Healers of the Imperial Guard

Within the confines of the Imperium of Man, an area of space had been designated the Ultima Segmentum eons ago. Within the black ocean of space lay the system of Kronus, composed of seven planets that orbited a golden sun akin to that of the Sol system. From space, the cotton ball clouds of white and off-white shielded deep sapphire oceans from view. Long abandoned by the Imperium of Man, it looked like the most peaceful and tranquil of places. However, descent from space to the planetary surface it gradually became clear that war raged across the one habitable continent of Kronus Prime.

In the cold northern reaches of the planet, the Eldar under Farseer Taldeer had crossed blades with the Blood Raven Chapter of the Emperor's Space Marines led by Captain Davian Thule who lashed out from their Castellum Incorruptus in the province of North Vandea. The Tau had held sway over Kronus since its abandonment and under the leadership of their Ethereal Caste. Aun'El-Shi'Ores and Shas'Okais lead the defense of their city and the drive to re-conquer the planet in the name of the Greater Good. The first step for the Tau would be the demise of the Ork Warlord Gorgutz who had rebuilt his Waaagh along the verdant jungles, rivers and lakes that made up Green Coast.

Chaos had made landfall on the Deimos Peninsula, turning the site of wondrous natural beauty in to hell-scape, the warp conjured there bringing more Chaos Marines of the Word Bearers Legion and their demonic support to the planet. Under the guidance and leadership of Eliphas the Inheritor, Chaos war machine had systematically disassembled the Necron's capacity to wage war and buried them in the depths of the Thur'Abis Plateau. His leadership had seen them push out and through the Van Der Marr Mountains and then on to the outskirts of the Pavonis Spaceport. At the spaceport, the Imperial Guard mustered the strength of the Kronus Liberators to check and turn back the Chaos tide.

The mid morning sun shone down upon the metal and steel structures and spaces of the spaceport complex, already blackened and smoking in more than one place due to the heavy fighting that had wrested control of the Spaceport from the Eldar. The alien dead littered the compound mixed with hundreds of guardsmen who still lay where they had fallen, blown and sliced apart by Eldar weaponry. Fire from the wreckage of Vypers and butchered Falcon Grav-Tanks amongst Imperial Guard Chimeras and the husks of Leman Russ Battle Tanks littered the field. However, those fires were miniscule in comparison to the funeral pyres that reduce the corpses of the Eldar to a fine ash.

The pyres burned like the passion, courage and valor of the Imperial Guard, when nearly everything else was damp from the heavy, almost torrential rains that had swept through Spaceport during the night, and all the blood, both red human and the blue-blackish variety that flowed through the veins of the Eldar had washed away. However, the promethium fueled pyres burned as oily smoke coiled in to the sky, a gentle eastward breeze blowing the smoke from the remains of the Farseer's army towards the Tau as a grim warning for their future.

The carnage that the Imperial Guard had wrought had left much of the Spaceport complex in ruins, but the most important command and control structures within the spaceport was still intact. The ancient systems installed by the Adaptus Mechanicus were some of the most advanced ground based systems capable of advanced orbital targeting and tracking available to the Imperium. The servitors necessary to operate the system had been found scattered throughout the entire spaceport complex and were now secure, back at their assigned duty stations, calculating the necessary vectors to carry out the orbital drops assaults in to other territories of Kronus akin to Space Marine Deep Strikes.

The wounded from the previous days fighting against the Eldar had been triaged and treated as well as the medics had been able to, but there were more deceased than injured. That was the way of the Imperial Guard: Fight and win no matter what the cost in equipment and lives. It was the way of the Imperial Guard. Its Generals tended to not think of their armies as men and women but as only unit numbers and designations to illustrate the different types of blunt force trauma that the Imperial Guard could bring to bear upon the enemies of the Emperor and humanity.

The alarms went out within minutes of the Chaos horde annihilating the sentries in the mountains, which kicked the Imperial Guard in to high gear and immediate action as Governor-Militant Lucas Alexander himself had set his sights upon the elimination of the Word Bearers Chaos Space Marines and their demon master Eliphas the Inheritor. It was almost convenient for the Guard as they moved in to position to hold the spaceport before they would push them back through the mountains.

As the tank crews moved to their vehicles, the average guardsman, clad in his semi-worthless flak armor and semi-valuable lasgun ran towards waiting Chimera Troop Transports or on foot towards the gaps in the walls of the spaceport complex where Chaos would make their assault. Orgyns and their "Bonehead" Sergeants stomped towards the walls, their sheer bulk making it hard for them to fit in to the belly of a Chimera. The Kasrkin, elite soldiers from Cadia, were among the best that the Guard had to offer, were walking avatars of death in their jet-black armor and their repeating las-carbine at the ready.

The men of war moved to do what they do best, those left behind were waiting to do what they do best: Pick up the pieces. The medical corps of the First Regiment of the Kronus Liberators had for the moment, nothing to do besides sit back, smoke their Lho sticks, and continue their card games as they waited for the inevitable trickle, then stream, and river of blood from the wounded once the fighting began.

The last of the tanks pulled away from the Armories and War Factories, the twenty four Leman Russ mainline battle tanks were supported by a trio of the Guards armored super weapons: The Baneblade Super Heavy Tank. Collectively over five thousand tons of armor plating and superior firepower moved in to position on the outskirts of the main spaceport complex, supporting a second line of trenches, reinforced bunkers and fire positions that covered the only approach in to the spaceport proper.

