Heresy Fiction Competition 2010: Stark Truths
The Strategic Collective was commissioned to investigate the full scale and threat of the tyranids in the wake of Hivefleet Leviathan. They issued the Stark Report to the High Lords, which they have yet to act upon. In addition to the theories of numerous experts, autopsy reports and tactical analyses, countless field reports were supplied by the Collective’s researchers. Many have since fallen into the hands of the wider Ordo Xenos. Here follow statements and interviews with survivors of the tyranid threat.
Doctor Joan L’Arquebus is a survivor from Svaro, a border world destroyed by Hive Fleet Leviathan. She holds numerous medals for valour, despite holding no military rank, and has since been resettled to the agri-world of Cthonia.
To begin with I was in one of the capital’s main hospitals. We had a few injuries from isolated attacks before and after the threat had been realised. Nothing we couldn’t handle. Of course, when the spore assault began... Every bed, every damn chair was filled. We put pallets and blankets down for people on the floor, hell, we even used the tables in morgue. The injured just kept coming. Mostly lost limbs or severe blood loss. We exhausted our supply of blood overnight. Wounds got infected and we couldn’t supply people with the antibiotics they needed.
How did the staff cope?
We kept awake on caffeine and amphetamines. They needed us round the clock. We just couldn’t cope with the sheer number, you understand...
Triage took effect pretty quickly. We gave our time and our medicine to those most valuable to the war effort. Officers, logicians, those sorts of people. Labourers, GIs... Not many pulled through. And the wounded kept coming. Now they’d engaged the ‘nids, we saw the first knife wounds amongst the soldiers.
Oh, yeah. Not what you’re thinking, I suspect. You know how in conventional wars soldiers sometimes shoot themselves in the foot to get off the frontlines? You couldn’t do that with the ‘nids, so soldiers cut themselves with bayonets. Easy enough to recognise the difference. Most of these soldiers were sent back to the frontlines after we’d patched them up, with a Commissar behind them the entire time. We had a few who refused, and a few who’d suffered ‘bug shock’ and were terrified of their own shadows... The Guard took care of them all, in the end.
But anyway, yes.... Before long, the wound infections took a nastier turn. Tyranid spores. Antibiotics were useless against those, hell, we actually started to run out of medical alcohol to keep the wounds clean. We just tried to make things comfortable for them. By the end we needed every man who could hold a gun, regardless of whether he could stand or not. Those who couldn’t were a waste of food and water. I... understood that. It was Sergeant Reinhard’s policy. It was sensible, and it was heartless. That’s the only way to fight the ‘nids, you understand.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The hospital. There were other wounds before long. You’re aware of the ‘guns’ some tyranids have? Barely anything we could do. Even when they hit a shoulder, somewhere nonvital, the poison, the bio-acid, or the parasite-thing they use as ammo would see to it that the poor bastard died.
I couldn’t help but wonder if there were any true endoparasites as well. I never found out, and frankly... frankly I’m rather glad of that. Well, you’re the ones researching the tyranids. I can’t help but wonder if something of the ‘nids came off that planet with us...
Of course, the ‘nid invasion led to outbreaks of much more familiar diseases as well. With all the populations uprooted, moving around, infrastructure collapsing... dysentery was pretty common, and I even caught a dose myself. There was an influenza outbreak that killed a fair few people as well, and supplies were so limited that for most people we just had to make them comfortable and hope their immune systems could handle it. Of course, add the massive food rationing to this and barely any pulled through. Then we add the wildcard of cross-infection and being sent to the hospitals and field-infirmaries was almost as much of a death sentence as not getting any treatment at all.
What happened when the hospital was attacked?
When the war became something more like an actual war, with swarms attacking the city and nests growing inside it, the hospital was a key defensive position. There were sandbags all around it, razorwire, even something approaching a trench. The lower floors were given over to the guard. It wasn’t an easy job. Understatement, it was literally murderous. The hospital had never been designed to be defensible. Neither had most of the damn city.
