Novaskaggi Heimrocs

Base Dealings

“Hey, fella, easy on the merch, what are you lookin’ for?” Regine barked at Face-tat, she’d been watching the one with all the augments. Who were these guys? The matching bomber jackets and pants meant they were from the same unit, but she didn’t recognize it. “Hey! What the fuck are you doing?” Face-tat was disassembling a piece, he looked-up, “Put that down before you break something. If you want a demo we can set it up. What are you lookin’ for?”

“What this?” he asked, holding-up the double Worcestus.

“Twin-barrel ten-guage Warcestus pattern forty-seven, ninety-thrones,” she rattled-off.

“What it shoot?” he asked, looking back down at the weapon breach he’d opened, “is launcher?”

“Haha, yeah, never seen a shotgun before?” Who were these people? She pulled a pair of 00 Slayer shells out of a drawer and held them up, “You could say it’s a launcher. Twenty pellets in a round, the Worcestus has a good spread. Where are you from, Skinny?”

“Novaskag,” he said with pride before eyeballing the shells in her hand.

“Wait,” Regine’s eyes flashed across the bomber jacket, to the open zipper and the uniform blouse with an Aquila on the left…shit, “You’re guardsmen?”

“Yah,” Face-tat shrugged, turning the shotgun over in his hands to investigate the action.

“Whoa whoa, alright, show and tell is over, no thrones, no touchy the boomy, alright?” fuckin’ tourists, the IG didn’t pay, and they sure has hell didn’t get enough liberty allowance to buy anything bigger than a box of shells. She reached to take the Worcestus from him but he didn’t appear to have heard her.

“Ejector is worn, you see?” Face-tat pointed, “this still ninety thrones?” Regine stopped, her hand in mid-air hesitating, then curling back. Maybe there was some coin to make here after all.

“Yeah, I see it. Tell you what, first time buyer, as a show of goodwill towards the dog-soldier, I’ll throw in a few boxes of shells gratis, and a discount on mods.”

“I do own mods,” he replied, holding up the lascarbine slung loosely at his side. It was solid work, far from regulation. Regine glanced around, waiting for a commissar to materialize. If they were guardsmen, they hadn’t come by that many thrones honestly. She felt eyes on her, there, Cheekbones, the blonde woman from the same unit. She’d been standing around Signe’s cart for a long time, long enough to look through her crap three times over. Regine made eye contact and held if for a few seconds. Augments had disappeared.

“Tell you what,” something was off, “you come back tonight, I’ll demo it for you, we have a place to test fire it. Bang off a few rounds, then see if it’s worth your bread, eh?”

“Good idea!” Face-tats nearly shouted, it startled Regine. Cheekbones was leaning over Signe’s cart, Signe was looking at something small. The blonde turned her head again at Face-tat’s exclamation, said a couple of words to Signe and started towards Regine. Another bomber-jacket moved in and distracted Signe before Regine could catch her attention. Fuck this was sketchy. Worse than sketchy, sketchy was Regine’s specialty. Guardsmen weren’t. They never came down here.

“Krash, let’s go,” Cheekbones ordered, flashing sharp eyes across the shotgun and the other weapons on Regine’s table. She had another heavily modded lascarbine, slung almost carelessly. Regine caught a glimpse of a custom laspistol grip on her hip, and at least two concealed knives, “he giving you shit?”

“Uh,” Regine blinked, “No, just drivin’ a hard bargain. Good eyes on this one.”

“Good. Krash,”Cheekbones repeated. Face-tat clicked the action shut on the Worcestus and set it back on the table, a gleefully conspiratorial look on his face. The pair walked back toward the main drag. Regine watched them, Face-tat’s odd, over-relaxed gait and Cheekbones’s more military stride. Weird. Regine started at another woman’s voice.

“What do you have in automatic?” Regine turned to see a fierce, tiny brunette in a headband eyeing her wares , bracing both hands on the table. She was wearing a bomber jacket, and the stock of her modded lascarbine read ‘Fear Me!’ gouged in a childish scrawl. This day kept getting better and better.

“Why doesn’t anyone talk to Ramiro!” the Armageddo bellowed in frustration a few yards away, drawing Regine and Wildcat’s heads. The big, mohawked armor-monger pointed a thick finger at a robe-clad man with a beard, “You sir! You need some body armor! Come on, this is good stuff! Guaranteed to keep you alive or your money back!”

“Faith is my shield, son of man!” the robed figure bellowed back, somehow overpowering the barrel-chested Ramiro, “Though it can always stand to be reinforced!”

“Hahaha! I like you already!” Ramiro roared. As his new customer turned to approach, the hive-born merchant spotted a chain sword under his robes, and the Aquila pendant hanging from the man’s neck. It took three of the bearded man’s confident steps for him to put it all together. “Oh,” Ramiro subconsciously tugged at the spiked collar around his own thick neck, “Uh, sorry Father. We don’t get many of your kind around here. Ramiro Blangsted,” he held out his hand.

“Adislav Volkov,” the priest grasped it in a mech hand, squeezing too hard.

“Quite a grip!” Ramiro winced, “What’s the Emperor’s pleasure? High-density weave? Nanoalloy plate? Yeah, you’d look bad ass in full-plate!” Ramiro recovered, holding-up a pauldron from said set as the priest stepped into the stall, looking around at the racks and mannequins sporting nanomesh vests and grox-hide chest pieces, and of course the set of feudal plate Ramiro was standing next to, polished to a glow.

“Where do you find such things?” Volkov asked, accepting the heavy pauldron and tapping it with a steel knuckle.

“All over really. You pick up pieces everywhere you go, and we’ve been a whole lot of places,” Ramiro grinned.

“You have been with Rogue Traders a long time?”

“Oh yeah! It’s been over a decade since I scrabbled out of the hive, haha!”

“The hive?”

“Arm-a-geddon, Father, the deepest, darkest, hottest, most hellish hive in the Empire! I didn’t even believe in stars before I jumped on with this bunch! Lucky I lived passed the age of three!”

“So you are good fighter, then!” the priest smiled with an eagerness Ramiro hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Hey, I ran with the Goliaths, don’t get me wrong, but I learned a thing or two after I went starside. I got a sharp eye for mercantilism!” Ramiro was quite proud of his chosen profession. Growing up a hive ganger means fighting and living dirty, no rules, waiting for someone to backstab you in every shadow. You don’t trust anyone, and you damn well undercut whoever you need to grab that extra drink, that slightly better gun, that sharper knife. Soldiering was better than that, but what’s the point of escaping endless urban combat only to leap into endless stellar combat?

“You are not soldier, then?”

“No sir-ee, Father, I can scrap with the best of ‘em,” Ramiro mocked a fighting stance, “but I let the young fellas do the warrin’, like yourself! Trade’s my game, now.”

“So you are trader for the Rogue Trader, do you know him?” Volkov asked.

“Gibrahan? Hahaha! No way! I may be a successful stall monkey, but I’m still a stall monkey,” Ramiro laughed. He’d never even seen the Boss, probably wouldn’t even recognized him if he did.

“What is ‘monkey’?” Volkov asked.

“Never mind, Father. Point is the Boss doesn’t really come planetside much, stays in the old girl up there,” Ramiro pointed at the shadowy form of their vessel in orbit over the city. The afternoon was partly cloudy, but between wisps the ship was clearly visible.

“That is Rogue Trader’s ship? Not Navy?” the priest was astonished.

