Charnel Waves

The cocktail of artificial adrenals and deep pressure medication being pumped directly into Lethio’s bloodstream made it impossible to distract himself from the nightmarish flight. Twenty minutes spent in absolute tension as the dropship juked and shuddered through the war-torn atmosphere. Every muscle braced for a violent impact, and every thought bent inevitably back to the desperate hope for such a blessedly quick death.

A sudden jolt from the man pressed in on his right almost made him scream out in shock.

‘What?’ he yelled, angling his body to face the man. 

‘I said do these things even work underwater?’ the man shouted, raising his lasgun slightly.

How should I know? Lethio wanted to say. I can’t even swim.

But the words caught in his throat, and he turned away without replying. He looked down at his own rifle, tethered to his suit with a frayed strap. It was worn and rusted, like all their equipment. Refuse from some forgotten battlefield, not even worth cleaning before being shoved in his hands.

The huddled press of penal soldiers lurched forwards as the transport ship abruptly slowed. Commissar Traeger’s voice, echoing in each of their comms systems, was as sharp and condescending as always.

‘Masks on grubs!’ he barked. 

Lethio thumbed the control panel on his thigh, closing the faceplate of his helmet.  As he did, all sounds from the hold vanished, and he was left in near total silence. He felt the stale air from the built-in tank begin to cycle through his lungs. It made him want to gag.

‘Those doors open and you drop, grubs,’ the Commissar continued. ‘Sub-surface bombardment just cleared this sector to thirty metres. You drop, get to the floor, and secure landing. Then we make for the Racklan shelf.’

Lethio barely heard the words. All he could focus on was his own heartbeat, which felt enough to break the seal on his suit. When the great landing ramp at the front of the hold opened, he reflexively tried to step backwards away from it, but the press of bodies was too great. 

‘Find your redemption, grubs! For the Emperor!’

The bay was suddenly bathed in a green light, and rank after rank of men in front of him vanished from sight. Lethio’s steps forward were mechanical, and he realised after several seconds he wasn’t even breathing anymore. That walk through the hold was the hardest of his life, and as he neared the front, he felt what little composure he had left leave him.

The transport was hovering just a few metres above the surface of the ocean, and Lethio’s eyes were transfixed, unblinking and unwavering, on the waves below. Blacker than black, they crashed all around, illuminated only by the soft green glow from the transport bays and the landing lights. He stood locked for a moment before feeling the man behind him begin to press forward again. 

‘Wait, I don’t…’

His pleas were cut off as he was violently shoved forwards. The fall only lasted three seconds, but it may as well have been three years. He wanted to scream, but had no breath to do so. He wanted to grab something, but there was no purchase to find. He wanted, more than anything, to simply die. But the sudden impact on the water reminded him just how alive he still was. Flailing wildly, he landed face first, cracking his nose against the faceplate and leaving a bloody smear. 

After moments of struggle, Lethio managed to right himself. The weight of his suit had already dragged him a couple metres below the surface, and the light from the landers was fading fast. He could just make out the shape of others descending around him, and he had to remind himself every time that they were friends. But they too were quickly enveloped by the endless and pitiless dark. 

It surrounded Lethio, that darkness. He could barely breathe in it, let alone move. It suffocated his mind, until all he could see were imagined shapes in its formless abyss. Paralyzed, he drifted ever downward, his lasgun trailing loose above him. 

Then, all at once, the light returned. Soldiers dropping all around him activated their maglights, illuminating the black water. Commissar Traeger must have sent out the command, but Lethio hadn’t heard it. Reaching down to his right thigh, he found nothing there. The control panel for his suit’s systems was gone, dislodged in his panicked impact with the water most likely. That meant no lights, and no comms. The thought was disquieting, but still he felt some small measure of peace. There were hundreds of others in the water with him, spread out in every direction. The whole area was pockmarked with lights now, and he felt more secure than he had since first setting foot on the transport.

And then, he looked down.

The seabed was reported to be sixty metres below the surface here, and they couldn’t have descended more than fifteen. But already Lethio could see the ground fast approaching. And if he looked close, it almost seemed to be moving. He couldn’t make out details of the soldiers below him, but one by one their lights vanished as they reached the seabed. Lethio’s heart, beating so rapidly for the last hour, froze in his chest.

It wasn’t the seabed, but a swarm of Tyranid bioforms, barely thirty-five metres from the surface. Thousands of them. Millions. One by one, the members of his battalion vanished into the ravenous ranks below. A few managed to fire their rifles, creating jets of superheated water and obscuring sea foam. But it was a meaningless gesture. This whole expedition was. It wasn’t a mission of redemption for the condemned legions. It was a feeding frenzy. And Lethio finally lost himself in it’s utter meaninglessness.

His mind consumed in its burgeoning psychosis, Lethio scarcely noticed as he reached the threshold and sank beneath the throng of claws and teeth.

About the Author

Ryan Vermette is a hobbyist writer, avid sci-fi consumer, and long-time fan of 40k. Though he hasn’t built models in years, he still enjoys the lore and exploring that world whenever he can.