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The Emperor Protects​
5,000 words​

The silence was deafening.

They had been sitting, waiting, for over six days now. Not once had they dismounted from the Chimera. Not to use the bathroom, not to eat, not to sleep. The smell, the very air itself, was suffocating; a rancid aroma that gagged the throat and stung the eyes. Waste fermented in the stifling heat. Impenetrable darkness swallowed the man, making it all but impossible for him to see the rest of the squad crammed in the back of the track. Someone hacked a cough, followed closely by the wet splatter of phlegm being spat upon the floor.

Olivero Gonzo grimaced. Fek this fekking planet. Incredible boredom, the utter inability for physical activity ground down on him. A quick reaction force, that’s what the colonel had said. The regiment had to be ready to roll out within two minutes and, rather than trusting the competency of his men, had them standby until the order was given. Apparently six days of wallowing in your own crap was worth saving the extra thirty seconds for a man to cinch his trousers up, but who was he to judge? Right.

Six fekking days. During the extensive briefings on the plan of attack, contingency plans of attack, and fekking alternate contingency plans, the brass had made it infinitely clear that the assault would not commence until a week after zero hour. Luckily, the possibility of 'early initiation' was still significant enough to warrant having to sit in their excretions.

The Larillan battle group had made planet fall three months before, responding to a request for aid due to insurgencies springing up across the primary continent, overwhelming the ill-equipped and poorly drilled planetary defense force. That’s where we come in: purge the heretic. The battle group had been systematically clearing each of the towns clustered along the western seaboard, either completely exterminating the tainted population or liberating the embattled loyalists.

The ground shook with a tremendous blast, the first report of an opening barrage by the Larillan Nineteenth. More shots followed; massive shockwaves shuddered through the Chimera. The Basilisks had opened fire upon the target to unleash their ungodly destructive power.

Static burst through the voxcasters as the voice of the Colonel crackled, 'Sons of Larilla, commence movement to Objective Six-Four-Beta!' His voice overflowed with confidence even through the distortion. The Larillan never faltered, never halted, never accepted defeat. Advancing with reckless fury, they would strike fast and without mercy.

Gonzo smirked in the darkness, at least that’s what the colonel says. The grunts, the poor bastards who had been stuck in the back of the Chimeras for over a week, would stumble out of the rear with stiff legs and sore backs. He smirked, the smell will kill the heretics before our lasguns will. It was not that he felt no pride in serving with the Imperial Guard, far from it. He loved it; the excitement, the training and the camaraderie were all something he had never experienced before, but the suck was often overwhelming.

A whine filled the vehicle, the massive turbines of the Chimera slowly grinding into activity after its prolonged inactivity, a predator pouncing on its prey. Another laughable metaphor brainwashed into him during Indoctrination. Fond memories.

'This is Secundus-Alpha-One, acknowledged,' the crew chief barked. 'Let’s go, fekheads, time to rock and roll!'

Without warning, the rear lumiglobes illuminated the dismounted soldiers with a dull red glow. Although the lights were dim, having sat in darkness for seven days caused the sudden shock of luminosity to be blinding.

'A heads-up would be nice,' he muttered.

Lurching, the Chimera finally moved, the tracks along the vehicle finding purchase in the loose sound outside. A rumble rose from outside as the armoured might of the battle group spurred into motion. Rattling shook the vehicle as they progressed, a shaking which quaked him to his very core.
While he hated the suck, he loved the rush. The blasts, the rumble, all of it gave him meaning. He loved the Emperor, and he loved his job. Wallowing in crap, though? Not so much.

'All right numb-nuts,' Sergeant Noto bellowed beside him, vying with the roar of the turbines and the treads for superiority. 'When we get to town, kill anything that moves! Gonzo, take point with your team, I’ll be right behind you. Clear everything down and along the road. If anything is alive when we get there it’s not when we leave.'

The track bucked as it sped over a hill, bouncing the men around like rag dolls. The sludge of urine and faeces slapped against Gonzo’s boots, the sudden disturbance releasing an incredible stench, filling the airtight vehicle with nauseous odours. Leaning forward, Cirazza retched violently onto the floor, splashing vomit onto the sergeant’s trousers.

'Are you fekking kidding me? You puked on my damn pants,' Noto pulled his pant leg tight to see the bile. 'I’m neck deep in me own shit and I don’t need none of yours, arse!'

