97th Conglomerate's Tyrannic War
This is a fanfic that is essentially based on some gamefag's campaign. Not too badly written, and almost legitimately good... still expect some heretical and sometimes very out-of-place comments and actions (luckily of the non-sexual variety).
Gamefag's identity is mostly unknown. Only known information is that he plays Men with Balls of Steel and goes by Sir William.
- 1 Fluffy Backdropness
- 2 Prologue
- 3 Deployment Day
- 4 Day 1
- 5 Day 2
- 6 Day 3
- 7 Day 14
- 8 Day 15
Hive Fleet Behemoth, although having ravaged the Eastern Fringes, and testing the resolve of the Ultramarines at the Battle of Macragge, were defeated in 745.M41 at the Battle of Ultramar. But the Hive Fleet had not satisfied its unending hunger. On the Hive World of Moranis VI, the Basilisk Tendril of Hive Fleet Behemoth has found the perfect world to restore their strength. The highest concentration of biomass on a single planet is perfect to replenish that which was lost in the crushing defeat at Ultramar. Most of the cities have already fallen, but a single bastion still stands. The city of Terragrad, the capital of this doomed world, is all that prevents an outright Exterminatus. In hopes to stall the slaughter, the 97th Conglomerate was dispatched to defend the planet. The city's outskirts, the frontlines, are manned by 1st Company. These veterans are here to test their mettle, if not for the Emperor, then for the desperate citizens of a world under siege.
Part 1: Deployment Day Minus 3
Private Samson sat uncomfortably in the velvet covered seat of Colonel Cronus’ office. The Colonel had stepped out, for what, Samson didn’t know. He was here for one reason alone; he had seen combat before. The 97th never took recruits from a vacuum. They only ever plucked men from the forces of the Astra Militarum who had seen a battle before. But this wasn’t where Samson belonged.
I’m a coward… He told himself, trying to think of a way to get out of seeing combat again. They called him weak, blasphemous, heretic. He damn near jumped when the door opened again.
The Colonel was a tall, intimidating man with a chiseled face and sunken eyes. His officer’s cane was tucked tightly under his arm alongside a thin file folder. As he made towards his desk, he possessed an authoritarian presence and a regimental gait. He sharply pulled his chair, Samson clearly seeing the extensive bionic reconstruction that had replaced his whole left arm, and sat down across from Samson, who simply sank in his chair, cowering in the face of raw Imperial authority.
“Private Alexandre Samson…” Cronus began, flipping open the folder in his hands as he crossed his legs, sitting at an angle. “Age: 22; Height: 6 foot even; Weight: a little on the lighter side; Years of Service: longer than most.” He put his own slightly cynical spin on how to address Samson’s qualities. He started sizing up Samson skeptically. “How in the Emperor’s bloody name have you served as long as you have and still managed to get put through our screening?” He asked dubiously. Samson inhaled and went to answer, but was realized it was a rhetorical question when the Colonel simply continued. “Have you ever fired an autogun?”
“I’m sorry, sir?” Samson responded, trying to make sure he heard the Colonel correctly.
“An autogun…” Cronus said again, slapping shut the file with the hand he held it in.
“Um, I’m not sure I’m following sir.” Samson replied once more. Cronus gave a brief chuckle – well, more of an amused huff – at the Private’s response.
“Not important.” The Colonel continued. “Report to the quartermaster in the Guardsmen common areas tomorrow, where you’ll be issued your gear and assigned to your squad.” He tucked the Private’s file away into a drawer of his desk. “You’re dismissed.”
Part 2: Deployment Day Minus 2
Warp travel afforded one nothing remotely resembling restful sleep. This had become something that Samson hoped came with experience, but he’s tried to sleep through Warp trips more than enough times to realize he was deluded if he read any truth in it. He awoke, groggy and mildly depressed, but also nervous. As he got out of his bunk in the barracks, he was immediately faced by a woman standing and glaring at him not 6 inches from his face.
She was about half a head shorter than he was, yet still intimidating. Her hair was butch, short, and messy, almost like a man’s. She had captivating eyes, soft features, but scarred like a veteran. A vertical scar cut downwards from the direction of the nose across her mouth on her left side, and one very long scar went from the edge of her right eye all the way up across her scalp, stopping almost at the ear. Her light blue eyes starkly contrasted her dark brown hair. She was dressed like Samson, having just woken up, in standard issue grey boxer shorts and a pale grey undershirt. Hers was only different in that it revealed a good deal of her midriff.
“Who the feck you lookin’ at?” She sounded pissed and annoyed, sneering at him. Samson could immediately tell she came from a very Low Gothic world, especially in the way she basically failed to pronounce the ‘h’ sound in ‘who’. She was sizing him up, determining if she’d just gotten pissed at the wrong person. She had never seen him before, but he looked a certain type. She took a step back. “Oh, you’re the fresh meat, aren’t you?”
“What?” Samson asked, still disoriented from having just woken up.
“I didn’t bloody well stutter.” She jabbed her finger into his chest forcefully. Her voice became less Low Gothic as she calmed down. She turned around, spinning on her bare feet back to her bunk.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Samson asked, trying not to get too distracted by the sway of her hips. She wasn’t particularly butch, but she hadn’t lost any of her femininity to being a member of the Guard. She had dainty feet, slender legs, and an almost perfect curvature to her features, especially the contours of her neck. Hold yourself together Samson… I’m pretty sure this is Heresy what I’m contemplating…
“That’s none of your bloody business, fresh meat.” She bit, shooting him a sideways glance while she turned and stood for a moment facing her bunk. Samson had a perfect view of her profile. She wasn’t absurdly buxom like what most people imagined, but she wasn’t a damn washboard either. She was a damn near perfectly desirable balance between femininity and masculinity. Most of her femininity was in her figure, and the masculinity was in her attitude and personality. “What about yours?”
“That’s… none of your bloody business.” Samson replied almost cleverly. She gave him a smirk as she bent down and slid her footlocker out from underneath the bottom bunk, her dog-tags jingling against each other under her shirt.
“Well, if you’re the new guy…” She began, opening the footlocker and starting by buttoning up her fatigue shirt. “… Aren’t you to be reporting to Quartermaster Sentzke?”
“I guess so.” Samson replied, now having started getting dressed himself. He couldn’t help but scan her up and down as she pulled the trousers up over her legs.
“Well, in that case, walk with me.” She said, finishing lacing up her boots. Samson now rushed to finish getting dressed, for fear that she’d walk off without him.
No more than 5 minutes later they were walking down the long corridor to the common areas. Incense burned every 10 meters-ish and Mechanicus symbols were embossed on almost every door that was restricted to Guardsmen access. Their heavy combat boots made a dull thud with each footfall on the metal floor of the corridor. For a while they hadn’t said a word to each other, the woman not thinking it worth her time, and Samson having been too nervous to even know what say without sounding like an idiot. As the woman kept looking at the Samson out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but notice just how green he looked.
“So how’d a muppet like you get plucked for the 97th?” She asked, her voice failing to echo due to white noise created by the ship’s ceaseless thrumming. The broken silence caught Samson off guard and he flinched.
“I was part of a unit that had seen combat before…” He replied, trying to avoid the subject.
The pair emerged from the end of the hallway into a massive hangar bay that had been crudely converted into something resembling a town or something. This was the common area, something like a central square. To the right as they came in was a court for sport-like activities. In another area were alcoves where mess shops were, guardsman sitting at the tables eating and chatting amongst themselves. In the back corner in the distance (almost 300 meters away), there were training areas with building mock-ups and live-fire ranges. Samson found himself shocked to hear the cacophonous clatter of autogun fire echoing through the crowded shanty buildings. To add, the whole space was alive with the sound of chit-chat and power tools, the smell of mechanical grease and cooking grox meat, and the air had a vaguely metallic taste to it. The whole complex reminded him of an urban world hab-block.
“Lead the way.” Samson stepped to the side and gestured with his arm for her to go first, being that she was the one helping him find the Quartermaster’s office. She walked just past him, making sure he was following her close enough to continue the conversation.
“Care to be a bit more descriptive, shiny?” She toyed, trying to coax the details out of him with her bottomless wit and charm (lol).
“I’d rather not. I’m here with 97th now, despite how I shouldn’t be.” He mumbled the last words with more than a bit of irritation. She took note of his tone.
“I get it…” She comforted, cutting back down an alleyway with Samson in tow. “… We all have a past. Some of us are just more proud of it than others.”
“Thanks.” Samson gratified, feeling somewhat assuaged by her consideration. He looked around, his head on a swivel as she walked towards a door in an alley square that opened into an area with some dust bins, a large commercial garbage compactor, and a few benches. He felt, well, lost. “Where the hell are we?”
“Quartermaster’s.” She replied, as if it’d be obvious. She gestured, pointing lazily and generally towards the door. It was an old metal door with oil stains crawling down from the top and around the knob. “He doesn’t like the commotion of the rec area.” She pointed out. She waited till he was on the doorstep with her, standing under the dark red awning that hung over it.
When the door opened, Samson was greeted by shelves and counters and rolling tables and racks covered in junk. When he said junk, he meant junk. All manner of spare parts, knickknacks, supplies, kit, and anything else you could think of but food, booze, and women. He ambled around the store, scanning and skimming over all this junk while the woman made her way to the back behind the counter, checking the back room for the Quartermaster. One thing Samson noticed almost immediately was the lack of anything related to lasguns. Like, there were maybe one or two things that might’ve been add-ons, but none of the standard equipment that you usually see in a Quartermaster’s inventory. Power packs, focusing lenses, hot-shot packs, recharger packs, scopes, all seemed to be absent. Samson had just picked up a peculiar box magazine with old metal slugs in it, the kind with a brass jacket and all, when he heard rustling in the back room.
“AGH, FECK OFF NATASHA!” Called the gravelly voice of a man over the sound of someone punching someone else.
“Then don’t sleep on the fecking job, you stupid sonovabitch!” Her voice carried, clearly pissed off at the Quartermaster (assuming that was the man’s voice). She walked out of the doorway, placing her bum on the counter and spun, swinging her legs over to the store-side of it. The man stood in the doorframe behind her, rubbing his left arm and shoulder. Well, now Samson knew who was doing the punching. Crossing her arms, the woman gave hasty introductions, still bitterly pissed in her tone. “Sentzke, this is the shiny.” She gestured at Samson. “Shiny, this is the Quartermaster, Staff Sergeant Sentzke.” She gestured at the man she had just finished wailing on.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Samson nodded, trying to be a bit more formal, and trying a bit to cool off the tension between Sentzke and the woman, crossing his arms behind his back at ease. “Private Samson, sir." He added, indicating himself.
“First off, I’m not an officer, so don’t call me sir.” Sentzke began, starting to the counter where he began opening drawers searching for Samson’s requisition sheet. “You may either address me as Sergeant, or simply Sentzke.” The rough man was short, had dark eyes, dark hair, a face of scruffy stubble, and… huh, Samson had only just noticed that Sentzke’s left hand was augmetic. He had a broad face and nose, rough features, and a good number of predominant scars that crisscrossed his face like a road map. “Secondly, don’t touch shit without asking.” His deep, gravelly voice was intimidating to Samson, to say the least.
“Sorry, sir- Sergeant.” Samson would need to get used to that. At last, Sentzke found the slip of parchment in the drawer with the requisition list for Private Samson. “Do you guys not have dataslates?”
“Well, when you have a regiment with the absurdly complex logistics ours has, most of the other crew on the ship get dataslates, not people like Company Quartermasters.” Sentzke replied. He walked out from behind the counter and began scanning shelves and countertops for the items on the list, naming the items as he grabbed them, dropping them in a disorganized pile on the main counter next to the cogitator. “1 undershirt, Black. 1 fatigue pants, Dark Grey. 1 fatigue jacket, Dark Grey. 1 pair combat boots, 18-hole, Black, steel-toed. 1 pair carapace boot spats, Black. 1 set torso carapace armour, Mephiston Red…”
Carapace Armour? Samson’s surprise was apparent on his face as his thoughts cut in while Sentzke listed dryly. Is that standard for the whole regiment? Sentzke simply continued while Samson mulled it over in his head.