“That’s right, Father, that’s home. She’s bigger than she looks on the inside, even I ain’t been to half of it,” Ramiro mused. The priest just stared up at the sky for a few moments, which gave him a chance to smooth his way back to the subject at hand, “So what do think? Is a shining suit of armor your style or what? You wanna try it on? I can do a quick adjustment here, and I offer to re-size it proper for a minor significant fee.”

“The Emperor only sees what is on our hearts, not our shoulders,” Volkov stated, blinking a few times, “my style is that which kills the xeno. This is better than imperial flak armor?”

Damn, Ramiro thought, they’re outfitted pretty well, “That’s a mighty fine set, but I don’t know that it’ll stop a chopper any better than flak. You’ll sure look sharp, though, marching at the head of the formation like the holy beacon of warfare!”

“We are jump troopers, my son, I think this is maybe too heavy,” Volkov’s tone became apologetic.

“Whoa! You’re a Heimroc? You boys are crazier than a half-done servitor! You really jump out of shuttles in the middle of a firefight?” No sale today, he thought.

“Yes! We don’t waste time walking to battlefield! We leap into the heart of the fire!” Volkov extolled.

“I’ll bet that’s a rush. Well listen, padre, most of this stuff is gonna weigh you down, and flak armor is damn fine stuff, the equal of anything I’ve got on hand,” Ramiro needed to ditch this fella and harangue another customer, but you can’t exactly kick a priest to the curb. The Father seemed to catch-on though, or at least was distracted enough looking at the sky that he didn’t seem interested in the conversation anymore. Ramiro wrapped it up, “But listen, I’m always getting new stock, you check back later and I bet I’ll have something right up your alley. Come back and see me anytime, Father! The Emperor protects, I just help!” Nice closer, he congratulated himself on his ad lib. He’d have to write that on a sign.

“The Emperor protects!” Volkov agreed, then turned and headed away down the street without another word, lost in thought. Kind of a strange fella, but then again, priests were a strange bunch. Real bloodthirsty types. Ramiro had only met a few, and they were all maniacs, but this was the first one he’d met that jumped out of a perfectly good aircraft on purpose. How am I supposed to compete with full flak armor?

Astartes to titan six? No, too open to the Halleford riposte. Saint to angel nine? I could take the pawn, move into a Morgana flank…Troi moved the worn saint piece on the centurion board, then tapped the play clock switch, giving the newcomer his turn. The guardsman was a decent player, hard to read, but that was probably the facial augments. Damn Guard paid for some quality bionics. Troi begrudged them for it. If he got stuck in a fireplace, or wherever this fella had been, he’d probably be given a blindfold and a tin pan. Troi returned his thoughts to the board as the stranger moved his astartes to psyker five. He resisted the urge to smile.

A few minutes later, he slid his own psyker into position with a flourish, and uttered his favorite word, “Checkmate, my friend.” Rostilav, that was his name, whirled his bionic eyes across the board in what must have been surprise. Then sat back in his chair, exhaling in what was probably a sigh.

“Good game,” the man’s voxbox buzzed, his strange accent further complicating the task of understanding him, “another?” Troi was resetting the board, the magnetic bases of the pieces dragging them all back into home position in a delightful little ballet. The clock reset to 00:00 – 1.

“You haven’t lost enough money yet, eh?” Troi smiled, confident, bold. This was his element, and he enjoyed lording glory over field soldiers who thought first-hand combat experience meant a damn thing at the table. This one was better than most, good instincts, but unpolished. Troi recognized potential that needed honing on a hard stone, not whatever intellectual mud puddle he’d risen from. The opponent slid the thrones to the center of the table, next to the play clock.

Rostilav had been asking a handful of strange questions, he was obviously Guard, and probably shouldn’t have been down here. His collar indicated he was sergeant, so Troi figured he could get away with it. He seemed to be wasting time, waiting for something. Then again, wasn’t that what they were all doing? Wasting time until there’s none to be wasted? Filling idle hands with futile labor in lieu of the stone axe and spear of the primordial Terran? If futile my labor be, I shall master futility, he thought, rather pleased with the air of profundity about it. He held a hand out to the newcomer, offering him first turn.

“Boy!” Troi barked out for the serving kid, “Another round of drinks, here.” The drinks were brought, drained, and refilled again over the next several minutes, the clink of the glass and the tap of the play clock the only thing interrupting the table’s silence. In the distance orbital landers roared in and out of the airfield, the occasional metal bang rolled through the streets from the armor hangers half a mile away up the trade zone. Salty wind blew litter down the road and ruffled banners hanging from the street cafe’s canopy, it smelled of rain. The hum of chatter at the other tables was peaceful, unobtrusive, boring.

“Do you know where I can find doctors?” Rostilav interrupted the flow of strategic purity.

“Is my genius making you ill?” Troi jibed. The guardsman’s face was unreadable, and Troi’s grin faded quickly.

“I am teaching him medicae, field surgery,” the sergeant said, gesturing to a younger, fresher man in a matching bomber jacket. He was very animated, laughing as he related a story to the others huddled at the bar several yards away.

“I hope you’re better with a scalpel,” Troi replied, “I would check with a hospital, my simple friend. They’ll have plenty of the eagerly dead to cut and reseal. There’s more than one on base, but you’ll probably have better luck with your own, our’s charge.”

“Charge?” Rostilav asked, twisting his scars in what Troi guessed was confusion.

“Meds and bionics aren’t free for most us,” Troi shot. The sergeant twisted his scars in a different way, this one totally indiscernible. Titan to saint four.

Emperor’s bouncing balls, “Hey, this ain’t a buffet, honcho,” Bisseli warned. Some days he couldn’t turn his back for five minutes without some asshole trying to pocket a croissant or slip extra meat under salad, “you’re payin’ a la carte.”

“Who is Alakart?” the merc asked, he had a strange accent and a ton of tattoos Bisseli couldn’t distinguish.

“Don’t get smart,” Bisseli waved a spatula at the him, “Prices are on the flags,” he pointed the spatula towards the painstakingly calligraphed paper flags his wife had made for the various dishes. The man bent to inspect them, squinting in obvious effort. Mother of…”Twenty for what’s on your tray.”

“Twenty?” the man asked.

“Yeah, two entrees, four sides,” Bisseli impatiently flicked the spatula at the overflowing tray of food between the soldier’s thick arms, “Don’t think I don’t see that second beef pie.” There was a knot of men and women wearing the same uniform as this man, all flitting from stall to stall studying the food, Bisseli shook his head, “What unit are you with?”

“Heimrocs,” the man said without looking up, he was concentrating on a handful of thrones, counting out twenty.

“Heimrocs? You guys new?” damn mercs are always coming and going, unless, “Wait, are you the guys that split-off from Olafsen’s crew?” This time the man looked-up, apparently he’d finished counting.

“Who’s Olafsen? We from Novaskag seventh,” the customer raised a thick eyebrow, then looked at his hands as if weighing whether to actually pay or not. Bisseli held his palm out. The customer carefully transferred the coins, and as he did so his jacket opened enough for Bisseli to notice the Aquila patch on his breast.

“Shit, you’re Guard?” Bisseli mused, “That explains things. Bring the tray back when you’re done, huh?” The “heimroc” hefted his tray with a nod and went to join the rest of his squad at one of the communal tables. I guess what they say about Imperial rations is true, the restauranteur thought, hoping a few more of these guardsmen came his way. He kept his eye on their table as they came together one at a time, all of them with piles of miss-matched dishes. It was almost like a child’s menu, chosen by color or shape instead flavor pairings. Frontier regiment, Bisseli guessed, turning back to his portable burners and griddle.

