Corpus Delicti! The dead are among us!
Corpus Delicti! The Dead Are Among Us!
Cold distant eyes that bore no life in them at all anymore stared through their cataracted pupils. Milky white fluid oozed slowly around the eyeballs and drained slowly down the partially decomposed cadaverous face of what had once been a guardsman of the 105th Salvadian Elite.
Everything the guardsman had once known had faded slowly from his mind as the disease spread from the teeth marks on his left arm, into the bloodstream and finally into his mind.
At first the soldier had been terrified of becoming one of those things. The terror faded somewhat as desperation claimed its place. The Apothecaries could do nothing for him so in time he settled into depression and finally resignation. He would die and there was nothing he could do about it.
His fear was not death. He had seen death before. Having fought in seven campaigns on three worlds, he had seen death more than any man should have to. He had outlived most of his friends and his unit and had suffered shrapnel piercing his flesh, muscles and most of his organs on Oranus Ultra during the days of the Numbas Unrest, fifteen years ago.
His rehabilitation had been long and painful but as a Captain of the 105th Salvadian Elite he would never quit. His pride and love of family, country and home world, along with his unswerving devotion to the Emperor of mankind kept his hope alive.
It took five long years for him to return once again to fighting status. He had to learn the basics again; how to walk, run and fight. He had to adjust to the new organs that had been replaced within his body. His right lung, his liver and his left kidney as well as most of his skin had to be grown anew.
Now he struggled to remember that his name had once been Nahum Kastol.
No, he was not afraid of death. Death had no sway over him. What plagued his mind was the fear of becoming one of the teeming masses of undead that now swelled the city streets of Galvastun Principal.
Galvastun Principal had been a rich colorful and prosperous city where commerce and trade and well living were a way of life. Galvastun Principal was a place where families were not afraid of their children being abducted and slaughtered by the ruinous powers that plagued the worlds at the edge of the galaxy.
The whole of the southern part of Salvadia had seen the asteroid fall from the heavens, through the clouds and streak across the sky in a fireball that lit up the night. It streaked for what seemed like a million kiloms, the tail of flame twisting behind it as it made its way from one side of the hemisphere to the other.
The asteroid had disappeared along with the fires that trailed it when it slammed into a river far up in the snow covered mountains to the east.
No one at the time knew what this meant. As far as they were concerned an asteroid had fallen from the sky and smashed into the mountains. The sky had lit up and the people had marveled at the sight. It was the talk of millions around Salvadia and made the world news for the next few nights.
Since there was no collateral damage the event faded into the background and was slowly forgotten as other events of more importance flooded the lives of those on the world of Salvadia.
Explorers and sight seers from Galvastun Principal and surrounding provinces made their way up into the eastern mountains in search of the asteroid. They were gone for far longer than they should have been and when they finally returned they were far different than when they had left.
The contents of the asteroid bled into the waterways and descended down the cyclopean mountains into the lowland at their base. Those small towns that depended upon the rivers and the bounty within soon fell into anarchy; their populations turning feral and monstrous.
Within weeks of the asteroid hammering into the river the small towns along its banks in the lowlands had stopped all communication with the outside world. Families who had loved ones in the river towns despaired that something had happened to them and soon made their way from their distant homes in order to find out what had become of them.
When they failed to return or contact those they had left behind the authorities were contacted and Captain Nahum Kastol and the guardsman of the 105th Salvadian Elite were sent into the distant river towns at the base of the eastern mountains in order to reestablish communication and assess the reasons for the loss of that communication.
What they found there would forever change their lives along with the world of Salvadia.
The wind blew through the unpaved streets of Hugos stirring dust into swirls that twisted for a little while than dispersed into nothingness a while later. The winds whistled through rusted sheet-metal and windmills as it flowed like ghosts through the darkening winter evening.
It blew through broken windows and into the homes of darkness where doors stood open and creaked to the rhythm of its ebb and flow.
Dried blood cascaded up the walls of some of the homes and pooled in the streets along the gutters. Wooden porches were stained where blood had soaked into the floorboards. Evidence of dragging was apparent at the drugstore where a thick blood trail led from the doorway into the deep gloom beyond.
From the main street smears of blood could be seen from the inside of darkened shop windows like swipes from a painters brush, hand prints and sprays of dried blood that started at the window’s base and shot up to the ceiling.
The transport that bore the single unit of fifty men along with the two escort sentinels slowly edged down the main street, lights on and flashers beaming, declaring themselves as aid workers and not to be feared.
