~ Chronicles of the Ending Time ~

An Armored Trooper Votoms-XYZ-Dark Millennium joint by James Ray Edwards


It was a renaissance, a time of rebuilding and reunification, where possibility appeared but limited only by the imagination, but even these times were not without their dark trials and tribulations.

Among the many human worlds rediscovered and brought into the fold was the Astragius Sector. When the Emperor and His mighty host arrived, they were horrified to discover a shadow play of days they had thought long buried in the past. The Dark Age of Technology was alive and well here in Astragius, and for generations, the men of the Gilgamesh Confederation had warred with their neighbors, the Balarant Union, in endless, bloody conflict, the reasons for which had long since been forgotten. Whole planets destroyed by weapons of mass destruction, fathers bled for those yet unborn, mothers wept for their firstborn, and babies choked in their wombs: the scale of human suffering unimaginable.

Still, they fought on like men possessed, beasts intoxicated with but one thing: victory.

To see His subjects in such a pitiful state, the Emperor decreed that the present course shall not stand, thus began the conquest of Astragius. Though blessed by the technological might of the Dark Age, the debased armies and corrupt officials of Gilgamesh and Balarant were no match for the discipline of the Emperor's legions and the brilliant leadership of his favored son, Horus Lupercal. They were brought to heel swiftly, being but mere cat's paws of another, pawns afforded but a measure of true power.

The Emperor in His infinite wisdom recognized this incongruity and made plans to confront the puppet master behind the dark plot, so that He alone would rule Astragius and restore order as its one and true master. While His advisors negotiated the terms of peace, in secret, the Emperor spirited himself away to Quent, a barren land of mystery dominated by the ruins of another time, a lost age. The reclusive, stoic Overmen, kin to humans, call this ancient place home, and never once has she been conquered in the history of the Astragius Sector.

Her peerless defense was by no means their doing. The Overmen possess no standing army and, by and large, have abstained from the use of technology. Nay; the fate of Quent was held in the palm of her god, a sublime, aloof being of awesome power who is said to have watched over the galaxy for eons.

What transpired then on Quent is a subject of mystery, the truth only the Emperor knows. And whatever the case might be, the fact remains that upon His return to the war council, He declared the god to be false, slain by His very hand, much to shock and awe of all dignitaries present. Thus, began His righteous intercession that resulted in the much controversial "Concord of Quent", transforming the Astragius Sector into a rare sovereign entity within the Imperium that enjoyed many of the same privileges accorded to the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Flush with the gifts of newly recovered dark technology and auxiliaries eager to prove their worth, the Emperor then took to the stars once more. His advance proved irresistible, victories becoming all but inevitable as worlds flocked into compliance with the newborn Imperium, reuniting His scattered sons with the Space Marine Legions derived from them. Alas, this was not a union meant to last, for His sons would use this very same technology to undo much of the Emperor's great works.

It has been over ten millennia since that age, and today, in the 41st Millennium, Man knows only War. Humanity is besieged from all sides by the terrible threat of aliens, heretics, mutants, and worse. There is no peace to be won, no end in sight, only a hellish dystopia of carnage and slaughter where mortal men are but the subject of laughter and sport for the ever thirsting gods.

And on an old, tired battlefield somewhere, the armies of the Imperium of Man scream their desperation and violence, as the golden light of the Astronomicon wanes, the End Times draw nearer by the witching hour.

But to one Guardsman in particular, young and impetuous, he could not have cared less for the heady despair of the times. He had a rendezvous with Death, mayhap at some disputed barricade. And it may be that Death should take his hand, close his eyes and quench his breath, leading him into her dark land. He had a rendezvous with Death, and to his pledged word, he was true. He would not fail that rendezvous.


Interval 01

"What do You think People are Made of?"


The question asked, I answered, "Shit."

000

Four weeks, a hot shower, a clean shave, and a belly full of antiemetics ago, The Guardsman experienced the precarious danger of losing his religion right before a live combat drop. The nervous atmosphere of the pungent smelling belly of the dropship, cramped to the gills with the engines of war and a handful of their riders not withstanding, he wondered why he was marching off to almost certain death - again. The Guardsman could vouch ad nauseam that he had not a lick of fatalistic masochism in the delicate marrow of his bones, easily bruised and averse to bleeding.