“Mmmm,” Mira groaned near the back of the formation.

“Why you eat so much?” Bash asked, walking with a wide stance himself.

“I not eat too much,” she half-heartedly punched his shoulder, “food poisoned.”

“Food not poisoned,” Rusty sighed without turning.

“How you know? You scan everything?” Mira challenged.

“Idiot did,” Rusty replied, nodding to Krash near the front of the formation. He was badgering Svetlana for her recent purchase.

“Many features! I show you!” he reached for the new chrono on her arm again, Mitin withdrew her arm from him a third time with a hard look. Dmitri was in front of everyone, keenly aware of the exchange. If he touch her one more time…

“Krash,” Oksana intercepted a fourth reach. She stepped into line between them to quash any further problems, but it didn’t keep Krash from eyeing Mitin’s wrist the rest of the way back to the skaggi barracks.

Once in the security of their quarters and the comfort of their racks, Rusty snapped for their attention.

What did we learn? he skagsigned, continuing with his own revelations, They have own hospital, which they pay for. The rogue trader is like the lord marshall, we won’t be meeting him anytime soon. They have many guns, but the good ones are too many thrones, he concluded, pointing at Father Volkov to share his own discoveries.

Many of these traders are very true in their faith, yet others I think waiver. I can sense the presence of doubt. There are many worlds from which they hail, their soldiers are decent fighters, and their tanks are strong and well-secured. None of them is as hard as skaggis, though. Many are soft-bellied, many have no fire in their hearts, the priest shook his head.

They have many strange foods, and like you said, good guns we can’t afford. Maybe ammo, Bash had typically little to say.

They’ve got a lot of things besides firepower, Oksana was next, but I don’t think they’re used to seeing guardsmen down there, they seemed jumpy. I think we can make some useful friends if we don’t spook them, but we have to be careful, too. They ain’t skaggis, they don’t know Tundra Law.

Lady liked pistol, Krash added from above her, I fix extras and trade them, he was already working on one of them with a metal file.

We use them for whole squad. Anybody see something that good for everyone, say so and we maybe use extra thrones, Rusty suggested, delta nodded in agreement. Nobody else seemed to have much to add, so he continued, Boz and I are going to medico for training. What about rest of you?

Going back to buy shotgun, Krash flashed.

I’ll go with him, Oksana signed, along with Bash and Nastya.

I must seek out the halls of worship and offer prayers, all are welcome to accompany me, Volkov signed, his eyes searching for takers but finding none, and ending a bit disappointed. He had hoped to bring at least a couple of the others; Korotich would have to suffice.

Okay, don’t be out too late, we have watch rotation in the morning, Rusty finished, turning to his bags in search of supplies and tools. Fifteen minutes later, he and Bosinov were navigating the streets of Fort Chambers, following the markers to the nearest medicocentre. The afternoon was warm, too hot for skaggis, certainly, and damp with the ocean breeze. He was already sweating under his jacket.

“What kind of training did you have in mind, boss?” Bosinov asked as they passed a formation of fusiliers in thin shorts and sleeveless shirts.

“We going to practice your sewing, and maybe set-up fake trauma,” he replied.

“That sounds good, but why we going all the way to medicocentre? I can practice stitches in quarters,” Boz suggested.

“Not on real bodies,” Rusty corrected. Boz paused for a step as he contemplated this.

“Whose bodies am I going to practice on?”

“Whatever ones aren’t blown completely apart. Hopefully no one else had same idea as us,” Rusty stated, not breaking stride. Boz marched the rest of the way to the centre in silence. When they arrived, the main entrance was a bustle of activity, with uniforms from every regiment sliding past each other and making way for the handful of general staff functionaries that cruised through the foot traffic on the mysterious chores of high command.

The stonework archway they passed under was flanked by sculpted stormwarden motifs, and an engraving in high gothic presided over the keystone. Neither of them had a clue what it said. The long, wide main corridor was dimly lit by sterile white chymelectric lamps which made the faces lining it pale. Heads swiveled to take-in the new arrivals, and finding little of note aside from Rusty’s augments, returned to dozing or idle chatter as they passed.

Rostilav made directly for the raised, pulpit-esque central desk, and the wigged functionary seated behind it almost consciously refused to acknowledge the skaggis’ presence. After a few moments had passed, in which Boz took in the intricate sculpting and arched ceiling of the lobby, Rusty spoke without preamble, registering the least-perceptible flinch in the woman behind the desk.

“Where do you keep bodies?” he asked. The woman raised her eyes to appraise him over the rims of her spectacles.

“What kind of question is that? In the morgue,” she answered, “If you want one of your boys you’ll have to wait in line with the rest,” she waved an autoquill to the dozen or so men leaning against the walls.

“We here to teach him field medicae,” Rusty stuck his thumb towards Boz, who sharply returned his focus.

“Well if that’s all you need,” she began softly before her voice took a sharper tone, “Wait over there and I’ll call you.” Rusty kept his ocular implant focused on her and immobile for a few moments before he moved to the edge of the room and secured a piece of marble real estate.

“This is pretty impressive, look at those,” Boz nodded at a cluster of chandeliers sprouting eagle faces.

“Yah,” Rusty grunted. He hated hospitals. The smell of disinfectant laced with emisis, the sickly-sweet of necrosis lingering under everything. Squeaking gurney wheels and the mingled groans of dozens of men not caring if the Emperor claims them or their broken bodies are made whole. No, not whole, made mockeries of able flesh by servants of a machine god who would have them die a second, or third, or fourth honorable death. Nurses and servitors orbited their charges, ignorant of their role as gate-guards to the Emperor’s Keep.

He cast a lens over Bosinov, who’d retrieved his Imperial Guard Medicae Primer and was studiously paging through the illustrations. Useless garbage, he thought. Rusty couldn’t recall a single useful technique within it not already learned by every skaggi by the age of nine. Some of the suggestions were nearly guaranteed to produce paraplegics and amputees for no other reason than simplifying treatment instructions. Did Boz even recognize what he was volunteering for? What he would have to due to his brothers and sisters to keep them alive? What he would have to be when he couldn’t? Was this the right thing to do to him?

“You,” the secretary pointed her autoquill like a scepter at Rusty, “Go on down, Jokul can deal with you.”

“Which way?”

“Your augments broken? Stairs,” She redirected her autoquill, “all the way down, follow your nose, assuming that still works.”

“Yah,” he turned and waved for Boz to follow, taking the route down. Once they opened the door at the bottom of the stairwell, they found themselves in a dank duracrete corridor with exposed conduits feeding chymelectric lighting. Steam pipes and a variety of other plumbing fought for space on the ceiling and walls, forming a familiar closeness both skaggis could appreciate. The pumping stations of Novaskag weren’t much different, just drier (the medicocentre obviously did not keep their maintenance staff busy enough).

The corridor continued another several dozen feet past a wide steel door. Twelve inch red lettering spelled something in high gothic across the front of it, and as the pair skaggis approached they heard the whine of a tool from inside. Rusty pounded three times on the door, the tool whine stopped for a few seconds before starting again. Rusty pounded again, and the tool whine stopped.

“Hello?” he shouted into the door. A few muffled footsteps later they heard a pair of latches being thrown aside and the hiss of a breaking pressure seal. The odor of early stage decomposition, preservative chymicals, and industrial disinfectant wafted into the corridor. Boz had to jump back to accommodate the door as it swung open, and a craggy-faced man with slightly bulging eyes appeared in its wake. He wore elbow length rubberized gloves and a well-used leather smock hanging past his knees. A face shield obscured his features in the glare of the ceiling lights.

