South Central Command HQ – Medical Facility
Hieronymous Cracken slowly opened his grainy eyes and squinted at the sterile surroundings. White plas walls. Med equipment. A neuro-blocker that was doing a reasonable job of keeping away the worst of the pain. A huge space marine in quartered light and dark blue armor. Railed bed and clean sheets. Wha? A space marine?
He tried to grind his eyes clear but found that only his left hand could reach his face. He managed what he could. And looked again. Definitely a space marine and not an odd coloured beverage cooling unit. The massive metal underjaw looked familiar, although the armor wasn’t terribly – wait. Yes. He had seen that livery before. The Cleansing Flames. That, he thought, answered a number of strange questions – such as why he was still alive.
“We’ve met,” he gasped with difficulty. “Haven’t we battlebrother?”
“Lodi,” the voice came more from the suit than from that ravaged mouth. They’d mounted a voder, then. The marine must have refused the re-build of his jaw they could have done, electing to keep his memories as a Lodian Pit Slave.
“Casualties, but most lived. That flank secure. For now.”
“Until the next attack,” the Commissar rasped and tried to get out of his bed. A gentle but completely irresistible gauntleted hand pressed him back down.
“No. Next few battles over for you, Commissar. Debt paid to you as well.”
Cracken nodded and then had to stop and watch the room whirl for a moment. “There was never any debt to pay – not really. We are all soldiers of the Emperor. We look after each other. The assist was most welcome, however. And apparently most timely.”
The huge head nodded once and the world swam back into darkness for awhile.
South Central Command HQ
“Colonel? Message for Commissar Cracken, sir.”
Senekal looked up from the inevitable paperwork of running a regiment, glad for a break in the routine. “What have you got, trooper? You know the Commissar’s still in the infirmary and likely to be there for some time yet. Probably not even conscious yet.”
“Yessir. That’s what I told him.”
“Him who trooper?”
“Him me,” the smashed voice first reminded him of Liche, but the cadaverous form that stepped through the door literally pushing the private aside was certainly not his friend the chief Librarian. Instead it was a wire thin man with blind white eyes in a long green robe. He froze instantly into place, the expression on his face locking as motionless as his form. Clearly the blind eyes didn’t prevent him from perceiving the hellpistol in the Colonel’s hand and he certainly hadn’t missed the combat knife the private was currently pricking his kidneys with.
“Moving wouldn’t be the greatest idea right now, mate,” the trooper explained quietly. “You just don’t burst in to see the Colonel uninvited you know. Good way to ensure a fast route to a shallow grave.”
“I am an Astropath. A servant of the Emperor!”
“Also an idiot with a predilection for risking untimely ventilation,” said the Colonel slowly lowering the pistol but not actually setting it down. “It’s okay, Karnes. I think he’s learned his lesson.”
“Yessir.” The combat knife disappeared and the trooper exited, shutting the door behind him.
“The Cadians are not like this,” the psyker objected.
“Possibly not,” Senekal agreed amiably, waving at a chair with the muzzle of the pistol. “But we’re Danikans, not Cadians. Normally Danikans aren’t like this either, however. Suffice it to say that, while I have a lot of friends, I also have a lot of enemies. None, so far as I know, can command the Officio Assassinorum but one never knows.”
The Astropath just stared at the guard Colonel. “I really don’t want to know about any of this do I?” The Colonel shook his head. “Very well, then. I have an urgent message for Commissar Heironymous Cracken. I understand he is unavailable?”
“Badly wounded in the fighting on the isthmus. Lucky to be alive really. As far as I know he’s not awake yet, although it looks as though he’ll pull through. Who’s the message from? Unlike me, Heironymous doesn’t have a lot of friends outside the regiment – at least that I know of.”
The Astropath closed his eyes – reading from a highly trained portion of his brain that recorded the messages sent to him from across the reaches of space. “The message was sent by someone named Exene Thrush, from a place called Cascade Hive on the world of Lodi. It’s not far from here, astrographically speaking of course.”
“Lodi, Lodi…,” the Colonel tasted the name as though trying it on for size. “Yes.” He rapped the intercom with his pistol butt. “Karnes, tell Wulfgang to get his butt in my office!”
Metal screamed as autogun rounds ricocheted over Sindi’s head. Instinctively she ducked and then cursed as a nearly spent round ripped a long weal down the inside of her left calf. It didn’t hurt much but it bled like a stuck Brob’nag.
Sindi rolled behind a pile of rusting wreckage before sticking her arm around the corner to let fly with her revolver. There was little real chance of hitting but it might just make someone keep his head down.
To her left she could see Cold Ethyl blazing away with a shotgun. Her fire was as precise as if she were target shooting at old ra-packs. She didn’t blink or flinch or waste a single round of ammunition – each blast was accompanied by a scream of pain from the other side.
