Wilton’s Hole, The Underhive
Cold Ethyl leaned in even closer to the man in the stained grey tunic, the dim torchlight catching fire from her nose rings and the pin between her eyes. “You hurt her again an’ I’ll blow yer brains right ‘cross the room, Doc!” She jammed the pistol even harder into the medic’s bruised temple.
The physician slowly sat back from his work and turned his banged up head toward the Moebius ganger. “If you do not get that damned stubber out of my ear, I’ll let you shoot me and you can finish this.” He gestured toward the leader’s hip where muscle and tendon were pulled back from the red streaked white of the pelvic plate. Small amber clips, embedded in the bone, were just visible in the yellow flicker. The doc had another in a small tweezers in his right hand, a bone knitter in his left. “If you think you can close of course, Nurse Ethyl.”
“Why you -” she drew her hand back to pistol whip him.
“Ethyl,” Exene’s voice was weaker than a kitten but still managed to cut through the room, “back off.” The tableau froze.
“But Exene-“, carping.
“You heard me. Go sit down. Let the man work.” The ganger went. Reluctantly. “Now you know why I didn’t let you put me out, Doc.”
“I begin to see your point, my dear.” He finished placing the clip and went to work with the bone knitter, pausing to adjust his small round specs and brush some shaggy iron grey hair from his eyes. He gently ran his hands through the antiseptic sprayer which misted over Exene’s open wound before continuing. There were no aseptic operating theatres in the underhive.
He finished his knitting without a single pearl and began to close the wound up, carefully re-attaching muscle and tendons. His hands moved quickly and with a sureness belying great skill.
“You’ll need to be careful for a while, my dear Exene. The clips I’ve placed are actually stronger than your bones and the pins should keep everything lined up. The pins you’re stuck with for life. The clips will dissolve on their own after the wound is healed and the bone properly knitted. Chemical triggers, you know.
“Under these conditions, however,” he waved a hand at the filthy plastic walls of the dimly lit Scumside shanty, “I cannot guarantee perfect placement. In theory you should be able to move around fairly normally while this all heals. That’s what the clips are for. If your girls had brought you to the shop I’d be more confident that they were correct.”
Exene sighed. “There a point, Doc?”
“Simple. Take it easy on that hip. If it should shift, you’ll know it. Believe me, you’ll know it. Normally, I’d say that if it shifted just come back and see me. I don’t think that’s wise, however.”
“Why’s that, Doc? What’s the prob anyway?” That was Sindi Sixx, the gang’s point girl. She flipped her head in that characteristic gesture she had developed to keep her reddish hair out of her left eye before continuing. “In the last couple of weeks, everything’s gone to shit. No one’ll talk to us or deal with us. And while we’re used to the occasional scrap over turf, it’s gotten nuts lately. We’ve had five times as many rumbles as any gang I’ve ever heard of in the same period of time. Heck when Cary got bagged by the Phebe’s a week ago they wouldn’t even talk ransom. They wouldn’t talk at all.”
The middle aged man looked down at his hands. Now that the work was done they were shaking slightly. “You don’t know?” He finally replied. “How can that be? Word’s been out for weeks. You must have agents.”
“We do.” Exene chimed in. “Haven’t been able to get in contact with a single one for a while. They’re gone missing or under.”
“So you really don’t know, then?”
“No, dammit!” Ethyl finally blew her top, “Why don’t you fraggin’ tell us! Why was you so against comin’ out here to work on the Boss?”
The doc took off his glasses and cleaned them as he turned off the sprayer and began to put away his equipment. “There’s been word out that the Daughters of Dystopia are wanted bad by someone big. Nobody knows who or why. Word is, anyone who deals with you or helps you gets taken down. And someone’s backing it up.” He turned to Sindi Sixx, “Remember that guy over in Carl’s Well that didn’t want to buy your crystals?” The ganger nodded. “The day after he did, I got called in. All the way from Wilton’s as their local doc just didn’t know what to do.”
Sindi looked worried. She’d had to lean hard on the trader to get him to deal. She’d found it weird at the time as the guy was one of her best customers. “What happened to him?”
“They skinned him alive.”
South Central Command HQ
They were keeping him busy, but not as busy as he was used to. The room in which he sat was huge. Easily a hundred and fifty meters across. It was circular in form and groined with great arches of dark metal that rose up to support the low ceiling. The feeling was similar to being buried in a cave lit by multi coloured fireflies. Around the edges of the vast room many like himself labored at control consoles relaying orders, transmitting reports and maintaining communications with the all-too-fluid front.