Dust billowed into the Chimera, the clouds cast from the advancing armoured column being inhaled greedily by the circulation unit. The breeze would normally be welcome in the sweltering heat, but the airborne particles seemed to cling to the smell. Breathing them in added a taste to accompany the stench. The Guardsman sitting in front of him smacked his lips, trying in vain to get rid of the flavour of crap, piss, and dust.

Gonzo’s thumbs-up sign was mirrored with a rude gesture, the middle finger on the man’s right hand extended, fek off.

Sergeant Noto was still swearing at the sick private, punching him ineffectually, the restraints from his seat’s harness preventing him from doing any real harm.

Finally breaking off from his furious and futile assault, Noto continued his last minute briefing, 'Where was I?' The dust mixed with his own sweat had formed a cake of mud on his face, which cracked as he frowned. 'Right! Gonzo, cover the left side of the road on point, my team trailing. Same road layout as Six-Four-Alpha, convergent streets to the chapel.' The vehicle rocked again, tossing the men about in their shock-seats. 'Learn to drive, fekheads!'

He turned his perpetual scowl to the squad, 'Just head towards the buildings and you’ll get it right! Intel says this cesspit is crawling with loonies, so get ready for a fight.' The sergeant cocked his head, listening to his company-command frequency vox-piece. 'Two minutes out! C’mon, you bastards, strike fast!'

'Strike hard!'


The rumbling advance of the chimera slowed; the racket of treads replaced by ground-shaking explosions. Demolishers had begun their volleys in earnest. Gonzo allowed himself a smile at the thought of the devastation wrought.

His mind wandered to their previous assault, a near-flawless execution of armoured power hammering the traitors into oblivion. It had been his first taste of battle, both exhilarating and utterly terrifying. Never before had he felt so alive as when so close to death.

Slowly, the constant thunder of artillery began to lighten; the order to lift fire had been given as the armoured fists had passed the minimum safe range. While the Colonel certainly did not value the individual Guardsman, he had the courtesy of not blowing them to hell on accident.

With an abrupt jerk, the Chimera stopped in its tracks.

'Drop ramp!' Sergeant Noto was already standing, having swiftly unbuckled his restraints. 'Lock and load! Move your arses! Go go go!' To emphasize his point, he racketed his lasgun, and pointed towards the egress point of the track. Clumsily freeing himself, Gonzo stood, shouldering his lasgun to check the charge.

He noted with disgust the moisture seeping through his sleeve. Foolishly, he had rested the stock of his weapon in the puddle of filth surrounding his feet. Talk about bad luck. The other Guardsmen followed suit, performing last minute prayers to the spirits of their weapons and pleas to the Emperor, hoping that this fight would not be their last.

With a screech of metal, the ramp swiftly dropped, slamming into the thin dust in a puff of smoke. A slice of pale moonlight illuminated the floor of the Chimera, casting shadows off the clumps of feces and vomit spotting the floor.

'For Larilla! For the Emperor!' As one the squad ran towards the exit of the vehicle, peeling off to find cover in the buildings flanking the road.

Gonzo felt the stiffness in his legs, the week of inactivity taking its toll. Smoke billowed past him from a hundred fires as he stumbled along, praying for the blood to flow to his legs. He felt his knee pop and a stab of pain shot down his calf. He risked a glance back towards his platoon’s chimeras and grinned.

Two Leman Russ main battle tanks rumbled swiftly through the roiling smoke, gun tubes lowered. Both fired simultaneously, sending a cloud of shrapnel and shattered wood flying past the running men. Keeping his head down, Gonzo felt pellets of broken rock pinging off his helmet. A third tank appeared between its sisters, lowering its massive cannon, letting loose with a hellish blast.

He dove to the ground as shrapnel flew over his head. Someone was screaming, not having reacted quickly enough to the explosion. He raised his helmet for a look, glimpsing a man on the ground, writhing in agony. His leg had been severed below the knee; the stump squirted blood in irregular spurts into an expanding puddle below him.

Gonzo’s ears were ringing with a mind-numbing peal. He caught sight of his squad leader, the grizzled veteran waving the men towards the heart of the village. Sergeant Noto was shouting, barely discernible over the consistent tone echoing in Gonzo’s head. He could scarcely make out the words over the din, 'Let’s go fekheads, the best first aid is to kill the enemy! Forget his sorry arse and advance!' Without looking back, the man charged ahead and disappeared into the smoke.