Captain Nahum Kastol spoke into the loud speaker slowly and clearly mindful of how the chimera’s broadcasters crackled with static when they were used. ‘I am Captain Nahum Kastol of the 105th Salvadian Elite. Is there anyone here?’
He watched from the top hatch of the chimera but did not see any lights appear in any of the shops or residences nor did he see any movement upon the streets of Hugos. He waited a few moments before calling on the lead sentinel. ‘Rex?’ he commed. ‘Yes captain. I’m here.’ Lieutenant Rex Faston answered.
‘Can you read any lifelines upon your blessed auspex?’ he asked. Captain Nahum Kastol waited with impatience for the lead reconnaissance sentinel to answer. Finally Rex came back on line with a crackle of his comms unit. ‘No sir. I can’t see anything. There’s not even a blip.’
Captain Kastol ordered an all stop as the chimera entered what passed as the town square. ‘Disembark and search this town. I want to know what happened here.’ He said. There was a knot in his gut so tight he felt like doubling over.
The chimera’s rear load door grinded slowly open and the men exited the transport with the same efficiency and discipline as they would have in enemy territory. They formed a standard around the chimera, rifles raised as if they were expecting enemy fire while the rest of the men took up positions throughout the square.
The unit broke up into twenty five pairs and began to search the small river town of Hugos. Reports started coming back to the Captain almost immediately of blood everywhere but no bodies. There were some signs of struggle where bullet holes and shell casings were found on the ground or in doorways but again no bodies.
Clearly Hugos had come under attack, but from whom or what the Captain had no clue. The sentinels began their search, stutter stepping like raptors through the shadowed streets. Their auspex units were at their highest setting as they each took out in opposite directions.
The chimera sat idling in the square, black exhaust slowly radiating outwards and up as the breeze turned into a howling wind. Even though the town was not that big it still took three hours to search. The 105th moved slowly and methodically from house to house and shop to shop. No bodies were found, just blood, signs of struggle and terror.
Captain Nahum Kastol ordered his men to form up and set out for the next town twenty miles away. Its name was Free Port.
As the chimera and its escorts made their way along the winding road Captain Kastol alerted General Isaih Kolsbern as to what they had found. The General advised the 105th to continue on and send word as soon as they found someone, whether alive or dead.
The men in the chimera talked among themselves nervously making small talk about what they had seen, about the wind, about the signs of struggle and about the quietness of the town. They talked about everything except the blood and the missing people.
‘Rex?’ The captain called over the comms. ‘Captain?’ the sentinel operator answered.’
‘Be advised. Free Port is a much bigger town with more than three thousand people there. You and Garland move on up ahead to the edge of the town, circle it and send back word as to what you find.’ The Captain ordered. ‘Will do Captain.’ The operator of sentinel one acknowledged.
The Captain ordered the chimera to stop a mile from the city. That knot in his gut had gotten tighter and he had come to understand that feeling all too well. That knot in his gut had saved his life on more than one occasion.
The sentinels moved on ahead at a faster pace than a chimera could ever hope to go. They bobbed up and down upon their stilted legs, their backward knees taking in the stress of their weight and propelling them onward at a loping run.
As they reached the river town’s limits Rex went right and Garland moved to the left. Their auspex units were at their highest settings and pinged slowly sending out waves of energy but receiving no echoes of lifelines. After one hour of circling the river town of Free Port the sentinels reported their findings back to the Captain.
‘Frack it all!’ The Captain swore. ‘Move us to the edge of Free Port but do not take us in. I have a real bad feeling about this.’ the Captain ordered the servitor.
Night and heavy clouds had rendered the land almost pitch black and the winter chill had grown so strong it could be felt inside the chimera nearly as strong as it could be in the open. The men donned heavier white camouflage coats that covered their fatigues.
When the Captain gave the order to disembark the men were only too willing. They were already nervous about the circumstances as well as cold from the winter chill. Moving was only too welcome.
‘Search the town quietly and as quickly as you can. Report back what you find.’ The Captain ordered. As before the men broke off in pairs and made their way into the river town of free port.
Free Port was just as quiet as Hugos had been. The wind blew so strong now it was hard to move without losing their balance. It whistled through open doorways and broken windows and caused shutters and doors to slam hard in their frames.
Blood was thick in the first home Jager Paskal and Ryan Klosen went into. The floor was covered in the sticky sanguine fluid. In the darkened home the kitchen table had been overturned and in the hall a naked man, half eaten, the bones in his legs as well as his broken ribcage were exposed.