Much of what was transmitted was relayed to a huge holo-display in that great theatre’s centre. And around that centre was the Gathering of Heroes. Never in his short life had Lexicanium Cantor heard of anything like it. Never in the Annals of the Void Phantoms had he ever read of anything similar except, perhaps, in the days of the great Heresy. It inspired him and chilled him all at once. Inspired him that so many were here. Chilled him that so many were felt to be needed.
Like all Astartes Librarians, even a junior one like a Lexicanium, Cantor was capable of dividing his attention to do the recording and transmission of several normal humans. Because the transmissions he was being asked to make and relay were not very demanding, he used only his left hand for that task. His right he had reserved for what he considered an equally important task he had set himself on his own initiative. The recording of the Gathering for his Chapter.
Central to that gathering was Mikkal Guiseppe, Lord Cadia. Nearly as tall as a space marine with huge shoulders, he would have been a giant in his youth. His flesh now hung on him like a loose tent, limbs rail thin under the great bone structure of his torso. His hair was grey and his eyes a deep, piercing blue. The man was clearly used to this place, having driven off incursions in the past nearly too numerous to mention. He portrayed supreme confidence, which radiated from his crisp tan and green service uniform devoid of all but the most minimal rank emblems. Unfortunately, Cantor’s psychic abilities gave him a different picture.
Beneath that brave, dynamic exterior Mikkal Guiseppe was terrified.
While it would be expected to see the Lord of Cadia in this place, it was the others that had the young librarian so impressed. To Guiseppe’s right was Marneus Calgar, Lord of Ultramar and Commander of the Ultramarines. Next to him was Dante, the ancient ruler of the Blood Angels and his Chief Librarian Mephiston.
To Guiseppe’s left were Azrael, the commander of the Dark Angels, Per Wentrel of the Silver Skulls, Logan Grimnar the Great Wolf of the Space Wolves and three of his Wolf Lords. Cantor recognized Bashar Schwinghammer, and the face of Ragnar Blackmane was known throughout the Imperium. The other, his reports told him, was Angarald Whitewind; Lord of the first Great Company.
Across from Lord Cadia, two final groups stood. The first was a bevy of nervous Guard and PDF general officers and Regimental Colonels. Cantor recognized the uniforms of Valhallans, Tallarns and Catachan troops as well as an unsurprisingly large number of Cadians. Several other regiments that he was not familiar with were also represented.
The final group consisted of his own Commander; the Revenant, flanked by the Lexicanium’s immediate superior; Chief Librarian the Lord Liche representing the Void Phantoms. Next to them stood the graying Durus Eculeus, commander of the Cleansing Flames. Finally, the Chapter lord of he winnowed Lamenters, whose name he hadn’t caught due to momentary distraction of a critical communiqué, stood beside them and was just reporting in. The young Librarian made a quick note to record the Lord’s name later. His Chapter had just completed their century long penitent crusade for their part in the Badab war and were now ready to take up arms again in defence of the Imperium. They were few he said, after their battles with the Tyranids, but they were strong in faith and diligence.
Cantor made more notes on his record. Seven entire chapters, he was being generous to the Lamenters, and at least four great companies of the Space Wolves. Numerous regiments of Guard and PDF. Vast fleet elements of the Imperial Navy also warred with the Chaos fleet above. This was no incursion. This was a war. He listened more carefully, the meeting was beginning.
Marneus Calgar stood and pointed to the huge, glowing map. “Here, fellow servants of the Emperor, here is where the Legions of Chaos have tried their breakthrough.” The giant blue armoured marine pointed at a choke point on a small isthmus on the southern continent about a thousand miles from where they currently were. “What is the word from our brethren in the Adeptus Titanicus? Have they stopped them as planned?”
There was muttering and from the group of humans a short man in tattered brown robes stood forth. Cables and wiring coiled around him and dove into what little flesh was visible. Cantor shuddered. He’d always found the tech priests loathsome. The man-machine spoke, its voice filtered through some kind of speaker. “We have had no reports since the initial engagement, milord. Given those initial reports, however, the auguries do not appear positive.”
