Too Late [W40K Short]

Following story was written on the prompt ‘Desperation’.  Rolls in at a neat little 1,043 words.

Too Late

The scene was grisly, of that there was no doubt. Blood spattered across the floor and walls, painting every surface with an arterial finish. Strings of entrails dragged out from many of the corpses. There was torn flesh aplenty. All these sights – and the stink of faecal matter – pervaded the senses of those standing there. Maybe one hundred humans – man, woman and child – formed the integral focus of the picture that spoke a thousand words.

Outside, set apart from the humans, a single Adeptus Astartes, clad in the blue armour of the Ultramarines lay dead, face-first in the mud. The rain beat down on his corpse, washing free blood and grey matter that dribbled from the bolter-hole in his skull. It didn’t take an Apothecary to work out that given the angle of the wound and the fact that the weapon was still clad in his rigor mortis stiffened hand, that the Ultramarine had turned his bolter on himself.

Silence blanketed vox communications between the squad of five Space Marines who were here to bear witness to this moment. Nothing needed to be said. Every man’s thoughts were filled with the same four words.

We are too late.

The desperate cry for help had been picked up by the strike cruiser as it had passed this planet, on a regular patrol of the star system. Considered a planet with little to no threat, well within the yoke of the Imperium, the beacon had raised immediate concern. In over a thousand years of trading, there had never been a distress call received from the planet.

In over a thousand years of trading, there had never been need to closely monitor the planet. And as it transpired, that was the Imperium’s first mistake.

Perhaps more out of a mark of respect than anything else, the Marines removed their helmets. One, dressed in the blue armour of a psyker, put his hand immediately to his temple and winced. The psychic backlash here was so strong that he felt it like a series of repeated blows to the head. His closest companion put out a hand to steady him and the psyker nodded gratefully.

“We are too late,” he said aloud and almost redundantly given the tableau before them. The others looked at him, but said nothing. The Captain moved to the body of the Ultramarine and nudged him over with a booted foot.

Whatever he had looked like in life, the man was unrecognisable now. The bolter had blown most of his face off, leaving only stringy peels of bloodied flesh that exposed the skull below.

“Are you picking up anything at all, Brother-Codicier?”

“It’s like seventeen vox channels of white noise going on in my mind at the same time. It will take me a while to filter out the pertinent details.”

“Perhaps so. But can you do it?” The Captain was as short as ever, but for once he had reason. He was sickened by the carnage here and knew that his superiors would demand an explanation. He had been ordered – and had agreed – to bring the Codicier down to the planet with the advance squad, but it had been with reticence. He was a man of action, not a man of witchery.

The Captain didn’t like psykers.

“I can do it,” confirmed the Codicier. “Give me a moment.”

“Make it swift, Brother-Codicier.”

“Yes, sir.”

The young Space Marine shivered slightly as another psychic wave ran through his mind. He felt the cold trickle of terror that pervaded this room, the stab of fear that overrode every single nuance of his awareness. Whatever had happened here, the resulting carnage had clearly been driven by desperation.

Desperation of what, though?

Despite the pain in his head, the psyker hunkered down beside the dead Ultramarine and lay a hand on the Marine’s neck – what was left of it. The skin was cool and hard to the touch, but he instinctively knew that the man had been the last to die.

Visions flared into his mind with such startling clarity that he physically reeled backwards, staring at the dead Ultramarine in horror. The other Marines watched impassively. None of them were psykers, and yet they too could feel the same sense of creeping horror that existed here.

Swallowing hard, the Codicier moved back to the Ultramarine, putting his hand again on the dead man’s neck. This time he stood his ground, his eyes closing as he absorbed the last, fading memories of the man who had once gone by the name Uriah.

And he knew.

“I know,” he said. “I know what happened here.”

“Spit it out, man.” The Captain’s impatience with the psyker knew no bounds. His temper was already frayed.

From somewhere beyond the room, a low moan started up. It was an otherworldy, unnatural sound that ate at the senses and froze the very marrow in the bones.

“What happened, Codicier?” The Captain’s tone changed from irritated to urgent. The psyker shook his head. His words, when they came, were barely comprehensible as they tumbled from his mouth. The psychic images were clear, so clear.

“It feeds on the life force of others,” he said, his hands pressed to his temples. “The dead are of no use to it. If it has nothing to feed on, it can’t survive. It was angry, because the Ultramarine killed them all to stop it. So it tore them apart.”

“Stop being obscure, psyker! What are you talking about?”

As the shadow loomed in the doorway, huge and immovable, the Codicier stared up at the Captain.

“I’m talking about that, Captain.”

The Marines turned to stare at the massive alien life form in the doorway. The Codicier stood.

“If we live, it lives. If we die, it cannot survive. Uriah knew that.”

In the semi-darkness, the massive shape in the doorway moved slightly, shifting one spindly leg. The Captain stared from it to the Codicier and back again. His hand closed around the bolter in his arms and he cradled it to his chest.

“You are sure of this, Codicier?”

“Aye, sir. Without a doubt.”

The Captain nodded.

“Then we will not suffer the abomination to live.”

The sound of bolter fire echoed into the night.

[END]

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