Lieutenant Graves was in charge of our defence. He was a good man, young, but resolute and braver than most of us in the face of it all. He was mostly leading conscripts by this point, who barely knew how to fire a lasrifle, and morale was low. Graves didn’t like what he had to do to keep men in line; corporal punishment, the odd execution. I couldn’t understand desertion at this point, myself. Where else was there to go?
To cut a long and bloody story short, the city fell. We abandoned the hospital, taking those who could still walk. Those who couldn’t... Graves took care of them, you understand me?
He was a good man. It was the right thing to have done, what he did. I wish I’d told him that.
He died a few days later, after we’d reached some soldiers holed up in the outskirts. Spore mine. That was when I met Sergeant Reinhard. He wasn’t in charge at first. One or two officers were still alive then, but after two weeks it was just him and poor Captain Vronsky, who was in no shape to command anyone. By then, even I was fighting; we needed every lasgun.
Reinhard... How can I describe him? On the one hand he kept us all together, kept us alive and fighting, and he was always there with us on the frontlines. On the other hand, he was a cold, calculating bastard who killed anyone who was of no use to us anymore and chose who got the last few gasmasks and filtration plugs. The air was poisonous now, and those without the proper equipment got sick and died. It was my job, of course, to watch them cough blood next to those dying of sepsis, dysentery and gangrene. Throne, the smell...
Lots of men went insane now, bug shock. Reinhard dealt with them, to save what little food and morale we had left.
We hated him, but... we respected him. Without him, we’d all be dead and we knew it. He knew how we felt. He wasn’t an automaton, you see. His eyes are what I always remember. You could see the drive in them.
Whatever else he was, whatever else he did... Reinhard died a hero. They attacked us every day, you understand, each time worse than the last. They were destroying the last few pockets of resistance now. The last straw was a damn trygon tearing through our barricades, ‘gaunts swarming behind it and gargoyles raining fire from above us. I remember seeing Reinhard in front of that monster. He climbed on what remained of our defences to get its attention. It reared up to face him and roared. He stood firm, and then... He jumped... He jumped into its mouth. He’d been carrying a our last grenades. Blew its head open.
The carrier found us the day after. Poor bastard died the day before we got offworld. Part of me is glad, though. Reinhard was the perfect soldier for fighting the ‘nids. You have to wonder if he’d always been so cold, or if the war changed him. I mean, we were all hardened survivors by the end. Those who didn’t have the absolute drive to survive were dead. Often by their own hands. I don’t think you can go from that to being, well, just a normal person again.
Adept Cyrine is one of the foremost experts on tyranids, known to have acted as an advisor to many prominent Inquisitors including Kryptman himself.
Tyranids are utterly fascinating. The hivefleets absorb biomass, minerals and elements to survive, and genetic material to adapt. There is a guiding intellect behind the deployment, if you will, of the new genetic material. In a way, it is natural selection, but the way it occurs within such a short space of time is because the hive mind actually chooses what genes to express rather than wait millennia for evolution to take its natural course. The uptake of ‘stolen’ genetic material has lead to the very mismatched organisms, and yet there is an underlying design. Six limbs, a tail, exoskeletons with some endoskeletal structures...
It quickly became obvious that many supposed experts were incorrect in their assumption of genetic material taken directly from the original organism, which seems patently ridiculous. Drawings of this structure show the inherent stupidity of the hypothesis, showing as they do a strand of DNA varying in width, structure and even composition. Organisms have incredibly different mechanisms of transcription and translation of genetic material, and to make use of these genes directly the tyranids would need to require all of them.
