Access Point 247
One part of Exene Thrush wanted to be sick. Seriously – déjà brew after a weekend binge/worshipping the ceramite altar sick. This was because, for the first time in her life, she was outside.
Naturally she had always known that there was such a thing. That Cascade Hive was a great, technological tower on the surface of horrifically polluted Lodi. But this was the first time in her life she had never had a ceiling over her head. Of course, no one knew that it bothered her. Exene strapped on the respirator handed to her by Wulfgang and strode out into the howling toxic murk like it was a holiday day. The juves were terrified, quaking in their boots. The gang girls, with the exception of their newest addition Pyra, were a little nervous. Pyra just looked excited. Exene, quite intentionally looked bored as though walking under an open sky was something she’d been doing all her life. If her insides were going to turn to water, there was no way anyone was going to see it. Not on Exene Thrush.
If Wulf knew, he didn’t let on. She might have fooled him. The Commissar looked uninterested. The Pit Bulls and the Dreadnought were all sealed in their armor. There were no expressions to give anything away in the fierce faceplates of their helmets. But fear or no, the Daughters of Dystopia were still Moebius gangers and victorious ones at that. They boarded the huge aircraft which had been backed up near the doorway.
Inside, the girls suffered themselves to be buckled into seats and their harnesses checked by the guardsmen and Astartes. Wulf checked Exene’s himself and she gave him a totally bored look with a lift of the chin meant to inspire her girls. The last to buckle up was Chastain Manassas and no one checked his harness, but she supposed no one really needed to.
“All right, guardsmen – I know you’re all tough and hardened – and no one can or will doubt your courage – not after that last fight. This flight will be unfamiliar and likely unpleasant, just bear with it as best you can. The first one who barfs gets the cleanup detail of scrubbing down every last inch of this flight bay with their own toothbrush and Emperor help you if you get any on my coat.” Exene chuckled at Cracken’s speech – it was clearly not the first time he’d given it or dealt with gangers fresh out of the Hive.
It was Kelli – nervous sounding but still tough, who answered him, “Guardsmen, eh Commissar? That official now?”
“You got somewhere else to be there, Kelli?” The big man laughed as he responded. Commissars were often feared by their troopers, but the best ones like Cracken were both feared and loved.
“No sir, I sure don’t. Just give me a chance to shoot something and I’ll be good.”
“That’s the spirit, Kelli.” He paused for a moment. “This is as good a time as any to make the Colonel’s wishes clear on this matter and also to bring you up to speed. You’re all tough, and smart and good fighters. That’s a damned good thing but let me be very clear – the things you’ll face in the Emperor’s Armies are a helluva lot worse than the things you’ve seen in the Hive Bottom. We all know those are bad, but the things you’ll be fighting are worse. Usually a lot worse. You’re going to need every inch of your courage and bravado and brains to survive.
“But you’ve got one hell of an advantage. You’re going to the 4th Danika. The 4th is one of the finest Regiments in the Astra Militarum. I don’t even know if the Administratum knows how many billions of humans serve in the Imperial Guard or how many millions of regiments it contains, but I’m not exaggerating when I say there is nowhere I would rather serve than with the 4th. It’s commanded by Colonel Arcturan Senekal – you haven’t met him but you will. The Colonel would probably be a general if promotions were measured based purely on winning battles and kicking butt – but he’s not interested. Arcturan is a fighting man, first and foremost. He’d hate fighting from behind a desk almost as much as not fighting at all, and being a commander of armies doesn’t involve any direct fighting. He can lick any of you in a fight – hell he can lick me without half trying and I don’t think many of you would stand a chance against me. Exene might. Maybe. But that’s about it.”
“I’ve seen you fight, Commissar – I’d prefer not to try out outside of practice. Let’s just say I’m glad you’re on our side,” the gang leader replied.
“Indeed. Now let me be clear. Fighting in the Astra Militarum is a deadly pursuit. Most guardsmen will die in battle before retiring, but that won’t bother you much, I expect as it’s much the same in the Underhive. What’s going to be hard for you is following orders – and you WILL follow orders. That’s the price you pay for those three squares a day that Exene was talking about earlier. You follow Exene’s orders – or those of other officers and she will follow orders as well. That will be hard for some of you, it is for many guardsmen – but let me assure you that following orders is not negotiable.
“Some orders will not be great ones. Some may get some of you killed. However, as I have said, you are fortunate. You are joining the 4th Danika. The officers of the 4th are good men and won’t give orders that are stupid and if the order is difficult or deadly it won’t be out of foolishness but out of necessity.
“Sometimes an order may require a guardsman to sacrifice his or her life for the Emperor. For all of humanity. Sometimes what needs to be done even without an order is just as deadly. You may have noticed me limping a bit. That’s because I had to fight things no person should have to fight. I was lucky. I’m not dead, but I’m only not dead because the Cleansing Flames arrived in time to save myself and my command.”
Over the speaker a somewhat electronic voice chimed in, “You are welcome Commissar.”
“Oh, it was appreciated literally with my last breath Lucien. Almost literally. It would have been if you hadn’t shown up.”
“Sounds like kind of a suckage assignment, Commissar.” Cold Ethyl muttered.
Cracken sighed. “It can be Ethyl – but that’s the price we pay to keep humanity safe. No one ordered me to enter that fight – but there was no choice. And if I had been ordered to do it, I would have followed that order, because that’s what guardsmen do. Even Commissars. I’m not immune to being sacrificed either – but I won’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Nor will the Colonel. That much you can be assured of and that’s why you’re lucky to be going to the 4th. In some regiments the troopers are considered nothing more than expendable cannon fodder, but that isn’t the case with our unit. Troopers are considered to be highly trained, dedicated, valuable specialists in killing. The 4th cares about its people. Danikan regiments are like that – a brotherhood or, in your case, a family. Home is the regiment now. The sooner you get used to that, the sooner life will get easier.
