This a part of the Nihil Rifles Cycle.

++++++++++++++++++++

She woke in his arms.

At least, that's what she had hoped would happen.

Thoroughly conquered, she rose as if afraid to.
'Roy...?'

The Commissar was already gone, his back turned and out the door, jackboots marking his progress up the solitary corridor. The door at the far end closed with a clang. He came, and then he went. Typical.

Ms. Opposite Haze flopped back into the bed, partly from fatigue and partly from a growing sense of shame. She felt dirty and discarded, like a broken doll. The bed that she had planned to wallow in all morning was soiled to her heart. Dragging a tired hand across her face, she got up and went for a shower, hoping that there was still hot water in the tanks.

+++++++++++++++

Sweating, naked in fierce white lights.
'Anything may have caused it'.
Hollow, second hand words.

Instruments, repeated intrusions.
'One in every ten and then another third of those again.
Women – in a case like yours.'
Humiliated. Brought low again and again.

Redundant organs, purposeless bleeding.
'You never will, never you know, but take it well woman,
grow your garden, keep house, good-bye.'
A sure statistic. No voice in the matter.

+++++++++++++++

The humming of the powered shower stopped, but the dripping water didn't.
The shower curtain was pulled back, and Haze stepped out of haze. She walked to the sink, naked body obscured by humid air and condensed moisture on the long mirror over the sink. She felt... cleaner, if nothing else. Wiping away the wet on the mirror in great streaks, a petite young woman in her early thirties appeared. Doubts and pouts. Sandy blonde hair, charming green eyes she took from her fathers side and the heart-shaped face of her mother. She was the last living avatar of both families, and felt the weight of dead generations on her shoulders. Atavism demanded soft incubation, so that the family line would live on in her and her child.

'No hope in that... ' she sighed. She began to check her body for growths as per the standing orders. No point in dying of cancer having survived the Sabbat World crusades. She looked a little closer in the mirror. The slightest of hair had reappeared on her top lip. She'd bleach it out.

Again, out to the bedroom. She got half dressed, leaving grey fatigues off for now, and went out to the window. She pulled back the curtain. Dead, lifeless, barren rock. She regretted pulling it back.

Haze stopped again by the bedroom dresser, taking out the vox-recorder to fulfil another standing order. She hit record. It crackles in anticipation as she draws breath.

'...Can't make out what has gone wrong.

I can't seem to settle things.
I can't seem to feel easy, either.
It's peace, I tell myself, but it doesn't feel like peace ought to feel...'

She stopped the tape and played it back.

'...Can't make out what has gone wrong.

I can't seem to settle things.
I can't seem to feel easy, either.
It's peace, I tell myself, but it doesn't-'

She stopped the tape. It didn't sound like her.

++++++END PART ONE++++++

+++++++++

'I sound so different these days, I barely can believe I'm me. If I didn't know better, I could swear I was someone else. Frak, I can't believe... I don't believe I'm me....

Haze stared into breakfast, holding a cup of thick tea to warm her hands. Everyone here was a soldier, dressed in grey fatigues, apart from the Commissariat, who stalked the halls in black stormcoats and ate alone. She knew Roy was somewhere here, and her thoughts wandered to him. He was cold; and could be brutal. He was a Commissar, that was required of him. Still, he was all she had. And back to Anomie... or never back to it...

A loud siren went off over the vox-hailer network. Heads jerked up throughout the mess hall and glances were cast around. People were uneasy already, from the planet, the drugs or the confinement. Several officers began to stand up, but most were reluctant to rise.

An attack. No mistakes, no false calls. Wait, an attack?!

Haze snapped out of her trance. Identity crisises could wait. For now, at least, she was Master Sergeant Haze and she had duties and a purpose. The table looked to her for leadership, Corporal Egal giving a snort and licking his teeth, eager for a bit of the old ultra-violence. Trooper Glass sighed and rubbed his eyes, his wife, Trooper Enders, putting her hand on his and looking to the floor. 'Heavy Weapons' Nadal and Bleeder joked with each other, no doubt about the field spank competition they had maintained over the past decade. 'Play the game, Steady the aim.'
'One-shot' Domo barely reacted and said nothing. He was still, as ever.

