He wiped a sleeve across his wet face. He couldn't tell why it was wet; blood (his own or his enemies), sweat, perhaps tears. He crawled quickly across the rubble strewn street to where he could see men of his own platoon huddled in a small building. It took a few moments to realize not all of them were alive. He saw them, attached names to faces. Private Cummings, the fething numbskull from first squad that had put an angry Catachan fire scorpion in the Lieutenants boot, missing part of his head. Corporal Farthings from his own unit, the man that had taught him more curse words than he had known existed, bloody stumps where his legs should have been. Men that would never see their families again.
"When's daddy coming back?"
"Soon sweetheart... "
Nobody knew where the explosion had come from. A stray artillery round, something the fething Eldar had planted for them? There were three of them left. Only three. Someone suggested they keep moving, maybe it was him, he couldn't tell. The objective was close. Why bother? What did they hope to accomplish? He couldn't find a curse word vulgar enough to describe how he felt. They moved on, leaving the dead where they lay.
He kicked the back of the seat in front of him, ignoring the withering glares from the sisters singing hymnals. He hated it here, didn't understand why his mother felt the need to pray all the time. It was useless. His father would never come back.
"HE'S NOT COMING!" he yelled, stomping from the hall, leaving his mother to her prayer.
"Emperor protects... ."
The three men ran, limped and hobbled across the road, taking cover behind what was left of what might have once been a church. They gasped for breath, looking frantically for any sign of their enemies. The distant sounds of las fire, explosions and the calls of the dying filled the air with a sick sort of ambient noise. Nobody spoke. They continued through the ruins.
He held her hand, feeling it go limp even as she smiled. He stood, the medical servitors already pushing him toward the door, unable to wait. There was an empty bed now, and others needed it more than the dead.
Friends were waiting, and they would all say the same things
"She's with him now"... "There's nothing you could do"... ."Emperor protects... "
The ride to the hab block was the longest of his life. Thinking of all the things he had missed until it was too late. Things he had said, things he had not said... The door clicked shut behind him. It was dark, empty, strange he had never noticed it before. He was alone. He wept...
The shrill whistle was unmistakable. Shuriken landed around them, kicking up dozens of little puffs of dust at their feet. He didn't know when he had lost his gun, but someone had theirs. The rapid snap-crack of las fire joined the whistle of the aliens fire, drowning out all other sound. Then it stopped.
"Move!" The man with the las rifle shouted. The Eldar warrior lay farther down the road, a dark stain spreading slowly around him.
Two steps, then another sound. He was suddenly covered in blood. He didn't know whose until the body hit the ground, a small round hole in its forehead. Blank, empty eyes staring accusingly up at him. He hadn't even know the mans name. A quiet kid from Sergeant Ellamys bunch. Another crack, and a bolt whistled past his ear, adding another minor wound to the dozens he had acquired here today. He ran full out, diving into the first cover he could find, the last man behind him. And then there were two...
He picked the rations chit off the ground where she had dropped it. Rations were hard to come by now days. Everyone was hungry, there just wasn't enough food. She turned her head, her straw blonde ringlets blowing slightly with the breeze. He stood, staring into the most beautiful clear blue eyes he had ever seen.
"I... uh... You dropped this." He offered the rations chit sheepishly.
"Thanks" She had a soft voice, the kind that didn't get used often. She shifted her bags to take the chit from him.
"Can I... er... Help with those?" He smiled, embarrassed.
Such beautiful eyes...
"Emperor protect us... " Private Jones breathed as they lay on their bellies in the rubble. Jones had been there in the beginning, when they didn't even know how to fire a las gun, much less fight a war. "You are soldiers of the Emperor" the Commissar had told them. He didn't feel like a soldier now. He felt like a child. Helpless and alone.
Sharp rocks and glass bit into his palms as he crawled through the ruins. He would do it. He would complete the mission. For Cummings, Farthing, the kid from third, and countless others who had all had names. Had all had families to go back to? Had all died mere statistics on a world far from home. Jones followed behind him, thinking thoughts likely very similar. A long time friend following him on one last mission.
No. He wouldn't think that. This could not be the last mission. He had a family. He had to see her again. He would live where others had died. He would carry on and remember them so that, at least to someone, they would not be just nameless numbers. He pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the aching of his entire body, the pain of dozens of small wounds. He would ignore death itself to remember them, to see her again.
They lay in silence, her warm breath on his chest. His fingers entwined in her soft, straw colored ringlets. The hab was no longer so dark, so empty. He was no longer alone. He no longer wept.
"I'm going to have a baby... " She waited, apprehensive of his reply.
He remained silent. There were no words for this. He turned his head, staring at the pict slate next to the bed. His mother, giving him the brightest smile, even in death. He smiled back.
He heard the slight crunch of gravel underfoot. They had not been moving. He ducked low, peering slightly over the edge of his cover, Jones right next to him. The alien stepped nearly silently into view, pistol in hand, a rifle over his back. It walked slowly, peering intently into the darkness, searching for its prey.
"DIE SCUM!!" screamed Jones as he bounded from cover, intending to impale the Eldar with his combat knife. The Being turned faster than he could have imagined, letting shuriken rip into Jones body. The young soldier fell to the ground, crying as he attempted to staunch the blood flow. The alien loomed over him, clearly intending to finish what it had started.