“There will be training – everyone gets training. I expect each and every one of you to excel. If you don’t I’ll kick your skinny little Lodian arses myself. Make me proud, Daughters of Dystopia!”
The plane started to buck and jump as it lifted and hit rough air. The girls tried hard to keep their last meals down.
It wasn’t easy.
The heretics either hadn’t believed in defence in depth, or just didn’t have the troops in that region to make it work. The Raehanivs and Danikans had reached the knee.
Like so much else about this vehicle, it wasn’t normal. What should have simply been machinery, gears, pistons and the massive engines to drive them had long since lost that functional aspect. Now it looked much like what a surgeon might see operating on the knee of a corpse. And one in a heavy state of decomposition at that. The armoured plate that had protected the central rotational pivot now appeared to be made out of a fusion of adamantium and bone. Cartilage and ligaments had replaced much of the pistons. Flies and pus covered everything.
And then there was the crew.
Once, apparently, each joint of this machine had had a dedicated crew. Some would have been actuator experts, operating the various pistons in concert with cogitator balance engines. Others, Griffon thought – had probably been damage control. At least they bore tools that seemed like they would have served a purpose of that sort. Now all of them, including their tools and clothing had been gathered into the walls and fittings comprising this horror. Hands stuck out of piles of slime, still clutching power wrenches. Heads protruded from what should have been smooth metal, eyes wide with horror.
That was bad, really bad. One young Raehaniv trooper couldn’t handle it and started to throw up into his respirator. He had to pull it away from his face. When an embedded arm of what had once been a member of the titan’s crew grabbed that trooper by the throat and pulled his unmasked face into the pus – that was worse.
The crew – weren’t dead. As if waking up, arms began to wave. Mouths screamed somehow despite no longer having lungs to provide breath. The trooper sat up in horror as the arm released him, his skin already putrifying and starting to run from his face. He shrieked and pus came out. Griffon grabbed the wand of the flamer from the trooper just behind him and mashed down hard covering the poor man with burning promethium. Faith and fire, he remembered. Faith and fire.
“Burn this place,” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Burn it all!”
Jamming the flamer wand back into the hands of the young woman who still wore the tanks for it, he ripped the pack from his back and started pulling out tube charges. “Get ready – I want all charges up! Everything that will blow, it all goes here. Get to it Raehanivs! You too, Danikans!”
The flamers were walking forward, burning everything. Tiny flies and similar creatures flashed to ash. Pieces of crew caught fire, burned and melted away. Horrific shrieking was everywhere but it slowly started to fade. Behind the flamer troopers other soldiers let loose with lasguns, plasma and melta weapons. Chunks of mechanism flew around the chamber.
Troopers were jamming charges into every opening they could find. Those with some demo experience were wiring them together. Everyone moved fast.
The lights went out.
Suddenly the only light was the glare of burning promethium everyone paused for a moment before continuing to work. A few troopers turned on suit or helmet lights but most were happy to work by the light of the flames. In a moment aux lights came on, dim behind thousands of years of accumulated gook, it was a miracle any functioned at all. Where the flamers had passed they burned brighter.
“Keep it up, troopers, we don’t have all day!”
The main lights came back on, dimmed, went out and then back on again, flickered and finally stayed on. Griffon hoped it meant bad things for the bad guys. “Placed!” came a cry from across the room.
“Awright, good job you apes!” Griffon spat with a grin. “Those still working keep it up. The rest of you, get that siege shield turned around and lets’ get out of here. Someone save a charge to close the door and a few more for the mantlet if we need ‘em.”
“Already on it, sarge,” Corporal Shab grinned from where he was wiring krak grenades to the door frame. “These’ll blow as soon as we exit and should jam the door.”
“Right, nice Shab. Get on a couple of the lads and bring that mantlet of years. I want out of here fast.” He raised his voice, “All right troopers we are LEAVING!”
Senekal wasn’t moving too fast. As much as he was not fond of aliens, right now he was glad for the help of two of the Harlequins. He didn’t know what had become of the other Death Guard. Killed possibly, or fled. Behind them there were some pretty powerful explosions and shocks. At first he thought he was blacking out despite the ‘slaught, but then he realized that the lights were coming and going. Apparently power was being disrupted, so all this effort had had some effect. In one of the flashes of darkness he thought he saw natural light ahead.
He was then dropped, none too gently, onto the corroded decking.
Liche had had enough time to reload his storm bolter and now marched slowly forward, blasting away at Plague Bearers. A few got too close and he engaged them with his force axe when he needed to. Mostly, though, he pressed forward as fast as his armor would let him go.
From time to time, he extended his senses into the warp. In this case, it was a delicate thing – he was not foolish enough to open a broad receptive channel in a place such as this – but he could get glimpses. He knew, from the power fluctuations, that his friend had managed some success with his plan on damaging something key in the generatorium. That, and his own victory against the Sorcerer, would have to be sufficient. It was time to leave this place.
From time to time he could just get a glimpse of the Colonel’s essence. In this place of horror it burned bright and hateful. Sometimes, he thought he thought he could detect a tiny smear at the edge of it. It was small, and he was never sure it was even really there. Something left over from their original meeting where he’d nearly been taken by Nurgle, he sometimes thought, and yet – that made no sense. Still, even in his long long experience, Senekal’s experience with Nurgle’s Rot and the Tears of the Emperor had been unique. He worried for his friend. More deeply than he sometimes thought was wise. But he had always believed in redemption and if something like Amankhan could find it in the Eye of Terror, surely Arcturan Senekal could manage it.