The corpse lay absolutely still as the men flashed their lights upon it. Jager took in a long breath and slowly released it. It came out in a slow white cloud as the winter chill blended with his warm release. ‘What happened here?’ Ryan asked.
Most of the man’s organs were spread out and had been dragged from one end of the hall to where the man now lay. It looked like the man had pulled himself halfway down the hall and finally died where he now lay.
‘I don’t know.’ Jager replied. The shutters slammed hard as the wind blew in and the men jumped and turned their guns back the way they had come. No one was there and the men eased their weapons down. Jager said, ‘Let’s search the rest of the house.’
Ryan stepped past the corpse on the floor and his boot made a sucking sound as he lifted it from the blood soaked floor. As he moved past the man Jager fallowed and he almost wretched as he stepped into the twisted intestines.
As Ryan moved into the back room Jager gasped and then screamed as the corpse grabbed his leg and bit into the flesh of his calf. He hammered down with the butt of his las-rifle and crushed the head of the man. Ryan flew back out of the room, las-rifle raised. ‘What happened?’ he demanded.
‘The dead man just bit me, Ryan?’ Jager said slowly. ‘What do you mean the man bit you? He’s dead.’ Ryan said. ‘The man bit me!’ Jager roared. From a small bedroom to the left the shadows moved and a boy about the age of twelve ran out and lunged at Ryan.
The boy was covered in sticky blood and half of his face was missing. He bit Ryan’s coat and scratched at his face but Ryan kicked him hard in the chest sending the boy back into the bedroom where he had come from. ‘What the frack was that.’ He said.
In seconds the boy was back out in the hall and Ryan grabbed his shirt collar and lifted his body from the ground and slammed him into the wall. It seemed the boy did not feel what would normally have been a knockout blow to an ordinary child.
The child continued to try to bite Ryan for a moment longer until his head disappeared in an explosion of brain, blood and bone. Ryan just stood there mouth agape in utter shock, the boy’s body still against the wall and in his hand.
Blood covered his face but he just stared at the boy’s headless frame. ‘Ryan, we have to get out of here.’ Jager said. Ryan did not move but just stood there in shock. ‘Ryan!’ Jager shouted. ‘We have to go, now!’ slowly Ryan set the boy down. ‘Why?’ was all he could say.
‘The boy was already dead. We have to go. Frack, my leg hurts.’
Captain Nahum Kastol listened to the reports coming back to him from the units that were spread throughout the town. The reports said the dead were everywhere. Captain Kastol commed General Isaih Kolsbern and apprised him of the situation.
The General advised him and his unit to look for survivors and find out who could have killed all those people and why. ‘General. I have also received a report by two of my men that they were attacked by two, I repeat, two of the corpses. One of the men was bitten, sir.’
‘Are your men sure that those they were attacked by were dead as in deceased?’ the General asked. ‘That is an affirmative, General. They said the two were dead as in not living, sir.’ The Captain answered. He felt offset and nervous bring up the subject, the idea of the dead attacking anyone was ridicules.
‘I know how it sounds sir, but they sent pics back to me to confirm their story.’ From the look of the corpse in the hall, sir, I have no doubt the man had been dead for some time.’ The Captain said. He waited for the General’s response, static and hushes and small distortions fogging the comms-net.
‘Affirmative, Captain. Proceed with absolute caution. Send me those picts.’ The General ordered. ‘Yes, sir.’ The comms went dead and captain Nahum Kastol sighed and released the breath that he had held for far too long.
Rex and Garland marched their sentinels down the paved main street. Their light lamps swept the faces of the business district shops casting their pale beams into the blacked out structures so as to see what lay beyond.
The dead were everywhere, slumped over tables, strewn out on the floors and laying in the entranceways. They lined the streets and there was blood upon each and every one of them. It made Rex sick to see it all. He had a cousin that lived here but he was sure the man was dead.
From the looks of it nobody still lived in this Emperor forsaken place. “Who could have done this?” he asked himself. It was terrifying that this could happen so close to home. He checked his auspex again and could see the green blips that represented the search teams.
They were closing the net and slowly converging in the town square. Reports of the dead having come back to life and attacking Ryan and Jager had filtered down to every man. If it had not been for the horrific sight before him he would have laughed at the idea. As it was he was angry at Ryan and even more so with Jager.
They should have been more tactful and honorific of the dead. This was not a joking matter and they should be punished for their lack of sensitivity. Maybe he would recommend to the Captain that the commissar should take a lashing to them.
Corpses lay all along the street as if they had just fallen there, like they were asleep. He could see their skin color was pale white and blue. The cold was beginning to have its way with them. ‘Do you see that?’ Garland said over the comm.