The vox-hailers rang out again, slave servitors relaying the message from the outer observation towers. Dead lips formed words: 'A large Eldar contingent has been sighted approaching. 15000 meters and closing rapidly on outer defences.' The Non-born contingent would be overwhelmed easily, along with the automated defense ring outlying the geofront and research station. They'd hold them here, on the very doorstep of the last refuge of the people of Anomie. Eldar... one dying race fighting another. Why are they attacking?

As if on cue, the second in command rose from his table.
Major Null was a giant of a man, easily over seven feet tall and weighing 400 pounds. He was generally regarded as indestructible, having survived a krak missile in the gut, a direct hit from a battle cannon and 20 years in the Exhibition, killing for a prize, another minute to add to the clock. He looked obscene, as if he shaved every morning with a fistfull of broken glass. Black, screaming eyes were testament to the deaths of thousands at his hands. He often joked he was part Ogrn, but he never specified which parts. Other said he was an aborted attempt at a Space Marine, or some sick experiment that was never properly put down. He was they closest thing they all had to a hero.

He slammed through the table with his chainfist, silencing the entire room.
To his left, Lieutenant Colonel Mono didn't flinch. He simply looked at the room over his hands, folded over his mouth. He roared 'YOU ALL HEARD THE VOX-POP, NOW MOVE OUT!!'. Everyone in the room hesitated, maybe stunned by the aural assault. Mono, who still hadn't moved, spoke a single word. 'Go.'

All doubts were banished as the room emptied rapidly, 200 soldiers spilling down service tunnels to sunken armouries and vehicle hangers. The question in everyone's minds was no longer 'Why are the Eldar attacking?', but 'How are we going to defend against them?'. An emergency signal had been sent out to the Officio Assassinorum facility on the planet, a Culexus Temple used to train recruits in the unique environment on Nihil.

Haze lead her squad into a now open armoury, a data-slab flickering into life with reports of contacts with the outer defences and projected enemy positions. Haze slipped on her moulded carpace armour, hers, no-one else's, and tied up the straps and webbing. With a deep breath she picked up her stubby grenade launcher and loaded up on penetrator krak drums, autoreactive shells strong enough to reduce even a space marine to dog food and incendiary rounds instead of the usual frag. Nadal and Bleeder broke down the lascannon between them, with Nadal taking the greater load. Enders and Glass had the 'honoured' position of plasma gunners, Glass wincing as the plasma cells whined into life and his wife clucked at his cowardice.
Domo shouldered his sniper rifle and stared at the wall.

Haze took in the info on the unstable data-slab table with a practiced eye. Her squad had been ordered to infiltrate through disused servo-tunnels to flank the body of the Eldar mechanised force. The Commander's orders. She would be supported by four squads of Heavy Non-born infantry. As much as she hated being around them, she was glad for the meat shield. Roy, her Roy, had been attached to a mass of Non-born Conscripts and was to hold the centre against the Eldar witch coven. Wait, that was... that was suicidal! Doubts gnawed at her stomach. Why would Mono throw away a Commissar? Her train of thought was derailed by a buzzing on the com-bead.

She could hear shouts and some swearing in the background. 'Trooper Merirty has gone into labour.' Another outburst in the background. The speaker sighed. 'Meganovi's down here with her as well. Make sure you keep the fighting out of the facility, OK? Birth's a difficult enough process.' The Com-bead went out in a storm of static. She turned to the assembled room. 'Herr Ober just gave me the call. Merity's giving birth as we speak.' A whoop went up through the room, but Haze had already turned her back. Somethings were too personal, too painful to share with her squad. Something to fight for... she thought as she clenched her teeth.

'We move out in 30 seconds. Suit up'.

Haze slipped on her respirator helm and the world went black. The rush of air came after, and the internal vis-screen lit up red. Fully encased in armour, she felt safe and untouchable. As she stared into Egal's black goggles, yellow lights blinked up on the emote-panels of her visor. Worried. The machine spirit had read her perfectly while she thought herself hidden. Somethings always leak through. She suppressed her emotion and the emote panel read 'Indifferent'.