“Yeess?” he asked in a quiet tone.

“We here to train him on field medicae, you have anything whole he can work on?” Rusty asked.

“Well, that is an odd request isn’t it?” the man’s voice lacked any indication of surprise, but his eyebrows arched, wrinkling his brow beneath the headband of his face-shield, “Do you have a preference for gender or regiment? Manner of death?”

“Just something in mostly one piece,” Rusty asked, slightly disturbed by the question. This man had spent far too much time alone in this hole.

“Mmm, excellent. Right this way, the Jingkai prefer cremation, certainly they wouldn’t mind a few more stitches in the departed, yes?” the mortician waved for them to follow as he wove through a half dozen work tables laden with bodies in various stages of preservation. Most of them had been mutilated by huge blades or had limbs laying next to them, the victims of explosive amputation. The nearest one’s leg was half attached by thick stitches from the auto-suture attachment of a servitor hanging limply nearby.

“Here we are,” their guide ran his hand across the label of one of many small steel doors lining the far wall. He pulled the door open and slid out the Jingkai soldier within, “large caliber round to the thorax, clean through.”

“Yah,” Rusty agreed. Boz was busy staring at the servitors hanging from the ceiling, festooned with tools and attachments he couldn’t begin to guess the purpose of.

“Enjoy, my friends,” the mortician grinned, a dark glimmer in his eye. Boz swallowed, waiting for the man to leave them, but he lingered, as if eager to watch them.

“I shout if we need you,” Rusty droned. The man, who could only have been the Jokul mentioned by the front desk secretary, shifted his eyes from skaggi to skaggi before turning with slumped shoulders and returning to the worktable he’d been occupied with before his visitors had arrived. Boz glanced at Rusty with a raised eyebrow.

Kind of strange, he signed quickly.

“Yah,” Rusty agreed, “Here, you know what organs dis round hit?” he pointed at the neat whole punched through the corpse’s chest.

“Uh…Lung,” Boz started, cocking his head to one side in an attempt orient himself, “and probably liver?”

“Good. What else to think of?” Rusty quizzed, when Boz bit into this lower lip in concentration without answering, he gave him the answer, “Heart may have been damaged by pressure wave,” he pointed at where the heart would be under and just left of the sternum.”

“Right! But wouldn’t he be…done?” Boz asked.

“Yah,” Rusty nodded, “If heart ruptured, he dead in seconds. You will now, will be probably in fibrillation…” he continued to remind Boz of various elements to keep in mind in the highly complex task of treating and triaging combat wounded. The choice to abandon one man’s life to save another more likely to survive. After going through several scenarios, Rusty had his understudy debride and suture a handful of different injuries on the first corpse. When there was little more to be done with the first man’s body, they slid it back into the box and sealed the little door. Rusty moved onto the next one and pulled out a terribly disfigured corpse with nearly all of his flesh charred deeply.

Rusty grimaced and gestured to the melted adipose oozing from several splits in the flesh, “What to be careful of with burns all around legs?”

“Swelling?” Boz guessed.

“Yah, what you have to do if you see whole leg swelling?”

“Uh…spiral incision,” Boz stated, indicating how to slice the flesh in a long circumferential incision to prevent the tissue swelling from cutting of circulation to the lower leg, “then wet bandage?”

“With drainage,” Rusty added holding a finger out for emphasis. The went over more aspects of burn care, to their mutual discomfort, eventually trailing off and resealing the burned man’s body in his box.

The next one they opened didn’t have any readily apparent injuries. Boz looked at his instructor with his brow knit. Rusty rolled the corpse to check the back side for entry wounds, but found nothing. He increased the magnification of his implant and scanned it across the corpse again, checking under the arms and around the face and ears for signs of concussive damage or bruising. Just as he was about the call the mortician over, he noticed a perfectly round puncture wound near the base of the skull.

“That strange,” he thought out loud. Boz followed his gaze and bent to inspect it.

“Sniper bullet?” he guessed.

“No,” Rusty said quickly, there wasn’t enough damage to the underlying tissue. Maybe an eldar needle rifle could make that kind of wound, but there’d be an exit wound on the other side. He magnified further, the skin at the edges had been torn, “this is stab wound.”

“Stab wound? What kind of greenskin weapons are that small?”

“I don’t know,” Rusty looked over at Jokul, humming delightedly about his duties, “Jokul!”

“Yeees?” he responded without turning around.

“Where this one come from?” Rusty asked.

“I haven’t any idea, why do you ask?” Jokul set his tools down and started toward them.

“This one not killed by Orks,” Rusty was sure about this.

“Oh? They have some lasweapons, too I’m sure,” Jokul mused, “They seem to readily pick-up whatever else they can find.”

“You ever see one use a dart?” Rusty asked.

“A dart?” Jokul arrived with them and bent to inspect the injury, “That is strange. Almost like…”

“A dart, maybe big needle or spike. Look how precise,” Rusty probed the wound with a forceps, “Orks not dat careful.”

“Perhaps you’re right, perhaps you’re not. Either way, I have no data on where they come from. You’ll have to ask upstairs,” Jokul shrugged.

“It almost look like seveserre spine…” Bosinov mused. Rusty looked at Boz, if he could there’d have been a look of surprise on his face.

“Jokul, you know any local animals with venom sting?” Rusty demanded.

“I wouldn’t,” Jokul looked insulted, “Why would I know anything of this xeno-infested backwater?”

“Nevermind,” Rusty waved him off. Rusty pulled his dataslate from its rarely-opened pocket in his bag. After a few moments of button jamming, he got it to capture a handful of picts of the wound and the rest of the Jingkai ghostwalker’s apparently uninjured body. After swabbing the wound with his diagnostor and analyzing the flashing indicators, Boz’s guessed proved even more likely. There were traces of a biotoxin in the wound. Boz and Rusty slid the tray back in and sealed the door, “Come, Boz.”

“What is that?” Boz asked as holo appeared over the cogitator terminex. It was a lizard-like creature with a wicked eye staring at them. There didn’t appear to be any kind of stinger, and Rusty seriously doubted a bite would have made the kind of injury that killed their mystery casualty.

“Deadly,” Rusty stated. He had the records for the solider, but the dense munitorum jargon in the databases didn’t give him much more to go on than a general area of operations, “Maybe we pay visit to Rogue Trader hospital…”

“Arko!” Regine called over the rain. The storm that had been threatening all day had finally hit an hour ago. Regine was standing under the canopy of her locked-down stall in the market square, but Arko and Sardell were standing in the door way of the abandoned grocery nearby. Both were wearing full-length gray slickers with the hoods pulled over their heads, she had to shout again to get their attention, “Arko!”

The shorter of the two mercenaries raised his eyes to meet her, squinting through the mist. Regine nodded towards the main street, where a quartet of shadowy forms were approaching the square. They were wearing some kind of ponchos that blended with the dingy walls and street. Given the way they were walking in lockstep with each other, she’d pegged them as Guard.

Arko elbowed his partner to alertness, and they subconsciously touched the autopistols tucked into their armpits. Hopefully she wouldn’t need them, but she’d been thinking about the strange feeling she had about these guardsmen all day. Regine watched them approach, they looked miserable. No, not all of ‘em. Face-tat was in front and didn’t look bothered at all. She wasn’t sure what the hell that expression was. The big male soldier was pulling his hood down, trying to keep as much water out as possible and scowling. The shorter woman was obviously holding a lascarbine under her poncho, but her head was down.

