Talking about The Bolthole in my last post reminded me that word came out recently that the 2012 Black Library submissions are finally all sorted. Around 3,000 stories were submitted. I did not receive an acceptance, and thus my story was rejected.
I’m not surprised or even really bothered by this. This was my first attempt at a submission, and it’s a fairly non-standard Warhammer 40,000 story on top of that. Either way, I’m free to share it now, so here it is. This was to be the lead in to a longer story if accepted, so the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. Sorry. If you aren’t familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, this may not be up your alley.
Duty Until Death
Bornan Malkurn furtively glanced around the smoky gloom of the bar. He took in the familiar scene of old and broken furniture. Small piles of dirt and grox dung accumulated along the floor. People huddled around cheap plastek tables nursing drinks and minding their own business. It was much like any other bar found on a backwater agri-world.
He quickly looked down and took a drink as his eyes settled on a group of traitor soldiers seated in the opposite corner. He averted his gaze not only to avoid drawing their attention, but also because the sigils and markings branded into their skin and splashed across their armor brought bile to his throat. The traitors were loud and raucous, filling the room with guttural laughter.
“This is a big risk meeting here with them around,” Bornan’s brother, Harrald, said quietly.
“No more risk than any of the rest of this will be,” Bornan replied.
Harrald chuckled and nodded. That certainly was true enough. Bornan was growing impatient. They were waiting for two people to arrive, and they were late. He glanced at his chrono – 19:23. They were very late.
“I’m surprised they let this place stay open,” Harrald said.
Scratching at his left leg where it became a low-quality bionic foot, Bornan responded, “Probably figure without booze we’ll be grumpy and uncooperative.”
At last, the men they were waiting for approached. Bornan curtly gestured for them to sit. The barkeep came and deposited two dented cups in front of them. As she withdrew, Bornan leaned close toward the new arrivals.
“What the hell took you so long to get here?” he demanded in a whisper.
Ashen faced, one of the men responded, “They had Hasker and Emylee tied to posts in the square and were rounding up everyone they could find to watch. Said something about finding a gun in their hab.”
The man, Styler, rubbed his eyes before continuing, “It was awful. They unleashed some kind of hounds. Big nasty horrors with razors for teeth and claws. They ripped Hask and Em to shreds! I’ll never forget her screams.”
“Keep your voice down,” Bornan hissed, glancing over at the traitors. Thankfully, they were still absorbed in their drunken revelry. “Do you want to avenge their deaths?” he asked softly.
Both men nodded.
Bornan asked, “Carson, do you still have those rifles we used to hunt jackarats?”
“Yeah, they are buried below old Rourck’s mating pen.” Carson answered.
“Good. To be able to make any real difference we’ll need more weapons.” Bornan said. He paused before continuing, “Just know that once you go down this road, there’s no turning back. There will be danger, and there will be death before this is all said and done.”
“I’d rather die fighting than tied to a post to be eaten alive,” Styler said.
Carson just nodded again.
Bornan peered around the corner into the dark and deserted main street of Dryot. Since the occupation, the Chaos commander had instituted a strict dusk curfew, and breaking curfew meant a painful death. Harrald, Styler, and Carson crouched behind him in a narrow passage running between two small hab units.
He ducked back into the impenetrable darkness of the passageway. Their target was approaching. Four traitor soldiers marched down the center of the street. In the silence of the night, the clattering of their mismatched gear sounded like a carnival parade making its way toward them, rather than just a handful of men.
“Remember, we make a clean hit, grab what we can, and run like hell,” Bornan whispered to his party. “Patrols are usually light at night, but we won’t have long.”
He crouched down, with Harrald beside him. The two men readied their battered lasguns – relics from their days serving in the Imperial Guard. Styler and Carson rose and stood over them, each with a hunting rifle eagerly pointed toward the street. The skin around Bornan’s bionic graft began to itch, for once a welcome distraction from the anxiety he felt as they waited.
After another moment passed, the first two traitors stepped into view. Bornan waited for them to take one more step before he quickly aimed and fired his lasgun. The blast tore into the side of the closest traitor, easily cutting through his patchwork leather armor and knocking him into the man beside him. Bornan’s shot was the signal for the others, and they unleashed a torrent of fire.
Harrald shot one of the traitors cleanly in the head as he turned to face this unexpected threat. The man fell solidly to the ground as blood flowed freely from the shredded mass that was now his head. Bornan aimed and fired again, hitting the last man standing in the chest. The traitors lay sprawled out and unmoving on the street as silence and darkness recaptured the night.
“Move quickly, collect their weapons,” Bornan hissed as he darted out onto the street.
He knelt down, grabbing one man’s autogun and slinging it over his shoulder. He rummaged through pouches and pockets, finding three magazines of additional ammunition for the gun. As he turned to check the progress of the others, he thought he saw one of the traitors move his arm.
Before he could call out a warning, the man turned and fired a laspistol, hitting Harrald in the chest. Harrald dropped with a grunt of pain, clutching the charred blast wound near his right shoulder. Bornan shot the traitor in the face before rushing to Harrald’s side. He was gasping as he struggled to rise.
“Grab what you can. We’re leaving, now!” Bornan ordered the others, who stood there, mouths agape.
He grabbed his brother under his good shoulder and heaved him up. Harrald winced as he did so, but Bornan ignored him and stumbled into the relative safety of the passageway, dragging Harrald along. Bornan’s bionic foot groaned ominously under the added weight with every pounding step he took. Emperor protect us he thought as they ran.