‘What?’ Rex asked. ‘Over there. Near the fountain. It looks like a little girl.’ Garland answered. Rex checked the auspex and pinged the little girl, but there was no registry on the screen. ‘Yea, I see her but she doesn’t register on my auspex. It might be the cold.’ He said.
‘She doesn’t register on mine ether, Rex.’ Garland said a moment later.
The little girl was about five years old from the look of her. The light lamps beamed their light upon her but she did not act like she saw it. The poor thing was covered in blood and an arm was clearly broken. Maybe she was in shock, Rex wondered.
The girl was slowly making her way around the fountain toward the soldiers who were waiting for the chimera and the captain. Its headlamps could be seen from a distance as they weaved around the freezing dead.
All fifty of the 105th were gathered there now trying hard not to think about the things they had seen. The wind blew the little girl’s hair but she did not notice. One of the men took notice of her and began to approach her. She held out her arms, one strait the other bent at a terrible angle, to the soldier.
Jager and Ryan saw her a moment later and tried to warn the man, but it was too late. ‘Come here, girl. It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.’ He said. The girl moved closer to him.
Rex could see her clearly through the pale beams. Something was missing but he could not put his finger on it. His heart went out to the little girl in the white dress and shoes. As the soldier bent on his knee he could see the breath fogging out of his mouth and being swept away by the gale like winds.
As the girl moved into the soldier’s arms and he lifted her to his breast, Rex figured out was missing. No breath was escaping the little girl’s mouth. Everyone was watching the soldier and the little girl in the spotlight. It was a moment of pride for the 105th.
They tried to shut Jager and Ryan up, but the two of them kept screaming. They were trying to get past the others but their brothers would not let them through. They did not want the little girl to be frightened by the two soldiers who were shouting unheeded warnings.
It was understandable. This moment was what every soldier fought his whole life for, the chance to save a little child from certain death. The entirety of the 105th watched the meeting. Jager and Ryan stopped yelling.
The sound of the chimera and the quiet hum from the sentinel’s engines faded into the background as a torrent of blood jetted out of the soldier’s neck illuminated by the pale light from the sentinel’s lamps.
The little girl’s teeth ripped into the soldier’s neck and he could not scream; the pain was so intense. He tried to push her away but she bit again and ripped flesh from his throat in a lengthy strip. Her once beautiful face held no expression as the blood poured down it.
The soldier’s flesh dangled from her pale blue lips and he staggered away from her. She jumped on him and sunk her teeth into his cheek as she clawed out his left eye with her fingers. It felt like an eternity for the unit to take in what was happening to their brother. He was being eaten alive by a little girl.
Rex unleashed one well aimed shot and the laser blew the girl apart. Janson, Stram and Kol ran to their fallen mate but his wounds were fatal. As he died he vomited blood and wept.
The little girl began to claw her way to the men before her, arms wind-milling, fingers bleeding, her half torso dragging blood and intestines as she went. Jager shot the girl in the side of the head from point plank range. The girl was now finally was at peace. ‘Do you all fracking believe us now? Look around, the dead are among us!’
From the blackened buildings, the frozen streets, the shallow sewers and the town’s alleys the dead began to move. As one they stood up and began to run. The rigor that normally accompanied the dead did not hold the dead of the river town back, nor did it slow them.
The dead that lay in the town square lunged at those gathered there. The dead were truly among them and terror overtook the 105th Salvadian elite. They fired their las-rifles at point blank range, holes the size of great-fruit exploding through the bodies of the animated corpses, but they did not feel it.
The sentinels fired into the masses of dead and blew bodies apart with each shot, but they crawled along the ground reaching out with longing arms and gnashing their teeth like wild animals. The chimera rolled over the teeming horrors and crunched them under its treads, but they continued to claw at the transport as if nothing had happened.
‘Shoot them in the head! It’s the only way to kill them!’ Jager yelled. His leg hurt badly now but he did not take the time to look at the inflamed wound. He fired on a woman who was biting Kol on the back of his head. She fell as her brain pan exploded and washed those around her in blood and brain.
Kol fell to the ground vomiting and clutching his torn skull even as what was once an old man fell upon him and finished the job the dead woman had started. Jager slammed the butt of his rifle into the man’s head and he fell backwards, eyes rolling into the back of his cranium.
Captain Nahum Kastol pounded another power cell into the turret-mounted multi-laser and fired another salvo into the streaming dead. They fell in waves and fire from where the wounds had blasted through their bodies alighted and burned their ghastly, pallid, cadaverous skin from them. Most of those that fell stood up again and ran on as if they had not felt a thing.
