Novaskaggi Heimrocs

Slash & Burn

Slash and Burn

Endless. This thrice-damned forest was fucking endless. Dmitri was staring out of the open hatch at the foliage stretching to the horizon in every direction.

“Heimrocs! Do you fear death?” he heard Rusty bellow from behind him. Why would any of them be afraid of dying at this point?

“We’re already dead!” he shouted with the rest, and being at the front of the line, flung himself from the hatch. He closed his eyes as weightlessness seized his gut, and the blessed wind ripped away the pain and rage and stifling heat, stripping him to his pure skaggi soul. He belonged here. Not on this fucked-up planet, or jumping into this fucked-up forest to cut an airfield of out the trees; he belonged in the sky, on the wind. A skaggi’s soul belonged to the wind. Volkov could call it the Emperor if he wanted to, why not? He reached over and quickly unsnapped his re-breather, the negative pressure tearing the breath from his throat. He pulled back in with all his strength, filling his lungs with cold, dry atmosphere. The wind stretched his skin, howled past his ears through the helmet. He let the wind steel his breath again and fought for another one. He shot through a cloud, water droplets collecting on his visor and in his nostrils and ears, wicking the heat and hell from his skin.

Bursting through the veil he saw endless trees again. He scanned left and there flew a sister skaggi. “Marge,” he whispered, a smile half-forming on his wind-whipped face. His sister turned her unmasked face to look at him and smiled. She waved, angling away from him through the sky. He reached out to her, trying to follow but his gear was weighing him, pulling him inexorably down. Marge shot out her arms and legs and seemed to stop in mid-air as he continued plummeting earthward. Dmitri craned his neck to find her again, but she was gone. He felt the wind grabbing at his pack, trying to roll him into a deadly tumble, and he forced his body forward again.

Something called to him from a great distance. It repeated itself, then a third time, “Dmitri, you fucking lunatic, brake!“ it was his micro bead, Svetlana’s rare voice was practically screaming. He blinked, groping for his control arms. The trees had grown much larger in a very short time. Dmitri’s breathing quickened, trying to pull oxygen in short huffs. He eased the arms down, knowing from keen experience that if he jammed them he’d stall and impale himself on a fucking stick. What greater shame than to die upon a tree? He slowed, but he wasn’t sure it was fast enough.

The trees grabbed up at him; he kicked at a branch and pulled hard against the gravchute arms. He heard the machine whine in protest as he crashed backwards through thickets of leaves. His arm bounced painfully off a thin branch, and he saw the ground a fraction of second before he hit. Dmitri willed his legs to collapse and his shoulders into a roll as he touched down. He just lay on his side for a moment, watching twigs and leaves drift toward him in the shaft of sunlight blazing through the hole in the canopy he’d left. He heard other skaggis breaking through all around him; a huge bang announced the explosive braking thrusters on one of the sentinels.

Dmitri flexed his toes and fingers, making sure everything still worked before rising to his feet and inspecting the newly-installed barrel extension the triplex. They’d fired it several times before leaving Fort Chambers, blowing gargoyles from the towering structures of the city, but this would be the first real test. Everything seemed fine, and he popped the caps on either end of his scope, scanning the area. All clear.

Svetlana came marching out of the brush in a flurry of vines and ferns. She saw him, and Dmitri observed in real time the ability of a skaggi woman’s face to display four expressions in the span of a single second: surprise, concern, relief, and finally undiluted rage. She took three strides toward him and without breaking pace aimed a boot directly at his bad shin.

“Gah!” Dmitri gasped, white-hot stars speckling his vision as he nearly buckled over. Mitin looked as if she was going to strike him again, but instead silently turned and stalked-off toward the rally point. Dmitri remembered to breath, gasping for precious air as his mind fell back to earth to join him, “Okay, maybe I deserved that.” The heat settled back onto his shoulders, the damp, thick air, the soul-crushing reality pressing into him like an akyragh, and he turned his shoulders into Mitin’s wake.

Krash was the last to arrive at the rally point, seconds behind Oksana, “Perimeter clear,” he stated, placing the auspex back in its bag.

“Status report?” Kojomjarov asked in an even tone a few meters away at the center of the clustered platoon.

”Alpha green,” the microbead buzzed, ”Beta green,” it continued, ”Delta green” Rusty stated, ”Epsilon green.” the round completed.

“Platoon all-green,” Kojomjarov confirmed, “Alright, proceed with phase one, Alpha north corner, Beta south, Delta east, Epsilon west, questions?”

”Sir,” Rusty said slowly, ”Where is fourth sentinel?”

“What are you…” Kojomjarov started, “Ahh shit. Did anyone see Delta’s sentinel on the way down?” the silence that answered deepend the lieutenant’s scowl.

“We not get chainsaw either,” Bash looked-up from the gear sled he was unloading, “Just bunch of picts!” he swung them around for the rest to see. Rusty grabbed them, saw that they were orbital surveys, of no particular use to them at all and marked confidential to boot, and immediately handed them over to Kojomjarov. He turned his scowl on them for a moment, thinking, before crushing them into a tight roll.

“Alright. Change of plans, we’re making a triangle instead of a square. Delta, help out Alpha for now, phase two you’ll be digging a fire line between the North and South corners.”
“Yes, sir, “Rusty acknowledged, turning to Volkov, “Father, you know what to do, the rest take turns with the axes. Bash and I first,” he directed, “The rest of you start helping Alpha dig and drag,” he sighed. The skaggis got to work. It was still early morning, and most of the phase one triangle was cleared starting to burn before it got too hot. The work was hellatious, back-breaking, and slow, even with the sentinels’ chin-saws and dragging power. They loved it. After nearly a week, and longer for the rest of the platoon, at base doing patrols and watch rotations, they were glad to have something vaguely familiar.

For many, heavy labor reminded them of childhood and former lives, of the camaraderie of the mineshafts. For others, like Bash and Nastya, the simple, brute task of destroying things, especially wooden things, was its own reward. This mission was also dangerous, they all knew it. Setting a big fire was almost guaranteed to bring the greenskins running for miles around. Kojomjarov certainly hadn’t been a fan of the mission, and he’d had is own way of letting them know in the briefing.

Their job was to clear enough forest to make a reasonable landing zone for drop-ships moving armor and company-strength infantry contingents forward in what command was referring to as an “air bridge”. The plan was to catch the greenskins off-guard and establish a zone of control the generals could exploit while drawing orks from the current front lines, easing pressure on embattled forces trying to hold back to the tide. Hopefully, they’d not only be able to stop the ork advance, but start pushing them back, eventually converging with the deep-forward forces.

It was all very ambitious, and hinged on the Heimrocs finishing this landing zone before the orks arrived en masse to prevent a major landing. Officially, they had four days to clear out the forest, but Kojomjarov was under a lot of pressure to make that less than two, and the longer they were out here, the more likely they were to fall under a major assault they just weren’t equipped to deal with.

Delta had spent the day before spending their thrones in the trade zone. Dmitri had found a crate of some kind of firebombs for sale and lugged the whole thing home. Father Volkov found a flamer attachment for his chainsword, and between him, Dmitri’s rifle, and Krash’s own new weapon the operator had been a busy man in the last forty-eight hours. Rusty was glad for this; an idle Idiot was dangerous.

After a short hydration and meal break, which Kojomjarov all but forced them to take, the skaggis set to work on phase two. This involved digging-out and clearing fire lines along the final perimeter of the future airfield so they could set the forest within ablaze with the heavy flamers each squad had been (supposedly) issued without starting a continent-wide conflagration. With the center of the triangle nothing but charred ruin, still wafting smoke in thin swirls, the next phase was going to be the most dangerous. Rusty put Dmitri and Krash on the perimeter to watch for ork scouts advancing to investigate the abrupt forest fire.

A couple of hours in and they’d managed to clear about half the distance between the north and south corners. They’d traded the heaviest jobs to keep-up the pace, with the exception of Father Volkov. His was the most effective tree-felling device, and as a symbol of his office, he would not part with the chainsword.

Nastya was furiously digging at the front of the line, widening the shallow trench that would eventually pen the raging inferno they intended to create. Her small frame was surprisingly adept at moving a large volume of earth in a short span of time, testimony to her upbringing in the mines. Father Volkov was some meters behind her, singing the praises and inspiring them to greater fervor with his recitations of the scriptures and his uncanny ability to relate any given situation to one of the Emperor’s teachings. The rise and fall of his voice was perfectly accompanied by the rattle and roar of his chainsword as it ate threw tree flesh.

Bash was alternately coordinating Mira and Boz to assist moving logs, and throwing his power into the trees themselves. Several meters ahead, Rusty plotted their line and marked trees with a combat knife while cutting away shrubbery and undergrowth for the diggers with the chainsword discovered at the bottom of the sled.

Dmitri and Krash were positioned outside the line several meters, scanning the forest for any indication of attack. Dmitri’s brief freedom in the fall was now a distant memory. His keen senses were attuned to the landscape around him, listening to the little-rocs call to one another high above the tree tops, the chirrupy little creatures that skittered through the branches and loam, and the occasional shriek of a creature he had yet to identify. The swelter of this place had dampened his undershirt despite his labor-rotation’s brevity. He glanced up at Krash in the crotch of two great tree limbs eight meters above him. The lean figure was alternately tuning the fickle auspex and cocking his head at different angles as if trying to hear a distant sound.

Dmitri picked a tooth with his tongue, and moved on with his slow orbit of the work team. The weight of his stomach had lightened steadily since they’d burned-out the center triangle. Each groan and bellow from Volkov or Bash sent his eye twitching. They would be attacked very soon; of this he had no doubt. Every rustling bush drew the baleful gaze of his scope; when the forest seemed to hold its breath he froze in place and did the same, waiting for the woods to tell him it was safe to continue.

His stomach froze into a solid cloud, shooting to his throat. He became a stone, straining his ears, his eyes slowly scanning as they all but bulged from the sockets. Nothing had changed, but everything had changed. Like a rippling wave through the undergrowth, though no leaf-blade waggled nor shadow-creature shrieked, alarm had crashed all around him. The soft click of the microbead nearly exploded his heart.

“Contacts, contact, contact,” came Krash’s too-calm whisper, “Over one hundred…staggered line…in bound west at one hundred meters.” The thrashing of chains, shovel, and salvation had stopped to Dmitri’s right.

“Fall back. Fall back. Fall back, dig in at the clearing,” Rusty ordered. Dmitri’s sweat was cold; he carefully scanned the western arc of his vision as he stepped back as quietly as he could. Within eight steps he was at a full sprint, leaping over logs and crashing through bushes. The chirruping beasts trilled and the howling shriekers cut the forest canopy at the sudden appearance of this mad, two-legged beast appearing from no where and disappearing as quickly.

“Command, Delta,” Rusty called. Dmitri leapt between the twin trunks of a split tree, and the squad came into mottled view through the leaves. Mira and Bash were shouldering heavy bags and the multilaser components. Nastya was putting her shirt back on. He saw Rusty crouched near a tree, lascarbine scanning westward as he bent his chin toward the microbead, “Command, Delta, emergency.”

“Command, here,” Kojomjarov’s voice crackled.

“One hundred orks, inbound west, imminent attack, repeat, imminent attack,” Rusty’s monotone was measured, but severe, his shoulders relaxed and movements smooth. In a flash Dmitri was past the group, Mitin falling into step immediately behind him, leaping logs and dodging vines.

Less than a minute later, the sounds of heavy gunfire echoed through the trees from the north and south. Krash and Oksana briefly flashed into Dmitri’s field of vision before they disappeared again, somewhere to his right, keeping pace. The light brightened ahead, and the acrid smell of their accomplishments filled his nose. Seconds later he and Mitin burst into the clearing at a full sprint, the charred terrain quickly blackening their legs to the knees. The hunter ran directly toward the nearest pile of logs and slid into position behind them.

“In position, covering,” he said quietly into the bead. A moment later, Krash and Oksana up a tree on the perimeter of the clearing. As they neared the top, Bash, Mira, Rusty, and Boz charged from the tree line into the clearing. After a moment of searching, Rusty spotted Dmitri’s position and waved the squad there. A few seconds after, Nastya and Korotich barreled from the woods.

“Idiot, where are you?” Rusty growled. Svetlana pointed at the tree-perched pair.

“Tree, overwatch,” Oksana answered.

“Get down here, Idiot,” Rusty demanded, his scars becoming vivid white as his face flushed in anger.

“No,” Krash answered this time, “better position.”

“No arguing, get over here!” Rusty demanded.

“Why?” Krash’s tone was bizarrely inquisitive.

“Because! Skaggis fight together!” Rusty looked as if he could gnash a tree apart with his teeth.

“We coming,” Oksana resigned. Dmitri saw them both leap from the tree top, slowing their fall with gravchutes, and hit the ground running toward the rest of Delta. Dmitri’s eyes were focused on the tree line, but he heard them both digging their way inside the logs and tree limbs of the woodpile. Mitin shook her head next to Dmitri, and he returned the gesture in the unspoken language they’d developed over the past weeks. It was no where near as close a bond as he’d had with Marge, but it was strengthening.

Only He knew why the Emperor would choose to put such a thought in his head at a time like this, but for the first time Dmitri considered what Mitin’s bond had been to her former squad partner. When she was in Gamma, Mitin and her squad mate had been much more than that. They’d been trying for a child before the landing. Tolinov had died with the rest of Gamma during the greenskin assault on Gamma 29. She had not said one word about it since joining Delta, not one word or expression of anguish. The puzzle box. Svetlana had bought a puzzle box in the trade zone when the others had bought ammunition or weapons.

Dmitri’s time for pondering this had run out. Movement in the trees forced his full attention to surviving the next ten minutes, “Gretchin,” he whispered. Carefully, he shifted the scope along the line of movement. Three, five, fifteen of the child-like monsters were plucking their way to the edge of the trees. Behind them, much bigger xenos moved in the green shadows. He brought his cross hairs over the center mass, raised them to the ugly maw, “distance, refractivity,” he asked, Mitin gave the answers from her magnocular readings. Dmitri adjusted the focusing crystal with a deft click of the knob. He eased the trigger back, and the ork ripped its head up in a roar of outraged pain.

“Open fire!” Rusty barked, rising over the edge of the branches himself and squeezing off a burst at the enemy line. The rest of the squad followed his lead and fired at whatever they could see. Bash’s multilaser chattered madly, nigh-vaporizing half of the grots in front. The greenskins returned fire from the trees as they advanced, but with the skaggis’ strong cover not much got through. The grots were down in seconds, their shrill screams filling the clearing. Behind them orks were now charging out of the woods and into the short span of burnt ground between the stick-pile and the trees.

Krash pulled himself halfway out of the brush pile and threw one grenade, then another, blasting orks off their feet. Still they kept on, scrambling upright and bellowing. Three of them made the brush pile, two flanking left and one right. Volkov howled with laughter as he met the first, nearly leaping over Rusty, Boz, and Mira to stand next to Bash on the still-chattering multilaser that burned away an ork with every burst.

Krash tracked the orks in the trees through his visor. One, three, pinning good option, should have set traps, no time, no grenades, too much too much, too close! The third ork appeared around the corner of the stick pile. Lascarbine ineffective, need larger blast, possible shotgun? Need more power, now four dot eight meters…he pulled the grenade from his webbing and smoothly removed the pin, wind direction irrelevant, “Grenade!” low arc, damn branch!

Rusty found himself exposed to the third ork, and he stood to face him, swinging the lascarbine around and firing a burst. That’s when Idiot’s shout accompanied a grenade bouncing out of the sticks. It landed between the orks and Krash’s hiding spot. Rusty saw Idiot tuck his face into the mud, but his partner wasn’t as quick.

The shockwave and shrapnel cloud ripped into the sticks and stunned Tamarova. Fortunately it cut the ork’s screaming short as it threw its arm and shoulder instinctively into the blast. Rusty flexed his off hand, wondering if he had time to throw a grenade of his own. Too risky, Idiot was stupid enough to throw explosives around right next to his own squad, Rusty was not. The enraged and bleeding greenskin decided on the medic and charged. Rusty raised his roar to match the ork’s and side-stepped the heavy blow.

Behind him, Volkov was spraying ork blood through the air and chanting scripture, and even though the priest’s words were unintelligible over the screams of chainsaws, orks, and men his presence encouraged the squad. As long as Volkov still stood, they had a hope of surviving this close-quarters fight. Rusty was just trying to stay out of the way of the damn xeno’s limb-cleaving swings. After an eternal half-minute of desperate weaving and swinging, with stray las shots cutting the air around him and the ork, Father Volkov appeared at his side.

Oksana’s vision refocused but her ears still rang inside the helmet. She shook her head to clear it, firing her weapon in the general direction of the orks on pure instinct. Krash had yelled grenade, she snapped her eyes to him beside her. He looked alright, just flesh wounds. She tapped his shoulder, he looked at her and, though his tinted visor prevented her from seeing his eyes, she knew from the angle of his head he was fine. Her attention went back to Volkov and Rusty fighting the ork.

“…And the Lord Emperor commanded the xeno, ‘Meet now mortality! For your stench shall blight my galaxy no more!’ ” the priest’s chainsaw came crunching down into the ork’s shoulder. Another blast of dust accompanied shot out of the bushes as Krash leveled his new weapon. The ork ignored it. Another burst from Rusty and a slash from Volkov laid it low.

“Foreman!” Dmitri cried from his position, “Big one!” Fuck. He fired, but the giant greenskin didn’t slow his dash. Fuck. Fuck. There was no cover here; this fucking thing was going to kill them all. Dmitri realized he was sprinting, sprinting for all he was worth away from the orks, across the clearing. Something exploded, he heard a woman scream. He didn’t look back, couldn’t look back. Svetlana was right behind him, he could here her breathing. He tripped and jammed an elbow into a half-burnt branch. With a grunt he leapt forward back into the sprint.

Rusty swung around at Dmitri’s cry, and he saw the towering greenskin plowing through the trees straight toward him. He pursed the flesh around his ocular implants in what used to be a squint and sighed. There were more orks behind the bastard. They had to deal with him fast. His left hand shot to his breast pocket, his right into the satchel at his side. He hefted the aged flask full of promethium, and brought his hand-igniter from the pocket. Rusty’s lenses focused on the charging ork leader as flames leapt from lighter to fuel-soaked rag. “Fucking ork!” he shouted, throwing the firebomb with all of this strength toward the xeno.

Shit. The flask hit the ork in the flesh of his leg, refusing to shatter, and was flung by a combination of inertia and wild ork flailing back toward Rusty. No, not directly back. Shit.

Suppress next line, pull, pull, no squeeze! Always squeeze, ohh! Foreman ork, Dmitri not shooting? Why, oh running, good idea, no grenades left time to…


What? Fire! Krash tucked his face down again. Good thing for respir-

“Fuuuuuaghh!” Sana’s curse became a scream to his left as flames drank the oxygen from their hiding spot. Oh no! oh nononononono, fire, out pat extinguish roll roll! Need chymical need medic, need-

“Rusty!” Krash screeched, no panic, no time for panic, get out, fire all around now ork screams, no get out get out get out! He hooked his thin arms through her armpits. She not waking up, she not screaming, smoke inhalation burning lungs no no no pull pull! Med-evac, call for, no vox. Fucking munitorum! No vox, no walker, no nothing, pull pull. Branches get off branches, hate forest! Hate woods! Flying ork? Very big very big, Rusty!

The huge ork leader had cleared the formidable brush pile in a single bounding leap and landed with a triumphant roar right next to the brush pile, less than a couple of meters away from where Krash was desperately dragging Oksana from the fire. Rusty’s breath caught as his throat valve malfunctioned. Half the squad was no longer next to him. Shit, he stared angrily into the xeno’s malicious, smiling eyes, “Boz!” he shouted, not breaking eye contact, “Run!” His apprentice medic scrambled a few steps away and paused. Rusty was staring almost straight up at the ork as it raised a huge shard of steel, bellowing with the sound of a jet turbine.
“Boss!” Boz cried.

“GO!” Rusty answered, and the force of his words sent Boz sprinting for the trees. He had never seen a more courageous act in his entire life. From that moment on, Rostilav Norin would be nothing short of a hero in the eyes of Bosinov. He was certain this was the last sight of his foreman, standing alone before a monster four times his size so that his brothers and sisters might escape.

Go go go, run Sana no die, can’t die, not dead, not dead, Rusty save her, Rusty bring her back, Sana not die! Run, dodge, jump, weave, run, never straight, cover, use sticks run run run faster, hurts, burning, no! Run! Go! Krash could feel her blood soaking through his blouse.

This is it. Rusty dodged the ork’s blow and felt the wind from the passing of the blade, if the sharpened tank-hatch of a weapon could be called such. The medics hand retrieved another fire bottle from his bag. This is my honorable death. He lit the rag and hopped back a step, hurling the bomb at the towering creature. Finally, it has come. He narrowly leapt out of range as the flames bloomed from the shattering glass, rolling up the ork and along the ground. Even if he wanted to run, the ork would catch him. He was surprised how calm this left him. The last time, when his vision went black and his lungs cooked inside his chest, he was afraid. He was angry, in the end, angry that his death should mean nothing after all he had unjustly survived. That he would be another line on the casualty list of a failed mission no one would remember. A forgotten man, like so many billions of others. The ork bellowed rage as flames gripped its flesh, and Rusty side-stepped another tree-felling blow.

This time was different. This time, he would be dead instantly when the monster finally struck him squarely. Rusty took another couple of steps back, his arm lifting one of the tube charges they’d found in the trade zone from his webbing. Delta had fled, his skaggis would live, here, and that is what mattered. They would remember. Idiot would remember, he never forgot anything, as long as this ork died right now.

Dmitri realized he was in the trees again. He felt the burning of his legs, his mind returned to his brain and he turned around to look. Volkov was in the field, running his way. Bash and Mira were struggling to lug their weapon. Mitin was right behind him, Krash was, miraculously, staggering around stick piles with Oksana on his shoulders. He saw the huge ork, the killing ork, and…Rusty? Fuck…fuck, he was alone, and it was on fire. For the briefest ice-bellied moment he thought it was a demon before he recognized what must have happened. Rusty was making a last stand. The hunter dropped to a firing position.

Blink! Blink! Cannot run straight if can’t see, stop sweating so much, stop tears, push push, run, go go need cover, get to trees, put flat, use medikit, will need burn patch, will need pain killer, will need irrigant, what’s that? Oh no no no not now Dmitri, don’t shoot me!

The medic’s hand pulled the arming tape from the charge, and tossed it gently to the charred earth between him and the ork. The xeno bellowed, half-blind from the fire, sending hot wind washing over Rusty. Rusty held his arms out to both sides, regimental hand-igniter still in his hand, and he roared back into the ork’s face. The explosion threw ash and dirt into the air, forcing the air from his chest and seeming to stop time. Rusty staggered back, his ears rang in silence.

What?! The dust fell back to earth in a rapidly accelerating universe. The ork was still on fire, splayed across the top of the brush pile, thrashing in the broken, half-burnt tree limbs and logs. “Fucking ork!” the medic howled, still very much alive, “Fuck!” Rusty saw more greenskins now charging from the trees.

The foreman turned, running after his squad. He keyed his microbead, “Delta regroup! We not done yet!” Dmitri couldn’t believe his eyes as Rusty appeared out of a cloud of dust and ash. The burning pyre of thrashing ork appeared, Dmitri prepared to fire at it again, but the need was past. He watched as Rusty ran after and caught-up to Krash, still stumbling over stubbled ground, covered in ashy dirt with Oksana’s limp body over his shoulder.

Bash and Mira made the trees. Without speaking a word they selected a position and set the multilaser. Bullets started flying through the forest around all of them. Krash and Rusty, both now carrying Oksana, made for the cover Bash and Mira had set behind.

“Boz!” Rusty barked, his assistant was already running towards them. They carefully set Tamarova down and Rusty’s diagnostor appeared. The wheedling, blinking device passed over her chest and head, Rusty pressed the sensor against her temple as Boz carefully removed her helmet. Symbols and patterns materialized on the diagnostor screen and it beeped and hooted quietly. Krash fumbled with his medikit, finally freeing a burn patch and disinfectant gel. He glanced at the diagnostor screen, not fully understanding any of the displays, but easily recognizing that red symbols and hooting alarms were not good.

“She live,” Krash stated more than asked. Bosinov’s eyebrows arched as he shot a glance at Krash over the patient, then to Rusty’s impassive lenses. “She. Live.” Krash emphasized.

“She’s alive,” Rusty nodded after a moment, “She’ll live.” Krash was quiet, Rusty wasn’t looking at him, focusing on stabilizing his patient, but Boz noticed the operator nod once, then stand smoothly, a far cry from his frantic and desperate jerking of a few seconds ago.

“Incoming,” Bash yelled over the microbead, coinciding with the heavy ticka-ticka of his multilaser. The snap of the triplex somewhere behind Boz brought his eyes to the cleared ground from which they’d run, and far across it, a little puff of flame flashed and disappeared in the trees. Greenskins were sprinting pell-mell across the scorched earth toward them, Bash’s chattering fire flashing around them. One spun into the ground.

“Brothers and Sisters! The Emperor has hath saved us from certain doom! We shall yet win this day in His Glorious name!” Volkov shouted, suddenly amidst them again, chainsword held high despite ork fire still slashing the leaves and pocking tree trunks all around them. The priest stepped forward, raising an accusing finger and jabbing it at the lead ork, “Thy filth shall be purged!” As if it understood his challenge, the greenskin bellowed a war cry and redirected his path to collide with the human warrior.

Rusty, satisfied Oksana wouldn’t expire in the next few minutes (at least the narcs hadn’t burnt her system yet), stood to face the next wave of this misadventure. He raised his lascarbine and aimed for the lead ork. A warning bleat answered his squeezing of the trigger. Shit. The last explosion must have shorted the power pack. He let the lascarbine fall to his side on the shoulder strap and drew his laspistol.

Krash stepped calmly into the shadow of a tree, popping open the action of his shotgun, the spent shell from earlier falling to the ground. He pulled another and slid it into the barrel before clicking it closed. Enemy inbound, must hit center mass for most effective damage, and closer the range the better. Sana not die. Orks die. All orks die. He glanced around the tree, few more meters. They will not kill Sana, they will not kill skaggis. He caught Boz’s gaze as he returned to cover, and Krash nodded at him, “They pay.”

