Unit-188272 arrives at the front on the world of Mukart, but war is not as he thought.
Unit-188272 hopped off the metal step of the grav-train. His heavy bloodied combat boots struck the concrete with a thud. His fogged up gas mask goggles searched the station for the quartermaster, the quartermaster in question was sitting in a chair watching the lone Kriegsman scour the station. The boy very clearly had no idea where he was supposed to go and was confused.
“Over this way, my boy.” The quartermaster hollered, his eyes following the young soldier hurrying over to meet him.
“Unit-188272, reports as ordered sir.” The soldier stood straight at attention, though he wasn’t very tall. His lasgun almost fell off his shoulder where he had it slung.
“Let’s see here.” The quartermaster stated, as he flipped haphazardly through a roster, clearly disinterested. “188272. You’re with 46th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, correct?”
“Yes sir, that’s what I was told.” The young guardsman, no older than 17, nervously fidgeted with the buttons on his greatcoat as he spoke.
“Good, they’re that way. Just down the line. If you see a Ork skull on a pike, you’ve reached regiment command. 3rd Battalion’s command is the metal door next to an ammo dump for artillery. It should be the third metal door after regiment command. Did you get all that?” The quartermaster pointed down the trench line, gesturing past the reserve trenches.
“Yes sir.” He said, though the quartermaster suspected he would soon forget even if he had heard and remembered every instruction.
The quartermaster tugged at his collar before he looked up to the gas masked warrior. “Oh, one question before you go. Where the hell is all the rest of your company?”
“D- Dead sir. I was in car #2. Cars 4 through 7 were destroyed when car 4 was hit by artillery and detached from the rest of the train. T- The remaining cars were hit by machine gun fire. Those who didn’t die instantly bled out before they got here. That I survived was a miracle.” The young lad seemed shaken by the experience, but the quartermaster hardly seemed phased.
“Lucky you, you survive the ride here just to suffer in the trenches. Well, the Emperor protects, I suppose.” The quartermaster said it in a sarcastic tone, but the young guardsman believed that the Emperor’s guidance was exactly what spared him.
“That he does, quartermaster. That he does.” The guardsman said, looking up at the smoke-filled sky.
“You better get along, 188272, you really don’t want to be lost in the trenches at dark.” The quartermaster heaved a great sigh, before sitting back in his chair.
“Yes sir. Thank you sir.”
The Krieger adjusted his lasgun sling on his shoulder, setting forth into the reserve trench. Uncertain of what was to come.
The concrete walls of the reserve trench loomed 14 feet or more above the mud floor below, duckboards dotted the trench’s surface patching over wet spots and deep holes. He passed by coughing men, wounded men, shivering men, any sort of misery could be found in those trenches. Not only that but the various regiments represented were staggering. Cadians, Mordians, Praetorians, Catachan, even some regiments 188272 had never seen nor heard of before. By the time he reached the skull on a pike, the sun was beginning to set, and trashcan fires were being lit.
“Hey, what battalion you headed to?” A fellow Kriegsman who had just lit a fire and stopped chatting with a brother in arms turned to face 188272.
188272 stopped to give pause, he had to recall, it had been a long time since training had ended, or at least felt that way.“3rd.”
“Oh, I’m from 4th. I could probably show you there if you want.” The other guardsman stood up, offering a hand.
“No, thank you, I can get there on my own.” 188272 turned away and walked off before the man even had a chance to protest.
188272 continued to walk through the trench, counting the metal doors as he walked.
Disparate sniper fire and men from both sides taking potshots rang out in the night, 188272 picked up his pace, moving to a light jog, and then to a spring.
He stopped only when he reached battalion command, bursting into the room where a Captain stood speaking with a commissar. They seemed to be discussing recent intelligence and frequently gestured to a map on a table in the center of the room.
The Captain turned to face the intrusion. “Number.” He said hardly missing a beat.
“188272, sir.” The recruit stated with a feeling of anxiety, if he made a mistake in front of the captain, and especially in front of the commissar, he could be punished, maybe even executed.