The taller woman she recognized as Cheekbones. She had her head up, but was looking past Regine. It didn’t take turning around to know she’d made Arko and Sardell. Damn, there went her ace in the hole. At least the first one. “Glad you made it!” she yelled as the guardsmen approached.

“Is just rain,” Face-tat shrugged, he looked at the folded stall table behind her.

“I’ve got it right here,” She pulled a weapon case from behind the counter and hefted it, “there’s an alleyway a few blocks from here, should be empty enough to throw a few rounds down,” she was still talking loudly over the rain, so she though he hadn’t heard her until Cheekbones spoke.

“Your boyfriends coming with?” the blonde asked, not bothering to point at Arko.

“They’ll keep the strays from wandering into the line of fire,” Regine covered. She recognized the short woman as Wildcat from that afternoon.

“What we waiting for!” the big guardsman complained. Cheekbones didn’t break her eye-contact or twitch any hint of a response.

“This way!” Regine pulled her black conical hat from the hook behind her and adjusted the red silk chin strap. Her raincloak became a waterfall as soon as she stepped out from under the canopy. She led them, Arko and Sardell joining the back of the line, the five blocks to the alley firing range she’d set-up a few hours ago. When they got there, she pointed at the old bookcase having its finish ruined by the rain.

“Close enough to Ork sized right?” she asked loudly. There were a dozen dirty bottles and cans lining the shelves. The guardsmen nodded impatiently. Regine smiled and set the shotgun case on a crate in the shelter of one of the hab’s balconies. She opened it and lifted it out of the foam packing with a smile, “Warcestus pattern forty-seven twin-barrel ten-gauge coachgun,” she rattled off the weapon designation, then began pointing to various features as she named them, “adjustable chokes on each barrel depending on your range of engagement, I’d keep one narrow for the xenos your fighting, and the other opened-up in case you need to deal with a mob of grots getting too personal. Dual in-line triggers, front for the top, back for the bottom.”

She thumbed the opening lever, “break-action, it’ll eject the spent shells automatically. Independent safeties, but you probably don’t need those anyway,” Regine winked. She was gliding through her trusty sales pitch and it seemed to be working. Bigs was glazing over, Wildcat was getting fidgety, and Cheekbones was eyeballing Arko. Only Face-tats was paying attention, and despite her first impression of him as a back-system yokel, he appeared to absorbing every word. He even nodded without hesitation when she described the choke.

“We’ll start off with double aught standard, I can get you these in eight, twelve, or eighteen pellet,” she pulled the same pair of 00 Slayer cartridges as earlier and demonstrated how to load them. Then she locked the action. In a fluid motion, she spun around, her wide hat keeping the action dry, and fired the first barrel at the bookcase, blowing away four bottles and a can in a watery explosion. The shelf wobbled a bit, Regine smiled at the added effect, perfect. She could feel all four sets of eyes widen behind her, and she turned around to smiles. The guardsmen exchanged impressed looks, and the for the first time Bigs seemed to forget about the rain.

“Your turn,” she held the coach gun out for Face-tats, and he accepted it awkwardly. He was a little guy, and the stock was pushing his reach. After a little exploration of the fore-grip and the apparently new concept of a weapon lacking a pistol grip, he held it up loosely and aimed at the bookcase.

“Whoa there,” Regine quickly stepped-in, adjusting his stance, “this has a little more kick than a lasgun, hold it tight,” she demonstrated a controlling grip on the weapon, “or it’ll take your arm off.”

“Like dis?” Face-tats held it tighter against his shoulder.

“That’s better, alright, fire in the hole,” she said, taking a long step back. He brought it on target and fired. The recoil caught him by surprise and he staggered back, spinning half around with wide eyes as the gun flew out of his hands. The corner of the book case exploded, and the whole thing fell over with a muffled crash in the rain.

“Yah!” Wildcat screamed, pumping a fist. Cheekbones’s eyebrow was raised when Regine looked back at them, and the blonde sent a dull glance her way. Icy bitch. Regine looked at Arko and jerked her head at the bookcase. As he was walking down range to right it and re-stack the bottles, she put a hand on Face-tat’s shoulder.

“Kicks like a bastard, don’t it?” she chuckled.

“Is strong!” he smiled, running a hand over his shoulder and staring down at the weapon as he knelt to pick it up. He looked back at this comrades, “Like grenade launcher!”

“That’s right,” Regine laughed, “and that’s with a standard cartridge. You put a magnum in there and it’s even stronger, take down an ork in one shot. If you really want to put him down quick, give him both barrels at once,” she held out two more cartridges. He smiled and opened the action, popping one shell out, but leaving the second half-way in the barrel. He flicked it out quickly, accepting the new rounds from her hand.

“Is ejector,” he nodded.

“Like I said, good eye, but as you can see it still fires flawlessly. Pull both triggers in a go,” she suggested. He slid the cartridges in and clicked he action closed. This time he put his feet wide apart, seating the stock tight against his shoulder and leaning forward a bit. As soon as Arko was back to the shelter of the balcony, Face-tats pulled both triggers in one motion, and promptly staggered backwards three steps. The rest of the bookcase jumped with another explosion of splinters, glass, and water, then fell apart in three pieces.

“I take it!” he shouted jubilantly.

“Excellent!” this time her grin came naturally, “Ninety-thrones, and as promised a couple boxes of ammo.”

“You want trade?” Face-tats reached under his poncho quickly, and Regine tasted the adrenaline flushing her system. Her hand jerked at her hip and she saw Arko and Sardell reaching for their guns. All she could think of was her cousin Joeline falling off that roof when they were ten, the look of confused terror on her childish face; the echoing screams of Aunt Amelia when she came out of the hatch and found…

Regine breathed when Face-tat’s hand reappeared holding a heavily modified laspistol mk III by the cooling port. Regine quickly tapped the air with the hand her hip as she looked at Arko, easing him down. The mercs dropped their hands and relaxed a little. She had to take a few breaths before she spoke, and it gave her time to appreciate the workmanship on the offered weapon.

She accepted the laspistol and worked it over, “Not bad work,” she admitted, “You did all this?”

“Yah,” Face-tat pulled another one from under his poncho. It was identical to the first one.

“Well,” she frowned, “I’ll give you a hundred-twenty for the pair,” she low-balled. To her surprise, he smiled and nodded.

“Good! Good!” he beamed.

“If you’ve got more of those,” she hesitated, biting her cheek. This guy didn’t know much about business, but he damn sure knew his way around and armorer’s kit. A cheap supply of modded weapons would give her a hell of an edge, but was it worth it? She didn’t even know who they were. Maybe that was how she should keep it, “If you’ve got more, I think we can make a real friendly relationship out of this.” Attention passengers, Point of No Return passing out your starboard windows…

“There is more,” Face-tat nodded, a glimmer in his eye. She held a hand out to shake on it, but he just stared at it, put the other laspistol in it, then proceeded to hug her.

“Krash…” Cheekbones sighed, “She ain’t skaggi. Boundaries.” Regine forced a chuckle, and raised her eyebrows at Arko over Face-tat’s shoulder. She could see him stifling laughter.

“Alright! Well I’m sure you got other things to do,” she politely pushed the guardsman away, “Pleasure doing business with you all, “ she pulled back, taking the Worcestus from him and drying it off under the balcony before putting it back in the case, “Make sure you let it dry out when you get back, and you have to keep these dry, too,” She pulled three boxes of cartridges from her bag and set them in the empty hollow designed for them in the case, “These are standard double-aught eight-counts, but I’ve got plenty of specialty ammo available back at the cart. Solid slugs, magnums, masterkeys work pretty well on most doors in the local-”

“You have multilaser packs?” Bigs interupted.

