The third part in John C Scott's 3 part short.
“For someone raised in the Schola Progenium, you swear an awful lot more than you should.” The Lord Militant stood over him, autopistol in his one remaining hand. His uniform was torn where he had obviously fallen and caught parts of it on wreckage. His breathing was ragged, and his face was pale. His lips were cracked and dry, and his eye sockets were ringed and shadowed.
His hand was shaking, the action rattling quietly.
“Maybe you’ve just been on the frontline too long,” he said, his voice hoarse and dry.
“Unlike you, who’s stayed as far away from the frontline as physically possible?”
“A man of my position is exempt from such duties.”
Fellheimer snorted, and then winced from the pain in his chest and shoulder. The Lord Militant raised a shaky eyebrow, eyeing the large bloody gouges. He was losing blood quickly.
Barely looking at the older man, he fiddled with his pouches, until he found the emergency med kit. He flipped it open, and ignored the shocked look on the other’s face.
“You told me you didn’t have a med kit.”
Fellheimer smiled weakly. “I lied.”
The Lord Militant’s face screwed up into concentration, as he weighed his options: he had only one hand, and it was occupied by an autopistol. He tucked the pistol in his armpit, and reached for the med kit.
Fellheimer lashed out with his good foot, catching the other’s ankle and dumping him on his arse. Without a moment’s hesitation, he reached into the kit, and pulled out an auto-shot hypodermic filled with high-dose morphia. He jabbed the needle into his arm.
The pain seeped away, and he managed to stuff bio-foam into his wounds, sealing them shut temporarily. Eventually the foam would dissipate, by which time he would need to consult a medic, or a coroner.
But for now, he was able to fight.
Which he was going to have to do.
The General was recovering, struggling to rise to his feet.
Fellheimer wasn’t exactly bounding to his feet either, though he managed to find his bolt pistol easily enough. He brought it up, and aimed it at the General, who was even now aiming his autopistol.
“Well, here we are again,” sneered the General.
“Be sure you don’t lose another hand; you only have one left after all.”
“Perhaps I should take one of yours, see what it does to your famously strong constitution. Then again, using one of your hands to replace my own might infect me with your insipid concepts.”
“What, duty, loyalty and honour?”
The General snorted. “Duty? Loyalty? Honour? There’s no such thing these days. With the Tyranids getting closer and closer to wiping us all out, how can there be such thing? They certainly don’t believe in it.”
“So that was your excuse when you ordered three thousand men to their deaths to protect your miserable life? Just because the ‘nids don’t believe in them?” Fellheimer had to laugh. “That’s lame, even for you.”
The General shrugged; a motion that hurt him a great deal. Fellheimer knew he had to be aching like a bitch from the pain of losing his hand, and the dehydration, not to mention the adrenaline that had to be coursing through his body. Although judging by some of his comments, Fellheimer was sure that the General had lost his mind, or at least was in the process of losing it.
Admittedly, Fellheimer had had that opinion of the Lord Militant General standing in front of him for as long as he had known him. Which was a very long time.
“So, you’ve become Flacker’s errand boy, have you?”
Didn’t we just have this conversation –the same one that had ended with the older man losing a hand to his chainsword? In fact, that conversation had ended when he had burned the stump with a flare to cauterise it in the field.
“Flacker’s a good man,” he countered instead.
“He doesn’t have the balls for command of an Army Group. Nobody does, especially against the ‘nids, and especially given what the Inquisition have in mind for this sector.”
Fellheimer frowned; this was news to him.
“Oh yes, being a grunt you aren’t privy to such information; I only heard about it from an acquaintance in the Inquisitorial stormtrooper companies.” Fellheimer noted that the deluded man seemed to relish telling this story, as if he’d been bursting to tell it to someone. “Certain members of the Inquisition are backing a plan to sacrifice a large swathe of Imperial planets to make a cordon to stop the Tyranids gathering more bio-resources.”
“What? How can they?” he spluttered in reply.
There was an evil grin on the other’s face.
“Their intention is to lure the Tyranids into the Orkdom of Octavius. Though how they’ll do that even I don’t know.” He admitted this with the first sign of humility Fellheimer had ever seen in him. It didn’t last long. “But at least this planet will go under soon.”
Fellheimer snorted, though his face fell when he saw another of the giant titans fall under the bio-weapons of the ‘nids far in the distance, its silhouette falling backwards like a man shot in the forehead.
The titans were retreating as well now, though they were walking backwards, their massive weapons pounding the enemy hordes even as they cautiously strode backwards.
Plumes of smoke and dust billowed over where the Tyranids should have been, the tank companies of at least five regiments speeding towards the Group’s ground-side headquarters. Among them, Fellheimer could imagine the tens of thousands of Guardsmen running for their lives. It wouldn’t be too long before they’d be all around him, panic-stricken.
He needed to wrap this up and quick.
He pointed to the retreat in the distance.