What a cry for shame that he was vectored nevertheless toward his next trial by the will of forces too high for his pay grade to understand.

His battered regiment, the 8th Gilgamesh Irregular Mechanized, still nursing its wounds from fighting the Tyranids but months ago had been rerouted to take part in the pacification of Ferrous III, a troubled industrial world in the Ultima Segmentum that had seen better days. Once upon a time, she paid her tithes dutifully to the Imperial credo in man, machine, and material. Her bountiful mines supplied the many refineries and military industrial complexes across the planet, blessing them with remarkable efficiency surpassed only by the mighty forge worlds of the Mechanicum.

Today, the enemies of Mankind from within and without beset her: traitors and a greenskin horde bent on claiming the prize for themselves. Iron III was under siege, and Segmentum Command would be damned if they allowed an Imperial world of such critical importance fall into enemy hands without a fight. Dubbed the 88th Expeditionary Taskforce for the Munitorium's convenience, the 8th Irregulars stood alongside four other hastily mustered regiments on the precipice of no return, committing the bulk of their assets to the liberation of Ferrous Principal, the planetary capital.

Before the taskforce could go about achieving such a grand undertaking, however, many smaller objectives needed to be met. First and foremost amongst these many tasks, bound to extract precious Imperial blood and material, was the capture of a suitable beachhead for the main body to land. What folly then that there was only one such location: a spaceport far to the south of the capital, and the greenskins owned it.

Specialist G. Lawson glowered up at the green "little man" kneeling in his cradle, "'Feet first, straight into hell,' huh? ...Throne alive, what am I doing here!"

The Armored Trooper's yawning cockpit offered no answers.

000

Black painted nails attached to a snow-white hand, elegant and feminine, drummed on the worn countertop, as she considered the expression. She had been around me long enough to know that it could have meant anything from the end of the world to today's my birthday, whoop-dee-frakking-doo-dah.

"Shit," repeated the pale woman, almost ghostly really, as if she were made from the same wisps of cooling vapor rising out from the half-empty cup beside her.

"Shit," I acknowledged her growing coy smirk. "More recaff?"

000

Forty-eight hours later, the lead elements of 8th Irregulars that survived the grueling orbital drop, spoiled by flak anti-aircraft fire and a marauding squadron of Ork fighters, continue to push out of the spaceport. They fought house to house, street to street, in the gutted city of Damalis' Landing, alongside the Guardsmen of the 27th Svenian Heavy Tank, the 1st Mwangi, and the elite 82nd Elysian Drop Troops regiment. Progress, alas, has been dreadfully slow, taxing both man and material.

On the contrary, the Svenians have not had any heavy armor in their inventory for the past fifteen standard years, forcing the "armored" thrust to make do without tank support. The Mwangi were primitive tribals, just barely civilized by Imperial standards. Their courage far from being in question, they made for able scouts and skirmishers, but the brawny tribesmen had yet to appreciate the finer details of modern combat in the dark millennium beyond which end of a lasgun had the "stabbity" pointy bit. To compensate against the threat of Ork armor, air assets from the 8th Irregulars and the 82nd Elysian were being scrambled around the clock.

Command pushed to make the best of the weather before the seasonal acid rains invaded the plateau, sandwiched as it was between mountains to the east and the west. When the time came, flights would have to be cut in half, and the going would be much slower. Hour by hour, the footsloggers were fighting tooth and nail to gain precious ground under a pitiless dark sky, marred by centuries of industrial pollution due to vent all of its stink and rage all too soon.

On that particular overcast afternoon, still clad in his green pressure suit ripe as a cesspool already, Specialist Lawson did not feel the slightest bit safer than the infantrymen scurrying past his larger than life boots. The said boots was a privilege and curse granted by the "plasteel coffin with an autogun" he took refuge in because he was good enough to be deemed not a wasteful investment of precious war material. Huddled in the shadow of a decrepit hab block, the armored trooper, a Melkia-pattern Scopedog, stood as tall as any venerated Space Marine Dreadnought, minus the omnicidal drug addled pilot with a millennia worth of battle experience.

This man inside was only mortal for better or worse, and Lawson could vouch without an ounce of shame that he had survived just seven standard years worth of ugly warfare so far.

(He intended to keep living longer if possible.)