The fifty soldiers of the 105th were screaming curses and prayers at the same time even as they fought for their lives. One by one they fell under the weight of the dead until there were only twenty men standing.
The sentinels moved amongst them crushing the corpus delicti under their tri-toed metallic hooves. They fired their lasers into them but for every one that fell another would take its place. The lamp lights bathed the scene in pale blue casting the nightmare with an eerie glow.
‘Stand your ground, men and be ready to board within ten seconds.’ The Captain bellowed into the comm.-bead. Anger and fear, cold as the winter night itself gripped Captain Nahum Kastol in a death grip. Terror like he had never known plunged him into panic and he cursed loudly as he saw another of his men dragged down.
The corpses, covered with blood from their slaughter, climbed the chassis of Garland’s sentinel even as he stamped upon those around him. One of the dead men grabbed the laser and hoisted himself up even as Garland fired it. The body blew apart and showered everything within thirty meters with bone, blood and decomposing flesh.
Even though the mortal remains climbed over his sentinel Garland was not worried about any of them breaching his armored capsule. He knew from past experience that only armor piercing shells and high caliber lasers could breech his cockpit.
‘Rex! Get these things off of me.’ Garland yelled into the comm. ‘I’ve got problems of my own, Gar.’ Rex yelled back. Garland looked out and flashed the lamp-light over the other sentinel. Rex was covered with the cadavers. They were biting and hitting and clawing at the armored glass of Rex’s cockpit.
Two cracks were showing but the plate still held firm. Rex stomped on a child that ran at him; the body erupted in a fountain of congealed blood and shredded bone.
Ryan Klosen and Jager Paskal fought back to back firing their las-rifles and slamming the butts of them into the unprotected heads of the breathless ones. They were bleeding from several bites and scratches and covered in the necrotic flesh that had sloughed off of the dead.
The chimera slewed sideways and rumbled over twenty of the zombie things. They clawed under its treads and fought to free themselves. Their jaws closed and opened and blood poured out of them along with frothing bile from bloated ruptured stomachs.
The back hatch fell open and Captain Nahum Kastol laid down covering fire for his troupes as they struggled to free themselves from the grip of the damned. The sentinels poured fire into them too and slowly a path began to form for the beleaguered warriors of the 105th.
The survivors fought to get free even as another fell to the vengeful dead. His screams cut through the maelstrom and the wind; the sound of it tearing at their brother’s souls. As soon as the last man was aboard the ramp began to close. The sentinels fired their multi-lasers and fried the flesh of the deceased.
Blood, bone and the insides of the damned jettisoned into the carrier compartment as their bodies were sawed into by the piercing blue beams. The ramp continued to close even as the unrelenting bodies pressed in. with a hiss and crunch of torn and twisted bone the ramp closed and the Captain gave the order to retreat.
Corpses still clung to the chassis of both of the sentinels and covered the chimera. The crowds seethed after them like an ocean made of flesh and bone but they could not stop the power of the chimera as the servitor gunned its engines.
Bodies fell before it and were mashed into bloody paste as its treads carved a path among them. The sentinels fallowed closely, firing even as they went. The dead chased after them with unrelenting endurance.
Their movements were those of young men in the best shape of their lives, but they were not alive. The cold did not slow them. They were not driven by fear or hope or longing or passion. They hungered for only one thing, the flesh of the living.
‘General Kolsbern. You do have the go ahead, sir. I repeat, unleash hell, sir.’ Captain Nahum Kastol yelled into the comm. ‘That is affirmative Captain. Get your men out of there!’ The General ordered.
It took twenty minutes for the chimera with its escorts to escape the streets of Free Port and as they exited the river town the hellfire missiles turned the place into a fiery hell. Liquid flame covered the chimera and the two sentinels along with the dead that covered them.
The cadaverous decomposing corpses continued to bite and claw at the armored glass of the sentinels until they were blackened melted ash.
The heat spiked in the chimera as the flames washed over it. Those inside groaned as their bodies baked, but the heat dissipated quickly as the internal coolant systems struggled to keep the men alive.
Extinguishers flashed and quailed the flames caking the chimera in white liquid that restored the plas-steel plating back to a tolerable temperature. The river town of Free Port burned and the flames swirled in tornadic storms of black and orange. Buildings collapsed and vehicles exploded as their fuel stores erupted.
