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Author Topic: fet's - As once you could be  (Read 1306 times)

refuse

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fet's - As once you could be
« on: April 17, 2014, 10:08:56 PM »

1.

I was on Beckett’s End when I met him. He didn’t know it then, but he only had three weeks left before he got burned up. He’d just cycled back from the Palomar Campaign and was looking at a few weeks of down time before they sent him back to get shot up again. The leg didn’t hurt anymore by the time I ran into him in a bar in Pozzo, it’d had enough time to heal most of the way back, and the bionics were looking good. Real good. The metal would catch the light wherever he was; I reckon I even saw it glinting prettily through his fatigues a couple of times. Given the source, I’m not surprised.
He was sitting there, at a little table down the back, drinking away all the memories he didn’t want to have with that crap they sell there. Beckett’s End doesn’t have the good stuff—hell, it doesn’t even have the bad stuff, only the really bad stuff. Anyway, he was half awake and looking pretty nasty when I got there. We’d all seen the vids of him by then—as you have, I’m sure—so I knew who he was right away. No one was bothering him, not even the barman who only brought drinks over when he got sick of hearing the guy whimpering. It’s like there was a bubble round him, a good few metres wide. I guess everyone just knew what was gonna happen to him.
I thought to myself that it just ain’t pretty watching a man drink himself into oblivion alone, so I took it upon myself to buy him a couple, maybe get a story out of him.
So I sit down across the table from him, and my foot bangs against that leg of his. A little sort of ting sound comes off of it, and it seems like it’s never gonna stop ringing. Then he puts his hand on it and sorta whispers, like ‘shush’ or something. Like you might talk to your kid to get them to stop crying. Weirded me right out, that. So he looks up at me, holding a drink out to him, and his eyes are bloodshot. You kinda expect that from a guy who’s been drinking for a couple of weeks straight, but you don’t expect the grin. Manic. His teeth were right there in my face, looking for a moment like he’d sharpened them, and like I was the next meal on his list. But then his lips shut and he mutters ‘Thanks,’ before taking the drink off me and taking a long, long swallow.
‘You’re pretty famous,’ I said, ‘this whole sector knows your face.’
‘Yeah, that happens.’ Open and shut, no room for getting anything out of him that he doesn’t want to let out.
‘Something to do with your leg,’ I continued, ‘Mind if I have a look?’
He looked me right in the eyes, then sort of smirks, pulls his leg out from beneath the table, and starts hitching up his pants. Prettiest damn bit of bionics I’ve ever seen. Not even those marines we saw on Maupassant Prime had such impressive metal. All the lines were smooth and clean, the hinges and hydraulics worked without even a hiss, and the hoses were all that armoured type, you know, the real expensive stuff. It came from just above his knee all the way down to his foot, with only a little bit of the meat still attached where his calf would be. I guess that was all they could salvage. Or maybe they thought it’d look nicer that way. He flexed the steel toes and all the pistons and cables twitched and slid through the movement.
‘So how’d you get it?’ I asked, afraid he might just give me the details I already knew.
‘You’ve seen the vids.’
‘Yeah, something about xenotech, wasn’t it? But we all know that’s grox-fart.’
He leaned back, almost in a drunken slump, yawned, and let his pants slide back over the polished metal of his leg.

2.

