Lone Wolf Sentinel Pilot
So, Oldmate and me put our heads together again and even if took its time here is a continuation of the deliverance of Thoth during the night of a thousand rebellions.
Formating ha been a bit fidly, I hope its good to read:
Ninshasa Favelas K27 – 13 days after the Night of a thousand rebellions
Tambo – the peacekeeper
As every day around mid-afternoon, the thick, darkened clouds covering the sky above the rainforest were about to break into the heavy daily rains, relieving man and nature alike from the damp, sultry hotness and wetness of the day. Tambo wiped some sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his peacekeeper uniform that was wet from sweat and helped himself to a large gulp of water from his flask. He was surrounded by the loud clamor of countless people digging what might – with luck – resemble a makeshift strongpoint somewhere in the future. Nobody had really ever done something like this before and the stern looking imperial soldiers that by the emperor’s grace had joined them to defend the megacity were too thinly stretched to really oversee their work. Either way, it did not really matter that much. At least it gave the people the illusion of doing something to protect their homes… their world… and keep them from panicking. A small girl, barely ten, almost vanishing under a sack full of calabashs passed him with a look of determination and handed out her water filled load to the workers raising up the earthworks. Part of him thought he should tell her to get lost and get to safety closer to the shore, but deep down he knew that there would not be anything resembling safety soon enough.
As the first relieving raindrops began to fall, turning the broken earth all around into mud, Tambo climbed out of the forming stretch of trenchline to make his way towards the small square that served as kind of a village centre and impromptu scrumball field for the inhabitants of K27. All around him were shabby dwellings, made from wood, corrugated steel and most often just random junk, crisscrossing and stacking on top of each other in gravity defying manner. In “better” times he would not have dared to enter the favelas without armored support but now with the enemy clearly approaching everyone knew what was at stake. It was hard to miss. Columns of smoke and the occasional sound of explosions rose everywhere from the deep, ever encroaching jungles to the north – smaller settlements being ravaged and burned by the invaders. There was nothing they could do for them, just hope that the heretics would take their time with slaughtering.
Still, as he crossed an alley shrouded in darkness by the buildings on each side arching over until they almost touched each other he had a queasy feeling, rooted deep into his bones. As much as he hoped to be wrong, he did not really trust the trenchline to hold of the invaders. But what he believed in right to the bone was that the favelas were a deathtrap. They would not hold back a determined, disciplined attacker for long and it would be a slaughter for the people living here, but everyone trying to get through would pay a heavy blood price. At least that was what he hoped for.
Finally he reached his destination and found it positively crowded. It had been declared the meeting point for what – lacking a better word for it – would be K27s “militia” force. He saw some dozen older men and women in ragged PDF clothing – at least they knew how to point a gun, but most were way past their sixties. Others were… ordinary people, just thinking they might as well die standing with a weapon in their hands. Apart from a hand full with personal guns, they were armed with machetes, knifes and bamboo spears. Under any other circumstances he would have send them home, but that was a luxury they could not afford. And then again, in one of the countless dark alleys of this hellhole a local with a knife knowing every corner and little hidey-hole might have a chance of standing up to a soldier with a gun.
And then there were those he simultaneously had feared and hoped the most would join in. A rabble of some score youngsters, tattooed, scared, some obviously drugged up and a lot of them armed heavier than anyone could feel comfortable with. They had autoguns, stubbers, explosives and as he knew too well some frakking missile launchers that had blown up Kappa squads APC a month ago, killing them all. And more than that, from the looks of it they had stashed away enough firearms to hand them out to everyone – if one could convince them to share. Tambo was pretty sure he had seen some of those faces in the arrest cells and sometimes bleeding below his truncheon. From the murder looming in their eyes they recognized him too. Nonetheless they kept their cool, if you wanted to call it that way, reined in by their leaders.
Both of them, a tall young woman with a long scar on the right side of her face disappearing under an eye patch and a stocky man with a demon skull tattooed on his bare chest greeted him with a barely noticeable nod before spitting in the dirt before him – raising some laughter and cheers from their posse. Tambo ignored it. They might be dregs, but they were willing to fight and might put their aggression to something productive for once in their life. Nonetheless as he was talking through the “tactics” of their coming deployment he couldn’t shake the thought that he would most likely be dead tomorrow, if not by the hand of the enemy than surely due to an unfortunate case of friendly fire…
Eola – the ganger
Eola peeked over the makeshift barricade they had piled up from some rubble and junk, gripping her sturdy autogun tight. While the sounds of gunfire and occasional explosions rang from everywhere around the frontline, it had been suspiciously calm over there for the last few minutes. The rough dozen of men they had shot down trying to run up through the muddy alleyway between the ramshackle huts had finally stopped wriggling and groaning, but there seemed to be movement again somewhere up ahead. “More of them comin’ boss.” she told Paku, the older gangmember in command of this part of their hood. The man turned round towards the rest of their little “defense force”, raising his long, razor-sharp machete and beating his other fist on his muscular barrel chest covered in tattoos. “Seem like some of those Frakheads still haven’t learned their lesson boys!” he laughed out loudly for all of them to hear “This is OUR turf! And if any sucker whose face I don’t like dares to set his foot on it, I throw him out again, and his stinking foot after him!” which granted him some answering hooting and a wild mix of shouted personal battle cries from her gang brothers and sisters, while he urged them on to be louder, rallying them and hyping them up with grandiose gestures and poses.