Within the storm of fire the dead continued to run, walk and crawl after the retreating Imperial Guardsmen. Their bodies were pyres of swirling flame that melted from their bones. They ran until their frames could no longer hold them and finally as the liquid promethium made its way into their heads and melted their brains they died again.
‘What is your status?’ the General asked quietly. ‘Counting me, the two sentinel operators and the surviving unit, thirteen, sir.’ Captain Kastol said tiredly. ‘All of those who were outside in that mess were bitten, scratched and are covered in those things filth, sir.’ The Captain continued. ‘Are your men contaminated Captain? Are the tainted?’ The General asked.
The Captain hung his head and lied to the General. ‘Sir, we do not know what caused this outbreak. My men are hurting, bloody and in shock from all they have seen tonight, but I can vouch for them, sir. They are not tainted.’
‘Are you sure, Captain? If you are lying to save your men the Inquisition will have your hide, son.’ The General said sympathetically. ‘Son, I don’t want to see you brought down and turned over to them. I won’t be able to help you and I’m not even sure the Emperor will be able to ether. Do you understand me, son?’
‘General. I am sure the men are not tainted. I would stake my life on it.’ Captain Nahum Kastol replied.
‘I believe your Captain is lying, General.’ The man in the black storm coat said from the darkened corner of the room. The General allowed a few precious seconds to pass before he answered the Inquisitor. He allowed the time to pass by sipping slowly from the mug of recaff. He felt he had to choose his words carefully, very carefully.
‘Captain Kastol is an upright and honest man. He is faithful to the Emperor and would do nothing to undermine my orders Inquisitor. I choose to trust him in all things.’ General Isaih Kolsbern said stoically.
‘I do believe he is an honest and faithfully committed man, General, but to whom is he more faithful; the Emperor of mankind or the lives of the 105th Salvadian elite. His actions will ether save this planet or damn it to the foul powers of the warp. You do understand that I will not allow that to happen, do you not?’
General Kolsbern closed his eyes and nodded slowly. In the ashen shadows of his dimly lit office he could not determine what he feared most, the powers of Chaos that had revealed itself this night, the Holy Inquisition or the thought that his trusted friend and Captain of the 105th had lied to him. He prayed to the blessed Emperor that he would not have need to fear any of these things.
From a mile away the lights of Galvastun Principal could be seen blinking and shining brightly in the moonless night. The sight of the city filled Captain Nahum Kastol’s heart with pride and excitement as well as a little trepidation.
Technically he had not lied to the General. He knew his men had come into contact with the things. He knew his men had all suffered bites and gashes and that they were growing ill by the minute, but that could be the effects of the battle, the loss of their friends. He also knew the human mouth was one of the most germ filled things around. They could easily be sick because of those germs.
He would have the Apothecaries take a look at them and sanctify them with their germ sterilization shots and ointments. His men would be fine by morning, he hoped.
The sentinel operators had not been bit although Rex had complained about the cracked armor-glass of his canopy having been cracked in the battle. He said some of the blood and saliva from the attackers had seeped through the tiny crack as if it had a life of its own.
It had taken nine hours for the survivors of the mission to make it back into the fold of the base. During that time the men in the back hold of the chimera had stopped talking and had fallen silent. They were exhausted and sick and most likely had taken the chance to get some much needed rest.
‘Okay men, rise and shine.’ he commed to the back. There was not any response. Sentinel one had been lagging behind all night, but the Captain had not pressed his Lieutenant. Rex was a competent man. He may be having some trouble with the scout vehicle; maybe it had taken more damage in the battle than Rex had figured.
Captain Kastol got up from the command throne and stepped back to the locked hatch and flipped the toggle. At once the door slid into the wall and revealed, bathed in red strobe-light, the remains of his once proud unit.
Jager Paskal had turned first, the bite on his leg having been more serious than anyone could have imagined. Having been bit a full two hours before the others the infection was well on its way to becoming fatal.
He died and was respectably set to the back of the transport by the sickly, wounded survivors of the battle of Free Port. Slowly the men faded into unconsciousness, a deep sleep that would leave them weakened and defenseless.
Jager Paskal’s corpse stirred under the blood drenched winter storm coat. Slowly the dead man twisted and turned its body from the wall and began to crawl to where the others slept. Congealed blood from the wounds on his body left a streak upon the iron floor of the chimera’s interior.
Ryan Klosen was stricken by the agony of teeth ripping into his ankle. He screamed but the others were too weak to do anything. The feeling of helpless terror filled the cabin as the understanding of what was happening literally consumed them.
As the now unlocked cabin door of the chimera opened realization and understanding as well as sheer terror overwhelmed Captain Nahum Kastol.