When it spoke, the voice was quiet. Lovely, like gentle bells chiming. She spoke one of the Eldar dialects. And an ancient one at that. “No, Seer, you are not wrong. There is something. But you need not fear it.”
Liche stopped, realizing in that moment that the daemons had gone. Since Plague Bearers never fled, having no ability to fear anything, he had to conclude that for the moment the area was clear of them. The tiny eldar woman in red stepped from behind a corroded stanchion, her faceless masque turned toward him. He answered her in the same tongue. His voice, still a gravelly broken thing not well suited to the dulcet Eldar tongue. It was also filled with sadness. “So there is corruption?”
She laughed, and it was like delicate bells. “Not corruption as you are thinking of it, no. But – a mark that yes. No one can go through something like that without scars. You should know yourself that all experience leaves traces. All of us who fight against the sort of things we do bear marks.”
“It’s why I have never supported those in the Imperium who think that mere exposure to the Chaotic should result in mind-wipe or extermination.”
“Since the fall of your Emperor, your people have often been – wasteful. Some – even in my own troupe – they await the fall of humanity. I do not believe it to be that simple. To put it in your terms – yes the clock peals the first chimes of midnight. Many fear that, but the end of the night is always followed by the dawn. You know this too, Seer of Night.”
Liche refused to let anything show. He was not foolish enough to think that the Eldar were always evil, but he was far too experienced to think of them as always helping mankind. They had their own agenda, one that was all about their own people – and of all the eldar the Harlequins were the most dedicated to it, in their own strange way. “You apparently know much – Solotaire.”
The laugh again. “We do. We must.” She gestured down a side corridor. “He whom you call the Colonel, we of my troupe call ‘The Purified’. That should allay some of your fears. And you are right, he was successful. More so than even we had hoped. He lies that way. Injured, but not by us.”
“And you are helping, why?”
She stepped back to the edge of the darkness. “The Great Enemy is not only ‘She who Thirsts’ Cegorach calls. We answer.”
And with a flip backwards she dissolved into shards of light and was gone.
Liche nodded to himself, noting her names, her commentary. There was as much content in what she left unsaid as in what she had said.
He turned right and followed the directions of the eldar woman.
Just East of Zymran’s Ferry
Infincere Principia Landing Zone
Captain Daan Mallory was lost in the optics.
This was his life. From a young boy on Danika he’d always excelled at mathematics. He could run sums in his head most would need a cogitator for and come up right every time. Early on he’d made the move into the Danikan Artillery arm. When the 4th Danika was formed there was no question that he would be selected. At first he’d been a gun layer on a Basilisk track but it hadn’t been long at all before his unusually accurate fire was noticed and used as the ‘first in’ shot for the rest of the battery to fire for effect on. On the battlefield and off it in training, that platoon had been so exceptional that it wasn’t at all long before the Colonel found out who it was who was responsible and moved him up into the position of the Regiment’s ‘Master of Ordnance’.
Carefully moving a few meters on his controls, he re-checked the optics and ran more sums in his head. Windage, gravitational variance caused by unnatural factors of chaos, basic ballistics needed for range and elevation – he had the small cogitator in his backpack unit check it, but he knew it was right.
Daan Mallory was thorough. It was the reason that Major Lekcic normally kept him close by. It was that attention to detail that let him note what a lot of others missed.
Infincere Principia missed a firing cycle.
The huge gun which made up the left arm of the Imperator Titan was a great, multibarrelled, laser cannon capable of doing massive damage to heavy titans and blowing smaller scout titans apart with a single shot. While its firing cycle was slow, it had been firing each time it was fully charged like clockwork since it exited its landing ship. That gun had destroyed one medium and two light titans and badly damaged another. It had been lining up its shot for the coup de grace on the damaged Imperial walker and the inner glow of the barrels that heralded incandescent devastation had started when, instead of tearing out of the barrels in an eye searing blast, the light had faded away. It had given the princeps of the damaged titan time to get a void shield up, which made a difference. Regardless, it was apparent to Mallory that the ancient war machine was having power issues.
Captain Mallory was not the sort to get excited. Even so, this was something worthy of extra effort on his part. He spent a few moments activating additional and emergency comm channels from the large set on his back, prefacing them with targeting information. To some he added additional information such as orbital speeds, upper atmospheric refractory effects and the like. There were a few Imperial ships willing to hazard themselves for something of value to bombard. To Mallory, this counted.
He finished his preparation by taking a small data crystal from his belt pouch. This was something that he’d been given earlier by the Colonel. Something to be used for precisely a circumstance like this. He socketed the crystal into the input port on his comm system and sent out the contents to preface his target data.
“Battery H, two rounds on my pre-sent coordinates please,” he spoke calmly into his mic. He could hear Castillo’s confirmation in his headset moments before the three basilisks behind him roared over his head, reloaded and firing a second time while the first shells were still in the air.
The spotting rounds were good – and showed what Mallory had hoped to be the case. The first three Earthshaker rounds struck the upper works of the huge titan, scouring troops from the fighting platform on the right shoulder and knocking some defense weapons out.
The Ordnance Master keyed his comm. “Danikan Arty 6 to all Imperials – clear strike site prime. Incoming.” His voice was flat, unemotional, but deep inside he couldn’t help but feel a small stir of excitement as he pressed the ‘send’ button on the final firing solution information. “Danikan Arty 6 to all assets. Fire for effect please.”
There was a brief pause. Those aboard the huge enemy titan must have known there was a problem. Even with its power stuttering, Infincere Principia tried to move out of the targeted beaten zone. This would have been a problem for such a mighty but slow beast normally, but Mallory observed tiny flares of light around one of the knee joints. The thing didn’t fall, but its leg did seem to partially lock and its movement attempt quite literally went nowhere. Mallory quietly amended his targeting solutions emphasizing the knee. It might be useful for follow up strikes.