Of course, the infantry envied him surely, decked out in a full vectronics suite almost on par with a command-variant Chimera, enough horsepower to keep up with the vehicles, and Emperor-to-honest armor to match. He was authorized to be lightly armed to the teeth with a shorty combi-autocannon paired off to a knuckle shield, and an assortment of grenades and specialist munitions. What his fellow Guardsmen failed to appreciate that Lawson had about the same constitution as a Chimera, meaning he had little business trying to tango mano-a-mano with a tank.

Also, he had the unenviable duty of carrying all the extra essentials that the three platoons worth of troopers slogging and dying about him would need in his AT's supply backpack.

And being the tallest, most well-armed thing in his patch of contested killzone, Lawson deeply resented the fact the infantry were leaning on him hard to get through this mess. Their commanders appeared to be incapable of understanding the fact that an armored trooper was not a Space Marine Dreadnought, despite the comparable scale. One lucky penetrating hit alone could send him to meet the Emperor faster than the imminent fiery conflagration lighting up underneath his arse from the volatile polymer ringers solution running through his Scopedog's electrically charged artificial muscle cylinders.

The distant rumble of explosions, punctuated by the preamble of a shrieking Vulture passing by overhead, and the closer still chatter of persisting gunfire from Orkish autoweapons exacerbated the lack of situational awareness. Worse the Ork Nob in charge of the rabble holding this residential block seemed to have learned from his thoroughly perforated predecessors that the green AT with all the spiky bitz was quite the prize at the center of the Imperial advance coming his way. It was no mean feat of strategy to be proud of; if the posh Elysian bastards were not going to appreciate the fragility of his life, Lawson would happily put as many of them between himself and certain death to even the odds. Through their unknowing sacrifice, he gained valuable intelligence and time to eliminate critical threats that he would not have needed to bargain for in Imperial blood had he been fighting alongside his own number.

"Hey, where's the fight at?" Lawson's amplified bark lashed out at the gaggle of drop troopers funneling past his corner. He could hear the tortured cough of promethium engines driving tracks nearby that did not sound anything like the well-maintained engines of the Elysian's Chimeras.

(Also, it was loud. Too loud to be just one looted tank.)

Possessing only the vox frequencies for the platoon commanders, the Astragius native could only assume the worst. Last he heard, Lieutenant Triard's Platoon A was somewhere five klicks eastward facing the brunt of the heavy fighting. Conventionally speaking, Lawson was in the safest location of the attack, the rear with Sergeant Hrud's Platoon B. Platoon C had been broken down into two-man fireteams worth of pickets that ran alongside the main body, serving as its eyes and ears.

Suffice to say, it was the vox frequencies of the scouts that the supply clerk would kill for; he could make much more accurate plots on his TacMap with their input, namely how the hell the Orks had appeared inside their perimeter.

"Take a look, warp-!" shouted one of the Elysians, the rest of his expletive ridden cry drowned out by a crackling almighty flare of white lightning.

Lieutenant Triard's imminent objective was to secure this flank, where reports of sporadic mortar fire continued to hound the main body. They were advancing up the primary thoroughfare to gain access to Falstaff Gate, the expedition's ticket out of the city. With little room to maneuver, the harassment by the indirect fire had to stop.

"Zzapgun. A really big one at that," Lawson observed, the auto-irises on his Scopedog's turret lenses whirring back open.

As if to confirm the obvious, he experienced the terrible bone-rattling chorus of the "Waaggghhh!", before whomever manning the gun unleashed another flash frying bolt into the street. By the time a visual returned in the helmet-mounted display's optical feed, the handful of twitching guardsmen unlucky enough to survive the first volley had joined their atomized comrades in eternal vigilance. Taking heed of the warning presented by the human-shaped outlines of soot stains on the slagged steaming rockcrete, Lawson did not like his odds one bit at all.

"Emperor on Earth, what in the warp was that?" crackled a strained gravelly voice over the vox network.

"Sergeant Hrud, Sigma-Victor here," Lawson answered for the dumbfounded man's benefit. "Ork battlewagon or something. Zzapgun. Big. Nasty. Confirm six fatalities, over."

"Frak, what's Charlie doing? Someone should've seen this bastard coming."

"You got any assets that have eyes on?"

"Assets? Are you mental? You are the asset, Gilgamesh. Kill that bastard!" Sergeant Hrud killed the connection and got on with doing whatever it was he needed doing.