Farther back and closer to the actual command center and headquarters of operations, a dozen of the most powerful and feared of all artillery guns within the Imperial arsenal turned their barrel's skywards. The crews worked with the practiced precision, slamming home the heavy shells as they locked chambers in preparation for the inevitable calls for artillery support to hammer the advancing horde of Chaos. The sky darkened overhead as clouds that promised rain, thunder and lightning blotted out the Kronus sun. Half dozen men stood around, outside, a distance away from the large bore guns, far enough that they would keep their hearing when the guns unleashed their rage.

All six doctors were trauma specialists and they watched the action around them, as if they had not a care in the world, and they did not… at least for a short while yet. The oldest among them with salt and pepper hair, going slightly bald stole a glance up at the darkening sky, "Looks like rain," he commented in an off hand fashion, as he took a final drag. His colleague, somewhat younger, with midnight black hair cut so short he might as well have been bald grunted noncommittally that could have been interpreted in any number of ways, ranging from "yes" to "I don't care." But then again, Doctor Gallant was not talkative by nature. The talk had gone out of him after a year in the service of the Emperor's Imperial Guard.

Doctor Corbec ground out the butt of his own Lho stick with the sole of his boot and reached in to his pocket, contemplating whether to light another one as one of the few women in the unit emerged from within what as the "medical wing" of the Liberators. She had shoulder length auburn hair, and dull grey eyes. One's eye color was more about the how bright or dull it was than its actual color. Those who had been with the medical staff long enough had only dull cow like eyes, glazed or dazed. It was a sign that those doctors and nurses were the ones that would not loose their stomachs once the wounded started to stream in, "You know that habits is going to kill you one of these days," she'd made the admonishment so many times over her time with the unit, since Lorn V that they just took it in stride.

Again the raven haired medic grunted in a non committal fashion, shooting her a side long glance as he reached in to a pocket for a stick and handed it to Corbec, just to anny her, "Gail, chaos scum and lots of chaos scum are charging this way hell bent on killing us and you're worried about whether or not smoking this stick is going to kill me?"

That particular line of sarcasm elicited a chuckle from the attending physicians, who knew that once the lasguns, plasma and flamers were forgotten, the melee butchery would start. That was when the medics would fight their own war to save the wounded, and the medics knew that they would fight for the lives of others, long after the actual fighting was over. Each of the members of the medical team had a vox beads that had links to the regimental command master vox bank so that they could track the battlefield communications. Their channels were restricted to receiving except for the one channels reserved for the all-important screams of "Medic!"

"How long before the wounded start coming in?" asked Doctor Carter, his blue eyes still had the special something, a little glint that most women would have found interesting or attractive had he not been with the Imperial Guard in planet scale warfare on one small planet in the vastness of space. He was the newest and youngest trauma doctor to be attached to the unit, having joined the Liberators just after the events of Lorn Five.

Chattering filled the vox as Sergeants called coordinates for artillery strikes. The guns that had waited until this moment with their inert barrels clawing at the sky like the fingers of some metal monstrosity. A voice shouted close by, "Cannons ready! Fire!" The guns roared in unison, sending a wave of death in to the advancing lines of Chaos. The impact of such ordinance was drowned as another barrage was sent screaming skywards to again crashing down amongst the lines of lost and the damned.

The Imperial Guard under the command of Lucas Alexander had developed the arts of assault and defense to the point where the armies under his command were used to turning a defensive operation in to a full scale assault, which is why the Guard had moved their armor and support assets in to position. It was a well practiced tactic, having worked well against the Eldar on Lorn V. The trenches that the guard would have to hold were the main line of the battle, with the massive walls of the spaceport compound still standing. It was the most direct way in to the Spaceport for Chaos. And Chaos is always predictably direct as they pressed forward uncaring of the losses they sustained as artillery chewed them up sending geysers of blood and severed body parts pin wheeling through the air. Gunfire was sporadic at best from the guard line as the great enemy of humanity drew ever closer.

There is truth to the odd adage that states "drills are bloodless combat, and combat is but a bloody drill." The voice was sharp, and it came from someone higher up the chain of command that sent the stretcher teams in to the trenches. The last of the specially designed medical chimeras had disintegrated under fire on Lorn, and no replacements had arrived with their resupplies. The sanctity of the medic had long been forgotten and some factions had never cared for it. The Imperial Guard did. The first of numerous stretcher teams snaked their way through the trenches.

Robert Paulson and Antonin Chambers were clad in the flak armor of the Guard, but not carrying the Standard Mark 5 Pattern Las-Rifles, but one handed las-pistols that let them move the wounded and shoot at the same time. In the lead, Paulson carried a backpack loaded with medications and a dispenser gun, while Chambers carried the pieces of a portable stretcher that could be assembled in seconds. For them this was the first of many trips from the calm tranquility of the base down the broken streets to the breach in the walls.

It was quite for but only for a few moments as the artillery of the Imperium spoke yet again. Another wave of large bore projectiles in to the ranks of Chaos almost drowned out by mechanical clattering of autocannons that sprayed explosive tipped rounds in concert with lascannons that hissed blue and white steams of energy in to their charging foes.