In the area below Imperials were clearing space. Landspeeders, both Danikan and Astartes, sped away at full speed, darting behind folds of rock and rolls in the terrain. A few of the bolder Space Marine ones, actually zipped behind allied titan war machines using their hulls to create a blast shadow – something too dangerous for the Danikan machines with their unprotected and exposed crew. Smaller vehicles backed away, taking cover where they could. In the distance, artillery roared its wrath.
High above in orbit, where great warfleets floated like shoals of fish in the ocean, there was movement. Reacting to the high imperative transferred from the crystal in Mallory’s comm, thrusters fired. Dagger-like escorts shot forward on their reaction drives, while more ponderous cruisers and a full Battlebarge of the Ultramarines moved in more slowly. For weeks now they had remained on station over the Imperial held portions of Cadian – hidden from the Traitor fleets by the shoulder of the planet. The Chaos fleets had done the same, neither fleet feeling confident of victory in a space engagement. Each side had avoided areas over the battlefields, concerned that such a move would open their rear areas to an orbital counterstrike.
What the Imperial ships were doing now was a gamble – one authorized by Marneus Calgar, Lord of Macragge and Ultramar. A man who had trusted a lowly Imperial Guard Colonel with an authorization he would rarely share. One which risked a fleet and even an Ultramarine Battle Barge on a thin chance of victory.
An authorization Senekal had handed to Mallory.
Even before they crested the horizon over the battlefield, the first melta missiles were clearing launch bays – their cogitator minds navigating them over the horizon before starting re-entry. Aimed straight at their primary target. Zeroed in on Infincere Principia.
Moments later the escorts arrived, some rising into a more distant orbit as high guard against a Traitor fleet attack, others spinning like lethal gothic tops, their noses pointing straight down toward the surface as their lance batteries fired. More slowly the cruisers and barge arrived. The barge, also took a high guard position, its bombardment cannon not needing to be in lower orbit to unleash their killer payload.
Mallory got down, curling up and sliding lower below the lip of the crater the basilisks were positioned in.
The world above tore open in an incredible blaze of light and thunder. Even shielded by the edge of the crater, the force of the blasts felt like every inch of the Ordnance Master’s body had been seared and pounded by a prizefighter. His flak armor stiffened and hardened, its reactive mesh design doing its best to spread out an impact that was already spread evenly. In all his career as an artilleryman, this barrage was the crowning glory – a level of devastation any Master of Ordnance would be overjoyed to be at the heart of. Even through his goggles, his eyes streamed tears and not all of them were pain, grit or heat. A few were tears of joy. The barrage went on for what seemed like forever, but which could really have only been a few minutes. The orbital strike then ceased and the final major aftershock passed.
Lifting his head, Mallory surveyed his work.
While the orbital strike was over for the moment while the brobdignagian weapons of the starships re-charged and were reloaded. The barrage hadn’t actually ceased. Smaller artillery units such as those of the Danikans including the Basilisk battery just behind him, were still sending rounds downrange. As the smoke and flame began to clear, some of it rising in a characteristic mushroom cloud which had denoted ultimate devastation for millennia, the Captain was able to see that, somehow, the target was still standing.
The valley below had become a scene of incredible destruction. The ground was seared and in many places glowing red-hot. Areas of rock had liquefied and ran as molten lava across the ground. Several of the smaller titans had been knocked down or destroyed, despite having void shields up and not being at the blast epicentre.
And in the center, Infincere Principia still stood.
The huge Imperator titan had not had its void shields up due to the previous attacks and power issues. Perhaps if it had, or if it had been able to move to reduce the direct strike damage it would not even have been rendered combat ineffective.
As it was, the great titan would not fight again. Infincere Principia was a towering heap of wreckage. The great laser cannon which had made up its left arm was gone. The skull like head, smashed into unrecognizable metal rubble. The fighting platforms and point defence guns were gone. Yet despite all this, the thing still was standing. Shells and missiles continued to rain down on it – a number of them striking the damaged knee area which had kept the monster from moving.
Slowly the Imperial titans moved back into the fight, taking on the now desperately outnumbered Traitor machines, many of which had been damaged by their proximity to the blast. Tanks re-engaged.
Captain Daan Mallory allowed himself a rare smile, and began reassigning targets. He sent the ships above a message to break their strike orbits and return to station, but he left Lieutenant Castillo’s Basilisks still striking that damaged knee joint. It wouldn’t do to allow for anything unseen and he wanted that thing down.
Foot Dock Access
Bock coaxed his chimera back and forward, trying to free it. Outside, some of the support troopers were working on the same thing. A couple of troopers had rigged up a lascannon and were trying to use it to cut beams away which held the chimera in place. He paused for a moment until Harlow stuck her head down through the turret hatch.
“Bock, try it again easy – forward this time.”
“Gotcha, forward easy.” He carefully moved the engine power sticks forward, feeling the chimera’s engine rumbling in respose. Bock normally didn’t drive but Ludwig was out cold in the back from the impact and he was all that they had. It was fortunate that both the Raehanivs and Danikans were a bit unconventional in their attitudes about machines. While both respected the abilities of their attached Engineseers, many vehicle crews were not at all above doing their own field repairs and modifications and it was those which had allowed the troopers to get Bock’s Car running again during lulls fighting off heretics.
Finally the treads caught and, with a scream of tearing metal, the tank moved forward a bit. He waggled the sticks back and forward, ‘rocking’ it and finally it moved forward, free of the junk that had fallen on it.
Harlow opened the small troop door at the back. “Hey, looks like you’re out!”
“Good stuff there, lady. Thanks for the help.”