Stray bullets and ricochets continued to chip away at the crumbling torched hab block across from him, fired by the troupe of boyz no doubt following behind their so-called "guntrak". The orks were getting closer. He could hear the trumpeting ache of their boots pounding into the plasteel frame already.

"I was afraid you'd say that," Lawson mumbled before turning his attention down to a pair of Elysians who appeared to clinging quite literally to his steel boot heels. "Hey, you rats, clear out. I'm moving!"

Shocked awake from a nightmare that was only about to get uglier, the famed drop troopers seemed to recall their place with a gasp and hurriedly scrambled out of his way. The Scopedog stepped out of the shadow of the hab block, but not before leaving a small lifeline to the beleaguered Elysians.

"Hold it. Here's a care package, Menu C!"

With a pneumatic hiss, a rugged container the size of a wall locker ejected out of the Scopedog's modular supply backpack and onto the pavement. Decorated in facetious caricatures of somewhat lewd women and bleating sheep providing helpful operator instructions, the colorful care package survived the fall without a hitch, giving the Elysians a moment's pause to contemplate this strange instance of charity.

"Missiles and grenades in there," Lawson pointed out the obvious that was failing to register in their adrenaline addled minds.

Upon recognizing the chest of loot for what it was, the pair of red shirts joyfully ravaged her contents for it was worth, like starved men who had not seen a woman in years. It almost brought a tear to the supply clerk's eyes, really.

"Let the Emperor guide your aim, or you better learn to load faster, troopers."

Engaging the gliding wheels beneath his feet, then Lawson put the pedal to the metal and broke to the left, away from the intended approach vector of the orks. He hoped that between their guttural hooting, weapons fire, the 'trak, and a bit of luck, the greenskins probably would not hear him coming. The subdued hybrid-electric powertrain of the Scopedog loosed little more than a neighing whirr when compared to the all-out growl of a promethium fueled combustion engine. It helped his odds a bit, but if push came to shove, maybe those guardsmen would have enough balls to buy him some time.

Sightlines in this particular residential block were not particular forgiving, though well-planned, everything looked about the same, with a distinct lack of personality, the roads coming together at regular right angles. It reminded Lawson a little too much of just about any Mechanicus brainwashed world. On the bright side, the regularity made flanking actions child's play.

"Right, that's one block; now take the left here and-FF-F-STOP!" the supply clerk floored the E-Brakes, throwing himself roughly forwards against the acceleration seat's crash webbing.

The streets here were sort of cramped, just big enough for a pair of Leman Russ to pass through. Suffice to say, he was most dubiously surprised to find a length of spun barbed wire and sandbags blocking his path. A more choleric vehicle commander would driven straight through the barricade and missed the blatant ork signpost that said bad things would happen if he passed on through without stopping.

Fortunately for Lawson, he was quick on his feet and paranoid about his health. Sparks and puffs of torn rockcrete flew out from underneath the Scopedog's feet, as the assisted braking spikes dug screeching furrows in its wake. The armored trooper ground to a halt within a hairbreadth's of disturbing the barricade, its skirt armor plates creaking with a veritable sigh of relief.

"C-close," Lawson sucked deep on his air mix, the joysticks shaking in his gloved hands. "That was too close. I have to hand it to Hrud's assessment: how in the warp did the scouts miss this?"

Something was wrong. Definitely wrong, but the increasing tempo of nearby chattering stubbers interrupted by muted lasfire, and the occasional cough of a rocket launcher, did not give him the luxury of pondering the puzzle very long, Lawson needed to be on his way. However, if he were to apply some simple uncommon common sense to the scenario.

"If I was an ork, I'd be damned if I didn't back up my threats," the AT pilot zeroed in on the ominous signpost, depicting a laughable caricature of an ork's skull and crossbones. It was a message that even primitives could understand as forbidden. "But the sign does another obvious thing..."

Humans spend most of their lives absorbed in their feet, gazing down at the pavement for minute changes in the terrain that might upset their footing and send them to an early grave. A man can be so obsessed with the dirt and the filth in his way that he seldom bothered to take heed of any curiosity above his normal eyeline, and when something should appear, he would be very much preoccupied by the oddity. Thus, the individual could waltz right on in, blissfully unaware of the grenade dangling on fishing wire or a nightmarish creature, all teeth and chitin, descending like death from above, and he would not know the difference until his precious head went missing.