“… 1 pair carapace pauldrons, Mephiston Red. 1 carapace helmet, Mephiston Red…” Samson drifted off as Sentzke listed the mundane supplies like underwear and toiletries.
His attention peaked when the Quartermaster walked into the back room behind the counter. He moved toward the counter near the cogitator as Sentzke’s, bracing his arms against the old wooden surface of the countertop. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the woman, whose name he was trying to remember.
I remember Sentzke yelling at her by name… He thought straining to remember, which showed a bit on his face as though he were worried.
“You okay, Samson?” She asked, almost concerned. She was leaning up against a set of shelves, her arms crossed just under her bust and her feet crossed halfway down the shin.
“Yeah.” He waved off the feeling. He couldn’t help but feel his face go flushed and hot as he jerked his body back forward, glaring across the counter at a spot on the wall.
He turned around to look at her again, but then she started doing a series of gestures with her hands, mouthing words to explain the meaning. One gesture was her simply raising her middle finger, followed by pointing at herself. Then there was a gesture where one hand made a ring with her index finger and thumb, and the other hand’s index finger… well, Samson understood her meaning immediately. His mind raced and he couldn’t even think straight with all the blood that had rushed to his head and his (other) head. His attention was snapped back to the task at hand when the voice of Quartermaster Sentzke faded back into the room.
“… 1 Autogun, Mars Pattern, M35. 1 utility belt, Black. Ammunition and other non-standard kit will be subject to approval by your Platoon Officer and, beyond that, your Sergeant.” Sentzke concluded, flipping the requisition list back and forth looking for the sergeant's name when he stifled a laugh through his nose.
“Is there a problem, Sentzke?” The woman asked, unamused.
“Natasha, you’re gonna feckin’ hate me…” Sentzke said through the teeth of his shit-eating grin.
“No…” She looked like she realized what he was saying. The whole time Samson’s eyes had been shooting back and forth between each of them as each of them spoke.
“What’s going on?!” Samson barked in confusion, annoyed that they spoke like he wasn’t here. Sentzke raised a finger to Samson.
“Your sergeant, Private Samson, is the gruff woman known as Natasha Octavius.” Sentzke said almost formally. It didn’t take long for Samson’s gaze to immediately shoot to the woman who had just… well, you know. She almost immediately glared at Samson the second he looked to her. Her eyes burned through him, realizing her face was flushing pink because of what she had done only moments ago. She composed herself, pinched the bridge of her nose, and looked at Sentzke almost calmly when her head rose again.
“Please be shitting me…” She pleaded, to which Sentzke gave a look that said he was enjoying this a bit too much. “You have to be shitting me…”
“I’m sorry…” Samson said apologetically, feeling a tightening in his stomach.
“Forget it.” She said with frustration, stomping towards the door. “Grab your kit and meet me at the range.”
It took Samson about 20 minutes to get kitted up and find the firing range. The autogun was heavy, much heavier than the lasgun he was so used to carrying back with his old regiment. The weapon lacked a magazine in its well, and was made of heavy black metals. Samson had never seen a weapon like it, little lone fired one. When he got to the line of firing stations Natasha was waiting for him, her butt rested on the edge of an ammunition crate. She shot him an annoyed glance, heavily regretting her… forwardness, in the Quartermaster’s office. She pushed her buttocks off the crates and stood to her full height of 5’7” and stepped towards Samson with one hand held outwards.
“Your weapon…” She requested, waiting with her hand. Samson swung the heavy rifle around with his left hand, since his right was still lugging an awkwardly large rucksack.
She accepted the weapon effortlessly and stood it on its butt on the ammo crates she had been sitting on. She field-stripped the weapon and Samson made note of the numerous components and moving parts. While no more than 10 parts, it was a lot more than the normal 2 a lasgun had. She picked up the weapon and looked down the length of the rifle’s iron sights, making sure Sentzke hadn’t given him complete shit. When she had finished her inspection of the components, she reassembled the rifle and handed the finished product back to Samson.
“Now strip it.” She said bluntly, more of a statement than an order.
“Um, what?” Samson was immediately confused, his jaw slackening.
“I didn’t stutter, Guardsman!” She threw the rifle into Samson’s gut, forcing him to drop his rucksack and keep the weapon from smacking into the ground. “I SAID STRIP IT!”
Several hours of yelling and tedious instruction followed, until Samson could execute a field strip in less than a minute. This was nowhere near the blindingly fast 17 seconds it took Natasha to strip the rifle.
“Now go to Station 1 and sight the nearest target.” She pointed to the station at the far left of the range, the end they were at. No one ever took Station 1 because it was the farthest walk from the rest of the hab-block.
Samson walked up to the counter, slapped a single clip up into the magazine-well of the rifle, and placed an extra magazine down on the counter. Yanking back and slapping home the charging handle with a satisfying clack, he raised his exceedingly heavy rifle towards the nearest target at 25 meters. The weapon's weight was hard to support, his arms trembling slightly and the weapons sights swaying lazily across the center of the red and blue concentric rings of the ballistic foam sheet that hung from the ceiling rails.
“Are you waiting for a fecking invitation?” The sergeant taunted. “Shoot the bloody thing!” With that, Samson squeezed the trigger for a brief moment.
The gun barked out a clattering staccato of metal slugs towards the target, the recoil sending the practically-fresh Private stumbling backwards, fighting being thrown by the weapon’s instability and weight. He recovered from the burst and held the rifle at ease, looking back at the sergeant.
“Let me guess...” He began, looking at the sergeant with sympathetic eyes. “… It’s going to be a long day.”
“I don’t even think you have something resembling a clue.” The disgruntled NCO replied, rolling her eyes. She grabbed his rifle and showed him how it was done.
Part 3: Deployment Day Minus 1
“WAKE THE FECK UP, YOU SORRY SODS!” Natasha yelled at the top of her lungs into the squad bunkroom.
After training the fresh meat all day yesterday, she appeared to be heavily annoyed, not in the mood for more groxshit. Samson hadn’t had time to become acquainted with the other members of his new squad before passing out the night before. The men all roused, hopping out of their bunks and landing at full attention, half-naked and groggy, gunk still in the corners of their eyes. The bunk room was small, just enough room for 5 double bunks around the room’s edge and breathing room in the middle. She walked up and down each line of men along the edges of the room, her inscrutable glare piercing the soul of each and every man. She stopped once she got to Samson, she gave him a particularly menacing look, but it seemed to him that she was in denial of something.
“I’m sorry, fresh meat? D’you leave mummy’s tits at ‘ome?!” She barked into Samson’s face, piercing his eardrums with her shrill voice.
“No, ma’am!” Samson bellowed in reply. “I never needed them in the first place, ma’am!”
“You might last 5 minutes here after all, fresh!” She barked back, trying to keep a smirk from her face.
The squad, all 9 men, not including the sergeant, geared up for drills on the firing range. On the walk to the range from the barracks Samson got to know the different members of the squad. Designated vox-caster trooper was a Tallarn Veteran, Corporal Azeem, and the rest of the squad was equally a mixed pot. The heavy flamer trooper, a tall and muscled man with lots of burn scars, was a Catachan Jungle Fighter named “Pyro” Grayson, and his best mate was a rifleman, average height with a square jaw and dark eyes, who was a Valhallan Ice Warrior named Dimitri (he went by his first name to most). Amongst the others were 2 Vostroyans, an annoyingly stiff Mordian, several Cadians, and…
Emperor help me...' Samson thought, not speaking aloud to avoid announcing his prejudice. A Krieger... How do you even get a Death Korps Veteran? They’re all so goddamn suicidal... Throughout the whole thing, only one question bit at him.
“Where’s the sergeant from?” He asked curiously, not thinking it to be much of a big deal.
“We have a pot on that one.” replied Grayson.
“A wot?” Samson asked.
“A pot.” the Valhallan picked up where his comrade had left off. “We all have an ante of rations bet on trying to figure out where she is from. Whoever can get it out of her or find it out some other way gets about a flask of amasec out of me, a bar of chocolate out of a couple of the Cadians, and some other rations out of everyone else.”
“Oh, so whoever gets her to talk wins the pot.” Samson interpreted.
“Exactly.” Spoke the Krieger, whom rarely ever said a word. He was pale, tall, not particularly buff looking, with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, cold as ice itself. The other men in the squad exchanged glances, looking for some reason as to why the old Grenadier piped up.
They reached the firing range, ran drills, and generally trained without real direction. Then the sergeant started having the squad running urban warfare and assault exercises, close combat, short range charging and bayonet fighting styles. For what reason, none of the squad members knew, but they ran them with vigorous discipline and skill. Veterans were like that. Most of them are lone survivors or final members of a regiment that wasn’t reinforced or was almost entirely wiped out in a battle or war. So, the Departmento Munitorium sent these uselessly small forces to the 97th, where they would have a place and purpose, where they could still serve the Emperor with proficiency. That was what they all were… survivors and the last men standing.
Towards the end of the day an announcement was made on the vox-speakers scattered throughout the hab-block-like facilities. The 1st Company was to assemble in the Main Square, out in front of the scaled-down Basilica Administratum. Samson was expecting the full company to be in formation, but was almost stunned to find squads standing in loose groups, chatting and cutting-up with each other in the square. Natasha let the squad get comfortable near the lovely permacrete fountain in the center of the square surrounded by benches before yanking Samson by his neck off to the side. The squad never bothered to look around for him, figuring he had seen an old friend or simply gotten lost. She had him by his collar and forced him to the edge of the square near a pub before talking at him in a harsh whisper.
“Samson, I have a confession.” Natasha said uncomfortably, looking over her shoulder, making sure she wasn’t within earshot of any other Guardsmen. She leaned in, craning her neck downwards towards Samson. “It’s about, well, the Quartermaster’s office.” She gestured awkwardly, unsure of what to do with her hands.
“Don’t even worry about it, Sarge.” Samson replied, trying to be cool about it. With this Natasha’s threw her head back in surprise. Her initial expression was that of relief. After a moment, however, her eyes cast downward and to the side, biting her lip. She went to say something, but was interrupted by the booming, augmented voice of Colonel Cronus.
“Company, Atten-TION!” The entire square went silent as a full company snapped to attention facing the 2nd-floor balcony of the 3-story Administratum building.
Aside Cronus stood a woman who appeared to be a Commissar, which is a very rare sight in any Guard regiment. The Commissar was a dark-skinned woman with long hair and a professional demeanor about her. As well as the Commissar, there was a Techpriest Enginseer, whose servo-skulls floated and buzzed about him, busy with some unknown task, a Primaris Psyker in red robes whose force stave stood almost a foot taller than him, and a Ministorium Priest, robes adorned with scrolls and parchments and purity seals. Samson’s eyes darted for a moment to the back of his sergeant’s almost-shaved head, his neck and shoulders remaining pointed directly forward as his eyes found themselves looking at the tattoos detailed on her scalp, hidden and obscured almost entirely by her hair which had almost completely grown back. The voice of the Company Commander brought Samson’s attention back to the present.
“At Ease!” He boomed, allowing the company to assume a more relaxed stance. “I’m sure you are all aware that we are deploying within the next 24 hours, and that the nature of our deployment hasn’t been told to any of you.” He began, his hands behind his back, scanning the filled square with his augmetic eye. “So, I’ll allow Lady Commissar Aurelia to brief you.” Cronus gestured and the woman stepped forward, her deep yet feminine voice filling the square over the ceaseless thrumming of the ship’s drives.