She had accidentally decoded the technology while on patrol on Leylandii-4, her Forge World post. Two tech-adept neophytes were arguing about an obscure dataslate they had found, millennia old. It was composed mostly of punctuation and numbers, and made little sense to an untrained eye. They held it vertically and argued over the meaning of this nonsensical cipher. Haze, patrolling down the corridor, craned her head sideways to see what all the fuss was about. They gave her a look of disdain through mechanical eyes and facial features. It wasn't very subtle.

'Oh! It's a face, you see?' She took the dataslate from a slightly unwilling mechandrite. She turned it on its side, and they saw things from her perspective. 'The colons and semicolons are eyes... this one looks like he's going for a kiss, this one looks happy. It's a conversation. From what I've seen, I can speculate that this was a code used by an ancient civilisation, too afraid to express emotion face-to-face, so they used these... affecticons. Though I have no idea what 'roffles' are...

The two tech-adepts looked on in slight awe. One coughed and muttered through a mechanical throat. 'The female is right.' The other voiced his opinion. 'Perhaps these 'roffles' were a foodstuff in this primitive civilisation. One can imagine a hunter-gatherer society built around the daily procurement of these 'roffles'... maybe the male would offer his own particularly choice 'roffles' to the female in a courtship gesture... perhaps this artifact is the last record of that long-dead civilisation!... yes, fascinating!'

___

She shook her head and checked her equipment again.

Corporal Mir Egal was jittery.

He sat on the edge of the bench and fiddled with the power setting of the lasgun, a whine and then a groan as he pushed it up and down.

Up.
Haze seems messed up.
Monthly...for seven whole days, and then only you have to bleed. Indeed? Srsly lol? Anybody and everybody. Who made you sacred, made you believe that blood's not the only thing that mattered. He took, was blacklisted by her in his arms, and
the Eyes.. Never underestimate me, never, no.

Down.
Fit to lead?

Up.
Cards are held closely to the black ceiling, twin waterfalls of tears hidden within the cardiac organ. An essence, I've missplaced it. I am in full possession and unconditionally presently on that that indicates I am presently capable of the information and in full knowledge of retribution to the expiration of another being.

Lifespan, the Reaper. Behind the large explanation is simply a set of doors.

Down.
ie... Ready for war.

As if in confirmation of the fact, Haze crackled into life over the combead.
'We're moving out.'

Egal took one last look around the room, maybe his last. Nadal, Bleeder and the rest were already leaving, Domo hadn't moved and Egal got the bad vibes from him. Taking one last snort of Spur to counteract the last of the Transcendil, and give him a boost, he flipped down his visor, made the sign of the Aquila and grabbed Domo, both of them tearing up the corridor.

___

Out of the blast doors, into the etherland.

'Goodbye'.

The waters run out of a pool. The wound stops bleeding.
The pace was set, we go where we are ordered to go.

An individual, made of replaceable parts.
Replaceable parts, made of the individual.

He knew the truth.
He knew what they were made of.

Were they less human than he?
Sight down the scope.

A head, a face, a heart.
The armour warps and cracks as we reach out and touch them.

The light was truth as falsehoods failed and spun to the ground.

I can forgive them, only I can give them absolution.
Absolution through annihilation.

Sight another down the scope.
Extinguished. A candle that is snuffed and cannot be re-lit.

Individuals. We're all the same.
Sight another, cut down by a different truth.

Lies kicked up the ground around him, some of them heavier.
Was faith his shield as the light died in his eyes?

We draw back to see what it is that has happened, out of our fabrications.
It seems a little hollower now.

I stand upon a hill, a mountain, alone.
Manned the mountain.

A few falsehoods streak past, but I am proof against them.
At least until I desire not to be anymore.

Not to be.
Interesting.

Another sighted, he dies.
What is death then?

We fight to die.
Why else do insects fight?

Insects... He ground another beneath his foot.
Things far below me I have been ordered to crush.

Ducking and refreshing, He thought upon death.
Either nothing to fear, or nothing.

Nothing here, really.
Maybe I'll decide to die?

A crack, a half-truth falling, bleeding, dying.
Maybe I'm alone now.

Feelings come from the craw of the reconciliati.
What I learned from meeting a girl who didn't know.

Didn't really learn anything.
At least I know my purpose here.