Eola had to chuckle too, feeling a strange mix of adrenalin, excitement and anticipation run through her veins – most likely boosted by some of the pills she had popped to keep the pain and fear away. That damn copper was just a stupid coward for being so anxious about this attack when they had met at the scrumball pitch. Maybe he and his cronies had forgotten how to fight and maybe those SoBs attacking thought they were worth their salt, but they sure as hell had not grown up in the slums like all of them here and would learn their lesson soon enough. Her posse was armed to the teeth and every one of them knew this labyrinth like the back of their hand and would not let anyone fool around with them. Her thought was interrupted by the deep rattling of the machine gun nest to her right opening fire at something. Risking another glance over the solid cover of a thrown over refrigerator she could make out roughly a score of enemies diving for cover from the hail of bullets, doing their best to return fire. They wore some rugged kind of uniform, adorned on their chest with the strange symbol some of them had even carved into their forehead, which hurt when you looked at it for too long. Fortunately it also made for a quite compelling target as she noted again putting a slug of her own through the torso of a bearded fanatic with sharp filed teeth trying to lob a grenade over the obstruction. A lucky shot in the best of senses, as the primed grenade peppered some of his friends with shrapnel leaving them wailing and spilling their blood in the reddening mud.
Yet this time they seemed to have brought some heavier stuff, as Eola heard engines roaring and the unmistakable crushing and breaking sound of something big waltzing its way through the huts. She barely had a glance at something looking like a military grade version of the boxy armored transport the Guardians sometimes used, before a staccato of Multilaser bolts punched through the gun shield of the machine gun emplacement, turning the gunners into a red mist. A moment later a whole section of barricade to her right crumbled and burst, blown to pieces by a series of explosions ringing in her ears. Shrapnel and junk flew all over the place and a shard of metal sped past so close that it would have quite literally “disarmed” her, if it had hit a couple of inches to closer. Struggling to get a grip again, she heard the sound of running footsteps on the battered pavement and realization hit that the foot soldiers tried to seize the opportunity and rush the barricade while its defenders where in disarray. So Eola legged it to the nearest side alley. Not a moment too soon, as the first men started pouring through the small opening the heavy bolter had created, led by a screaming and raging madman with a crude, two handed chainblade in hand. With a wide bone shattering swing, he cut down two of her gangbrothers that had not found their senses as fast as she had. Eola matched his gaze opening her arms “Come on! Get me if you can!” and retreated back into the alleyway, when he rushed towards her, foam and spittle in the corner of his mouth. She dodged his first attack, blocking the backhand swing with the butt of her autogun and kicking him in his groin – unfortunately without the amount of response she had hoped for - before retreating some more steps into the alley. In the main street behind him she could hear the remains of the barricade bursting under the impact of the Chimera ramming it to pieces to support its allies and being greeted by a hail of stubber rounds ricocheting of its armor plates before the collaps of a building somewhere to their west drowned out all other noises for some moments again. Meanwhile her adversery advanced after her, bloodlust in his crazy, wide open eyes but unfortunately adept at handling his two handed blade even in this relative confined space. Checking one last of his crushing blows, her trusty autogun broke in two, leaving her no other chance than to try and roll away in a desperate act of evasion. She came up in a hunched position, her long knife pulled out – not quite a fair match for the heavy blade. In that very moment the characteristic hissing of two missiles from the main alley was followed by an explosion mixed with the screaming sound of a large metal box rupturing like a safe in an uphive heist. The shockwave echoing through their narrow battlefield was deafening and pushed her attacker off balance for a moment, just enough for the teeth of his chainblade to bite into some crumbling rusty corrugated metal sheet and jam to a halt. Before he could even try to pull it out Eola was on him, forcing her own blade through his throat into his skull. To her horror he turned around, starring into her eyes with a look long devoid of any trace of sanity. Letting go of the Chainblades handle his hands closed around her throat, careless of his deadly wound. The next moment she could see his body shudder under an impact and be pushed away by a long bamboo spear hitting him in the chest. Laying on his back, trying to pull it out, he seemed more annoyed than aware of the situation, while his live dwindled away in an expanding puddle of blood.
Sinking to her knees and coughing she turned to see a wrinkly, grey haired old man, with sinewy muscles under his simple working gown and another bamboo spear hefted in his hands. He stared at the dying body looking shaken to the core before turning to her again. Noticing the flour covering his apron and arms, mixing with drops of blood, she remembered having seen him in one of the bakeries before. A face in the crowd, paying his protection money and trying to make a living as best as he could.