Slamming on the throttle in full reverse, the electric powertrain sprang to life with an annoyed whine. Lawson found himself lurching against his crash webbing for the umpteenth time in so many hours, but his lead foot certainly saved his hide. The Scopedog leaned back into an evasive pivot on its rear foot, narrowly dodging a hate-filled projectile whooshing towards its head.

And there above him, leaning over the edge of the rooftop, stood an ork with the smoking rocket launcher, flinching momentarily from the bright flash of the ponderous rocket-propelled grenade venting its irascible rage into the pavement. In turn, chunks of masonry along the hab's facade came apart unto dust and shrapnel from the indignant thunder of mass-reactive rounds, Lawson's autocannon burst answering the leering greenskin's pending question. The answer was a definite "Not today", as the sneaky green bastard ended his life in a spectacular red spray of meat and bone.

"Great. Now, anybody whose been listening has a good idea of where I am," the supply clerk, however, derived no joy from his tiny victory. The motion band on his auspex readout said a plenty that he was not out of the woods yet.

The greenskins still had much more mischief in mind; their trak had stopped curiously enough, and was starting to double back. Could Lawson have been spotted? Likely, it was hard to miss three-point-eight-meters worth of Imperial plasteel in motion, he reckoned. The true heart of the question lay in: where was he being observed from that the orks could track him so accurately?

"Of course, there had to more of them on the rooftops," Lawson cursed, before a bone jarring battlecry assaulted his ears.

More greenskins, all hate bundled into a disproportionate bulging package of muscle and fury, emerged from the nearby rooftops and soared into the dreary gray sky on plume of rocket exhaust. The spectacular sight of the so-called "Stormboyz" never failed to convince Lawson that these things were absolutely mental. They did not even use proper jetpacks, just mostly spent artillery-grade rockets to his best deduction. Strapped them they did onto their backs, and off the fools went into the great yonder. It was one of the many heights of lunacy as far as the supply clerk was concerned, but he had better haul tail before those aforementioned crazies got to close.

Already the dinging impacts from stub rounds ricocheting off his armor reminded Lawson uncomfortably of how orks had pried a man screaming out of his foundering armored trooper back in the swamps of Onyx III some five standard years ago. Hacking away, pulling and tearing at him with their grubby paws and hand axes, a messy affair left that flicker of a green pressure suit fresh with a new coat of paint. Suffice to say, they convinced the clerk that he would rather prefer to die of old age than be turned into authentic Lawson puree.

"Sergeant Hrud, you there?" Lawson voxed over the gunfire as his Scopedog pealed out in reverse. The abused pavement around him was rapidly developing a pox of bullet holes from the poorly aimed fusillade that the squad of Stormboyz loosed with wild abandon. "Listen, this is Sigma-Victor. I've got problems. Big problems. A whole frakkin' firewasp's nest worth of problems!"

The reply from the Elysian sergeant's end did not speak well of the weather either: a lot of heavy stubber grumbling with a chance of evisceration by WAAGGHH! "And you think I don't have any? Go cry me a river, Gilgamesh. Your bloody ork friends are crawling up my arse!"

"Glad to hear I'm not hogging all the fun. Slot some bastards for me, yeah?"

"Shut it, skankwit! Now, what about that damn 'trak?"

"Well, with all undue fermenting respect, frak you sideways too, sergeant," Lawson tracked his crosshairs over the biggest Stormboy he could find amidst the squad descending to street level. "You're an exemplary inbred arse-bandit!"

"Wh, what did you just say, SPECIALIST?" Sergeant Hrud's irate anger rather paled in comparison to the howling vitriol the lead ork spewed out from his metal framed jaw before a burst of autocannon took him.

Spent shell casings the length of a grown man's forearm glittered onto the pavement against the bright backdrop of an explosion. The Stormboy, ork and rocket, detonated from the mass-reactive rounds, showering his nearest colleagues in a shredding rain of metal that rode the edge of the concussive blast wave. The lucky one was wounded heavily, all but faceplanting into a bloody mess on the rockcrete, while the other died almost instantly, beheaded by a face full of red-hot shrapnel.

"Got your attention now, do I? Fan-frakking-tastic!" satisfied with some much needed breathing space, Lawson disengaged and withdrew down between the rows of torn hab blocks at top speed. "Now, listen: the 'trak's not important."