No, when I examined the tyranid genome I found a consistent structure of genetic material, familiar to our own, using nucleic acids, tightly packaged and wound. The main differences are size and of course mechanisms of transcription and gene silencing. All genomes above a bacterial level contain vast amounts of ‘junk DNA’, pseudogenes, introns and the like, so only a tiny proportion of genes actually encode for proteins. The tyranid genome has a much higher proportion of coding nucleic acid, and is incredibly vast. More interestingly, it is almost entirely shared between incredibly different genii and classes of tyranid. In short, there is almost no genetic difference between a hormagaunt or a ripper, or even a warrior. Only the most unusual classes of tyranid, such as zoanthropes or biovores, show any noteworthy divergence from the norm. The astonishing phenotypic variety of tyranids, both within and without individual ‘species’, if such a term can be used for them, is explained by the complexity of their gene regulation methods. They possess organelles that appear unique to tyranids, and I postulate these are receptive to either hormonal or even psychic signals that determine what a tyranid will become, and crucially which adaptation will be used. This is the key to the tyranid adaptation – a guiding intelligence behind expression of genetic material. If we could find a way to negate the guiding intelligence, cut it off in some way... but that remains a pipe-dream.
In addition to your expertise on tyranid genetics, you’re also an expert on fighting them, by all accounts.
Where people go wrong is thinking that tyranids are predators. Oh, it’s an easy mistake to make; they’re all fangs and claws, after all. But, with the exception of Lictors and Genestealers, they do not behave like predators. They never retreat, never stop killing, for one. And, of course, most tyranids have only a rudimentary digestive system, unable to sustain them for long periods of time. They say that the tyranids have been honed to survive anything, a pinnacle of evolution. This is true of the swarm. Not of the individual tyranid. They are designed to die in droves, killing anything they encounter. They cannot survive for long as individuals, but they don’t need to. As one generation dies, the next is already spawned and will be better adapted to whatever the local conditions are, be they arid, polar, tropical or even urban.
Tyranids aren’t predators. Treat them like predators and you’re dead. Treat them like a disease and you know how to fight them. Destroy infected ‘cells’. If a population centre is fallen, don’t waste valuable manpower retaking it. Purge it utterly, so the infection cannot spread.
This was your suggestion on Augusta Prime, I believe?
Correct. I only began my researches when the invasion occurred, but I quickly identified the key flaws with conventional tactics. The Imperium relies on two main policies. A decisive strike to enemy leadership and morale, or outlasting our enemies with our superior numbers, manufacturing capacity or simple resolve.
Tyranids have no morale, they possess infinite resolve, practically unending numbers and, in their way, a greater manufacturing capacity than we could ever hope to match. The tyranid invasion reshapes the world, using the planet’s resources rather than those of the bioships. The resources of an entire world... It is no wonder we cannot win a straight war.
The only key positions worth defending are facilities that will help our forces to remain operational and in contact across a world. Population centres have limited value, but serve as an excellent distraction until they are infested and must be sterilised. I am aware that such a tactic is... astoundingly inhuman, but it is simply the only option available to us.
I, somewhat tentatively, presented my findings, theories and advice to General Eamon. He flew into a rage, reminding me that it was not my role to suggest tactics to experienced and decorated commanders. Of course, over the course of the next week a city was overrun and his main attack on a capillary tower was destroyed with over eighty percent of the taskforce killed or severely injured in the battle.
He was still unwilling to take my advice, and it was then the now famous Commissar Galt took action. He informed the general, and the remaining senior staff, that he was assuming command and the general was being demoted to a Colonel, awaiting a battlefield posting. The general was dumbstruck, and clearly terrified. He started to protest. Galt simply drew his pistol and reminded him, in his usual calm manner, that he was authorised to execute any officer guilty of dereliction of duty or incompetence. For a moment I thought the senior staff would turn on him, but they accepted his decision, and Galt assumed command of the remaining military forces.
He turned to me and asked for my advice, and he took it. Thermobaric and nuclear missiles destroyed fallen cities, and any survivors holed up within them. Our forces were redeployed almost overnight. Populations centres were abandoned, millions left to die. Bridges were destroyed by bomber wings to prevent swarms pursuing our retreating forces.