Eola rallied herself and got up, inspecting the broken remains of her gun with a bit of frustration before realizing that the sound of fighting seemed to have calm down again. Leaving the old man behind she returned to the main alley, where the enemies advance had been broken with the bulk of them retreating under fire where they came from, a hand full of survivors pinned behind broken remains of the barricade and about to take their last stand. Nonetheless a bunch of her gang brothers already shot their guns in the air celebrating their victory, the wreckage of the chimera crackling and burning in the background surrounded by the corpses of the would be attackers. Normally she would have joined in but this time… something felt wrong. She just couldn’t really put her finger on it. Turning around from the noise of gunfire she looked back into the narrow alleyway she had just come from and saw the old man looking to the sky with an impression of puzzlement. The next moment his eyes widened and he gestured something towards her that she did not understand before turning around and apparently running for shelter. Expectant she looked around, puzzled what the old geezer had seen, that made him loose his cool. It was almost too late to dive for cover when she realized the high pitched whistling of the approaching Earthshaker shells…
M’Baka – the baker
With a plucky jump, M’Baka threw himself down the steps leading to the basement of the brewery he had reached just in time. It was chiseled directly into the hard rock the building was standing on, meaning that it came as close to a good hideout as it came but also that he banged his back pretty badly in the process. Groaning he was just about to curse this stupid idea, when the first shell dropped and send a shockwave through the alley that pressed even in his little sanctuary. The next seconds the world around him turned into an apocalyptic storm of explosions, collapsing buildings and clouds of debris being thrown around. M’Baka cowered in his corner, covering his ears in vain against the raging destruction and trying to protect himself against the bricks, planks and shards of glass raining down on him from the shaking brewery.
He could not have said how long the bombardment had lasted, as what most likely had been minutes at best had felt like an eternity. Crawling out from the debris covering him he stood for a moment in eerie silence, all sounds muffled by thick clouds of ochre dust hanging heavy in the air blocking out the sun. Barely able to see more than 10 meters he started to stumble through the twilight trying to orient himself, but most of the huts and buildings had been flattened to heaps of rubble. Suddenly M’Baka became aware of a hushed groaning to his left as the whistling in his ears started to fade. Clueless what else to do he headed for the sound and soon found an arm sticking out under a heap of bricks, futile trying to wriggle its buried owner free. “I’m coming!” the old baker announced, as he pulled at the heavy rock on top of the heap, lifting it up on his shoulder, as he had countless of sacks of flour in his life. The face of the man under it was covered in dust looking like a ghost – M’Baka most likely looking the same – coughing and breazing heavily as he looked up at his savior, the seven pointed star on his forehead still visible. M’Baka hesitated only for a moment, before he lifted the boulder up above his head again and smashed it down on the heretic symbol with all his strength. The next moment he bent down and threw up heartily. When he felt a little better he raise up again, his legs still shaking. All his life he had never even fought in a bar brawl and now he had killed… twice. And what was even more upsetting was his realization that what they said was true: it was easier the second time…
A trickle of debris behind him made him turn around, only to see another survivor, her leg trapped under a collapsed wall together with the smashed remains of a fellow that did not have that much luck. Just when he was about to take up the bolder again he recognized her, it was the young woman that had fought in the alleyway with him. “Wait I’ll help you!” he said, stumbling over but trying to pull her out he achieved little more than a scream of pain “If that’s how you help, stop helping me you Frakhead! Get a lever or something!” Looking around he soon found a long iron bar that stood up to the task and managed to free the ganger. Her left foot was shattered and twisted, so he pulled her up to support her on his shoulder. As she got her first good look at him, she gave a rattling, pained laugh “You? What are you, my personal guardian angel? Hell of a job you are doing here.” M’Baka looked at her, lost for words, a long learned fear of getting cross with the gangs rooted deep in his bones. “Never mind. I’m Eola. What’s your name?” “M’Baka. I…” before he could say more, they were interrupted by a series of loud whistles, seemingly coming from all along a long line to their left. “What’s that?” he asked and with a grim look on her face the ganger answered “They are coming. And this time they are regulars.” Her words were underlined by the sound of countless footsteps in marching order underlined with the roaring of hundreds of engines being fired up.
Zantana - The Priestess
Yet another wave of dust clouds filled the plaza in front of the Skyfathers holy temple as the last remaining factorium bordering it gave in to the damage done by the shelling, collapsing like a dying behemoth succumbing to its wounds. The rumbling of falling bricks and screaming of metal beams bending and breaking like twigs drowned out the sounds of battle for a moment, but soon the crack of Lasgun fire and deep rumble of explosions returned. Seeing some more stragglers limping through the debris running from the traitors homing in on the house of him on earth, Zantana rallied a score of the remaining defenders to give them cover fire while she and a hand full of brave souls ran to meet them and bring them in.
