Reed had been the next to die. They were already weak from the lack of food, their actions less nimble, less certain, than they needed to be. He’d cut his hand on one of the strange, purple fronds. Within minutes, he was bleeding from all his orifices and begged to die. ‘He’s useless now,’ Donner pronounced, lip curled in disgust. Breen picked up a large stone – carefully inspected to have no growth of any kind clinging to it before he touched it – and crushed Reed’s head as a mercy. They left him behind untouched.
They were briefed about the planet. ‘A Death World’, the men had whispered to each other – the many ways the flora and fauna would kill them made for grim reading. The air was breathable and the water – with the filtration units issued – drinkable, but almost everything on the planet would be poisonous to them. A silver lining was that the planet was inhospitable to its own life as well – it was sparsely populated. It wasn’t a problem, not really. A full regiment would be deployed to this strategically important planet – the Lord-General declared over ship-wide vox, ‘The “terrible things” on this world will be nothing compared to the power of the Guard – we will be the most fearsome danger on this planet!’
Wolfinger tried to kill Donner while he slept. But it seemed Donner did not sleep. Breen – and he supposed the others – woke to hear the struggle that Wolfinger slowly lost, ending with the gurgling sounds of a man strangled. Breen lay there staring at the night sky until it was over. Then he slowly pulled off his blanket and got up. He could see in the moonlight the others also begin rising. They walked over, and waited their turn.
Breen had sat, strapped and ready, when they had arrived in orbit. He had been in the ‘overflow’, being the one man too many to fit with his company, and thus assigned to a different transport. He was with about a dozen of what were also overflow from other companies – none of them knew each other. It would be a pain re-mustering with his company on the ground.
Hunger. It was all he thought of. It permeated every cell of his body, it was everything he knew. It was the only thing in the world, the only thing that mattered.
They tried drinking more, but it wasn’t really a solution, not to the ache, not just in their stomachs; but that permeated their bodies and their heads, their entire existence, as they walked on. Weeks were becoming months because of the terrain. It was hopeless, but what were they to do?
It was Donner who took the first step.
Enris had swayed as he walked, the weakest of them all.
‘You’re not going to make it’, Donner said to him.
Donner pulled his laspistol and shot Enris in the head.
They all looked at him, stunned.
‘I am going to live,’ Donner said without emotion. He pulled out a knife, and then he sat beside the body.
The main vox had burst out, ‘… Launch now or nobody will get…’ just before the world exploded into flame and confusion. The ship’s hull was carved open, and their craft pulled out into the void with the air, shearing half a wing off and beginning a wildly spinning, tumbling journey down to the planet. The pilots spent the entire descent in a mix of curses and praises for the Emperor – perhaps they should have stuck to the latter, for the pilots had managed to place the craft on the surface with the Emperor’s protection, but failed to do so without mangling the cockpit and themselves.
The survivors – the handful of men from disparate units – stared at the sky as they watched the battle in orbit slowly peter out, the little meteors of destroying ships sparking brightly as they fell and burned. Their vox requests remained unanswered; they realised the fleet that had been destroyed was theirs.
They buried the pilots and combed through the wreckage – they had water filtration units, but very little food. Foraging and hunting were out of the question, and in any case only Donner had a working laspistol, the weapons racks having been crushed on the landing.
The vox finally crackled to life: ‘All survivors, form up on forward base Alpha. All resupply units muster here, all prior orders rescinded. Authentication code and coordinates follow…’
They looked at the map and grimly realised it would be weeks of walking, up and then down the side of a mountain.
But there was nothing to do but to go.
It was just Donner and him left, now. They slowly descended the mountainside; they could see what must be Alpha in the far distance, even little specks of what must be other survivors headed toward it, entering it. Entering safety.
‘What do we tell them?’ Breen said quietly.
‘There’s nothing to tell them. The two of us survived the landing, there were just barely enough supplies for us to get here. We -‘ Donner swung a fist at Breen mid-sentence. Breen had expected it. Breen ducked under and grabbed at Donner’s other hand reaching for his laspistol. Breen’s own strength surprised himself. It surprised Donner.
Breen limped into the encampment. Strange. Where were the guards? The tower and walls were empty. A light wind stirred the dust, but no one answered his calls. Where were the patrols? Why was he not challenged?
He saw movement from the corner of his eyes and realised there were men standing clustered, undisciplined, in the shadows. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and Breen could now see them clearly – quietly standing, looking at him with expressionless eyes.
He understood then.
He should have realised. He had seen no aircraft and there were no landers.
They hadn’t been re-supplied either.
About the Author
W. T. is just a guy in Asia who really likes the Warhammer 40k universe, especially the Eldar. He enjoys writing and procrastinating on work, the two often going hand-in-hand.