“We face a threat that almost ravaged the Ultramarine Chapter World and saw the death of billions in its wake through the whole Segmentum.” Her voice was pleasant, deep and seductive, like an old vox-film actress. “A remnant of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan, designated the Basilisk Tendril, has invaded the Hive World of Moranis VI.” At this, many of the men of the company began to chatter amongst each other worriedly. Tyranids? Samson thought to himself. I thought they had been wiped out? Samson had only ever heard of Tyranids, and even that was referring to the victory of the Ultramarines at the Battle of Macragge. The extra chattered died out as the Commissar continued. “Most of the planet has already fallen, but the 97th are being deployed to Terragrad Hive in order to stem the invasion just long enough for ships to arrive, evacuate any civilians, and execute an Exterminatus Order. It seems as though we were misfortunate enough to be the nearest Regiment.” She took a step back as Cronus took one forward to continue where she had left off.
“1st Company will be on the first lander down. We make planetfall at 0930 local time.” Cronus glared through what seemed to be every man there, then snapped to attention. “Company, Atten-TION!” The men snapped to the stance. “Dismissed!” The Company of about 400 men dispersed back to their activities for the remainder of the night, however, many were far quieter than they had been that morning.
Just before the squad was due to turn in for the night, though, Samson had found himself at the pub (or what had become the hab-area’s equivalent to one), sitting to the right of a very inebriated Natasha Octavius. She was clearly handling certain death very well. Samson worked himself onto the stool and waved the barkeep-servitor down for a simple water.
“What’s wrong, Samson? Lightweight?” Natasha slurred through her teeth. All around the pair, throughout the hab-center, men were doing whatever a man might do on their last night alive. Some were drinking their pain away, some were trying to get in the knickers of female crew members who had come into a bar to have a few drinks on their night off, many were in the basilicas and chapels, praying for the Emperor’s protection in the next few weeks. A silent prayer fell on Samson’s lips just before Natasha had spoken to him.
“Yes, but it’s because of a cultural thing.” Samson replied, tilting his head to look at her. Despite her hair being a mess and the drowsy look on her face, she still had an appeal that Samson couldn’t shake. “I grew up on a planet where drinking was frowned upon. My stomach simply can’t handle it.” “Ha!” Natasha snorted, her head resting on the counter. The servitor placed the water in front of Samson with the odd motions of electrically-stimulated flesh and bone. “Where are you from, Samson?”
His face went flush when she used his name; she usually just calls him “fresh meat.” He thought about how this might go, contemplating several scenarios with different (usually pleasant) results. He saw his opportunity and took it.
“I’m originally from an urban kind of agrarian world.” He reminisced, letting memories of sunsets between towering structures flood into his mind’s eye. “No name worth mentioning.”
“And what landed you here amongst the 97th?” She asked, groggily but a bit more attentive. Samson found his window.
“How about this...” He began. “… If I tell you my story, you have to tell me yours.” At this, Natasha sat leaned back for a second, seeing that Samson was more clever than he appeared.
“Okay, I’ll bite.” She replied, very interested by his approached. Her mind seemed to clear somewhat and she began to act a bit more sober. “You first though.” Samson was in.
“I’m one of only 4 survivors of the 55th Arkvain Rifle Regiment.” He recalled as he began his history. “There were a total of 2,000 Guardsmen that were raised for the tithe. I was drafted, and my family was left a bit painfully proud. I remember the feeling of opening that parchment envelope as if it were yesterday. I was 19.” The memory dropped Samson’s heart into his stomach, but he continued once he choked down the lump in his throat. “I was in for about… ooh, I wanna say 4 years? We were deployed to a few of planets for little more than sentry duty, we got garrisoned on a couple of nice ones. Our about fourth or fifth deployment, they sent us to this bloody backwater that was called Drak’s World. It was an Emperor-forsaken world; it was cold, rainy, and nothing but cold muck for dirt. It was corrupted by Chaos, and our regiment was sent to reinforce an already fighting regiment.” Samson thought for a second, knowing he would have to expose his prejudice. “It was a Death Korps regiment...”
“That’s why you’re uneasy around Hanz.” The sergeant observed. Samson looked her dead in the eyes and saw that she seemed to barely even be impeded by the alcohol.
“We were told to hold the line...” Samson remembered. “We were put under the command of the existing Krieg Siege Regiment. We had to sit on a trench line holding the line to make sure the Earthshakers kept shelling the heretics.” “By the Emperor...” Natasha knew exactly where Samson’s story led.
“The traitors, mutants, and cultists made a push, but we were told not to surrender a single inch to them.” Samson could see the images still burned into his retinas. He couldn’t make out a single full body amongst the gore of the casualties: just body parts. Viscera and limbs strewn about each other, craters torn out by the emergency artillery strike had thrown earthen mounds into the mix, still charging men were torn to shreds by heavy bolters and stubbers, autoguns and autocannons, even shotguns and brutish melee weapons. “I only lived because I was a coward.”
“What do you mean?” Natasha was skeptical. Samson took a big gulp of his water, forcing the lump in his throat back down once more.
“I hid amongst the dead as traitors and corrupted mutants hobbled and ran past, ignoring what they thought was dead.” Samson finally admitted. He’d been living with that guilt for almost a year now. “I hate Death Korps for completely disregarding what our lives are worth. I honestly feel bad for any squad in this regiment with a Krieger for a sergeant. “
“I get it...” Natasha sympathized with Samson, for which he felt a certain way. Their eyes met for a moment, an exchange of something words couldn’t convey. “I didn’t join because of a tithe.” She immediately hopped into her story, honouring her end of the bargain, which Samson had all but completely forgot about.
“Wait, what?” He sputtered, confused for a couple of reasons. “I thought all guardsmen were tithed from a world?”
“No, there are volunteers. Hold on.” She waved the servitor for a strong glass of amasec and deposited a ration token into the slot on its chest. She downed the whole 2-fingers of liquor and then got a second. After downing it, she finally got a glass of water to chase it with. She clearly had been too sober to open up this much. “I’m Macharian.”
“What?!” Samson had barely finished swallowing his water before blurting in surprise. “As in, the planet named for the most infamous unaltered human being to have lived?”
“Not just that...” She hinted. “I’m the last and only heir to the bloodline of Lord Solar Macharius.”
“But he never had any children.” Samson pointed out. “He never had a chance to settle down and have a family.”
“Ay, he did not.” Natasha acknowledged. “But his brother did. And believe me, the whole family was ready to soak up the glamour that came with that name, Macharius.” She said with something like disgust.
“So instead of living the easy life, one that trillions of people would do almost anything to have, you enlisted in the Imperial Guard.” Samson managed. He wasn’t disappointed, but he was more than surprised. He was absolutely pissed. “You were carrying a legacy that has held the hope of trillions of Imperial citizens! YOU JUST GAVE IT ALL UP!”
“Hey, I didn’t ask to be born so damn privileged!” She snapped back. They hadn’t realized just how loudly their voices had raised until they noticed the glances and disapproving stares of many of the bar’s patrons. It wasn’t until their eyes met again that Samson saw a single tear trail down her cheek. “You know what?” She choked. “You’re right. I wanted to be more worth to this Empire than a fecking idol. I mean Warp, they have enough statues of the damned man.” Another tear ran down her other cheek. Her eyes were red and puffy, holding back emotions that had festered for years now.
“Natasha, I’m sorry.” Samson knew she shouldn’t continue.
“NO! Let me finish!” She cut him off. “You don’t know what it’s like to grow up and be raised in that man’s centuries-long shadow. They dedicated an entire planet to that man’s vanity! It’s a pressure that’s just too much for one little girl!” She had all but broke down crying. Samson moved to try and comfort her, trying to calm her down to avoid making the scene bigger than it already was. He didn’t know what to do, so he simply pulled her into his chest and squeezed her warmly.
“It’s okay.” He soothed, trying to be as calm as possible. He couldn’t help but get nervous as he continued to catch glances from guardsmen trying to enjoy what for many would be their last night alive. He found her warmth calming in itself, and hoped that he could use that to his advantage. After a few moments, she pulled away from him and grabbed on last glass of amasec, downed it, and went to leave the bar. Samson followed her out, determined to make sure she made it to her quarters okay. She pushed through the swinging doors onto the oil-lamp lit avenue, Samson in tow, and almost stumbled clean down the step to the ground. Samson was ready to catch her though, gripping Natasha’s wrist as she leaned on her heel before he pulled her back upright.
“I know I’m not familiar with drinking, but I think you should’ve chased that amasec with another glass of water.” Samson pointed out, mildly annoyed at her almost blatant drunkenness. Why do they just let these men run about doing whatever they want in this regiment? Are they just not disciplined like other Guard?
“Walk me to me quarters?” Natasha slurred, half-asking/half-telling. Samson was a honestly a bit hesitant at first, mostly because of her impaired state, but felt more than happy to oblige.
He guided her by her arm down the alleys and labyrinthine avenues of the shantytown. Whenever she lost her balance, Samson made sure she never fell, made sure she never stumbled enough to hurt herself. He managed to get a building at on one corner of the Main Square, which Natasha had informed him was the NCO and Officer’s quarters, excluding the Company Commander and his retinue. Each company (being a total of about 12) had their own hab-block areas, each one being about a cubic kilometer in volume. However, when your warship is twice the size and displacement of the next largest Imperial warship, these hab-blocks become trivial nooks and crannies compared to other areas of the ship. He led her up the steps to the door, and went to return to the barracks just before Natasha stopped him.
“I need you to help me up to my quarters.” She managed, still swaying lazily and leaning up against the wall to hold herself up.
“Um… You sure?” Samson knew this was an extremely bad idea. If I get caught, regardless of whether or not we’re doing anything, the Commissar will execute me for Heresy...'
“Please?” She had a look in her eyes that made her seem almost helpless, almost pleading. He had to help her, didn’t he? He opened the door for her and led her in, being very careful and making sure no one was around before leading her down the next hallway. He had to help her up a flight of stairs to where the Sergeants’ Quarters began, down which she almost fell three times. Only by Samson’s fast reactions was she able to survive the trek without major injuries. They rounded a corner down the hallway that led to her personal quarters, and then Samson about shit himself when he was almost right in the face of Lady Commissar Aurelia.
“Lady Commissar?!” His voice croaked in shock and fear. He looked at Natasha’s groggy expression, like she wasn’t worried in the slightest, then back at the Commissar, her stern glare screaming through the Warp and into his soul. “This is not what it looks like!” A moment of silence followed his attempt at redemption. His muscles tensed, bracing his body for the bolter round that was surely about to reduce his head to nothing in a spray of red mist.
“Natasha.” The Lord Commissar nodded to the sergeant, all but ignoring Samson. “Please don’t get into anything that one might frown upon.” She condescended to the Natasha, knowing full-damn-well the size of the sergeant’s folder of paperwork regarding disciplinary misconduct. “I’d rather not have to kill the new one.”
The Commissar sidestepped past Samson, who was left shaken and confused, and continued down the hallway and around the corner to the stairs. Samson waited until the sound of Lady Aurelia’s heeled boots was too far away to hear before continuing.
“Okay, what just happened?!” He whispered harshly, steadily guiding her down the hall. She was becoming a bit more lucid as time passed, and could now maintain her balance for the most part.
“This isn’t the first time Auri has found me walking home with a bloke.” She teased a bit, but wasn’t being completely serious.
“AURI?!” Samson seemed more confused that she was not only on a first name basis with the highest-ranking Commissar in the Regiment, but that she called her by a nickname. “What the hell is up with the discipline in this regiment?!” He helped her in the door and onto the couch they sat before Natasha afforded an answer.
“We are veterans: every last one of us. We are given a level of respect that few other guardsmen live long enough to receive and experience.” It was almost remarkable at how quickly he she got over her inebriation enough to articulate her speech and become semi-lucid like that. She leaned back into the cushioned yet cheap-feeling couch before continuing. “Most regiments and their disciplinary practices are culturally based. I mean, yes, Commissars are assigned to help standardize that, but with the 97th, there is usually too big a cultural gap. These men are from regiments so different that we have to be allowed to know how to discipline ourselves. One culture’s slap-on-the-wrist is another’s execute-on-site.”
Despite what Samson would admit, her explanation made absolute perfect sense. The 97th Regiment was like a self-experimental lab rat, just kind of doing its own thing and seeing what happens. For a moment he just looked at her; he just admired her face, her eyes, her being. She blinked a couple times, noticing that he was staring.