The temple was more or less the last real building standing for half a mile around. Every shard of glass had been shattered and most of the roof had collapsed but the massive, meter thick rockcrete walls and pillars stood defiant of those that wanted to desecrate this world. What little was left of the PDF and militia had rallied here, to join her in protecting the holy ground, yet Zatana was well aware that most of them had come because they had nowhere else to hide, the noose of the attackers finally closing around this isle of loyalists and beginning to tighten by the minute. She had barely reached the all-over tattooed woman leaning heavily on the short, heavy set man making their way towards her, when the bullets started flying again. One of her companions went down in a spray of blood, a cry of agony on his lips, before the shooter was silenced by the snipers in the temples large belltower, driving the other assailants into cover. At least it bought enough time to bring everyone back into the safety provided by the sacred halls and the makeshift barricade made from the detritus that had fallen from above. Zantana was the last to jump to safety, hitting the ground beside the old paecekeeper leading the desperate defenders. He cracked of some shots with his bolt pistol – judging by his grudgingly satisfied look hitting someone who deserved it. He still looked like a ghost, pale from the shock and trauma, yet the lasbolts that had taken his left arm off had at least cauterized the wound and kept him from bleeding out. “Get those two a weapon!” he shouted to the children hurrying around with buckets of laspacks and ammo, nudging his head towards the two newcomers. A woman in a blood soaked PDF uniform came running from the northern portal reporting “That’s it. Cordon’s closed, they have us surrounded. Twenty men are down at north portal and the Eastern portal is still under artillery fire. And there is heavy fighting in the catacombs.” She tried to keep her voice down, yet still enough heard what was meant only for the Peacekeepers and her own ears. Then again, it didn’t really matter anymore, they all had eyes to see.
Zantana looked around her and had to admit that for every look of grim resolve she found two wavering on the brink of desperation. So she straightened herself again, unsheathed her chainsword and raised it high intonating the choral of Saint Sabat with all the might and conviction she could muster. It was just this moment that the heretics pushed the assault, the first two men over the barricade falling under the whining slashes of her blade. Inspired by her example, the fierce spirit of the Skyfather rose again in her companions, and the tattered remains of Ninshasas Defenders raised up one last time to make their final stand, lots of them falling in with the holy choral Zantana was still singing like a battlecry. It would be a slaughter, but they would not go down cowering in fear. They would stand their ground as long as they could, just like their ancestors against the evil witches of old - a thought that filled her with pride.
As Zantana jumped down the barricade with her comrades, they found themselves faced not only by swarms of screaming charging heretics, but also starring down the barrel of a battle tank, turning through the boulders of debris onto the plaza surrounding the temple. Just as the multibarreled gatling on the tank was about to spin into motion it disappeared in a hail of impacts from above, going out in a spectacular explosion. The pressure wave almost took her from her feet – just like the lunatic jumping out on her left with a rusty axe – but she found her footing quicker, taking of his head on a desperate backswing. Her ears rang from the explosion but still she could hear the roaring of impacts hammering the ground all around her. Puzzled what was going on, they witnessed the swat of heretics being turned into red mist and dust clouds around them as streams of fire and bolts of light rained down around them.
As they raised their eyes to the sky, tears filled Zantana eyes as she realized that him on earth had graced Thoth by hearing their prayers and sending their deliverance, just as he had done centuries ago…
Lieutenant Maurus – the navy officer
Second Lieutenant Maurus stood at the bridge of the Urothrian navy gunboat. It was one of the smaller vessels of the Urothrian navy detachment assigned to the 2nd Legion. But it was what he’d always wanted to captain. Ever since he’d seen a squadron of them coming low, cutting through the greasy clouds that encased the Sueiba hives on Urothria. The memory made his skin tingle and the skin on the back of his skull throb. He was captain of the Dimachaerus a fine vessel as any, and these past months it made his heart sick with pride.
There had been more than a few hairy scrapes since practically the entire sector had rebelled almost overnight and Dimachaerus had never let them down. She was battered and beaten but never in dock with the mother-ship for more than a day. She’d entered atmosphere and escorted the landers pulling Commonwealth troops off half a dozen planets and a handful of installations in the past week. She’d engaged and destroyed three enemy craft twice her class from the concealment of asteroid fields or debris.
He checked the watch his wife had given him. Lucky he had it. He slipped on his old coat, the one where the navy green was faded, where it was lightly scorched and even boasted light battle damage from a boarding action by pirates all those years ago. He ran his hand over his hair and replaced his cap upon his head then ran a finger over the face of his watch the way one might tenderly over their lover's cheek. This time it didn’t even warrant a glance from the crew. Everyone was doing their personal last minute good-luck rituals.
“All crews battle order.” He called.
“Vulcan is ready sir.” it was called up from down the centerline of the craft. Dimachaerus had already proven she could punch well above her draught.
“Auxiliary weapons ready sir.” 2nd Officer Hodji said. That meant the two automatic 6 inchers and the two punishers in their turrets.
“Void shields at full.”
On the command holofield he could see the battlecruisers Valiant and Adamant approach from reserve towards the enemy eager to bring vengeance to the traitors. The ships were fast, faster and harder hitting than anything the heretics had. Their sudden and violent turn of speed had caught the enemy unaware and they were scrambling to do something.
He rubbed at the stubs of hairs on his top lip. Hadn’t had access to a good razor in too long. Much like the combat situation his morning ritual had been reduced what one could consider a few hairy scrapes. The result was a perpetual itch. In truth the supply situation was direr than just dull razors. He didn’t want to think about how long rationing could go on. He’d not heard good things back at the hanger. This rock had loyalists, so perhaps their prayers had been answered and that was why they were doing this.
