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Old Soldiers Never Die (Novella)

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Old Soldiers Never Die
OldSoldiers.jpg
Cover art by Clint Langley
Author Sandy Mitchell
Publisher Black Library
Series Ciaphas Cain
Preceded by The Last Ditch
Followed by The Greater Good
Released November 2012
Pages 130
Editions 2012 hardcover
ISBN 9781849704717

Old Soldiers Never Die is a limited release novella, part of the Ciaphas Cain series by Sandy Mitchell. 500 copies were released on November 3rd and 4th, 2012, exclusively at Black Library's 2012 Weekender event. The novella features cover art by Clint Langley and internal illustrations by Wayne England.

Cover Description

Inquisitor Amberley Vail opens the Cain Archive once again to present one of the strangest missions from the heroic commissar's storied career. Deployed to the world of Lentonia to police the aftermath of an insurrection, Cain and the Valhallan 597th have to deal with a dangerous disease spreading through the Astra Militarum ranks... an infection that kills its victims and returns them to life as flesh-eating zombies! As the dead rise across Lentonia, Cain and his malodorous aide Jurgen must seek a cure and find the source of the warp-tainted infection before they end up among the ranks of the walking dead themselves.

Synopsis

Amberley Vail introduces a short extract from the Cain Archive, remarking that, even for Cain's storied career, it is surely one of the strangest episodes she has ever reviewed...

938.M41: The Valhallan 597th and its Commissar, Ciaphas Cain are deployed to Lentonia to help the local PDF mop up the remnants of a recently-quashed civil insurrection. For Cain, who is used to the regiment being dropped into the thick of the action, it is a welcome change of pace: not only is the insurrection all but over, but there are already two other regiments from the Vostroyan Firstborn and the Tallarn Desert Raiders deployed, not to mention Cain's old unit, the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery. Cain is looking forward to a relatively quick and easy mission.

On making planetfall, he and Colonel Kasteen are greeted by the surprisingly young Governor, Jonas Worden, who has just been elevated to replace his recently-assassinated predecessor. Their ride in the Governor's limousine is proceeding nicely, when they are halted by a rioting crowd, which attack the bike outriders and then swarm over the limousine. Cain, suspecting the influence of combat drugs or something even more sinister, is watching the limo's armour buckle slowly, when Jurgen arrives in a Scout Salamander and "washes" the attackers off with a blast from the flamer.

In conference with the other Guard and militia commanders, Cain is surprised to hear that the Imperial forces are dangerously undermanned. The fighting with the rebel forces was desultory, but some kind of infection has incapacitated a good deal more of their soldiers, some of whom have already died.

While attending a funeral for some of the recently deceased Vostroyan officers, Cain and Kasteen are horrified when said officers batter their way out of their coffins and rise up as Plague Zombies. Cain and Kasteen manage to put them down, with difficulty.

A Magos Biologis, Moroe, examines the corpses and says there is no room for doubt: what they are facing on Lentonia is another outbreak of the Plague of Unbelief. Colonel Samier, the commander of the Tallarn contingent, mentions that they encountered such revenants during their last deployment, and Moroe says they are likely to have brought the Plague to Lentonia, albeit unknowingly. Cain points out that, since none of the Tallarns have fallen ill, they may have some resistance to the Plague that Moroe can use to formulate a cure. In the meantime, the Guard forces must redeploy to prevent the contagion from spreading further. Cain gets a sudden chill, wanting to know what happened to the bodies of all the previous Plague victims. No one can give him a clear answer.

Sure enough, when Cain and Jurgen are driving back to the 597th's base in a Scout Salamander, they are forced to divert by the appearance of another revenant mob, and Jurgen's "shortcut" takes them straight through the "Eternal Garden," the local cemetery. What seems like the entire population of the graveyard rises up and attacks the vehicle. Cain and Jurgen fight them off desperately, but Jurgen takes a nasty cut from one of their claws.

When Cain goes to meet with the Governor, he is horrified to see that Worden has been infected with the Plague, and is fighting a losing battle to remain conscious and at his post. Exiting the Governor's office as discreetly as he can, Cain has more bad news for Kasteen and Moroe: not only do they have to quarantine the Governor, but they have to keep his condition totally secret, or the already fragile morale of the public will disintegrate completely. It is close to doing so already, as the revenants are steadily increasing in number, and getting close to overwhelming the overstretched Guard forces.

Three days later, Moroe has good news and bad news; the good news is, Cain's theory was correct, and antibodies found in the Tallarns' blood has allowed him to develop a cure for the Plague; the bad news is, the serum works perfectly in the lab tests, but is inexplicably ineffective against any of the actual victims. Everyone is baffled, until Cain checks on Jurgen's wound, and finds that it has healed completely; on a typical Plague victim, such a wound would be open and festering by now, but if Jurgen's unique ability has neutralised it, then the Plague must be some bizarre hybrid of biological and warp tainted maladies; Moroe's cure may treat one, but not the other.

The solution, Cain realises, is simplicity itself: at his suggestion, the local Cardinal bestows the Emperor's blessing on some dosages of the cure, which then works perfectly against both aspects of the Plague.

Now the only thing left to do is to distribute the cure among the populace; unfortunately, the revenants may overwhelm them before Moroe can manufacture more of it. Cain has a sudden inspiration: the cure should be equally effective as a weapon against the revenants, and the 12th Field Artillery, like most Guard batteries, has a supply of gas shells for dispersing chemical agents. The only problem is, the 12th is parked on the other side of the city, and the only way through the swarms of revenants is the underground sewer tunnels. Given his natural sense of direction when underground, Cain is unable to duck the job of being the courier.

Cain and Jurgen make the journey alone, not wanting to be slowed down by an escort that lacks Cain's ability to move stealthily underground. When they encounter a wandering swarm of revenants, they duck into a side corridor and stumble onto their worst fear: a Chaos cult, standing amid a three-dimensional "map" of the capital city sculpted from the effluent in the sewers. The cult's leader, a Chaos Sorcerer, crows that "the Grandfather" has blessed their world, and gifted him with control over the revenant swarms, that will soon overrun the city.

Cain's reputation for heroism may be greatly exaggerated, but he has certainly faced down much scarier enemies, and is less than cowed by the Sorcerer's "pitch." He dispatches a few of the cultists trying to flank him, then sensibly ducks behind Jurgen when the Sorcerer fires a blast of psychic energy at them, which bounces harmlessly off Jurgen's Blank field. Jurgen replies with a lethal blast from his meltagun, and that is the end of the cult on Lentonia.

Scrambling to outrun the last of the revenants, Cain and Jurgen are saved by the surprise appearance of Cain's old friend Toren Divas, meeting them halfway with a squad of Stormtroopers.

A brief extract from Jenit Sulla's memoirs explains that the revenants attacking the Guard positions suddenly seemed to lose cohesion (coinciding roughly with the death of the Sorcerer) and were then decimated by salvos from the 12th Artillery, after Cain had delivered the cure.

A few weeks later, life on Lentonia is slowly returning to normal. The Plague has been contained, but not eradicated, and has already disrupted life on the planet enough that it may be years before things are stable again. Cain is glad to be able to leave that considerable job to the local forces, and even gladder to hear that the 12th Field Artillery will be sharing the 597th's troopship back to Coronus, remembering Divas as a gambler equal parts unskilled and imprudent.

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