“Samson?” She asked softly, her face getting that same look it had in the square earlier that day with the biting of her lip.
“Yes?” He responded as he felt the beating in his chest punch him from the inside. Just hearing her say his name elicited a reaction.
“What would you do if you only had one night to live?”
Part 1: Judgement Day
“Sir, we’re pulling out of Warp!” The helmsman yelled to the Admiral who was seated in his Command Throne on the bridge of Gravity’s Union.
“What?!” Admiral Invictus shot up from the cushioned seat, standing at the top of the steps that led up the pedestal to the Throne itself. “We weren’t supposed to arrive for another 6 hours at least our time!” The ship burst forth from the purplish cloud of a Warp-hole, strings of greyish spittle ejected from the other dimension along with it.
Below them was Moranis VI: a planet covered mostly with blue-green oceans (about 60% of the surface), and two enormous continents of dull grey-brown land flecked with dark green patches. Rivers and lakes dotted and carved across the landscapes; mountains and hills dominated the vast expanses of the continents, separating the many Hive Spires that were nestled between the rugged features in valleys and depressions.
No enemy waited for permission to strike, and neither did the terrifyingly alien bioships of the Tyranid Hive Fleet. The massive latticed xenos structures along the Hive Ships’ surfaces betrayed their biological origins: being bred purely as warships, to strip and consume all life on a world. Despite the unexpected earliness of Gravity’s Union, the bioships had reacted almost immediately, as if expecting them. Swarms of small crafts of sharp colours formed like enormous clouds around the Tyranid ships, while maelstroms of biomass rained down into the atmosphere in a giant funnel shape, pouring into a single location near Terragrad Hive. Through the massive plasma-glass windows of the bridge, the sun’s familiar yellow light could be seen glinting off the glittering hive spires from low orbit.
“Make ready for war!” The Admiral barked at his First Mate. The short, stocky crewman tapped a series of runes on the console in front of him; a klaxon alarm resounded throughout the ship. He held the rune that activated the ship-wide vox system and spoke into the receiver.
“All hands, man your battle stations!” His deep, projecting voice further amplified by the vox grills that blared it into every room on the warship. “Guardsmen, make ready for war!”
“Deploy the fleet.” Admiral Invictus commanded.
Deep in the ship’s underbelly, a massive rumbling was felt. Enormous gears worked to open doors of various sizes, facing downward toward the planet, several hundred kilometers below them. From these massive doors were birthed warships; an entire battlefleet, ready for combat, swung out and upwards. A staggered line as formed, waiting for the commanding word of the Admiral. With this, a single large mining ship turned away from the impending battle upon its departure from Gravity’s Union, its destination not known to anyone beyond its crew and the Admiral himself.
As the line formed, the clouds of swarming Tyranid biofighters and single-ships drew closer with every single agonizingly long second. The 97th’s ships released their own fighters and defense craft, swirling like a ghostly aegis around the fleet. The fighters surged forth, having a single, disturbingly suicidal purpose; the only objective was to clear a hole through the Tyranids’ meatshield of fighter craft.
“All ships, rotate 090 by 010 degrees.” The Admiral had reseated himself on the Command Throne, now transmitting orders to the other ships of his fleet. The sheer enormity of Gravity’s Union meant that his fleet of heavy cruisers and frigates with a myriad of destroyers was more than sufficient at handling almost any threat.
The fleet of cruisers and frigates obeyed the Admiral’s order, rotating to the right 90 degrees and then tilting their bows up slightly; this maximized the number of shots that hit their targets. The destroyers and smaller corvettes floated amongst the larger warships, ready to cut through any biofighters with the audacity to attack the fleet directly. Just behind the line of broadsides, Gravity’s Union rotated to match the line, exposing its entire 18-kilometer-long broadside to the Tyranid splinter fleet. The bridge rotated opposed to the bow, so that that the Admiral could still view the battle directly. Macro-cannons of enormous size and quantity jutted outward, forming the most terrifying array of weapons any single Imperial Ship has known, and perhaps ever will know.
Invictus watched the engagement between fighters that separated the two fleets for what felt like hours (but was only a minute or so), waiting until the moment came to unleash the Emperor’s Justice and His Holy Wrath upon the foul xenos swarm. As he waited, the doors of the bridge’s lift just behind the Command Throne gave a pneumatic hiss as they opened; several of the Auxillia Security Officers snapped to attention at the arrival of Lady Commissar Aurelia. The commanding woman stepped forth, her heeled-boots making a distinct sound against the heavy metal deck of the bridge, and stood beside the Admiral on the Throne as he watched the engagement.
She stood in silence for a moment as they both watched the Tyranid’s main fleet tried to make an attempt at evasion. The crowded bioships lacked the maneuverability to weave past each other and escape their crowded formation. They only wanted one thing: biomass.
“Admiral.” She nodded to the officer as an acknowledgment of presence.
“Lady Commissar.” He replied, only paying half-attention to the incredibly high-ranking member of the Commissariat. “Would you care to read for us?” He turned to her.
“Pardon?” She finally pulled her gaze from the battle in front of her with raised eyebrows, looking almost confusedly at the shipmaster.
“I would like you to grace us with your voice, and read The Emperor’s Word to the fleet, so they we may crush those xenos that have not seen His Light.” Invictus was now humbling himself to the Aurelia, trying to gain her favour. She blinked, narcissistic approval in her eyes.
“It would be an honour, Admiral.” She replied graciously. “From what text would you like me to read?”
“Actually, it’s an ancient Imperial text, not even many Ministorium Priests have heard of it.” The Admiral admitted. “It was one held dear on my homeworld.”
“Well, what is it?” The Commissar was already becoming annoyed by the delay.
“It’s simply known as Ezekiel 25:17.” He finally offered; the Commissar’s eyes lit up.
“I’m familiar with the passage, but have not read it for many years.” She admitted.
At this, the admiral pulled out a very old, small, leather-bound book from the inside jacket-pocket of his uniform; he opened it to a dog-eared page and presented it to Aurelia. She moved towards the communication console, tapped in the runes that opened a broadcast to the whole fleet – in fact, to the ship-wide voxgrills of every ship in the fleet – and read aloud for all to hear.
"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil powers. Blessed is the man who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For that man is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children.” Her voice, smooth yet powerful, began to crescendo as the passage deepened. The Admiral’s finger hovered over a rune on the arm of his Command Throne; the rune would give the signal to Smite-at-Will. Lady Commissar Aurelia, book in one hand and the other raised in a fist, stood almost triumphantly as her oration met its climax. “And He will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy His children! And you will know He is the Emperor when He lays His Vengeance upon you!" The rune was tapped…
They say that in space, no one can hear you scream. That may yet be true, but the same cannot always be said for thunder.
Part 2: Planetfall
Samson was startled awake by the sounds of confusion and commotion. The bunk room for Omega Squad was a bustle of noise and ruckus. Klaxon alarms blared into his ears as he fell out of his bed. He jumped up and began throwing on his fatigues. The Krieger, Hanz, stood him up and straight and helped him clamp into his carapace armour. Every man was doing so as well, helping each other hurriedly strap into the medium red plates of armour, mostly dulled from years of combat, use, and wear and tear. The Grenadier slapped Samson’s pauldrons, letting him know he was good to go. Each man grabbed their packs (which they slung over a single shoulder, in a hurry) and ran out down the corridor that the bunk room opened out into.
Samson found himself in corridors he no longer recognized, bodies crowded into the narrow space. The lumen strips were still darkened; it was still early by the ship’s chrono. The noise and confusion created a dangerous sense of anxiety in Samson. It took him a minute to realize he had lost the rest of his squad. He wanted to turn back, but the crowded guardsmen simply continued surging forward. Samson would’ve had to fight an unstoppable river of men flowing towards the hangar.
The first volley of fire almost shook him to the ground. Men stumbled as the ship rumbled violently. The macro-cannons of Gravity’s Union had begun firing, and every man was struggling against them. Samson almost lost his autogun in the confusion, damn near dropping it with each thunderous boom of fire.
He finally pushed out into the massive hangar. The whole expanse was a maelstrom of confusion and yelling. He craned his neck desperately looking for the sergeant. He could see several Commissars and officers of various ranks standing atop Chimeras and Leman Russ tanks, piled ammunition crates and shipping containers; they all barked orders and directions, coordinates and assignments to whomever was the relevant audience. As he shouldered his way through the mass of armoured bodies, he bumped into a rather short guardsman. He was about to yell at the bloke before he realized it was actually Natasha in her full combat gear.
“Samson, thank Emperor I found you.” She sighed relief, grabbing him and almost hugging him. He still felt weird that he and his superior were this casual with each other. She wore a red sergeant’s patrol cap instead of a helmet, opting for something actually more feminine than she normally would. She pulled her face from Samson’s chestplate and looked up at him with those light eyes that contrasted with her dark hair. He almost completely forgot about the chaos (BLAM, HERESY) around him before she spoke. “Samson, come on! We gotta get to the lander!”
She grabbed his free hand and pulled him along behind her. She was actually minimally equipped compared to him. Her chainsword hung lazily from its hook on her belt’s right side, and on the other side was an almost vicious looking autopistol in its holster. The two of them pushed their way through the crowded hangar; enormous landing craft, Valkyrie troop carriers, and Vendetta gunships whirred their engines to life. The craft hovered into a massive airlock in squadrons. The ship continued to rock with every volley of macro-cannon fire from its main battery, unleashing salvo after salvo of Imperial Justice upon the threat that Samson barely understood.
They finally reached the loading ramp of a massive landing craft, capable of carrying an entire platoon and a half. Both levels were visible; the first level was loaded up with 6 Chimera APCs, and the second level exposed the guardsmen stowing their gear and prepping for hot drop. Each of the Chimeras’ dozer blades bore the name of the Machine Spirit, crudely written in white paint. Names like Target Practice, Crazy Train, and Contents May Vary hinted at the cynical, dark humor possessed by most members of the 97th.
The rest of the squad was already on the second level, being seated nearest the loading ramp on their row. Natasha led Samson up the ramp, between the Chimeras, and to the grated stairs leading up to the second level. She released his hand and pushed him in front of her, hurrying him to seat himself. He dropped his backpack into the wire mesh basket under his seat. His autogun was placed into a holding rack to one side of his leg as he sat down. He fumbled with his security harness, hands trembling with a mix of fear, nerves, and adrenaline.
As he finally secured himself, he looked around the relatively empty troop compartment of the lander. Only about 6-7 squads of men, clad head-to-toe in carapace armour, were geared-up and ready to go. Natasha seated herself directly across from Samson, her eyes just as full of fear as his were. The ship shook a couple more times; another round of fire caused tremors throughout Gravity’s Union, the salvo’s vibration rolled through the ship like thunder through a storm. A red light blinked on, a warning buzzer belched, and the loading ramp of the lander shuddered slowly upwards, finally closing the platoon into what could easily become their coffin. Samson felt his stomach drop as the craft lifted off the hangar deck. He imagined the hangar deck becoming less claustrophobic as several of the landing craft rose into the crowded airspace, ready to deliver 1st Company to Terragrad Hive.
He felt the momentum in his guts as the craft and its brethren hovered into the airlock. The door to the hangar shut ominously like a crypt; but all of these things Samson only imagined and visualized, as there were no external windows on the lander aside from the cockpit. A moment of still silence in the dimly lit hull took hold, revealing the tension inside as everyone felt a mix of excitement and absolute terror. Only once the Catachan broke the silence was the tension cut.
“Hey!” Pyro yelled at Samson with a wicked grin. “You a dead man?!”
“No!” Samson replied, only realizing the joke after he had already spoken.
“You will be!” Pyro said with a chuckle that the rest of the squad – save for Natasha, Samson, and Hanz – shared in.