"NO!!" He stood without realizing it, ripping his las pistol from its holster, catching the alien by surprise. He fired again and again, with at least half of the shots catching his target full in the chest. It hit the ground, its helmet rolling away, its eyes containing a look of shock. He kneeled at Jones side, attempting to stop the bleeding, knowing it was too late. Jones took his hand, squeezing it tight.
"I can't die." He mumbled. "I can't". The mans grip went slack, dead.
He stood, tears of anger and sadness streaming down his face. Jones. Another name to add to the list of the dead. His friend and comrade. Dead. He gripped his pistol so tight he thought it might break. Then pain hit him like a ton of bricks. At first he thought it was just his friends death, then he noticed the searing hurt and ragged hole in his side. He spun on his heel and fired non-stop into the Eldar that had not yet died. At point blank, with his target lying on the ground, dying, nothing missed. He shot, and kept on shooting until the trigger just clacked, and nothing happened, he dropped the weapon. Empty. He lunged onto his long dead enemy, a gaping, bleeding hole in its chest.
"FETHING! ALIEN! FILTH!" He screamed as loud as he could, heedless of anything that might hear him, each word punctuated by a savage punch of the creatures face. He kept on beating it, taking out all his anger on the thing that had killed his friends. Finally, exhausted from beating it. He rolled off onto his back. A sudden thought hit him, something he had learned about the enigmatic Eldar from an officer now long dead. He reached for the dead beings chest, there, gleaming brightly despite the horrible damage done to its hosts body, was a waystone. He ripped it from its socket.
He buried his head into her shoulder, trying hard to hide the tears. He knew he had to go, but the thought of leaving her was nearly too much to bear. He pulled back, gazing into her beautiful blue eyes, now filled with tears.
"Don't worry, I'll be back." He told her reassuringly, his hands on her belly, now large with his unborn son. He knew it was a boy. He could feel it. He kissed her, making it last as long as he could, before the impatient officer organizing the boarding practically yanked him away from his love.
"Get on the fething shuttle soldier."
"I love you." His last words to her, though he didn't know it yet. She smiled.
The walk down the boarding ramp was a long one, everyone sullen and brooding. Families left behind. Except for one.
"Hey! I'm Michael Jones, what your name?"
He dragged himself through the dirt, shards of waystone embedded in his hands. He pulled himself to his feet and limped along, clutching his side. He had to go on. He could hear it approaching, the whine of the engines. He had to move. He wasn't going fast enough, he had to get away. Too late. The grav tank screamed over his head and continued onward, then performed an impossible hairpin turn, and came back towards him. He turned and attempted to run, knowing in the back of his mind he could not escape. The vehicle slowed to a stop, hovering a half dozen feet off the ground, he could see the pilots, anonymous behind their high tech visors. The back ramp opened, and a half dozen figures in ornate elder rune armor dropped lithely to the ground. One turned to him, leveling its weapon. He would not go down easy. He dived right and unloaded with his pistol, the warlocks shots went wide as a las shot clipped its head, spinning it around and knocking it to the ground.
He changed his aim to the next closest alien, resolved to take as many with him as possible. He had just begun to tighten his finger on the trigger when he was engulfed in agony. He could feel it in his head, his brain was on fire. He dropped his gun, tearing at his hair attempting to rip his own mind out. He could feel the blood leaking out his ears, his eyes, and his nose.
It stopped. The largest being of the group, wearing the most ornate armor, took a few steps closer. "You are tenacious mon'keigh." He felt the words rather than heard them. "But you have destroyed a waystone, sent one of my kin into the very jaws of chaos. For that, you will die a most painful death." The agony filled him again, and he tried to scramble away from the terrifying alien. He dropped to his stomach, unable to move, screaming in indescribable pain. It stopped again. He gasped for breath, dreading the next attack. His mind felt ravaged and violated. The pain was unlike anything he had ever felt. He felt an odd bulk beneath him, and struggled to think of what it was. His eyes opened wide as the answer came to him.
He shifted his weight, putting an arm underneath himself as if to clutch the wound in his side. As he did so, he primed the cylindrical melta bomb he had taken from Jones body. His friend had given him one last gift, a parting present. He smiled the mocking smile of one who knows he is dead. The Farseer assaulted his mind again, and his shrill screams of pain blocked out the low beep of the bombs countdown timer. Death would be a release. The pain stopped for the last time as he rolled onto his back. He saw the creature recoil and attempt to run, the grav tank moved forward to collect its passengers, unaware of the danger. A smile split his lips as the explosive flames washed over him, engulfing the transport and the seers. The Falcons fuel capsules detonated, leveling any structure over a foot high, and out of the fireball came the shrieks of the dying.
His eyes closed, darkness took him. He was home again; he could see his beautiful wife, his adorable young daughter. Hmm, he had been wrong. The image faded, and resolved into a light so brilliant he was sure it would blind him. He was where he belonged, at the Emperors side. And he knew, one day, he would be joined by the family that would continue on without him, as others had before. He would see her again.
Such beautiful eyes...