‘We were in the trenches, back on Palomar Tertius, watching all the time for the glow of the artillery’s tracer-fire tracking us down. It wouldn’t take them too long, they were just tracking across the trench-line, knocking out a platoon with every shot. That was the terrifying bit: every shot hit home, not a missed or ineffective shell anywhere. I’d just been made sergeant after Hille got nailed the previous day, so it was my job to make sure my boys stayed put and kept up a constant stream of fire whenever one of the traitors stuck their heads up. It would’ve been easier with some titan support, but the whole of Tertius was down to three Warlords and a half dozen Warhounds. We’d be lucky to see the shadow of one on the horizon.
‘By the fact that the pounding of the shells was working its way towards us from either side, we knew we were in the middle of the battle line. We had no idea till Rogan, a grunt, pointed it out. We all knew what that meant. Being in the middle meant that they’d shell everyone else into oblivion, then assault on all fronts, coming at us from the front and sides at the same time. Against these traitors it was better to be shelled. We’d all heard the stories about how depraved they were. Half my men, when we realised the artillery was quietening, made to run. The moment they got over the back lip of the trench, though, bolt rounds went neatly through their spines. Not even a squeak from any of them, they just dropped.
‘I’ll bet Conrad, the Commissar, would’ve liked to see that—if he hadn’t been three hundred metres to the south getting blown to pieces.
‘When the shells finally stopped their pounding, we waited. We knew the traitors were coming, and we could hear their voices booming loud across No Man’s Land, but no one wanted to stick their head up. You’ve got to appreciate that; they’re superhuman, even if they’re traitors, and there isn’t a guardsman in the entire Imperial Army could take a hit from a boltgun, and none that can match the accuracy. Not these traitors, anyway. As I said, every shell hit, and every bolter round killed.
‘When we heard them sprinting across the open ground beyond the trench, we prayed. There wasn’t much else we could do. A couple of the lads stood up to fire their lasguns and were dead before their finger had a chance to tighten on the trigger. Links had the flamer and shot a few bursts along the edge of the trench, which might’ve slowed them down if a grenade hadn’t landed at his feet a moment later.
‘I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a flameboy hit by a grenade. They explode into a fireball when the shrapnel penetrates the fuel canister, it gets spread everywhere: all over the trench, all over anyone nearby. It’s the fuel, you see. They make it sticky so that anyone hit keeps burning. When that gets poured into a trench you get a lot of dead bodies, and they don’t smell good, either. Plus it means the survivors get cramped up into a smaller space—anywhere the fuel hasn’t stuck.
‘When the traitors dropped into the trench, we all knew it was over, but we had to fight back. Nothing else to do. Our bayonets were useless, though, couldn’t penetrate the armour if we’d been twice as strong. Their chainswords hacked the rest of us apart with a single stroke. Except me. Their boss had plans for me.
‘He pointed to me with his power sword, obviously intending that we fight some kind of duel. I figured I was dead anyway, so I straightened up, drew my chainsword, and prepared to die like a Guardsman. The Emperor’d like that, I figured.
‘When he made his first move I was ready, and hurled myself back, hoping to catch the back side of the trench to spring forwards again. It’s a pretty simple trick, they teach it to all the Guards at basic training on Camus. The only problem is that by the time I got to the back of the trench I didn’t have a leg to spring back from. His arm was too quick. Right where my leg should have been, his sword had cut clean through.
‘They say that power weapons automatically sear the wound, and that it’s shock you die from, not blood loss, but that isn’t true. Not through your leg, it isn’t. The artery there’s huge, you’d need to actually hold the sword there to burn it closed. So I fell back against the wall and bled, expecting to feel that same blade come through my chest at any moment. But I didn’t. I looked up at him, and he was staring at me through those purple lenses on his helmet like he couldn’t believe that I survived a single stroke. A bit arrogant, really.
‘Then this other marine pushes past him, all sorts of nasty looking tools sticking out of his backpack and off his wrists. I recognised some of them from serving alongside the marines over on Lethe, the tools their medics carry. Other ones just looked to me like implements of torture. He knelt down over me, brushing away my sword with his hand when I tried to defend myself, and stuck a needle in my neck.’

3.

He stops then to ask for another drink, which I gladly oblige. The story we all heard on the vids was that he’d been some sort of hero for scouting out a rear assault on a Xeno-held position. He’d lost his leg, apparently, when he got spotted, but then killed the guy that hacked his leg, and took the new leg off him. Kinda like Yarrick—if you believe that story.
He was scratching at the end of his stump of a leg when the drinks arrived, like the wound was still healing. He nailed the drink in one and I got him another, which he sipping all casual-like. Somehow he wasn’t getting too drunk, even though he’d obviously had a few.
‘You can handle your piss,’ I says.
‘There are still drugs in my system, the docs tell me,’ he replies, ‘apparently that’s why I can’t sleep and can’t get too drunk. Bit of crap to be in.’ He laughed then, and sipped his drink again.

4.