The rumbling of the external airlock doors groaned for a moment before that sound completely ceased; the vacuum of space stole away any sound that might’ve come from outside the lander. Samson sat in his seat, but only in a figurative sense. Gravity had ceased as the craft shot straight out of the airlock chamber. The lander rolled on its back (in relationship to the planet’s surface) and dove straight down. As they descended, the metal craft began to shudder, atmospheric entry shaking their cargo almost violently. Samson’s teeth began to rattle, having terrifying flashbacks to his first hot-drop. His attention was snapped back to the present when the platoon commander bellowed a PT cadence over the racket of the tin can as it burned its way through atmo.
“Guardsman, Guardsman, how you going to Hell?!” He barked to an unheard rhythm. The ship shook in a different way; an explosion of xenos anti-air batteries throwing the formation into disarray.
“Feet First, Feet First, that’s how we fell!” The platoon replied with gusto and enthusiasm. The formation had breached the stratosphere; an explosion bit cleanly into the side of one of the landers.
“Now Guardsman, Guardsman, have you heard tell?!” The commander versed. The damaged lander lost control. It barreled into the next nearest craft, which knocked the side of the platoon’s lander. The ship took minimal damage, but at such speeds, it was enough to send the craft spinning out of control. The craft flipped and rolled, its structure crying in protest to the strain being demanded by its pilot. It took a long moment for the platoon to reply.
“Yes, the Emperor Protects with lasbolt and shell!” They triumphantly reply, feeling the lander begin to stabilize.
The first craft to take a hit had descended uncontrollably, now smacking into the ground with an enormous explosion. Another of the landers had to barrel across the ground, smashing through shelled-out buildings, most of its hull heavily damaged. The platoon’s lander pitched upward as it reached ground level. Its nose pulled upward in rapid deceleration, the embarked troopers’ stomachs lurching with the sudden change in momentum. It slowed down to the ground, its landing feet extending and bearing the weight of the lander.
There was a moment of almost unsettling silence; every man’s veins were flooded with a mix of adrenaline and hormones preparing them for the unprecedented violence of combat. The red light blinked green, an alarm belched once, and the loading ramp began to open slowly, the grinding noise of it near-deafening inside the metal box of the hull.
Part 1: Into The Valley of Death
The light wasn’t particularly bright. As a matter-of-fact, it was remarkably dull and gray, seeming to be endless, gray cloud banks for as far as the eye could see in any direction. However, compared to the barely lit interior of the platoon’s lander, the dull light that flooded in as the ramp opened had practically blinded Samson. His eyes adjusted to the light until he saw the hellish state of Terragrad Hive. Buildings were little more than hollow shells of the grandiose structures they once had been; roads had been cratered and blasted, almost impassable except for military vehicles and equipment. Artillery batteries and their crews worked tirelessly, running to a constant rhythm of load, fire, reload, fire, repeat. Earthshaker platforms let loose thunderous barrages of shells, lobbing them in high arcs towards the frontline. It was a desperate-looking defense if Samson ever saw one.
He and the squad were already up and kitting before the ramp had lowered all the way. Compared to the rest of her squad, Natasha was packed very lightly. She carried her weapons, a few autopistol magazines in pouches, and a single, small backpack that maybe could’ve held a few school books. The whole platoon was hurrying urgently, as they had to get to the frontlines as soon as possible. The landing zone FOB was about 2 kilometers from the Aegis Defense Line on the city outskirts.
“Move it, lads! MOVE IT!” Natasha barked at her men, who faced out of the lander, anticipating disembarkation.
The first Chimera, This End Up, rolled out from underneath the troop deck onto the ramp. It stopped for a moment, opening its top hatch. The platoon commander and his squad jumped down into their Chimera with a mad sense of enthusiasm. The hatch slammed closed and the APC rolled down the ramp, the machine spirit roaring with excitement. He felt another roll under his squad’s place.
“GO, GO, GO!” Natasha bellowed. The squad jumped forth into the hold of another Chimera, just as red and dirtied as the others.
Samson hesitated to jump, but Hanz pushed him off the edge; there was no time to be wasted waiting for rookies’ nerves. He crumpled onto the metal floor of the vehicle just in time to look up and roll out of the way of the Krieger. His legs ached as Natasha was the last one in. The hatch gave a loud clang as it shut and the APC began to rumble down the metal ramp of the lander. It could be felt once it rolled onto solid ground.
The dark, noisy interior of the tank provided nothing but greater levels of stressful anticipation. Samson finally managed to roll onto his chest and push himself off the floor. He took a seat right between Natasha and Hanz, his hands still shaking. He bounced a leg to try and let the pent-up energy out without inhibiting his abilities in combat. He had completely zoned-out for a few moments, so much so that he failed to realize Natasha was trying to talk to him.
“SAMSON!” She finally barked in his ear. His attention finally snapped to her; her eyes were deep with concern. They just gazed at each other for a moment, exchanging something words couldn’t communicate. She finally started again, her voice firm but calming and comforting. “Samson, I need to know that I can count on you for the fight.”
“You can, ma’am.” He replied, secretly unsure of himself. He had only ever seen fuzzy vox-films of Tyranids, and even then they were terrifying. “No need to worry.” He forced a smile for her sake, trying to put her at ease. She wasn’t so easily fooled.
“I trust the men in this tank with my life, because I’ve known them for years.” She tried to sound gruff and surly, but her eyes still gave him sympathy. “I don’t know you like I know them. We aren’t gonna just watch your arse while ours get ripped part because you’re the new guy.”
“Understood, ma’am.” He replied confidently, feeling that it was about more than just him and Natasha. There were 11 other men in the hull of this vehicle. They all had lives. Stories. Feelings. Personalities. Names. For all Samson knew, some of them might’ve even had families. They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Part 2: An Enemy Without Number
1703 Hours – Local Time
The Chimeras rumbled, but not loud enough to drown out the cacophony just outside their hulls. Samson had been mentally preparing himself since he last spoke about 5 minutes earlier. He realized he had to, because the squad was a unit; they all had to watch each other’s backs. Just beyond that hatch was absolute bedlam. He could hear what was most likely the Planetary Defense Force fighting and dying for their home.
“Dropping chalk in 60 seconds!” The driver bellowed over his shoulder. The noise outside intensified as the driver then yelled at someone next to him in the front. “You need to get on the turret!” A callous-looking man whose face was covered in grease stains hopped past the seat and up into the rotating chair of the weapon controls. The high-pitched, oscillating whine of the multi-las rang in Samson’s ears. “You, start letting loose with the heavy bolter!” The hull-mounted weapon chugged with pleasure as it unleash mass-reactive bolts into the unseen enemy outside. Samson looked back at Natasha, whose finger was pressed to her ear, listening to her command bead.
“Reports are coming in!” She informed the squad, who was anxious for any information on the enemy. They all leaned inward to listen to her. “The PDF are getting slaughtered; multiple line breaches all along the front! We are gonna have one hell of a feckin’ mop-up to do!”
Grayson turned the valve on his heavy flamer, the pilot-light igniting blue at the end of its muzzle. Samson rammed a magazine into his rifle and racked the charging handle, giving it a satisfying clack that was answered with that of the other men in the Chimera. Each man muttered litanies under his breath, pleading to the machine spirits of their rifles that they should not fail them in combat. Natasha slid a long, thin clip into the handle of her autopistol and yanked the firing mechanism on the top of the receiver. She then unhooked her chainsword and pumped the trigger a few times before the vicious weapon revved to life.
“Pile out and fan out, five-meter-spread!” She bellowed over the thrumming of the APC as the driver indicated 30 seconds left. “Check your lines of fire, watch your battle-chum. You know your pairings!”
“What about me, ma’am?” Samson called over the ceaseless din.
“Samson, you’re with Hanz!” She turned her head to reply, then nodding to the Krieger. The grenadier rotated the underslung grenade launcher of his autogun, making sure there were no hooks or jams. The rifle’s profile was dominated by the bulk of the secondary fire-support weapon. The driver called back one more time, his voice barely audible over the engine and the whine of the multi-las and the chugging of the heavy bolter.
“10 SECONDS!” Suddenly there was a loud clang outside the hull and the vehicle rocked violently from the impact. Their forward momentum stopped dead as the left track could be heard crumpling off its gears. “We’ve been tracked! Pile out! Pile out!”
“Emperor Protect Us!” Natasha punched the door’s control rune, and the ramp at the rear of the vehicle dropped outwards. The nearest man to the door was Dimitri…
A long, red, scythe-like talon swung inwards and impaled Dimitri, yanking him out of the hull. Grayson gave a cry of anger and simply let a gout of promethium fury pour into the xenos horde. The white-hot flames stuck to everything they touched, charring flesh and chitin. The squad gave a collective roar and charged down the ramp, letting loose a thunderous clatter of gunfire from their rifles. The first ones out hit the dirt and dropped to a knee, letting the half-embarked part of the squad let loose with rifles and support weapons. Natasha stood at the front of the vanguard, unloading her autopistol into the onrushing Tyranids, their scuttling forms quickly filling the gap left by the heavy flamer’s first sweep. They were ugly creatures. The xenos’ flesh was dark in colour, like a midnight blue or black. Their bones and natural chitinous plating were an offensive red colour, like a starker version of the 97th’s own armour. Their alien, predatory eyes were a sickly, bright yellow, and seemed to lack pupils as if they were looking everywhere all at once. They disgusted Samson to his very core; to the very center of his soul. Samson would purge them, and be shone under His Light, as He watches over all.
“Reloading!” Natasha was the first to make the call. She had spent the first clip of her autopistol faster than she expected, and was now forced to trace long arcs with her chainsword as, one after another, the hound- and wolf-sized Tyranids leaped at her with feral looks.
Grayson stepped forward with the heavy flamer and made a wide swath of charred corpses while Natasha had a moment to slide a new mag into her pistol. She stood between Hanz and Samson while they unloaded their rifles into the last straggling bugs. Hanz thumbed a rune on his grenade launcher, pumped, and fired a single 25mm frag grenade into a group of them; their bodies shredded and thrown aside. PDF troopers were seen just beyond the bugs, recovering from their setback and now advancing to take back the Aegis line. They, too, wielded autoguns (as is so common among PDFs), and let lead belch forth into the savage and wild creatures that were hellbent on consuming this world.
Samson’s rifle clicked as his mag finally emptied, but instead of reloading he charged towards the nearest ‘Nid. Others in the squad followed, ramming their bayonets into the alien flesh. One bug got almost on top of Natasha, but she held it up with her sword arm while she shoved the muzzle of the autopistol into its gut and tore into it with a single burst, throwing it off of her once it ceased to move. Several of the men swung impaled bugs into the others of their brood, but then several larger member of the horde advanced from around the tank (which was still letting loose into the rest of onrushing beasts). They stood at full height, almost a full head taller than Samson and towering entirely over Natasha’s height. They wielded vicious-looking, pointed weapons that seemed built into the creatures.
Once they rounded the corner of the tanks hull, they unleashed a torrent of needle-like projectiles from the weapons’ many muzzles. The couple of Cadian squad members were immediately cut down in the volley; each round hitting just the right angle to shred through their carapace armour. The rest of the squad weaved out of the fire’s way and were forced to fight the coming enemy from two directions. Samson took the second of time he had to slap a fresh magazine into his rifle. Hanz let out another frag grenade into the brood of warriors, but they all but ignored the shrapnel, flinching for only a moment at the blast. Samson saw an opening.
“Covering fire!” He called as he ducked and charged under the warriors’ fire, holding his rifle with both hands low to the ground.
A few of the remaining squad members fired bursts into new brood while Grayson and Azeem continued to fend off the smaller Guants. Samson got so close to the warriors that the first one didn’t have time to react to the serrated blade that pierced between its visible ribs. Samson threw all of his weight into the thrust, trying to shift the xenos monstrosity of its balance. It toppled on its side, but it took mere seconds for it to come close to throwing Samson clean off of it. He shoved the rifle in just a bit deeper before unleashing a long 7- or 8-round burst rip apart the foul thing’s insides. A guttural war cry bellowed from the bottom of the Guardsman’s lungs; an absolutely primal call of combat.
