Renegade Kan Killin Orks
Hi everyone. I wrote this some years ago thinking about the Taros campaign and some of the less forward combat troopers and the job they had to do. I recently submitted it to Paul at Vox in the Void and he's been kind enough to put it into audio. I'm sure the link will follow as soon as its up.
A Moment of Truth.
"You're a real chatty guy, they said, back at base-camp. 'Tag along with old Hadj there', they said, 'he's great company on a long old drive through the desert.' Stilgar had spent all morning trying get a response from the stone -faced Tallarn, who sat beside him in the navigator's position. Over two hours at the controls of another Trojan fuel transport in the tail end of a mile long supply column heading north, always northward, in the wake of the slow and perilous advance of the 12th Tallarn Armoured division. Nothing but dust and shadows ahead, the plan, your orders, and the unknown.
"Never a dull mile, they said. Seen the galaxy has Hadj. Plenty to tell to a good driver with a willing ear."
Hadj made no reply. He was as ever, reading. It looked like a primer. The small instructional volume given to every recruit in the service, often seen in the hands of the young, the shaken, or the condemned. Hadj was none of these.
"Reading anything good in there?" Stilgar nudged ,"any good jokes?"
Hadj raised an eyebrow. The Infantryman's Uplifting Primer was not to be mocked. Much of what it contained was considered holy. Litanies and mantras to steel the resolve of the dutiful guardsman. Instruction on the proper care and use of his equipment, which it taught was the providence of the Holy Emperor himself. It must not be scorned. However, many "facts" printed within its covers were clearly amiss and only the most naive and gullible man could possibly believe them. More than a few passages in the Primer had drawn a wry smile between those in the know before now.
Hadj lifted the text meaningfully and read aloud.
"I won't pretend this will be easy. But it is vital." He began in a deep and sonorous voice that well suited the tone and import of his chosen passage. He read on. "Vital to the Imperial success on this world, perhaps to the entire crusade. The enemy and their ambitions will be denied, if it takes every spark of our lives and every drop of our blood. We fight for the Emperor today. Fight as if we were standing at His side as his chosen bodyguard. Protect the men to your left and right as if they were the Emperor himself. do not slacken, do not falter. Victory awaits you, and if not victory, then the glory of a brave death in the service of the Golden Throne of Terra. The Emperor will provide, if you are true. His hand guides us, His eyes watch over us, and even in death He will bring is to Him and we shall sit in splendour at his side beyond the Eternity Gate."
Hadj made the sign of the Aquila and folded the little book in his lap. His was an air of peace. His soul's purpose was assured.
Stilgar, not one to be impressed by such pious oratory was none the less happy to have the Tallarn's attention at last and he decided he might have a little fun.
"What's it say in there about the Xenos, the Tau, I mean?" Stilgar tried to hide his smirk, he was baiting the Emperor-fearing Tallarn but part of him was genuinely curious. It had been many a year since he had consulted his Primer on any topic. He knew better than to look for facts he could rely on in there.
Hadj frowned as his flicked back through the well thumbed pages. Finding the entry he almost began to read but then stopped short, apparently thinking better of it. "You might read it at your leisure, when we have repose." Hadj set the book on the dash and took a sudden interest in the navigational con.
"Come on, man." Stilgar encouraged. "You read it so well. You shoulda been a commissar, fella."
"The entry is... " Hadj was searching for the words "unfit for oratory." He was clearly prevaricating.
"Ah, give it here." Stilgar snatched the volume up and holding it one handed, forearm balanced upon the controls he flicked to the section introducing the Tau. The Trojan jolted and swerved as his attentions lapsed but he righted their course, ignoring Hadj's protests and began reading a section at random in his most authoritative tones.
"In battle, the Tau are disorganised and cowardly. They fight from a distance and their poor aim makes this tactic ineffective.
To compensate for their poor eyesight, they have developed acute hearing. Their eardrums are so sensitive that if you make a loud enough noise (for example, by shouting the Litany of Death) it causes deafness and immediate confusion."
Stilgar took stock of his audience's reaction. "You know that's all mukaali-gak, right?"
Hadj made no response.
"I mean, we know they can shoot pretty damn well, don't we?" Stilgar was getting angry now and Hadj's silence only fuelled his fire.
He flicked a page or two landing on a picture of a Tau Hammerhead.
"The Hammerhead Gunship." He read aloud with mock gravitas. "Incredibly this rediculous machine is the tau's main battle tank. Compare its misshapen contours and bizarre angles to the noble profile of the Leman Russ!
It possesses medium armour with the turret and rear being weak points. Do not be intimidated by the size of the main weapon: it is mainly for show. The discharge is about as effective as a hotshot round from a lasgun."
Stilgar let the clearly inaccurate words hang between them. They had both seen first-hand, day after day on this unrelenting grind toward Tarokeen, the terrible reality this text sought to belie. They had seen far too many Leman Russ profiles rendered none-too-noble by the undeniable power of the Hammerhead Gunships' Railguns.