Gathering both his bearing and his wits, Gonzo followed suit. The squad joined him, hugging the row of buildings. Leman Russ battle tanks pressed on, pacing alongside the beleaguered Guardsmen. Heavy bolters roared endlessly, decimating any possible firing points along the road.

Maintaining his cautious pace, Gonzo’s eyes darted from alleys to rooftops. No sign of movement. He doubted it would stay that way for long. His pulse hammered in his ears as the insistent ringing faded; his gear weighed him down, stifling his breathing. Noto halted at a four-way intersection, kneeling against the near wall. The sergeant beckoned him over, an impatient scowl marring his features.

'Gonzo I swear you aren’t worth shit. I told you to take point,' Noto hissed. His gaze travelled up to the column of guardsmen swiftly closing on their position. 'First team, clear the linear-danger-area,' meaning the intersection itself, 'Make sure no heavies are taking advantage of a good choke point, let’s not get killed yet.'

Glancing backwards, Gonzo quickly counted his men as they knelt along the walls. 'Sarge, we’re down one.'

'I’ll let your mum know you can count. Get the fek moving! Third squad is coming up on our left.' He checked the charge on his lasgun, a habit borne from years of experience. Gonzo did the same; as much as he disliked the sergeant, the Emperor would not smile on those who went to battle unprepared.

He shifted on his knees as the tanks abruptly stopped, awaiting for the rest of the dismounts to catch up. More men appeared as they sprinted towards the opposite wall. Still more advanced down the middle of the street, lasguns held at their hips.

Their vox-unit crackled, 'Noto, we’re in position, awaiting your signal.' Third squad was ready to keep pushing towards the centre of town.

Using a method his mother had taught him, Gonzo took three calming breaths in an effort to gain back physical control. His stomach was not cooperating; it felt as though it was about to jump out of his throat. His heart beat rapidly as his blood coursed through his veins, throbbing behind his eyes. Inching slowly, lasgun held to his shoulder, he peeked past the corner.

Only the dancing shadows cast from the flickering, burning structures. Nothing. 'All clear.' He stepped into the abandoned streets, half expecting a hidden shooter to cut his life short. 'Jippetti, cover me!' He took off running, crossing the street rapidly, clattering to a stop against the opposite side.

Fek this. A spectre moved ahead. 'Doorway right, ten metres!' The whispering at the corner now seemed silly as the tanks rumbled to life, letting loose another trio of blasts down the street. A three story building, marvellous with its marble façade, burst like a melon.

'Holy Throne! Back the fek off!' Damned tankers were getting too close, endangering the infantry advancing unprotected on foot. Well, I don’t have to clear the building...

Sprinting forward, he saw another threshold just past the first. Fek. 'First team, clear right! On me!' Cirazza ran in a crouch ahead of him, squaring himself to the door and bracing his shotgun to his shoulder. Jippetti pressed his chest to Gonzo’s back, squeezing his shoulder to signal that the team was ready.


Immediately the shotgun blared, blowing the simple doorknob clear out of the door. Cirazza kicked the door, swinging it loosely on its hinges. Gonzo pressed in, slamming the door open against the wall and hugging his body against it. The room was wide, perhaps ten meters. 'Long room! Window left!' Instinctively, he called out every detail he possibly could, preparing the men behind him for their lightning entry.

He leaned back against the door, ensuring that anyone behind it was trapped and incapable of raising a weapon to fire. 'Low table left!'

Jippetti was on his heels, peeling to the right upon entering to avoid congesting up the doorway, the 'fatal funnel.' Following his team leader’s example, he was also shouting out anything he saw, 'Bookshelf right! No contact!'

Asin and Illyian were last, curling left and right, scanning the room for any side of cultists. It was deserted. Cirazza remained outside, training his shotgun through the portal in case any enemy tried to escape.

Gonzo waited a moment, taking a few steadying heartbeats before continuing. 'Status! One up!' Each man was required to call out, according to the order that he had entered the room, to aid the team leader in situational awareness. If one of the members missed his call, well then, something was awry, to say the least.

'Two up!' Jippetti, good.

'Three up!' Asin.

'Four up!' Illyian.

'Five up!' Cirazza from outside.

Six? Damn, Camacho. He had been the man to lose his leg, now likely dead from blood loss alone in the burning streets.

'Room clear, stack left on the door!' The men filed around the room, forming a line again on the left side of the portal. This is going to be a long night.