“188272, the quartermaster informed me you were the only person to arrive alive, correct?” The Captain said, as if hoping it weren’t true.
“Yes, sir, that is correct.” The guardsman had to mask the sadness and terror in his voice at being reminded of his comrade’s untimely ends.
“I see.” The Captain heaved a great sigh, the loss of an entire company of reinforcements was not something his beleaguered regiment could tolerate. “In that case go down to 4th platoon. You’ll be reinforcing C Squad. Talk to your sergeant when you get there.” The Captain stated curtly before returning his attention to the map and the commissar beside him.
188272 marched over to the 4th platoon dugout, his bloodied boots covered in mud and soot. His barely spoiled uniform put him at odds with all the others around him, whose uniforms looked as though they had been stitched together after being shot to pieces. Still, he felt no discomfort at the glances other guardsmen were giving him.
He pushed his way through the ramshackle wooden door to the dugout, and his eyes were greeted by the hustle and bustle of an entire platoon, each man was doing menial tasks, cleaning the bay, making their racks, so on and so forth. Hardly anyone paid him much attention.
A Lieutenant, not much older than 188272, briskly walked up to him and sized him up. “So. You’re new meat? Wonderful. Did the Captain assign you a squad?”
“Yes, sir. C Squad.” 188272 recalled.
The Lieutenant sighed. “Alright then, your rack is over there. The man with the sergeant insignia on his shoulder plate is your Watchmaster. Report to him.”
The guardsman quickly hurried over to his rack, saluting to the Watchmaster.
“As you were. Don’t salute; it’s unnecessary. Only salute if it’s the Captain.” The guardsman Watchmaster’s voice sounded tired and worn out. His shoulders were slouched, and he frequently tapped his fingers against his saber.
“Unit-188272 reports as ordered, sir.” The guardsman stood at attention, his lasgun by his side. His spine straight as an arrow, doing exactly as he was taught in training.
“You have a name?” The Watchmaster said between a yawn. Scratching his chin, though what relief that provided given he was wearing his mask was probably next to none.
“Er… 188272?” He didn’t fully comprehend the question. He had already told the Watchmaster his number, and those from Krieg were not given actual names, so he did not know what answer the sergeant was looking for.
“Alright. I guess not. My name is Paul. I’m the Watchmaster. If you have questions, feel free to ask me.”
Paul walked over to the rest of the squad, ushering 188272 along with him. “These are your squad mates. Don’t feel pressured to remember their names. After a while you’ll probably be able to remember who’s who.”
Paul pointed to a guardsman sitting on a ramshackle chair cleaning a plasma gun. “That is Karl. He is the plasma rifleman in our squad. Don’t stand too close to him when he shoots that thing.”
Paul turned and pointed to a guardsman who was kneeling down, tuning a vox system. “That is Albrecht, our vox operator. He’ll be by my side most of the time.”
He introduced 188272 to the rest of the squad. “Johann, he’s a Grenadier whose entire company was wiped out. He got reassigned to our squad. Bernhardt, our flamenmann. Herman, Fritz, Konrad and Klaus, all riflemen. In the meantime you should try and think up a name for yourself. Much easier to remember than 118722.”
“188272.” The recruit corrected him. “And we need our identification numbers.”
“To report to officers, although honestly even they don’t especially care. But your squad mates aren’t going to remember your ID number. It makes battlefield communication a hassle. So. What do you think your name will be?”
188272 thought for a long hard while, before settling on a name. “Hans. I want to be called Hans.”
Paul extended a hand which Hans shook eagerly. “A pleasure to meet you, Hans.”
Hans woke up the next day. He admittedly could not recall everything that happened last night. He also distinctly recalled Konrad passing around a flask. Everything that happened afterwards was a haze at best.
“Rise and shine, Hans.” Paul said, leaning on his rack. “Let me show you where everything is.”
Hardly waiting for Hans to get up and ready, Paul was already walking out the dugout and into the trench. Hans hurried to meet him.
The two walked down the trenchline, Paul showed Hans where everything of importance was. The location of mess, the shower, CIF, armory, and the chapel.