Before him in the shadows of the red strobe-light were the remains of four men. Bones, blood, lungs, intestines, stomachs, spines, skulls and refuse lined the floors, walls and ceiling.
The seats were covered too. In the red lit shadows what had been six of the best men captain Nahum Kastol had ever had the honour of working with, were now six corpses that stood apart from each other rocking back and forth like branches in a tree.
Slowly he pulled his las-gun and pointed it at Jager Paskal and fired. A hole the size of a hubcap was blasted out of Jager’s chest. He fell but soon began to stir and claw his way along the blood covered floor. The others turned as one and began to run toward the front of the chimera.
Captain Kastol fired six shots, two slammed into the chests of those in the lead as they ran through the isle. They fell on their faces and the others trampled them in their rush for fresh meat. Two more shots slammed into what had once been Ryan Klosen, one shot tearing off an arm and the other vaporizing his head. The corpse fell to the floor and did not rise again.
The other two shots cut one of the others in half, his legs falling one way and his torso falling to the floor. Jager and the others who had been shot began to get up again. They were close now and Captain Kastol fired again, but the shot missed and slammed harmlessly against the back hatch of the chimera.
He tried to close the cabin door but one of the living dead was blocking the door from coming to a complete close. Arms grabbed the door and pulled it open even as the Captain fired again. The laser tore the head from trooper Barone in a flash of steam, congealed blood and brain.
The others pressed in even as Captain Kastol climbed from the escape hatch built into the cabin roof, but as he pulled himself out the teeth of Jager Paskal tore into his hand. The pain was more than he could bear quietly and he screamed even as he kicked Jager’s living corpse back into the others.
He stood on the top of the command cabin and fired at the corpse things even as they fell upon the servitor that was still plugged into the operational controls.
The servitor screamed as it was tore apart, as teeth ripped into its flesh, as hands ripped the control plugs from his skull, even as the servitor looked up with pleading eyes and begged for help. Captain Nahum Kastol pulled a pin from the phosphorus grenade, dropped it in, closed the hatch and vomited.
Nearly three hundred men surrounded the chimera, guns raised, faces set to fight. Garland’s sentinel had its guns aimed at the chimera as well. He knew full well what they had face at Free Port and he was not about to let those things in here.
The military vehicle command bay was as silent as a tomb after the grenade’s dull thrump resonated throughout the open spaced area.
The only thing keeping them from firing was the General and the Inquisitor who had ordered them all to stand down. ‘I thought you said the men were not tainted, Captain. Did you lie to me or were you mistaken son?’ The General asked as calmly as he could.
Inwardly he was seething. General Isaih Kolsbern had been in command of others for nearly thirty years and during that time he had learned to master his emotions well, but right now the skills he had learned over the years were being tested to fullest of their ability.
The young Captain wiped his mouth before answering. ‘I was mistaken, sir.’ He said. ‘They are all dead, sir. All my men.’ He continued.
Inquisitor Dominik Zimel stepped forward. ‘Are you tainted, Captain? Answer me truthfully or I will kill you and damn your soul to the warp!’
‘Captain Nahum Kastol fell to his knees and weeping from the loss of his men, the things he had seen and the thought of falling from grace answered as truthfully as he could. ‘Yes, sir, I am.’
Sentinel one had failed to report in. It had fallen behind and out of contact shortly before reaching the base and the city of Galvastun Principal. Lieutenant Rex Makerson awoke from his slumber. He was hungry and his mind could not form thoughts.
As much as he wanted to he could not free himself from the fog of hunger. It tore at his mind like an addicts need for drugs. It was torment. He was in pain from the need to feed. The sentinel was standing alone in a field but for the life of him, Rex, could not remember where he was or how he had gotten there.
The cockpit canopy opened with a hiss as the sickly man pushed it up. The morning sunlight beamed upon him from a cloudless sky but he did not feel it. Pulling himself free from the brain-jacks and his harness he clawed his way out of the cockpit and fell to the ground below.
The fall did not hurt at all and the man did not even consider that it should have. Only one thing controlled his mind; hunger.
A farmhouse stood a hundred meters away and the door was open. A woman about twenty five years old had seen Rex fall from the sentinel and was coming out to see if he was well. ‘Sir, are you well?’ she said to him as he approached her.
He could not answer her and collapsed on the freshly upturned dirt. ‘Sir? Do you need an Apothecary?’
She approached him when she heard him moan. She was sure he was sick so she put her arm around him so as to help him up.