Fortunately, the tanks had seen fit to blow most of the buildings to oblivion, saving the dismounted Guardsmen gallons of sweat and hours of labour. Oddly, though, the town had been completely deserted.

As the attack plan had dictated, Gonzo and his squad had converged on the center of the town, painstakingly clearing each alley, hut and mansion. The few homes that they had searched had been well-maintained; no rotting food still sitting on the table, no garments strewn about rooms, and no blood spattering the walls. It was as though the entire population had disappeared after thoroughly cleaning their homes.

Sergeant Noto had been a slave driver, pressing his men to work quickly and efficiently. Strike fast, strike hard. They had been the first to arrive in the centre of town, kneeling in the shadows cast by the rubble of a once glorious mansion outside the last structure in the village.

The chapel was aglow, a grandiose edifice of granite, crafted over hundreds of years by the cares of the once-pious citizenry. It was beautiful, in a way, the gothic magnificence of the architecture a shadow of the cathedrals back home. The last building in town to be cleared, it was also the den of the heretics within. Although no sounds emanated from the structure, shadows were dancing along the stained glass windows aligning the sides. They were here.

Hatred filled him, a desire for retribution not only for the heretics’ heinous act of turning their backs on the light of the Emperor, but for defiling the purity of their own place of worship. It was unthinkable to even imagine how a human being could fall so low.

Guardsmen rushed in from all directions as infantrymen began their preparations for a massed assault and the tanks to utterly obliterate the building. Orders had apparently not yet been given as to whether the Colonel wanted to clear the church or demolish it.

Sergeant Noto gathered his men around him in a circle and knelt to the ground. 'Okay fekkers, this here,' he withdrew his combat knife and scratched the outline of the chapel into the dirt, 'is the church. The main entrance is here.' Etching a notch into the outline, he indicated the thick doors gracing the façade. 'We won’t be using that one, too obvious and as much as you’re all more or less useless, I’m far too pretty to die.' Private Asin snickered, only to be backhanded by the sergeant. 'That’s the Emperor’s truth, arse.'

'Men of Larilla, assemble around the Swift Strike,' Voxcasters interrupted, shrieking Commissar Kalrick’s voice over the courtyard, piercing through the thrum of activity.

Noto stood up, kicking dirt over the sketch he had drawn. 'Right, boys, get your arses over there!'

Gonzo hurried over to the ancient Conqueror, having been commandeered by the commander during the mission, as his Baneblade would have never made it through the narrow streets. For the sake of minimizing collateral damage to the town’s infrastructure, the Death Strike remained behind the front lines. Well the armour and artillery kind of defeated the purpose on that one. The town had still been blown to hell.

Major Deneho stood on the front slope of the tank, arm casually slung over the main cannon tube. Gonzo liked the man considerably; his easy manner and approachability had made him a favourite amongst the men. He talked to them like they were people, not cannon fodder. His constant half-smile had won him more battles than any of the other hard-bitten bastards.

Kalrick stood beside him, greatcoat billowing behind him in the breeze. His icy grey eyes were hidden under the shadow cast by the brim of his commissarial cap. The man seemed perpetually wrapped in shadows, his inner intensity and pure force of will managing to snub out any light around him. He stood, one hand curled in a fist and the other holding his bolt pistol, across the tank from the major.

They were a study in contrasts, the easy-going officer and the cold-hearted commissar.

'Men of Larilla, your Emperor has called upon you today for a harrowing task,' Kalrick spoke first, his zealous voice echoing from the shattered buildings and the stone chapel. 'Today you must face your darkest fears yet again,' his tone was steady, completely unwavering, unerringly confident, 'You must cast aside these trepidations and conquer them before they can conquer you. Steel your hearts, and you shall not be found wanting in His eyes. Whatever comes, know this: you are the dogged warriors of the Emperor, and you will not fail!'

Despite their dislike for the man, he could turn a rousing speech. There was no applause, but Gonzo could see several heads nodding with approval. Without so much as a smile, the commissar leaned across the cannon, passing the handheld voxcaster to the major.

'Boys, seems like we’ve made a mess!' Deneho grinned as he spoke, eliciting a cheer from the assembled Guardsmen. 'It’s been a clean sweep so far, but don’t let it fool you,' he paused a moment, lowering his voice and taking on a sombre tone, 'These heathen bastards have holed up here, I’m certain. Don’t let the fact that it’s been easy so far get you sitting on your trigger fingers.’