Galt came under a lot of flak for what he had done. He was told the current and projected casualties of the new measure were unacceptably high. We needed every last man, they said, and we could not afford to turn against our own people when working together was our only hope.
Despite all of this, our tactics worked. The horde was slowed, marauding swarms kept away from our strongholds and key installations and the cities which had become little more than breeding pits for the tyranids had been levelled.
The world was lost, but if we could deny the hive fleet its meal and keep it trapped in orbit than the Imperium would have longer to gather a taskforce large enough to attack it, and perhaps we could weaken it slightly for when that day came.
The day came sooner than we anticipated. A battlefleet arrived and destroyed the hiveships before beginning a mass orbital bombardment of the world at the insistence of Galt and myself.
It was a victory, one of the few against the tyranids, and Galt was both the hero and villain of the piece, lauded and condemned in equal measure. He killed himself two days after he was debriefed. Was it the guilt? The horrors of what we’d seen? Or did he just desire a rest? I’ll never know, but he praised my tactics and knowledge of the enemy and that was what brought me to the attentions of the Ordo Xenos and yourself.
It is said that the tactics you laid down to defeat the tyranids are what inspired Kryptman’s actions against Leviathan. He ordered Exterminatus on every world the tyranids moved to invade, a move described by many as campaign of systematic genocide.
It seems possible.
Do you agree with him?
He defeated Leviathan. Perhaps it could have been handled differently, but Kryptman was there and did what he had to.
So you do agree with him.
Yes. Yes, I do.
Adept Jezail Avicena was one of the Scholastica Psykana’s top psychiatrists. Notably, she was among the two hundred and thirty five signatories on the famous ‘Kininmund Report’, which demanded fairer treatment and expanded rights for psykers. She was cleared of all charges in the high-profile trials that followed, but died of a cerebral haemorrhage shortly afterwards.
Is it true you have treated several psykers who have encountered the Hive Mind?
In a sense. I could do little to help most of them, but as the usual treatment for an unbalanced psyker is a heavy dose of depleted uranium to the brain, I have almost certainly seen the greatest success.
Well, I’ve met a few psykers who served on ships and merely experienced the ‘shadow in the warp’ from a distance. It terrified them. It’s quite similar to how it sounds – impenetrable, a mystery, and therefore terrifying. Astropaths notice it first, of course. They’re the ones most affected by the hive mind.
An astropath’s life is built on sending and receiving messages in the warp. Messages are not scrawled in neat copperplate into the aether, they’re experienced, felt rather than read. It’s not something they can just turn off and on at will; messages invade their dreams, haunt them long after they’ve been relayed to their intended recipients. Then the hive mind arrives and it silences everything within a region...and then it only gets worse for them.
Every second, the tyranids are closer, and every second the astropath can hear it more clearly. One, single, terrifying will, a mind greater in size than the population of a hive world, all thinking the same thing... They go mad, without exception. Most kill themselves early on to escape it, a few struggle on, sometimes against their will. It consumes them utterly; they can’t maintain an individual mind in the face of it. They lapse into waking nightmares, seizures, catatonia... No two react the same way.
Let me tell you about Tyrale. Lucile Tyrale was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the finest astropaths in the Imperium. She deciphered messages torn to pieces by warp storms, and on the rare occasion she was called upon to send one herself they were peerlessly clear, understood to an accuracy of over ninety percent from one side of Segmentum Tempestus to the other. That’s unprecedented, at least in our records, though I admit they’re far from complete.
The tyranids came to the planet she was stationed on. A hive world, never a pleasant place for an astropath. She went mad, of course, but she remained lucid throughout. They took her to me. She had terrible nightmares, every night, would spend entire days weeping, but when she looked at you, you could see that fierce intellect, feel that phenomenal discipline behind the madness.