She cried out and gasped as he bit her arm. Blood sprayed from the wound. She hit him but he pushed her down. Her scream ended abruptly as Rex tore open her throat and consumed her flesh.
As the night moon rose over the cloudless sky the woman began to crawl along the fresh tilled ground. Rex had long gone but the woman did not remember what had happened. She was hungry and the city of Galvastun Principal was not far away.
‘Look how quickly the plague spreads. The dead run the streets while the populace of Galvastun Principal begs us for help.’ The Inquisitor said. ‘I told you, General that I would not allow this to happen.’
‘What do you purpose to do about it Inquisitor? The P.D.F. is fighting for all they are worth. The imperial guardsmen who stood at the front are all dead and now part of the desecration of Salvadia. This is a city of seventy million people. What can we do?’ the General raged.
‘Can you imagine, General, what would happen if these seventy million citizens of Galvastun Principal are all overcome by the corpus delicti.’ The Inquisitor asked calmly.
‘I will tell you, General. The plague would become uncontrollable and Salvadis would cease to exist. Those from other worlds who practice trade with your world would come here heedless of the threat and would return home infected. In seemingly no time at the entire galaxy would die and feed upon itself. The infection would spread General. So here is what we will do.’
Former Captain Nahum Kastol stood on the mirror side of the two way mirror in the holding cell of the military magistrate, but he no longer cared about that. The fear that had once held him was now a distant fog that floated dimly through the closing recesses of his mind.
The only thing that he cared about now was the sounds that came from the other side of the unbreakable mirror glass. His reflection held his attention as well. When he moved it moved and when he stood still it stood still.
At first, when his mind was fading, he thought the reflection was another person trying to pull him out of a dark pit, but as time bore on the reflection became a point of focus that threatened his existence. It mocked him, mimicking him and taunting him. When he moved toward it it came closer and when he moved away it backed away as well.
He could see shadows from under the plas-steel door, he could hear voices from outside and as time wore on he began to hunger for what the voices represented. Now his mind was blank and the reflection no longer bothered him. The voices bothered him because he was hungry, he was starving.
He heard their screams and the falling of medical instruments as well as gun and las-gun fire. The glass rippled as a body fell against it causing Kastol’s reflection to jump and shake. With that movement Nahum Kastol lunged forward and bit the glass. His teeth scraped the mirror covering but was unable to find purchase in the flesh he so hungered for.
Instead, a layer of the mirror sheen had been cleared by the teeth marks and at last Nahum Kastol was able to see what was happening. He slammed against the glass time and time again, his corpse hands scratching against it like a trapped man scrapes the inside of his coffin in his hope of escape.
The glass did not break, but instead the frame weakened and loosened in its moorings until at last it fell free. The smell of blood, the screams of the Apothecaries, the gunfire of the guards and the blood covered dead advancing past him compelled him to climb out through the rectangle glassless window.
A man tried to rush past him but his cold dead hands caught the man by the arm. The man screamed and wet himself even as Nahum Kastol tore into his neck with bloody, cracked teeth. The flesh was a feast to him, the blood was a wine, but he could not be sated.
The more he ate of the man the more he hungered. The man continued to scream and kick until more of the zombies tore into him and ripped his body apart.
General Isaih Kolsbern shot one of the dead through the face. The once man fell like a rock, blood spilling from him like a small fountain. He was alone in his office even as the hall outside it was packed with the damned.
They attacked each other as they sought to get to him. He knew he would die but he was a General in the Imperial Guard and he would not stop fighting for only in death does duty end. But as he shot another of the former living through the forehead he knew that if they got to him he would not die but become one of those things.
Slowly he pulled a grenade from a pouch at his chest and pulled the pin. He held it to his chest and began to pray the prayer of the Emperor’s deliverance. The dead were on him now and his screams echoed through the hall and the office he was in. It ended as quickly as it began when the grenade tore his body apart along with twenty of the corpses as well.
Inquisitor Dominik Zimel looked down on the city and silently prayed for the people there. He knew that for many of them there was no hope, but for those who would meet their end soon there was hope. He would not rob them from that hope. So it was that with that though in mind he ordered Exterminitus.
The city burned for three weeks and all within it was turned to ash. Nothing survived of anything or anyone who had once lived in Galvastun Principal. Inquisitor Dominik Zimel set back in his command throne and wept a single tear.
Because of his actions the rest of Salvadia as well as the galaxy would be saved. The Emperor does protect.
High up in the eastern mountains a pack of wolves drank of the water from the swiftly moving river.
A good reputation take a long time to build, but only a moment to destroy. Wow, that's deep!
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