From paradise in to hell itself, would be the most appropriate phrase to describe what the stretcher-bearers do. The gates of hell were the bomb blasted wall sections of the spaceport compound, and the nightmare beyond it was chaos incarnate, charging towards the gates held by the Guard. The shouts and screams of the massive horde did nothing for their own morale of the Guard who stood their ground and returned fire. A Guardsman turned to flee in terror, only for a bolter round to plough its way out through his forehead. Commissar Konstantin Rybak had no place for traitors and cowards in any unit of the Imperial Guard, "Deserters are equivalent to traitors. Traitors have fallen from the light of the emperor and deserve only death!"

"Incoming!" the shout was loud and clear over the vox, and it was echoed through to the vox beads of all concerned as the stretcher team dove to the ground without breaking their stride. The heavy shells from a quartet of Chaos Defilers slammed in to the trench lines, blasting a fresh trio of craters in to the trenches. The two men did not blink, or hesitate, scrambling back to the feet and continued their search through the smoke and haze of war that hung over the trench line. The long-range artillery shots traded back and forth were only the precursor to the coming firestorm.

The damage was done, as the stretcher teams moved down in to the trenches amongst the wounded guards. Again, a voice screamed incoming but those at the bottom of the trench enjoyed the best protection available. However, those who enjoyed it had already suffered at the hands of Chaos. More defiler shells screamed down upon the trench line and were ignored as the search for the wounded continued.

The Adepta Sororitas, more colloquially known as Sisters of Battle, like the Space Marines benefited from a device that was the be all and end all of their medical needs: The Narthecium. Unfortunately, there were none of the Adepta Sororitas present and it was left to the medics and the more traditional tools of medicine. It was the first time it had happened during this particular phase of the global war engulfing Kronus, but it was far from the last time it would happen.

Chambers and Paulson searched through the wounded but ignored many that clung desperately to life, too far gone to be saved. Chambers did what he could for them, giving them their Last Rites, and a benediction to the Emperor's side as Paulson injected lethal doses of morphine from prepackaged disposable syringes. It was, after all better to have died in the service of the Emperor than to have died for nothing. Chambers pointed out a man blasted by artillery fire.

The guardsman's wounds were severe but the fact that they were relatively clear-cut and that he was screaming were signs enough that there was hope for him, if they could get him back to the medicae. Assembling the portable stretcher with practiced efficiency as Paulson slapped on pressure dressings to halt the bleeding from the man's severed arm and leg. The dressings inflated, applying pressure and locking off the bleeding. Stabilized, they worked together with ease, setting up a pair of IV lines, one with hemo-aid and the other with regular saline to keep the man's blood pressure up and hydrated. Satisfied with the temporary measures, Paulson drew the heavy injector gun from its resting place and set it to the appropriate levels, injecting a small dose of morphine for pain control and solu-medoral steroid followed by adrenalin.

"Set!" snapped Chambers. Paulson nodded and they were off, making their way back through the maze of trenches towards the medicae of the Liberators. Admittedly, they had not taken the most severely wounded, opting to take the wounded that could be saved. Shells screamed in and yet another shout of "Incoming!" Like all the stretcher teams, they had been guardsmen before being wounded and drafted in to the medical corps – there was no sanctity for the medic upon the battlefield. That same training now made them act on instinct as they lowered the stretcher to the ground before throwing themselves over it to protect their butchered patient.

Defiler shells slammed in to the concrete ground, blasting open craters, sending showers of earth and rubble through the air as shrapnel from the shell arched and spun through the air like razor knives. Earth rained down upon them when suddenly a voice screamed in to their vox beads, "Breach! First line is breached!" Blistering walls of laser fire continued to sear through the line of Chaos to drop them where they stood, but the sheer weight of their numbers was more than enough to punch through the line. Another scream ripped through the air and Paulson lifted his head, followed seconds later by the flap on the holster of his laspistol. He drew and took aim, expending half the clip in to the quadruplet of advancing Chaos cultists.

The hiss crack of the las-pistol was almost deafening to the hearing of his two closest compatriots, but effective as the rounds ripped through and felled half the charging cultists. The cultists of Chaos had human form in as far as they had hands, feet, arms, legs, torso and a head. But beyond that basic similarity in the anatomy, they were no longer human. Like all worshippers of the fell gods, two of the fallen cultists had scarred themselves ritualistically on their cheeks, chest, arms and back. The charging pair had opted for pain to show their devotion, with bands of steel having been melted in to their flesh of their cheeks, and along their arms and their ribs. They advanced with their guns blazing in one hand while waving a bladed weapon in the other.

The medics scrambled to their feet as their guardsmen training took over, drawing their combat knives and charging to meet the cultists head on. The first of the two brutal fights was over in seconds, the guardsmen having both the edges in terms of weaponry and training as Paulson blocked the simple thrust and pushed the outstretched arm of the cultist away and to the side. it knocked the creature of balance long enough for the large blade of the standard issue combat knife tore through its neck and throat. He turned and reached for a non-existent pistol, lost somewhere on the muddy ground to aid his comrade.

He adjusted his reach in mid motion, pulling the injector gun from its resting place as he half tackled the gleeful cultist about to swipe down in to Chamber's skull with his sword. The injector gun found purchase in the neck of the cultist and a sharp pull on the trigger sent a mixed lethal cocktail in to its bloodstream. The cultist hissed some prayer to his dark gods as he went still, twitching and jerking for just a moment before going completely still.

The immediate threats neutralized, the medics collected their patient and with their wounded comrade in tow, made their way back the way they had come towards the rear, where the surgeons and doctors would be waiting, leaving the continuing carnage. Lascannons ripped through the armor on Chaos Defilers, and Rhinos and even a Predator Tank that had wandered closer than it had to. The breached trench lines were now a swirling melee where the cultists sought to slash, stab and butcher their way through the guardsmen who trusted their flack armor enough to let absorb the melee blows as they hammered back with butt stock, bayonet, pistol and knife.