To be born, to live and to die.
Not necessarily in that order.

To think of heaven.
Maybe I'll go there.

Yes.
I'll go there now.

_

Egal ducked down below another volley of shuriken meant to end him, hearing it skitter and fragment on the jagged volcanic rock. He peered over the edge of his foxhole and saw Domo walking towards the Eldar line.

He's lost it. He's finally lost it.

As much as he hated himself for doing it, he rose from cover and began sprinting towards the sniper.

__

What tedium.
The frantic dissection of boredom.

Something is always happenning.
We make it ourselves.

What tedium?
I'll end it soon.

A new sensation, to be held close and swept to the breast.
At least, till the next day.

The voice of another comes.
He's too far away to reach even me.

A sea of lies awaits.
I'll take a swim, maybe drown, see if I can cool down a little bit.

He stands on the highest point, waiting for lightning to strike.
Curse this lack of presence.

Finally, a light to the darkness.
The impact that destroys tired truths.

Beautiful.
Are these tears?

Not my tears.
I could never express myself, you know...

The body opens.
Fluids spill out.

Irreversible cessation of circulation.
The onset of putrefaction.

is this death?
A shaking of the limbs, boots drumming against the cold.

Aye, there's sleep.
Perchance to rub? Rub in sleep on dreams.

Salacious to the end.
Not a bitter one.

a farewell

not a man for speeches

I'll never understand it.
never should have bothered trying.

slower now, he fails to dodge the thousand barbs meant to destroy.
paradoxically, a hastening!

a great sigh
relief,

not regret.

and

little

less


...

_

Egal crashed into the lip of the dune where Domo had fallen, scatter lasers from the remaining Elder armour swirling though the sand, leaving hundreds of glass tubes. They splintered, a million million shards shredding Egal's hand and gashing his throat. A krak grenade went off somewhere, finishing whatever Nadal's lascannon couldn't. Egal centred himself and found Domo's pulse. He was dead, but still warm. Without hesitation, he took out a syringe of Miskatonic and plunged it directly into Domo's jugular vein. He released the Leylandii-pattern carpace and began chest compressions, desperately trying to work the preservative into every cell of the body.

Domo was the best, untouchable in stealth, concealment and marksmanship.
They were under orders to use the stasis fluid on any fallen, but Egal went out of his way to save Domo. His blood flowed into the dead air, steam rising from his ruined hand and throat as the bodyheat condensed. It'd freeze quick enough, so he didn't worry too much about it. Domo jerked under the impacts, and for a second Egal thought he was still alive.

He owed him from Kan-Rika, in the jungle war. But the One-Shot wraith was a ghost now.
Egal stopped pumping his arms and began to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Resuscitate a corpse. How amusing. A snicker as he fell back into the sand, hysterical as he heard footsteps coming up behind him and silent paroxysms as two Non-Borns lifted him to his feet and carried the dead man away.

They'd won.

It was over.

+++++++++++++ +++++++++++++

Back in the debrief room, Haze wore exhaustion like a shroud. She had been soaked in Bleeder's blood when he went down with a severed torso, a casualty of a shruiken cannon and her body twinged where fragments of shrapnel had embedded themselves. Domo was dead, but Egal's actions had pleased the Commander inordinately. He requisitioned the body when her and her squad, accompanied by about 20 surviving Non-borns, came in the airlock. She was tired, shellshocked and too outranked to make an objection. Nadal rolled and Glass toked, both glad to exist. Joy Enders had gone to see Merity, everyone else still a little too close to death to see some new life. Egal was glum. He flexed 3 new bionic fingers and was murdering a few classic tunes through a new voicebox. He joked he didn't need the 3 fingers, he still had the only two that mattered.

'I dread to think what's being done to those bodies.' Nadal rumbled.
'Bleeder might be back, and that's what I'm scared of...'

'They lost 30 out there today. A few still unconfirmed.' said Haze, thinking on Roy.

Everyone did a little mental arithmetic. 297 - 30 = 267. Plus one, if you wanted to be pendantic or optimistic. That was not a happy figure.

'All those wasted corpses...'
Hopeless, stark cold sweat.

'Just shut up Egal.'

+++++++END++++++++