Boz didn’t have time to react to such an un-Krash-like statement, as the xenos were upon them. Volkov charged the lead ork at the last moment, throwing his inertia into the chainsword with a shout. Rusty found himself staring down the next in-line, and he leveled the laspistol at its chest.

“Shit!” Rusty swore as a familiar bleat chirped from the laspistol when he pulled the trigger. He all but launched the pistol into the woods as Volkov’s chainsaw buzzed angrily. Rusty realized he was still wearing the spare chainsword at his side. He’d never used one in combat before, but how hard could it be? Thumb switch on, then swing it at a soft spot. It was a world better than a combat knife against these bastards. He pulled it from the hook of his belt and revved the motor to action.

Throom! The leaves exploded between Krash and the second ork. The greenskin roared and jerked as the pellets hit home, but glared into Rusty’s face. With an awkward slash of his own, the medic avoided the ork’s blow. Trying to keep its attention on him and away from Boz, Rusty shouted in reply to its bellowing.

“Shut!” he swung and, to his surprise, hit home with the chainsword, “Up!” he continued the motion, digging the weapon into green muscle, spraying blood and meat everywhere. The ork hacked into Rusty’s leg, but not enough to cause serious damage. It still hurt fiercely, and Rusty brought the chainsword down again on the ork, this time ripping a line across its arm that soon opened to a gash and then a gap as the limb dropped spasming to the xeno’s side. Blood poured from the wound, splashing the leaves and ferns as the ork finally stopped screaming and fell to the ground.

“Faith has delivered us!” Volkov shouted triumphantly over the body of his own defeated foe, “The Emperor’s light shall never cast his devoted in shadow!” Rusty looked around, chest heaving from the exertion of the last minutes. Dmitri’s lasgun snapped and the hunter screamed maniacally through the trickle of bullets still pelting the trees around them. Boz was crouched over Oksana, lascarbine ready, Korotich was next to him. Volkov was standing on the ork he’d just felled, Dmitri was back in the trees acquiring a new target. Bash and Mira were reloading the multilaser. Where the fuck was, ”Idiot!”

Krash didn’t look back, stalking across the clearing in the shadow of the closest brush pile. He had the action of the shotgun open, “They pay,” he answered over the bead before sliding a fresh pair of shells into the barrels.

“Get back here!” Rusty ordered as Dmitri silenced the last of the ork gunfire.

“I will not die in this forest!” Dmitri shouted defiantly at the clearing as he stood, then he turned his face skyward, “Ahhhhhhhh!” Rusty ignored the sound of a helmet striking a tree trunk for now, keeping his gaze on Idiot.

“I make sure,” Krash answered, not breaking his stride.

“Yes!” Volkov smiled, pointing at Dmitri, one boot still firmly planted on the dead ork, “Let the Emperor’s hate flow through you! Let your limbs be a conduit for his rage! The fire of Mankind burns in your heart, Brother! Let it purge your soul! All praise to the All-Father!”

“In the Emperor’s name!” Boz, Mira, and Bash shouted triumphantly with Volkov. Bash and Mira started off after Krash, as did Volkov and Korotich. Rusty waved them on before returning to Oksana and addressing her wounds more thoroughly: severe burns to the left side of her head, the helmet had protected most her face. Her shoulder and back, though, were another story. The burns weren’t the worst of it, shrapnel had embedded itself deep. She was going to need surgery, and she probably had a severe concussion on top of it. He directed Boz to help him irrigate the wounds and remove the biggest pieces of debris, then he smoothed antiseptic gel over everything and stuck burn patches and bandages across what he could. Boz’s medikit was near spent on her wounds alone, and there were still the others to treat.

“No contacts,” Krash reported over the vox. The snap of a lascarbine announced Volkov making sure the huge ork leader was well and truly dead.

“Command, Delta. Center is clear, repeat, the triangle is clear,” Rusty said loudly into the mircobead.

“Message received,” the bead crackled back. The distant sound of weapons slowly died away as the other squads’ fights ended.

“Alright,” Kojomjarov stood, the platoon had regrouped on the clearing and just finished a round of status reports. The sentinels were down, they’d lost a few skaggis, a few more were out of the fight, like Oksana, and everyone was low on ammo and grenades. Though none would admit it, they were exhausted. Kojomjarov continued, looking over his bloody, dirty men, “Thirty minutes recovery, get your wounds checked out, all of you, whether you think it’s bad or not. Eat. Hydrate. Then we get back to work. The wounded need transport ASAP, and we’re not getting out of here until the landing zone is done.

“Krash,” he snapped his fingers to get the operator’s attention. Mikhail was sitting protectively next to Oksana’s supine form wrapped in bandages, “Look at the sentinels, see what you can do. Even if we get one working, it will speed things up. You did well, skaggis, we won, we crushed. They won’t be back for a while, but they will be back, so stay sharp,” he looked around again, then raised his booming voice, “Seveeeenth!”

“Heimrocs!” they shouted as one, then split to their tasks. Krash followed Kojomjarov back to the first blasted sentinel in a daze that didn’t lift until he was within arms reach of the machine. Something deep and instinctive took over, and as his hands ran along the struts and warped metal his eyes focused and his movements returned to the smooth, rapid mannerisms the skaggis were accustomed to seeing from him. Less than a minute later, Krash surfaced from his depths and spoke directly to the lieutenant.

“Will take weeks to fix dis one, Lieutenant. Much broken,” he frowned, “maybe better use for parts; must see others,” he finished, his posture relaxed, his thoughts quite obviously moving on. Kojomjarov walked with him to Beta squad’s battlefield, which he had yet to see himself, and this sentinel was in even worse condition. Kojomjarov felt a pang in his heart as Krash respectfully aided him in removing the burnt pilot from the cockpit.

Charlie’s sentinel brought a glimmer of hope, “Hmmm,” Krash hummed with interest, “Dis one not so bad, power transfer case seems blown-up. I fix two days maximum, use parts from Beta’s, have to patch holes, will need boomers for help moving dze parts,” he reported, standing awkwardly in the shrapnel-peppered cockpit of the tipped walker.

“Good news,” Kojomjarov answered after a couple of moments, his eyes voicing disagreement. The lieutenant returned to the command post in the center clearing to further organize the work teams with the expectation they’d have heavy-lift capability the day after tomorrow.

The next twenty-four hours were grueling even for the hardened minds and bodies of Novaskag. The insects, swelter, the heat of flames, the exhaustion from fierce battle, and the knowledge that more orks were coming in larger numbers all increased the strain. The labor would have been a relief if they could have put all of their energy and attention to it, but with battle so obviously possible before the next tree was felled, they couldn’t.
Dmitri breathed heavily every time an explosion echoed through the woods. To compensate for the loss of the sentinels’ strength, the clearing teams had resorted to explosives and heavy weapons fire to fell the largest trees. As if this weren’t beacon enough for a greenskin, Krash’s unending rattle and clang tolled constantly through the trees, all day, all night, and through the next day. At one point, whether due to sleep deprivation or injury they couldn’t decide, Zhurov and Mitin heard a long string of half-shrieked curses from the direction of Krash’s worksite coupled with a loud, repetitive banging.

“You think he dead?” Dmitri asked. Mitin replied with a barely-perceptible shake of her head.

“Almost fixed,” she said, returning her eyes to the magnoculars.

“Ha, probably right,” Dmitri agreed.

On the morning after the battle, Volkov gathered them all in the center triangle, around a great pyre they’d built of felled trees. Their fallen brothers and sisters were all laid upon the pile, arms crossed in eternal salute. He’d already anointed each of them in the holiest oil of their homeland, promethium. The pyre had been wetted with fuel.

“Heimrocs! Let us pray,” Volkov boomed, and they knelt, heads bowed. He continued, “The Emperor protects us, and we repay Him with our service, and our lives.”

“In the Emperor’s name,” They chanted.

“Our duty begins before birth, our duty continues beyond death. For when our mortal coils are laid low by the enemies of man, our immortal souls live on. The Emperor guides those fallen in service to Him, to His keep, to Holy Terra. Drawn by the Astronomicon through the void of space, the souls of the brave or rewarded for their sacrifice!”

“In the Emperor’s name,” they chanted.

“A skaggi is born into struggle, into adversity. A skaggi is raised knowing he will fall in battle, and no other death will do. Such should be the blessing of every man, woman, and child in the Imperium! For those who embrace a good death will not fear it!”

“In the Emperor’s name,” they chanted.

“This mission will push back the vile xeno, and we were blessed with the duty of its execution,” Volkov produced a Victory Dance from his pocket, along with his hand-igniter. The regimental standard glinting in the morning light. He thumbed the switch and a blue jet ignited the cigar, drawing from it and passing it to the skaggi at the end of their line, “Skaggis, Heimrocs were those entrusted to lead the way, as we are so often entrusted to do,” the skaggis drew from the cigar once, passing it to the next in line.
“You,” Volkov addressed the fallen, “are the finest soldiers in all the Imperium, and let no man speak other!”

“In the Emperor’s name!” the skaggis shouted.

“We free you from the anchors of flesh, brothers and sisters; we set you soaring on the Blessed Wind,” Lt. Kojomjarov was the last recipient of the nearly exhausted tundra-lichen cigar. He drew from it deeply, then passed it to Volkov before exhaling. Volkov took a final draw, holding the still burning cigar high for all of them to see, “Ride it to your ultimate place in the Emperor’s Keep!”

“In the Emperor’s name!” they shouted. Volkov tossed the burning stub into the pyre, which bloomed into bright flame. The wood and the dead crackled and snapped in the heat. Embers swirled like so many stars up above the tree line into the wind. The skaggis remained silent for several minutes, letting the fire’s song fill their hearts. Then it was time to get back to work, lest the sacrifice of their family be in vain.

Halfway through the second night, a great clattering rumble awoke most of the platoon with a start. Only the elated whooping of Krasheninnikov told them it wasn’t orks. A great cheer rose up from the woods as they understood that mechanized limbs were again at their disposal. Krash had worked for nearly two days without rest, and he collapsed into sleep, grease stained and smelling of oil and sweat, lying beside Oksana’s litter in Rusty’s make-shift infirmary. By that afternoon, the landing zone was smoldering, but flat enough for troop transports and armor carriers. Within two hours, the wounded were loaded onto the valkyries bringing reinforcements. The first landers arrived that night, off-loading scintillans and rogue trader companies, and taking the rest of the platoon back to Fort Chambers.

Contributed by Beans


Great wooden doors creaked on rusted hinges as Volkov pulled them open, and entered the vastness of the cathedral. He was immediately greeted with the pungent scent of incense. As the dimly lit antechamber gave way to the open nave he could see the sun reflecting off wisps of smoke rising toward the vaulted ceiling, at least a hundred feet up. A cyber cherub circled overhead, swinging a thurible and chanting a litany Volkov did not immediately recognize. His footsteps echoed throughout the grand chamber, just barely drowned out by the rising tones of hymnal-servitors reciting the chant of manifest glory. Along the walls stood statues of various Imperial saints with rows of candles in front of each of them. Volkov found Deacon Turr, tending one of the shrines.

“Brother, I come before you in desolation, bearing the burden of guilt and of transgression” Volkov announced, kneeling down before the Deacon.

“Whatever do you mean?” Turr replied, obviously concerned.

The Deacon stroked his lengthy grey beard, and stared long and hard at Volkov, like him, Deacon Turr wore his hair short, nearly bald, and also like Volkov, his face bore the marring of many years of conflict. Volkov was envious of the Deacon’s beard, wishing Imperial regulation allowed him to grow one while serving as a drop trooper. Under different circumstances he would have complimented the Deacon. Not this time.

“I have failed in my duty to the Emperor, I wish to perform the rite of self-affliction” Volkov replied

Deacon Turr’s face grew instantly more stern. “Very well then” he began in a raspy tone. “First you must confess to me your sin.” The Deacon placed his hands on Volkov’s head, as he remained kneeling before him. “speak my son…” he said.

Volkov began his confession. “I have faltered in battle, I allowed fear to take me while facing a great Ork leader. I abandoned my brothers and sisters and fled battle. Once I realized the folly of my choice, I steeled myself and returned, fighting hard for my comrades”

“Good my son, The Emperor judges all deeds, and though he is judge, he is also just. In self sacrifice, we may find forgiveness. Rise, penitent, and follow me.” The Deacon recited the formula Volkov had also learned when becoming a preacher.

Deacon Turr led Volkov along the nave of the cathedral, Volkov kept his head bowed in sorrowful reverence, he knew himself unfit to look upon the Emperor’s great works in this state. Whether by design or only Volkov’s imagining, the tone of the hymnal servitors seemed to change, no longer a rising hymn of praise, but now a low solemn drone reverberated throughout the cathedral. The Deacon turned left to one of the cathedral’s semitransepts; halls which broke off from the main nave. Volkov was lead to an alcove in which hung an Icon of The God Emperor in glory. Deacon Turr lit the candles which stood before it, and handed Volkov a wicked looking scourge.

The Deacon continued to speak “Take this instrument of justice, and kneel before The Emperor, your undying Lord. Confess before him your transgression, and pray he may find your sacrifice worthy”

Volkov took the scourge, unbuttoned the top portion of his vestments, exposing his chest and back. and knelt down before the Icon.

“Seven lashes, meditate upon your duty to Him and the transience of the flesh” the Deacon instructed.

With a crack of the whip, Volkov began to flagellate himself. The scourge’s many tiny heads bit into his flesh and stung. “The flesh is weak and mortal” he recited. After striking himself, he fell prostrate before the icon and continued “There is only the Emperor”.

He returned to a kneeling position, and struck himself again, over the opposite shoulder, as before, waves of agony washed over his back and the scourge’s hooked heads tore at his flesh. “Punish the body, for it rebels against the spirit ” he recited, and repeated the ritual, falling prostrate “There is only the Emperor”.
Again, he returned to kneeling, and struck himself with the scourge. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, and he could now begin to feel the trickle of blood down his back. Volkov gritted his teeth and continued, refusing to cry out in pain. “Naught but duty brings salvation”. With each repetition the pain grew, and with it, his intensity. “There is only the Emperor” again the ritual was repeated, and again Volkov struck himself. The barbs stung, and tugged at inflamed flesh. Short of breath, Volkov still continued.

“Pain is temporary, deeds are eternal” He struck himself harder and harder after every invocation, before reaching the end of the litany. “Accept this sacrifice immortal Emperor, and grant me absolution, for by your blood have you given mankind dominion over the stars”

Volkov fell prostrate one last time, utterly exhausted. He breathed heavily, and blood ran freely from the wounds on his back. Forgiveness was his, as was a resolve to be the instrument of the Emperor that he had been born to be.



Contributed by Zarimas


The cathedral was dark and devoid of activity as Foreman Rostilav Norin entered its hallowed halls. The ceiling cast in darkness and the shadows of the statues honoring the Astartes that saved this world in ages past seemed to come to life from the light of the candles that dimly light the walls, the atmosphere did little to ease the medic sergeant’s nerves. Wandering the halls in a mixture of awe and terror he heard the fervent chanting of the subject of his search.

Father Adislov Volkov knelt before a shrine to the god Emperor, thanking him for protecting his flock during the day’s battle as Rusty approached him. “Rusty my brother, you have come to pray to the Emperor with me!” The priest exclaimed in a mixture of pride and surprise. “This good! You have gone long without seeking his blessing.”

“No Father, I have come to confess.” the medic stated plainly in his mono-toned speech. “Damned machine makes me sound like a servitor” he thought to himself as the priest’s disposition turned from excitement to concern.

“What troubles the mind of my brother?” Volkov asked after a tense moment.

“I failed the men and women under my command today, just as I failed my brothers and sisters on Cythera.”

“Nonsense! We were victorious over the xeno scum! The mission was a gloriously fought success!” the father replied. Indeed the orks had been fought back, the staging area cut and cleared. But more than that had occurred on the field of battle that day that troubled the Foreman.

“I lead us into that field, when those orks came down upon us I realized I had erred, I did not properly prepare for their onslaught and we nearly paid with our lives because of it, Tamarova certainly did.”

“None could have predicted that the xeno fool would kick that fire bomb at Oksana, and in doing so you distracted him enough to let the rest of us fall back, then you light him with the Emperor’s holy flame, blew him off his feet and carried her back to us! We all live to continue our service because of that!” rebutted Volkov. “Besides all of that you stabilized her condition, you said she will live to fight along side us again.”

“She in bad shape father, very bad. I did what I could and she was still alive when we left her at hospital but I am not certain she will fully recover.” Rusty admitted. Emperor knows I certainly didn’t.

Even though Tundraman Tamarova was a drug addled mess she was still family, as every Skaggi was, even her and that technomancy-obsessed idiot Krasheninnikov, and as such Rusty felt guilt over having almost killed her.

“You do more than any one else could have.” The priest responded, then slowly asked. “Tell me Rusty, what truly troubles you’re thoughts? We all know you didn’t intend to harm Tamarova so why feel the need to confess?” Father Volkov knew his squadmates well, and even though Rostilav did injure his squadmate, his family, it wasn’t like the man to come to him to confess, after all Rusty often harmed his family to save them, just one of the reasons the life of a combat medic is a cruel one.

The pair sat silent for some time, Father Volkov returned to his prayer while Rusty was deep in thought.

“Maybe it not something that happen today that I want to confess.” The medic said, breaking the uneasy silence. “Maybe it happen on Cythera.”

The priest knew Rusty had lost his arm on Cythera, and the events that followed, eventually leading him down the path of insubordination, demotions, and nearly a spot in the brig but he didn’t know what had caused him to tread down that path and Volkov knew it was why he was the embittered soul he was today.

“Than tell me brother, what happened on Cythera?” the priest asked, finally about to get his answer to so many questions.

“ I was part of 1st platoon then.” the medic began reluctantly in his metallic voice, devoid of emotion. “We were deploying ahead of the Caidian 15th armored regiment to clear the way to an Eldar stronghold for them……..

“Hiemrocs prepair to drop!” Foreman Leorivikov’s voice was barely audible over the roar of the lead Valkarie’s engines and the brakka brakka brakka of outgoing heavy bolter fire. As the members of Hiemroc 1st platoon Charlie squad readied themselves and eagerly awaited to drop from the heavens Leorivikov recapped their assignment. “Alright Charlie, listen up. Alpha and Beta squads are are securing the highway and clearing any boomer nests they find, Charlie and Delta squads are to scout out roads that lead to the interior of this island and discourage any Eldar who might try to set up ambush, that mean get ready for a hike boys and girls, we drop in 20!” She looked to each member of Charlie squad as they acknowledged their orders, at the green light she bellowed over the rushing winds “Skaggis do we fear death?” “We’re already dead!” they responded as one, leaping from the safety of their steel Hiemroc into the battle below.

The jump went smooth and for now the drop troopers were unassailed, after regrouping and a quick gear check they moved to their objective, a 75 kilometer “road” barely large enough for a single Russ to drive down, worse yet it was settled at the bottom of a crag, likely an old creek bed.

“Lets get to work Skaggis, Nikolav you on point, Twitch you on rear guard, give 50 meters and check quarters, lets move out!” Foreman Alexandria Leorivikov issued her orders with a practiced efficiency and her squad followed them without question. Cool and level headed Leorivikov had earned charlie squad’s respect and admiration, fearless and unflinching in battle the Eldar only strengthened her already impressive resolve. They filed out, focused on their task ask the mid-day sun beamed down on them as they had done so many times before.

The troupe was silent for most of the day, limiting communication to micro-bead clicks and skagsign, common practice while in the field, though not all took to the long silence well, as dusk began to settle in the silence was broken by Rostilav’s assistant. “So Foreman, what we look for out here? I thought we would be fighting not marching.” Maksmilian Mihaylov complained.

“Mak, you ever happy? We fight you whine, we march you whine, we on base detail you whine just like Mordian,” Rudolf Utkin snapped back before Leorivikov could answer. Utkin was a much larger Skaggi, as most boomers tended to be. He and his loader Lineman Anya Krupin had served the squad well but were hot headed and the day’s long march heaving their lascannon hadn’t tempered their moods.

“Enough,” Rostilav stepped in before this ended in a fight, “The last we need is brawl on road to attract the Eldar to us.” The less patching up he had to do the better, these Eldar were brutally efficient marksman and often ambushed unaware squads, Rostilav had seen the carnage far too many times and with them alone it wouldn’t end well.

“Well said Norin, Mak if you so bored why don’t you find us camp,” Leorvikov ended the exchange. The medical assistant glared for a moment between Utkin and Rostilav before heading out.

“What his problem?” Lineman Kaminski asked Rostilav after he was out of ear shot.

“He think he should have been with me when I dropped with the Commissar, but he not ready yet, much to learn, including keeping his mouth shut before Ruddy knock him out.” His new assistant didn’t command the same respect as Medic Alkeav did but it was Rostilav’s duty to the platoon to train in new medics and she had learned quick, a little sloppy with stitches in a fire fight but she moved quick and kept her calm so Rostilav had suggested her move to Gamma Squad after Paternack got picked off by a sniper.

“He might have to learn hard way” the boomer said, cracking his knuckles.

“If I let you he might not remember.” Rostilav joked, Mak was a small man, even for a Skaggi, almost like one of those rattlings they had all seen on the mess lines back at base. The squad laughed for a moment but a click over the micro-bead cut them off.

“Foreman I see something ahead, can’t make out, have to get closer”

“Voices down, Nikolav check it out, but be careful. Ruddy I want you on that ridge to the left, Kaminski, Mihaylov go with him, Rostilav, Sokolov with me on the right, set up a cross fire, Twitch, Petrov, Mak, get back here.” The squad moved into position, a few moments later Mak, followed by Tiwtch and Petrov moved up from behind into position. Some time passed before Nikolav checked back in.

After what seemed like hours a single click came over the micro-bead, indicating Nikolav had discovered what it was.

“What you got Niko?” the Foreman responded in a low whisper.

“Look like bomb, placed under some bolders, look like they set them up to knock mountains down on tank’s heads and block road, can’t find any trace of other activity. Should I attempt disarm?” Nikolav was a talented scout and had made a reputation for himself as an explosive expert, some one had said once that he had to deal with Skraff armed with mining charges back home, maybe that where he got so good with finding and disarming bombs.

“Go ahead, but if you don’t think you can do it leave it, I don’t want the road blocked before we can even report in.” The Foreman sounded leery and Rostilav knew why, until now they hadn’t seen any Eldar activity, or even any evidence that they were here but this proved that they were not only there but had anticipated large scale movement through this pass and if that were the case they might already be being watched, even if they weren’t they could no longer travel on the road in safety.

After a few tense minutes Nikolav came back over the bead.
“Bomb disabled, broke the trip line just in case, shouldn’t be problem.” the squad let out a sigh of relief.

“Good job, regroup. Mak you find us camp?” Leorivikov turned back to the assistant.

“Ya, nice little crag over hill to south, good defensive position, I lead wa.” the sound of an Eldar sniper cut him off and Nikolav’s scream could be heard around the corner. Twitch respond to the sniper before it could disappear, probably the best shot of the squad he hit the foul Eldar in the helmet, it yelped in surprise and fell over the side of the cliff it was standing on top of, it screamed for a split second before hitting the rocks below with a gruesome crunch.

“MEDIIIIC!! GAH!” Nikolav called out over the bead.

“Mak lets go! Move!” Rostilav was already on the road in a full sprint towards his wounded comrade. Turning the corner Rostilav saw Nikolav on the ground clutching his leg, blood already starting to pool.

“Shit Rosti they got me good!” the scout was trying in vain to stop the bleeding and was already starting to loose conscious.

“Mak, cut his pants now! Ruddy get up here and hold him down!” the medic got to work as the rest of the squad rounded the corner.

“Shit….” Petrov said, skidding to a halt in front of the group.

“Don’t just stand there hold him down! It hit the artery hold him still!” Rostilav knew this was bad, he had only a few seconds before the scout bleed to death.

“ bad is it?” Nikolav was barely able to speak, staring at the squad as they rounded the corner he had seen their reactions.

“Just hold in there brother we got you.” Mak responded, Nikolav was growing paler by the second.

“Keep him up right, pull this tight, tight I said! You need to slow the bleeding.” Rostilav was trying to dig out the damaged artery to clamp it shut, the fast flow of blood making it almost impossible to see what he was doing and the tourniquet wasn’t working fast enough.

“Almost…got it… shit, keep him still!” the medic was working furiously but the blood was making everything slippery and Nikolav was still kicking violently.

“I….I see home, don’t worry Rosti I am ho…….” Nikolav trailed off and stopped struggling going limp in his squadmate’s arms but Rostilav didn’t stop, after another moment someone put a hand on his shoulder.

“He gone Rostilav….” Leorivikov choked out. The medic stopped and looked up to see his brother skaggi staring up at the sky from which they had jumped just a few hours before, all life drained from his face. The medic just stared for a moment, then reached up and closed Nikolav’s eyes. “Rest now brother, fly with the Hiemrocs at the Emperor’s side.” Rostilov pulled back and sat down, blood covering the exhausted medic. No one spoke, several had tears running down their faces. Leorivikov pulled the cognem tags off of their fallen brother and stowed them in her breast pocket before turning to the squad.

“We will remember him but we must move on, they know we’re here now. Mak, you on point, get us to that camp.”

Rostilav had lost many brothers and sister in this conflict but none affected him like those who died from blood loss. Some begged and pleaded not to go, thinking their service not yet finished, a few were angry, lashing out and fighting like an Akyragh until their bodies gave in, but some, such as Nikolav remained calm, at peace. As though they knew it was their time, that they had fought and died with honor and completed their service to the Emperor.

No one spoke the rest of the trip to the crag, they had grabbed what they could and moved Nikolav’s body to a more hidden location for later retrieval. When they arrived the troupe surveyed the crag that was to be their camp, it was small, with an overhang protecting their heads with and excellent view of the road and all approaches. Leorivikov ordered the skaggis to securing the area and prep camp, as they did she got on the Vox and reported into platoon command.