They passed other stretcher teams, some heading towards the medicae, with many more heading back in to the gates of hell. The smell was no longer that clean smell of near purity just after the torrential rains of the previous hours as the stench of blood and raw flesh mingled with the smells of cordite and the ozone tingle of lasgun fire. Smoke and concrete dust clogged the air, making it hard to breathe as they struggled through, desperately trying to make their way to the medical wing. In the distance, chain blades as those caught upon their teeth howled in tune with the motorized teeth.

The doctors were all waiting outside for the moment, enjoying the last few moments of peace before anywhere from six to fifteen hours of hell would descend upon them when the wounded finally showed up. It was then that the order came down: The first line was being abandoned as it had been punched through in more than one place, with several expanses having already fallen to Chaos. The Guardsmen at the front were falling back towards the second and last line of trenches, less than a kilometer from the Imperial Guard Field Headquarters and their medicae.

Chaos weapons spat bolts and lasers towards the guardsmen as they retreated eager to catch what they perceived to be cowardly, fleeing foes that would bleed and be offerings to the Dark Gods. The newest of the doctors had only been with the Liberators for several weeks. Doctor Carter's eyes still had life in them after all, turned to those who had been with the unit much longer than he had and asked the question that was burning him up on the inside as he hopped from one foot to the other like a hummingbird on six cups of coffee, "They're in retreat! The Guard is in retreat! What are they doing?" he was too nervous to wait for an answer as he stuttered and repeated the same question.

Shouts were coming through the vox, painting an ugly picture of what was happening. Along with the words "Defiler" and "Predator Tank" were also the words "Daemon," and even more terrifying "Blood Thirster" being screamed over the vox channel. The greater Demon of Khorne had been sighted, towering over and leading the advancing Chaos army. What made it even worse was the fact that a Demon Prince was moving up with fresh Chaos Space Marines to support the pondering advance.

A more experienced Doctor Corbec grabbed the nervous and twitchy Carter by the shoulder just to calm the man down. He gestured towards the second line of trenches, where guardsmen were stacked two deep, standing shoulder to shoulder with bayonets fixed, and their rifles shouldered. Several of the fleeing guardsmen were cut down by the advancing horde of Chaos troopers. Where possible, carefully placed shots from Guard Snipers ended their lives before the cultists could unleash their personal blend of hell upon the unfortunate men brought down, "It's going to be just fine. It's all part of the battle plan."

"What battle plan?" asked Carter, "What are they doing?" Split and broken bodies flew in over a dozen different directions as another concentrated barrage of shells fell amongst their enemy. The shrieks of pain and agony were almost deafening and even the Chaos Space Marines took cover beneath the hurricane like barrage of Earth Shaker shells that rained as lighting flashed and forked down in the distance. In that moment, there was a sudden silence as the Imperial guns fell tomb silent. The Commissars and Sergeants were up to something rather nasty, and everyone knew except for Carter as the guns of the guards fell silent, "Doctor Corbec, what is going on?"

Doctor Corbec laughed although his eyes did not twinkle like they used to years ago. He ran his hand through his short-cropped salt and pepper hair and his laughter was a less than pleasant sound. He knew how effective this particular tactic was, but it meant that the men on the field were exposed for those few long seconds as they followed through on the drill from start to finish. It added at least another ten percent to the casualty rate amongst the rank and file guardsmen. For the Kasrkin and Orgyns, injury was never likely as it was mostly death that claimed those two brands of soldiers, "What they are doing is implementing Volume Three, Chapter Four of the Encyclopedia Destructica."

"What?" Carter was more than a little confused, and scared for his life.

"Just watch and learn," was the quiet reply, "and then get ready. The wounded will be coming in hard and fast and start stacking up like deadwood."

Carter nodded, and then jumped out of his skin, terrified for several long moments before he realized it was the Basilisk Guns, thrice in rapid succession unleashing a trio of Earth Shaker rounds, each firing a draconian roar followed by a plume of black smoke that darkened the already black sky. An eerie silence suddenly filled the space around them, dragging on for several moments before the whistling scream of a freight train filled the air. The massive shells pounded in to the advancing chaos horde as explosions, fire and shrapnel coursing through their ranks. As suddenly as it had begun, there was now nothing to see as bodies flew in numerous directions, before a wall of smoke, dirt and flashing explosions descended upon the battlefield.

He started out at the line of the defense and at the rapidly advancing Chaos horde. The heavier weapons of the Imperial Guard poured their fire in to the advancing enemy. The heavy shell shower had thinned out the ranks but neither broken or persuaded Chaos to turn back as they approached the mid way point between the two lines of trenches. Heavy weapons killed even more in the opening volley as they continued onwards desperate to close the range to the point where they could shoot back at the guardsmen. Their wild shots of the cultists were connecting with some of the less than fortunate guardsmen. In spite of it all, they advanced without pause even as another wave of Earth Shaker rounds slammed in to them, but they surged forward as if every fallen heretic could be replaced with minimal effort.