‘I woke up later on a bench, blood everywhere: all over my fatigues, all over the table, the floor, the walls. Everywhere. At least my leg had stopped bleeding, there was a thin bandage over the stump that had meshed with the flesh there. I could see a couple of stiffs on other benches around the room with their organs hanging out and little pins sticking into them here and there. I was there a while before they came in for me. I couldn’t move except my head, they’d bound me pretty tight to the metal, so all I could do was wait.
‘That was horrible. All those bodies, all that blood, and this constant drone from all around, like there were engines in every room around me. The strangest thing was the smell, though. No reek of dead bodies or rot or anything like that. I couldn’t even smell the blood. Just flowers, like they’d coated everything in perfume. Creepy like you wouldn’t believe.
‘So when they came for me there were two of them: the traitor that took my leg, and the medic. The medic stood by while the other came over by my head and took off his helmet. His eyes had purple irises, and his skin was paler than an ice shark, especially because he had no hair, not even stubble. His lips were thin and pink, but his smile was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, even more than anything I saw when my parents took me to Hallis, the Garden World, when I was little.
‘“You’re a remarkable man, Sergeant Blake,” he said, “You’re the first I’ve ever faced that hasn’t died at a single stroke.”
‘I coughed up a bit of blood then as I tried to laugh in his face—and that’s harder than you’d think, when you’re in that place. He pulled a cloth from a pouch at his waist and wiped my mouth clean.
‘“We pride ourselves on our perfection here, you see,” he continued, “The ideal man, above any of your kind, above even your Corpse God’s lackeys—daring to call themselves marines. When I was on Terra, all those millennia ago, even then none stood before me as well as you.”
‘He was pacing around as he spoke, each footfall softened on the blood that covered the floor.
‘“Hence, you’re an enigma. You shouldn’t exist.” He paused now, before leaning over me to breath into my face—perfume again—and continue: “But you do. You, unlike the untold billions of your kind, are close to our kind of perfection. Not very close, but close enough for us to notice you.”
‘The medic stepped forward now, pulling a tray of tools with him, and interrupting.
‘“That’s why we’re going to reward you,” he slid past his comrade, pulling his tools with him, “Perfection should never be destroyed. Never. We’ll make you more perfect.”
‘I managed to wheeze a “Damn you” before he stuck another needle into my neck. This one, though, didn’t knock me out. Instead of watching from inside myself as I slipped into the black, I was slowed right down. It was like watching those old vids where the data’s been mangled and everything goes slow. Worst part was that I could still feel everything, I just couldn’t move or make a sound.
‘You haven’t felt pain till you’ve had it slowed down almost to a pause. Every moment took an hour to pass. So, when he started cutting into my leg, I felt the sawing of the blade like you wouldn’t believe. Pain isn’t just your brain telling you something’s gone wrong, it’s more than that; it’s kinda like an epiphany you shouldn’t have. Like when you realise that your officers don’t care about any of you, and that you’re just a meat shield to keep the traitors back while the artillery does its work. And that the artillery is there just to hold the line while the Navy deals with the traitors in orbit; they’re just slowing Chaos down as it works its way towards Terra; that Terra’s just an object in space holding the rotting bits of the Emperor, and that the Emperor’s not even alive.
‘Pain’s like that: you can’t imagine that the galaxy makes any sense, or that there’s any stopping the bad bits taking over like cancer.
‘The cutting was the good bit, though. Once he started drilling out my bones I was sure I’d die, so much pain clotting my head that I wished I was dead, and that even being dead going to hell’d be better. Hell can’t be that bad. By the time he’d finished all the brutal stuff I was a wreck. I’d gone mad inside my own head, even though the whole thing only probably took half an hour. But, as I said, the drug slowed that down and drew it out. It felt like I’d gone through years, almost as many as I’ve been alive.
‘Then he put the leg in place—this thing—and all the pain went away, just like that. Almost erased it from my mind; there isn’t anything that could do that properly. Anyway, the moment it touched me I was happy. Get that: happy. What’s there to be happy about? But my brain cleaned right up, like being really, really sober the morning after, no headaches or anything. Just clean.
‘“Now you’re better than you’ve ever been,” the medic said, “You’re more perfect than before. You are beautiful to us.”
‘They left then, and for the next three days I waited for that damn drug to wear off so I could sleep, or anything. It wore off a little bit, everything slowly sped up back almost to normal. But I’ve given up on waiting for that happen. No one’s gonna talk at normal speed again, no one’s gonna move as fast as they used to. Everyone but me. You can’t see it, but I can reach out and touch this glass, drain it all back, and put it back in place—and all you’ll see is the glass wobble a bit, and some of the drink trickle down my chin. But moving that quick leaves me dizzy. I guess we’re just not made for whatever drug the traitors are using.
‘Anyway, after the three days were over, they took me off the bench, gave me new fatigues, and put me on one of their transports. They took me out into the wastes and left me there. The guy that I’d fought was with me, and he said nothing the whole way there, not until we got to the edge of their territory.
‘ “Head north for half a day and you will reach your lines,” he said, his voice smoother than the Ecclesiarchy’s orators, “They know to expect you.”
‘So I got out and started walking. I didn’t get tired, and I didn’t slow down. I just walked. Must’ve been ten leagues or so before I saw the banners sticking up above the bunkers. About three hundred metres out they came out with the Colonel’s guard. They surrounded me and put me in quarantine. And now here I am, new leg, new chance to prove myself to the Emperor, but better than any of you.’

5.

His last line he sneered. I knew he was just a grunt, but he had some kinda thinking like he was special. Then he did it: just drained his glass so quick you couldn’t’ve seen more than his hand move and hear the glass hit the table again. I don’t mind saying it scared the crap outta me.
‘You got some leg there,’ I says.
He shrugged, ‘It’s the drugs, not the leg.’
‘What’s so special ‘about the leg then?’ I asked.
He flicked the metal through his pants and it started that ringing again, but this time didn’t put no hand near it to stop it. Pretty soon, that ringing was getting into my head like those brainworms out in the wastes, and I had to get outta there. I paid the barman on the way out, leaving a few creds so Blake could keep up his drinking. If nothing else, it’d keep him from following me, I figured.
As I says, though, he only had three weeks left before they got to him. Word was they killed everyone in the bar, where they found him, then burned him up on that hill over to the east of Pozzo. One of them incendiary shells straight outta a Russ, so you can be pretty sure there wasn’t anything of him left. His leg, though, I reckon I’d bet half my rations that thing came out fine, just fine.
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