Rolling back right, Sindi risked a glance through a gap between two corroded plates. Most of the Teslas had been lined up in military order, blazing away like the machines they loved, but Ethyl’s fire had torn ragged holes in that line and a lot of them were eating deck plating now. One popped up with a heavy stubber but a lasblast from the walkways above dropped him before he could open up with the support weapon.
Directly ahead there was almost nothing save cowering Teslas and wreckage. To her left was the wounded stubberman and a pair of guys with rifles. To her right she could see a sizeable group creeping slowly up through cover, their purple suits standing out too much for real stealth. Holding her breath, she let them get a little bit further and then opened fire over the top of the barrier, expending the last of her cylinder and drawing their attention. As bullets and energy beams began to pepper her hiding spot, she rolled further away and hoped she’d been in time.
Exene had waited, frozen until the Teslas were turned around and totally focussed on Sindi and Ethyl. Silently, covered in the ancient axle grease she’d immersed herself in, she sidled up behind the firing line of Teslas. Their first warning of her presence was when the one on her right sprouted the white hot blade of a powersword through his chest at the same time as the one on her left exploded in a hail of bits of flesh and bone. Her Danikan plasma pistol had superheated the blood in the body cavity to steam and caused him to detonate messily. The other four turned to bottle out, shocked at the messy deaths of their two friends. Exene cut down another pair as they ran and shot a third before the last survivor disappeared around a corner.
Diving for cover before the other Teslas could swing their weapons around, she scuttled across the catwalk in the direction the survivor had fled. Those other Teslas had best watch their backs.
On the left flank, Hard Candice crept through a slimy culvert. She’d been trying to get around behind the Teslas as well but was having less success. She could still hear the sounds of the fight but they were getting further and further away and she’d not yet found the exit from the pipe. Candice wiggled her broad shouldered form around a sharp corner and nearly became stuck. She cursed under her breath as she worked her way loose. Working out tended to give you muscles that you really didn’t want when crawling through narrow tubes. Finally, she caught some light from up ahead. Creeping towards it, she thought she heard voices. The culvert was too tight for her to pull out her hand mirror to check so she froze and waited. She didn’t have to wait long.
Without warning an armored hand darted in through the opening and dragged her half out of the pipe. She reached for her weapon but froze as the muzzle of a huge shotgun jammed itself into her nose. “Look’s like one of the ‘Daughters, sir. From the colours. Shall I waste her?” Candice got ready to struggle if the answer was yes. Her eyes had adjusted to the brighter light and she could make out the dark blue armor and half helmets of the pigs. Adeptus Arbites. Who never, ever came down this deep into the hive.
“Of course not, constable. That would be defeating the purpose. You have your orders, you know.”
“Yessir,” the Arbiter managed not to sound too disappointed.
The other man knelt down, fixing blind eyes on the ‘daughter. “You know Exene?”
“I suppose she’s out there somewhere,” he nodded his head in the direction of the firefight.
The man sighed in exasperation. “Oh very well. I was afraid of that. Sergeant?”
“Sir,” one of the men behind him replied.
“Please tell your men to break that up. No shooting any of the ladies. Anyone else is fair game, however.”
“Yes – Sir!,” the sergeant snarled menacingly. “Alright you worthless, beat walkers, time to earn your pay. Let’s bring a little peace, order and good government to this pest-hole!”
The Arbites, Candice suddenly realized that there must be two entire squads of them, quickly formed up, the constable holding her one of the last as he let her go to take his place in the line.
“Check weapons!,” the sergeant hissed. A symphony of snapping metal followed as bolts flew back and magazines were checked. “Advance!”
“Sorry, my dear. May I help you out of there? The blind man jumped back, Candice just missing his face with a boot as she swung herself free of the ancient tube. “Hmmph. Well, pardon me for being polite.”
In the next chamber the air was filled with shotgun blasts, grenade explosions, bolter fire and screams.
Exene settled herself on a barricade and sipped the hot kaff that the Astropath had handed her. One of the constables was treating two of her girls against one wall. Nothing overly serious. The others stood in a wide circle facing out and away from the Daughters of Dystopia and the psyker. Portable lamps glittered on the dark blue armor and golden insignia as well as on the brightly polished muzzles of weapons. “I was wondering how you’d get word to me that I received a reply.”
The Astropath smiled in reply. If it weren’t for those creepy eyes, Exene thought, he might even be good looking. Might have been once. “We in the Imperium have our ways of getting things done. As it was I simply asked for protection.”
“They agreed?” She was a bit surprised at that. The Arbites were VERY far from their usual turf.