The warrior he’d run down went limp and Samson brought his head back up to see the other two already bringing their vicious weaponry to bare on him. But as their muscles tensed to fire, they were thrown to the ground by the weight of 6 guardsmen piling in to them. Hanz had thrown every ounce of momentum he had into the Emperor-damned xenos warrior. Despite being a rather thin man, the Krieger had an impressively deceptive level of physical strength, and he stood no more than 6 inches shorter than the warrior. While it hadn’t fully fallen over, Natasha threw on her weight, and that was just enough. The rest of the squad took on the other warrior. Together they finished off the creatures, delivering the Emperor’s fury upon them.
Destruction by Fire
1013 Hours – Local Time
Tyranids continued to skitter around as they were flushed from their hiding places, their capacity to fight dissolving with their ranks. The PDF, being the bulk of the numbers defending the city, were responsible for cleaning up the mess. Many of them piled bodies into small hills while a few created a bonfire of it with their flamers. This was The Line. A 300-meter-wide belt of emplacements, Aegis defense barriers, trenches, bunkers, and ruins that circled the Hive. The area was littered with munitions, weapons, vehicles, debris, and all other kinds of material. Ammo crates were piled around gun positions as cover, comfort, and convenience. Camo netting was pinned between ruins as overhead cover, providing a false sense of security to the officers of 1st Company as they debriefed first contact and organized the ongoing landing operation. Natasha was present like all the other sergeants of her platoon. Sergeant Simhed of Sigma Squad – Chimera Contents May Vary – was killed in combat the day before, as was all but two men from his squad. Of the 60 veteran guardsmen that make up Vanguard Platoon’s infantry, 17 were killed in total; most were only identifiable because of armour markings or ID tags. Upon hearing these numbers, the PDF Commander piped in with condescension.
“Those numbers are nothing!” He voiced. “I’ve heard of casualties numbering in the thousands from a single company!” The planetary governor nodded in agreement.
The gathering stood around a wooden table covered in maps and papers and folders and other toot in the middle of what once might’ve been someone’s parlour; the building it had been was little more than piles of bricks and rubble. servo-scribes stood on multiple spider-like legs, instruments and pens blurred in motion, recording everything said and done by the group. Old chairs, probably from what was once this house, were roughly arranged with the area of the room for people to kick their feet up and generally enjoy what was relatively relaxing compared to camping the gun-line. Cronus and his officers simply stared at the two locals silently, waiting for them to realize they should shut up. However, planetary governors are notoriously pretentious. Natasha decided she’d cut the tension by asking a question of her own while they were on the topic.
“What’d we lose on the drop?” She asked, remembering the roughness of atmospheric reentry. She remembered the lander spinning into freefall.
“As you may have noticed by now—” Cronus began. “—Our Ballista Platoon has not showed up yet. That’s because that lander was the one that made catastrophic contact with the ground.”
“Cronus, you know you can say ‘crashed and disintegrated,’ right?” Lieutenant Gage – Vanguard Platoon’s CO – informed the Colonel. “We all felt it on the drop. It damn near smashed the whole formation to pieces.”
“Well, Leftenant, that wasn’t the only thing we lost.” Cronus continued. He shuffled around some papers on the table until he pulled a roster from under one pile, running his finger down the list of items till he found what he was looking for. “While not as bad as the lander carrying the artillery from Ballista Platoon, the lander carrying Anvil Platoon made a very hard drop. The only tanks that were recoverable were 3 Leman Russ Battle Tanks, a Hellhound, and – if I’m not mistaken – a single Baneblade.”
“Which Russes?” asked Sgt. Callaghan. He was pretty chummy with most of the tank crews and mechanics, so he was familiar with most of the tanks themselves.
“Leftenant Tetrov and the Leman Russ Scourge & Purge, Sgt. Damien of Bangers & Mash, and Sgt. Alvarez of Rip & Tear,” listed Tech-Priest Dobrov, who had been completely silent, save for his involuntary machinations, up until now. One would never have known his Vostroyan upbringing if they weren’t told or already knew. The half-man/half-machine’s voice was mechanical and sounded as if it was made from inside a tin box. “The Hellhound that survived was Fire Sale. The recovered Baneblade was Hath No Fury.”
“Thank you, Enginseer Dobrov.” Cronus tried to stop before the Tech-Priest started on his statistical listings.
The Colonel shuffled through more papers until he found a map that one of the PDF officers had drawn up of the city’s layout. The map showed the city that bordered around Terragrad Hive. While the objective was to hold the Hive itself, to fight Tyranids in the claustrophobic confines of a hab-block bordered on the suicidal. In the outer city and its ruins, the Guard had one advantage over the Tyranids: open ground. On the map were scribbled lines and red markers and such that denoted things the Colonel couldn’t clearly make out.
“Someone explain this to me.” Cronus demanded, looking around at the PDF personnel who had most likely drafted the map. A single trooper stepped forward and started pointing to items on the map.
“Okay, this jagged red line is the Aegis wall. This is where we will ideally keep the bugs at bay.” He pointed to the large outer ring around the city. “These red X-marked-lines indicated lines of explosives rigged to clackers in the sector-bunkers. The double-black parallel lines are trenches, the funky-looking boxes are the bunkers, and the triangles are weapon emplacements. Any other equipment like ammo dumps and crates are placed by the troopers to their convenience.”
“Thank you, trooper.” Cronus gratified. “And the black X-marked-line?”
“That’s the point of no return.” The trooper answered flatly. “If the bugs get past that line, we have to fall back, pursue, and establish a new line… hopefully.”
“Okay then.” The Colonel was satisfied with the explanation.
He could now clearly see the rest of the city’s layout. Rail lines crisscrossed across the city, running to many vital strategic positions. The Line was divided into 1000-meter-wide sectors, each one to be manned by a company of the 97th’s forces. The landing operation was carrying on as best it could, but the Tyranid fleet in orbit was making things difficult to say the least. Despite suffering devastating in the initial orbital engagement, a token force of the bioships managed to take refuge behind Moranis VI’s largest moon. The xenos now took to carrying out Hit & Run tactics to create pressure for Gravity’s Union and its fleet in orbit. Luckily, 1st Company sustained the highest casualties so far, which meant the other companies were still at almost full strength. However, Tyranids are known for their proficiency at using their losses to their advantage. Reconvert the biomatter into whatever is needed to win; that’s how the Imperium loses worlds.
“So far,” Comms Officer Elias began to brief, “The other companies have secured all but three of the defense sectors. Command has informed me that 3rd, 12th, and 17th have been delayed on their drops.”
“What’s holding them up?” The planetary governor cut in, growing impatient; not just with the delays, but with the entire situation in general.
“Oh, nothing.” The Comms Officer condescended sarcastically, annoyed with the governor’s impatience and contempt. “Just a minor Tyranid invasion and possible Exterminatus. You know, nothing really important.” He caught a pissed-off glare from Cronus and the Lady Commissar. It took him until he saw the horrified look on all of the locals’ faces to realize he’d said something that was in no way intended to be common knowledge. It took a long moment of agonizing silence before he could form the words. “I’m so sorry… I'm so, so sorry…”
“How long?” The PDF Commander asked, trying to remain stoic, but was emotionally cracking. “Can you tell me that? How long do we have to evacuate? Can we even evacuate?” Aurelia was the most in-the-know person there.
“Elias, I should gun you down where you stand!” She barked at the guardsman, drawing her bolt pistol but not yet raising it to sight the trooper’s head; she had enough years of practice that summary execution was more of muscle memory now, not even requiring a moment to aim the shot.
“How long?!” The PDF Commander begged. He was breaking at the seams; his eyes were red and puffy, tearing up at the inevitable destruction of his homeworld.
“Four weeks!” Aurelia snapped at the Commander, still preoccupied with being pissed off at the loud-mouthed Guardsman. “Commander, I suggest you start evacuating the civilians who can’t fight. We must arm the rest if you want time.”
“Time for what?!” the Governor cut in. “We are dead anyway!”
“Don’t you care about your citizens?!” lashed Cronus.
“What’ve they done for me? Nothing!” the Governor accused/admitted. The PDF personnel in attendance exchanged looks of disgust and shock. There was a long silence. Aurelia simply broke the tension with a soft voice.
“Are you suggesting that you be a priority evacuee?” She questioned, speaking softly yet professionally to the Governor. She sounded like an Inquisitor; an undertone to her tone, an ulterior motive to her question.
“Well, as I am the most important member of this planet’s Adepta, I believe I—” A mass-reactive bolt cut off the cowardly voice midsentence.
No one had even seen the single fluid motion of the Lady Commissar as her pistol swung upward and loosed a bolt at exactly the right point along the arc. She stood completely still now, bolt pistol leveled and barrel smoking. The PDF troopers and personnel were now all in utter shock. The ones who were nearest the insubordinate official were now splattered with what has left of his clearly cowardly mind.
“That, you simpletons, is what a Heretic looks like.” She finally broke the shocked silence. “Commander, you are now the acting governor of this world.” She began, turning to the stunned man. His attention had to snap to her.
“Yes, ma’am.” He replied dutifully.
“You are to begin coordinating the evacuation. We need to get as many civilians out as possible. It is they who shall carry the memory of this world.” She nodded to the Commander with empathy, making sure he was able to handle the weight of his new role. She turned and nodded to Cronus. “You need to start organizing the PDF troopers into platoons. Give them what spare carapace armour we have. Consider them conscripted into the 97th. Emperor knows we’ll need to replenish the ranks.”
And so they coordinated what was to be this planet’s last four weeks of existence… and yet the majority of this world was still unbeknownst to its destruction. Natasha couldn’t look Samson in the eyes when she got back from the meeting. She couldn’t meet any of their eyes.
Digging Our Own Graves
0834 Hours – Local Time
Samson didn’t recognize anyone. He knew their faces, and their names, but these weren’t the same men he’d landed with. They looked dead inside. Some had thousand-yard-stares, some stared at nothing, and others were focusing on a single point on the ground. Grayson had lost that jocularity he had to him; Azeem, his ever-sympathetic expression. Hanz had changed little. Being in the Death Korps made one familiar with pointless, violent death in its many gruesome forms.
“Samson, melta-cutter.” The mechanic called, snapping Samson’s attention back to the here-and-now. The guardsman walked to the bench along the wall of the makeshift garage and hefted a large tool off the top of it. His movement was finally freed up in just fatigues and his flak vest. He lugged the equipment over to Target Practice and lifted it as high as he could up to the tank driver on top of the tank’s turret, who then handed it to the mechanic who was squatted on top of the left track. “Now lift the track up to me.”
Samson walked around to the front of the left track and lifted the heavy steel links up as close to the other end of the chain as he could manage. He held it against the gears and leaned on it with his weight as the mechanic lowered the short, glowing jet of super-heated promethium from the nozzle of the melta-cutter and began welding the ends of the track together.
Samson almost shuddered when Natasha walked into the garage. She had a look in her eyes the day before, but when Samson tried to talk to her she shunned him repeatedly. Now she walked straight towards him.
“Samson… we need to talk.” She said plainly, standing right in front of him with a look of intensity. The mechanic stopped welding for a second, curious as to what was going on. A momentary glare from Natasha set him back to his work behind Samson.
“Well that makes a change.” Samson he muttered more to himself than his squad leader, still bothered by her behavior the day before. Without skipping a beat he was met by a swift, open-palmed slap across his cheek from her. When he looked at her he realized he had upset her. Her eyes were red and watery, the blue in her eyes becoming deeper and more brilliantly sad with each miniscule moment he left the statement before apologizing. “I’m sorry.”
She turned around and almost stormed out of the garage, but Samson caught up to her and grabbed her by her arm.
“Don’t– just don’t touch me!” She gestured in frustration. Samson took a step back from her and let her compose herself. She stood there for a moment with her arms crossed, doing the lip-biting thing she did when she was talking to Samson. Then she took him by surprise.