“Clean yourself off. Take a shower, shave, and report back in front of the dugout. We’ve got first chow today.”
Hans went through the morning routine, cleaning himself off and removing his mask for the first time in almost a year (showers were not permitted during training). It was odd to see the faces of his fellow soldiers. All throughout training he could only think of other soldiers as being gas masks and lasguns. Never anything more than that. It was hard for him to fully explain how dehumanized and desensitized the training had made him.
He rushed out of the showers and back to the dugout. The entire platoon was lined up, and he hurried to be in formation.
Roll call was taken, and reported. All present and accounted for. They were then dismissed for breakfast.
Breakfast was nothing interesting. Typical rations of meat-paste, half sawdust soup and bread. Still, Hans couldn’t complain, he was hungry and would’ve eaten anything.
When chow was over, Paul looked over to Hans, and gestured him over.
“You’re new, so I’ll give you an easy job, seeing as we’re now going on watch. Trust me this is a much better job than sitting around and waiting for an attack that won’t come.” Paul took a deep sigh as he fished around in his pocket, procuring a letter in an envelope. “Lieutenant told us we’ll be performing a charge rather soon. It’ll be a joint attack with the 87th Mordians, so I’ll need you to run down and make contact with them, give them this, I can only imagine what’s in there..”
Hans gave only a quick nod before he grabbed the letter and ran at a full sprint down the line. It was almost lunchtime by the time he reached the 87th, whose trench was evenly covered with duckboards and looked as though it had been meticulously cleaned so not even a speck of dirt touched the concrete.
Hans turned to face a female guardsman. She had brunette hair and large eyes, she wore a warm smile on her face that was completely foreign to Hans’ sober eyes.
He bluntly asked her. “Where is your commanding officer?”
“Silas is in the bunker.” She gestured to the command center behind him.
Hans delivered the message, walking back out of the bunker, just to see that same woman standing watch.
“So, was your mission a success?” She asked with a grin.
“Yes.” Hans stated curtly, and was just about to walk away when she grabbed his arm.
“My name’s Velrette, by the way. Here.” She slipped a piece of paper into his greatcoat, and gave him a wink before standing back to guard her post.
He nodded in gratitude for her, before rushing back to the dugout.
When he returned, it was just menial duties. Nothing special, only cleaning and the like. And when he got the chance, he snuck a look at the piece of paper written to him by Velrette. It read ‘Henrietta Velrette, 87th Mordian Iron Guard, 2Btt, 3Cmp, 6Plt, B Squad. Please write to me, Krieger boy.’ A smiley face was scrawled next to the personalized message. Hans had no idea how to take this information. He was confused, mainly. Why would she want him to write to her? They had barely met. Still, he had nobody else to write to, and it was something to occupy his time. So he started to write his first letter. ‘Dear Henrietta’…
“Why didn’t you save us?”
Hans woke in a cold sweat. Grasping over to his night stand, he groped his pocket watch, which read 0237. Shaking the sleep from his eyes, Hans stood up, looking around the bay. His squad was sleeping, save for Herman and Klaus, who were both on watch outside, or more accurately, we’re keeping themselves awake outside.
Hans sleepily walked out of the dugout, at a table to his left were Klaus and Herman. The two were just speaking about something, though Hans knew naught what, and Klaus was riding the Guardsman’s primer, a book every guardsman was issued during training.
Klaus looked up from the book and met Hans’ gaze. “Hans, is everything alright? You don’t have watch today, why are you awake?”
Hans sluggishly replied. “I have to use the latrine, I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Hans clambered up the trench wall, behind the reserve trench. He tiredly walked over to the latrine, which was far out of the sight of the watch, or anyone else for that matter. The only thing Hans could see was a withered tree, far off in the distance way behind the line.
“Why did you survive?”
Hans knew that voice, he knew it well. It was the voice of 188369, a squad mate of Hans back in training.
Hans sweat under his mask, he looked up and to his horror he saw a figure far off in the distance, shambling towards him.