Commissar Rybak shook his head, blonde hair tight beneath the cap, as the rush of wind from the passage of artillery caused his cape to fan out behind him even as he invoked the Emperor, to steady his men, and their trigger fingers, "All squads, volley fire with one second interval in twenty five! Do not falter! The Emperor Protects!" Carter could hear commands being issued before the sounds were snatched away by the roar of the Chaos Bolters and the snap-crack typical of lasgun fire. The Commissar continued to scream a dictum or a prayer in to the vox to steady and rally the men around him. Carter could hear the countdown as he watched through a pair of binoculars.

"Ten Seconds!" The few guardsmen who had been making snapshots ceased firing and moved, ejecting power cells and clips to slap home fresh fully charged hotshot clips. Barrels were warm and smoking as the heavy weapons ceased their fire. Chaos was confused for a moment but that did not stop them for very long as they pushed onward, taking advantage of the absence of gunfire as they charged forward at full speed.

"Six Seconds!" The entire line of trenches was silent as the guardsmen adjusted their positions and their aim, heavy weapons focusing where the concentration of the enemy was at its thickest. Chaos stood a mere thirty five meters away and their roar would have routed the less disciplined and courageous - who would have found bullet from the Commissars' Bolt Pistol in the back of their skulls - as Chaos charged ever closer.

"Three seconds!" came the shouts from the Squad Lieutenants and Sergeants, who were also taking aim at the advancing horde. No further orders were shouted over the vox and Carter realized that it was not necessary as months of drills and training was taking over. Every individual guardsman was in concert, part of a single organism. In the space of less than a second, hundreds of near simultaneous snap cracks were heard as the heavier whine and roar of autocannon and the hiss flash of lascannon merged with the dull thump of grenade launchers and plasma guns to create the overwhelming opening crescendo of the Imperial Guards musical: Symphony of Death.

It was a demonstration of the raw power that the Imperial Guard could call upon as the wave of annihilation swept through everything in its path. Chaos Marines and cultists alive disappeared in puffs of red blood, melting armor and white smoke. Chaos reeled and the second punishing volley repeated the devastation of the first as the push from the rear of the Chaos army prevented those leading the charge from falling back or even pausing to seek cover, as if the naked broken land gave any real cover. What little cover vanished as the artillery unleashed another shower of Earth Shakers as Leman Russ Battle Tanks added their shells and their flank mounted autocannons to the volley.

Just like that, and the truth was unveiled for the bloody eyes of Chaos to witness: Everything had been an elaborate trap. The trio of Baneblades had a specific target as the massive Hell Storm Cannons fired, their shells howled as they closed in upon the Blood Thirster of Khorne. The shells ripped through its flesh like a pencil through wet paper, tearing its head from its shoulders. Select squads amongst those arrayed in the trench lines had predicted range and painted target points on the battlefield. These men had never fired a shot, but they had set the targets for the airpower of the Kronus Liberators.

The aircraft had been quite literally waiting in the wings, and now swooped in, the second of a four-part musical. Marauder Bombers are huge aircraft that carry almost two thousand kilograms of ordnance. Originally, they were the Imperial Navy's space-borne bomber craft but had been phased out in favor of the equally large but more advanced and heavily armed Starhawk Bombers. This wing of Marauders had found themselves in the service of the Kronus Liberators. The flew in formation five thousand feet over the battlefield as their bay doors opened, unleashing Hades Firebombs, creating a line of death that cut off the only line of retreat open to Chaos before dropping a full wave of firebombs on to the blackened field as well.

The Vulture is a variant of the Valkyrie troop transport adapted to maximize firepower as the third act. The Vertical Take-Off and Landing fighter craft focused upon the battlefield's dominant feature: The Daemon Prince. Nose mounted heavy bolters spat streams of heavy explosive penetrator rounds that stitched bleeding holes in to the thick hide of the Demon Price, his massive blade unable to swat the fast moving craft from the sky as a full spread of eight Hunter Killer missiles ripped through its massive form. It roared in pain and agony, and obvious anger as it struggled to cling on to life, before falling on to its back with earth shaking force, where another wave of Hunter Killers finished the job.

Their task complete, the Vultures pirouetted in mid air with ballet-like grace upon their axis and struck out at targets of opportunity. Chaos had overrun the first line of trenches as planned and now came down to the blood, courage and guts of the guardsmen. They rose, screaming their battle cry as Sergeants and Commissar alike urged the rank and file over the top of the trenches, as the heavy engines of the tanks roared to life, moving up in support of the tide of Humanity charging against Chaos.

Doctor Carter took a last lingering look at the battlefield and then moved towards the medicae of the Liberators. The facilities were less than ideal, but were suitable for the task. They were prefabricated and were a mix of converted bunkers and barracks complexes. They walls were bare without a lick of paint or decoration, not even the Aquila or even a semblance of the emblem of the regiment. The paint had been scrubbed out long before to remove the blood and medical gore that had coated the walls and floor over the six plus months of hard campaigning on Kronus. The walls were a slick gunmetal grey but it only made the stainless steel instruments and stands shine all the brighter in the dull fluorescent lights of the narrow corridor.

The work of the Imperial Guard Medicae was limited. The simple fact of it was that the weapons of choice on the battlefields of the 41st millennium – lasguns – left little in the way of "surgery." Often it was supportive or hospice care, as it was inevitable that the majority died. Plasma weapons meant fewer wounded, and the wounded often opted for the Emperor's Peace - assuming shock did not kill them first. The same was also true at closer range, where the flamers did their best to broil men alive, covering the victims with third degree burns to over seventy-five percent of the body surface area.