Before Samson even had time to react – in fact, to even register she had moved – Natasha had pulled his head down to hers as she stood on her toes and locked their lips together. For a moment, Samson was practically wide-eyed with fear, but then he simply went with it. He closed his eyes and matched her enthusiasm.
He knew that people would ask questions, but he didn’t care. He knew people would disapprove, but he didn’t care. He knew this went against almost everything he had been taught about being a Guardsman, but he didn’t care. After the meeting lingered for 4, maybe 5 seconds, Samson pulled away from her slowly, holding her arms to her side. He could still taste her.
“What was that?” He finally asked after almost a minute of simply staring into each other’s eyes. She cast her gaze to the ground, her face reading regret. “What’s wrong?”
“We… we’re going to lose this planet.” She managed, trying not to think too much about her and Samson and their situation. Her eyes were still red and her voice caught in her throat.
“What do you mean?” He asked, confused at what she meant. Lose this planet?
“We…” She looked for the words. She figured cynical and blunt was the way to go after milling it over. She took a deep breath and choked down that lump in her throat. “… We have 27 days to deal with the bugs, or the fleet is going slap this planet with an asteroid.”
Samson was speechless. He didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t know what to think. His mind become awash with emotions that flooded from the edges of his mind.
Is she saying Exterminatus? Has it already gotten that bad? Samson thought to himself. He was terrified, angry, devastated, pissed, and about 20 other emotions. What about Natasha? What if we get left here? What about us?
“Okay…” Samson simply replied. He tried to push everything to the back of his mind. Too many memories would flood into his nightmares if he let loose.
“Is that all you can say?” She replied, distressed at his lack of reaction.
“What more do you want me to say?” Samson replied, somewhat annoyed. He started listing the things he felt. “Do you want me to hold you and tell you it’ll be alright? Do want me to tell you we are already digging our own graves? Do want to say we’re dead anyway and kill ourselves? What do you want from me?!” His outburst had earned the shooting glares of passing PDF and Guardsmen walking past the pair.
“Don’t talk like that.” She tried to calm him.
They were interrupted by a menacing figure appearing behind Samson. Natasha craned her neck to see around him will he turned and looked over his shoulder. Before them was a man in a red trench coat, old and worn from years of use. Samson’s eyes followed up to the man’s gas mask. It covered his entire face and the majority of it was a bone white skull motif, as if he were death itself. Finally, he wore an old helmet atop his head, fastened with old leather straps. When the amplified voice spoke through the vox-grille, the pair immediately recognized its owner.
“We are one of the most capable shock trooper regiments in the Astra Militarum.” Cronus spoke with pride. “I wouldn’t sell us out so easily, Private.” The commander then stepped around Samson to look at Natasha with his expressionless mask. She cast her eyes downwards, unable to meet her own reflection in those lenses. “I hope this does not complicate things, Sergeant Octavius.” His head gave a slight nod in Samson’s direction.
“No, sir.” The was a lie. “I would never let my feelings get the better of me.” Also a lie.
“I never said that, Natasha.” Cronus reminded her, as if he were about to dispense sage-like wisdom. “Remember, hate is a Guardsman’s greatest weapon.” The colonel gave a her a pat on the shoulder. “Come on, you’ve been promoted.”
“Sir?” The sergeant replied with confusion.
“Your squad saw a lot of men killed, so you’re being upgraded to my new Command Squad.” Cronus replied with congratulations. Natasha’s eyes went wide, then she seemed to tremble a bit.
“Are… you sure about this, sir?” Natasha asked, unsteadily at first, but then more consistently.
“Are you questioning my judgment, Guardsman?” Cronus inquired, cocking his head to the side.
“Sir, no sir!” She snapped to attention. This was an honour, and is normally preceded by Platoon Command first. Natasha tried to act brave, but she was absolutely terrified.
“Tell the rest of your squad, report to the Command Bunker by 1130 hours.” Cronus finished before turning to leave.
“Do we get to keep Target Practice, sir?” She asked just before he broke line of sight.
“Yes, Natasha. Yes you do.” The colonel concluded. Samson thought he could hear Cronus smirking under his mask.
1130 Hours – Local Time
The squad that was left had reported to the Sector 3 Command Bunker, but as a whole they were split up, redistributed, and reassigned amongst the company. The only members that were actually assigned to the Command Squad were Hanz, Samson, Grayson, and Natasha. Grayson was given a Plasma Gun, which he wasn’t thrilled about; most guardsmen see it as a death sentence. Hanz became the medic, and Samson inherited his underslung grenade launcher.
“This rifle here,” Hanz said reverently as he held the weapon out to Samson. “This is Sasha. She will serve you well if you treat her right.”
“She is under my protection.” Samson replied as he carefully took the rifle in his hands. “Are there any litanies she prefers.”
“The Litany of Accuracy helps the shots land with effectiveness.” He replied, giving the weapon one last look over. “The Litany of Rending ensures the grenade’s effectiveness.”
“I thank you, Hanz.” Samson gratified, finally fully accepting the rifle.
Sasha was heavy; much heavier than his normal weapon. Around her barrel were wrapped cloth and purity seals, one of the wax seals placed perfectly where Samson’s thumb gripped the weapon when he shouldered it. Battle-worn, foe-felled, combat-tested; this weapon was a worthy one, with a venerable Machine Spirit.
“How do I look?” Natasha stepped out of the armoury wielding her autopistol and… a standard.
“What’s with the flag?” Hanz inquired skeptically.
“I’m the standard bearer.” She answered as-a-matter-of-fact-ly. The flagpole was almost a full meter shorter than most others, but affixed to the top was a short blade.
“Is that a… power halberd?” Samson looked at the standard with a raised eyebrow, seeing it was both ceremonial and practical in function.
“Yeah, the techs got creative when making this bad boy.” She bragged, swinging the weapon/flag around, giving it an approving look as she did. The look in her eyes gave Samson comfort.
2234 Hours – Local Time
The bunk rooms were.. well, Samson was relieved at their size. They were much larger than the standard Platoon Barracks (being that those were really just bedrolls laid out at your post), and there were actual beds; mattresses and everything. Samson’s and Natasha’s bunks were right next to each other, so they simply chatted whilst they undressed.
“Hey, about yesterday…” Natasha managed uncomfortably. “… And this morning…”
“Natasha, it’s fine.” Samson didn’t want her to feel bad. He tried to keep her from feeling like she had been a bitch (which she had been, but that’s beside the point).
“No, it isn’t.” She denied, a pang of guilt in her tone. “I should’ve told you, but I didn’t, and you probably felt ignored.”
“Well, better late than never.” Samson remarked under his breath.
Later that night, Samson laid with his eyes closed but his mind still going. He couldn’t sleep, the events of the day still running through his head. He had helped repair Target Practice, he had assisted in the cremation of the squad’s casualties from first contact, he had learned of an Exterminatus order if the Tyranids were not removed from this world.
Through all of this he just kept thinking about Natasha that morning. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice when she had slid into his bunk with him. She got under the blanket right in front of him and slid her rear back into him. He put his arm over her and she drew a sharp breath, startled to realize he was awake. He pulled her closer to him and drew the blanket back over them. Now they both felt they could put their minds at rest and sleep for a few hours.
Part 1 - Calm Before The Storm
Well... Samson thought to himself. This has gone surprisingly well so far. He looked down to Natasha’s head resting on his bare chest, her lips just about touching the tip of the left wing of his aquila tattoo. While Samson remained wary of the lack of assault by the enemy, he and his sergeant had become very close.
As the dull early morning twilight spilled into the quarters through the small window slits at the top of the walls, Samson couldn’t help but smirk. Natasha had worked out an agreement with Hanz and Grayson for them to vacate the bunk room in favour of another one every few nights. Grayson initially had protested until she had threatened to let slip that the Catachan had been sleeping with the Colonel’s daughter. So, he complied and now her and Samson had enjoyed 4 nights together alone. Samson turned slightly to look at the chronometer to see how off it was, as the day/night cycle of this world did not agree with the regiments 24-hour system. As he turned, Natasha roused somewhat.
“What’s wrong, darling?” She lulled in her sleepy voice. Samson turned to look down at her again as she lazily rolled to straddle him. She turned her head upwards to rest her chin on his sternum, her tired blue eyes looking into his.
“Nothing.” He lied. He had been awake for a couple hours now and his mind had been asking more questions than he could find answers for. “I was just checking the time.”
“Why bover? You know it’s wrong anyway.” She pouted slightly with her lips as she nuzzled into his chest. Samson never thought he’d see his sergeant like this, but he also knew he’d never see her like he did before either.
“Come on.” He said, moving the blanket off of them. “Let’s get ready for muster.”
It was around noon locally, and Cronus stood over the tacticarium table. The other company commanders stood around, a gathering of the 18 different companies of the 97th. All looked at Cronus, who was not only commander of the first company but also the regimental commander. The tacticarium table was lit up with 3-dimensional figures and runes denoting meaning to the information. All the officers scanned the data with their eyes, all made uncomfortable by what they saw. Samson and the rest of the squad sat in the corner on high stools around a high table, Grayson shifting with discomfort from the silence. The tacticarium room of the Sector 1 Command Bunker was almost cavernous, able to easily fit all of the company commanders plus some of their choice retinues. Cronus was the only one with full retinue, accompanied also by Lady Commissar Aurelia and his regimental advisors.
“Just... It doesn’t...” Cronus pushed off the table, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “It makes no sense.”With the silence broken the company commanders milled about more comfortably. Some grabbed coffee from a table to the side, other stepped outside for a cigarette. Cronus grabbed his mug from the table and walked over to the squad in the corner, followed by the Lady Commissar.
“Alright, being honest, I wasn’t half paying attention so please,” Grayson said with a tone of sarcasm. “Enlighten me?”
“The swarm... they aren’t attacking.” Lady Commissar began with a glare at the Catachan.
“What do you mean ‘not attacking’? I’ve had to pop shots off at whole platoon-sized formations poking to find a hole in the line.” Grayson responded, disbelieving. Aurelia shot him an extremely annoyed glance. She contemplated physically dragging him to the table and shoving his face into it, but she restrained herself.
“You see that big red blob 100 kilometres out?” She pointed, talking to him like an idiot, her voice laced with disdain. She then crossed her arms and looked at the display suspiciously. “That’s the primary concentration of the Tyranid biomass. For whatever reason, they don’t feel like moving. They’re waiting for something.”
“So how do we plan to deal with it?” Natasha butted in from the corner table, other company commanders have drawn their attention to the incredulous Commissar and Catachan. To this, Cronus replied.
“We are sending out a bike-mounted scout detachment from 3rd Company, I believe.” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “They will be departing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, most of the companies will be redeploying to this side of the city due to the lack of enemy presence elsewhere. No activity has been reported at all on the western side of the city, and with the walls and guns behind us on the eastern side here we have a better chance of holding them. If we get lucky, the enemy will push soon and we can crush them through overwhelming firepower.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Hanz spoke up for the first time all day. The gathering eyed the pallid Krieger uncomfortably, silence settling between the guardsmen.
None of the squad members stuck around for an answer. Samson was the first to stand and make for the door, Natasha close behind. Grayson walked away from the tacticarium and Hanz was slow to follow. As Samson stepped out into the dull light and almost immediately began to sweat through his fatigues. The air had become stuffy and hot over the past few days, the clouds slowly blushing to a sickly green hue. Samson hadn’t decided where he was walking to yet, he just knew he could no longer stand the high-collared officers and brass that filled the command bunker. He started in the direction of the forward Aegis Line to where PDF crews were digging trenches directly in front of the wall of metal. Grayson and Hanz broke away to go carry on with their own business while Natasha caught up to Samson’s brisk pace. She went to ask him a question, but he beat her to it.
“Okay, so this is going to seem random.” Samson began, slowing down to a more casual pace to accommodate for Natasha’s height. “Do you remember the night before we deployed that we - well, you - got drunk and I had to walk you to your personal quarters?”
“Vaaaaaguely...” Natasha replied, the details foggy in her head due to her drunkenness.