“Oh they had little choice. We Astropaths are soul-bound to the Emperor. A bit of a rare commodity, really. I simply told him that I’d instructions to get this response to you that were very, very firm and that I was coming down here. He could either send some men along or I’d go alone – having left a note that I’d requested support and been refused.
“You’d never have made it down here on your own!”
“Oh, you never know about that, my dear. I’m not entirely without resources or skills. Still, the escort made things much easier and faster. It was quite hard enough even with their help. At any rate, I came to deliver the message and I have done so.” He handed her a record crystal. “Now I will take my leave of you.”
“Umm – I don’t have the rest of your fee, umm, on me at the moment.” She gazed worriedly at the encircling Arbites. “It won’t take me long to get it – of course I’ve got to get it out of hiding. A couple of days at least – “
The psyker held up his hand, a polished steel ring twinkling on the little finger. “No need, my dear Exene I assure you. It’s looked after. It’s all in the letter. He rose and brushed rust from the hem of his robe. Looking around he commented. “I’m really quite surprised that the bottom of the hive is in such a terrible condition! I’m not so sure I’d trust the supports. Hmmph. It’ll be tough to walk back to the top of this overgrown pile of children’s blocks and live there again. I’ll always be thinking of this down here and wondering – will the next support to go bring down my tower and dump me out a couple of thousand feet above the toxic sands? Not a comfortable thought I assure you. Well, goodbye then!” He said this last, quite cheerfully and walked away as though he owned the place, the Arbites filing out behind them and leaving the Daughters, the wounded and the enemy’s dead to the silence of the old dome.
“Okay girls. Enough gawking, let’s see what the Commissar has to say.” She slipped the crystal into a reader bringing up the text on screen in glowing green letters against the black. A double headed eagle filled the screen and then shrank to its position in the upper right corner of the form. Exene recognised it as the symbol of the Imperium although very few of the other daughters would have. Text then began flowing across the screen. There was address information that meant nothing to her. She skipped down to the meat of the letter:
To: Exene Thrush
From: Col. A. Senekal, Commander, 4th Danikan Imperial Guard Regiment
Please accept my apologies on behalf of Heironymous. He is currently in the hands of the medicos after being badly wounded in action. He is expected to recover.
I have made enquiries and checked the records from the incident that you wished to remind my Commissar of. I’ve also spoken to Wulfgang. It is my understanding that you rendered excellent service to Heironymous and other members of my regiment, including members of my personal bodyguard. There is also the matter of your aid to members of the Cleansing Flames Chapter of the Legiones Astartes.
It would seem that members of the Lodi government were foolish enough to go back on their agreement with Heironymous. I assure you that they will regret that. While it would be most tempting to simply roll them flat under the tracks of a Baneblade, the Imperium takes a dim view on private wars. In addition, the regiment is hotly engaged at the moment. Few can be spared.
Despite this, we owe a debt and I will see it paid, for that is the only honourable thing for us to do. I will dispatch what small assistance that I can break free of the battle. We shall both have to hope it will be enough. Nevertheless, it will take time for them to reach you. Given the blockade we had to run just to get here it may not even be possible. However the attempt will be made.
As your position is very difficult, I am making some regimental funds available to you until aid can arrive. Go deep and hide. Use what I have sent sparingly. Even at best it may be weeks or months and I would rather aid arrive in time to be of help to the living rather than only to avenge the dead. I have also covered the remaining costs of this transmission.
Those who will come will come as quickly as I am able to get them there.
Yours in service to the Imperium;
Colonel Arcturan Senekal
Commander, 4th Danika
Exene looked at the rest of the clip and actually gasped.
“What,” Sindi Sixx finally asked, “They hang us out to dry?”
“No. They’re sending help. And they also sent a small fortune. We can’t easily spend it, of course, and it’s nothing next to the guilders but we should be able to eat while we wait. It’ll take time.” She sighed. “We sent a whisper into the dark of a hopeless night and are answered by a clarion call.” She smiled briefly. “The brazen trumpets of the Imperial Guard.”
“It always weirds me out when you talk like that Exene.”
The gang leader smiled a bit through the grime and grease covering her. “Sorry, Sindi. It’s my misspent uphive youth. That’s from an old play I used to really love. It goes:
‘Amidst the weeping and the woe, accursed daemon do thou remain and rot
I know thee filthy as thou art – I know the blackness of thine heart
For my fear hath whispered cold and pale, in the hopeless dark of night
But I triumphed o’er it with soul made hale – pressed lasgun to cheek and return’d to fight
For all around me stand comrades tall – made fearless by brazen clarion call
No gentle cornet played with fine regard – but the thunder of guns of the Imperial Guard!’
Next up – Part V – Riders on the Storm