Sometimes, she spoke. Told me how she’d heard the ‘a voice made up of a thousand chittering minds, all thinking the same thing; hunger.’ I’m paraphrasing; you can check the official transcripts if you like. They say she managed to gasp a few warnings during the war. Nothing can stand as a greater testimony to her strength of mind; she managed to maintain her own identity in the face of it. Hell, an astropath even recognising their own name in the wake of a tyranid invasion is a damn miracle. That’s the scope of it, even without factoring in the terror of an entire human population...
What about other psykers?
For most telepaths and empaths, even the weak ones, it’s not much better. It even affects some latent or some people barely above blunts, the kind of psyker that couldn’t summon a spark.
For those whose talents lie elsewhere... they can feel it as a constant presence, they say, though it doesn’t get inside their head in the same way. They tend to be more concerned by the fact that their powers are sapped when the tyranids surround a world. The shadow in the warp is the psychic reflection of the hive mind. The warp’s tides are partly due to raw emotion, you see, and the tyranids have only one, making the warp around entirely them their own.
Of course, most of those psykers suffered massive post traumatic stress, what they call ‘bug shock’. Almost every veteran of the tyrannic wars has it; there are rumours that a few Space Marines fell victim. Sedition, of course.
It was worse for the psykers, though. Sometimes they’d broadcast their flashbacks and nightmares, and a weakened emotional state can lead to outburst of anger... You must understand that battlefield psykers are by no means taught to be serene, instead they’re taught to control, repress and focus their rage. When they lose control, it can be very dangerous.
Which is why so many were executed by Imperial authorities.
I could help some of them, though. Medication and cognitive behavioural therapy in the easier cases. In one or two we actually psychically locked away the memories, and in one case we decided to face the trauma so the psyker in question, a man called Torrence, could process and come to terms with what he’d been through. I went inside his memories and nightmares with him and two other adepts. I felt a pale echo of what it felt like, saw and smelled and killed tyranids, and I confess I slept poorly myself for days after that.
You are of the opinion, then, that psykers are of little to no use against the tyranid fleets?
I... I suppose I am, at that. The only one I know of who was any real help was Tyrale, and she was being tortured by the military by the end. They were trying to extract further predictions. Not that any physical assault could match her mental pains.
There are reports of psykers being dragged and chained, weeping, into battle against the tyranids, and many were shot for desertion or insanity. I’m aware desertion on the front lines is punishable by death, and insane psykers are incredibly dangerous, so the inescapable conclusion is that they never have been sent there in the first place.
Gabriel van de Wijdeven, mutant and heretic-by-birth, was executed two days after this interview.
I’ve told you bastards everything you want to know. You killed the Father, all my brothers and sisters... What more do you want from me?
Answers, mutant. Tell us of your life, or I will return you to the pain amplifiers.
My life? I was born here, in this city. I’m of the fourth generation, the Primacii, so... It was my duty to be, I mean, I was an infiltrator.
What did you infiltrate?
I...I entered the Administratum, at a low enough level, but through my talents and with some help from some other plants I was promoted. One of my main d-duties was supplying the PDF with equipment, weapons and the like. It was... was child’s play to redirect shipments, order surplus weapons we could take without anybody knowing, especially with our agents within the PDF. A little coin buys a lot of quiet smugglers. But I gave you all the names I knew, all-right?
You supplied arms to the cult, yes?
Yes! I’ve told you all of this, over and over! Why-why are you making me repeat it again?
I ask the questions here. Understood?
Yes! Yes. I’m sorry...
What did you know about the uprising?
A fair bit. We all knew it was coming, even the Purii. They were excited, restive. Lots of isolated murders, but by then the Vigilants were... They were practically in our pockets. And of course I had to know, it was my job to arm us all!
My j-job was twofold. Make sure the PDF were undersupplied and our own troops well-supplied without drawing suspicion. We couldn’t just loot the armouries, but we could get away with sneaking outdated or even defective equipment in there, say twenty percent of a barrack’s stock. A few regiments had a lot our men within them, infiltrating and getting some training for the fighting to come, so I’d see to it extra provisions were assigned to them.