“If those were your quarters that I walked you to, then why were you in the barracks my first morning on the ship?” At this, Natasha stopped dead and went wide-eyed with fright. “What?”
“Samson, you know how I have a reputation amongst the company?” She asked lightly, knowing it displeased him.
“Who were you sleeping with?” He asked with a deep sigh.
“Does it matter?” She asked, wanting to avoid the subject. “We used the barracks to avoid prying eyes because, well, they were normally empty.”
“I guess that’s fair.” He concluded.
As they walked, they both breathed in the stink on the air that filled the noses of everyone. Samson looked out at the vehicle pools briefly, watched as the scout bikers loaded their saddlebags for departure the next morning. To him, something felt off. This world was changing and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Part 2 - Hull Breach
Captain Jarrus sat in the command throne of the mining vessel Rampart, his aging eyes scanning the bridge around him. The ship was not extremely large, but aboard it were mountable trajectory thruster meant to move asteroids into new paths. He looked out the front viewport and found the prey of his hunt: an asteroid 70 km wide.
“Helmsman, bring us into tethering range of that asteroid.” He commanded tiredly.
He had been awake for hours now, at least since they’d reached the edge of the asteroid belt in this system. None of the pickings were particularly what he needed, as they were either too small to do enough damage to exact Exterminatus or too large to be tethered and moved by the Rampart.
“Aye sir.” The helmsman replied curtly, punching control runes into her console and they felt the ship’s momentum adjust to the new trajectory.
“Sir...” One of the other bridge crew who manned the radar station chimed in from the other end of the bridge, off to the Captain’s right.
“What is it, Dural?” Jarrus asked, annoyed that his train of thought had been interrupted.
“I have a lot of motion, of our starboard side about 100 kilometres out to our 2 o’clock.” They replied meekly, a tone of worry in their voice.
“Fine, get past the object blocking our view, and we’ll see what it is. That’ll continue us on our course to the target, correct?” Jarrus implied the question to his helmsman, who nodded in response.
A few moments pass, half the bridge crew tense while Jarrus himself had tunnel vision on the asteroid. 20 seconds had passed and they finally passed the smaller asteroid blocking their view of the radar’s signatures. The sight shocked the bridge crew and a collective panic settled in.
“CONTACTS! WE HAVE ENEMY CONTACTS!” Captain Jarrus shouted at the top of his lungs, keying the shipwide vox as he did this.
He leapt from his command throne down to the weapons and damage control stations to look over the shoulders of the operators. A hive ship and several smaller tyranid bioforms were gaining careening towards the mining vessel with surprising speed. Several small fighter-looking creatures were already almost within striking range of the ship, glowing acid visible through the membranes of their enormous necks. Jarrus keyed the nearest vox rune.
“All hands, battlestations!” He called, releasing the rune before yelling into the ears of the gunners next to him. “Fire all defensive laser batteries, don’t let them touch us!”
Red lines of light beamed from ball turrets on the ships exterior, cutting a disintegrating swath of heat across the nearest acid belching fighters. Their bodies boiled in the vacuum of space and glowing green acid exploded from them, the trajectory already making contact with the ship’s hull. An audible but not quite felt thud slapped the armour plating as a sizzling sound was heard somewhere. The larger ships had moved into range and long mandibles had opened to reveal monstrous maws, hungering for the vessel’s metal.
“BRACE FOR IMPACT!” A crewman called as a set of mandibles clamped down.
The groan of metal was deafening as the ship’s hull cracked and buckled under the immense force. The Rampart rocked and kicked, bridge crew thrown from their chairs and Jarrus tossed from his feet. His body crashed backwards and he landed at the foot of the steps up to the command throne, blood trailing from his temple.
“HULL BREACH! HULL BREACH!” One of the bridge crew yelled out as they pulled themselves up to their console.
“NO SHIT!” Jarrus barked angrily as another bite was taken out of the ship, rocking everyone back to the ground. He clawed his way up to his throne and keyed the vox. “Abandon ship! All hands aban-”
An explosion from midship ripped through the superstructure and the world seemed to explode into chaos and fire. Consoles exploded and wires snapped and crackled with electricity, sparks flying and flames blistering and popping. The front viewport glass cracked ever so slightly, and Jarrus held his breath. He knew what was coming. A second explosion rocked the vessel and an audible roar of pain came from the xeno abomination gutting its prey. The glass shattered and a sound like a hurricane ripped the bridge crew from their bridge. Many tried to grab onto their chairs and hold on for dear life, but their efforts were futile as they watched their captain fly past them, nothing in his reach to grab. His fingers brushed past the helmsman’s shoulder, screams and fire and terror filling his ears.
He was sucked out of the bridge and all sound stopped. He felt his body breaking, wanting to explode outwards from the pressure. His lungs were on fire as the air was sucked from them. In his final moments he pleaded that the Emperor would forgive him for his failure, and then a flash of light caught his eye. Behind the Tyranid fleet, red ships, glorious in their size and gleaming as they exited the Warp. A gauntlet wreathed in flames was emblazoned on the high towers of the battle barge. The Emperor, God of Mankind, had heard his prayers and answered with righteous, flaming fury as torpedoes and macrocannons and lasers tore into the bioforms. He released his grip and closed his eyes. His body would never be found, and he was at peace with that.
Part 3 - Deliverance
“My Lord...” A tall, broad figure in dark red robes approached Chapter Master Vulcanus, or as the title was in the Infernal Guard, The Shepherd Of Fire, from behind as he stood aboard the bridge of the flagship, Emperor’s Fire. “What course of action shall we take?”
He had been watching as the Space Marine fleet dropped out of warp on the unsuspecting Tyranid bioships. How the creatures had not felt the warp presence before they dropped, he did not know. He assumed that their primary psykic bioforms were still planetside, accompanying the final stages of invasion. He stood for a moment, continuing to watch the ships burn before turning to regard the Captain of First Company, Septimus Vedrix. The men both stood at their full height, Lord Vulcanus at 2.6 metres still a bit taller than his Captain.
“Bring the fleet about and set course for Moranis IV.” He paused, turning back to look out the viewport across the bridge. “If we set full burn, plus a couple of pinpoint warp jumps with the help of Master Librarian Decius, we should be there in two or three days time.”
“As you wish, My Lord.” Septimus bowed his head a bit before continuing. “Should we notify the 97th?”
“No.” Vulcanus replied curtly. “We haven’t time to waste.”
The fleet of 5 ships angled and their sublight drives roared deeper towards the system’s sun, praying that they would arrive before it was too late.
Part 1 - The Coming Tide
“Leftenant Caldwell!” A fresh-faced trooper called, running up to the motor pool.
It was early morning on Moranis IV, the dim twilight of a rising sun corrupted by a sickly green cloud cover. The lieutenant was a cavalry veteran of the Praetorian Guard, and as such was disgusted by the troopers lax attitude. The boy couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19, so he must’ve been PDF. Cladwell lowered his pipe from his mouth, his morning smoke next to his bike now interrupted, as he blew out a cloud of acrid tabacc smoke and barked.
“Trooper, stop there and stand at attention!” Caldwell cast a stern, piercing gaze. The young PDF trooper stopped short of the officer about 3 meters away and stood up as straight as he could while short of breath.
“Trooper Karon, reporting for duty, Sir!” He snapped a salute with his free hand, in the other one was clutched a rucksack full of equipment.
“Undisciplined!” The officer barked as he strode over to the boy. He slapped the boys back to straighten it. “Unprofessional!” He jerked the arm to fix the salute. “And you call yourself a trooper?!” The young man gulped, Caldwell’s thick gray moustache inches from his eyes.
“I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again, sir.” Karon replied as best he could as his bowles twitched in fear.
“That’s more like it.” Caldwell said, satisfied enough to step back. His back was ramrod straight as he put his arms behind them and then indicated with his left. “That bike shall be yours. Saddle up and prepare. We leave in 30 minutes.”
“Permission to speak, sir.” Karon requested as his officer went to about face. The officer sighed.
“I figured cavalry meant horses.”
“Aye, it normally does. But we lack the food and care to bring around such creatures, as much as I’d prefer them, so the regiment uses these mechanical wonders. Much faster and less toilsome to maintain.” He turned back around fully. “Chop chop, my boy!”
The rest of the scout detachment finished their preparations and mounted up, leaving out a small gate over a walkway that straddled the forward trench. Beyond the trench line, some 30-40 ahead, guardsmen and PDF were digging up holes to rig melta charges and other various explosives. Along the front of the trench, flamers were rigged into fixed positions to spew flames straight forward into any onrushing enemy. The regiment was digging in hard, as they were outnumbered and had little hope. The bikes were spun up, their engines roared as the machine spirits leapt to life. For 3 and a half hours they road in almost silence, all 10 bikes forming a V-shape as they sped towards their patrol area. Caldwell was at the head of the formation, his pith helmet secured to his head against the wind as the heat and stench of biomass grewer ever stronger. Storm clouds loomed over the horizon in front of him as he scanned it, his hands white knuckling the handlebars of his bike. A vox transmission cut his attention.
“Caldwell. Come in Lieutenant Caldwell.” A voice of broken static called.
“This is Caldwell.” He replied curtly.
“We’re getting some movement on the long range, adjust course to your 1 o’clock, please. How copy?”
“Solid copy, adjusting course.” He replied as he leaned his bike to the right a bit, his entourage following suit. His motion sensor on his bike’s display chimed a sudden warning before the ground to his left exploded outward. The formation was broken and the bikes scattered, as were the rules of engagement. “Base, we have contact! I repeat, contact confirmed!”
He drew the sawed-off shotgun from his leg holster and lifted it to the ready as he circled around to the crater that had just been created. From it burst forth a monstrous bioform, six arms yet snake-like with enormous jaws: a Mawloc. It bellowed a ghastly shriek as two other bikes came around to circle it, weapons firing off drive-by shots. They did little more than pierce its flesh and hit denser matter. Another explosion of dirt went up practically underneath Caldwell’s rear wheel and his bike was sent flying forward, throwing him from his seat. He avoided his bike from landing on him and rolled up to his feet, diving to it for cover. Another Mawloc erupted from that crater, followed by several lesser Gaunt bioforms.
This is too early... Caldwell thought to himself. We’re 15 kilometres from the target zone.
As he turned around to check on the two bikes circling the first Mawloc, he saw as the PDF trooper, Karon, was thrown from his mount and sent rolling across the mud. A clap of thunder accompanied the eruption of a third crater as Karon grabbed his autocarbine and scrambled over to Caldwell. Gaunts and Warriors spilled upwards, clambering over each other to get at the fresh prey. Raveners, smaller variations of the Mawlocs, joined the surge.
“Trooper, we are going to die here!” He told Karon as he blasted a gaunt charging them with his shotgun. “Cover me, dammit!” Karon had a look of terror in his eyes as he brought his rifle up to release bursts of fire, Caldwell fumbling with the bike’s vox system before yelling into it. “Command, this is Lieutenant Caldwell of the 97th Regiment, 3rd Company. Catastrophic failure on our scout mission has occurred. The swarm is moving, and we have been engaged 15 kilometres before target zo-” A Gaunt leapt over the bike and threw the officer to the ground. He brought his shotgun up into the creatures gut and fired off two blasts, scattering acidic viscera all over him. It burned and seared his flesh, but he ignored the pain as he picked up the handset again. “Repeat, 15 kilometres before target zone. In Nomine Imperator!”
Caldwell threw down the handset as a Tyranid Warrior bioform lumbered a massive clawed foot on top of his overturned bike. He gave a roar before blasting two flechette shells into the beast’s head, reaching for the spare shells on his bandolier. He grabbed three and loaded them as fast as possible, slapping the charging handle and leveling it at the nearest bioforms before splattering its body with a cloud of lead. He turned his head to look at Karon, who was slamming a fresh magazine into his rifle.
“For feck’s sake, men...” He bellowed into the squad vox. “Die with a prayer on your lips and a fire in your bellies!” He leveled his barrel into the jaws of another beast, clamping its teeth around the barrel before pulling the trigger.