“Missile pods primed sir.” They’d been able to scrounge up the full complement this time. Nothing made Maurus happier than having the full complement and being underway. He saw the battlecruisers reach combat distances and the first few charged lance sots streak out across space. He’d liked to have seen the results of the strikes, he’d loved to have watched the battlecruisers and their escorts charge in and brush aside the weakened platform and the flotilla of auxiliary craft. That’s what they called an ore hauler or passenger ship when you put guns on it and took it to battle, an auxiliary. The command line opened up. And two words committed his crew to action.
Their mission was a city area in the planet’s polar ocean region. “Punching into atmosphere.” He said by way of acknowledgment then took the tiller. He slid Dimachaerus from her concealed position in the debris field and fifty small ships and the larger Centaur did the same. Centaur was a ship not designed for atmosphere, she was designed to act as an orbital logistical base or as now an aircraft carrier.
“All crews be advised this is Centaur, deploying rocket sleds now.”
The maneuver was meticulously drilled at the Naval academy. Maurus was careful to keep Dimachaerus on course as not to crush any of the tiny and fragile aircraft with her heavily armored and void-shielded bulk. Through a small optical aperture, he could see them formed up in Vs, the discardable rocket sleds harnessed to them burning bright in the void.
“This is Centaur to all crews. Disengaging and returning to fleet.” Maurus thought the pilot had signed off but the commlink came alive a moment later, “Give them hell.”
He had to smile at that, everyone did. This rock had loyalists and that was a damn good change. Their target wad directly below the now distracted enemy fleet. The holofield ahead of him displayed what the tiny and heavily reinforced direct optics could not and he adjusted accordingly. The ships came down in a great swoop, monitors and missileboats above and in front of the gunboats to carry out the first pass of bombardment, landing ships in behind.
“Enemy atmospheric craft moving to engage.” Came the voice of one of his officers.
“Airwings are moving into position to protect the transports.” The aircraft accompanying them would engage the enemy only after they were above the mission area and had jettisoned their rocket sleds. But they’d lay down much more gunfire should anything get in their way.
The monitors and gunboats would put up a wall of fire and flak to greet the enemy. But the mission was too important to chase the smaller and more agile craft.
Their escort consisted of M21 Bazas and A42 Comets. There was even a contingent of B432 Aurelians kitted out to fight as super heavy fighters, they were fast enough when you did away with the bomb load.
“All auxiliary weapons free.” He could see streams of liquid fire rushing out to meet the bursts of flak shells ahead of him and he tried to imagine being out there in a flimsy little airframe.
Dimachaerus had three thirty milimetre rotary cannons and a pair of six inchers. You’d not want to approach her from her firing arcs.
“Shields being struck. Holding.” They lowered their altitude coming in over the sea.
“Sir. The platform is entering atmosphere.” Said ensign Victoria. He was always shocked by her youth, fresh out of academy and thrust into this. But she’d put her head down like the rest of them. He looked through the aperture. Fire was raining from the sky. Millions of tiny meteors of ruin trailing down from the heavens filling the sky with fire and smoke. He found himself hoping it’d not fall on allied positions. Dimachaerus screamed closer to the coast and they could see columns of smoke and individual flashes of explosions. Suddenly they were above land and were slowing to make their pass onto the objective. Out of the aperture he saw the flight of Bazas dropping sleds and peeling off.
“Requesting permission to engage ground targets sir.”
“If you can identify them.” He replied. He turned the tiller towards the part of the city that the holofield identified as the landing zone. The map indicated that he was to hold position above a temple. He could see battle raging across the greater region on the holofield. Pockets of resistance still held to the west and south and were indicated with markers. The flash to his left caught his eye even through the void tinted aperture. A brilliant flash that carried over the horizon. One of the pockets disappeared and he watched it expand on the holofield like a ripple on a pond. Signatures disappeared in the vicinity rapidly, it could only mean one thing.
“A vraking nuclear strike?” Someone breathed.
No, someone did the last thing they could. He could see on one of the ships screens camera feed from punisher cannon two. Enemy trucks strung and trying to scatter on the main highway, being engaged by a troop of light tanks at close quarters. Gun two locked onto some enemy tanks that were moving to engage the allied vehicles and rattled off a few bursts of fire. Against the top armour of the vehicles the AP rounds would be devastating. One of the six inchers leant it’s firepower.
Two minutes later and gun two spotted what had been a running battle between allied remnants and a strong enemy force. It had been a losing battle to the loyalists. Gun two spooled up and sent a short hosing burst of liquid fire to the enemy.
Then they were over the rainforest, and almost suddenly the falling debris was ahead and above them, it loomed ahead and above them, smoke and fire in what seemed to be a continuous rain from the heavens.
“We’re going to enter that.” Ensign Victoria breathed.
We’re going to enter that.
“This is Zero actual. All aircraft decelerate and drop rocket sleds.” The leader of the operation’s voice came over the coms. “All voidcraft to your allotted landing zones.” The aircraft dropped back, to ditch a rocket sled at full speed was suicidal, they’d generally have to throttle back to almost a stall.