Then you and all the soldiers came. We weren’t ready, we were still months, perhaps even a year or two away, but we had enough to fight back. We took a lot of you with us, but...
Forgive me for shedding few tears for your mutant brethren. We know the events of the uprising itself. I wish to know of your life within the cult.
I told you, I was an infiltrator, my –
Not your role. Your life. How it.... how it feels to be what you are.
What I am... How does it feel to be what you are?
I feel pure, mutant. And, at present, thoroughly revolted. Answer the question or we will continue this conversation in the excruciation chambers.
How... how can I compare it to anything? I am what I am; I was born this way. I pity your kind. Your kind, you are born alone and you gather together into your suspicious little mockeries of brotherhood, you settle into pale shadows of love. You do not know our joy. We are blessed, blessed by the touch of something far greater than humankind, who in Her benevolence saw fit to offer your species a taste of... of perfection.
From birth, I could feel, dimly, the presence of all of my brothers and sisters, and of course the Father. Through Him, I could glimpse the perfection of the Great Goddess herself.
The Great Devourer, you mean?
You call Her that, in your ignorance and your fear, yes. You refuse to see the truth, because you are all so alone, alone and terrified!
You grow bold.
You asked for the truth, and while your pain has stolen every secret from my lips, I will never renounce my faith. No, it is not faith, it is certainty! The Great Goddess is no hungry maw, no devourer She! She allows us to be reborn in Her, taken into Her perfection and reborn within her a thousand times over! Immortality, and oneness with a Goddess. Your kind, you pray to your dead God for the same thing but you balk when you see the true path to what you want.
We sang Her one great hymn, every moment in our minds. A prayer for Her to come and take us, body and soul, into Her. An endless hosanna. And it was beautiful, so very beautiful. It gave us strength, it gave us surety. I will never forget it...
Why... why don’t you volunteer? Why fight Her? She is perfection, both the pinnacle of creation and the creator of it all. Why are you so afraid?
We are not genetically primed to be slaves. We see ‘her’ for what she is. And I must reminder you; I ask the questions. What difference is there between your religious certainty and cowed slavery?
This comes from one who worships the corpse-god? Indoctrinated from childhood, forced into your cage of prejudice –
Blaspheme again, mutant, and I will see to it that you are screaming in pain from now until the moment you die.
... I am sorry. But you did ask me.
I know I did, mutant. Two final questions, then. Firstly... how could your cult have been identified, defeated earlier?
I will not betray my kin, human.
Your kin lie dead and I grow tired of threatening you. You know what awaits you if you refuse me one more time.
Your selfishness is how we defeated you. You care only for yourselves; you lack our harmony, our clarity of purpose. So many of you will turn a blind eye, even betray your kin, for a little gold. So many will do so without ever questioning who they are working for because you care nothing for one another.
Those who are not driven be greed are driven by arrogance, which is all too easy to manipulate. Your generals, your governors... They let our yes-men whisper in their ears and blind them to the truth! You cannot stop us without changing the nature of mankind itself.
And yet... We found you, before you were quite ready. How do you think we did so?
I... I don’t know, of course, how could I?
It was the pride of one of your human counterparts within the Adminstratum. A self-serving desire for promotion, that same lust for gold and glory you mock and vilify, proclaim as our fatal flaw. An intelligent man whose independence of thought, something you could never understand, led him to audit documents not under his purview. He saw something was amiss, and looked further. Then he spoke to an equally ambitious man within the Vigilants, who desired a position with the Adeptus Aribtes. He spoke to them, and they contacted us.
Did you record that, skull-scribe? Good.
And now my final question. Did it hurt when your ‘Father’ died?
I felt it; we all did. It was... like losing a part of oneself. The song fell silent and we were as alone as your kind are. It is... unbearable. To be so alone, so... fractured, so weak!
Take this thing back to its cell.
Last edited by Eremite; 09-01-10 at 12:35 AM.
Reason: Bold and italics not working properly