“Charlie to Command.”

“The western roadway has been bobby trapped and is patrolled by snipers, we clear first bomb and set camp for the night.”

“One casualty, Lineman Nikolav, KIA.”

“Copy that, Charlie over and out. Listen up Charlie, the other squads are convening on this road, the others have already been blocked or destroyed leaving this road the only path to the interior of the island, they should be here by morning, until then I want full watch, we’re not letting those bastards prevent us from getting down this pass! Twitch you got first.”

As the Skaggis settled into their bags the skys let loose, drenching the mountains with torrential down poors, thankfully what skills Mak lacked in medicine he made up for in scouting, the overhang kept charlie squad dry and comfortable. As the night dragged on Rostilav was kicked awake by Ruddy.

“Your watch Norin, no movement so far.” The boomer signed as he and the medic swapped places. Rostilav took up watch in front of the overhang in between two boulders with a good view of both the road and the cliff above it, the lightning from the storm the only thing lighting the canyon, the storm was raging on, thunder roared like a battle cannon and the wind howled through the night, reminding him of the open tundra back home. Rosilav’s thoughts drifted to memories of pipeline patrol and the brothers and sisters from home when a swoosh pulled him back to the present.

What in the Empyrean? The medic looked out over the canyon and saw nothing through his visor save the sheets of rain and the pine trees bending in the wind, he had just settle back down when swoosh and again, a scan of the area gave up nothing. Just the wind the medic thought to himself when from behind him, and much closer SWOOSH the medic turned in time to see an armor clad figure standing over Petrov with a drawn blade, before he could react it sliced down onto the sleeping Skaggi, spilling her guts across the ground, Petrov screamed in suprise and SWOOSH the figure was gone, SWOOSH Another appeared before he could move, this time over Mak.

“AMBUUUSH!!!!!” Rosilav roared as the Skaggis reacted to Petrov’s screams of agony, but before any could react the second figure stabbed down into Mak’s chest, the man simply fell back down, never able to raise a defense, and again with another pair loud SWOOSHES the figure was gone, replaced by yet another, this time however when it sliced toward it’s victim the roar of a chain sword stopped it’s attack, Foreman Leorivikov steped in between the figure and Twitch, who was rolling upright behind her. Rostilav started to run to help his comrades when SWOOSH suddenly he was standing toe to toe with a figure, now recognizable as one of the foul Eldar, stunned Rostilav was only able to stare into it’s eyes with seething hate as it’s blade swung up, he dodged left but it wasn’t enough, he barely felt the blade as it separated his arm from his shoulder.

“Rostilav!” Kaminski screamed and turned to run to the medic, as he did another Eldar appeared in his path, then disappeared, leaving Kaminski with a hole in his chest, he fell face first into the mud and never rose.

The medic looked down at the stump where his arm used to be, then to the ground where his still twitching arm lay, then back to the squad. Thing were happening in slow motion, as Kaminski hit the ground Mihaylov moved to assist, but before she could lend aid another Eldar appeared behind her and after a brilliant flash of white light the trooper fell to the ground, blood pouring out of the ground meat that used to be her back. Krupin deflected a blow with her knife only to be run through from behind as another xeno appeared and disappeared. Leorivikov was ready for the next Eldar, as it appeared behind her she swung around with her chain sword, it’s bite catching the surprised xeno in what would have been a human’s ribs, it screamed in pain as the chain sword tore at the alien’s flesh, and it fell lifeless to the ground, another appeared behind the Foreman and she turned again to face her assailant, the holy weapon found it’s second target, ripping across it’s torso, separating it’s legs from it’s body, a third appeared but this time Leorivikov wasn’t able to react fast enough, and it’s blade sliced across her throat, she fell to the ground gasping for air as it stabbed again, killing the now helpless Foreman. Sokolov attempted to get to Rostilav but was cut down by a familiar figure you bastards! Rostilav thought to him self, reaching for his carbine with his reaming arm, the figured disappeared again, then reappeared in front of Ruddy.

“YOU BASTAAAARDS!!!!” Rostilav roared, leveling his carbine at the xeno scum that had just slaughtered most of his squadmates, he overcharged the capacitor and pulled the trigger, catching the Eldar in the back, it spun around in surprise as he pulled the trigger again and again, peppering the xeno with flashes of light, as it fell to the ground it stared at the medic and the medic stared back into the eyes of his foe with burning hatred, the blackness of death slowly taking over his vision……..

“I blacked out, we must have killed them all, after last one die none returned. Twitch, Ruddy and I only survivors, they able to slow my bleeding and carry me till they find Alpha squad, the rest you know.” Rusty finished with a sigh, the memories of Cythera were a hard thing to visit for all the Hiemrocs.

Father Volkov was silent for a moment, absorbing Rostilav’s account of that night, finally he responded.
“You say you failed them, but from what you say you fought until you pass out, why you blame self?”

“I heard those damned Eldar coming, and didn’t warn them.” The medic stated plainly.

“Did you know what you were hearing? I didn’t know that the Eldar could just….appear out of no where.” The preist countered.

“Why you think I so paranoid now? I question every noise, too many good Skaggis died that night because of my inaction.” Rusty snapped back

“Is this why you wish more to kill than to save? Why you were charged with insubordination?” The priest asked.

After a pause the Medic-Foreman responded simply “I make promise to fallen brothers and sister to avenge their sacrifice, I intend to keep that promise.”


You really must leave, soldier,” the nurse standing at the door had progressively increased the insistence of her demands, and had Krash bothered to acknowledge her even he would have noticed her impatience, “She needs rest, so do the others in the ward.”

“You are making all dze noise,” Krash shrugged, not looking up from his centurion board.

“I’ll have the MP’s escort you back to quarters if you’d prefer,” her tone had suddenly become overly sweet, and when Krash finally looked at her, the soft smile and crow-footed eyes were almost genuine. Krash stared into them for a few moments longer than necessary, then began packing away the centurion board.

The weather hadn’t improved much since they left. Cloudbanks occluded the sun in sudden, unpredictable shifts. There seemed to be a constant breeze pushing dust and garbage in circles throughout their fortified section of the city. The sun was setting over the rooftops of Fort Chambers, casting pink and greenish-gold shadows on they sky. The strange light was a reminder of how different this place was from Mikhail’s home.

He would work on the last of the laspistols. They would need the thrones before their next deployment, and it would give him something to do with his hands. Also, working on laspistols helps, it was a good thing, a useful thing for the skaggis. There would be enough time before the next deployment, Krash knew, that he’d run out of things to do to lascarbines and laspistols. That’s when helping the skaggis was not helping the skaggis. That’s when he tried and they yelled, because they have regulations, and because “this not mountains, this not home, this not tundra law” as if he didn’t know this place was not beautiful Novaskag.

Deep down, though perhaps not very deep, Krash was afraid. This was the first time since the long, dark transit that Oksana had not been nearby to guide his impulses. The others didn’t know what it was like, those weeks alone with nothing between you and the empty black void but a single sheet of transteel. The stars were so bright, too bright, too many. They return you back into the squad for a training exercise or ceremony, knowing the whole time the commissar will be watching you like a seveserre; that your squad mates are nervous around you, that when it’s over you will be put back in a cell with nothing but a primer you cannot read.

“Krash, where you been?” Czerkov called from the doorway.


Keeping Tamarova company, yes? Lieutenant was looking for you,” the short skaggi with a single eyebrow smiled. Krash nodded and smiled back, waiting. “Hey, we heard how you fix sentinel out there,” Czerkov continued, “is good job.”

“Got lucky, had parts!” Krash grinned triumphantly. Czerkov patted him on the back as the operator passed into the barracks. He’d start with the actions on the laspistols. This pattern was so stiff, made for soft-bellied conscripts who white-knuckled everything. After that retainer clips had to be filed down and the switch adjusted a few millimeters up, again things designed for soft-bellies so they didn’t accidentally drop a power-pack in the middle of a fire fight.

“Idiot, where you been?” Rusty droned as Krash entered their quarters, the foreman slipped into skagsign, We have meeting with Inquisitor. Krash’s eyes widened, this was good news, they would have something to do, maybe more thrones, or more tech.

You know where this is? Rusty held up a scrap of parchment with a number and letters on it. Krash stared blankly, so Rusty signed it out, is a building number, and I think street name. Krash looked intently at the letters, they seemed familiar.

Base map! he signed excitedly, then turned around and stepped quickly out the door. He was tracing fingers around the dirty, faded map posted on an old kiosk beside a park-become-parade ground when the rest of the squad caught-up.

“Idiot,” Rusty wheezed impatiently, “You think he meet us someplace like this?” Krash ignored him, and Rusty was too tired for his aloof games, “You know this place or no?”

“Look,” Krash left a finger on a thin black line with letters riding it perpendicular to the ground. Volkov bent in.

“Ahhh! You do well, Brother Krash!” he announced, wincing as he bent upright. The name on the map matched the name on the parchment.

“Okay, we going back into trade zone,” Rusty stated, then signed to them out of general sight of passersby, keep your eyes open, we don’t want anyone following us. Split-up, going in as a squad will draw more attention.

The squad had been wandering the streets around the target for several minutes, split into pairs and individuals and maintaining a chain of visual contact. Rusty had spotted the warehouse wearing the matching number, but the whole area and lack of lighting made them all uneasy. Rusty wanted them to make absolutely sure no one had followed them to the largely industrial and abandoned area of the trade zone.

Finally satisfied, the foreman flashed a sign at Volkov across the street and down the block, who flashed it behind him without looking. Around the corner, Dmitri and Mitin spotted it and passed it to Bash down the street behind them, and so the signal passed to the rest of the squad. In another couple of minutes they’d met in the shadow of the warehouse near the main entrance. Rusty looked to Krash, hunched over his auspex adjusting the antenna. The mountain-man held-up a single finger.

Cover the corners, go in cold, just be careful, Rusty signed. They nodded acknowledgement.

Rusty was the first through the door, the others close behind him, spreading away from the doorway quickly on instinct. The only thing they found inside was a lone man, wearing no particular uniform, sitting comfortably at a table with a single lamp on it. He had dark skin, not like any of the Imperial regiments they’d encountered on the planet thus far, but he was well groomed and possessed of a manner inconsistent with the rogue traders. Krash and Dmitri noticed stummers arrayed around the room, several of them. This man had resources. There was a steel case on the table, next to a portable, orbital-grade antenna dish.

“You satisfied with the neighborhood?” the man asked, indifferent to the volume of his voice.

“Can’t be too careful,” Rusty droned.

“Good,” the man said.

“We weren’t expecting to find…” Rusty glanced around again.

“Me?” the man asked, holding his arms out and laughing, “He doesn’t make a lot of personal appearances,” the man gestured to the case and the antenna, then, without warning, a massive pistol appeared in his hand, “Identification time,” his smile evaporated.

The skaggis twitched toward their weapons, but eased their hands to the inquisitorial seals under their blouses. Once they’d all produced them, the dark man re-holstered his weapon and smiled.

“Alright then,” he spun the case toward him, opened it, tapped a series of keys and held a ring to the encryptix port. A moment later a pair of lights began to glow and the antenna shifted minutely to acquire whatever signal had been preprogrammed into it. The man spun the open case toward the squad, and the top half blazed to life as a pictcaster image of Inquisitor Tharne.

“There you are,” he said curtly.

“As requested, sir,” Rusty said respectfully.

“I had need of you, only to discover you’d been ferried off to be lumbermen. I need you to investigate something,” the Inquisitor stated, the skaggis waited. “You’ll be returning to Gamma twenty-nine. I’m curious as to why you were there in the first place. I’m curious as to why two squads of drop-troops and a handful of ogryn handlers were dispatched to such a pointless location, and I’m especially curious as to why Sgt. Dixon’s storm troopers were there. You are going to sate my curiosity. You’ll be deploying back to Gamma twenty-nine tomorrow, the orders have been written and are being delivered to your lieutenant presently.

“Take care you don’t arouse too many suspicions out there, it won’t due for you to be killed prematurely. Questions?” the inquisitor asked. Rusty was too dumfounded to have any, they’d just been reunited with their brothers and sisters, now they were being split-off again, back to the place that had eaten half of the skaggis that went there.

“Good. Start with Colonel Mann,” the screen went black. The dark man closed it gently, collapsed the antenna, and sat back in his chair. The skaggis exchanged glances after a moment, then filed out into a light drizzle that had begun in the few minutes they’d been inside. They split-up again without a word, signed or otherwise, and returned to quarters with a sense of disappointment and dread.

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.
Return Policy

Krash dropped to the ground next to Rusty with a soft thump. Invisible through the thick smoke, the machine gun mounted on the back of the ork wartruck was still chattering, but not at them.

“Tamarova?” Rusty asked.

“Here, foreman,” the female-half of his least-favorite paring backed into view, lascarbine pointed toward back the way they’d come. Rusty nodded and swiveled is ocular implants down to the field engineer’s bleeding right side. A piece of the flak-plate was missing, but it had saved the scrawny skaggi from an ork bullet.

“Shirt,” Rusty ordred. Immediately, Krash pulled his blouse and undershirt up, keeping his armor on as best he could. Numerous roughly-done tattoos appeared on Krash’s pale flesh. Rusty quickly sprayed the area with a disinfectant coagulant, which sizzled on the wound briefly before sealing it off with clotted blood. Then he ripped open a large, self-adhering bandage infused with a variety of chymicals and slapped it forcefully over the wound in a fashion he knew would hurt. Krash breathed hard, but didn’t give Rusty the satisfaction of a grunt.

“Shirt,” Rusty growled again. Krash replaced his equipment in a few quick movements, “Now, get the Fuck back to the squad where you belong!” he almost shouted. Krash gazed into the foreman’s implants for a moment before Oksana tugged his arm, lopping through the smoke towards the ticka-ticka of Bash’s mulitlaser and the thin sound of Dimitri’s longlas.

“Where are the Stormtroopers,” Rusty buzzed out.

“Still running this way, not as many orks following,” he caught the swagger in Dimitri’s voice, “but still enough for a good brawl.”

“Copy, keep covering them,” he ordered, nearly stumbling straight into Bash’s line of fire through the smoke.

“The smoke’s going to start clearing soon,” Bash warned, keeping his barrels spitting in the area he assumed the target to be in. Gravel splashed up around them as the unseen greenskin returned fire. The big man had to roll quickly to avoid the line of heavy-caliber rounds, and Rusty dove into a roll himself.

“Boz!” Rusty bellowed.

“Here, foreman!” the former-gamma skaggi shouted through the smoke.

“Get over to Zhurov and…” he was cut-off by another burst of ork fire through the thinning smoke. When he brought his head back-up, he heard the growling from behind him and turned to find Bash curled over his leg, now stained bright red through the neat holes punched in his trousers. The big man was yelling through his teeth, but pulled himself half-around to grip his weapon handles again. With a great yell, Bash held down the triggers and let-loose another volley.

“Shit!” Rusty cursed, “Boz! Get over here,” Boz slid-in next to Bash as Rusty did the same. He opened his medikit and started slicing down the pant leg to reveal the damage.

“Emperor’s mercy,” the newly-appointed assistant medic said, “at least it didn’t get blown-off.”

“Clean it out,” Rusty was prepping the ballistic foam injector. Boz did as he was told and irrigated the wound with disinfectant. Again, the tissue sizzled quietly, and Bash roared into his attack. With practiced efficiency Rusty burned-off the doomed tissue, injected the ballistic foam into the wound as both local anesthetic and fluid-sponge, and began wrapping the boomer’s leg.

“How bad,” Bash asked.

“It won’t fall-off, you feel toes?” Rusty asked. After a second’s pause, Bash answered.

“Yah, I feel toes,”

“Good! Then you can still use foot,” the medic had his kit re-packed already.

“Foreman, the stormtroopers made it to the first blast crater, the orks followed but I don’t have shot past the truck,” Dimitri advised.

“Take Krash and Tamarova around to their drop-zone, stay in cover,” Rusty ordred, hoping all of the orks had followed the storm troopers from the other side of the artillery line. He just now noticed that most of the heavy guns had stopped firing from the clifftop.

“Repositioning,” Tamarova replied.

“Foreman! I’m coming around to aid them!” the Father announced, “The Emperor Protects through us!” There didn’t appear to be much arguing with him, and Rusty would rather deal with the remaining orks while the stormtroopers were still in fighting condition.

“Copy,” he acknowledged, “Bash, we have get you to cover.”

“Agreed!” the boomer shouted, they hefted the multi-laser, and Bash tried his damaged leg. With a strained expression, he forced the pain out his mind and was able to put some weight on it, but not much.

“I can walk, but I won’t be running anywhere,” the big man said.

“Good enough, come on,” Rusty said, helping the wounded man redistribute his gear to move effectively with his now-severe limp. The boomer got moving just as Father Volkov appeared from the smoke, materializing like the battle saints of legend with is chainsword held high and his robes flaring around him. The only thing separating him from shrine statues was the improbably shaggy beard.

“We’ll cover you Father,” Rusty said, as another volley of ork fire threw dirt spraying around them all.

“In the Emperor’s name!” Volkov shouted as he sprinted by, followed by an awkwardly running Krylova.

“Boz, help Bash,” Rusty ordered, Bosinov got to it immediately. The four of them made it to the rocks in time to see Krash, Oksana, and Dimitri slip into cover near where the Stormtroopers had roped down. The orks chasing the stormtroopers were still running after them, moving slowly thanks to Dimitri’s intimidating marksmanship.

Bash set his weapon down on the rocks, with help from his squadmates, and he jammed his triggers down. Two orks instantly spun to the ground and the rest scattered about trying to get to cover, “Haha!”

“Zhurov, can you take out the gunner?” a few seconds later, the gunner on the ork truck bellowed his last bellow. There was another explosion from the far side of the truck, and given the debris raining down, it was a second truck being blown apart by the stormtroopers.

“Cover Volkov!” Rusty ordred. With flaming debris raining down, smoke from the grenades still swirling around him, and the roar of the armor battle echoing up from the valley far below, Father Volkov sprinted across the broken ground, yelling the Emperor’s praises all the way in the Litany of the Chain. He came around the shot-through first truck, seeing clearly the wreckage of the battlewagon in which the remaining stormtroopers were taking cover in and firing at the still charging orks. He could hear Reed’s multilaser continuing to fire from the rocks.

The first orks were now getting near the stormtrooper position, Volkov found renewed speed in his limbs. “I am the Emperor’s weapon!” he bellowed, “Death to the Xenoooooooo!” he howled, charging full-speed on a collision course with the lead ork. The towering greenskin roared, changing his own course to meet the priest’s charge. Throwing the added weight of his inertia behind his strike, Father Volkov brought his trusty chainsword grinding down into the ork’s ungainly blade.

The edge of the Priest’s weapon slipped down the ork’s and dug into flesh. The greenskin screamed in rage more than pain, and shoved Volkov back. It swung the axe-like weapon, too high. The priest ducked and slashed out, this time biting deep into the ork’s torso and shouldering him to the rocky ground. The ork let out a death-gasp before lying still, and Volkov raised the chainsword with a victory cry to meet the next enemy, swinging at the next ork just in time to deflect a heavy slash.

Krylova leapt in with his knife flashing, slicing at the ork’s leg. The greenskin swung at the pair of humans again, still roaring. Volkov dodged and jammed his chainsword up into the belly of the great beast. Somehow, it didn’t fall, and the priest had to press himself against the greenskin to avoid its blade. The tactic worked, but Krylova wasn’t so fortunate. He caught the edge of the blow and spun with a yelp to the ground.

“Graaaahhhh!” Volkov braced his feet and levered the churning chainsword through the xeno’s torso, “Dieeeee!” it burst through the side, rattling to full speed again as the ork dropped to a knee. It tried to swing again but missed, and fell back upon its legs, the ork’s torn core unable to support such a massive frame. Hot shot lasfire was snapping the air all around him as stormtroopers fired on their attackers, and his own squads fire was flashing by from the other direction. Another ork tumbled to the ground, and after a few more chaotic seconds, Father Volkov stood breathing heavily, splattered in xeno blood, as stormtroopers and skaggis cheered.

It was only then Volkov noticed Krylova had never risen. He quickly knelt beside his erstwhile partner, and began to pray. Rostilov jogged-up with Boz on his heels, and Bash hobbled in at the same time Dimitri slowed to halt.

“Good job everyone,” Sgt. Dixon stepped over the nearest ork corpse, “but we’re not done yet.”

Just as he finished his sentence, the collected guardsman became aware of Krash yelling at a full sprint on the other side of the wrecked vehicles. A cannon blast rattled through them.

“What the hell?” Dimitri shouted. They all turned to see Krash and Oksana sprinting headlong from the cliff-base cover toward the firing line, the shower of earth from an artillery shell falling to the ground behind them. Another blast sent-up another geyser of debris almost on top of the pair.

“He’s crazy!” Bash shouted. Dimitri dropped prone with his longlas and traced it beneath the ruined artillery line. Soon, a field gun with a mess of grots about it came into view behind his crosshairs. They were reloading it, having already turned it about to point at Krash and Oksana. An imperial grenade bounced into his scope’s view and exploded behind the grots. One of them went tumbling head over feet away, but the rest were still preparing to fire. What Zhurov didn’t do is pause, thinking about how easy it would be to let fate bring him justice for Marge. He reacted without thought, like any good skaggi, relying on instinct which curled his finger tighter around his finely-balanced trigger, unleashing a tight-beam shot into the loading grot before he could slam the breech closed. The tiny greenskin blackened with heat and collapsed. Dimitri’s next shot killed the last crewman just as Krash and Oksana came upon the field gun.

“Thanks for the assist,” Oksana said over the bead, “Ridgeline clear.”

“We have a bigger problem,” Rostilav was gazing out over the forested valley to watch a great cloud of dust rising in the distance, approaching the main force of Imperial vehicles, “Dixon, where’s your voxman?” The stormtrooper sergeant shook his head darkly.

“Dammit,” Rusty punched the air.

“I fix,” Krash shouted, jogging up from around the wrecked vehicle caked in mud, blood, and smoke residue. Pulling the voxcaster gently from the dead man’s back, he looked through the massive hole punched through the middle of it. He met Rusty’s dismal expression and continued, “This will take time.”

“Forget it, we don’t have time. We need to warn the scintillans. Volkov, Boz, go grab the sled,” he ordered, they ran to retrieve it as Rusty stepped to the edge of the cliff. Dixon understood.

“Grab what you can and get the ropes!” he told his surviving stormtroopers.

“Can you see anything down there, Zhurov?” Rusty asked the hunter. Zhurov stepped to the cliff and swept his scope across the forest canopy below.

“Too much woods in way. I wouldn’t be able to see Bash’s mother through this cover,” he replied quickly, “Dust isn’t moving fast enough to be vehicles, is infantry.”

“Skaggis, we jump down,” Rusty announced. Before he’d even finished talking, Krash and Oksana sprinted past him and flung themselves full-speed off the edge of the cliff.

“Saint Sebastian!” one the stormtroopers yelled in shock, his face paling. Then he saw the operator and his jump-partner activate their gravchutes simultaneously, “You people are insane!”

“No,” Zhurov said, walking up to the cliff edge cinching his longlas strap tightly to his chest, “We skaggis!” he sent a two-fingered salute towards the stormtroopers and tipped backwards over the edge, shoving-off at the last moment into an awkward kind of swan dive. He activated his chute half-way down.

Once Boz and Volkov returned with the sled, they helped load the multilaser onto it. Bash tested his wounded leg again, nodding to Rusty. The stormtroopers were half-way down the cliff-face on their repelling lines when the rest of Delta squad dropped past them in free fall just before activating their gravchutes and landing softly on the forest floor at the base of the cliff.

“Krash, report,” Rusty ordered after they’d landed and unpacked the multi-laser.

“Scouting, clear so far,” Tamarova replied over the bead.

“Delta move up, give them a hundred meters,” Rusty directed. He held back, letting the others get going with Bash’s bad leg while he waited for Dixon’s troopers to finish repelling down. As soon as the sergeant hit the deck, Rusty rose from his cover in the brush.

“Dixon, we should split-up, better chance of locating command,” he suggested.

“Roger that,” Dixon unclipped from his line as troopers arrived at the base of the cliff. Dixon directed his survivors with hand signals to head along the cliff before they turned into the forest. The battered stormtroopers dispersed without a word, fanning out expertly into underbrush and rocks at the base of the cliff. Dixon started after them but stopped short and turned to face the skaggi foreman.

“The Emperor Protects,” Dixon nodded at Rusty before following his men. It was the closest thing a man of Dixon’s pedigree could come to thanking a barbarian. Despite being born at opposite extremes of the Imperium’s wide socio-economic spectrum, Rostilav Norin and Aliard Dixon discovered a reflection of each other in that brief moment. Both men born into a fight for survival, raised from their earliest memories not just to live, but to win. Both men, despite reputations as bilious and misanthropic, had been drawn to lead men to certain death. Rusty returned the nod, following the stormtrooper sergeant with his cybernetic eyes. The sublte click of the microbead transceiver in his ear jerked his attention back to the task at hand.

“Orks…squad strength…setting ambush,” Oksana reported in a whisper.

“Ambush positions, crossfire,” he ordered. The squad was already moving in to position, “Tamarova, location.”

“Game trail, up tree,” she replied. Rusty struggled through the undergrowth, picking his steps. Forests were not built for skaggis. After a few minutes he spotted Father Volkov crouching in the brush. Nearby the wounded Bash was propped against his weapon, and though he couldn’t see him Rusty knew Zhurov was off to his right somewhere. By the time he’d finished easing into his hiding place the foreman still hadn’t figured out which tree Krash and Oksana were perched in.

“Twenty meters…eighteen…fifteen,” Krash began whispering into the squads ears. What was that noise? Orks were loud, but this was mechanical. If it was a tank, there’d be far more noise. He strained his ears, “A walker?” Krash’s supposition quickly manifested, thrashing apart a cluster of shrubs either side of the game trail. It was four meters of grime and rust lashed together with saw blades and ammunition belts. A knot of greenskins flanked its progress through the trees. There wasn’t time to run, it was nearly on top of them now, and as it stepped past a tree, the bark exploded violently near the base of the things “torso.”