“You have a portable multilaser?” Regine was genuinely surprised, but she recovered, “I suppose you need something heavy. Yeah, I can probably get my hands on a spare power cell for one, just give me a day or two.”

“Ho yah!” it was his turn to pump his fist, apparently. Who the hell had she just gotten involved with?

Contributed by Beans

It was as if he had just closed his eyes, and all of a sudden the memories flooded back. Seeing the ocean had awakened memories of Cythera, of beach Beta-35, of the foul Eldar. Beach Beta-35 had been deemed strategically valuable for future amphibious landings on that island, and as Volkov recalled the hiemrocs 4th platoon had been ordered to capture it. All of a sudden he was there again…

Volkov gazed out the open side hatch the command valkyrie, with only endless ocean and the merest rays of a hazy sunrise to greet him. He rode with the command section of the Hiemrocs 2nd company, 4th platoon. He’d only just met the lieutenant, Kilgorov the other night, and didn’t yet feel he understood him. Kilgorov seemed bombastic in a way that belied the usual Skaggi stoicism. He was also impious, which was no doubt why Volkov had been assigned to this platoon. Physically, Kilgorov didn’t look too much different than the average Skaggi, thin, short hair, and clean shaven, but when he spoke, his deep commanding tone made sure all who heard took note. Volkov continued to stare out over the ocean, on either side the Valkyrie and Vendetta gunships of 4th platoon kept pace. In the hold of the Valkyrie Kilgorov spoke up “Five minutes to drop zone”. Volkov turned to face the squad, “comrades, let us offer prayers to the Allfather for victory”

“Prayers? we don’t need anymore prayers! what we need is firepower!” Kilgorov retorted. Volkov’s expression changed to one of annoyance, almost immediately. “You WILL offer benediction to the Allfather” Volkov insisted. “Fine, Fine.” Kilgorov replied, motioning for his squad to begin prayer. Kilgorov himself unstrapped his harness and approached the voxnet that allowed communication between the passengers and pilots. Still not praying, he started talking to the pilot. “How many strafes are we getting?” he inquired. Volkov shook his head and looked down, beginning to lead the men in prayer. “One heavy bolter sweep” the pilot responded. Kilgorov was visibly angered. “You listen to me Aydemir, I didn’t stick my neck out for you getting some of that Mordian Amasec for you to leave me out to freeze. I know you’ve got hellfury missiles on these birds, I saw ‘em myself” The rest of the squad chuckled, interrupting Volkov. There was a pause on the vox followed by a long sigh, and then the pilot replied, “..Uh, yes Lieutenant it seems I read the orders wrong, Hellfury missile strikes are authorized”. “The Emperor bless you” Kilgorov replied, looking Volkov in the eye as he said it. That was another thing Volkov had heard about the Lieutenant, he made it a habit of getting exactly what he wanted for his missions regardless of consequence. It certainly made him popular amongst his platoon, but not in the Munitorum or in High Command. “Maybe that’s why they gave us this suicide mission” Volkov thought to himself. It wasn’t like him to question command decisions, but trying to land drop troopers on a small stretch of beach between raging seas, and rocky crags did seem suicidal. If that was the case, Kilgorov hadn’t taken even a second to consider it.

All of a sudden Volkov heard a loud booming Imperial anthem come over the Vox, so loud he had to adjust the microbead in his helmet. Over the Vox he could also hear the cheers of tundramen in the other squads. “Command indicated this was a stealth mission!” Volkov shouted to Kilgorov over the crescendo of the anthem. Kilgorov laughed jovially, “The boys love it!” he replied. “Comrades!” Kilgorov began “It looks like command needed a platoon with guts for this mission, otherwise they’d have sent the Mordians!” his squad laughed as they readied themselves. The back hatch of the Valkyrie opened and the pilot’s voice gave the go ahead. “Hiemrocs! Do you fear death?” Kilgorov shouted before jumping, not even bothering to wait for a response, he knew what they’d say.

As Volkov descended he could see the ocean, the rocks, and the small stretch of beach, he did his best to steer himself, despite being in a Drop Trooper regiment, he still hadn’t developed a knack for the grav chute. The view from the sky was almost serene, until the Eldar opened fire. Volkov could see flashes from some sort of Xenos heavy weapon, and braced for landing. Over the Vox, the lead Valkyrie pilot informed them “Taking heavy weapons fire, support assets delayed momentarily” As the first of the Hiemrocs reached the ground, the Eldar infantry appeared from the cover of the rocks and fired. The air whistled with the sound of their shuriken weapons, and as Volkov landed, he saw an unfortunate Skaggi fall to the ground, his face mangled by hundreds of the razor sharp projectiles; it now bled profusely into the sand. To Volkov’s horror the man was still alive, and his sand and blood covered face, what was left of it at least, looked at him. “Help me Father!” he cried, reaching toward Volkov with what remained of his strength.

Volkov grabbed the man and dragged him out of the line of fire, behind a boulder on the beach. Even in the midst of battle, it was his job as a priest to tend to the soldiers spiritual needs. “Comrade, you have fought well” Volkov began, kneeling down and laying hands on the dying man’s shoulder “The Allfather is pleased with your service, be at peace and know that none who died for Him died in vain. You have done your duty, and now I must do mine” Volkov stood up, leveled his lasgun, and fired. He still had to look away each time he performed the Emperor’s Peace.

Running to rejoin the platoon, Volkov found the Eldar infantry had advanced out of their rocky cover and onto the beach, still laying down hails of shuriken fire. Eldar Guardians, citizen soldiers, no match for a trained guardsmen. They had been told this repeatedly during briefings, but Volkov was not so sure anymore. They were disciplined, more so than the rabble he had expected they would be. They worked together, one group providing cover fire while another advanced. Volkov was able to catch one of the aliens by surprise, and with a heft of his chainsword, cleaved the alien clean across the chest. The whirring teeth of the blade bit into armor and flesh, and splattered a puddle of gore onto the sand. The alien’s compatriots turned to face this new human attacker, giving the Hiemroc squads valuable seconds to regroup. Volkov continued to fight in the growing melee, lashing out swiftly with his chainsword; the Eldar, so fast…dodging and parrying in seemingly impossible ways. The priest was having trouble matching their counter blows, if he didn’t get out of this soon one of them would break through his guard.

The stinging pain in his left shoulder told Volkov one of the xenos had done just that. The cut was superficial, but blood still began to stain his fatigues, and surges of pain came with every movement of his arm. Volkov was outnumbered now, 3 of the Eldar soldiers surrounded him with combat blades drawn. Like carrion birds, they circled him waiting for the right moment to deliver the killing strike. Volkov continued to fight with the abandon of a wounded animal, trying desperately to break through the swift defense of the xenos. One of the aliens delivered a sweeping kick to Volkov’s ankle, causing him to lose balance, as he tumbled to the ground another readied itself to deliver the killing blow, straight into the priest’s heart.

For sparse seconds Volkov’s gaze met the alien’s. “Allfather, I commend my soul into your han-” before he could finish the prayer, the alien was engulfed in a gout of flame and the sound of lasgun fire could be heard. Volkov rolled over to see the Hiemroc squads advancing up the beach, his distraction had given them the time needed to regroup. The Eldar surrounding Volkov had elected to give ground and were falling back toward the crags, as a hand reached down to help Volkov to his feet, Foreman Oberin of second squad greeted him. “Father, I think the Emperor will have to wait a bit longer for your soul, eh!” Oberin chuckled, as the priest stood up.
“He and I know when the time is right” Volkov replied cooly.