“No problem. Any thoughts on what to do now? I’m open to suggestions.”
Bock climbed out of the driver’s seat and checked on Ludwig, still laid out in the troop compartment in the rear. No change. He then sat on the bench seat, Ariel taking the seat across the way. “I’m not sure myself. Whatever hit this thing hit it hard. Really hard. I’m surprised we’re still alive to be honest.”
“A lot of us aren’t,” she said sadly. And that was true too. Whatever blast or barrage had hit this thing had done a lot of damage, knocking over parts of wall support and bringing down areas of the ceiling. Fully half their people had been killed or wounded and most of the wounded were getting very sick very quickly. Their chances weren’t good but if they were to have any at all, getting out of this place had to be top priority. No one believed that walking was going to work, though so getting Car and the other vehicles free had been first priority. As they sat, trying to figure out the best way to carry all the injured and if there were any way to get the dead out of this unclean place, a cheer went up outside. Bock quickly stood atop the seat and pushed open the rear fighting hatch on the roof in time to see a dozer equipped Ithaca smash through one of the mostly plugged upper access ways. The Danikan vehicle was quickly followed by a convoy of other tanks moving into the marshalling area within the huge titan’s foot. Bock whistled in amazement.
“They made it. They actually made it back.”
Elodar Griffon, the top half of his body hanging out of the turret of the first chimera in the group yelled over at Harlow and Bock, having to really shout to be heard over the rumble of engines and the clatter of tracks grinding over the smashed wreckage. “Well what are you two doing lollygagging around? Let’s get the hell out of this Throne forsaken dump!”
* * *
The Spire – Guild Accounting Offices
Hespas DuPontiae tried to make head or tail of the report. It was incomplete, written on the fly and submitted remotely by a junior Enforcement trooper who hadn’t even bothered to properly sign it. The Guild official figured that it was likely the last thing the trooper had done before ditching most of his ‘guild gear’ and disappearing into the Underhive. Given the Guild’s lack of forgiveness for failure it was probably the smartest thing he could have done.
He wasn’t sure exactly what had transpired in the Underhive. Heckle was very good at rallying troops and commanding them – but was truly abominable about reports and updates. DuPontiae had been fairly certain that she would make some foolish ‘play’ of her own after her work was done and already had arranged her post mission ‘accident’. Based on this mess of a report he suspected that probably wasn’t necessary anymore.
He sat back and lit up a lho stick, rolling it between his fingers and enjoying the aromatic smoke as he considered. Clearly – something had gone very wrong with their little example around the Daughters of Dystopia. There were a number of possibilities. It could be his rivals within the Guild. The Daughters were all Moebius so it could be uphive elements of House Moebius looking to protect its own. That was unusual but the more he thought about it, the uphive connection made sense. He knew that one of the gangers had visited the uphive and he’d thought there was a connection to the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, but that was hard to fathom. Without a House connection, what good would that do? Who offworld would even care about a Hive gang? Oh, sure, there had been a minor worry about offworld connection due to the Astartes thing – but he couldn’t imagine a ganger even understanding enough about Astartes to get their attention. That Commissar maybe? Hmm. Maybe, but threats aside, not only did Commissars not have the funds for interstellar travel, they also historically treated their soldiers like expendable cannon fodder. No, that made no sense at all. Travel all the way across the gulf of interstellar space for a gang? He shook his head.
Standing, he gathered the report and hit a button to purge the other files contained in his data stacks relating to the matter. Whatever it was, he could look at it all later when things were a bit quieter and safer. Even if this wasn’t the work of Guild rivals they would not be slow to capitalize on it. Scooping up his case he felt a tiny vibration through the decking. Hive quake, he thought, although a very minor one. Still, this high in the Spire? Someone would be looking for a new job at best. He strode across his sumptuous office and pressed another switch, this one hidden on a wall near a large piece of art. The painting slid down into the floor revealing a spidery thin staircase going down, brightly lit by Lodi’s sun through armaglas panels to the right. He started down, knowing that an aircar would be waiting on the Guild landing pad for him below. A quick visit to family friends in Pinnacle Hive would be just the thing until matters settled down.
He reached the bottom of the stairs and moved along an elegant corridor panelled with offworld lumber, carved and polished to a high sheen. The airy motif was continued here with a ceiling which was mostly skylight. Heavily stuffed leather covered benches lined the walls on both sides. Reaching the end he pressed another switch and a carved wooden door slid into the wall to his right.
It was the smell which hit him first, even before the door was fully open. Smoke, scorched metal. Hespas DuPontiae had been a fighter in his youth and juvenant treatments had preserved much of that agility. While out of practice he still rolled to one side without thinking, pulling out a hold-out laspistol from within his sleeve.
The Guild had many facilities and a few of them, such as this one, were fitted out with their own landing stages for VIP transport, small but valuable cargoes, exchanges of objets d’art or archeotech and the like. Anything which was best not sent through public stages for various reasons. There had been a pair of small lighters parked on the stage but these were now crushed flat beneath the hull and landing gear of the huge orbital lander which not only filled the stage but was so large that most of the starboard wing hung out into the air over the edge of the stage. The port wing also overhung the stage on the Hive side. It had destroyed three small support structures during landing and from the look of it doing that hadn’t even scratched the paint.
The front of the craft faced the main entryway which was littered with the remains of Guild Enforcers who had been foolish enough to try and contest the landing while armed. Huge heavy bolter sponsons on the bow of the craft had literally blown them to pieces painting the main rampway with blood and chunks of what had been men.
DuPontiae tried to wrap his head around the reality of this. No Guild member, not even members of the ruling Houses of Cascade would do something like this. While the design of the huge craft was unfamiliar to him, the heraldry was not. Quartered dark and sky blue and marked with a skull in a burning halo of yellow and orange flame – this was a vehicle of the Cleansing Flames chapter of the Adeptus Astartes. Space Marines. The Imperium’s superhuman Angels of Death.