Instantly, the behemoth screeched around and let a stream of high-caliber rounds eat through the greenery to Bash’s left. The boomer returned the favor, the ticka-ticka lighting the shadows. The roar of an ork’s confusion sounded the same as their battle cry, Rusty had no idea if they’d sprung the trap or the greenskins had lured them into one. Either way, throwing a grenade seemed like the best option.

Inside the cramped pilot compartment of the Slaughterstomp, Chewtung yelled as he swept the heavy gun back and forth through the trees. Explosions were going off behind and around him and the boys were all shouting. Sneaky pink-skins, not even ork enough to fight in the open!

“Get ‘em! What are you doing! CHARGE!” he adjusted the stream of fire towards the source of the humans’ flash-gun. Another blast rattled the Slaughterstomp. Orks were screaming outside now, in pain this time.

“AHHH! ROAAHGHGHG!” he shouted in frustration, wrenching his controls to make the ungainly machine obey him, “WAAAAGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHHG!” More things hit the shell of the walker, he felt it starting to loose Gork’s, or Mork’s, blessing. Chewtung wouldn’t go without a good fight. He kept firing, and he kept firing until the walker fell over, and even then, as the control box burned all around him and roasted his flesh, Chewtung kept bellowing and trying to fire the gun that had long since stopped working.

Dmitri fired again at the ork trying to crawl away through the brush; he waited for the capacitors, unsure if he’d killed it.

“All dead,” Oksana said over the bead.

“Check and regroup,” Rusty stood-up several meters away. Dmitri scanned behind and around him before standing and walking toward the rest of the squad. He saw Krash and Oksana jump from their tree and approach the ork bodies and burning walker. Bash limped into view.

We’re going ahead to check the area for any stragglers or back-up squads, Krash skagsigned to Rusty. The Foreman nodded, failing to understand why Krash could make so much sense in skagsign yet utterly baffle everyone when he spoke, and the mechanic duo disappeared into the forest again.

Give them a hundred meters leeway, this worked out well, Rusty signed. It was a skaggi “good job” if they’d ever seen one. They didn’t hear anything from Krash or Tamarova, which meant it was clear or they were very dead. They started moving again, but hadn’t made it more than a quarter mile before Oksana came over the bead.

“Contacts ahead, maybe friendly,” she said. Rusty held an iron hand up for them to stop and spread out. Less than two minutes later, “Scintillans, clear to approach.” The squad started moving-up, this hadn’t taken as long as they though it would. Then they heard loud crashing and explosions from ahead.

“Krash,” Rusty barked into the bead, “What the fuck did you do?” The only answer was a brief transmission of unintelligible shouting and screeching steel. The squad all looked at Rusty, “Krash?”

“Is back! RUN!” Krash shouted over the bead. A moment later Krash and Oksana came sprinting into view through the leaves and branches, waving for them to turn around.

“Is back! Is back!” was all Krash managed to shout out.

“Squiggoth! They’re all dead!” Oksana clarified, neither of them slowed down as they passed the squad, running full-out for the cliffs. Dmitri shook off the confusion first and took-off after them. Rusty followed, pushing Bash along on his bad leg as they hop-ran away from the sounds of chaos and death. They all made it back to the cliff face, expecting the massive creature to return at any second and run them into the ground. Mira and Bash actually looked genuinely surprised.

“High-ground,” Rusty pointed at Dmitri, “This way, stick to rocks,” he directed the rest of the squad. Dmitri started climbing the rappelling ropes left behind by the stormtroopers, Mitin right behind him. They started moving through trees again, following the cliff-face, with Krash well ahead with the auspex. Dmitri and Mitin made it to the top in less than five minutes, not bad, he thought. They took a few breaths trying to spot the squad in the foliage below. Dmitri saw them first and gestured without pointing. Mitin nodded and they started picking along the debris-strewn cliff-top after them. They both stopped to scan the forest for any sign that orks were approaching the cliffs. What the hell were they doing now? The scintillans were all dead, even if there were any survivors, there’s no way the skaggis were going to find them without having to fight through waves of orc infantry and a damned squiggoth. He certainly had no idea where they were, there was never a map shown to them in pre-flight briefing, and even then, they were certainly a long ways off to hike it back to base. Good thing they had plenty of rations. Where the fuck were the storm troopers? They had to have gotten a map or something, privliged bastards. Mitin punched his arm.

She pointed down the ridgeline, at a mob of gretchin pulling field guns across the rocky ground to replace the wrecked ones. Damn, he keyed-up his microbead, “Gretchin on the ridge, coming down.” He looked at Mitin and she nodded ready. Keeping himself low to the ground, Dmitri crabwalked to the edge, checked his control arms, and rolled-off. Just over the edge, he kicked-out, pushing himself away from the rocks and free falling a second or two before activating the gravchute.

Mitin followed, and they touched down well-enough after kicking past a couple of branches. The sharpshooters caught-up with the rest of the squad a few minutes later. They continued marching along the cliff edge for about twenty minutes, waiting when Krash directed them to. The heat was growing; they were sweating under the gear and the strain of helping Bash struggle through rough terrain on his wounded shin.
Perhaps that’s why they were surprised when heavily-painted orks came bellowing out of the trees behind them. Well ahead of the of the group, Krash and Oksana’s first indication that something was wrong was additional movement on the auspex from the squad.

“What?” Krash asked the auspex, knitting his brows in a curious expression as he adjusted the settings, “Dis mean…uh oh.”

“Ambush!” Rusty barked over the bead. Then the shooting started. Krash looked at Oksana, they shared the look of dread, then began running back toward the group. Half-way, Oksana cut right to curve along-side of the fight, Krash followed her lead instinctively. Oksana had always been a better soldier than Krash, even in the grip of a zeropyne high or the racks of pre-withdrawal. She proved it here once again, bringing them through the cover to a spot they could cover the squad from without having to shoot through them. She didn’t break stride, even the half-step pause Krash took, upon seeing the war-painted ork commandos overrunning the skaggis. She quickly picked vulnerable targets and opened fire.

The greenskins were already wounded, heavily it appeared. Rusty had even taken down at least one. The rest were still pushing. One slashed across Father Volkov, as usual at the heart of the melee, and cut deeply into his arm. Quickly changing his stance, the wily priest whipped his chainsword up an hit the mark dead-on. With a growing shout of triumph, the Father’s weapon ate the thick neck of the commando leader until the head separated from the body. He held it by hair, kicking the twitching body aside and ignoring the fount of blood drenching him as he held the ork’s head high for all to see. The battle was soon over, all the orks dead or dying on the forest floor. They hadn’t lost anyone this time, a true victory, but Volkov was in bad shape, and no one remained uninjured.

Rusty and Boz went to work immediately, but even the optimistic Bosinov was aware that with everyone seriously injured, more than one might not complete the long march back to base through hostile territory. They still had to decide if they were going to search for the stormtroopers or any other surviving scintillans. After ten minutes or so, their wounds patched as well as the medical team could manage in the current situation, they started moving again. Dmitri broached the subject.

“So…they are all dead, then?” he asked. The squad exchanged uneasy glances. In their state, searching for friendlies could be more dangerous than just getting back as fast as possible.

If not, we won’t find them before they do, Oksana signed, gesturing to the dead commandos.

Bash? Mitin? Dmitri continued around the circle.

I can walk fine, but I’m not gonna be able to keep up on a sprint, the boomer answered.

We have no idea where we are, we need to find somebody who does, Mitin signed wearily.

If we survived there have to be others, right? We’re just going to leave them out here? Boz asked.

How are we going to find them? Rusty asked. Boz looked at Krash, but the mountian man just shrugged. Rusty continued, We go back to base and report. We’re not going to die out here in hot trees. Krash, fifty meters, watch rear and front. Zhurov, rear guard. We go.

After a few days picking their way through the forest, they found the main highway and followed it in to Gamma 29. Dirty, bloody, dehydrated, and exhausted Krash and Oksana were the first to reach the gates. The scintillan sentry stared at him in disbelief.

“Skaggis,” Oksana said loudly, her voiced scratchy from disuse. Delta had not spoken a single word since the last ork battle, skagsign and bead-clicks serving well for the situation.

“You,” the sentry was still shocked, “You’re alive?”

“Close enough, let us in,” she barked.

“Yes, um, proceed to medico,” he directed them, stepping over to the base vox to report an unexpected return. The rest of delta squad appeared at the gate, and as a unit they went straight to the mess tent. The scintillans in line for chow stared in surprise as the dirty, torn barbarian-soldiers cut in line without a word and had their trays laden with double-rations by the chattering rattlings behind the counter. After eating their fill, the skaggis filed into the field hospital where they were cleaned-up. There was little more to do with their wounds after Rostilav’s expert care in the field, but they re-wrapped the remaining cuts and scrapes in clean bandages and did full assessments (physical and mental) on each of them before clearing them to return to base population.

They’d barely made it back to barracks before Barksdale was at their door. Boz answered it.

“I wouldn’t have believed it myself you weren’t standing in front of me. I’m still not sure I believe it,” he said, exasperated, “Did you all make it back? I heard you were barely wounded…”

“Now,” Rusty said, stepping into the conversation. Barksdale cocked his head, but Rusty stormed on, “after a week’s time to heal walking through your woods.”

“Well, you’ve eaten and been cleared by medico, you’re due for debrief in an hour,” Barksdale stated, “The Emperor truly protects,” he finished, turning on his heal and walking back to the command bastion before things escalated. Exactly an hour later, after a short nap and in laundered uniforms, delta reported for their debriefing. An hour later, Maj. Scantling and Lt. Barksdale sat back, arms crossed, processing the skaggi account of the mission.

“Let us be clear on one item, at no point after the appearance of the squiggoth did your squad attempt to contact Imperial survivors, or even make it known that you yourselves had survived?” Barksdale asked.

“With what? We not issued voxcaster,” Rusty answered, once again finding the silver lining in the horrific deformities of his face: indiscernible contempt. Lt. Barksdale exchanged glances with the colonel and other command staff.

“You mentioned that Sgt. Dixon also survived the initial fight on the ridge. You had no contact with his team after the descending the cliff face?”

“No,” Rusty confirmed, seeing no need to elaborate.

“You must understand that, in our considerable experience, a single infantry squad surviving fully intact through a battle with not a single other survivor is nigh impossible without more to the story than you have so far reported. An insertion onto a heavily fortified armor position, an encounter with an enemy walker, a squiggoth, and a skirmish with ork scouts, followed by several days without support in lethal bush-country with no navigation equipment; what else can you add to explain how you survived all of this?”

“Survive all dis? We were mission successful! Mission was kill artillery. Artillery was killed. Second mission was support scintillans, we support scintillans till they got all dead. What is problem?” Dmitri couldn’t resist speaking out of turn, “We survived because we are Skaggi, and dead guys were not.” The command staff, struggling with Dmitri’s thick accent, had growing fire in their eyes.

“There was nothing we could do to stop squiggoth, not mentioning all of Orks behind it,” Rusty cut-back in, “we come back. We follow orders. We do duty to Emperor.” This did little to quell the rage in Scantling’s eyes, but Barksdale spoke first.

“Very well, Foreman Norin. We’ve received orders for your skaggis to rejoin the rest of your platoon nearer the front. You have five hours to be on the landing pad, and I would suggest you avoid the Hole during that period. Your service at Gamma twenty-nine has been noted in the official record. Dismissed,” the Lieutenant collected the data slates from the hardwood table without another word. Rusty stood slowly to attention, staring into the Major’s eyes, still reddened with anger he was too disciplined to let escape. The rest of delta rose behind Rusty and saluted before filing out the door. Rusty was the last to leave, holding eye contact with the Major for several long seconds after the last skaggi had gone.

“The Emperor protects he of strong faith,” he recited from memory, barely audible and devoid of inflection, “and so fear not, Guardian of Man, the wrath of an endless void.” There was an additional line to the passage that Rusty left unspoken: Fear always that your soul will be found wanting when only He can save you. Rusty left the room, catching-up to delta as they marched back to the barracks.

“Idiot,” Rusty bellowed. Krash turned reflexively, which drew a twisted grin beneath Rusty’s steel mask, “Go to landing pad and make sure they know we not dead.”

“Okay,” Krash shrugged and broke-off from the squad, jogging over towards the airfield. He slowed as he approached Major Bhatikar’s valkyrie. The pilot was working on his dataslate, seated on a container. He looked-up and stood, face slack with surprise.

“Krash? You’re alive?”

“Yup, we had long way to walk,” Krash said dismissively, “we Skaggis, we not dead till you find the parts. Sometimes not even den!”

“Ha ha, right,” the pilot forced, “Well, I’m glad you made it, we caught a glimpse of what you were jumping into and when none of the battle group returned everyone assumed the worse. You’re lucky they didn’t clean-out your barracks already!” Krash got a nervous look on his face, but it passed without a word. Bhatikar continued, “We had orders to fly you boys back to your unit, I assume those are still standing?”
“Dat’s right!” Krash smiled, “we packing now. I help you put back seats?” Krash reached for the toolkit on his belt.

“No, that’s taken care of. We were expecting our next transport not to have your…tastes. I’ll admit, they gave the old girl a little more pep. It’ll be our pleasure to give you another cruise. We’ll be ready whenever you are.”
“Great, is good bird, will be back soon,” Krash took the pilot’s offered hand after a brief pause, and they shook firmly. With that, the mechanic hustled-off back to the barracks to pack his things. By the time he arrived, half the squad was prepped and cleaning while the other half finished packing gear. Oksana’s bag was already standing ready next to their racks, and she’d already distributed the extra pistols and energy packs to the squad to stow in their bags. Two containers of spare equipment had been partially emptied to make room for their heavier contraband, the items also distributed among the skaggis. They’d done this so many times in their years together it barely required orchestration, and within two hours the entire barracks was scrubbed, swept, and emptied of any trace the Skaggis had ever been there. The equipment of the squad, including those who didn’t make it, was stacked neatly outside the building, watched over by Mira, Dmitri, Bosinov, and Oksana. Krash had gone with Volkov to the base proper, thanking the clergy and the techpriests one last time before making their departure.

Krash let Volkov return to the squad while he went ahead to the landing pad. When he approached, he noticed Bhatikar’s valkyrie was still in the maintenance area, far from prepped. He looked around for the Major or Lt. Kishor, but neither were in sight.

“Hey,” a gruff voice called-out as Krash passed the active landing pads, “Hey, you a novaskaggi?” Krash looked over at the man, who wore a Navy flightsuit. He was standing near the loading ramp of an idling valkryie.

“Yah,” Krash said, “You see Major Bhatikar?”

“Whoever that is, no. You guys are late, where’s the rest of your squad?” the pilot demanded.

“They coming. Who are you?”

“Your ride back to your company. Get on board,” the man was more swarthy than most of the pilots Krash had seen, but naval operators came from all over the Imperium in all shapes and sizes. Krash stepped-up the ramp and took a seat near the door in case the squad made the same mistake.

“Father, where did you leave the Idiot?” Rusty asked as Volkov shouldered his bags.

“He went ahead to airfield,” Volkov replied.

“Let’s hope he didn’t get lost. Boz,” Rusty gestured for his comrade to help him with Krash’s bag.

Delta marched towards the only idling ship on the landing pads, it was clear from a distance Mjr. Bhatikar was not the figure performing checks on the starboard engines. When they got closer, the pilot noticed them and waved them over.

“You are not Bhatikar,” Rusty stated.

“Well you’re delta squad, 3rd company, so what I am is your transport. Your troopers ready, Sarge?” the man gruffed.

“It is Foreman, and we always ready,” Rusty responded.

“Well get your gear secure and we’ll get in the air.” Rusty watched the pilot finish his check and climb into the cockpit of the craft. The navigator was already strapped in, from this angle they couldn’t see his face. Oksana was the first to leave the formation and step aboard, passing Krash who emerged to help haul-in equipment. In a few minutes everything was strapped down to the cargo rings and delta was strapped into their seats.

“Hold check,” the vox crackled.

“Secure,” Rusty answered.

“Prepare for take-off, estimated flight time is a long-ass-ride,” the pilot crackled. Only Rusty and Volkov were close enough to the voxbox to make out the pilot’s comment, they exchanged a dubious glance. Paranoia is the greatest strength of a skaggi, and there’s was pinging wildly right now.

While the rest of the squad, still operating on what little sleep they’d had in the bush the night before, made a reasonable attempt at resting in the roaring cabin, Volkov watched his brothers; his willful herd. Bathed as they now were, wounds addressed by the dainty hands of scintillan physicians rather than Norin’s efficient mechanoflesh, there was no sign of their most recent march through the valley of death. Father Volkov was filled with an enormous sense of pride that calmed his nerves. These men and women were truly blessed by the Emperor, despite the concerning signs.

Foreman Norin wore the title well, but the bitterness of his soul had only deepened in the last weeks. There was still a chance that the fount of hope that was Bosinov could still bring Rostilav into the peaceful light that all in His service should know; but what concerned Volkov more was the opposite, that Norin’s dark moods would erode the blind confidence of the Lineman. Was the loss of his limb so traumatic? Volkov’s sacrifice of flesh had been painful, surely, but he had suffered worse and so had Norin. Loss broke the minds of men from Mordia and Vostroya, but skaggis lived with loss from birth. There was something deeper, or perhaps innate, in the medic that fouled his temper so. The priest was determined to discover it, so that he could be cleansed.

Zhurov, perhaps Volkov’s greatest concern, still struggled with his sister’s death. The hunter’s acid wit had sharpened lately, and he used it with less inhibition than was wise. At least Mitin’s level-headedness, while not sufficiently impassioned, would provide a buttress for his faith until he could rebuild himself. The woman reminded him of seveserre more than a heimroc, rarely making herself known but possessed of a cunning eye for detail.

Bash was, of course, the model skaggi: furious in battle, uncomplaining in suffering, doubtless in his faith and his comrades; strong and tough as an akyragh. He was dozing easily near the ramp, rousing to check his weapons were still safe from time to time. Miranova was much the same. There was no other pair of skaggis he would rather take the field with.

And then there were his wayward children. Volkov could not recall which senior officer had decided to place them in the same squad, but he had never thought it wise that Tamarova and Krasheninnikov should fraternize. Krasheninnikov was certainly faithful, far more than Oksana it seemed, but the thin man was beholden to an addiction. All the seventh had heard of his infamous brush with heresy, for many months Volkov himself had reservations about the Lord Commissar’s decision to stay execution. If it were not for Krash’s effervescent attitude and the fact that even his most dangerous behaviors were always attempts to help his brothers and sisters, the father would still feel that way. Still, there was something incomplete about Mikhail’s mind, or perhaps his heart. He did not respond to the thrill of battle, nor the spectre of glorious death. His detachment and his fascination with technomancy needed always to be watched.

Tamarova was like-wise ill in mind, though she had not always been. Volkov’s duty was to know all of his children, and he remembered what the famous Oksana Tamarova had once been to her station on Novaskag. Legendary Pipeline Patrol captain, she had been a rising star even during the first year of the Cythera campaign. There had been no singular incident, but as that terrible war dragged into two more years of frustration and loss, her star began to dim until she was a streaking meteorite. She became reckless and insubordinate. After the war she was brigged, as Krash had been. Volkov eased his mind with the knowledge that she was still a soldier, in every way. Her insubordination had passed after demotions winnowed her responsibilities to Krash. She was still reckless, but recklessness was far from sin, in some ways a virtue. Her lone virtue, he nodded to himself. She was courageous, and a heretic was cowardly.

Yes, delta squad, even having seen the horror of a Warp Demon, was still not beyond the Emperor’s grace. As they rocketed through the sky the belly of this steel heimroc, he realized the Emperor had not only blessed them, but had now directed them on a new holy mission. They were rejoining their brothers and sisters, ending their exile to an isolated supply base. They had proven themselves worthy in His eyes, and with this satisfying thought the priest drifted into semi-conscious sleep.

“We landing,” Krash announced. Tamarova roused immediately and Dmitri lowered his gaze from the ceiling to look at a grinning Krasheninnikov.

“You have auspex in head? That explains things,” Dmitri shot, leaning his head back again.

“We are, pressure changing,” Rusty grumbled, rolling his shoulders to indicate where this information was coming from.

“Prep for landing,” the voxbox on the bulkhead squawked, confirming it. A few minutes of stretching later, the valkyrie touched down with a jolt and the ramp began to descend, sharp daylight cutting into the dim compartment. With it, a wall of noise and a familiar salty breeze invaded the cabin.

“Ocean,” Rusty droned, an inaudible groan rippled through them all. No one wished to be reminded of Cythera’s bloody islands.

As they carried gear down the ramp, delta assessed their new base. Stonework buildings rose to form the horizon, split by awkward streets traveled by units of guardsmen. They quickly recognized familiar uniforms: Scintillan, Jingkai, Brontian, and Navy security forces. The pilots were already out of their cockpit spinning down engines and conducting post-flight inspections.

“This place is huge, where do we report?” Rusty approached the pilots.

“Don’t ask me, we were never here,” the pilot brushed past him, thrusting a small bag at him, “these are yours.” Rusty looked inside, the bag was full of what looked like drink chits and a fold piece of paper.

“What is this? Who are you?” he demanded.

“You fuckin’ know what it is,” the pilot spat, “and we don’t exist, we never did, understand?” Rusty nodded, and the pilot grabbed his satchel and briskly followed his co-pilot, already almost out of sight.

“Dick,” Rusty replied sub-audibly. He turned and started towards the nearest MP after stowing the bag in his pack. The Naval security soldier raised an eyebrow at the skaggi foreman.

“What’s your issue?” he asked cautiously.

“Where are skaggis?” Rusty demanded.

“Right here, apparently, what’s your problem? Your barracks haven’t changed,” he continued.

“We just arrived from supply base, point to barracks.”

“Alright,” the guard pointed toward a cluster of fortress like constructions, “Your regiment’s housed that way in an old hab, it’s pretty big you won’t miss it. Don’t get lost crossing the Trade zone.”

“Yah,” Rusty was already turning back to his squad. He motioned for them to follow, and they hefted the gear. Fifteen minutes later they rounded a corner and saw a pair of skaggi uniforms guarding the entrance to an imposing, mineral-stained habplex.

“Nice,” Boz remarked.

“Mmm…windows,” Bash was disappointed. Stone buildings held the promise of feeling like home for a change, but windows were a problem. Who would want to riddle their home with vulnerabilities? Why not secure hatches for a quick escape route, or tunnels? Just putting holes in the wall is helping the enemy. He glanced at Mira for reassurance and she was shaking her head with understanding.

“Look what the wind blew in!” one of the sentries shouted as soon as he saw them, “Zuhva get the lieutenant!” The other sentry disappeared inside the building, “Rusty? Is that you?”

“Yah, is me, Tetsi,” Rusty affirmed.
“You tell all about it tonight, we goin’ to have a booming time,” Tetsi slapped Volkov on the shoulder as he passed through the door, “the Lieutenant’s in the courtyard with the others.” Arm clasps and back-slaps were exchanged as the squad passed through, and Zuhva returned with half a dozen more bodies to help lug equipment into the building.

Delta proceeded through the comfortably narrow corridors to a bright courtyard in the center of the habplex. Two dozen skaggis were waiting for them in PT gear, including platoon Lt. Kojomjarov. Other skaggis were emerging from every portal and passage as the news spread at the speed of thought.

“Rusty!” he roared, jogging over and slapping his hands down on either shoulder, inspecting the hellish burn damage and the augmentations the medic had received since he’d last seen him. He caught sight of the collar device, “that’s right, is Foreman Rusty now. You look much better, brother!” he joked. The lieutenant took in the rest of the squad, noting the missing faces, “I am happy to see skaggis rejoin the family, but sad to see not all who left returned. Father Volkov, a prayer for the fallen.” Everyone gathered around the priest, putting arms around one another in solidarity.

“A skaggi is strong!” Volkov bellowed, his voice echoing off the stone facades into the bright coastal sky.

“Body and Soul!” they answered in unison, the force of their response shaking the ivy and flushing the birds from the courtyard eaves.

“A heimroc is fearless!” he called.

“Facing death!” they responded.

“A skaggi survives!” he called.

“Cold and night!” they responded.

“A heimroc fights!” Volkov’s fire was rising.

“Cold and night!” they replied, the communal fervor infecting them all.

“When a skaggi dies a good death,” he called.

“He rides the tundra winds!” they answered.

“When a heimroc dies with honor!” he called.

“She flies to the Emperor’s Keep!” they shouted.

“We live how we love,” he bellowed.

“We fight how we live!” the yelled.

“In the Emperor’s Name!” they joined him in the last line.

“Seveeeeenth!” Kojomjarov screamed this time.

“Heimrocs!” they screamed back.

“Seveeeeenth!” he repeated.

“Heimrocs!” they screamed, stomping as one.

“Seveeeeenth!” he cried.

“Heimrocs!” they shouted, leaping and stamping down with both feet in a thunder-clap. The were all breathing heavily, some with tears in their eyes as they embraced their surviving family and mourned the dead. In a few minutes, the impromptu ceremony was over, and the lieutenant assigned Fmn. Yukolova to take over PT.

“Come delta, I show you new digs,” Kojomjarov led the exhausted squad up the twisting stairwell to a room that would have been suitable for a family of three or four, “You like?”

“It will do,” Bash stated, eyeing the high window suspiciously.

“Great, you unpack, we debrief tonight, before the stomp,” the lieutenant left them to unwind and returned to his PT. Delta immediately got to work establishing racks and stowing gear, locating what few likely spaces to stash contraband presented them selves. Once unpacked and ready for inspection, they retired to the mess room established at the back of the building. Bash audibly sighed as they saw more appropriately skaggi portions on the serving line. They ate quickly, returning to their quarters for some much needed rest before another debriefing.

“You have everyone’s tags?” the lieutenant asked seriously. Delta had been gathered around the kitchen-turned-conference table with Kojomjarov for the last two hours going over the details of their activity at Gamma 29, in particular the circumstances of each lost skaggi’s death. It was important they be properly recorded in the regimental honor roll. They changed the details for Ty’win and Stenson.