‘Heretics have overrun this village, have thrown aside their vows of fealty to the Emperor of Mankind. Now we are left with one final task,’ another pause for dramatic effect before sharing the final decision on the plan of attack, 'And while I know the First would do a lovely job of leveling this pretty little church,” a roaring cheer built up from the infantry, 'Our footslogging brothers get the pleasure!'

Thrusting his clenched fist into the air, he shouted, 'Men of Larilla, strike fast!'

'Strike hard!' The response shook the ground.


Gonzo stood across from Cirazza, the younger man bracing his shotgun against his shoulder. They waited for the command; six hundred guardsmen were arrayed around the building, ready to breach the doors and the windows in a furious show of the Emperor’s vengeful fury. His heart was beating again, the anticipation filled him along with the terror.

The deserted town had fuelled his trepidations; the fear of the unknown was overwhelming. Anything could lie within the chapel; varied possibilities ran through Gonzo’s mind, each more terrifying than the last.

Standing behind him, chest pressed against his back, Sergeant Noto listened intently to his vox bead. As soon as he squeezed Gonzo’s shoulder, he would signal Cirazza to shoot the lock off the- Oh shit he squeezed.

'Go!' He braced as Cirazza squared to the door and blasted the handle with a single, deafening shot. 'Go!' He veered to the right, smashing through the now loosely-swinging door. His lasgun was immediately in his shoulder, held at the ready.

Pan left, then right, clear…Holy Throne.

The smell was the first thing that hit him, not the sickly sweet taint of Chaos but of incense. The odour of hundreds of humans in close proximity, the stink of sweat and of fear, but not the familiar reek of the followers of the Dark Powers.

Dozens of other Guardsmen were pouring through the doors and shattered windows lining the upper gantry. Below them were hundreds of pews, all arrayed before the pulpit at the fore of the enormous chamber. Torches lit at the end of each row cast flickering shadows along what was beneath.

The entire population was there. Men, women, and children, all kneeling in prayer, chanted as one. At the pulpit was the town’s priest, bellowing a sermon to his assembled congregation.

'Fan the fek out!' Veering to the right, he ran to the balustrade and took up a firing position. God-Emperor, there’s hundreds of them. None looked up, no one so much as moved...they just kept kneeling there.

'It is written, in those last days, that He will visit His Wrath upon the Faithless!' The priest roared from his dais into his amplifier, his words echoing through the chamber.

Gonzo saw that the rest of the Guardsmen were as transfixed as he. Hundreds of them lined the upper tier and more poured in with each passing second. They were frozen, unsure as what to do.

'He will take the Faithful into His embrace! Hold them to His bosom while He rains destruction upon His enemies!' Fek he just keeps going. The preacher had not yet even glanced at the soldiers filling the chamber.

Gonzo recognized the sermon. These were not the words of a heretic, of one who had been lost to the insanities of the Ruinous Powers, but teachings from the Lectitio Devinitatus. These people are not heretics...

'Sarge, these people,' Gonzo stammered.

'I know.' For once, Noto’s voice was soft, the hard edge was gone.

The stream of Guardsmen slowed to a trickle as Commissar Kalrick and Major Deneho strode through the entrance. Deneho’s expression was one of pure shock; he too had expected a nest of decadence, not the pious in sincere supplication to the God Emperor.

Gonzo watched as Kalrick racketed his bolt pistol, the fire of fanaticism bright in his eyes. He nodded deferentially to the captain. 'Major?'

Deneho was visibly taken aback for a moment, staring at the scene in complete disbelief. 'What the fek is going on?'

The preacher finally took notice of the guardsmen’s arrival. 'Men of the Emperor’s Sword, we lay ourselves before you in judgment in these Final Days.' He stepped down from his platform, striding down the central aisle with a stiff but confident gait. The major and the commissar simply stared, Deneho in fascination and Kalrick in contempt.

Kalrick snapped his attention back to the stunned officer, 'Your men await your decision, Major.'

Cirazza whispered into Gonzo’s ear, 'What the fek is going on?'

Gonzo scowled, 'Someone fekked up, that’s what.' The assembled worshippers had still not moved, all were genuflecting towards the dais and the bronze aquila hanging above it. 'This must be the wrong town or something, I don’t know.'

