Authors: Steve Parker
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Military, #General
It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.
Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor’s will. Vast armies give battle in his name on uncounted worlds. Greatest amongst His soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors. Their comrades in arms are legion: the Imperial Guard and countless planetary defence forces, the ever-vigilant Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few. But for all their multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat from aliens, heretics, mutants - and worse.
To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.
The tunnels were alive with them. The ceilings, walls, the floor; everywhere a tide of tooth and claw, of alien organisms cloaked in shadow, slavering and chittering with lethal intent as they swept towards the trespassers.
They surged forwards, unified in purpose, compelled by a single terrible will, a cold intelligence that drove them on from much deeper and lower in this inky maze of twists and turns. The command was given in no language of sounds; it was a single, all-powerful impulse untranslatable to the human mind. The closest approximation would have been
was too simple a word for this, an act so fundamental to the aliens’ life-cycle, to the cancerous spread of their merciless race across all known space. The impulse reflected a complete cycle of purpose, of experience, of need:
Kill. Consume. Utilise. Adapt. Grow. Spread. Kill.
So it would go, on and on, until the universe held nothing left to devour.
Unless, of course, that cancer was cut out, excised with precision and lethal violence.
Three stood facing the xenos horde; three warriors, unafraid, heavily armed and clad in ceramite armour. Space Marines. The living legacy of the Emperor Himself. But what could three hope to do? They were almost certain to be overwhelmed here in the claustrophobic darkness. The numbers they faced were beyond count… And yet, they did not fear.
was the thought in their minds, too – as much a part of their life-cycle as that of the ravening foe they faced.
Muzzle flare from two bolters strobed the tunnel intersection. The air beat with a deep tattoo, bolt after bolt after bolt. Chitinous ribcages shattered. Blood sprayed in dark fonts from punctured heads and torsos. Bodies burst from within as large-calibre rounds detonated deep inside alien flesh.
To the three, nothing felt so right as this killing of foes. They had been conditioned to it, programmed to live for it. It was hard-coded into every neuron. More than mere duty, it was a reason to live, the crux of their entire existence, the expression of everything they were and ever would be. Every enemy slain lifted them higher. Every mangled corpse that hit the ground pushed them that bit closer to the ceiling of their performance levels. Not a single bolt missed its mark, every shot a kill-shot.
Even so, it would not be enough.
‘A curse on you, Karras,’ hissed Ignacio Solarion under his breath. Two menacing shapes, humanoid but far from human, sped towards him, trying to flank him from the shadows to his left. He downed them without hesitation, a bolter-round to each brain. Over the vox-link, he barked at the others, ‘We can’t hold here waiting for those two fools. Not now. Fall back to RP2
His bolter chugged to a sudden stop. With reflexes honed over a century of warfare, he dumped the empty mag and hammered home another just in time. Something on the ceiling reached bony arms towards him. Solarion didn’t need to look up. Prox-alerts on his retinal display told him it was there. He turned the fat muzzle of his bolter straight upwards, fired and stepped back a pace.
A scream. A spray of hot blood. Something long-limbed and heavy crashed to the tunnel floor where he had stood. Solarion raised an armoured boot and stamped down hard, smashing the grotesque head flat on the tunnel floor. The body quivered and twitched as its nerves fired off one last time. No chance to admire his handiwork. Other targets were closing at speed. He marked each by distance – so few metres! – and dropped them as they came.
Bolt after bolt after bolt.
‘We fall back
, brothers, or we die here for naught!’ he growled.
‘Stand and fight, Ultramarine,’ another rumbled back at him. The voice belonged to Maximmion Voss, battle-brother of the Imperial Fists. ‘Scholar will be here. I know it. Watcher, too. Give them a damned chance.’
chances that concern me!’ Solarion shot back.
Five metres to the Ultramarine’s left, there was a sudden blinding wash of white light. Voss had fired again. The flamer he carried sent out a torrent of ignited promethium that washed over the ranks of the charging foe, filling the tunnel with blazing, screeching bodies that thrashed and danced as they burned. In the close confines of the tunnels, the weapon was supremely effective… At least while its ammo lasted.
Voss dumped another depleted canister from under the flamer’s neck, tugged a replacement from his webbing, and pressed it into place till it clicked in its housing.
Two tanks left.
He knew it wouldn’t be enough – not if the others failed to link up with them soon. Galling as it was, Voss knew the Ultramarine was right. They had to fall back while they still had firepower enough to cover their retreat.
Throne, how he hated that word!
He spat a curse in Low Gothic – so much better for swearing than the higher tongue.
‘Fine,’ he told Solarion. ‘Lead us out. Paper-face and I will keep the bastards off our backs.’
‘I’m almost out,’ added Siefer Zeed, third member of the embattled trio. ‘Prophet! Throw me a magazine.’
Solarion scowled under his helm. The Raven Guard was a disrespectful fool, irreverent beyond any other Space Marine he had ever encountered. Nevertheless, between shots, he tossed Zeed a full bolter-mag, then turned and broke from the fight. At an armour-heavy trot, he led them westwards up the long, winding tunnel towards RP2 and the supply cache they had left there. Ammunition… More of it at RP1. They’d need that too, no doubt. And farther still, awaiting them at the exfil point, the sixth member of Talon Squad. That thought almost brought a smile to Solarion’s narrow lips. The foul xenos would soon regret giving chase. Chyron would bring a storm of slaughter down upon them. It would be a fine sight, if any of them lived to see it.
Twenty metres up the tunnel, he turned to make sure the others were following and to give a burst of covering fire. Neither of the others could be trusted to fall back in the face of a fight. They were reckless and arrogant. They lacked proper battlefield discipline. It was a miracle they’d survived this long. That was why Solarion should have been chosen. Ultramarines fought smart, not just hard. He should have been made Alpha. Sigma would rue the day he let the bloody Death Spectre run this fiasco.
Voss and Zeed
following, however, walking backwards towards him but unable to move at speed while they held the enemy off. There was another blinding gush of white flame from Voss’s weapon. It bought twenty metres of respite – a few seconds of breathing space only. Fresh pursuers would pour unflinching over the burning bodies of their dead.
‘Run, fools!’ shouted Solarion, and he dropped into a half-crouch with his bolter braced between breastplate and pauldron. More alien shapes appeared, moving into the space Voss had just cleared, their ropey muscles and glistening organic armour detailed in the flames that guttered on the bodies of their dead broodmates.
Solarion was about to pull his trigger and down the first when the tunnel wall on his immediate right exploded outwards. He was hammered against the far wall by the force of the blast, his armour pummelled by the impacts of countless fist-sized rocks. Scraped and dented, he rose from his knees with a half-stumble, shaking white stars from his vision. Thick dust obscured everything around him. His helmet optics buzzed with intermittent static. Warning glyphs flashed red. The vox-link hissed in his ear. He thought he heard shouting and bolter-fire.
Something monstrous reared up out of the dust cloud in front of him, serpentine and segmented from what little he could see.
The walls trembled with its unearthly battle-scream, high and shrill, and yet deep and throaty too, as if it screamed with two voices.
Huge clashing jaws swung towards Solarion, scything through the air, questing for prey.
‘I’ll give you something to scream about,’ snarled the Ultramarine.
He raised his bolter and opened fire.