“Here,” Rusty pulled a string of glittering cognomen tags from his breast pocket. He set them carefully in the lieutenant’s outstretched hand, letting the chain slide through his metal hands. Kojomjarov nodded gently and Rusty returned the jesture.

Dmitri couldn’t bring himself to look the lieutenant in the eye. He stared at Rusty instead, as if doing so would transfer the guilt weighing on his heart. Lying to the commissars he could do without batting an eye; but lying to Kojomjarov was like lying to his uncle, or at least a cousin. Before now, he could not imagine a situation he would lie to a fellow heimroc about. The urge to explain their secret allegiance was stronger than ever, and so was his homesickness.

Longing for Novaskag’s empty expanses and scouring winds was something all of them had experienced many times. Indoctrination, the long weeks in the bellies of starships, every time they landed on a new planet that was too hot, too crowded, and too complicated, Dmitri wished more than anything for the simplicity of Novaskag. There were no asinine regulations, no commissariat tribunals, no soft-bellied bureaucrats and weak-willed conscripts. The only nightmarish creatures could be fought with a lascarbine, a knife, and your wits. You did not have to think about demons, no one had secrets; you had two things always: Tundra Law and a job to do. Fuck the Guard. Fuck the Inquisition. Fuck this shitty planet and every one like it.

“Zhurov?” someone said, “Zhurov, you okay?” it was the lieutenant. Dmitri shook his head.

“Yes, Sir,” he hadn’t realized how deep his scowl had been, “I…just want to shoot something. Long flight.”

“There will be plenty of shooting soon enough,” Kojomjarov said, “why don’t you all get some rest. You have not slept since returning from the field, yes?”

“We got some in transit, Sir,” Bosinov offered.

“You sleep. I need you rested and ready to fight anything! Tomorrow you PT and field day, get to know base,” he slapped his knee, “You need to know where you going when you get sentry detail, yes!” the lieutenant ordered. “Before you become too attached to your rack assignments, I have better news for you. Nastya and Korotich are being reassigned to delta to keep you fighting strength maximum! They’re packing gear to move to your quarters now.”

“Enough paperwork,” he collected his dataslates, “Krash, your sardolin is rosined?” Krash nodded, then smiled, “Good! You play the Muska Hop! Go get! Go, you goofy sonuvamoshar!” Krash stood, saluted, and scurried off to unpack his favored instrument.

Kojomjarov watched him go before turning back to the group with a more serious expression, “What did he do?” The rest of the squad exchanged glances in confusion, and the lieutenant’s tone grew more irritated, “Look, you all giving shifty-eyes to each other like guilty tunnel-boys. I know he means well, but if you don’t tell me what he did wrong I can’t do anything to keep him out of trouble. So what did he do?”

“Just normal idiot things, Sir,” Rusty stated dryly, “He drive ore hauler through village, shoot-up motor-pool garage with sentinel guns, stripped valkyrie, and somehow found box of hot-shot packs.”

Kojomjarov let out a sigh, “Yah, normal Krash things. How pissed were scintillans?”

“We able to blame most of it on orks, sooo…” Rusty said.

“That’s good, what else?” the lieutenant insisted.

“He’s getting dangerous, sir,” Oksana said, following Rusty’s lead to allay Kojomjarov’s suspicions, and because she didn’t have to lie to do it, “Our last drop he separated from the squad, he charged a line of field guns next to an ork heavy technical. He was shot in the chest, Rusty caught a round trying to pull us out.”

“A few minutes later, he did same thing. Battle over, we save stormtrooper dicks and then he goes charging cannon without back-up! Grots shoot three shells at them before I can kill gun crew,” Dmitri added, “and he pass-out driving!”

“Well…we all surprised by squiggoth,” Bash acknowledged, everyone nodded.

“Hahaha!” Kojomjarov laughed heartily, delta knit their collective brow with concern, “Krash finally acts like a soldier and you think he is cracking-up?”

“Ha. Ha. Ha,” Rusty started, kicking Boz’s foot. The new assistant medic started laughing, too.

“Haha, I guess you’re right, LT! Maybe we’re overreacting,” he tried. Bash awkwardly joined-in and the rest followed suit long enough for Kojomjarov to stand-up and wave them out the door.

“Alright, skaggis, go join the family in the courtyard, we must celebrate your return and the memories of the fallen,” he ordered, shooing them from the table. They rose quickly, glad to be out of the most awkward position they’d found themselves in since meeting the Inquisitor. As they walked to the courtyard, Mira asked the obvious.

“So, when do we tell the new girls?” she stated. Bash looked at her, then at the back of Rusty’s head. The foreman didn’t appear to acknowledge the question, so Bash offered his opinion.

“Tonight, no sense waiting,” he shrugged.

“By Novas, Reed, what if we have to…you know…’ she asked. He shrugged in response.

“Better it is done quickly,” Mitin sighed, everyone glanced back at her petite form, Dmitri included, surprised that she of all people had stated the obvious.

“Do not concern yourselves before the time has come, brothers and sisters,” Volkov offered, “the Emperor’s will decides their ultimate fate, not us.”

Delta arrived at the doorway to the courtyard, where they could already hear the rest of the platoon joking and babbling. Someone was playing tobas, and a couple of people were chanting a folk tune along to the rhythm. Krash scuttled into view as they crossed the threshold, carrying his sardolin case and a huge smile. The only thing that mountain man seemed to like more than playing with tech was playing that damned sardolin. He pushed past Dmitri and Mira, joined Lupinoff at the tobas, and started tuning. By the time the lieutenant joined them, Bash, Mitin, Dmitri, and Bosinov were lined-up seeing who could get the best height on the Muska Hop as Krash vivaciously increased the tempo with each refrain and Lupinoff pounded the tobabs in a sweaty flail.

“Make room!” Kojomjarov shouted, stripping-off his shirt and joining the dance line, effortlessly falling into step, Father Volkov on his heals to keep the lines even. The skaggis of first platoon, third company danced and sang well past lights-out, but here there was no one to challenge them. Sweaty and happy, everyone retired to their racks and slept well. Except delta.

When they arrived back at quarters, Nastya and Irina in tow, they left Boz at the door to stand guard in case anyone came too near. The women didn’t realize anything was amiss until they noticed everyone watching them quietly.

“What’s wrong?” Nastya asked, immediately concerned. Delta had long had a reputation as different, even beyond the platoon. It wasn’t all necessarily a bad reputation, but since she’d been handed the reassignment, Popov had been nervous about this moment.

We have to tell you something, Nastya, Father Volkov initiated the skagsign conversation, seeing a sacred duty in delivering such fatal news, You as well, Irina.

Okaayyy, Nastya replied, glancing around the room. She held her hands out.

We Rusty began, We weren’t completely honest with the lieutenant.

Why would you be? She responded, snorting derision.

This is big, Nastia, Rusty continued, not a hint of humor in his body language, let alone his mechano-eyes or monotone voice, When we were at supply base, we were….recruited.

’Recruited?’ We’re already Guardsmen, she laughed, her smile flattened as she saw no one else was in a jovial mood, even Krash, who was pretending to be busy fixing something.

Now, we’re something else, too, Rusty glanced around the room, We work for the Inquisiton, specifically Inquisitor Tharne of the Ordo Hereticus.

What? When did we get that detail? Nastya signed, misunderstanding.

It not detail, Nastya, Rusty continued, frustrated, this is secret. Nobody know, not even Kojomjarov…especially not Kojomjarov.

What? she was still confused.

We were recruited by Inquisitor Tharne, after Tywin and Stenson were killed by a, he swallowed, an ugly action since his disfigurement, a warpspawn.

What are you talking about? Nastya demanded.

We were getting overrun, Oksana broke in, Tywin…did something. He accidentally summoned a demon. It killed him, and Stenson got caught in the middle. The rest of us barely made it out alive, Rusty was on fire for awhile, the father lost his arm….Vladoff, Yuri, and Kaminev, she trailed off.

You’re saying you saw a Demon? First hand? Nastya said in disbelief, half-thinking they’d all lost their minds.

We didn’t know, Krash flashed from his rack.

We didn’t know it was a demon until the Inquisitor told us, later, Rusty explained, that’s when he told us we could either work for him, or die.

By the Emperor… she started to respond.

Dat’s the deal for you, too, Rusty signed, stepping towards them, determined to be the one to do what had to be done, if it came to it.

Work for someone I’ve never met, or die? Nastia continued, incredulous, By who’s hand?

Rusty let out a tortured, alien sigh from his machine-lungs, By mine. It took a few minutes for the skagsigns to fully sink in. Nastya and Korotich both started and aborted questions a couple of times, trying to decide whether to laugh or cry, fight or run to the nearest bastion of sanity. Questions streamed through Nastya’s head, but her fingers could only twist in confusion. Finally, she managed a response.

We tell…no one? she asked.

No one, not even skaggis, Dmitri confirmed with a finality unsuited for him. Nastia looked him in the eyes, scanned each of delta squad anew, as if they were not the family she had known for nearly a decade. As if they were back at indoc, having their identities broken and reforged.

I guess I have no choice, Irina resigned, I will kill for the Inquisition as I kill for the Emperor.

There’s one, Rusty looked relieved, so did Volkov, Nastya? Are you with us?

The compact woman half-smirked before she sniffed again, trying to buy time, still trying to fully grasp what they were trying to say. It was so…unbelievable. Maybe this would be good, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If they could do it, she could do it. This was a chance to prove herself, to an Inquistor no less.

“My loyalty is to my brothers and sisters,” she said out loud, “I am with you, until the Emperor claims me.”

“You want me to what?” Irina asked.

“The Emperor demands you be pure in body as well as spirit,” Volkov extolled, “You must at least anoint yourself with the sacred oils each morning, if you will not cleanse your flesh.”

“Why everyone want me to waste water bathing?” she demanded, “at home, no one in my station bathe more than twice a week.”

“We not at your station!” Dmitri demanded, “and I never want to know what life is like there! What I imagine is bad enough.”

“Hey!” she snarled.

“Focus!” Volkov growled, “Purify yourself!”

“Fine,” Korotich relented. Volkov bent to whisper into his pendant, mouthing the words ‘thank you.’ It was still early morning, and already they were arguing. ‘There’s nothing worse than an idle skaggi,’ Lord Commissar Aldonis had uttered many times over fine amasec. With a field day before them, delta was not particularly enthused by the prospects of excitement before nightfall.

“We have orders to carry-out,” Rusty acknowledged their boredom, pulling the bag he’d been given by the pilot from his pack. He opened it and retrieved a handful of the metal chips and the note, holding them so everyone could see.

“Drink chits?” Bash eyed them, “They’re different.”

Rusty unfolded the parchment, there were two lines written on it. Norin could almost read all the words, but he handed it to Volkov to make sure they got it right. The priest stepped forward and glanced at the note.

“It says: ‘You need to get to know the Rogue Traders, this should help you rub-elbows with them,’ it’s signed ‘T’.”

Rusty pulled his regimental hand-igniter from his breast pocket and flicked it to life, holding the small jet of flame to the corner of the paper and letting it burn in his steel hand. He ground the ashes under his boot to destroy every trace. “Like I said, we have orders, though I do not know how we are to accomplish them,” he admitted, “PT uniforms!”

After calisthenics they went for a run around the skaggi base zone. Volkov lead cadence most of the way, but gave the task to Nastya for a while. Her work songs were a welcome change from the priest’s endless variations on Hymns of Enduring Strength. To everyone’s surprise, Krash started belting out each verse without missing a word. Mira looked over a Oksana.

Since when does he pay attention to cadence? she signed quickly, careful to stay in-stride. Oksana just shrugged and repeated the last verse. After their run, the squad returned to quarters and washed down, except for Korotich.

This was the first time Nastya had a chance to see the scars that told the truth about delta’s last few weeks. Skaggis were brought-up in tight confines, privacy was not a term they recognized. They did everything together, wash downs included, and so had an intimate knowledge of each other’s health and bodies. A lot had changed in a very short time. Scars were shared by every skaggi, even before Cythera, and were worn with honor. Popov was quite proud of the thin line that crossed her belly at an angle up to her armpit, and the more jagged claw marks on her left shoulder.

They were assessing hers as she assessed theirs, it wasn’t the impolite or lude act it was when scintillans or mordians stared, but one of mutual concern. The only one who seemed to be uncomfortable was Rusty, of all people. His entire body was either steel or gnarled burn scars, and the junctions between the two were still reshaping, red and angry looking flesh sewn and pinned to his limbs. There was no hair to be seen on his chest, arms, back or head, and the worst scarring was a ghastly mimic of his battle-harness. His mouth was a gash filled by ironically healthy teeth and a leathery tongue. Scar tissue was stretched around the ocular implants. He looked nothing like the man she’d last seen aboard the transport ship. He looked nothing like a man at all, and it was clear he knew it.

Volkov’s famous chest brand, however, was displayed whenever he got the chance, and he was bold about the gun-metal hand and the fresh line across his bicep. Dozens of fresh cut marks had joined the dozens of old ones. Krash had many scars, but they were all years old, most of them from before the tithe. Perhaps now that they were in the same squad, she’d finally figure out what the hell happened to him. There was no way a man in his current state would have passed psych, no matter how good he was a fixing vox equipment.

Oksana likewise didn’t have any new scars, but the familiar constellation of her past still forced a certain degree of respect from Nastya. Before the implosion of Tamarova’s career, Nastya had always felt a certain kinship with her. They’d both sacrificed husbands in their service, both had fiery dispositions. Oksana’s tactical prowess had saved a lot of skaggis, not to mention the poor bastards they were always pulling out of the fire during that campaign. When the famed captain had cracked almost a year before the end, Nastya had felt betrayed. A hint of that still lingered, but she was till a sister and Popov had come to terms with it years ago. At least Mjr. Chesnokova had retained Nastya’s admiration as a hero of Cythera.

Buttoning her uniform blouse, she noticed the surgical scars on Dmitri’s leg just before he pulled his trouser cuff down over his boot. He’d never been the most gifted gravchutist; it wasn’t the first time he’d been injured on a jump, but it must have been the worst. The hunter glanced up at her and Popov almost flinched at the darkness there. She looked away. He’d always been kind a moshar’s ass, but there was definitely something a lot darker in his eyes than the last she’d seen him. She’d seen that look before, in other skaggis’ eyes, but not since Cythera. Nastya almost felt bad for Mitin.

She slung her customized lascarbine over her shoulder and checked it a final time as they squad descended for breakfast.

“You keep carbine in good shape,” Krash appeared next to her, “I will fix it up much better.”

“I like the sound of that, what did you have in mind?” she said, well aware of Krash’s talents. He pointed at the trigger assembly and the power-pack.

“I modify tension springs, make action nice and smooth,” he nodded, “and maybe file down retention clips, for faster pack switches, yes? Will be much better, you will like.”

“I definitely like the sound of that,” She smiled, “Where’d you learn so much about mods, anyway?”

“Mostly I take apart and put back,” he shrugged, “I try with Rusty, too, but he too light a sleeper, yes? hahaha!” Nastya raised an eyebrow, what the fuck was he talking about? The mechanic dropped back into line as bravo platoon passed them in the tight corridor. Popov was thankful she didn’t have to figure out how to respond.

The squad ate their re-hydrated breakfast quickly and quietly, and when they were finished, they went to Kojomjarov’s office and found him field stripping his sidearm with his eyes closed.

“One second boys and girls,” he said without opening them. He finished locking the barrel in place and slid the power pack in with a satisfying click. As the capacitor gave its high-pitched whine he opened his eyes and checked his chrono, “Ha! fifty-eight seconds! Okay,” he stood-up behind his desk, “Let’s go to roof and talk about base, yes?”

They trooped up the stairs and filed out onto the rooftop of the habplex, which allowed them to see most of the base walls and the airfield a several blocks away. After a few moments to get their bearings, the lieutenant walked to the edge of the roof and held his arm out to the different areas as he explained them.

“We’re in our own zone here, at the northeast corner of the base. There’s a perimeter wall all around the main base, and the rest of Fort Chambers is pretty well patrolled, but not as defensible. There are still pockets of greenskins out there, and they attack smaller patrols from time to time. That way is obviously the ocean. There’re docks, but nobody use them, we mostly ignore that. West of us are the fusileers, they got fancy stick-n-brick houses, but most of them would burn-up pretty quick if the flamer orks ever got in there,” delta nodded, familiar with the fragility of wooden structures.

“Over there in the middle are the Longknives, you already know they’re good fighters. South of them are the ghostwalkers. That’s the air field obviously, some parts are Navy some parts are the Rogue Traders, so pay attention. this strip alongside the air field,” he swung his hand, “is the Trade zone, Gibrahan’s crew are set-up all along it. I don’t know much about them, and I don’t trust them. They’re not guardsmen, but they’re fighting on our side, so no too many punch-ups, okay? Commissar’s might not be the ones ending the fights, and Major wants to keep dem friendly to skaggis. They have infantry and a whole bunch of battle tanks in there. Don’t worry, this not like before, the tanks are great in field.”

He wrapped up his explanation with a description of their deployments lately, explaining how the jingkai were skilled at hit-and-run attacks that would draw the enemy’s attention and distract them enough for the scintillans and trader factions to force a wedge into their battlelines. The Longknives would go in to clear-out the villages and cities house-to-house with their ogrin, and the heimrocs were usually either dropped into hot-spots are inserted before the main push to create a weak spot the others could exploit. It had been hard fought, but they were holding ground reasonably. Soon, they’d hopefully be able to start pushing the hordes back. All in all, it wasn’t the worst sounding situation.

“The base has plenty of room for running,” Kojomjarov concluded, “I just wish it weren’t so salty-aired. Questions?”

“Where to do rogue traders come from?” Bash asked, suspicious of these not-guardsmen soldiers.

“All over, as much as we can tell. I don’t know too much, we have been keeping distance,” Kojomjarov answered.

“Is there drinking place? We have drink chits left from supply base,” Bosinov asked.

“Yah, there’s many drinking places, but they want thrones, I don’t think drink chits will work there,” he answered.

“What about these? We a few of these, too,” Rusty took two of the unfamiliar coins from this pocket.

“Yah, that’s thrones. Where you get those?”

“From people,” Oksana shrugged. Tundra Law didn’t have anything bad to say about using what you found in the field, as long as no one was using it. Leaving things behind was wasteful, and therefore disgraceful. Kojomjarov didn’t pry, glad to see delta was still resourceful.

“So they are drink chits for Fort Chambers?” Rusty asked.

“You can get other things with thrones,” the lieutenant said, walking back toward the stairs, “like guns. But you need a lot more than two, I think. Don’t get in too much trouble, and make sure your gear is perfect working and clean by lights-out. You’ll be on sentry duty rotation tomorrow,” he disappeared down the stairs.

“So, they are gun-chits!” Krash smiled pointing at the thrones in Rusty’s hand.

“Gun chits?”Dmitri snapped his eyes back to the coins, his face lighting-up with excitement, “Now we have to find gun Hole!”Everyone exchanged glances, “How many is there?” Rusty had gone through them already, and knew exactly.

One hundred each person, he signed. Smiles lit-up all around the roof top. Nastya was now decided that joining delta had been a good move.

Hot Drop

“…and whose idea was it to use a heavy flamer in the presence of so many volatile chemicals?” Lt. Barksdale, their new fusilier liaison officer, droned.

“Mine,” Rusty answered, annoyed. We saved the motor pool didn’t we? The rest of the squad was silent around him.

“Duly noted, Foreman, consider yourselves fortunate that none of them were lit aflame. You’re all reckless, and it makes you dangerous, do you understand what that means for you?” Rusty just stared back the lieutenant with his unblinking machine eyes. After a moment, the lieutenant lost the challenge.

“Adept Antonius is, however, insistent that you be rewarded for you efforts and sacrifice saving what remained of the motor pool. He as given me the duty of presenting you each with the Cog Et Machina, wear it well, Skaggis,” Barksdale handed each of them a small leather flap inside which lay the polished durasteel of the Adeptus Mechanicus medal.

“Further more, in light of the grievous injuries sustained in the battle, and your, again rather reckless, intervention on behalf of several wounded Scintillans, Father Volkov, Lineman Zhurov, Foreman Rostilav, and Lineman Reed are honored with the Medallion Crimson,” He handed a another set of leather flaps out. The ceremony usually associated with the honoring of medals seemed glaringly absent. Barksdale had handed out many over the last several days. He looked genuinely exhausted to Rusty; posture drooped, eyes sagging and bloodshot, certainly his colour was faded. The man was suffering from advanced fatigue and likely hadn’t had much in the way of rest the entire week.

Good, the medic thought. It meant he was actually reading the reports written by other units, and it also meant he’d be less likely to catch the dozens of things the medic did that skirted the limits of regulation. Very good, Rusty glanced across the faces of the new Delta Squad.

He didn’t much care for the surviving soldiers of the now wiped-out gamma squad. He had liked Foreman Leluhka, fucking bastards, she’d been a damn fine leader of Skaggis, and he certainly had no desire to be yolked with responsibility for this lot. He turned his pictcaster-like vision on Krash. Smug little bastard, if he was capable of glaring, and with his warped face he surely wasn’t, he would be. The glorified voxman’s drug-addled partner was a fucking time bomb, too. Tamarova thought she was so clever, but any indoc-fresh medic should’ve been able to spot the signs of stim dependence.

Bash was solid, between him and Zhurov he probably had the most reliable skaggis in the platoon, certainly the toughest. Anyone else would’ve been dead with half the wounds Reed had sustained in the ork assault, and the man could handle a lascannon. Zhurov was precise, but he was stricken by his sister’s death, even now. That could be dangerous, though not anymore so than Krash’s shit, or the bedamned Father’s.

Volkov was a deeply damaged skaggi, in Rusty’s experience, and it wasn’t just the burns and the cyberhand. He didn’t know the details, and didn’t care to, about the priest’s history, but he knew it involved capture at the hands of Skraff. That kind of shit broke a man inside, no matter how whole he looked coming out of it. No one runs into certain death like the priest had done three times in the last few weeks, no one sane. The Scintillan was still yammering.

“…be assisting the brontians with repa-“

“Understood, Sir,” Rusty interrupted. The lieutenant’s eyes tried to widen with anger, but the fatigue weighed them down. He sat down in his chair, staring hard at Rusty, as if it would have any affect. Rusty had stared into the naked eyes of an eldar Warp Spider, for Emperor’s sake, as his severed right arm twitched on the ground next him, this soft-world junior officer was nothing.

“Dismissed,” the lieutenant said, his anger just a thread in the statement. Rusty didn’t bother saluting, he just left. The squad followed suit. They were in no celebratory mood; most of them.

“They give medal,” Krash said, mostly to himself Rusty thought, as they were walking back to the barracks.

“You mean this one,” Zhurov held the Cog Et Mechanicus up, “This one we all got?”

“But they give me medal,” Krash stressed, still admiring the useless token. Rusty had had enough.

“That’s because they don’t know you, Krasheninnikov,” he growled through his machine mouth.

“They give me medal,” Krash repeated, as if this settled the argument.

“He obviously didn’t read your servlog,” Rusty replied.

“Reed, you skindraw?” Krash’s abbreviated dialect irritated Rusty on the best of days, now it was really getting under what remained of his skin.

“Yah,” the boomer replied.

“You skindraw this?” Krash held the medal up, slapping his shoulder with the other hand to indicate where he wanted his tattoo.

“Sure,” Reed replied, happy to repay the mechanic for fixing-up his lascannon. Krash grinned, crinkling the dark tattoos around his eyes.

Another week and no deployment. They’d repaired the damage to most of the base, at least what they had the supplies to handle. They’d also repaired the damage to themselves. The most surprising development had been the warming of relations with the fusiliers on-base. Apparently, delta’s accomplishments had won them some favor, they’d even been authorized some new equipment. If the last couple of fights had shown them anything, it was that they needed something higher volume than a lascannon to deal with orks.

Reed’s cannon had served them more than well fighting the eldar on Cythera, and the rebels here and there before this place, but he just couldn’t get enough shots off to thin the ork masses. So far, they’d only seen medium armor, so there wasn’t much need for that kind of penetrating power anyway. They’d put-in for an infantry multilaser, and to Rusty’s surprise they’d been granted the request. Krash was busy modifying the grips right now.

Rusty’s eyes finished their autodiagnostic, and he could see again. Reed was doing push-ups with his new partner, alongside Volkov and Tamarova. He assumed there was a competition of some kind, or Oksana wouldn’t have involved herself.

Krash’s bunk erupted in sparks, along with a short yelp. Rusty looked over, Krash wasn’t working on the multilaser after all, it was sitting in its open case on the floor. In his hands, a smoking laspistol was still glowing where he’s ruptured a capacitor cell. That’s,

“_My_ laspistol!” Rusty bellowed. Krash looked up, tossing the ruined weapon into his footlocker and retrieving a fresh one.

“No, this your laspistol,” the mechanic grinned. Rusty stared at him. The push-up competition ended with a chorus of groans and one laughing priest. Zhurov walked over, sheen of sweat covering his bare arms and chest.

“Rusty, thought I should let you know,” the hunter started jogging in place, “They’re giving me the sniper test tomorrow.”

“Okay…” Rusty wasn’t sure why it mattered to him. Zhurov was smiling like an idiot.
“Gotta be sharp, sleep tonight, we’ll be back,” he called over his shoulder to Mitin, putting her shirt back on. The rest of the base was strangely touchy about people wearing shirts, especially females, but males, too. Mitin tossed Zhurov his.

“Scintillans,” Zhurov said dismissively. They left before Rusty could respond.

The next evening, Rusty was watching Krash modify a triplex pattern longlas. Zhurov was busy recounting the sniper’s examination.

“It was like a hunting detail,” he was saying, “You run, you shoot, you run, you shoot. It was easy, the targets didn’t even shoot back!” the squad laughed.

“Demetri,” Rusty called, “You let Krash touch your new weapon?”

“He’s upgrading the stock…” Demetri said, Rusty held-up the ruined laspistol he formerly called his own. He tossed it to Zhurov, who caught it with a horrified expression. The hunter immediately jumped to Krash’s bunk, where the operator was just clicking the barrel back into place.