Dimacharus was assigned to ‘landing zone Quail’ in the favela district, which had been largely levelled by artillery fire and didn’t seem to have any buildings sturdy enough to resist a lander. Well aside from the temple. The artillery fire had stopped. A squadron of monitors was making a pass over the landing zone, their heavy guns pounded the enemy troops into the surface of the planet. He took Dimacharus in for her final approach. Both punishers were lighting up ground targets. He pointed her outwards and above his part of the district. He saw gunfire from the small and damaged temple. The punishers lay down a curtain of tracers that looked like molten gold flowing down to the enemy in streams.
“Sir we’ve got incoming Vendettas.” There came a volley of las-cannon fire that struck Dimacharus.
“Void shields holding”
He couldn’t shift from formation, if they got to the lander they could damage it. He wheeled her so that punisher one was on target but the pilot put his craft into an evasive maneuver. Dimacharus was much zippier in the void, as designed for atmosphere warfare that she was there was always a tradeoff.
Another volley struck them.
“Gun two is damaged. Bow shields are down, taking ground fire from anti-tank missile launchers.” For a moment he could feel it. The first Vendetta firing a volley, Dimacharus being pinned in place. Sometimes in an attack you lose a ship, it just happens, part of the job.
Punisher one was straining to get the first vendetta on target whilst punisher one was struck by ground fire and its housing damaged. It was like the bite of an ant and yet...
The Vendetta came around and he locked eyes on it through a direct vision port. It paused in the air a moment. He could see the energy building in its cannon batteries. The moment seemed to stretch out into forever.
Vrak it’s aiming for the bridge. This is a veteran pilot.
An instant later the Valykrie Vendetta was shredded. A heavy volley of automatic cannon fire instantly rendered the flyer into scrap metal. Despite this he had not forgotten the other enemy gunship, he turned his attention to it knowing he’d have maybe a second to deal with it before it could fire again. The last remaining six incher was jammed, a feeding issue which had been common enough with the shells they had been forced to use of late. He hauled the ship around to point the last remaining punisher. But a moment later the second Vendetta was struck this time by an air to air missile.
A shark mouthed B432 Aurelian barrel rolled past showing three pairs of smoking auto cannon barrels in a pod where the bomb bay was and sought more victims. Maurus took a deep breath in and let the feeling of pins and needles in his spine and the back of his head subside.
“Stoppage cleared. Gun operational.”
“Punisher one operational.” Called Demetrius, his wonder mechanic.
“Void shields at 100% on bow arc.”
“This is Odessa landing at Quail successful.”
Captain Brown – the army officer
Captain Brown led her troops from the hold of giant landing craft named the Odessa. The world was filled with the roaring of the carrier’s engines and swirling clouds of dust and smoke. She could hear the booming of the gunboat’s cannons up above like lightning in a bank of clouds. An entire battalion of the Klomn 252nd Line Regiment was landing.
Troops and light vehicles spread out to form a perimeter around the landing area. But her company’s objective was beyond ring of guns somewhere in the choking clouds of dust and smoke. And it was too vital to wait for the maelstrom to clear.
Not for the first time in a week, and probably not the last. She bit her lip, she hoped it was the last time, that this nightmare would be over and they’d realise they promoted the wrong person.
She hadn’t felt ready a month ago when they’d given her a platoon readying to go into action against the xenos on the sector’s fringe.
Then the war had come to them. It was like a riot first, and then, well it was the entire planet. And they’d gotten off that rock only by a miracle. But the legion was deployed across several systems, and it was hours before the Klomn 252nd Line Regiment was being deployed to secure the evacuation of the legion. And that was what it had become. Flight, from one sector to the next, landing and evacuating the remnants of the legion, hitting the supply hub a Druanis IV, just so the legion would not starve. That was where the body of her predecessor had been left. For every evacuation and for every raid there were bodies left behind. Even so her soldiers were keen as ever to fight.
She pushed towards the imperial shrine and gestured to her soldiers to follow. It looked like they’d landed in a scrapyard, the world was covered in half collapsed buildings of timber and iron. It had once been a shanty town but the concussion of heavy artillery had collapsed most of the buildings. It was like a kick in the stomach, there was meant to be allied troops operating in the area. Nothing moved in the scene of ruin. First second and third platoon were fanning out to in her sector leading with 2nd. Every inch of the ground was covered with debris.
The swirling clouds enveloped them completely; the company moved forwards for what felt like hours but could only have been a few minutes. They passed a body and then another. It felt like the world was holding its breathe in, it felt like any moment the world would explode in gunfire and muzzle flashes. The dust was greasy on her sweaty hands and face, the gripped the service rifle a bit tighter.
“We on point Captain?” Came master sergeant Rhys’s voice behind her. It was as ever a well-timed prompt. She paused and took a heading on the digital map, it was the only way they’d find the chapel in this.
There was a noise above the sound of the Odessa’s engines. She realized with horror that it was getting louder. Something big was pounding towards them. She could hear it clattering on the corrugated metal and drumming on the mud. Captain Brown pressed her fingers into the fore grip of the KSR83. Whatever it was it sounded like it was heading straight for her. The pounding of feet grew louder till it sounded like it was on top of her, it sounded like surely any moment something would erupt from the swirling dust and smoke.
Something struck her. The sheer familiarity of the pounding rhythm, in that moment she could almost imagine the creaking of leather harness.