Hespas DuPontiae turned to run. He did not get far.
* * *
South Central Command HQ
Everything still hurt.
In some ways, Colonel Arcturan Senekal was glad of the pain. It reminded him that, in fact, he’d survived yet another conflict. After the great battle of Zymran’s Ferry – itself named after another battle with heretics centuries before – Senekal had spent a fair bit of time in the med tent of the 4th. His bones required setting, again. There was bloodloss and the augmetic leg had been a complete loss after the crushing Jher Khan had given the ankle. His heart had needed more repair work from the ‘slaught and he was back on a huge regimen of drugs to help his body heal smaller elements of damage throughout.
And, while he was sometimes glad for the pain that let him know he was alive, every time he had to get up to move around the reality of it caused him to curse internally. At the moment, he was glad he could remain sitting.
The sun of Cadia was warm on the awning stretched above his head and he looked up from the paperwork he hated so much, but which Lekcic was using his inability to move around to force him to do more of than usual. He weighted down his work with a laspistol and forced himself to stand up, leaning heavily on a cane as he limped out of the shade of the awning and out onto the pavement of the landing pad. A gigantic dark and light blue Astartes Thunderhawk gunship was settling onto its landing gear, hull still popping as it cooled from the heat of re-entry. The bow ramp dropped and several Astartes in assault gear marched down. All save the sergeant bore the marks of Lodian captivity. Senekal had heard tell of these ‘Pit Bulls’ but this was the first time he had actually seen them. With Marine precision which clashed with their unusual ‘augmentations’, they marched to one side of the ramp. From the rear vehicle docking area, a Dreadnought lumbered around the nose canards and took its own space in the line. This was Lucien, Dreadnought 4 of the Cleansing Flames Chapter whom Senekal recognized from previous encounters.
Next down the ramp was a black coated Commissar. Heironymous Cracken had taken off his trademark hostile environs mask and left it hanging on his hip, but his cap was still perched properly on his hairless skull. The man’s unforgiving blue eyes still showed a tiny twinkle on touching the Colonel and he strode over to greet his old friend with a sharp salute before grasping his hand and pumping it up and down. There were no words now. There would be time for those later.
Next down the ramp were a gaggle of very hard looking women. Despite an attempt at marching in formation and even a semblance of a uniform provided by matching dark green trousers, they could still properly only be classified as a ‘gaggle’. Their leader was a statuesque woman with hair dyed a deep purple, long and gathered back into a ponytail. She still wore her trademark long coat, powersword and Danikan plasma pistol. Exene Thrush took her new role seriously, snapping to proper attention and delivering a correct salute to the Colonel. “Sergeant Exene Thrush, reporting for duty, SIR.”
Senekal forced himself into proper attention and returned the salute, mostly managing to hide the wince from abusing his recently broken collarbone. “Welcome to the 4th Danikan Imperial Guard, Thrush. The Astra Militarum is glad to have you,” he turned to the Commissar. “Sergeant?”
Cracken shrugged slightly. “Well within my authority, Colonel as you know. Do you think I’d give that out if she hadn’t earned it?”
Sighing the colonel nodded. “No, no of course you wouldn’t. Well, that’s it then. Where’s Wulf?”
Exene hadn’t the experience to keep from looking around for the Bloodcoat and quickly found him, walking down the gangway leading a more motley group of stragglers. There were a few other gangers, including the juve, Aleks, who had been part of the ambush near Fire Lake and was now a recruit. He still limped a bit from his damaged leg. Some Guild Enforcers who had chosen exile with the Daughters rather than the probable death which would await them at the hands of the Guild once the hand of the Imperium was off their necks. The gang which had surrendered at the spoke entrance made up most of those. At the rear, a tall man in green and white walked along, carrying a cane which was more decoration than needed tool, despite the metal plate which now covered his burnt out eyes. Wulfgang hustled over to greet the Colonel – both his superior and a comrade in arms he’d fought shoulder to shoulder with for a decade and a half. That warrior bond transcended all rank. “Sorry, Colonel. That gang of yahoos still requires a lot of herding. They’ve had some training, but they ain’t half as good as the Daughters are.”
“The ‘Daughters’ Wulfgang?”
Wulf grinned slightly – “Battle name, sir. My word they’ve earned it, backing up the Commissar and I as well as the Cleansing Flames.”
Senekal sighed, turning and moving back to the awning and, more importantly the chair under it which was beckoning to his very battered anatomy. “All right then, let’s at least get out of the sun, shall we?” He turned back to the awning. “Lieutenant? See if you can do something with that rag tag mob of reprobate recruits would you? I expect some decent training before you let them anywhere near anything like a proper assignment.”
From under the awning a grizzled older man in a brass helmet mounted with the streaking comet of a Danikan Lieutenant marched out with a precision which showed his many years service in the Imperial Guard. The green uniform was new. All their old equipment had had to be burned after their excursion within the Chaos Titan, but the while the insignia were 4th Danika, the colour was Raehaniv green as a salute to their destroyed former regiment. Elodar Griffon pulled out his old Sergeant Major voice and addressed the Lodians by the ramp. “Awright you worthless apes! Move! MOVE! I know you’ve been parked on your butts on a starship for weeks. Well that’s enough lollygagging. You’re in the Guard now and you will MOVE!” One of the Brobs didn’t go quite quickly enough and Griffon landed him a hard kick in the rump. “I said MOVE you great pile of muscle.” His eyes fell on Aleks, pale and desperately trying to keep up despite his injured leg. “You hurt, son?”