“The auguries do not appear positive!” the Cleansing Flames commander spat disdainfully, “You lying piece of cadaverous junk! Our battle barge monitored the destruction of your forces before being driven off by a Desolator battleship. Why not speak the truth you overgrown adding machine? Now is not the time for politics, we must be honest even of our failures if we are to stand a chance against the juggernaut arrayed against us.”
“Durus speaks truth,” the Revenant agreed in his sepulchral voice. “Let us be honest, lest we die with lies in our mouths.”
Marneus broke it up, “Gentlemen there is no time for this bickering,” he turned his glare on the Mechanicus, “or for holding out. If the Chaos Titanicus have broken through, they will separate and form raiding parties, harry supply lines, destroy command and control centres and wreak havoc. We cannot afford that. We must rush forces in to the area to pin them before they escape.”
“Milord,” Azrael, the Dark Angel commander broke in, “I know your wishes and agree, but our troops are pinned everywhere. Whoever commands this Chaos Fleet has planned well. They held back their orbital strike and Titans until they had already engaged our forces everywhere with conventional units. As we add new formations to the fray they are immediately countered with fresh Chaos forces dropped from orbit. There simply is no one to stop those Titans.”
Dante spoke up, “Perhaps the Lamenters, now that they are here can-” he was cut off.
“It will not be necessary.” The voice cut through the growing panic like a knife.
In the sudden silence, the only noise was that of the machines clicking and tapping. The great Lords of the Imperium all turned to look at a little man in a filthy Mordian style uniform who stood back quite some distance from the central table. Cantor typed furiously, trying to catch the moment. He also noted something down that he never thought that he would see. The Lord Liche smiled. Not a sardonic grin, but a real – warm smile. The young librarian would not have thought it even possible.
Calgar raised a single eyebrow in surprise. “Colonel. I wasn’t aware you were even on Cadia. You have welcome news?”
The man nodded and completed his walk to the table. He executed a formal bow to the great lords just before stepping up to it and spared a nod to Liche, another to Calgar and a long stare to Dante of the Blood Angels. The Sanguinary Lord actually smiled slightly and parted with a nod of respect. Cantor’s typing became furious as he tried to capture the electric atmosphere.
“You are?” asked Logan Grimnar, the Great Wolf.
His Wolf Lord, Whitewind, answered for him, “Arcturan Senekal of the 4th Danikan Imperial Guard. A pleasure to see you again, Colonel. Particularly since you bring good tidings.” Senekal smiled at the huge marine. They had also clearly crossed paths before.
“My regiment’s Naval transports were hit as we came out of the warp by Chaos light vessels. Despite the damage, we managed to get to the landers and get away as the transports re-entered out of control.” The Colonel paused and looked down for a moment, ” My compliments and greatest respects to Captain Vorren and the crew of the Salzburg. He rode the ship down to give us the time to escape. It cost him his life and his ship but my unit got to the ground virtually intact.
“We hit at the north end of the isthmus while the bombardment was still going on. When the titan assault came and it became clear that they would defeat the Legio Titanicus we set up an ambush. As far as the twisted scum knew, there were only the titans and some support units in that sector. They weren’t expecting an entire regiment of Danikans and they paid the price.”
Blackmane looked stunned for a split second, but managed to hide it quickly. “You stopped a unit of titans, Colonel?” There was a lot of doubt in his voice and it was mirrored by the expressions of some of those around the table.
The guardsman looked annoyed. “The Chaotics aren’t the only ones who can bomb things, milord. We caught them in a tight ravine with no room to manoeuvre, ambushed the lead and trailing units to bottle them up and then dropped enough arty on them to flatten half a planet. We’re still cleaning up the supporting units but it’s only a matter of time.
“Those bastards have had it all their own way, so far. I say nail ’em while they’re still off balance. They just shot a big wad that went nowhere. It might be now or never.”
* * *
The Isthmus Battlefront
“Skulls for the Skull Throne! Blood for my Lord Khorne!” The huge war machine ripped off a long burst from its heavy bolters at the retreating guardsmen and began to pursue. The Chaos Space Marines behind it followed more slowly.
The sky shook as a great blue aircraft roared over, canisters falling from its stubby wings onto the troops below. The world flooded with light as the fuel air explosives detonated in white hot flame. The Thunderhawk came around for another run, low and slow stalling out just shy of the forces of chaos then slamming into the ground with force enough to shake it like an earthquake. Turreted weapons opened fire as troops rushed down the drop ramp.