A message over the Voxnet interrupted their conversation, “This is Kilgorov, missile strikes are inbound, maintain position on the beach.” Seconds later, the gunships were overhead, strafing the crags with heavy bolter fire. Next came the missiles Kilgorov had been promised. They exploded a split second from impact, scattering their incendiary payload throughout the crags and cliff face. Behind Volkov, Kilgorov and his command squad jogged to the front. “You smell that boys?” Kilgorov asked “That’s promethium” he said with pyromaniacal glee “I love the smell of promethium in the morning”

4th Platoon secured itself on the edge of the beach while waiting for the fires to die down, Eldar soldiers appeared again fleeing, their burning positions, completely engulfed in flames. The hiemrocs of 4th platoon raised their weapons to finish off the aliens, “No! let the Xenos burn! it’s what they deserve!” Kilgorov shouted. The men obeyed, lowering their weapons, and for a few seconds longer, they watched the Eldar guardians burn to death on the beach. “Whatever the complaints Command had about Lieutenant Kilgorov, he prosecuted his duties with zeal. And zeal, as the saying goes, is its own excuse” Volkov thought to himself.

As the fires subsided, the hiemrocs began to advance onto the rocky island and the sparse forest that lay beyond the beach. Their objective was now to hold until reinforcements could secure the beach permanently. Squads were sent out to act as pickets, while the rest of the platoon busied itself nearer to the beach, cleaning weapons and setting temporary emplacements. Volkov had rejoined with Kilgorov’s command section, and the two conversed amongst the busy soldiers. “So, Father Volkov, what do you think of 4th platoon now? I know command gave you an earfull about us before we left” Kilgorov inquired. “You do the Emperor’s work as well as any other platoon, they don’t see the need to extort extra ordnance from the Navy to do it” Volkov replied shrewdly. Kilgorov chuckled, unperturbed by the priest’s inflexibility. “This is war, isn’t it?” he began “we must use every weapon we have, besides the pilot owed me for more than just some amasec…” Kilgorov’s words were cut short by the sound of running and shouting.

4 men of second squad came into view sprinting over the rocky terrain back to the platoon. Volkov noted the look on the men’s faces, they seemed terrified. “They’re coming back! comrades they’re coming back!” the men shouted. Kilgorov intercepted one of the hiemrocs, a young man who looked barely of service age. “Easy son” Kilgorov said, placing his hands on the man’s shoulders and trying to calm him down. “Who’s coming back?” through stuttered and barely audible words Volkov could make out the word “b-b-banshees” Kilgorov’s eyes widened when he heard. He let go of the man immediately and shouted into the microbead “All squads fall back to the beach, we have hostiles incoming, banshees. squads take position hunters armed with flamers to the front, grenade launchers to the rear” Kilgorov turned to the other men of second squad “How many?” he asked coldly, his joking demeanor of moments ago had been replaced by stern focus. “too many, they came at us from all sides, we didn’t stand a chance” one man stammered. “Pull yourself together, muska!” Kilgorov barked “we need every skaggi we have if we’re gonna live through this” Kilgorov turned to Volkov “Father, take these men and join the squads on the beach, they need you more than I do” Volkov didn’t have time contemplate whether that was a compliment or an insult, and started running to join the massing squads.

“Follow me, the Allfather is with us” Volkov said, urging the shaken remnants of 2nd squad on. In truth there was little he could say to steel these men for what was coming. Banshees held a fearsome reputation amongst the soldiers, and for good reason, few men saw them, and fewer still saw them and lived. When they had reached the rest of the platoon, Volkov counted 3 squads present, first was positioned off to the left behind a large formation of boulders, third was off to the right, huddling behind the remains of fallen trees, and 4th had elected to dig themselves in on the beach in the center. Fifth squad was nowhere to be found. “They’re as good as dead at this point” Volkov thought.

The priest joined with first squad and readied his flamer. “Steady now comrades” he began “the enemy is near, but we know he is near, and we are ready for him! The Allfather is with us, have faith!” a pregnant silence fell over the men of 4th platoon, even the crashing of ocean waves nearby seemed to be but a distant whisper. Volkov eyed the soldiers, some men held their rifles loosely, and the weapons visibly shook, others held a white knuckle grip on on them. But like true skaggis they gave no voice to their fear.

The silence was abruptly broken by chatter over the voxnet, it was fifth squad. “Skaggis coming in! I think we lost them!” Volkov heard the message from the vox receiver carried by one of the soldiers of first squad, as well as in his microbead. Silence again, and then: there was shrieking. Loud high pitched wails seemed to echo throughout the whole island, through the vox, and through the microbead. Volkov had been able to rapidly mute his but even without additional amplification, the sound was unbearably loud. Other men were not so lucky. The voxman tore at his helmet and put his hands to his ears as they began bleeding profusely. He fell to his knees and writhed about, before finally falling prone. motionless. Other men dropped their weapons as they instinctively tried to cover their ears, to do anything to find relief from the pain. Volkov was himself on his knees, chin tucked in, trying to focus his mind; to let go of his senses like he had learned to do in the pit back on Novaskaag. There was rustling of rocks and brush, scarcely heard over the shrieking, and the banshees were upon them.

The sound stopped as abruptly as it had begun, but it was too late for 4th platoon. Men were sliced and skewered by the lightning fast strikes of Eldar Banshees, their weapons cut through armor, bone and metal like paper. A soldier tried to strike back, to deliver a punishing blow with the butt of his rifle, the banshee stepped aside effortlessly and leapt into the air, holding her blade at her side. The man was slashed from groin to neck and dropped over lifelessly. If the Eldar guardians’ fighting skills were improbable, the Banshees’ were truly impossible. Volkov was on his feet again, facing down a banshee who ran at him, she delivered a spinning, sweeping slash that Volkov tried instinctively to block with what was available to him, his flamer. The banshee’s blade cut effortlessly through the flamer’s barrel, cutting it in half. Volkov dropped it immediately, and was struck by the backhanded hit of the banshee’s pistol grip. The priest was sent sprawling to the ground with a face full of sand.

Everything seemed so far away to Volkov as he laid there, it was only a split second, but that time felt like eternity, everything felt ethereal to him now. He rolled over and saw the banshee bringing her blade down for a killing blow. He tried to roll again out of the way, and then there was fire…the broken flamer’s fuel had ignited….’wait, this wasn’t how it had happened’…time seemed to move in slow motion as Volkov turned to face the banshee again…and found its lithe, elegant form replaced with muscular bulk of an Ork Nob….’this wasn’t right’…There was silence now…the fire grew and engulfed guardsman and eldar alike…The whole world seemed to be ablaze in sea of fire, Volkov could hear the Ork’s guttural roar, the shouts of dying guardsmen before everything dissolved into darkness. There was another sound behind all these, minute and almost inaudible, but it was there, a gentle clamoring.