Aleks paled a bit. “Umm…”
Wulf broke in. “He faced a Bloodcoat, Lieutenant. And lived to tell about it.”
“Well all right then, son. You may be small but there’s something to ya. Sergeant Harlow!”
Ariel, also in new green coveralls and black flak armor strode up. The shotgun hadn’t survived but she now carried a lasgun which she’d taken the opportunity to have the armorers ‘up power’ a bit for a bit more oomph. “Sarge?”
“That’s LIEUTENANT Sarge to you!” he roared. “Get a couple of these useless idiots to help this youngster to the med area. When his knee is sorted, he can start training then. Got it?”
“Yes sir! You and you. Fall out and give him a hand. Move it!”
Senekal sighed and dropped hard into his chair. “I apologize folks. I’m afraid I’m still a bit battered from our last fight.” He turned to Wulf, Cracken and Exene who were under the awning. The other Daughters stood out in the sun, making some attempt to stand at ease with mixed success. Ethyl sported a black eye she’d picked up talking back to Cracken during training. Surprisingly she did the best at maintaining some kind of military bearing. The Colonel looked them over. “So.”
“So?” Wulf asked.
The Colonel sighed again. “You all know the 4th will never be the same. The women in the Raehaniv companies we absorbed, that was bad enough. The Daughters though?”
Wulf looked embarrassed. It was Cracken who answered. “Arcturan, do you really think they’re incapable?”
“Well, no – of course not but-“
“But nothing, Colonel. We both know they can fight. As well or better than the Raehanivs. They still need some training but they are excellent raw material. Better than that, really.”
“And,” Exene added, taking a risk, “You did say you owed us a debt.”
“No Wulf, she’s right I did. Thrush do you know anything about Danikans and women?”
“More’n you think,” the Bloodcoat muttered.
“Enough sir. Enough to know that by Danikan culture I can offer a form of gift and you have to accept. I’m offering a trooper for your Bloodcoats.”
Senekal shot out of his seat, and then winced, regretting it. “You’re WHAT?”
Exene stood at attention. She knew how to play games and had spent quite awhile with Cracken learning the rules to this new one. “You heard me, sir.”
Senekal looked at Exene who stared him down. Turned to Cracken, who innocently looked at the sunshine playing on the awning roof and then at Wulf, who simply looked down at the pavement. Off to the side the Astropath, who had ghosted along behind the others, chuckled.
Knowing he’d been played, he finally said, “All right, who?”
Thrush, putting on full military airs, did a perfect back step and about turn, marched to the edge of the tent and bellowed, “Pyra – front and center!”
The big, red haired girl wasn’t as good with the military bearing as Exene, but she moved with a purpose to the front and managed a decent salute. Senekal looked the burly girl over, taking in the huge heavy flamer slung on her back, her youth, size and strength. “Know how to use that thing, Trooper?”
Pyra grinned, “Yessir!”
Senekal looked to Wulf, who nodded aggressively. He walked around the big Lodian girl and finally nodded. “All right then, you’ll do.” He turned to Exene. “Good choice sergeant.”
“Thank you sir!”
“I expect she’ll be keeping tabs on me. Just know that as a Bloodcoat she will have a high standard to meet.” He shot Wulfgang a glare, “But I expect you’ll know that already and will have made the best choice you could. Wulf, you got me into this, so you’re in charge of her training.” He nodded to Wulf and Exene. “All right, dismissed. Wulf, go see to getting Pyra set up with the others. You get to deal with their whining.”
“No problem, Colonel.”
“Good,” he rounded on Exene, “All right Sergeant. I’d say don’t disappoint me, but this is all Hieronymous’ doing and he usually doesn’t. Fall out and see Captain Blackmoor for your billets. Follow the trainees and ask at the Field Police for directions to his quarters.”
They all started to file out. “Hieronymous, a word please.”
Senekal sat down again, watching the new members of his regiment file away across the pavement, toward the base. Finally all that remained were the Commissar and the Astropath.
“So – recruiting adepts now?”
“Not really his fault, Colonel,” Stilicho chimed in. “I’m afraid I played him a bit. Necessary really as my position would not have been easy on Lodi after helping you. The Guild is not known for being nice when crossed. They only feared my position as an Adept just so much.”
Senekal nodded. “All right, that works. Well, we can use an Astropath. Maybe you can make some sense of those Navy psykers we picked up from Salzburg. At any rate, head to the base and start with them. Report to Major Lekcic as well. He can handle the paperwork of your transfer.” The Colonel grinned knowing how much of a headache that would be. Finally get a bit of his own back on the administrative front. “Dismissed.”
With a toe he pushed a second folding chair over to Cracken, who took it, grateful to take the weight off his own injuries. “Well, Hieronymous. We won, but it’s a mess.”
“What is, Colonel?”
Senekal snorted. “Take your pick. Cadia? Bombed to hell and back not that that is anything new. This was worse than usual though. We won but the navy took a pounding. Calgar threatened to take the costs of the repair of his battle barge out of my pay. Joking I think, although tough to know with Astartes.”
“So what did you tell him?”
“That he’d better either make me an Astartes or pay for one helluva a lot of juvenant treatments if he expected me to fix a battlebarge having most of its bow shot off on a Colonel’s pay!”
“Well, at least we won. When I left that was pretty touch and go.”
“Heh. Yeah. More touch than go, too. We got pretty lucky but even so the fight was hella hard. We lost a lot of good people.” He uncorked a canteen on the desk and poured out drinks for each of them. Just water, but it was the gesture that mattered. “To absent friends.”
Cracken raised his glass. “And memories still bright.”
They drank together and set the glasses down.
“So – how bad?”