The madman in the ancient shell of ceramite could not have been more pleased. It turned from the fleeing guardsmen toward fresh meat, “Come, servants of the Emperor! Come kiss the lash and worship in blood. Blood for the Blood God!”
Brother Lucien, Dreadnought 4 of the Cleansing Flames chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, strode purposefully down the Thunderhawk’s assault ramp. Despite all his attempts, he couldn’t ever get used to his “new” life in an armored shell. It didn’t really matter that he’d been entombed in this thing longer than he’d walked the earth as a man. It was the quality of life that made all the difference and there wasn’t much of that in a dreadnought’s sarcophagus. Times like this just aggravated that feeling. That impact should have hurt. Should have at least been felt. Such feelings were now a thing of the past for Lucien. He activated his transmitter, “This is Dreadnought Four to Thunderhawk. Deployment complete. Proceed with dust off and supporting fire.”
“Thunderhawk, aye. Clear thrusters and prepare for dust off.”
No more time for philosophy. Not on the battlefield. There was too much work to be done.
“Manassas to Lucien, we’re heading for the berserkers following up that dreadnought. You okay dealing with our metal pug – ugly out there?”
“It will be my pleasure, Brother Sergeant.” Lucien liked it that Chastain Manassas always used his “true” name in preference to his unit number. It made him feel more human. Of course, Chastain should be able to easily understand someone not being treated as a human. Given his charges.
“BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!” The thing was really shouting now.
Lucien stepped to one side and began to line up the crazed mass of metal with his multi melta. He really would have to watch that woolgathering. He turned his speaker volume up, “Will mine do?” Chuckles over the Cleansing Flames net.
“I WILL TEAR YOU OUT OF THERE AND DEVOUR YOUR BRAINS! I WILL SMASH YOUR BONES AND MAKE THEM INTO A HARP FOR OUR LORD ANGRON!”
“That might not be wise.” Lucien let fly with his multi melta and caught the ravening machine a hit on its right arm which tore the heavy bolters away. It stumbled as well. “Eating my brains might give you a sense of humor. Never go over well with your fellow dreadnoughts at all!”
The thing was close now and Lucien sidestepped its charge, blocking the huge crackling hand that made up much of one arm with his powerfist. As he did so, he managed to close some of his clamplike fingers on bits of the power scourge and then spun his “wrist” as fast as the servos would take it. Chunks of fingers came off with a shower of crackling sparks.
Lucien triggered a huge off-key BLATTT from the air horns mounted on his “shoulders” as the dreadnought finished its rush by with a roar like a freight train. “See? No good for a harp, either. I never could carry a tune!”
“YOU ARROGANT WORM!” The two machines began to circle on another like gladiators, each placing their feet carefully. The chaos machine was still limping slightly from the effects of Lucien’s blast.
“No, no! They can carry a tune. Get it right.” He blew a few bars of in tune music from the group’s latest recording.
“AAAARRRGGHHHHH!!!!!” The insane monster charged the Cleansing Flames machine exactly as Lucien had been hoping. Lucien leaned far over to one side, servos straining. He spun his torso all the way to the right, extending his powerfist arm as far across the sarcophagus of his machine as it would go. The limping dreadnought struck Lucien a glancing blow. Gyros strained and the loyalist machine nearly went over. Lucien pivoted back at speed, extending his arm and smashing his powerfist into the traitor dread’s back, wrecking its motive unit and causing it to fall over Lucien’s extended leg. It slammed headlong into the ground, feet still kicking.
Lucien planted a single foot atop the thing and jammed his melta barrel into the hole his ‘fist had left. The chaos thing was still functional enough to panic. It screamed. “No! No! Mercy!”
“You’re right,” said Lucien a bit amused at his own joke. “There is no mercy.” He fired the multi melta point blank into the dreadnought’s innards. The scream was cut short. “Only Justice.” He finished his chapter’s motto.
The Dreadnought turned to find a group of berserkers that had gotten by Sergeant Manassas’ squad charging toward him yelling about Blood for the Blood God. He quickly turned down the settings on his multi melta and began hosing fusion fire around like a volatile fire hose. A split second later he added the blast from the heavy flamer mounted under his power fist to the mix.
It began to rain blue coated guardsmen. They came down on jet packs and added the fires from their hand flamers to his mix. The Danikan Sergeant called out, “Thanks for the assist, big guy!”
Lucien would have smiled if he could. If only his own brethren were capable of treating him with such camaraderie. Now where had that Commissar gotten to?