“How can it be you? I thought-“
“Kriegsmen are not supposed to hide.”
Hans quivered in fear, all he managed to squeak back was. “I didn’t hide.”
“Do not lie!” The voice yelled back sharply, all the while the stumbling figure staggered ever closer through the fog. “I was there! I saw it all! You hid behind the corpses praying the bullets wouldn’t strike you!”
“I survived!” Hans yelled back, standing up. “I did what any soldier would do, I did what I had to do to survive!”
The figure was close enough now for Hans to see. It was a Kriegsman, and no older than Hans certainly. It’s left leg was bent in a manner no human leg could be, bone jutted from the side of its knee. Its left arm was missing, naught but a fragment of shattered bone jutted from its shoulder. The right frame of the glass mask was shattered, the metal holding the glass was twisted and bent. Its guts hanged like a revolting tabard of flesh, the entrails coated in a foul miasma and viscera. Holes the size of clenched fists detailed a wretched, grisly end.
“Gaze upon me! 188272! Gaze upon your failure! And answer why did you hide!” The creature screamed at Hans, its vocal cords visibly striking together through its tattered throat.
“I hid because I was afraid! I was afraid of death! I feared that such a death would not be enough for absolution!” Hans yelled, so loudly a flock of razorbirds took flight from their perch in the withered tree.
The Kriegsman’s Corpse stood, looking down at the hollow husk of 188272, curled up on the latrine floor. “A Kriegsman should not feel fear.”
Hans began to cry. “I know, I’m a Krieger, I’m not supposed to cry.”
“You are a coward, a fool, and a failure. What is the sentence for cowards.” The corpse said, coldly.
“Death is the only punishment.” Hans said, shaking from his torrent of tears.
“Then do what must be done.”
Hans slowly raised his lasgun, placing the barrel under chin. Only after he squeezed the trigger did he realize he did not have a power pack in the weapon. He searched his person frantically to find one before the beast could yell at him again. Instead, he happened upon a paper in his breast coat pocket. It read ‘Henrietta Velrette, 87th Mordian Iron Guard, 2Btt, 3Cmp, 6Plt, B Squad. Please write to me, Krieger boy.’
Hans read it in silence, his tears stopped flowing.
“No.” He said, quietly, tossing his lasgun aside. He looked up and screamed. “No!”
But the corpse was nowhere to be seen.
The next morning, Hans was given watch duty, he was given his breakfast on the watch, and eat it with gusto.
Paul came up behind him and clapped him on the back. “Remember, the charge is 1000, we still have an hour or two. So I’ll take watch, it looks like someone’s looking for you.”
Hans followed Paul’s gaze all the way to a Mordian Guardswoman waving at him.
“Go get her, Hans. Not all of us get the chance to chase pursuits like that.” Paul laughed, pushing him towards Henrietta.
Hans nervously walked over to Henrietta, looking her up and down. “How did you find me?” He asked.
She shrugged, her deep blue coat rippling. “I knew you were with the 46th, and you’re the only Krieger I’ve seen with a spot of blood on your helmet.”
“A what?” Hans asked, confused.
She gestured to his helmet, which, sure enough, had a large gob of blood on it.
“We’ve got a couple hours until the charge, so I figured, maybe we could talk?” She asked him, taking his hand.
He stared at her blankly, not that she could really tell with that mask on.
“C’mon. Walk with me.” She laughed, pulling him by the hand, up and over the trench.
She kept dragging him past the latrine. “Let’s go to that tree over there!” She says excitedly to Hans.
Hans isn’t even given time to protest before Henrietta drags him all the way, and practically throws him to the ground.
Hans braces his fall, and Henrietta covers her mouth in shock. She hastily tries to apologize, but Hans just swats her off.
“If I may ask, why do you care so much about me?” Hans flipped onto his back, looking up at Henrietta.
She gives a cheerful shrug before sitting down next to him. “I suppose it’s because you’re from a whole other world, you don’t meet people from other worlds all that often, right?”
Hans supposed she was right. Until he met that Cadian quartermaster, he had literally never interacted with someone who was not from the planet of Krieg. Never even laid eyes on them.