“Bad. Your recruits will help. We lost a lot though. B company was almost entirely wiped out, save for their support and transports. G Company and A company both took a pounding but we held the field so have been able to recover most of the damaged vehicles.”
“Any good news?”
“Well, we won.”
“Who was that Lieutenant?”
“Oh, Griffon. When B company got smashed up, a bunch of folks from another Regiment. The Raehaniv Regulars hooked up with them. They fought pretty darned well together. The Raehanivs lost all their officers so I put their senior Sergeant Major in charge. The Lieutenant is still a brevet promotion. We’ll see if it works out.”
“How many of these Raehanivs did we get?”
“Enought to bulk out most of the infantry from B Company. They got hit far worse than we did. Hard to imagine that from an entire armoured infantry regiment there is barely enough left for most of a company. They’re good folks with a lot of similarities culturally. We’ll be able to give them a good home here in the 4th. I’m worried about their women of course.”
“And the Daughters.”
“And them, yes. It’ll be hard for the Danikans to adapt.”
“Let’s be honest, Arcturan. It’s going to be hard for YOU to adapt. The troops have been on the frontlines sometimes with mixed regiments for years. They know full well that women can fight. But you are more insulated from that. Why do you think I suggested to Exene that she offer you Pyra for the Bloodcoats?”
Senekal slammed his palm down hard on the table and winced at the impact sending vibrations through various not entirely healed bits. “You dirty so and so!”
Cracken poured another glass of water. “I’m a Commissar. My job is to ensure the regiment runs smoothly. And that includes its commander.”
Laughing, the Colonel filled another glass and downed it, shaking his head.
It was dark and the purple smear that was the Eye of Terror filled the northern quadrant of the Cadian night sky. From here, that looked surprisingly beautiful – but only if you had no idea what it signified. Around it and through it, the blue-white sparks of stars glittered. The night was quiet, save for the faint sound of insects, chirping their night songs.
Arcturan sat on a bench in a garden, round, surrounded by tall hedges and centered with a fountain, which quietly trickled. Flower beds were laid out neatly. Despite the fighting and industrialism, Cadia did still have some beautiful locales. This small garden, preserved in the Governor’s command area, was just a tiny sample. He leaned back and breathed in the fragrance of the flowers. Here, away from the blasts of the artillery and orbital bombardments, spring was coming to this hemisphere of Cadia. Perhaps a few other places as well. It was good to know that something went on, undisturbed by the Imperium’s endless war.
Liche could not approach quietly – not clad in his deep blue Terminator armor. Senekal heard him long before he arrived. The whir of the servos and heavy tramp frightened the insects into silence. “Liche,” he remarked quietly, knowing how good his friend’s supernatural hearing was, “you’re scaring the bugs.”
“It is what I do.” He paused letting the greeting sink in. Senekal grinned at the obvious Tyranid reference. “Have I ever pointed out that you excel in making rather sharp commentary which states the obvious?”
The Colonel sighed and rose with a wince, crossing to where the Astartes stood, feet taller than he was. “Nope.” He smiled. “And even if you did, it likely wouldn’t matter.” He offered his hand to the huge Space Marine. “This is goodbye, I guess?”
“Yes. Well, farewell would likely be more accurate. We are warriors. Either of us could meet an abrupt end at any time, but if we speak only for our intentions, rather than the vagaries of fate, I think it would be best to speak without finalities.” He took the hand, like an adult shaking with a small child. “Farewell my friend. And stay safe. It has been an honor to face these things with you. It seems we’ve been together for years, these few months while we faced this crisis.”
“Yeah. It does seem longer than it should at that. No one I’d rather have faced it with though. Maybe Whitewind, although he was on the other side of the world most of the time we were fighting.”
“Angarald is a good and worthy man. Worthy of your friendship, and he is also lucky to have yours.”
“You know, Liche, from most people that would be just an offhand comment. But from you – well it means a lot. Thank you.”
The Librarian nodded. “And your regiment? They will be okay with all the changes?”
The Colonel shrugged. “They’ll have to be. But yeah, I think so. Be interesting to say the least, but the 4th is still intact as a formation and I was able to leverage some additional supply and troopers. We may come out of this even a bit stronger than before. Seems like a few folks think we made a difference.” He walked over to the fountain and looked up at the smear in the sky. “But they’ll come again. They always do.” He paused. “You never did tell me how we got out of that damned thing.”
“Do you really want to know?”
Senekal laughed. “Now that you mention it, probably not. I expect it involves my sorry unconscious butt being hauled unceremoniously through the warp before that thing blew up and fell over.”
Liche smiled, his eyes reflecting the warp storm above with a swirl of warp power of their own. “Something like that, perhaps. I might not put it in quite so earthy a fashion.”
“Nope, you wouldn’t would you, old friend.” He paused. “I’ll miss you. Strange as that is to say as every time we spend together we have to kill tons of stuff, I’ll still miss you.”
“And I you. Farewell, Arcturan. I will not remind you to fight well – for that is something you never need to be reminded of.”
“Take care you big, warp capable lug – and stay safe!” The Colonel grinned with a smirk that belonged on a man half his age and tried to walk jauntily out of the garden, an effect ruined by the limp and the cane.
Liche watched him go, standing silently in the garden before turning his eyes upwards again to the warp smear that men called the Eye of Terror. He reached into the cuff of his gauntlet, removing a small scrap of paper. Paper which had been delivered by a tiny eldar woman in red. Delivered without word, or comment. He unfolded it to read it one last time. It contained only a single sentence and a signature.
“This is not over yet!” it read. The signature was not a word but an oval containing mystic characters. A cartouche. But Liche knew full well what it meant. He turned his eyes back to the sky and the Eye of Terror, pulsing a tiny bit of warpflame to turn the parchment to ash.
“We shall see, Amankhan. We shall see.”