The grenades and artillery caused some of the traumatic injuries that the guard suffered. Shrapnel wounds were often debilitating and life threatening but not necessarily permanently crippling, if the surgeons got to the wounded in time. It was when the guards fought toe to toe with the heretics and firearms were exchanged for modernized primitive weaponry. The melee power weapons; chain blades, swords, knives, clubs and axes wielded by both sides was where the true horror lay. It was the sheer numbers of wounded that meant many bled out. The combination of what was seen, smelt and heard tended to be completely debilitating to those unfamiliar and new to the Imperial Guard.

Doctor Carter had witnessed the wrath but he would now see the price that the warriors of humanity paid for their victory. Within the confines of the mix of structures that housed the trauma room and the surgical theatres, it was a scene of ordered chaos. The first of the wounded had been brought in, treated and shipped to the surgeons. Wheelchairs and gurneys lined the corridor, narrowing the already claustrophobic passageway even further. Apart from the quiet beeps of several monitors, there was nothing but silence for the moment. Doctor Carter sidestepped, having learned how to cope with the rapid movement of supplies and the injured between different trauma rooms and surgical theatres. Two of his toes had been broken early in his career before he had learned how to navigate the super-highway like traffic.

He nodded to the four assistants in his trauma room as he pulled on a pair of clean and sterile rubber gloves. The sound of tank and gunfire was barely audible in the confines of the room and he let his eyes wander over it, taking in the already setup rapid-infusers, primed with a full fifty units of hemo-aid with multiple refill canisters available. Trolleys lined both walls of the room, each shelve held individually sterilized and wrapped tray for one of a possible dozen procedures that would be necessary to guard the life of an injured man ranging from a crichothyroidotomy -to secure an airway- to a thoracotomy -to repair a physically damaged heart. There was a quiet hiss from a corner of the room. A pair of sterilizing baths belched a gentle stream of evaporated water and chemicals. The chemicals would sterilize the instruments, washing off blood and other detritus to allow for the instruments to be reused immediately and in spite of having over two dozen trays available for each of the possible procedures; it was given that they reused the sterilized instruments, over and over.

The sounds of combat boots pounding upon the ferroconcrete and steel floor was warning enough for the gifts of war to be delivered to the trauma rooms of the Liberators. He was the one of a half dozen trauma doctors and he knew from his limited experience that the wounded were going to stack up outside underneath tarpaulin tents in a matter of minutes. The first wave left him standing, waiting for the next wave that would be only seconds behind the first as it always was. There was only one voice screaming that illustrated suffering at its worst. Moreover, it head right for Doctor Carter's trauma room and team. Once upon a time, he would have taken pride in that particular turn of phrase, "his team," not anymore. As always, when the first one came in, he needed a moment, to center himself. He took a deep breathe and asked the traditional question, one that has been asked by doctors in emergency medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years before the Horus Heresy, "Give me the bullet!"

The bullet was not the traditional firearm bullet, but the rapid summary of the patient being brought in by the stretcher team, Robert Paulson and Antonin Chambers, "Male, approximately 30 years old, loss of consciousness. Shrapnel injuries penetrating the chest and upper left arm. Full amputation of the left arm at the elbow and below the left knee. Given ten of morphine, titrated six of solu-mederol!" Their patient trashed and screamed in agony but they did not blink, having done it dozens of times before. They moved him from the stretcher to the gurney and the stretcher team held him down while the Carter's team strapped him to the gurney.

"Paralyze with one-twenty of Versed, and forty of Pavulon and intubate!" barked Carter, as he reached for the laryngoscope and the standard seven half ET tube, "Vitals!" he swept the man's head back, pulling open the man's mouth as he swept the man's tongue to one side. He visualized the pulsing vocal chords and guided the tube down and in to place as voice snapped like the hounds of hell around him,

"BP is ninety over fifty! GCS is 13!"

"Resps is forty five; Pulse is in tachycardia at one-forty!"

"Pulse ox is seventy on a hundred percent oxygen!"

The portable X-ray machines that had served well in medicine for so many hundreds of years had been improved, upgraded and now looked nothing like their traditional counterpart as Carter adjusted the controls. Overhead, the unit adjusted its placement, "Shooting!" shouted Carter.

In that half second, everybody stepped away from the gurney as a wave of green light scanned the length of the victim, from toes until head. In seconds, Carter could see the full extent of the injuries which included broken ribs, a punctured lung, and possible intra abdominal bleeding, "Chest Tube Tray and Peritoneal Lavage!"

Drain off the free-floating blood that was pooling beneath the diaphragm, and use the chest tube to re-inflate a collapsed lung punctured by a broken rib. Then they would be able to move him on to the operating theatres farther in where they could fix him up and see about getting the man fitted for bionic limbs. It took only minutes, and the guardsman was unconscious and stable enough as two moved him onwards to the surgeons, and the good doctor and his remaining associates cleared the blood soaked gauze and lap pads, throwing used instruments in to the steaming sterilizers as they prepared for their next patient who arrived moments later.

The first trauma was always the easiest as there were actually two support teams in place. The second trauma and beyond meant that there was only two people to support. It would be nice if it was always a trickle of wounded or even no wounded, but whenever the Imperial Guard went to war, there would always be bloodied men and women coming in to see them, until the wounded would have to wait for their turn with a doctor.

