he had been ten rounds with a pit-slave prizefighter. He could vaguely make out a man running towards him, his mouth was moving, something about ‘moving’ and ‘gone’. Gone?
“Sir we have to move now!” repeated Tonks as loud as he could. “The whole garrison is gone.”
The Captain stood up shakily; he was having trouble finding his balance and leaned heavily against a wall. Tonks went to the unknown sedated man in the gurney and slashed the bindings with his combat knife. Captain Malfon watched on in bemusement as Tonks hefted the unconscious man on to his shoulder and then experimentally tested the weight of his combat shotgun with one hand. Combat shotgun? Smart man! More useful than a lasgun, though where did he get it from? Of course the armoury, at least that meant the explosives were rigged and they wouldn’t get to the weapons cache.
“Sir!” shouted Tonks in frustrated concern. “They’re coming! It was just a diversion; they’re coming from the tunnels below us. We need to move now!”
Captain Malfon gathered himself for a moment and followed the instructions, wondering allowed what good it would do them to flee when they were trapped and outnumbered. Tonks ran down the corridor with the unconscious man flapping about on his shoulder and headed towards the armoury. He stopped briefly to scan the rooms behind them for threats and levelled his shotgun at a dark shape coalescing out of the shadows of the tunnel entrance.
The look of horror on Tonks’s face made the Captain gulp and turn to face whatever was behind him. He swung his powersword automatically; the much practiced habit probably saved his life. Thumbing the power stud on his sword, he slashed at the oncoming genestealer and watched in rapt fascination as the sword fizzed in to life and sliced neatly through the monsters head and shoulder, felling it where it stood. Another came at him from his left and exploded in a cloud of blood and gore; Tonks braced himself for another shot and shouted for the Captain to hurry up.
Captain Malfon turned to face Tonks and began to run towards him, he could see the huge armoury door nearly enclosing a corner of the corridor and knew instantly what Tonks was planning. He watched Tonks fire another shot at something close behind him and heard a satisfying wet thud as a body took the full brunt of the shot. Involuntarily putting on a fresh burst of speed, which was as welcome as it was unexpected.
Tonks turned to deposit the unconscious man he was carrying behind the armoury door, dropping the detonation remote at his foot as he did so. He stepped behind the door and readied himself for any more attackers, his left foot readied to stamp on the detonation remote and destroy the armoury. He watched the Captain running towards him and realised too late that the route Captain Malfon was taking would block off an area of the tunnel behind him for most of the distance left. Tonks fired shell after shell in to the menacing shadows of the tunnel, his aim gradually tracing away from the running form of the Captain for fear of shooting him by mistake.
A skittering of claw on metal made the Captain turn to look over his shoulder as he ran. The genestealer leapt at his torso and caught him by the shoulders, the weight of the brute knocking Captain Malfon to the floor and sending the powersword sliding uselessly away. Tonks let out a shout of dismay and levelled his shotgun, firing at the same instant as the beast tore the Captain’s throat out with its teeth. The genestealer took the brunt of the shot to the top of the skull, near enough decapitating it in the process. Tonks could only watch on powerlessly as the corpse sprawled on top of the Captain, the two dead bodies ending in a tangled mess on the cold, hard floor.
Two more shapes emerged from the tunnel and Tonks stepped back and hauled the heavy door with him, the deep metallic clang reassuringly loud as it crunched shut against the corridor wall. He stamped on the detonation remote as the first genestealer reached the armoury door, teeth and claws slamming in to the small viewing slit, and saw it vaporised by the brutal explosion of ammunition and promethium that spewed forth from the armoury. The building shuddered with the enormous force of the blast; the enclosed space of the armoury forced the explosion out in to the building and funnelled the majority of the blast down the corridors in to the freshly exposed tunnel. Great gouts of flames and jets of rapidly heated gas burst through the front of the building and incinerated everyone and everything within a hundred yards.
With a yell Tonks looked up to see the roof collapse down on to his hiding spot, huge slabs of masonry trapping them without hope of escape. A shower of smaller chunks clattered down around him and knocked him unconscious, his body tired and spent from the heavy exertion.
Tonks came round in a small, dark cell. An orderly hovered over him impassively and waited for the question it knew was coming. “Where am I?” he asked weakly. The orderly looked on stoically and answered coolly, “You truly serve the Imperium now. Inquisitor Vachmann saw fit to allow you to serve him in eradicating the heretic menace.” It waited for the briefest of moments and smiled as it saw the flicker of another question. “There were no other survivors.”
He came round in a small, dark cell. An orderly hovered over him impassively and waited for the question it knew was coming. “Where am I?” he asked weakly.