'Shut it,' hissed Noto. The old bastard had found his rancour again. 'Just shut up.'

'Roger, Sarge.'

Turning his attention back to the rear of the chapel, he saw Major Deneho talking furiously onto the vox. 'Six-Four-Primus, this is One-One, sitrep to follow, break,' the man was flustered, his voice high, 'dismounts have secured the chapel, however there seems to be a discrepancy, break.' He was visibly taking deep breaths, trying to gain composure to keep his voice steady and professional.

'There are no cultists here, intel was wrong,' he rubbed his eyes with his free hand, 'I say again, the people here are not tainted.'

The vox caster’s external speakers were not on, making Gonzo incapable of eavesdropping on the other end of the conversation. He felt his heartbeat quicken, this is unreal.

'Sir, with all due respect,' the major’s voice was raised now, indignation filling his every word, 'I don’t care what the analysts fekking say, I’m staring at them.' He was cut off as the priest bowed before him, grabbed onto his hand, and pressed it against his craggy cheek. 'Sir, I can’t do that.'

'And His faithful children will look to their saviours and feel great gladness, for they have been found worthy,' the priest’s voice was quiet yet managed to fill the entire chamber with its power. 'We thank you, Champions of the Emperor, Guardians of Man—'

His words were cut short as a single shot blew the man’s head apart, spattering brain matter and skull fragments over the major and the commissar. The latter held his smoking bolt pistol out; a wisp of smoke wafted through the air, mingling in with the haze of the burning incense.

Gonzo felt a leaden weight sinking in his stomach. Revulsion filled him, this isn’t happening. We’re here to destroy the uprising and protect the people.

'Major,' Kalrick’s voice was cold, barely a whisper, 'the Colonel has given his order.'

No. His service in the Guard was something in which he took great pride. He protected the innocent. Throne, no...please...

The echoing report of the weapon was replaced by a new sound, the moaning of the people. They knew what was about to happen, what their final judgment had been.

Deneho turned to the Commissar, laspistol in hand. 'Commissar!' Blood dripped down his face as he gestured towards the villagers, 'These are not heretics!'

No... Accidental collateral damage was one thing, but this was outright murder.

Kalrick slowly shook his head, 'Major, the Colonel has clearly instructed you to continue with the cleansing.' He cast his gaze about before turning his icy stare back to Deneho. 'There is no interpretation. Issue the order.'

Deneho holstered his sidearm, defiance filling his eyes. 'I will not.'

'Very well,' voice calm, the commissar casually lifted his bolt pistol and shot the major in the head.

Horrified, Gonzo could do nothing but watch as the torso slowly toppled, spurting bright arterial blood onto the polished wooden floor. The corpse twitched, casting a spray on the commissar’s shining boots. Throne no!

'Guardsmen, your Emperor has called upon you!' Commissar Kalrick’s voice trembled with zeal. 'You shall not be found wanting! Execute these heretics!' His bolt pistol was held in the air, no one doubted what the man would do if they, too, did not obey. 'These are your orders!'

This is wrong. Agony filled Gonzo, he was torn between his duty to the Emperor and his fear of retribution. The pit in his stomach was collapsing into a black hole, its gravitational pull inexorably drawing in his conscience, his purity.

An echoing discharge of the bolt pistol ended another hesitant Guardsman’s life.

A woman broke ranks from the rest of the worshippers, falling to her knees and crawling towards one of the soldiers. Her pitiful figure looked up, pleading to the man for deliverance. Instead, as a natural reflex, he pulled the trigger.

The lasfire began in earnest, as years of training ingrained into their very souls took control, firing in a disciplined volley.

The moan was replaced now by screams. Gonzo squeezed his eyes shut, wincing at the never-ending flashes of red. The screaming…

He realized that his trigger well was depressed, his weapon firing into the helpless mass below. Oh God Emperor no. The wailing, the terror, infiltrated him, burrowed into him. Despair gripped his heart, but he could not let go of the firing stud.

The volleys seemed to last an eternity; an endless chorus of spattering fire in atonal symphony with the agonized cries as shot after shot of energy fired into the thronging mass of flesh and fear.

As abruptly as it had started, the firing stopped as lasguns ran dry.

Gonzo’s finger was still pressed down painfully on the trigger. He could not will his eyes open, would not. The screaming was gone. He felt tears streaming down his face, the tears of a damned man, of a murderer. What have I done?

The silence was deafening.
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