“Just in time!” Krash’s eye tattoos crinkled. Zhurov held the broken pistol in his hand.

“What if this happened to rifle?” he demanded through a tight jaw.

“It not,” Krash shrugged, again holding up the successfully modified longlas. Zhurov yanked it from his hands like a child from an akyrag’s claws.

“What if this happened to rifle?” he pushed the dead laspistol into Krash’s chest. Krash shrugged, and tossed it back into his footlocker, moderately curious how it had found its way out in the first place. Zhurov turned and marched back to his bunk, stowed the rifle in its case, and lay on top of it crossing his arms and staring alternately at Krash and Rusty.

“What’s his problem?” Tamarova asked, walking up to her bunk from the latrine.

“People worry too much,” he shrugged.

“Boz!” Rusty shouted for his medic’s assistant
“Rusty?” he answered from his bunk across the room.

“Get three doses out of the reserve.”

“Roger, that, where’d it go?” Boz asked, rolling out of his bunk and starting for the latrine, where the extra stim doses were stashed.

“Nowhere, I want extra in the kit,” he replied. No one dared touch Rusty’s carefully organized medicae supplies, the only way it would go missing is if someone outside the platoon stole it, and that would be impossible with the barracks constantly occupied.

“Any particular reason we need extra?” Zhurov asked from his bunk above Rusty’s, he was yet again compulsively cleaning the conduit of his revenge, familiarizing himself with every angle and corner of the complex triplex pattern. There were more than a few eccentricities greatly divergent from the lascarbine he’d used since the age of five.

Demetri was drifting into yet another childhood memory, a painfully frequent occurrence of late, of his grand-uncle berating him for holding the weapon incorrectly. He’d been shorter than the carbine was long at the time, but none the less been expected to carry it at all times. It was one of many reasons skaggis preferred the carbine to a standard pattern lasgun. The shorter, lighter construction allowed even children to handle it effectively. The memory was blown away on tundra wind as the door slammed open. Delta squad jerked as one at the startling noise and motion, the source of which was an out-of-breath scintillan private.

“Skaggis! You’re deploying immediately…landing pad…now!” he shouted.

“Gear and clear!” Rusty bellowed in his voxbox monotone. The squad immediately scrambled into a flurry of activity. They always kept their armor and gear laid out for quick assembly, one of the many lessons learned on Cythera, and it was the matter of a moment before they were fully strapped together and formed-up. They jogged the half mile or so to the airfield, where the pair of Navy valkyries and a vendetta already roared at idle.

Zhurov saw Sgt. Dixon’s stormtrooper squad circled at-ease around Lt. Barksdale near the vendetta. The skaggis jogged to a halt as Barksdale was speaking.

“…Penned in by ork armor. Artillery on a ridgeline is bombarding them from above…”

“Nice of you to join us,” one of the stormtroopers whispered as Barksdale continued. Zhurov held-up a middle finger until the stormtrooper acknowledged it with a superior chuckle.

“…Dixon, you have overall command, Delta squad is going to drop with you from Mjr. Bhatikar’s valkyrie. Mission gear has been loaded onto your aircraft, soldiers. The primary objective is eliminating the artillery threat on the ridge, whatever other assistance you can provide the men on the ground is secondary. Emperor’s Blessing,” the lieutenant finished.

“In His name!” the stormtroopers and skaggis responded, competing for volume. They broke into a run simultaneously, making for their transports. Seconds after they thundered aboard, Mjr. Bhatikar increased power.

”All hands clear!” he shouted through the voxbox above the forward bulkhead. The valkyrie began its unsteady rise into the sky, skaggis holding-on to the ceiling loops in the stripped-down compartment as Rusty opened the supply crates.

“What the…” the first crate contained only a pile of dress uniforms, huge ones fit for ogrin, “typical.” He moved on to the next, instead of what he assumed to be promethium, it was an industrial barrel of concentrated acid solvent.

“Emperor damn it all,” he was about to throw his hands up when he noticed another, smaller box wedged between the crate of uniforms and the bulkhead. He pulled it free. There was a clearly recognizable Inquisitorial seal on the lid.

“What’s that?” Boz asked.

“Let’s find out,” he undid the clasp on the front, and opened the lid; the contents shed a gentle blue glow on the bulkhead behind him. “Whoa…” as the squad gazed expectantly, Rusty gingerly lifted a plasma pistol from the case, an actual paper note was attached to the holy weapon. “You read Father?”

“I do,” Volkov responded, stepping solemnly to the front of the cabin and accepting the note from the foreman. He held it aloft, in both hands as if it were a pronouncement from the Emperor himself. He read aloud in pulpit fashion:

“Delta squad, do not perish, I will have need of you soon,” he let his hands drop, “It is unsigned, though I think we all know from whom this blessing comes. Thank the Emperor for this fortuitous gift on the knell of this holy mission. Truly, we are his chosen this day!” the squad placed a fist on their chests in one-handed Aquila salutes, perfunctory as it was. Volkov rarely had such an opportunity to extoll the Allfather’s providence.

Krash had moved ever closer to the weapon, his jaw agape and eyes wide in wonder that he was being given this most beauteous marvel of the Omnissiah. Before he could accept his right, Rusty jerked it away from him.

“Oohh no, not you,” Rusty admonished. Krash reeled as if stung.

“But I am expert!” he cried out.

“You are a tech-heretic! I’ll be damned if you touch a sun gun!” Rusty roared.

“I’m the best shot,” Zhurov said, stepping forward. Rusty handed it to the hunter.

“But. I. Am. H’Expert!” Krash shouted, the first time in a long time anyone had seen him shout in anger. Rusty just pointed to Krash’s position in the drop line. The mechanic stared unnervingly at Rusty, who stared just as unnervingly back.

“Burn the note, Father,” Rusty ordered, not breaking eye contact. The priest did so immediately, reciting a prayer of thanks to the Allfather. Most of the squad chanted along with him, eager not to strike the match that would set off the powder-keg of the two. Krash and Rusty had the most checkered pasts in the platoon, if not the company. Rusty’s fall from grace after frequent insubordination, apparently thanks to bloodlust, combined with the accusation against Krash he’d just made, of which many rumors circulated years after the fact, made it disturbingly likely either one of them could kill the other in cold blood.

The tension was actually broken by the telltale tinkling of incoming fire on the outer hull. Almost simultaneously, the deck began to pitch and yaw beneath their feet.

”Standby for evasive maneuvers!” the voxbox scratched, barely audible over the engines. The skaggis gripped their ceiling straps tightly to avoid slamming into one another or the bulk heads, it mostly worked. After a couple of queasy minutes of evasive flying, the yellow lamp above the bay door flipped on.

“Heimrocs! Do you fear death!” Rusty bellowed, his voice clear and alive over the muffled weapons.

“We’re already dead!” they shouted at the top of their lungs, even Krash. The bay door began to groan open, wind-roar instantly overpowered all sound. The forest below seemed oddly serene for the battle they knew raged seconds away. Behind them, the second valkyrie’s hellstrike missiles rocketed forward just as the light turned green above their door.

“GO, GO, GO!” Rusty bellowed. They ran down the ramp and leapt, immediately activating the gravchutes, for they were mere dozens of meters above ground traveling at just under attack speed. Rusty’s eyes whirred, scanning the chaos and carnage below. A line of ork mortar trucks, field guns, and a hulking battlewagon dominated his view. Littered along the line were a few smoking pock marks and a great blast corona around a flaming pile of wreckage; given the size, it had probably been a second battlewagon seconds before. Thank the Emperor for the Navy.

The gravcute was whining under the stress the medic was putting it through, but it only had to last him a few more seconds. He saw Zhurov land perfectly on three point. Practice paid off; the hunter had been doing a lot of training jumps from the make-shift training tower near the airfield.

Volkov hadn’t improved much, though. The priest tumbled to the ground as his gravchute stalled a few meters from touchdown. He looked alright. Impatient fool. At least he was already up.

Rusty landed heavily, too, his new parts were heavier than he was accustomed to, but nothing seemed damaged. Bash’s multilaser began firing from his left, blasting apart the crew of the nearest field gun. Further away he saw stormtroopers roping down from their hovering vendetta, Empyrean they’ve got jox. They were already taking heavy fire from ork rocket troopers in the artillery line.

It looked like he was next. The nearest truck backed out of position and turned to face the skaggis. He could almost hear the gunner’s laughter as a large-caliber weapon spit automatic fire at delta squad.

“Get to cover!” he growled over the bead, bending low to avoid the zipping rounds spraying dirt all around him. Suddenly a pillar of smoke appeared near his feet.

“Pop smoke!” he caught-on to the plan. The fire kept-up, he continued to stumble nearly blind and doubled over, but he could feel the rounds parting the air. He could see Bash clearly, though he needn’t have. The heavy Ticka-Ticka of the multilaser clearly placed him nearby. Smoke flashed brilliant red as lasers sped off blindly toward the ork truck.

“Krash, position,” Rusty demanded over the bead, hearing what he thought was small-arms fire from his right, and a lot of it. There wasn’t an immediate response.

”In cover with Volkov,” Zhurov’s voice answered instead, from the other other end of the battle line.

“Copy,” Rusty replied. Dammit, “Tamarova, position,” he asked again.

”Busy,” came her terse repsonse, speckled with the enraged, impish screeching of a gretchin-class ork and a laspistol shot.

”Damn you, Krash!” he growled, turning around and sprinting all out in the direction of the first field gun nest, or at least his best approximation through the haze of smoke grenades.

“Rusty? What are you doing? Get to cover!” Bash yelled over his gun.

“I can’t!” Rusty barked back. He burst out into the open, seeing first Krash and Tamarova covering behind the field gun from a half dozen grots, then turning his gaze left in time to see the truck’s main gun swivel towards him. Shit.

The rounds flashed towards him, and he sprinted like a madman. Something hit him like meteorite, sending him sprawling into the dirt. It took two long seconds to realize he wasn’t dead.

“What the fuck are you doing, Idiot?” he gasped over the bead.

”Me? You’re idiot, idiot!” Krash snapped back, a lasgun shot ceased the gretchin’s screaming, and a smoke grenade bounced into view, spewing blessed cover between Rusty and the truck’s bite. He noted with satisfactions how much damage the multilaser was doing before the smoke obscured the field again.

”Rusty, stormtroopers are in trouble,” Zhurov’s voice followed another explosion from the down the artillery line.

“Cover them,” Rusty ordered, pulling himself along the ground as the ork gun continued to fire. He heard the longlas’s distinctive SNAP, a little higher and thinner than a carbine’s due to a more tightly focused beam.

”Copy,” Zhurov said. A grenade blast returned the crawling foreman’s attention to Krash’s position ahead.

“Krash?” he asked.

”That was us, second gun crew’s on the move,” Oksana said calmly.

If I die rescuing him, I’ll kill him myself, he continued pulling his half-machine body along the ground until he could see the heretic and drug addict huddling behind a cannon, and the ork truck still unloading into the smoke where Bash’s shots were coming from. The truck’s front end was so mangled it was a surprise it was operational at all. He could hear the raging battle echoing off the ridge far below him, between the light mechanized scintillans and what had looked like a mass of bastardized chimera that could only have been the orks’ plunder turned against the Imperials.

They’d silenced half the artillery line in the first few seconds…but delta was divided by a killing field, thanks to this idiot, and the stormtroopers were apparently running from half the orks on the ridgeline. This was not going well.

Ups and Downs of Base Duty

“Soldier, you aren’t authorized to be in here…” an orderly protested.

“You didn’t die, you’re not in the stockade, and it looks like the lights are on,” Oksana observed, “I guess you don’t need me after all.” Krash shrugged as he sat on the folding chair next to her infirmary cot. “How’d it go?”

“Crashed twice,” Krash replied, for two words, there was a lot being said by her squad mate.

“Who went home?” she asked, the smile disappearing from her face.

“Zhurova,” he said, “Marge.” Oksana let the silence hover for a while. They’d been in-system less than a week and they’d already lost a quarter of the platoon. In the depths of her highs, Oksana sometimes thought death would be the ultimate escape, freedom from the strange, often hellish experiences that strung her life together. She’d tried, more than once.

“How?” she asked. Krash pulled his auspex from his pocket and began fiddling with the settings. Oksana nodded. Crashed twice, she thought. “You brought the rest back, and you probably saved Rusty and Volkov bringing back the generator.”

“Could have fixed it,” he said, referring to the malfunctioning generator they deployed to replace. Oksana let it go. One of the nurses passing them noticed the blood staining Krash’s sleeve.

“You should be in triage,” he pointed to the intake portion of the field hospital. When Krash glanced curiously at his sleeve, the nurse grew more persistent, “Now! You’re getting blood all over my ward.”

Oksana hid the hint of smile. Krash pulled at his belt pouches and found a roll of pipe sealer. He wrapped it around his wound and put the roll back in his pocket.

“Triage,” the nurse pointed.

“Leak fixed,” Krash pointed at his arm. A distant stifled scream of pain from where the nurse was pointing drew his attention. The caster on the ceiling hummed to life.

”Trauma staff to triage, trauma staff to triage, incoming criticals.”

The nurse clenched his jaw hard enough to shake his wig at Krash before moving briskly to where ambulances were grinding to a halt at the intake bay. Krash looked back to Oksana as the fusilier medic disappeared. She tried, and failed to stifle a laugh. Krash smiled, the rest of the platoon had made it back.

Thirty feet away in triage, blood and shredded uniforms were already covering the floor. Demetri almost passed-out as the surgeon palpated his leg and chest, sending white stars skittering across his vision. A servitor draped in white cloth lurched forward, a bouquet of implements hung from an artificial appendage sprouting from the base of its neck. The lenses implanted where its eyes should have been zoomed in and out as it imaged his wounds.

A sheaf of parchment rolled out from between a pair of steel bars stretching the servitor’s mouth, like a paper tongue. When it was finished, the surgeon tore it free and read the medicae mumbo-jumbo. Demetri focused on the scorpion tail of sharp steel and hypodermic stingers. On the next table, a nurse or another servitor shoved a mask in place over Gamma’s Foreman Leluhka. The scorpion-tail stung Demetri.

Demetri’s eyes drifted to Leluhka’s face as the mask grabbed hold, extending a breathing tube down her trachea. This forced her eyes to bulge reflexively before the sedatives forced the foreman’s body to relax. Another surgeon pulled a power scalpel from a port on his own med-servitor. Demetri’s last memory before the sedatives clouded reality out was watching the surgeon cut a long line down the foreman’s leg while four appendages hung ready, carbide bone drills spinning over the skaggi. He wasn’t sure if this was any better than what the orks did. It didn’t matter. The light above his table turned into Novas, the sound of tools howling wind, and he was home, but in ZG, and there was a scorpion dancing with him as they floated across the sky.

Krash carefully spun the centurion board around on a tiny hospital side table. After tilting his head once or twice, he moved one of the crudely-carved pieces and spun the board back. Glancing at Rostilav’s body encased in bandages, a grizzly breathing mask affixed to his face, and intravenous pumps enforcing his drug-induced coma, Krash made his own move.

“Krash,” Yanov called from the doorway, “Debrief.” Mikhail reluctantly looked at the gaming board before collecting his uniform blouse from the foot of the bed.

When the two of them reached the command center, they were greeted by the usual sentry’s challenge.

“Name and purpose?” the scintillan asked through the commbox.

“Tundraman Krasheninnikov and Acolyte Yanov, for mission debriefing,” Yanov answered tiredly. After a moment’s pause, as the guard checked his list of approved guardsmen, the door ground open.

“You’re free to enter, third floor briefing room,” the bewigged sentry directed them with a calloused hand. They knew the way, and didn’t bother stopping to acknowledge the pompous local soldier. Their first indication something was amiss came when they arrived in the briefing room to find only delta squad sitting in the strange, wood-frame chairs of scintillan favor. Krash cast a curious look around the group, particularly at Oksana, who hadn’t been on the last mission at all. Yanov was the one who ended up asking the obvious.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“Looks like a repeat,” Oksana said, “This is about the refinery.” She was right; everyone present had survived the refinery skirmish. Yanov made the next leap.

“The defensive action,” he glanced around the assembled skaggis, “but why?” Oksana, Krash, and particularly Demetri, Bash, and Olga merely shrugged. That’s when a distinguished-looking fusilier officer swept into the room. Colonel’s brass on his collar was polished to a bright sheen, and the skaggis came quickly to attention and saluted. Col. Mann let them hold it for a moment longer than necessary before speaking.

“At ease, Delta squad,” he glanced about for sergeant’s stripes and, finding none, addressed them as a group, “All are present?” Yanov answered, being acting foreman.

“All cleared to leave medico, two are still there unconscious, sir,” he reported. The colonel seemed miffed, but said nothing. A moment later, two MPs entered the room and flanked the door. The skaggi’s eyes darted, exchanging glances. This wasn’t definitely wrong. An officer of some kind practically stomped into the room clad in knee-high jackboots, long blue overcoat, and most impressive, an actual power sword sheathed opposite a glowing plasma pistol.

The entire room stood at fearful attention, saluting. The newcomer was neither scintillan nor skaggi, nor of any other of the resident regiments. Yanov’s best guess from the equipment and dress was Imperial Navy or Adeptus Administratum, and high rank, too, to possess such rare and powerful weapons as personal equipment.

“Delta squad, second platoon, third company, Novaskaggi seventh drop troop regiment?” he asked smartly.

“Two in medico, all others accounted for, sir,” he was guessing on the “sir” part, but it certainly seemed like a good idea.

“You’ll each be debriefed individually. Acolyte Yanov, you’ll be first. Refrain from colluding before your turn,” the high-ranking Newcomer glanced at the MPs standing at the door, weapons ready. Two more emerged from a second door in the briefing room. The Newcomer held a gloved hand out towards the door. Yanov’s jaw tensed; looking at his squad with a mixture of fear and reassurance, he entered the room.

Yanov walked between the MPs. There was a single empty chair in the center of the room. In one corner, behind a small table, an older, bald man stared directly at the chair. He said nothing, nor did he seem to acknowledge the presence of another person in the room. If his eyes had not been so focused, Yanov would have assumed him to be a servitor.

“Take your seat,” the Newcomer ordered. Yanov took his seat, to find the man behind the desk staring directly and unnervingly at his face.

“State your name, rank, and unit,” the Newcomer demanded.

“Yanov, Acolyte, Delta squad, second platoon, third company, Novaskaggi seventh drop troops,” he stated proudly.

“You are the command NCO of this squad?” the Newcomer demanded. His tone strong and abrupt, but not angry.

“Yes, acting foreman,” Yanov stated.

“You were present during a defensive action at a refinery two days ago,” it was more of a statement than a question, but Yanov confirmed it anyway.

“Yes, sir.”

“You witnessed the death of Sanctioned Psyker Ty’win?” the Newcomer asked. The bald man continued to stare, expressionless, into Yanov’s eyes. He hadn’t twitched a muscle.

“Yes, sir,” Yanov suddenly knew where this was headed.

“Please relate exactly what you witnessed leading up to, and immediately following, his death.” Yanov swallowed, and began.

“We were being overrun by an ork mob. They’d just breeched the west perimeter wall I was positioned on. Overseer Stenson, Psyker Ty’win, Skagman Tamarova, Lineman Kaminev, and Tundraman Krasheninnikov were all in a utility truck, hull-down behind the generatorum on base,” Yanov explained.

“Who was where in the vehicle?” the Newcomer asked. Yanov had to think about it for a moment.

“Krasheninnikov was driver, Tamarova was in the cab with him. Stenson, Kaminev, and Ty’win were both in the walled cargo area. They’d been manning the autocannon emplacement there and-”

“An autocannon emplacement on a utility truck?” the Newcomer raised an eyebrow.

“We’d modified it during our defensive preparations, but the gun had been disabled in the first moments of the battle, anyway,” Yanov paused. The Newcomer glanced briefly at the bald man behind the table. He nodded ever so slightly, it was the first time Yanov had seen him move at all, but it did absolutely nothing to suggest he was human.

“Continue,” the Newcomer ordered.

“Their position was being rushed by ork heavy weapon teams and flamer infantry, as well as some kind of ork officer, but the truck had good cover from the generatorum. That’s when the big one appeared,” Yanov said.

“The,” the Newcomer paused, as if retrieving a passage from memory, “’large, horned, red ork, wielding a flaming sword’,” he recited. Yanov knew it was a direct quote from their official report.

“Yes, sir. Bigger than any ork I’ve seen in-system. It’d been lying in wait in the waste pool on the east side of the base. We never had a clue it was there, and I’m still not sure why it waited for the ork counter attack to show itself-” Yanov was interrupted again.

“What was Psyker Ty’win doing at the moment this ‘big, red ork’ appeared?” the Newcomer asked.

“I,” Yanov genuinely couldn’t recall, “I’m not entirely certain, sir.”

“Was he channeling the warp?” the Newcomer asked. Yanov didn’t answer, “Perhaps this will refresh your memory.” The Newcomer withdrew a data slate from a breast pocket, tapped the screen twice, playing an audio log. Yanov recognized it immediately; he listened to himself break down in sobs, heard the doctor fighting with him, and finally heard himself being sedated. The acolyte winced, not visibly he hoped.

“Yes, he was channeling,” Yanov stated, “the red ork then charged the truck. Krasheninnikov immediately accelerated away, but the truck was slow. The ork caught the rear end in time to flay Overseer Stenson and Psyker Ty’win apart. I witnessed their utter destruction from my position in the gun tower,” Yanov took a breath. His heart was beating rapidly as the sweat dampened his brow and neck. The Newcomer glanced at the bald man, who again gave his mechanical nod.

“What happened next?” the Newcomer asked, his tone still unbearably neutral.

“The big one disappeared. I assume Psyker Ty’win had some final burst of power that destroyed hit altogether. The battle raged for a couple more minutes. Foreman Vladoff and our voxman, Gregori, were killed by a rocket that struck their tower. Kaminev and Rostilav were washed by a flamer, I remember Rostilav sprinting across the open field on fire. Kaminev didn’t make it out of the tower. I didn’t see how Krasheninnikov and Tamarova made it out, but they met us in the woods several minutes after. Neither did I witness how Father Volkov escaped the massacre,” Yanov finished. The Newcomer nodded.

“And you never saw this ‘red ork’ again?” he asked.

“No, sir. Like I said, somehow Psyker Ty’win had killed it as it…as he died,” Yanov confirmed. The old man nodded.

“Wait in the next room. Do not speak,” the Newcomer gestured to yet another door, beyond which Yanov found yet another pair of MPs standing guard in a study. Yanov took a seat, breathing in relief that he hadn’t been executed on the spot for something, and waited. The interview had been the most frightening experience with command he’d ever experienced, including ministorum training.

One by one the others joined him. He noticed Demetri, Bash, and Olga were ushered quickly through the doors. None of them spoke, and everyone looked shaken; except perhaps Krash, but Yanov had yet to see the scrawny mountain man respond appropriately to any situation. He assumed the driver was just as shaken as the rest of them by the mere fact he wasn’t fidgeting with something.

After another moment, the Newcomer entered the room, dismissing the MPs. Once they were gone, he turned to the squad.

“Guardsmen, I’ve wasted enough time. I am Inquisitor Thrane of the Ordo Hereticus, sworn to the Emperor himself to defend humanity against the Great Enemy and its overlords. What you saw during the skirmish for the refinery was not a ‘big, red ork’. It was a Bloodletter, a demon of the warp itself, brought into our realm by the reckless actions of Psyker Ty’win, and the failure of Overseer Stenson in his duties.

The reality of his statement washed over them. Certainly they’d heard of warp demons, but always in the nightmare fogginess of children’s tales and ancient scripture. It was like finding out all the monsters under your bed were real all along, waiting for you to get bigger before they ate you whole. Despite years of combat experience and survival in one of the galaxy’s deadliest environs, every skaggi in the room suddenly felt as vulnerable and helpless as a newborn.

“Having witnessed such an event, the Emperor has graced you with two options,” the Inquisitor explained, “First, you may be put out of your misery right here, right now,” he let a hand rest on the hilt of his power sword, “Second is to utilize the abilities you have so far shown in the service of the Inquisition, under my authority. You will continue to operate as delta squad, second platoon, except when I require you to do otherwise. You will reveal your new status, and all of today’s events, to absolutely no one, not even your fellow skaggis, and especially not your superiors. If you do, I will see your entire families wiped-out during the next scheduled purge of Novaskag.”

A mixture of shock and burning hatred flashed across their faces at the threat to their families. The Inquisitor didn’t respond, simply waiting for their answer with all the care of a man watching ants fight. Demetri was the first to answer, his crutches leaning against his chair.

“Well of course we’ll work for you, Sir,” he stated, just barely hiding his sarcasm. The rest of the squad nodded agreement.

“Excellent choice,” Thrane reached into his pocket and retrieved a handful of black medallions, “These mark you as agents of the Inquisition. Do not reveal them unless it is absolutely necessary to carry out duties I have assigned to you. Is that clear?” the inquistor asked.

“Yes, Sir,” they answered as one.

“Good, what I’m about to tell you, in fact everything I tell from here on out, is to be kept with the same confidentiality. There is much for you to learn, and I have little time. Pay attention,” he proceeded to lecture them on the organization of the Ordo Hereticus and the Inquisition, their duties and responsibilities, and the various forms that demons can take and each of their capabilities. Most of them were still dazed by the shock to retain most of it, though they tried earnestly.

Nearly three hours later, the Inquisitor finished and approached the door to leave. “You will be contacted when you are needed. It is your responsibility to present the same choice to your injured comrades when they awake, and your duty to kill them if they choose not to join us,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. His hand pulled back, reached again into his pocket, and retrieved a felt bag, “I nearly forgot. Serving the Inquisition does not come without benefits.” He tossed the sack at Yanov, who caught it reflexively. Then the Inquisitor left, shutting the door behind him. After a few moments of utter, shocked silence Demetri snatched the bag out of Yanov’s hand and pulled the strings open.