“If they were so intent on sacrificing planets like this, why has there been a general retreat sounded?”
The Lord Militant scoffed. “That’s just your friend Flimsy Flacker, trying to save as many as he can before the final action.”
“What’s wrong with that?” growled Fellheimer. He could feel his blood rising, his temper coming to the fore. If he wasn’t careful, he would end up blowing the General’s brains out, and leaving the corpse here for the ‘nids.
The Lord Militant was flagging though, the barrel of his autopistol dipping slightly every twenty seconds or so. Soon, the adrenaline would wear off, and he would collapse. But if he wasn’t careful, the General could have a spasm and shoot him by accident.
Gunships still screamed overhead, emptying their payloads and returning to base for reloads. He saw no more Valkyries or other transports making runs.
In the far distance towards where he knew the gargantuan command Leviathan to be, he could see massive shapes moving in the dust. Were they the troop transports, or were they the transports that carried the titans from one warzone to the next? He dreaded to think that the Tyranids were already overwhelming the headquarters. If the headquarters went, along with the Leviathan, then Arol was lost, and he and hundreds of thousands of others were stuck there.
There was a sudden flurry of sharp explosions nearby, and a Chimera came flying out of the dust, its carcass on fire, and flinging flaming Guardsmen in every direction. The rolling tank tumbled over their heads, and came to rest only metres away.
Another Chimera came flying out of the dust, its turret missing, and smashed into the first. The Lord Militant was distracted for a second, and he took the opportunity. He rushed the older man, and grabbed his firing arm as best he could, and kicked out at the General’s legs.
The old man tumbled to the ground, cursing.
He pulled the autopistol out of the General’s abused fingers, eliciting a groan.
“Frak you!” he coughed.
“Not very nice language for a Lord Militant General,” Fellheimer pointed out.
“Well, we must all follow the example our beloved Stormtroopers lay down for us,” he said, his voice high-pitched and strained. He really was losing his mind.
He held both guns on the old man, though he kept the bolt pistol in his good hand, the other barely able to hold the autopistol despite the ridiculous amounts of morphia running through his system.
What the hell had thrown those tanks, and why wasn’t it all over them?
Those explosions, he realised, could have been from one of the bio-titans, taking a pot shot at the retreating tank formations. That seemed to be the most likely situation.
If it wasn’t, it meant that a Carnifex was loose and on the rampage far away from the main lines, and they usually couldn’t get past tank formations without being spotted, nor would they without wanting to tear apart those same formations in a rather noisy fashion.
Again, the explosions roared nearby, throwing everything into the air.
Above it, he could hear the whine of something familiar, but his drug-addled brain refused to latch onto it with any certainty. Why couldn’t he remember?
The explosions tore up the ground again, throwing more than just dirt. There were blood and body parts in the air, some of it clothed in the uniforms of Valhallans and Cadians. Screams rent the air, and machinery was torn apart.
And yet still that whine, getting louder.
He grabbed the Lord Militant, and dragged him to his feet.
“C’mon, you coward. The Commissariat wants you alive for your court martial.”
He started half-marching, half-dragging his prisoner away from the explosions.
And still that damned whining noise.
“You wouldn’t understand,” the General said groggily. “You’re a stormtrooper; you’d never have risen to a great enough rank to understand the position I was in. I had to sacrifice the lives of those men to save the information in my brain.”
Fellheimer dropped him again, this time bellowing in his face.
“IT WASN’T ANYTHING NOBLE, YOU BASTARD! YOU SENT THAT ENTIRE REGIMENT TO THEIR DEATHS, AND THEN YOU DESERTED YOUR POST! YOU RAN AWAY LIKE THE COWARD YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN!” Fellheimer paused, gathering his breath. “WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE REGIMENT I WAS ATTACHED TO, HUH? WHY?”
The General started blinking furiously, his eyes lacking anything approaching moisture. Was he crying, or was he just trying to get the dust out of his eyes?
“What do you want me to say?” spat the General. “That I picked that regiment simply because you were assigned to accompany that unit’s command staff? That I picked them because of our… association?”
“If it weren’t for me, you self-righteous prig, you would have been a no-good son of a whore, and stuck in that dreary city with your mother. Instead, you were taken to the Schola Progenium. There you were trained and sent to serve in the most prestigious Storm Trooper Company in the Segmentum.”
The General coughed, though Fellheimer wasn’t sure if it was a laugh.
“So what? SO WHAT?! Thanks to me, you’ve become the greatest Imperial Guardsman of this Army Group. Thanks to me, you’re now the most trusted man to my successor. Hell, they may even make you an officer at long last.”
Fellheimer, his rage and internal temperature rising steadily throughout the other’s rant, snapped and pistol-whipped him across the cheek.
The officer spat blood on the dust.
Still with that damn whining noise in the distance, closer now. Why couldn’t he remember what it was?
He pressed the barrel of the bolt pistol into the General’s temple.