And not a moment too soon, the deafening crack of flaring white lightning seeped into the cockpit. Blinking out the white splotches, he spared but a glance at the rear view inload in his HMD, enlarging the pict, before dismissing the terrifying novelty altogether. A molten path like the aftermath of a turbo laser blast had gone straight through the rows of hab blocks in his general direction, leaving a searing line of burning flame mixed with motes of strange colorless particles that had vaporized his pursuers in the process.

And at the head of the destruction Lawson caught a glimpse of his unintended savior, a monstrous contraption cobbled together from at least four looted tanks. Certainly it far exceeded his expectations of a mere guncarriage. Even without the humongous fanged "Zzap Cannon" riding atop the treads that vented steam and waste heat from its barrel like some mythical dragon, this trak was well worth its weight to be a superheavy tank. Bristling with an array of sponson weapons, orkish battle banners, and patchwork appliqué armor, the supply clerk imagined the ork nob around these parts must be quite influential to get his paws on an asset of this magnitude.

What a shame he could not direct a squadron of Vultures to make it go "KA-Boom!"

"Correction: it might be kind of important, like superheavy important, but it's coming after me anyways," sighed Lawson before returning his attention to the immediate business of staying alive. "Bloody damn Titan hunter is what it is. They must have hidden it real sneaky like. Pass the word along to the forward air controllers, won't you?"

He would certainly die if he turned around to face the supertrak, whereas detouring deeper into ork lines to link up with the rest of the company would probably kill him. Having a chance rather than no chance at all sounded like music to his ears, and Lawson did not need encouragement from the pings of motion plots lighting up on his auspex to get his head in the game. Right on cue, more greenskins were emerging from the rooftops in beady red-eyed teams of three's and four's hauling all sorts of unpleasant presents from him.

"I've got no line of retreat here, and if you haven't got an intellect between your ears to understand, then write this down on your TacMap so you know I'm deep up into my exhaust with orks too, frakwit! They're after our supplies, or more to the point, my armored trooper, period. Guess I shouldn't have asked for that spiked shoulder pauldron the other day."

A nightmarish fanfare of orkish firepower tore into the street. Dirty mismatched rockets of all misshapen shapes bobbed drunkenly into the fray kicking up plumes of fire and detritus that dazzled the eyes and buffeted his ears. They masked the far deadlier threat of whistling electrified harpoons slicing through the obfuscating haze, a greenskin go-to whenever the violent brutes wanted to capture their choice of Imperial kit intact, for the most part.

There was not much Lawson could do here but drive like mad, weaving through the crisscrossing firestorm, and hope somebody upstairs was looking out for him.

Sergeant Hrud, regrettably, could not appreciate the gravity of just how deep his fellow man was in trouble, "SPECIALIST! You turn around and get back here, right now. I'll have you flogged for-"

Shuddering in the crash webbing of the acceleration seat, Lawson was just glad for the small mercies in his awful life: at least he had his own air supply. Otherwise, the clerk would be too busy choking on all the acrid cordite and smoke no doubt already staining his Scopedog raw.

"Glad to hear you appreciate me so much, sergeant, but I'm outside your chain of command. With much regret, I'll have to decline your most gentile offer."

It never ceased to amaze Lawson how blasé he sounded over the vox while being veritably embraced by death. Perhaps, it was a sign he had seen so much combat that the wriggling ball of fear in his gut had gone bonkers? No doubt Lawson feared for his life, guiding the Scopedog as best as he could through the streamers of smoke and belching flame.

"...Bare in mind though, I'm all the spare ammo and meds you got for the next twenty-four hours, so you'd better ask the LT to pull in some Sentinels and clear some wiggling room for my belated return."

The compression waves of near hits rattled unpleasantly up through his bones, like a nagging voice telling him that any moment now could be his last. However, Lawson's mind was elsewhere, perhaps in the past. His body, here in the present, wreaked of sweat and tears, as the autocannon chugged-thump! thump! thump!-rounds into the nest of beady red eyes. A window here and a rooftop there, brick by brick, everything around him appeared to come apart into a senseless slurry of noise and voiceless carnage.

"Sigma-Victor, detour-in-progress. Out."

Ah, Specialist G. Lawson prayed the slowpokes working the flight line at the spaceport would finish unloading all the garrison and "B" rations by the time he got back, so he could actually cook tonight. War is hell, but a well-fed stomach and a good night's rest did wonders to keep the dreams at bay.