No matter how hard or fast he worked, Doctor Carter knew, like all of the doctors that there would be many who never see a doctor due to the triage system that tagged the injured: Green is walking wounded, yellow is urgent and finally red were the critical that needed immediate attention. Those with a green tag would be treated when there was time after those in greater need of a doctor. There were no tags for those who had died en route. When there was no palpable pulse or breathing, stretcher-bearers dumped the corpse and moved back out in to the maw of hell to gather the wounded. Those that died while waiting were unceremoniously dumped aside. Moreover, the river had begun to flow, as the seventh patient was rolled in to Doctor Carter's trauma room just under the six minute mark, Thus far three had probably survived, "Give me the bullet!"

"Female, approximately thirty four years, no loss of consciousness, severe penetrating trauma and lacerations to the belly and abdomen, blood pressure is sixty over eighty, pulse is weak, oxygen sats are sixty-five on one hundred percent oxygen, two IV lines in the field. One's blown, infiltrated one and a half liters of saline before we lost the other line." They kept coming and in a way, the medicae kept score and Carter knew he was loosing the game.

A crack of thunder echoed outside and fore a moment, activity stopped as lightning flashed, then everyone returned to his or her duty as the next unfortunate patient, number forty-seven was carried in just under the thirty-minute mark, with only seventeen having survived thus far. The floor now had a red sheen to it, intermingled with the footprints of so many pairs of bloody combat boots. There was blood on the walls from arterial spray from several total and partial amputations that dripped down the metal walls in chaotic patterns. The sterilizers hissed as an inbuilt detector built in released a refill of chemicals, "Give me the bullet!"

"Male, forty two years, no loss of consciousness, amputation and vaporization of the right hand, partial amputation of the fourth and fifth fingers on the left from malfunctioning Plasma Gun. Blowback has caused a bilateral hemothorax. Oxygen saturation is low, and pulse is weak. Blood pressure is low at fifty-five over seventy." There was little to no blood on the patient, but then they were all soaked: It had started raining outside.

The steel floor of the medical suite was ribbed to reduce the chance of slippage but the rainwater, mixed with blood caused a semi coagulated mass that was turning in to black treacle. Fifty-seven minutes in and patient number eighty-five was carried in and dumped on another gurney. It was just the way of the Kronus Liberators of the Imperial Guard, that the same question was always asked whenever a patient was brought in, no matter how bad or no matter how obvious or grievous the wound was. Doctor Carter had lost count, "Give me the bullet!"

The bullet was completely useless. The smell that rose from the body made it very clear that they were dealing with severe burns to most of their body surface – third degree to over eighty percent of the body surface area. Doctor Carter gagged against the smell of cooked flesh, as he assessed the patient to the best of his ability. However, it was clear that there little that he could do for the mewling charred form before him.

"Need to protect his airway and then proceed with debridement of his injuries immediately!" Carters hand's shook as he took a hold of the laryngoscope, "Set up for rapid cooling with chilled ringers and an IV line for intravenous fluids. Give him ten of acetaminophen!"

It was one of his attending aids, Gail, that grasped him on the shoulder, "There's no point…. opportunistic infection will kill him if he doesn't die from what he's already suffered."

"We do everything we can for every patient!" snapped Carter as his second pair of orderlies returned from their run to surgery, "Ten of Acetaminophen and an IV for fluids and cooled ringers solution stat!"

Gail tightened her grip on his shoulder, "There are almost a dozen men like him out there. All of them in as bad shape as he is, and none of them are going to make it through the night, let alone through the next few hours."

His hands shook, "And you want me to do what exactly?" but he managed to growl the question through clenched teeth as he slid the ET tube down the man's throat and tape it in to place.

"Emperor's Peace. It's the right thing to do. He won't feel a thing – he can't feel a thing. His nerves have been completely burned away." He knew that what she said was true, but that didn't make it right. She continued as if trying to convince him and perhaps everyone else… and herself too, "Do what's right for the patient, not for you conscience." She finished quietly, as one of the monitor's beeped an alarm, "Ventricular Tachycardia… doctor?"

Holding his breath, he made a decision he knew would come back to haunt him, sometime down the road, "Emperor's Peace," he shot a dark look towards Gail; "…it's the right thing to do."

In a matter of minutes, a total of six men and eight women had been given a massive overdose or barbiturates, allowing them to drift off in to a sleep that they would never wake from, and from the smell, and its intensification, there were more coming. Having already done it so many times, the smell overpowered him as he dropped to one knee, dry heaves finally giving way to the real thing. He waved off a concerned Gail as the bodies continue to pile up, deep and high as they gave the Peace, "What in the Emperor's name happened out there?"

"Defiler!" came the shout from one of stretcher-bearers as they dumped yet another unfortunate burn victim on to the gurney, "That was the last of them!" A doctor from a neighboring trauma room stepped through the side door and took in one look at the prone Doctor Carter and stepped in without missing a beat, clearly in his element amongst the bodies and entrails of the wounded and the dying.

"Quentin Tarantino let loose in a barn full of cows…" Doctor Corbec muttered to himself before turning to the still kneeling Carter, "Get out of here. I will attend to this one… he is amongst the last according to the Vox. We've pushed Chaos all the way back in to the Van Der Mar Mountains south of here." Carter nodded an interesting shade of seaweed green and sheet white as he staggered outside. Doctor Corbec turned to the incoming stretcher-bearers, "Give me the bullet!"

It was glaringly obvious that this particular guardsman did not have long to live as he screamed his head off, as he was carried in to the trauma room, "Twenty year old. Male Guard. Partial evisceration. Multiple defensive injuries to both arms. Blood pressure is low but stable at eighty over ninety. Found him outside – think he may have passed out at one point and woke up screaming when we were on our way out."