The first thing she could see of it in the dust as that the horse was rider less. She leapt to the right and it thundered by at full gallop. She caught a flash of eyes wild with fear and foam at its mouth and flanks before it was gone again.
Captain Brown closed her eyes,took a deep breathe and cleaned the dust from her face and goggles.
“Sir, sir we have a live one!” A trooper called to her left.
She rushed over to the trooper as the corporal of his section did. He was lifting a heavy sheet of metal that had collapsed over the foxhole the wounded soldier had been in. Another Trooper dragged him out of the hole by his armpits. The man was covered in blood from a hundred small cuts and nicks, his legs were shredded with what seemed like shrapnel wounds, and were damp with blood. It looked like they’d reached him just in time. It wasn’t even a consideration. The legion had survived because no matter what you did not leave people behind.
“Medic!” Captain Brown screamed.
“Medi…” The word died on her tongue as she saw the tattoos on the man’s face; seeing the mark up close on his flesh was a perversion of the purity of terra and the emperor’s light, it was like a physical force had struck her. There came a gunshot next to her, she felt the blast up behind her eyes, the man’s head exploded and she caught the whiff of powder wafting up from the corporal’s rifle.
She looked down to see a grenade next to her foot. She gave it a soft kick, enough to send it skittling into the foxhole. Someone’s arm caught her around the waist, and she felt the ground rushing sideways to meet her. The impact knocked the wind out of her lungs and her helmet slammed into something hard. The grenade exploded and she felt it through the ground.
The corporal got off her and she climbed to her feet. She’d taken heavier tackles. The only difference was this time it wasn’t on the sports field and she hadn’t been holding the ball.
Master Sergeant Rhys walked over to her, he seemed completely at home. “Captain?” He sounded at least a little concerned. The tough NCO had somehow remained a model of calm pragmatism and discipline throughout the ordeal and his example had helped her as much as it helped the troopers. It was a curt reminder that she’d arrived with the legion only a month ago, Rhys had been in the Legion for years.
She checked the nav-point again and they pressed towards the imperial shrine. It was her company’s honour to secure the hallowed site.
“Medic! We’ve got a live imperial here.” A trooper called out. Their voice strange in the dust and smoke.
Outside of her com set she could hear nothing but the dulled rumbling of the guns above them and the blasts of the shells that were landing further and further away.
A burst of las-fire snapped out from ahead. Everyone dropped to the ground. She could feel a stinging sensation on the outside of her leg like someone had touched it hot iron.
She pulled herself to her feet. She somehow felt calmer than she’d been before. There was no room for fear, instead there was a cold rage, that like the legion the last weeks had bitten at her and that this time they were not at circumstance’s mercy, this time they’d take not one step backwards.
A figure came sprinting straight towards her with some kind of hatchet. Screaming, stripped to the waist and covered in tattoos of the mark. He looked absurd, like a caricature of a chaos warrior.
She put a round into the traitor and another as she stepped to the side. The hatchet came towards her but she parried with the receiver of the KSR83. She countered with a strike with the butt stock to the opponent’s chin. Even as they went backwards, she saw the hatchet coming around again to strike, in a figure of eight motion.
Captain Brown raised the rifle and caught the head of the axe near the arc of the swing so she kept it pinned above the adversaries’ head, so they were unable to retrieve it.
She could not kick, she’d end up arse-up in the mud in an instant with the axe wielding traitor raining blows on her.
The traitor glared at her. They lashed out with their other fist. It struck her in the face. She felt the blow deep in her skull, she felt her head snap back and she felt a brief weakening before something in her body held on.
She felt the next blow coming, fast and hard on the tail of the first, she knew it must come. Captain Brown lowered her head and felt the impact on the helmet. Strong enough to break bones, a small victory but it was a matter of time at this point; the traitor was still stronger.
She felt the opponent’s strength weaken suddenly. She looked up to get spattered with hot wet stuff. The traitors neck was snapped to the side, cracked bone showing where the entrenching tool had cut into the skull.
Master Sergeant Rhys turned and attacked another oncoming traitor with the other edge of the spade. Captain Brown stepped back and wiped the blood and brains from her face.
More gunshots rang out nearby. She ducked low and checked over the rifle, the receiver looked damaged from the hatchet strike but when she pulled the charging lever and a live round flew out and the next fed flawlessly.
She heard the chatter of automatic gunfire in the distance around her. Another figure was running from the dust, they caught a burst of gunfire but didn’t stop, she raised her rifle and fired into the traitor’s legs, a shin bone shattered and they crashed to the ground.
Somehow she heard footsteps coming from behind, she swivelled on her heel, the man was carrying a hefty machete, and had an aquila pendant around his neck.
For some reason. He raised his hands.
A bullet snapped out of the smoke and struck the civilian through the collar. She could see the bone protruding and blood welling from the wound. She ran over to the injured man to give him aid but more shapes were darting in and out of the smoke and clouds.
She felt someone tugging at her pistol holster as she shot at a figure that was attempting to rush them. She could feel the blasts of the pistol beside her and the bursts from the master sergeant’s rifle.
One of her soldiers moved towards them, a round came out and hit him in the throat and he went down.