000

"Why, shit?" the ordinarily foul expletive rolled off her tongue like it expressed the height of gospel as we know it.

If we had some of His Not-So-Secretive Inquisition around, I am sure the both of us would have needed to find a new calling in life, fast. "I didn't believe it myself at first, but after a while, a lot of nonsense I experienced in these past seven years started to make sense."

000

Today, aside from the Universe End in M-14 Major accompanying the drooling pitter-patter of acid rain, all was quiet at Material Distribution Point Forty-Two. But for those in the know, MDP-42 known as "Lawson's", named right after the eccentric specialist who ran "the joint" that may or may not be totally mental, was never too quiet. Situated at Falstaff Gate, the last stop for all troopers on their way north to break the siege of Hive Primus, it is a twenty-four hour, twelve on-twelve off, seven days a week "convenience store" manned by Specialist G. Lawson of the 8th Gilgamesh Irregulars and a certain coghead in the back.

The store welcomed all authorized personnel: Guard, Navy, and otherwise not classified as a D-Bag Inquisitor, lardarse Emperor Botheror, or other unmentionable brain killers specified in standard operating procedures. In times of war, however, Imperial citizens with sufficient identification and tender can enter the premises to execute transactions for goods deemed appropriate by the Munitorium. Supply clerks manning the post, however, reserve the right to refuse transactions deemed criminal of excess.

(All proceeds will go to worthy charities or to further fund the war effort. The Emperor protects.)

000

Day 28 sure is going slow. Last Sunday was quicker than this, even though the sky was as miserable as ever since the weather went to crap, always gray and pouring. Lots of boots came looking for porno slates (possibly illegal contraband in other regiments but totally worth the profit), those Trooper Fuel ration bars (always a good sell), lasgun mods (cha-ching!), and other last minute "souvenirs". Too many for just the decontamination shower to handle, in fact, so I ended up having to hose the whole lot of them tribals from the Mwangi down en masse with a fire hose.

That was kind of fun. Heh. Too bad they'll probably make me pay for it later.

"So what kind of a story is it?" she badgered me, elbows on the table, and her scary perfect, heart-shaped face cupped in her hands. "What did you hear? Who convinced you, Lawson?"

Hopefully, business will pick up once the reinforcements Segmentum promised us get here. The young woman in black's been toying with me more often, saying I'm slacking off, and if I have time to slack off, the least I can do is keep her company.

I shot her a withering look over the unattended steaming cup of recaff between us.

When it's not the weekend, I've been rolling on convoys, hunting down shoplifters of the green and ugly variety in town, or getting airdropped into free fire zones all day since we came to this planet. Therefore, when it's my time, also known as "Me Time", a "headhunter" such as myself likes to have some time to just do the simple things in life. Colonel Heidern knows I like to check up on our inventory, see how the other stores are doing, run my store (because Emperor help me does Adept Germi scare the piss out of the customers), and go on a hike with extreme prejudice when appropriate.

It helps me work off my stress, which seems to be made manifest in her.

"Law~son~!" she chirped sweetly, as if I were her amusing pet dog.

I offered a longsuffering sigh in deference to the status quo. "You're not getting a long sob story, if that's what you're hoping for, lady. But, I suppose, the abridged version bears repeating for edification's sake. It went something like this..."

000

"Let me make this frakkin' new guy proof for you, Law's Son. The World, as we know it, is a steaming, hot and heavy XXX-hole, and its filled with XXX-itty little XXX-bags. Sad but true, us piss poor sods are born into it as eggs packed with XXX. It ain't ideal, far from it, and I feel you on this, but if you don't want to go through life covered in XXX from head to toe, then you'd best be real careful how you treat everyone else. Common sense, right? Right. Common sense. But if you do happen to end up breaking an egg-well, tough-make some Emperor-blessed omelet rice out of it then, you skagwit! You followin' me, Law's Son?"

~ A Guardsman known only as "Sarge", Catachan XXX "Mad Men" Regiment, 991.M41 ~


Disclaimer: All intellectual properties used in this literary exercise belong to their respective owners. Thoughts, Comments, and Constructive Criticism is appreciated. Litigation is not. Suspension of Disbelief, I am told, makes the experience more enjoyable.

The story will continue...probably.