Henrietta continued. “Besides, I’m a young woman, you’re a young man.” She blushed and quickly continued her sentence. “We’re both-“ she couldn’t finish her sentence, putting her hands in her face.
Hans put his hand on her shoulder. “What‘s the matter?” He asked, a tone of concern in his voice.
She sighed. “‘I’m a young woman and you’re a young man’? Oh my Emperor, I’m such an idiot. I’m sorry I didn’t mean it to sound like that.”
Hans tilted his head, looking at her quizzically. “Sound like what?”
Henrietta looked up. “You know, like I wanted us to be a couple.”
“A… couple? A couple of what?”
“You know, boyfriend-girlfriend?”
Henrietta stared at him dumbfounded. “You don’t know what a couple is? Your parents never told you?”
Hans looked down at the grass, picking at a flower. “I don’t have parents. I was grown in a vat, like every other Krieger.”
She stared at him as though he said something strange, which admittedly he had. Still Hans couldn’t help but feel guilty for his own method of birth just from the way she looked at him.
“How old are you?” She asked, no doubt wondering if his aging was enhanced.
“18. My transport took a remarkably long time to reach this planet. I was supposed to get here a year ago.” He sighed, knowing that he was probably older than 90% of his fellow Kriegers.
She looked at him, inquisitively. “You were born 18 years ago, right?”
“Yes, they didn’t alter our aging process at all. I grew up at the same rate as every other human.” Hans said, almost hurt that she didn’t see him as human like her.
“Well. I’m 17, I’ll be 18 in two days, if I live that long.” She joked, but Hans didn’t laugh, jokes like that didn’t amuse him, only worry him.
“Oh!” Hans yelled, startling Henrietta. “I almost forgot! I wrote you a letter.”
She punched his arm, saying. “Don’t do that! Hand it over though. I wanna read it.”
She took the letter from Hans, opening it up and reading.
As she read it, tears began to form in her eyes. She hugged Hans, which he didn’t know how to respond to. “Thank you, Hans. Thank you so much.”
Before Hans had a chance to respond, Konrad ran over from the trenches, and tossed Hans his lasgun.
“It’s 0945. We’ve got 15 minutes. Your girlfriend better sprint if she wants to make it on time.” He swiftly turned back and ran back to the trench line.
Hans had few words, he just turned to Henrietta, and stood up, her hand slowly slipping out of his.
Just as he turned away, she softly spoke up to him. “Wait.”
Hans turned around, looking back down at Henrietta, who stood up to look him in the eye.
“Please take off your mask. Just this once.”
Hans began to protest, but she put a finger to his rebreather.
“Just this once, for me.”
He heaved a sigh, and slowly slipped off his mask. His eyes were a piercing icy blue, his hair a light brown or maybe dirty blonde with mud caked in it, his face was square, and well shaped. Had he not been a bruised and battered soldier he may have even been handsome.
Henrietta pressed her face against his, her lips locking on his. She grabbed the back of his head, and he followed suit. After a moment that felt like forever, she took a step back. Looking him up and down.
“For luck.” She said, before running back to her position.
Hans stood there, dumbfounded for a moment, before he shook himself back to reality. He slipped his mask and helmet back on, and returned to the lines.
His entire squad was there. He lined up behind Paul and Albrecht, fixing his bayonet. A commissar stood beside their line, who Hans recognized as the same one who was in the bunker with the captain two days ago. The commissar raised his power sword, placing a whistle to his lips.
“Wait… wait.” Paul muttered.
The commissar swung his sword down and blew into the whistle.
“Now!” Paul yelled, and the squad went over the top.
This is a work of fan-fiction, in keeping with the guidelines illustrated on Games Workshop’s website, as well as fair use copyright law. Warhammer 40,000, The Astra Militarum, and Death Korps of Krieg are all registered trademarks of the Games Workshop corporation. I do not stake any claim of creator nor ownership over these trademarks. This work is in full compliance of current Games Workshop IP protection guidelines as of August 2021.