His finger was tightening on the trigger just as something barrelled into him, and knocked him to the ground. He was about to shoot the ‘nid responsible when he saw a Guard-issue boot come stamping towards his head.
* * *
Fellheimer, realising what was happening, rolled, and lashed out with the bolt pistol.
Sure enough, the Guardsman who had been about to blindly stamp on his head fell to the floor, yelping in pain, and grabbing his now-broken shin.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.
Literally thousands of Guardsmen were fleeing en masse towards the headquarters. Most had dropped their weapons, even parts of their armour to make themselves that much faster. Many were panicked, barely understanding what was happening around them.
The Guardsman Fellheimer had downed was a Cadian, his helmet missing. His lasgun was also missing the end of the barrel, shorn off by something chitinous. Only now did the panic seem to dissipate from his eyes, and he relinquished his vice-like grip of fear on his rifle.
Tanks roared past, and several other Guardsmen, snapped from their own fear, came running over, curious to know what had happened. They saw Fellheimer standing over the Lord Militant General, and began raising their weapons.
“Stand down,” he shouted. “This is my prisoner.”
That whining noise again. What was it?
“I’m Chief Master Sergeant Fellheimer,” he explained, and he was somewhat pleased to see them all relax, noting the rank tapes on their uniforms. Most of them were Cadians, although there was one or two Valhallans among them.
The group of twenty gathered around him.
“A Valkyrie is on the way to pick me and this dirtbag up. You’re all welcome to catch a lift. Assuming it gets here before the ‘nids.”
The ground shook, and then shook again.
One of the Cadians voiced his opinion that it was just one of the titans retreating.
But Fellheimer had seen at least two of the Imperial titans go down in the vicinity. He knew whatever it was, was coming this direction. And whatever it was, it had a huge shadow.
“Where’s that Valkyrie?” he whispered.
The dust parted, and hormagaunts began bounding across the wreckage towards the new ad hoc squad. As one, the group of non-coms began blasting away at them, bringing down two-thirds of them in a single volley.
The gaunts leapt at them, mouths slavering, their scything claws extended.
Three of the non-coms were ripped apart in an instant, their screams lost in the thunder-clap of detonations and the rumble of the incoming giant. Their killers died as quickly, gunned down by the survivors.
Fellheimer personally decapitated one gaunt and then bisected another before the brood was destroyed. The ground shaking got worse, jumping the group with every step.
He was about to suggest their own retreat when the dust parted again, this time behind them. The whining noise coalesced into Gauntlet, the callsign belonging to the Valkyrie crew temporarily assigned to his mission.
It came tearing towards them, engines shrieking in the dust. The transport raced over them, spun in a wide loop, and then its scramjets burst to life, screaming as the winged transport slowed its descent and almost slammed into the ground. The side doors opened, and the crew chiefs waved Fellheimer in.
He shouted for the non-coms to get aboard as he grabbed the General.
More gaunts, hundreds this time, were rushing towards them. He loosed off a few explosive rounds towards the broods, blowing the heads off of two gaunts. His fire was joined by the others, whom he had to shout at to get aboard.
The Valkyrie’s crew chiefs seemed reticent about letting strangers aboard their craft. One look from Fellheimer made them stand aside, and the non-coms tumbled through the doors.
The General resisted him, and Fellheimer resorted to literally dragging him across the dusty ground. The chainsword was neatly stowed in its scabbard on his back, and the spare autopistol was tucked in his waistband.
He emptied the bolt pistol’s magazine into the oncoming horde, before finally pushing the General into the waiting arms of the crew chief manning the door. He threw himself in as well, and shouted for the pilot to take off.
The engines cycled louder just as one of the gaunts dove for the open door.
Its head, and most of its body, exploded in an orgy of blood and ichor as the crew chief swung the door gun round, and blasted it to pieces.
The dusty ground fell away, and the Valkyrie was roaring into the air.
And once again, the dust parted, a massive silhouette changing into the nightmarish form of a Hydraphant. Its giant arched limbs smashed through formations of Leman Russ battle tanks, and its bio-weapons slaughtered entire regiments of guardsmen.
It roared at the sky, as if knowing the Lord Militant was just out of reach.
Its pointed legs smashed into the ground, and it turned its bio-weapons towards the fleeing Valkyrie.
“Move faster!” Fellheimer shouted over the vox, reminding the pilot of what was behind them. He turned to his prisoner, and found the Lord Militant’s lifeless eyes staring back.
“Frak!” he shouted, banging his fist against one of the bulkhead supports.
He looked out through the open rear door, and watched as the Hydraphant seemed to take out its apparent rage on the fleeing Imperial Guard units on the ground. The problem was that he knew they couldn’t just let that Hydraphant get near headquarters, not to mention the morale-smasher it currently represented.
He looked at the corpse, and then a set of demo charges stashed in the webbing above the canvas seats.
“Looks like you’re going to be useful after all, old man.”
TO BE CONTINUED