“Haha! There’s enough drink chits in here to have us forgetting this planet even exists by midnight,” he said, fluffing the chits together. The rest of them didn’t respond, continuing to stare at their hands, the ceiling, or each other. Tamarova pulled an injector from her pocket and pressed it against her arm with a hiss and a wince. Demetri saw her eyes instantly defocus, pupils constricting to pin-points. Krash reached over and took the injector from her, and proceeded to do the same thing with it before replacing it in her pocket. They stared studiously at the far wall for several minutes while the rest of the squad collected themselves.

That night, once the narcs had worn off, most of the squad went to the Hole to spend the chits as they were intended. After a short playing of the Skaggi anthem on his sardolin, Krash made his exit, bag of chits in hand. He made his way past the generatorum with a wistful look, on to the firing range.

Demetri was already there, firing shot after shot downrange. Since he was a boy, the only thing that had managed to hold is wild attention was shooting. There was something about the feel of a rifle in his hand, the focus of aiming it at a distant target, and the concentration on every movement his body made that quieted his mind. The satisfying snap-whine of the carbine was as soothing as the droning novaskaggi winds in winter. SNAP-whine, aim, breathe, exhale half way, squeeze, SNAP-whine, exhale, aim, breathe, exhale half way, squeeze, SNAP-wh-SNAP-whine. He paused to reload from the neat stack of power packs on the shelf before him.

That’s when he noticed Krash talking to the range officer. Krash, the man driving the truck; the man who’d loaded the generator itself. Demteri tried to force out the image of his sister’s crushed body as they pulled they’d pulled the generator from the wall. He felt his blood starting to boil, his face was hot. _If he’d given us some warning, if he’d taken the second to push the generator further into the bin._ Demetri locked the power pack in place, and realized he was holding the carbine very tightly, and in a very bad direction. He also realized he hadn’t taken a breath in several seconds. Breathe, he willed the carbine back downrange, at the unliving, unfeeling servitor hanging from the ceiling, covered in heavy plasteel plates aim, exhale half way, squeeze, SNAP-whine.

“…Well, it’s not anything special, skaggi,” the range officer presented his lasgun for Krash to look at.

“I could make many improvements,” Krash said, running his hands over the predominantly wood-construction weapon.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” the range officer said. Krash looked at him in shock, “They inspect our weapons at the armory every time we prepare for deployment, they’d notice anything not in the standard pattern.”

“But I would make it better,” Krash mocked firing an invisible lasgun smoothly.

“I can’t afford anymore bad marks on my file,” the scintillan range officer said finally, “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, your weapon looks pretty fine, indeed.”

“Alright,” Krash pulled the felt bag of drink chits out of his pocket ,”You can make use of chits?”

“Of course,” the range officer narrowed his eyes, glancing subconsciously down the firing line at Demetri, but the other skaggi was furiously intense on his activity, “What do you want? Extra range time? Extra ammo? I can make that happen.”

“You have hotshot packs?” Krash asked.

“Hotshots?” the range officer’s eyes widened and he leaned backwards, “That’s a little beyond my reach, mate. Only elite units could pull that kind of ‘req. And they certainly aren’t going to let you fire it off in here.

“Fine,” Krash lowered the bag like a dead muska, “What unit has them?”

“Empyrean,” the range officer said quietly, “I suppose Cain’s boys would have a few. Didn’t they pull you out of that refinery massacre a few days ago?” Krash shrugged, then drew a few drink chits from the bag and held them unceremoniously out to the scintillan.

“Thanks,” the range officer pocketed them carefully, then pulled a rack of power packs off the charging deck and handed them across the waist-high table between them. Krash took the ammo and wandered back down the firing line. He fired off two packs worth of shots, his marksmanship barely qualifying once again, but he didn’t seem particularly bothered by this. Krash placed the remaining packs on the shelf Demetri was using as he left.

Demetri unfocused enough to recognize that Krash had just given him over half his requisitioned range ammo. It was small, but from what Demetri knew of Krash, the gesture could be as close to an apology as he could manage. Zhurov had no idea what had prompted Krash to do it, but he accepted it. What skaggi turns down free ammunition? What kind of skaggi gives it away? Krasheninnikov was indeed a strange man.

The next day, Krash approached the barracks that Cain’s veteran mechanized platoon was housed. He strolled up to the door and gave a heavy knock. A few moments later, a liveried servant of some kind answered the door.

“Yesss, how can I help you, soldier,” the yeoman said, his nose slightly elevated in that distinctly scintillan gesture.

“Cain here?” Krash asked.

“I’m afraid he’s indisposed,” the yeoman replied, “What is it you’re looking for, Private,” he said the word emphatically, “Krashenkov?”

Krash ignroed the butchering of his name, “I have questions about Hot Shot las packs.” The yeoman cleared his throat and let a patronizing smile cover his face.

“Certainly, soldier, I’m sure there will be someone here who can help you with that,” the yeoman held the door open and gestured gracefully at the corridor within. The scintillan barracks were quite a departure from the longhouse the Skaggis were housed in. Instead of an open room with fold-down cots, there were several small quarters, probably shared by nor more than two or three soldiers. The wooden walls were festooned with decorative pieces, and there was an actual carpet lining the corridor floor.

Krash followed the yeoman to an empty room with a single table and a few chairs around it. Without invitation, the skaggi plopped down in one of the chair facing the door.

“I’ll fetch a leftenant for you,” the yeoman stated and closed the door with a soft click. Several minutes later, a scintillan officer with polished lieutenant’s brass entered the room with an annoyed expression, straightening his powdered wig.

“You’re the skaggi with questions about how to fire a lasgun?” the officer asked.

“I have questions about hot shot packs,” Krash responded, barely correcting the scintillan’s mistake.

“What of them? The fire much the same way as your standard power pack would, there is obviously no recoil to speak of. What you may notice, however, is a slightly increased barrel heating and significantly more penetrative power in your shot. The most important element to remember is that they are expended in a single shot,” the lieutenant droned, utterly disinterested in the conversation.

“And you have these?” Krash asked.

“We are one of the most decorated units in Gamma twenty-nine, naturally we’re rewarded with rare equipment,” the lieutenant answered proudly.

“How would skaggis get them?” Krash returned. The lieutenant stifled a laugh.

“You would have to earn the right through repeated success and valor in the field,” he said, “You’re off to stumbling start."

“Perhaps, to make us better in field,” Krash attempted a logical argument, “we could have some of yours?”

“Ha? What? You want me to hand over such a valuable item because you need a leg-up to do your job?” the lieutenant huffed.

“Not give. Trade. I am very good at making better weapons," Krash gestured to his heavily modified lascarbine. The lieutenant drew his own laspistol, itself modified with the finest components and customizations available.

“Hardly much to improve upon here,” he said smiling smugly.

“Then something else,” Krash flopped the felt bag of chits on the table. The lieutenant’s expression became very serious. He stepped (posture still ram-rod straight) to the table and looked at the bag’s contents.

“Yes, well. One might expect that soldiers as exemplary as ourselves would be awarded with entrance to the Officers’ Club,” the lieutenant’s tone had become softer, “but no, we are forced to take our swill with the rabble in the Hole. A disgrace. But perhaps quality can be made up for in volume, eh?” the lieutenant let a wry grin grace his guest. He stuffed the felt bag into his blouse pocket and patted it agreeably. “Come, I think it only fair that we share the fruits of our experience with the less able.”

Krash followed him through a maze of corridors to another small room, lined with weapons of similar complexity to the lieutenant’s, and a handful of crates. The scintillan approached one, opened it to verify it was filled with two-dozen yellow-striped hot shot laspacks, and re-secured the lid.

“Consider this a gift, on behalf of your hosts. A leg-up if you will,” the lieutenant hefted the crate to Krash, who accepted it with an awkward grin.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Krash said graciously, “good to do business with you.” Krash left the barracks with the liveried yeoman, and carried his package directly back to the skaggi barracks before he was caught and questioned by any MPs, or worse, officers. The rest of the platoon was idly occupying themselves with the menial chores of base life when he walked in with a munitions crate.

“We deploying?” Demetri asked excitedly.

“No,” Krash said.

“Oh,” Zhurov reclined back into his rack, continuing to clean his grenade launcher’s cylinder bearings.

“What’s in the box, Krash?”

“You steal something?”

“What did you do, Mikhail?”

“I swear to Novas…” the questions rained on him as he brought the case back to his rack and folded the cot down. Oksana was now continuing her recovery in her rack, and she raised an eyebrow at him, setting aside her scrimshaw. Krash popped the locks on both sides, and punched the unlock code into the pad on the front of the case. Four neat rows of hot shot packs stood at attention in the foam packing. Krash started tossing them out to the assembled heimrocs.

“Are these-”

“Hot Shot laspacks?” Yanov said, incredulously, “Krash, where did you get these?”

“From friend,” Krash responded.

“Was it regulation?” he asked.

“Close enough,” Krash shrugged. Yanov narrowed his eyes, but pocketed the hot shot pack anyway. He was still a skaggi after all, “We’re all going to get shot for this, I hope you realize.” Again, Krash just shrugged.

“But at least it won’t be by any greenskin!” someone shouted. The barracks rippled with laughter. Once everyone had a pack, Krash angled the case to show Oksana there were still ten packs left over, then he stowed the case in his footlocker. Oksana signed a thank you to her partner. Her supply of zeropyne cylinders was starting to get worrisomely low. Given that half the platoon was in medico, the skaggis probably weren’t going to be deploying anytime soon.

She’d be more reliant than usual on the stims to maintain her edge; and if she ran out, she’d be going through withdrawals in front of the whole platoon. Not something she wanted given their recent “promotion”.

It had been a week since the Inquisitor had offered them their new job, but they’d yet to deploy at all. The heimrocs were growing very edgy as the other regiments deployed regularly to fight the greenskins, and they were left to stare at the barracks walls. They weren’t even being assigned sentry patrols, which was almost unheard of. Krash had modified just about every weapon in the squad. Oksana had finished three wood carvings, and Father Volkov had rejoined them in the barracks, sporting an intimidating cybernetic hand to replace the once blown apart in the refinery battle.

Demetri had maxed-out his weekly range time, and there wasn’t a drink chit to be found in the whole barracks. Boz was working on a method of fermenting field ration mash into something approaching amasec, but so far had only managed to make putrid, sour grog. He actually tried adding some of the stowed promethium fuel to the last batch, he’d find out in a few days if it helped.

To keep them focused, Lt. Kojomjarov was enforcing three daily PT sessions. They were sweating, but hardly taxed, and it did little to alleviate their boredom.

Oksana ground her tray along the serving line at the mess tent, between Zhurov and Bash. When she spotted Pedesse, the ratling cook, she caught is eye. He came over to scoop potato mash and she slipped the corner of a hot shot laspack out of her pocket. He nodded, “Tonight.” She nodded in return. Tamarvoa took the tray over to the skaggi’s self-designated table and began eating. The Brontian ogrin were already thrashing at the next table.

“How’s the field,” Oksana asked Gdmn. Westergard, the brontian ogrin handler.

“We try to explain heavy weapons tactics,” he sighed, dodging a flying glob of mash, “but they just end-up using them to hit things.” The ogrin around him were all heavily bandaged and scarred, though their appetites seemed hardly wounded.

“You?” he asked.

“We’ve been locked-down for a week,” she replied, “folks are getting a little edgy.”

“Well, I can understand that,” he gestured to his charge, “These fella’s start killing each other if they don’t see a fight every couple of days. So why are you on lock-down?”

“Not sure,” Oksana replied, “I figure they’re trying to reward us for getting the generator back. Either that or their just waiting for half the platoon to make it out of medico,” she said.

“Half the platoon?” Westergard asked.

“Droppin’ thunder means you’re in the storm, all the time,” she answered around a mouthful, “our medic had 100% deep tissue burns, lost his arm, his eyes, and his lungs. Yanov lost a hand, Foreman Lelukha was shot in the leg, it’s mostly steel now. We’re still waiting for Zhurov’s ribs to heal…there’s a lot of injuries.”

“You don’t look too bad, neither does Krash, how’s that work?” he asked.

“Some zig, some zag, Emperor knows which one is the right move,” she said simply. It wasn’t all that uncommon a skaggi term, equivalent to “some times you’re lucky”, but it was obviously foreign to Westergard.

“Well, I hope I ‘zig’ next time I’m out there,” the brontian gestured to the sling his arm was in.

“Just hide behind your little boy,” she gestured to the ogrin once again stealing food from Westergard’s tray.

“He’s the one who did this,” Westergard nodded to his shoulder again.

“Ha!” Oksana chuckled, returning to her meal. She caught sight of the stormtroopers making their way across the mess tent perimeter, and she made sure to eye them down as they passed. They were boasting with one another and congratulating themselves on their latest victory.

“Keepin’ the barracks secure, skaggis?” Sgt. Dixon called over the tables.

“Somebody’s got to keep your teddy bear safe, Dicky,” she called in response.

“Which one of these guys did you convince to suck you off last night?” Demetri nodded at the ogrin.

The skaggis shared a chuckle, so did a few of the brontians. The stormtroopers laughed it off, but Dixon eyed them hard before throwing a middle finger at them.

“Still got a little shit on the tip of that there, wash that off before you eat, now,” Demetri chided. Boz kicked him under the table.

“Fuck you, Skaggi,” Dixon yelled.

“Not for every chit on base,” Oksana shouted after them, they kept moving to the chow line.

“You skaggis sure know how to make friends,” Westergard chuckled.

“They’re assholes,” Oksana shrugged, stuffing down rehydrated beef.

“Yeah,” the brontian laughed, “assholes with hotshot pistols.”

The meal continued in relative silence as Westergard had to help two other minders break up a fight over a particularly shiny fork at the end of the table.

Later that evening, Oksana returned to the mess kitchen finding Pedess in back peeling potatoes for the next day’s meal. She sat down next to him and started peeling the strange tubers herself. The ratling didn’t raise his eyes from his work, but gestured at a potato sack sitting against the tent wall.

As she peeled potatoes, she’d slip one of the ten hot shot packs she’d brought with into the bag at her feet. It took about fifteen minutes, after which she picked-up the small sack against the tent wall, saw the plastic cases of injector cylinders, and tossed a few potatoes in to cover them up.

“A pleasure,” she said, standing and taking her spoils back to her bunk. She stashed them carefully in her sock rolls with the others. Now there was enough to last a good while without worrying about restocking. Krash looked up at her from the gunstock he was working on. She put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it before she climbed-up onto her own fold-down cot.

Two weeks, and nothing to do but PT, clean, and PT some more. Demetri was starting to go nuts. He was bunking next to Rostilav for the time being, which was proving to be a very disturbing situation. The new hardware riddling the medic’s body made strange noises all through the night, whistling and creaking whenever he took a breath, and this eyes kept doing some kind of auto diagnostic that sent them clicking and whirring every couple of hours.

Rostilav was a far cry from his former self. The burns had destroyed every hair follicle on his body, so he had no eyebrows or head hair to speak of; only the stretched, pale flesh of skin grafts and scars from where it had been attached. They’d seen his mutilated face only once without his respirator/voxmask on. His teeth were clearly visible, but most of the flesh of his mouth was curled scar tissue. The voxmask itself connected to studs implanted in his cheek bones and mandible, effectively immobilizing his jaw while it was on.

There was a little microphone implanted in his throat that transmitted speech pretty clearly through the voxbox integrated with his respirator, so he could still communicate without skagsign if he needed to. It was pretty obvious that without it he’d be unable to speak at all. It looked like eating was a new challenge as well, but the medic didn’t ever complain.

The eeriest part of Rostilav’s new appearance was his cybernetic eyes. They were gunmetal spheres, with a many-pointed steel iris that shrank or widened around the black lens in each one. There was no need for eyelids, so they hadn’t bothered replacing them, instead, when he closed his eyes, the irises just swung completely shut, with the points overlapping in a disquieting, minuscule rosette. The rest of the time he never blinked.

They’d had the funeral for his sister over a week ago, but it was still fresh on Zhurov’s mind. He’d decided that he would kill as many greenskins as humanly possible, then kill several more. If he died killing greenskins, it would be a good death. He hated the base commanders for not letting him carry out his mission. These were a new crop (Col. Mann and Lt. Shrillblute had turned-up mysteriously dead a couple of days after the Inquisitor’s visit, along with all of the MPs that had been in the rooms. No points for guessing who was responsible for that), and they were apparently leery of having anything to do with the Skaggis.

Dawn started to peak through the barracks windows, and Demetri prepared himself for morning PT. After the usual calisthenics to old work songs, they ran a couple of circuits around the base, and stretched. He was just about finished dressing after hygiene when it happened.

Glass broke somewhere outside. He heard several explosions, lasfire, then the raid sirens went off. “Fuck. Me,” he started strapping on his flak armor even as Foreman Lelukha shouted for everyone to suit up.

The skaggis scrambled to their bunks, armor already laid out for quick donning, and in less than a minute they were nearly battle ready. Then the sound of breaking glass whipped Demetri’s head around. He followed the bouncing shape of an ork hand grenade as it rolled across the floor.

“GRENA-,” BOOM. The blast wave hit him full force and he staggered back against the nearest wall. Krash and Tamarova rolled around each side of the broken window and peeked outside. Krash held up two fingers. Another grenade tumbled through the window and exploded between Olga and Rusty. Demetri was just getting back to his feet when Krash and Tamarova rolled-up and fired a few shots out the broken window. He saw Krash try to roll away just as the window and the wall around it exploded. There was now an ork howling over the tiny operator, who had a bloody gash across his left collarbone and chest.

“Holy shit!” he cried, raising his weapon to fire. The entire squad opened-up on the ork, and it died in seconds. Demetri slammed-up against the window sill, popped-up, and took out the remaining ork outside. More orks were rocketing over roof tops, plumes of smoke already filling the skyline, and the sound of heavy weapons echoed around the buildings.

“Fucking moron,” Rusty was chastising the very surprised looking Krash, even as he sprayed disinfectant on the wound and applied some kind of foam. Finally, he jammed a stimpen into the operator’s chest, and it seemed to pull Krash out of his daze. Rusty turned his altered voice on the rest of the squad, “Get outside, we’re sitting muska in here.” The skaggis started leaping through windows and taking positions of cover around the yard. Krash and Oksana moved-up to a corner and took out the auspex. After some deft adjustments, Krash waved all clear and they swept around the corner in a tactical advance.

Toward Command Rusty signed. They all nodded, progressing along the street, moving from cover to cover with Krash in front scanning for targets. They didn’t go far before another four orks arced over a nearby roof and started hurling grenades through the windows of another barracks building. They were wearing fucking rockets on their backs.

“Are you kidding me?” Demetri said to Mitin, the gamma squad soldier just looked at him incredulously.

“Maybe they’ll blow easy?” she suggested.

“Firing positions,” Rusty attempted to whisper on the bead. They rolled up against door jams and building corners, then opened-up on the rocket orks across the street. Three went down pretty quickly, but one managed to flee down an alley and started returning fire.

“Flank ‘em, we’ll keep him down,” Demetri had to look around for Oksana, he finally spotted her next to Krash on the fucking roof. Empyrean

Rusty directed them with hand signals, and they rushed down flanking alleys to get behind the ork while Krash and Tamarova peppered his position with lasfire. The maneuver worked perfectly, and they took him down yelling.

“Nice, keep moving,” Rusty said.

“How the fuck did this happen? We can’t defend the whole damned base, we’re doomed,” Yanov grouched. Apparently, without the yolk of command, he reverted to his natural pessimism.

“Silence, acolyte,” Volkov almost hit his subordinate.

“We get to the command center, we regroup with the rest of the forces. It’s a raiding party, jump infantry,” Rusty stated, gesturing the improbable rocket packs strapped to the backs of the ork fighters. If this were a large scale attack, they’d know in a few minutes when the heavy infantry breached the perimeter. These were blitz troops, not equipped to pry open heavy fortification.

They kept moving, crossing intersections in pairs under each other’s cover. They made it another several blocks before encountering any more orks. Krash and Oksana were first across, then Rusty and Boz, who was still limping from one of the grenade blasts back in the barracks. Demitri made his move, looking both ways as he sprinted. Then they landed, a pair of orks down each street and he in the middle of the intersection.

“Emperor, why do you hate me!” he yelled as they roared in unison.

“Firing positions!” Rusty yelled. Krash and Oksana clambered onto the roof again, Rusty kicked-in the door of the barracks they were next to. Krash laid down suppressive fire to the east, pinning that ork for a moment. Bash did the same to the south, and Dimitri fired a grenade down range at the ork ahead of him.

Demitri ducked into the barracks doorway after Rusty, just at Father Volkov crossed behind him shouting ,”The Emperor’s blade hungers!”

Krash pinned the west approach as well, but the southern and northern orks activated their rocket packs and skimmed lighting fast toward Demitri.

“WAAGGHGHHGHGHG!” the northern ork bellowed as it jammed straight for him.

“SHIIIII-” he yelled back. It did little to deter the greenskin, and it slammed him into the door frame with the force of….well a rocket. He rolled away from the heavy blade in its right hand, but couldn’t dodge the large-caliber pistol in its off hand. The slug blasted through his chest plate and ripped through the side of his ribcage.

“Gaahhhh!” Demetri gasped, falling away and trying to fire at the ork. Boz scrambled up to yank him out of danger as Father Volkov stepped forward and filled the doorway with promethium fire. The four orks now screaming there were instantly engulfed. Demetri saw Rusty firing at the flaming behemoths, trying to keep them out of the building before they lit it on fire.

Yanov, already bleeding from his shoulder, followed Volkov in a charge at the flaming orks, pistol looking for an opening as Volkov’s battlecry almost drowned out his whirring chainsword. The orks seemed to ignore the fire eating their flesh and one lashed out at the pair of them. Demetri was still seeing stars, but he fired a couple of bursts at the chaotic battle. Something exploded outside, and an ork’s death bellow was barely audible above the conflagration in the doorway.

Yanov ducked, a flaming blade swept over him. Volkov’s blade hit home and ground into the ork’s side, it screamed in rage and swung out again. This time Yanov saw it coming, but couldn’t get out of the way. The acolyte watched, detached, as the blade ripped into his belly, just under the chest plate of his flak armor. Blood sprayed across his weapon, his hands, the orks, Father Volkov, and the floor. He didn’t feel it yet, and he wondered why. His vision went black, his face landed on the wet, hot floor. He never felt the pain catch-up to him.

“Yanov!” Volkov bellowed, seeing his faithful, if pessimistic, companion of so many years fall to the ground, “Green dog!” He lashed out with his chainsword again, cutting down the ork before him. Another explosion from outside. Lasfire lanced out from behind the priest, knocking another flaming ork to the ground. The last, unable to extinguish himself, ran screaming down the street, falling dead a few dozen meters away. There was another ork body crumpled in the street across from the doorway.

“One approaching east,” Oksana said on the vox. Demetri, now on his feet, ignoring the debilitating pain, rushed past Father Volkov to a corner across the street. He swung out from cover and fired a couple shots at the orks skimming the street, then had to dive back behind the wall as they came charging straight for him. One died on impact, the other dug a furrow in the dirt road as it slammed to earth inches from Demetri.

“Fuck!” he quickly brought his lascarbine up, and without thinking, plugged the ork twice in the back of the head. It twitched violently, but thankfully didn’t get up.

“Clear?” Rusty demanded, walking out of the burning doorway.

“Clear,” Oksana confirmed, she and Krash were already moving down the road again, Demetri just leaned against the wall to breathe. His ribs screamed at the effort. He looked at the ork bleeding all over the street, it had come this close to ending him. He raised his carbine as if to shoot it again, but thought better of it and lowered the barrel.

“We have to get out of here,” Rusty stated, “That wasn’t exactly quiet.” Father Volkov was saying a prayer over Yanov’s nearly-severed body, he finished and pulled the cognomen tags from his chest. The priest emerged silently. Bash and Olga shouldered their heavy weapon components and made after Krash and Oksana already several structures ahead.

A few minutes later, the command center came into view. They’d manage to avoid two other skirmishes thanks to the auspex, and now they just had a few dozen meters of open ground to sprint across before they were in the relative safety of the command center. Krash was first, he and Tamarova tightened their straps, and took off at a sprint, making it to the command center in seconds. The door opened before them, and the scintillan sentries ushered them inside.

”We have you covered,” Oksana said on the bead, and the rest of the squad sprinted across. A captain pushed his way through the crowd toward the sweaty, bloodied skaggis.

“What’s going on out there, we’re blind in here,” the fusilier demanded.

“Ork jump troopers are razing anything they find, throwing grenades into buildings. We didn’t see any guardsmen on the way here,” Rusty reported, “Where do you need us?”

The captain seemed to hesitate a moment, “We lost contact with the motor pool, we can’t loose anymore transports. Get over there and secure it.”

“Yes, sir,” Rusty saluted, then turned to his team.

“You heard him, let’s go.”

They were about halfway to the motor pool when Krash held-up a stop sign. He quickly signed that there was a squad of scintillans pinned down around the corner.

“Go, go, go,” Rusty said of the bead. The squad charged out from behind their buildings and opened fire on the counter-charging rocket-strapped orks. A couple of them turned back, but four more continued toward the barricaded fusiliers, who obviously had more wounded than they could carry away from the onslaught.

“For the Emperor of Man!” Volkov cried, running full speed across the fifty meters or so that separated delta’s cover and the fusilier position. Rusty and the rest kept up the fire, but it had little affect.

Bash dropped to a knee and flipped the bipod into place on the front of the lascannon. Olga locked one of the twenty-pound power cells onto the side of the weapon. Bash carefully lined up his shot on the nearest ork, and depressed both of the firing studs on the handles. He felt the gut-rattling thunderclap of the heavy laser. It sizzled passed his target, vaporizing a wall far across the field. The subsonic hum of the capacitors resonated through his arms. He aimed again, KraKOOM. One of the orks exploded in mid-air, tattered gristle the only thing left behind. Again the buzz vibrated his arms. KraKOOM, another section of wall exploded far away, missing the charging ork. The rest of the squad was firing shot after shot into the charging orks. One of Demetri’s grenades struck home, and the target pitched dead to the ground.