"I don't know about you, Hadj but I don't like being lied to, you know? See they land us out here in some Emperor forsaken arse-end of nowhere and feed us this gak, and they must think we're dumb or blind or something, cause we got eyes man. You an' me can see it's all just a great steaming pile of..."
"Well what should it say then?" Hadj exploded "Tell me your truth, guardsman?"
Stilgar was taken aback by the man's sudden outburst of righteous fury.
"The tau are illusive and deadly hunters?" Hadj continued in irate tones, "Should you be hunted by Tau hammerheads you should flee like a craven for your death is assured and the Emperor of Mankind cares not a jot for your worthless soul?"
"No... That's not what I..." Stilgar was suddenly very aware how close his argument was coming to heresy.
"I mean, not the bits about the Emperor, obviously." He back-pedalled desperately.
"No! It says that the Emperor will lend me strength and instil in me hatred enough to vanquish the Tau usurpers. It says that Mankind stands on the shoulders of the martyred. It says 'Know your Duty!' This..." Hadj snatched the sacred text from Stilgar's hands and held it up.
"This is the Emperor's truth, guardsman! This is faith. This is our hope and our only surety." He preached. "And you would have me trade this for what? For fear, for isolation? To narrow my perspective to only that which my own eyes have seen? I will not, for I alone am weak. But the Litany of Strength says that 'I am a Guardsman! Where weakness is Death I will crush my weakness with the weight of my Pride!' Whence comes your strength if not from faith? What light guides your way? Who are you, man, alone in a galaxy of cold stars?"
Stilgar sat silent, driving blind amidst the swirling dust. For a long time he wrestled with the words of his companion. Turning them over in his mind. Testing his own soul in the crucible of the Emperors truth. Eventually Stilgar spoke though now with less conviction.
"Just cause you say it doesn't make it so." he concluded.
"Still," replied Hadj. "it is the truth I choose."
They spoke no more as the supply column advanced on through the dust. Nor could Hadj read his primer; his peace had been disturbed. He wrapped a heavy scarf about his face and popped the top hatch angrily, much to Stilgar's annoyance; the dust got in. The dust got everywhere. Still, Stilgar said nothing. Hadj would disappear up top at intervals, regular as clockwork, to pray or meditate or whatever he might call it. Stilgar had long since given up on trying to understand the man, but he was certainly in no mood to mock today.
No sooner had he raised himself up on top than Hadj saw a shadow in the dust. A flitting thing, unlike any of the lumbering cumbersome shapes of an Imperial vehicle. He peered hard into the wind though the sand stung his eyes and there he caught it, a red eye in the dust cloud.
"Marker light!" He yelled, making for the hatch. He knew he had mere seconds, if it was not already too late. Stilgar slammed the controls hard left on impulse as Hadj tumbled in. He slid fast the deadbolt as Stilgar grabbed up the Vox.
"Contact contact, This is Trojan six three niner, Enemy contact, Supply Column Gamma, our position is..."
The missile strike was a concussive jolt which shocked the air from his lungs. In a moment of utter chaos and agony the Trojan lurched and slew its considerable weight over and over again rolling to a bone-jarring halt upended in the sand.
Stilgar gasped and coughed into life. In the dim blue emergency lighting and with the Trojan's engines choked of life all was still and eerie silent. Feeling around in desperation Stilgar found an exit hatch and pulling himself upright on the handle he was about to break out when a hand fell on his hip.
Hadj was there, his dark eyes glinting, his face a bloody mask, black in the dim blue glow.
"Wait," he croaked, coughing in the smokey air. "The drones..."
Hadj passed out, either concussed from his head wound or from loss of blood through some internal injury, Stilgar had no way to tell. As they lay helpless within the wreck his ears strained for the tell-tale sounds of small anti-gravitic engines, Tau drones patrolling the kill zone, possibly imagined, he dared not venture out. Waiting and watching his companion's ragged breathing Stilgar's eyes fell once again on the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer lying there beside Hadj's arm. He reached out for the small book and looked up the entry on tau drones.
'Tau combat robots are called 'drones' and they take the form of levitating discs armed with poorly designed pulse carbines. They are relatively slow but their small size makes them a challenging target.'
Sligar looked to the Voss pattern lasgun tucked away above the driver's head rest. It was a stubby looking thing with a folding stock and shortened barrel; more suited to close quarters skirmishing than Tau drone skeet shooting.
'Stand up to take aim' the entry continued, 'Their targeting systems are so woefully inaccurate that you are perfectly safe from harm.'
Much as he wanted to believe it Stilgar knew enough to stay put. He was a lousy shot anyhow. He left the lasgun where it was.
A high pitched whine sounded outide, to the left and circling up and over their heads. A drone's anti-gravitic engine, unnervingly close, stalking for living prey.
Hadj didn't react, if he heard it. The Tallarn was in no fit state to put up any kind of resistance. Stilgar turned to the back pages of the Primer, finding there the Litany of Protection.
"Oh Emperor of Mankind." He read aloud, "Send your gaze to me with benevolence, Watch over your servant and soldier. And protect him from peril."
As Stilgar looked up from the page. He thought he saw on Hadj's face, maybe, the ghost of a smile.