The darkness gave way as Volkov surged awake, beads of sweat rolling down his face. Instinctively he reached for the laspistol under his pillow and leveled it in the direction of the noise; dimly lit though the barracks was he didn’t need to see. The other members of delta squad had awoken as well, pistols and carbines all pointed in the same direction…at Krash. Krash looked up from the lasgun he had been working on and froze. “Sorry, I dropped bolt on the floor…” he stammered. there was a collective groan throughout the room. “Idiot!” shouted Rusty “This is why I said, no weapons work after lights out!” Rostilov could be ill tempered on a full night’s sleep, and even Krash knew better than to push the issue with a sleep deprived Rostilov. “Fine” he sighed, setting the lasgun down and laying on his cot. The rest of delta squad did likewise, laying down and trying to get sleep. Volkov lay awake yet, thinking. The Nob, it had been the one that had cost Volkov his arm, he was sure of it. He wasn’t supposed to feel fear, he was a preacher, an emissary of the God Emperor’s will. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his mind, reciting the hymn of enduring strength to himself. He needed sleep, if he was going to drive out the Rogue Trader’s heresy in the morning.

The next morning Krash was studying the large bruises on his right shoulder.

“What you do now, Idiot,” Rusty asked, turning him to get a better look.

“New gun kicks,” Krash said, still looking at the bruises. They’d finished PT, and everyone was moving a little slower, these three especially. Oksana and Nastya hadn’t come back until well after midnight, and it wasn’t hard to tell they were drunk. Krash had been up half the night cleaning his new weapon, whatever it was. The rest of delta wasn’t eager to get to their duty station for the day.

Watch rotation was never something to look forward to. Patrol yes, patrolling was in their blood, but standing around a guard post was almost as bad as sitting around in quarters. They were all thinking about going back to the trade zone, Rusty included.

The mysterious biotoxin and the odd wound in the Jinkai soldier’s neck hadn’t left his mind all morning. After watch, he and Boz were heading straight for the rogue trader’s medicocentre for more answers. Oksana and Nastya had apparently discovered a handful of other markets on their odysee, and Dmitri was itching to find something to spend his gun chits on.

Volkov’s head was somewhere else this morning, too. He had a haunted look on his face first thing at reville, but his expression had since returned to a reassuring smile. He’d said something about rooting out heresy, but he was always talking about that and by now Rusty barely paid it any mind unless the priest was really storming. It’d been a long time since he’d really believed in salvation.

He got them moving, and they still relieved the previous watch fifteen minutes early. Everyone stayed on task without prompting, and their watch went by uneventfully. Bash almost got into a brawl with a couple of scintillans, but the others had stepped in before things went to far. By the afternoon, they were preparing for another foray into the trade zone.

Contributed by Beans

Volkov had split off from the rest of delta squad to pursue his own goal within the Rogue Trader’s cordon of the Imperial base. He wandered about taking in the sight and sound around him, looking for the perfect area to begin his righteous work. This market square in particular featured a larger cantina and open area with plenty of people milling about. Perfect. Volkov approached a table occupied by a particularly gruff looking man, a mercenary no doubt. The ramshackle nature of his fatigues and the highly customized lasgun propped against his chair were obvious giveaways. The man was bald with a large scar on the top of his head, which ran down the front, almost perfectly bisecting his face, one eye was blinded, and the other buzzed about, having been mechanically replaced. “The Emperor has need of this” Volkov said as he grabbed the second chair at the table. The mercenary gave Volkov an icy stare, which he returned in kind. Perhaps the man became aware that it was in fact, a preacher telling him this, he abruptly broke his stare, and shrugged his shoulders, seemingly giving up on whatever aggression he harbored. Volkov took the chair, and placed in the center of the open air cantina, stood upon it, and began to speak.

“To kill an infidel is not murder! It is the path to salvation!” he began. Some of the cantina’s patrons looked up in confusion, others in obvious annoyance. “To kill an infidel is not murder! it is the path to salvation, this is the Emperor’s word!” Volkov continued. A man, also a mercenary by his appearance, looked up from his meal at Volkov, “‘ey comrod, we’z tryna eat ‘ere ‘keep er down!” “Volkov turned to face the man and stared him down “And are YOU one to question the Emperor’s word?” Volkov accused, pointing at him, the mechanical right arm of his, straight as an arrow. The man’s eyes widened, he too realized Volkov was in fact, a preacher and not just a merc with too much amasec in him. “‘oy preacha’ I ment no dissin’ I’z just ‘ungry is all” Volkov smiled and lowered his outstretched arm. “Then eat well my son, for the Emperor’s work awaits us all! He raised his hands skyward and continued to speak. “You know as I do, that this world is beset by war, every day we labor to exterminate the orks, and all the foul xenos which pollute the Emperor’s galaxy. And make no mistake comrades, it IS the Emperor’s galaxy. He has dictated this task to us, the faithful multitude: to purge the galaxy of xenos, so that man may take his rightful place as master of the stars. Truly it is a noble cause. But there lies another war, the war fought within, within the shadows, within the souls of all faithful servants. The war against Heresy, the foul poison which rots the soul from within” by this point, some of the patrons had left, grumbling about extra sermons, and having already attended ministorum services for the week. Others, some twenty or so people, and moved their chairs closer, and listened intently to Volkov’s every word. At the mention of heresy, there were gasps, and still others turned up their noses, surely it was someone else harboring unclean thoughts…

Volkov continued speaking, his voice rising like a growing wave, before crashing ashore on the points he espoused. “The poison of heresy is everywhere, and if you are careless it will find its home in your soul, and begin to rot away a lifetime of faithful service. Entertain no thoughts of doubt, for doubt is the crack by which heresy seeps in. Keep the walls of faith strong and you will live. Beware, my sons and daughters, of the sins of pride, and vanity, for only the Emperor is all, and no man is above him, no man has no need for the Emperor’s blessing. To believe such is to allow the poison to fill your soul. Some amongst the crowd seemed, at least in Volkov’s eyes, to be growing nervous. ‘Good’ he thought, they may yet be convinced to confess their transgressions. “Now, what if you are among those poisoned by heresy? are you lost for all eternity? NO! The Emperor is a generous god, and you may find atonement in service, and absolution in sacrifice, by giving your blood for him you will find forgiveness. First, you must confess! Confess now! and prostrate yourself before the Emperor’s will. The Emperor’s judgement is just. Do not allow the poison to linger any longer, for no man can stand in opposition to Him and live! Rise now, and bring peace to your tortured soul. Confess!” So far, there had been no takers for a public confession. Volkov began to bring his sermon to a close. He paused, allowing the weight of his words to sink in, before continuing.

“Comrades, you know now what must be done. Go forth with fire in your hearts to do the Emperor’s work, win this war we are embroiled in and remain ever watchful for the insidious influence of heresy. Go forth and speak on what you have heard and seen this day. I am Father Adyslav Aleksandrovich Volkov of Novaskaag. I shall return again to preach amongst you.” Some amongst Volkov’s audience applauded, others merely stood up in silence and returned to their meals. Volkov stepped down from the chair, and replaced it at the table of the scarred mercenary. The mercenary looked up at Volkov and nodded his head with as much of a smile as his heavily scarred face would allow. Volkov nodded back to him, and was on his way. He did not linger to speak with anyone. Better the people be left in awe for now. Their curiosity might convince them to return in the future.

As he walked away he began to wonder to himself. Perhaps this direct approach was not the best way to fulfill Delta squad’s new mission. However, at the very least he had begun to make a name for himself. Word of mouth would spread, perhaps even to the Rogue Trader himself, with time. Volkov knew there was still much to be done before he would ever be granted an audience with the Rogue Trader, he was a powerful and influential man, and Volkov was but a mere preacher, low rank within the clergy. But the idea of further preaching filled him with satisfaction. His fellow Skaggis didn’t put much stock in long grandiose sermons, Volkov was pleased to find at least a few who did.



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