More figures rushed from the smoke. She put a burst into one and he dropped. The injured militiaman handed her the machete, another figure erupted was charging towards her, bayonet
raised. She felt absurd calm come over her, suddenly she was in uncle’s fencing class back in Sebam.
She advanced at the charging man and at the last moment took a half step to the right, she battered the bayonet away with the strong of the blade and with a simple turn of the hand brought it down in a slash to the back of the opponent’s neck. The machete was both heavy and sharp and it dug deep.
Someone fired a burst from a machine pistol at her but nothing struck and after a few rounds the weapon seized. She turned towards them. The traitor dropped the gun and went for a knife, but she was too close, she lunged and put a solid swing in, felt the power almost come up from the ground as seemingly every inch of her being twisted to put power in that strike.
The traitor’s arm came off below the elbow and beneath his chest plate his unarmored stomach was slit open. She twisted her arm and cut at his neck cutting through a few fingers that the opponent had put in the way. She turned to see one of her troopers clubbing someone with a chunk of rubble whilst the wounded militiaman aided him with what looked like a rock in a sock.
Captain Brown pushed the tip of the machete into the mud. She emptied the spent magazine from her rifle and grabbed a fresh one, but then dropped it quickly because someone was trying to kill her again. She parried a sabre cut with the receiver of the rifle. Bent at the knees and closed her hand around the handle of the machete.
She saw the next swing coming towards her neck, lowered her head and caught it on the helmet. Felt the blade switch and a drawing cut across the back of her neck but the gap was narrow between her helmet and shoulder plate. The sabre was sharp and she felt it like a hot razor on the back of her neck.
The traitor was readying for another strike when he turned and caught a dagger wielding militia man with a strike and a thrust she barely even saw. He turned back towards her. The traitor was good, he had the reach and speed and she regretted not having a proper sword, not having proper hand protection. She readied the rifle as an improvised shield.
The traitor officer was ripped apart in a hail of heavy gunfire. She turned to see specialist Tarrence crouched, firing his machinegun like a rifle. He swivelled on the spot putting a short burst into another two figures.
Another soldier was nearby laying down heavy fire with a light machinegun. The enemy were letting up. She ran over to the downed trooper. Captain Brown turned the body over. It was the corporal that had tackled her quite clear they were too late.
She put a new magazine into the rifle and made sure it was feeding correctly.
They pressed forwards and found what looked like a trench. She dropped into it then crouched and checked the nav-point. They were within a hundred meters of the chapel but they might as well have been on another planet.
“How far to go Captain?” Master Sergeant Rhys asked.
“It’s just over that way. We’ll be on the grounds s...” The world was filled with noise.
The roar of the Odessa’s engines droned out everything. The world became a swiring mess, she pushed herself against the edge of the trench, pushed her elbow over her face as the dust tore at it. She heard the Odessa accelerate, and came a strong breeze that ripped the dust and smoke from the air.
She stood up and wiped her goggles clean.
In the trench there was eight other soldiers. None of them were imperials. Behind them was what looked like an abandoned chimera.
Someone raised their weapon at her and pulled the trigger. Stoppage.
Captain Brown threw herself behind a jag in the trench. The trench was particularly well crafted, shored up with corrugated metal, zig zagged and with plentiful supply of grenade sumps and ammunition stowage points. Someone who knew their craft had overseen the construction.
Tarrence opened up. He shredded the first three of them. Someone got to cover.
A grenade landed nearby and she kicked it into a grenade sump. She heard the sharp cracking of a heavy multi-laser and the dull thud thud thudding of a heavy bolter. She could feel the concussion of the rounds exploding nearby.
She peeked out. The chimera was very much in action and the enemy troops were using its covering fire to press towards her. She fired a burst out and caught two. Someone threw another grenade and she managed to scoop it into the sump again.
There was a loud thud and the ground shook again.
It was too close for bayonets. Captain Brown pulled unclipped it from the rifle and held it reverse grip then got back to her feet.
Someone came around the corner. She lunged and the blade went up under their chin.
Tarrence rolled and fell into the trench next to her, she grabbed him to drag him into the cover of the trench. More rounds snapped towards them, enemy troops were flooding over the high ground towards them and the chimera had turned it’s multilaser to them.
A stream of fire came own from the heavens and cut through the vehicle from rear to front. A moment later a shell landed behind it and then another and another. A line of commonwealth soldiers dropped into the trench and started pressing forwards.
For the first time since landing she could see her platoons, each one readying a small aquila flag for the approach on friendly lines.
She could see the planet’s sun and feel the warmth of her skin and the earth soft under her boots. Trails of debris rained down like meteorites and las bolts streaked out from the upper levels of the temple as the defenders lent their fire against the retreating traitors.
“Captain.” The Master Sergeant helped her to her feet again, this time with a relieved smile.
“Sergeant.” She returned the grin.
She felt joy, joy for the sun on her face, and the mud under her boots, joy for the enemy ships burning up on entry into the atmosphere above them and joy for that their flight had stopped. That finally the legion would take not one step back.
There came calls and shouts from the temple and she felt her eyes misting over to hear the friendliness and joy in the voices.