Monday, 30 May 2011

World Eaters Short Story Series Pt. 2

The next shory story in this series. This one, entitled Red Night, takes a look at what happens when one of the Astartes has deactivated his neural implants and the battle is done. It's a wonderfully evocative story, and an interesting slant on what happens after the World Eater has pressed the 'on' button. Is conciousness, or more precisely the 'human element' left at the door, in order to make them a more violent and bloodthirsty killer?

Red Night

By William Hooke (aka Marshall Wilhelm)

‘WHERE... AM I? What was I... doing?’
Recollection seeps through his hazy post-combat comedown. He stops stumbling around. His mind aches. His muscles ache. His bones ache. He aches.
Steadying himself, he is dazed and overwhelmed. His visor is shattered, with a fractured image confronting his bloodshot eyes. His breath is ragged and stinks of the spent stimms that permeate his entire body. He wishes he could collapse and avoid this. But he is too tired even to lie down.
Pulling off his cracked helm with a grimace, freshly scabbed wounds are pulled open and a wash of rich red covers his face. He feels faint for a moment and doubles over to retch, bright yellow bile spattering the oxide tinted dirt.

‘I... remember...’ he rasps. He looks at his helmet, now severely dented and torn in a mirror of the bloody wound on his tortured face. His direct vox-hail attempts fail, but the Stormbird’s location is hinted at by the ruined display as he peers into the helmet with all the wonder of a juve gazing into the depths of a sinkhole. He moves to head for the Stormbird, but a half-remembered task halts him. He turns back.
Strewn across a twenty metre-wide area are the disembowelled remains of a half-dozen ork elites, their hulking forms still apparent though none are still even vaguely whole. Then he sees his prize: six heavy ork heads piled together, with mortified expressions of pain – or hatred? – upon their grim faces. His chainaxe lies in the dirt, its teeth invisible beneath the viscera that cakes them.
‘Well done, Garrett,’ he muses out loud, and busies himself fashioning a bandolier from discarded cable before threading through the xenos’ gaping jawbones. Garrett slings his prize across his body like a sash, then hoists his clogged chainaxe over his shoulder. His desire met, he turns once more for the Stormbird.
Though his armour is breached in many places and unable to boost his musculature’s efforts with any notion of efficiency, he makes his way, staggering and stumbling just as when he first regained consciousness. Garrett realises that not all of his bones are intact as stabbing pains jolt his enhanced frame, and he recalls the days of slaughter and the great battles between the World Eaters and the orks in times past. The rush and fury of charge against the vile xenos. Images flickering through his mind, in a haphazard collection of still frames and short sequences. Glorious.
Even though he is beaten and broken, the remembrances of victory – nay, slaughter – bring a smile and a softening of those harsh and scarred features. Though often melancholy after the heady rush of combat, the chance to end those who threatened the Emperor’s dream of a galaxy filled with a united humanity in honest combat was too delicious, too addictive to give up. Garrett murmurs a rote-conditioned ‘For the Emperor,’ as he trudges from the field of battle.

THE SUN WAS setting by the time the wounded Astartes reached the Stormbird. His captain, Kharn of the Eighth, had been aware of his approach on the auspex, and vox-hailed the apothecaries. They came quickly and laid the weary warrior onto the rusty soil, cradling his head on a quickly heaped pile. Sergeant Garrett’s once gleaming battle plate, in splendid arctic white and royal blue, was much-marred with clods of dusty soil and blood, both xenos and Astartes. The only vaguely bright or clean patches were where the enemy had gouged the ceramite with projectiles and melee weapons.
‘Garrett,’ whispered Kharn. ‘We thought you had left us, brother. Yet here you are.’
‘Yes lord... though all that I am... now burns... with fire.’
Kharn dismissed his ramblings. ‘You look as good as dead, brother. But do not worry – the sawbones have you now. Sleep well.’
As the apothecaries released the seals of his armour, deliriously Garrett spoke. ‘Sleep... I’d rather... fight... that hell...’
Kharn’s brow furrowed. ‘Brother?’
‘The dreams... the red knight... still...’
Garrett’s weary eyes closed – his lifeblood was draining away, and he was becoming incoherent though the apothecaries tended him as best they could. At the captain’s command they administered a dose of adrenalite, and the wounded sergeant snapped his eyes open with a pained gasp.
‘Pray brother, speak more.’
Garrett choked, his words coming suddenly in a torrent. ‘Many nights I dream of death and fire and blood, most unnatural even for the likes of us! Most galling is I do not dream of those who defy us... but of us, of me. That red knight offers me his clawed hand and when I slap that xenos talon away his red hound leaps upon me and ravages me like a rag-doll. I am no xenos lover, my lord!’
With a tenderness that surprised those around them, Captain Kharn removed his gauntlet and stroked Garrett’s face with his calloused hand as the broken warrior began to quake as though palsied. Tears came to his eyes at the sight.
‘This beast is so strong! It eats me though it is not my flesh that it craves...’
The Stormbird’s pilot fired the engines, signaling to those at the drop point that departure was imminent. The apothecaries raised Garrett onto a makeshift gurney and bore him away to the embarkation ramp.
Kharn sat in the dust a moment, looking up at the ripple of stars in the heat haze. He wondered what it all meant.

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