The barbarity of the wound did not faze Corbec as he quickly probed the coiled loops of intestine covered in mud, blood and Emperor knew what else. Whatever they did for this man, sepsis would kill him if some other opportunistic infection did not first. He screamed, whether in agony or in fear, Doctor Corbec made the offer with a practiced calm, "All I can really do, is relieve your pain, "Do you want the Emperor's Peace?"

It was a euphemism for what had once upon a time been called doctor assisted suicide or to be politically correct: Euthanasia. The butchered guardsman shook his head violently, even as spasms racked his body, "No!" he managed to grind out the word, "no … peace" he spat the last as he went limp for only a moment as seizures suddenly wracked his prone body.

"Ah hell!" thought Corbec as he held down the man's shoulders, intestines having bubbled out of the gaping wound with a lava-like parody, "Ten of Ativan to break his seizure and then twenty of morphine! Titrate Ativan to a systolic of one hundred and redline him to a surgeon!"

It was a sudden lull, as the unconscious guardsman was transported away. Silence suddenly descended upon the trauma room, and not just one, but all of them and Carter was thankful as he leaned against the wall outside. That was it. It was over, for now. The smell of death was profuse through the entire structure. It was a smell he had tasted before, and it made him gag, as bile rose up the back of his throat. It was what the medical staff called "crispy critters." It was the smell of blood having evaporated within the flesh. Carter's team, having had far more experienced than him seemed to have a better control over their gut reflexes. Doctor Carter took a deep breath and instantly regretted the decision as the taste of burnt flesh settled in his throat. He took a moment to heave his mind back to what he would have to do as he swallowed, and somehow managed to keep his stomach contents inside his stomach as he staggered outside.

He made it out the door and to the side before the content's of his stomach exploded all over the uneven concrete. The dead were piled to one side, where he stood bent over at the waist, the howling wind whipped around him but he did not care. The sky continued to pour, washing the blood away, but not the wounded stacked three deep, huddling beneath the tarpaulin tents just outside the array of barracks and bunkers. Corbec walked out, his fatigues splattered with blood, as he reached in to a pocket and pulled out another Lho stick, and cupped his hands to light it as he stood by the still prone Carter, "Keep your head down, between your knees if you can. You will get blood back to your brain and more fresh air. Most of it's over."

Carter looked up, the color in his eyes having faded away, as he gasped for air, struggling to string a sentence together, "I've never seen…" the fatigues of both men were almost black from blood that had splattered everything and almost saturated down to their skin, "I… the carnage of it…just couldn't….. Did not know how to deal with… I didn't know that it could get that bad." he looked up at the older man, and said the first thing that sprang in to his mind, "I'm sorry."

Corbec shook his head, "Don't apologize. In fact, don't ever say that you're sorry for having feelings and emotions. Whenever and wherever the Imperial Guard goes to war, there will be the injured and wounded who will need our attention because we are the doctors, the surgeons, and the nurses who will fight with everything we have to save everyone we can."

He stared up for a moment and then turned his eyes back to the ground, as Corbec continued, "Doctor Carter, there are two kinds of doctors who can walk and work the battlefield: The kind that get rid of their feelings, and the kind that keep their feelings," he paused, helping the younger, less experienced doctor back to his feet. "Guardsmen will come in, injured, by shrapnel, blade or bullet, dying and bleeding. They will need your help and you helping them will always be more important than how you feel."

Doctor Corbec took another drag upon his Lho stick, "At the end of your time in the guard, it will be the sum total of lives that you save that will make your life worthwhile." A stretcher team shows up with a straggler in tow, the heavy hilt of the knife was still sticking out from between the patient's ribs, where it was clear that the blade had done untold internal injury. Paulson looked over at the two talking doctors and shouted, "We need a doctor over here!"

Corbec gave Carter a look that said it all: Keep your emotions or loose them, it does not matter, because it's all about the lives you save. Dr Carter sucked in a breath as Corbec exhaled on his Lho stick, "Keep my emotions, or loose my emotions right Doctor Corbec?"

"Exactly right Doctor Carter," he replied, he ground out the stick underfoot, "Take this one, I'll start with the green tagged and you can join me later."

"You got it," there was no smile on Carter's face but there was an expression that spoke of benign acceptance, perhaps even satisfaction with what his future was going to be. He started running to keep and match the pace with the fast moving stretcher team that were disappearing in to the medicae, "Give me the bullet!"

"Thirty two year old female guard. Been fading in and out of consciousness. Penetrating trauma to lower abdomen. BP is low but stable at seventy-five over ninety. Respiration is fifty-three; pulse ox is eighty-five on hundred percent oxygen. Two IV's in the field, with three liters of saline in, intubated to protect airway. Six of morphine given. She's lucky - looks like she's all that's left of her squad."

The sun was beginning to set and it gave the butchered landscape a red glow, as if the sky was bleeding, and the planet grieving for the losses that had befallen those who would stand against the unending hordes of chaos in a desperate attempt to restore the planet to its rightful rule. Nevertheless, to Doctor Carter, none of it mattered, his feelings forgotten as he barked orders, rounding up a pair of assistants to help him treat the woman on the gurney before him.

So long as the fight continued for the future of humanity, for the Emperium and above all else, for the Emperor, Doctor Carter knew his place and the role he would play in that fight.

17