Father Volkov reached the scintillan lines and challenged an ork smashing apart the barricade. Their weapons met in fierce spark showers, and Bash watched as the ork’s right arm fell limp to his side after a solid hit from the priest. The boomer carefully lined-up another shot, aiming to avoid the priest and vaporize the ork he was fighting. KraKOOM, another miss. Something exploded downrange, but he wasn’t really paying attention. Reed tensed his jaw and took a breath as the capacitors recycled in his ears.

The ork was smashing its crude sidearm into the side of Volkov’s head, apparently it was either jammed or out of ammunition. Exhaling, Bash depressed the studs as the ork held the pistol high, exposing more of his obscenely large torso. KraKOOM! BOOM! Bash smiled as the ork was engulfed in flame before it exploded, showering the scintillans in shreds of burning tissue. The remaining couple of orks were fleeing at the limits of his vision, about to disappear into the maze of buildings. Bash and Olga loaded a fresh power cell on to the lascannon, removing the hot, spent one.

“Thank the Emperor you showed-up when you did!” the scintillan sergeant greeted them. His men were in no condition to fight.

“The command center is secure, and there aren’t any greenskins between here and there, for now. Get moving,” Rusty told him. The Scintillan nodded, slapping the medic’s steel shoulder as they hustled passed with their wounded on each others shoulders.

“Please don’t fire that thing so close to me again, brother Skaggi,” Volkov said to Bash as the boomer sauntered up, assessing the utter destruction his weapon had caused. Reed smiled and shrugged, but said nothing.

The next group they encountered was the mechanicus techpriests sheltering in the generatorum. Krash detected their biosignatures through the wall with his auspex, and Oksana rolled around and slammed on the door with a fist, “Skaggis!” she shouted. The door slid open immediately, and delta squad pushed into the small, hot room.

Servitors stood in various states of disrepair around the perimeter, a few bodies lay against one wall, beyond fixing. The lead enginseer’s servo arm was twitching ineffectually behind him. The smell of burnt oil and leaking fluids mingled with the promethium exhaust of the overtaxed generator trying to keep up with the demands from perimeter defense lasers.

“What happened,” Rusty asked.

“They overran us in the motor pool, So many chimeras lost!” the techpriest mourned.

“We’re headed that way,” Oksana said, “What’s there?”

“Many greenskins, with rockets and grenades, you must rid the holy grounds of them! You mu-mu-must burn them!” the techpriest stuttered like a damaged recording.

“Let’s go,” Rusty said. They filed out, sprinting across the open ground toward the motor pool. Before he left, Krash looked at the damaged servitors, trying to find something he could fix on them.

“Krash,” Oksana tugged his arm, “Lets go.”

When they reached the motor pool fence line, they could see ork rocket troops leaping among the rows of chimeras like fleas. They didn’t appear to see the skaggis. Krash quickly pulled his lascutter out and cut a whole in the chainlink. They rolled into the yard and made for a maintenance outbuilding nearby. Inside, they found a windfall. Two functional sentinel scout walkers stood in the repair bay. One was mounted with a standard-pattern multilaser, the other with a heavy flamer nozzle.

Krash quickly climbed the ladder and ran diagnostics on the multilaser sentinel, it was full functional. He started the twin turbine engines, feeling them rumble and then purr as the noise-dampeners activated. He flashed a thumbs-up at Rusty and Oksana. With that, he piloted the bird-like contraption out of the quansit hut, keeping it low enough to hide behind the rows of chimera.

After a few minutes, he spotted one of the large, nob-class orks leap-up atop a chimera, slamming his massive pole into the top of the transport tank. Without a word, Krash activated the targeting systems, locked-on to the big target, and pulled the trigger on the right control stick. The multilaser snapped to life, its staccato Ticka-Ticka-Ticka reminded him a huge stun gun. The ring of coaxial barrels finished its firing cascade just as the nob exploded in midair, various munitions cooking-off with the intense burst of energy. Surprised bellows erupted all around the repair yard as the orks realized they were under attack. The rest of delta climbed into wrecked chimeras for cover as Krash piloted the sentinel around the end of the row.

Rusty sat in the darkness of the chimera compartment, going over the layout of the yard in his head. There was open ground between the chimeras and the quansit hut. He glanced through the firing port, orks were no longer leaping above the chimeras, a smart move. They could move up between the tanks and be on top of delta in seconds without warning. The team was hurt, they needed a choke point. The image of the flamer sentinel popped into his head. The only had one operator, but how difficult could it be to hit the “flame on” button on a control panel?

“Delta, fall back to the maintenance garage, we’re setting up an ambush,” he said over the microbead. They responded immediately, climbing out of the chimeras and falling back the way they’d just come. He heard the Ticka-Ticka of the multilaser spitting down the lines of tanks again, and heard ork screams. Krash was apparently covering their movement. Nice of him to say something.

Demetri, Mitin, Bash, and Olga positioned themselves outside the building, the lure for the ork charge. Krash had already sprinted his sentinel around the back of the building to the far corner, covering their flank. Rusty plopped into the pilot seat of the flamer sentinel and looked down at the unfamiliar control panel. He found button with an inscription above it he couldn’t read, but he assumed it to be the ignition.

“Machine spirit…Omnissiah, bless the…engine…grant it life,” he fumbled through a prayer of ignition, and it seemed to work. The Sentinel rumbled to life and the readouts flickered symbols that were all green. He took it as a good sign.

”Incoming,” Bash said over the vox. He heard the squad’s weapons opening up just outside the door. It continued for longer than it should have.

“What are you doing out there,” he asked, “Stick the plan! Get inside!” seconds later, Demetri rolled through the open door, fresh blood commingling with the dried stains on his shirt. A moment later, Bash dove into the doorway and covered his head. He had deep gashes covering his upper body and arms. Before Rusty could respond to that, though, a mob of orks appeared in the doorway, he angled the nozzle, and unleashed a torrent of fire over Bash’s prone body, engulfing the orks in fire.

“Boz! Get him out of there!” Rusty roared, his voice amplified but lacking inflection thanks to the voxbox. Boz ran forward and grabbed on to Bash’s web straps, hauling him away from the fire and the orks inside of it. Demetri unloaded. Boz took out a medikit and began spraying sealant and stabbing a stimpen into Bash’s leg. Volkov sprayed his own flamer into the mass of orks, bellowing with laughter.

”More on the roof,” Oksana warned on the bead. Rusty fired the flamer again, washing orks in promethium as they continued to clog the doorway. Just then, a shaft of light stabbed down from the roof, he looked up to see a pair of orks chopping a widening hole in the thin ceiling. A moment later, the Ticka-Ticka from behind him told Rusty that Krash was in the building. The orks tumbled back from the hole.

Delta unleashed carbine fire into the orks still howling in the doorway, trying to keep them from sprinting inside. More appeared on the roof, one dropped through Krash’s hail of automatic fire and smashed into the side of Rusty’s sentinel.

“Gah, bastard!” Rusty struggled like mad with the controls to keep the awkward machine from tipping over. The legs wobbled like a drunk bird, but he kept it upright. Volkov charged the greenskin while Reed opened fire on it from the corner. Another ticka-ticka volley lanced into the roof, searing fresh holes in the metal. A red symbol flashed on the control panel, which meant almost nothing to Rusty until he tried to move the flamer nozzle and it didn’t respond.

“Shit,” he stated to himself. A second later, yet another ork leapt up over the nose of the Sentinel with a wild-eyed yell and slammed his blade down on Rusty’s forehead. The medic saw stars for a few seconds while he attempted to kick-out with the machine’s heavy feet. Slowly, Bash came into focus firing his lascarbine at the orks, then the smell of promethium fuel connected with the warning symbol, and Rusty realized what was about to happen.

The lasfire slammed into the ork, lighting him on fire; since he was standing in a pool of promethium, it ignited instantly. Both orks and Father Volkov were instantly engulfed, and the flames leapt over the sides of the cockpit, burning Rusty’s freshly-grafted skin.

“Emperor damn it all!” he bellowed, bailing over the side of the cockpit and rolling across the floor to douse his own burning body, “Extinguisher!”

Demetri spotted one on the wall, and sprinted for it. He tore it from the mounting, grasped the trigger, and sprinted back to the sentinel, hosing the area in chemical suppressant. The orks were dead, thankfully, and Volkov hadn’t been too terribly burnt by the time he was able to extinguish the flames.

“Status!” Rusty shouted, trying to rub soot from his lenses.

“Clear,” Oksana shouted, “Going to check the yard!”

“Copy, Go!” Rusty turned to the others, “Where’s Olga?”

“She didn’t make it,” Bash said quietly, Boz still attempting to patch his wounds.

“Empyrean, Rusty,” Bosinov saw Rusty’s new wounds and shifted priorities. He sprayed burn-salve on the exposed flesh, “It didn’t take you long to get cooked again.”

“Get on the vox,” Rusty replied in disgust. Boz set down the medikit and wound-up the voxcaster they’d retrieved from the command center on the way here.

“Delta, Command,” he said.

”Command here,” a voice responded after a short pause.

“Motor pool secure,” Boz looked to Rusty, “We could use reinforcements in case they counter-assault.”

”Command copies, reinforcements en route, hold your ground, Delta,” the voice assured.

“Delta out,” Boz looked-up, “Reinforcements are on the way!”

Nobody seemed particularly relieved.

power run part II

Power Run, Part II

“Foreman, contacts at crossroad,” Lmn. Bosinov reported over the bead. Delta squad was still crossing the access road to the warehouse across the street. The orks charging after the ore hauler bellowed as the massive truck came into view in the lee of the manufactorum. The lead ork shouted and pointed his weapon at Skg. Reed ,”Delta you’re made.”

Tm. Krasheninnikov vaulted the fence at speed, Bosinov had often wondered how the scrawny mountain man scrambled around so fast. A moment before the orks reached the rest of Delta, the squad slipped through the wooden gate and slammed it shut behind them. From his angle next to the ore hauler, Bosinov couldn’t see what was happening on the other side of the fence.

The orks bellowed, kicking at the gate.. They roared over the clitter-clatter of an overhead door opening. What in the warp are they doing?

Oh, ho, ho, ” Zhurov said over the bead, he was positioned several feet above Bosinov on top of the ore hauler, and could likely see the events across the fence easily. What’s that? Bosinov heard a muffled beeping over the shattering of the gate under greenskin punishment.

A few seconds later, a section of fence several meters down from the gate also exploded in splinters. Bosinov felt the Foreman’s sigh more than heard it at the beginning of his transmission.

Cover Krash, ” came the order. To Bosinov’s momentary shock,an industrial forklift whining across the road, yellow safety light spinning and caution tone bleeting through the night. It could only be Krasheninnikov behind the control panels. The ork runtherd immediately broke away from the gate to pursue the machine.

Snapping lasfire reached out from gamma squad at he ork and his school of grots. The child-like gremlins stumbled face-first into the pavement, but their hulking leader seemed unfazed. Moments later, the rest of Delta squad came sprinting through the break in the fence-line behind Krash.

Keep on the runtherd, ” the Foreman ordered. Bosinov took a breath and squeezed the trigger. Without recoil, moving components, or smoke the only indication he’d fired at all was the slight odor of ozone, half-second sustained beam of the trace laser, and near-hypersonic whine of the capacitor re-energizing. Bosinov saw a slash of smoke and vaporizing flesh erupt across the runtherd’s left arm, eliciting an angry scream but having little more effect.

Sonavumuska , these greenskins were tough, at least three other slashes had burned into the ork at the same time. The rest of the orks were screaming on the other side of the fence, Just getting started.

The forklift bounced into the parking lot of the manufactorum, out his sight behind the ore hauler, but it sounded like he was driving for the cargo door at the west end of the building. In any case, nothing Boz had to worry about for now. He fired another pair of shots at the runtherd, which finally stumbled to the ground, limbs sizzling as intense heat spread through the flesh from where the lasshots criss-crossed its body. Horrified, Boz watched as the ork, rather than writhe in agony as so many cytheran eldar and so many more soldiers of the imperium had, roared defiantly and pulled himself closer to the ore hauler.

Take out the followers ,” Foreman ordered. Gamma squad opened fire on the orks charging through the fence hole across the street. A hollow thump from above Boz indicated another shot from Hunter Zhurov’s grenade launcher. A shower of blood and flesh erupted from a charging ork’s shoulder as laser lanced his legs and sent tripping into the pavement.

Fall back to the door, ” his microbead buzzed. Boz tapped Skg. Mitin’s shoulder, and his battlemate popped-off two shots as they backed down the side of the ore hauler.

Grenades and lasfire peppered the orks, but six of them made it as far as the side the truck. Inferno grenades fell from the top of the vehicle and ignited them in flames as more grenades exploded among them. Within seconds, they were down. Foreman stepped forwards calmly, kicking weapons aside, “Clear, regroup, reload.”

Loading generator, ” the sound of straining hydraulics accompanied Krash’s voice over the bead. Acolyte Yanov ran to the cab and coaxed the great machine spirit to life.

Contact! Rear doors! ” someone shouted over the bead as shots rang out in the manufactorum. As the truck rocked with the weight of the generator, Foreman yelled loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Mount-up! Mount-Up!” Skaggis swarmed up the access ladders into the dump bucket as Krasheninnikov sprinted for the cab under a hail of ork fire. Gamma and Delta unleashed suppressive fire into the manufactorum as the vehicle rumbled forward.

With a cheer, they pulled away from the manufactorum, forklift bouncing free and crashing to the pavement. The squads fell against he walls of the bucket, breathing deeply and giving reassuring nods to one another. They weren’t out of danger yet, but they were definitely on their way out.

Boz felt the truck buck over debris, then he lost his balance as the truck pitched forward down an incline. He had to throw his leg out to stop his roll. The generator screeched past within inches of his boot. Someone shouted a warning, followed by a grunting scream of pain.

“Marge’s down!” someone shouted from the front of the bucket. Boz scrambled forward just as the truck pitched-up the other side of the stream. Shouts of alarm echoed off the steel walls, but the generator didn’t shift. They scrambled to pull the generator back to free Marge, but it was hopeless. They stared quietly at her crushed body.

Boz didn’t know the Zhurovs very well, but there wasn’t a skaggi in the VII that wasn’t part of the family. Their transport rolling over an ork firebase did little to distract them from the loss of another cousin. They charged ahead through the main battleline on the highway out of the village. Boz lay his lasgun on the edge of the bucket and fired pot shots at the greenskins on the road, finishing-off his mostly spent power pack and slapping a fresh one into place. He heard Yanov try to shout at the ghostwalker fighters, but the roar of weapons fire and howling engines overpowered his attempts.

Stray shots plinked off the heavy steel of walls, but the skaggis didn’t react. They were clear of the combat zone and on their way back to base with the objective. Boz propped himself securely against one the bucket’s heavy still ribs, staring at the trees as they passed.

This was such a strange planet. The weather was worse than Cythera, the air was thicker than even the equatorial scrub islands of that oceanic hell. On top of that, all the vegetation clogged the air with spores and pollen, and made impossible to see more than fifty feet. He hated this place, he hated trees, he hated…,”Incoming!” he shouted.

Something huge was forcing its way through the forest toward the road. The ore hauler was built for strength, not speed, and this thing was plowing through the dense terrain fast. He smashed onto the roadway behind them, tree-thick legs pounding pits into the pavement. The four meter tusks, tipped with jagged steel, swung back and forth as the great beast bellowed louder than the truck engines.

There was a haphazard structure strapped the creature’s back, and orks were hanging off it at improbable angles. The beast charged forward, narrowly missing the rear gate with the sharpened tusks. Boz looked at it in horror. Half the squad backed away from the edge of the truck in fear. Then it got worse.

The truck bounced, and Boz saw broken trees passing on either side of him. They were off the road. “Why are we off the road!” he shouted over the bead.

Krash is out! ” someone responded. The creature was getting closer, he could see a pair of greenskins leaning-out over the front. The beast rammed the back of the truck, shaking the entire vehicle. The pair of orks leapt from the structure, falling in muscular pile on the deck. Boz scrambled to get his weapon on target, he pulled the trigger madly, shots going wide.

“We’ve been boarded!” he gasped over the bead. There was no response, but the truck swerved drunkenly to avoid a boulder. The creature fell back and set-up for another charge. The squad fired madly into the orks aboard, felling one, the other still swinging about with his grisle-stained blade.

As the ork warbeast made another charge, the truck swerved narrowly to avoid it, but another pair of orks leapt onto the truck. Gamma and Delta were beginning to recover, and the second ork was now tumbling over the edge. One of the greenskins fired a volley at random into the skaggis, and the foreman screamed out in pain as his leg was blasted through, staining the rusting truck bed.

The skaggis leapt into knife-fighting postures, weaving around the heavy, slow limbs of the boarders. Yanov fired his laspistol point blank, slashing a growing trench of fire in the larger ork’s thigh. It responded by smashing down on his hand, and the acolyte reeled, howling, as his fingerless-hand sprayed blood across the squad. Someone landed a killing stab in the smaller ork’s main ganglia, sending it into a spasm, but failing to fell it. Vishenko was tossed like a child’s toy against the steel wall and slumped to floor dazed.

Boz drew his pistol and rolled under a green fist, firing twice. Flames leapt from the ork’s thigh and it howled almost as loud as the giant creatures till following the truck. It slashed out, and stars glittered in Boz’s vision, his shoulder was numb.

A blinding flash and ear-splitting thunderclap reminded him to breath and he screamed in pain and shock. Skg. Reed was leaning white-knuckled, against his loader, and they let out a cheer for not reason he could comprehend. The ork roared again, but was cut-off mid scream, falling with all of its dead weight on Boz’s legs. The squad wasn’t screaming anymore, except Foreman’s grunts of pain, clutching his shattered leg, they were quiet.

Once he was free from beneath the ork, he saw the creature careening in zig-zags through the forest around them.

Krash is up ,” the bead advised, and a couple of soldiers patted Reed on the shoulder. Flashing the “good shot” hand sign. Boz flexed his arm, bleeding, but not broken. He was just about to ask what the hell just happened when the rampaging mountain of muscle appeared in front of the truck.

Hold on! ” the same voice from the cab warned, Boz’s eyes went wide as they accelerated towards the animal head-on.

“Empyrean…” he half-whispered, pushing towards the back of the truck. They slammed into the beast, the squad opened fire on the orks still clinging to the ramshackle hut on its back. There was a muffled explosion, and the animal shook the squad’s intestines with its roar. Boz watched it tear apart a stand of trees, whipping its head back and forth.

The truck soon emerged from the trees, back onto the road, and they all trained their weapons rearward until it the orks and their monstrosity were well out of site.

“Mitin, help me with his leg,” Boz scuttled over to the Foreman, whose face was pale and sweaty behind his mask of controlled pain. He pulled the medikit from his web-belt, straightening a bone splint and spraying disinfectant on the leg.

“Grrrrrhgghhhhnn,” Foreman gripped the side of the truck as Mitin held the leg straight and Boz tightly secured the splint with a bandage roll. He could see Olga and Reed doing their best to staunch the bleeding from the remains of Yanov’s right hand, the priest quietly reciting prayers to himself and gripping his aquilla pendent in his good hand.

Mitin pulled a stimpen from the kit and stabbed it into Foreman’s good thigh.

“Why didn’t you do that first?” Foreman growled, finally relaxing a bit. Mitin shrugged, then looked at Boz, particularly his bloody sleeve.

“Yeah,” He sat against the wall next to the Foreman. Mitin slid around and cut his sleeve off with a combat knife.

“Holy Emperor,” the gash was severe, Boz knew that, but he couldn’t see the bulk of it.

“How bad,” he grunted.

“Almost took your arm off, Boz,” Mitin sprayed disinfectant on the wound. Despite the pain spreading across his whole body, the sting of the disinfectant still rose above the rest, “What was that thing?”

“Squiggoth,” Yanov said, sitting-up against the generator, laspistol in his good hand, a boxing glove of bandaging resting on his lap.

“How many of those have they got?” Mitin bit through the linen roll and secured the tail.

“Too many,” Foreman grunted. They spent the rest of the night driving back to base in the slow, lumbering ore hauler. After an hour Boz got sick of looking at the congealing blood, gristle, and shell casings rolling around the truck bed, and went to sit next to Yanov against the generator. He watched the endless, damnable trees roll by under the dull moon and stars.

He missed the clear skies of Novaskag, the crisp air, the brightness and closeness of the stars. There were so few visible here, dwarfed by the roving mini-moons of imperial warships in tactical orbit.

How he longed for a Moshar hunt, or even a simple pipeline patrol. He missed the relative peace of his home. No, that wasn’t the right word. Consistency. Novaskag was a harsher place, death waited for you in every hour. To survive there was to be truly alive, every sense keened, your mind attuned to the land, the air, the tundra grasses every whisper. The breathing of the Moshar, the beat of your own heart, there were those that said the greatest hunters could feel the churning rhythms of Novaskag’s molten core.

So different from this place, from the imperial guard and its months of soft-lived monotony. The days of mind-dulling safety their bases and recreation halls and endless food supplies presented. Was he a softer man? Did this up-and-down cycle of pitched combat and comfort sharpen his blade or corrode it? If they were to return home tomorrow, would he still be the keen leader that had enlisted over half a decade ago?

He hated these questions; he hated having time for these questions. He hated watching squad mates go soft, and die. He hated a sister dying to retrieve a generator for these prancing buffoons while they sat in their armored transports. Most of all, he hated fighting orks.

The eldar had been vicious, but clean. Their weapons killed, better than the orks, but very efficiently. Their blades separated limb from body without the owner noticing for a few moments. More importantly, they had honor, with specific goals, inscrutable as they may have been. The orks were pure savagery. Not just primal, animals were primal, orks were something more. They hacked at limbs, their weapons tore and wrenched their victims apart, instead of cleanly piercing or vaporizing. Their only apparent objective was slaughter, and they were happy to do it.

Perhaps that was the biggest problem Boz had with them. Animals fought for fear or hunger, men fought for the same, usually. The Eldar, no one knew what they fought for, but they were grim in their task. Orks were eager to butcher, eager to die as long as they were butchering or destroying. It was almost as terrifying as the warp.

He must have drifted off to these thoughts, the next thing Boz was aware of was a great shuddering cough reverberating through the truck frame. He looked to the Foreman.

“Out of fuel,” he said quietly, “It’s alright, we’re not far.”

Krash is going ahead for help, secure the generator, ” Yanov said calmly over the bead. They all settled in, watching the sun rise through the trees.

Less than an hour later, a cargo truck and ambulances arrived to bring them back to base. Boz slept, thankful for the drug-induced sleep.

Power Run Part I

Power Run

Part I

Bright bursts of green splashed across the deeper, verdant hues of the village below him as he fell through the night sky. The wind howled around the sides of his helmet, and his gravchute whined on his back. He focused on the line of figures below him and the T-shaped target.

The hospital roof was sliding to his right, he pulled on the right control arm of his gravchute, and the roof came back on center, passed over, and slid left.

He jerked on the left control arm, and as soon as the landing pad on the roof was on center he cranked down on both arms, too hard. The gravchute immediately flared, and stalled under the too-heavy load of Demetri’s gear.

oh…fu- the air-processing unit flew-up to meet him, and made a first impression on his rib cage. The air rushed out of his lungs along with a dull crack, but no hint of a groan. He bounced off and unto the roof deck with a low, metallic ring in his ear, staring at the too-thick sky and its sick, fat clouds.

“Dimitri?” Yanov hissed over the bead, knowing only that the hunter had made a lot more noise than they needed right now. Bash glanced over the low edge of the roof, scanning the courtyard for signs that the orks had heard. Thankfully, the Ghostwalkers were making plenty of noise to the northwest.

“We’re still clear,” he whispered for the bead. Marge hustled over to her down brother and pushed on his rib cage, Dimitri gave her a threatening stare that spoke volumes in curses.

“Dimitri’s down,” she practically taunted over the microbead. Krash scampered over and opened his medikit. He looked at the air processing unit, not seeing any blood. Flipping to the stimpens, he frowned, tilted his head back and forth, and then selected one of the single-use injectors.

“Shirt,” he said, popping the aliquot out and priming it.

“Ah I hate this medico plan,” Dimitri groaned under his breath. Marge ripped the corner of his shirt up, and Krash jammed the pen into the hunter’s ribs, the quiet click indicating success. Then the operator sealed the kit and scuttled over to the roof hatch.

I thought he was transport? Marge signed as she pulled her brother to his feet.

Must be amateur day he signed back, grabbing the rest of his gear from the drop sled, bending gingerly.

Overwatch Yanov signed to Bash as he and Olga assembled the lascannon. The heavily muscled boomer nodded, tapping a finger on the side of his eye. Yanov grabbed the magnoculars from Dimitri’s pack while the hunter was checking his weapon, tossed them to the boomer, and slapped the “VII” patch on his left shoulder before spinning to meet Krash at the hatch. Volton “Bash” Reed returned the gesture.

The rest of the team gathered in a defensive ring around the hatch, Krash gripped the handle. Yanov touched the microbead stud on his helmet.

“Gamma,” he said.

”Gamma,” the other skaggi foreman replied, his voice scratchy and choppy.

“We’re down and searching the Hospital,” Yanov asked.

“_Starting on Manufactorum, Emperor Protect_,” the other skaggi signed off.

“Emperor Protect,” Yanov tapped the stud again, then nodded at Krash. He carefully opened the hatch and scanned the hallway below with his carbine before dropping silently into the gloom.

With their visors casting the darkened medicenter in clear shades of green, delta squad quickly advanced to the stairwell and down to the basement. They fluidly rounded corners, checking doorways and always moving under the cover of a squad mate.

The medicenter had been trashed. Charts, packaging, linens, and apparatus were scattered across every floor in a chaos too perfect to have been unintentional. The greenskins had taken the effort to eliminate any sense of order, as if it pleased their strange, heretical gods.

Krash entered the generator room first, as he had each new room, carefully sweeping a sensitive auspex in front of him. It didn’t take any device for him to know the generator was completely unusable. He shook his head at Yanov and signed, Only need a few parts to fix one on base, nearly done before we left.

Yanov lifted his visor so Krash could see his look of warning. The meddlesome mechanic had almost missed the bird for this mission trying to fix the malfunctioning base generator with Emperor-knows-what for parts. The tech priests had ordered this mission, which meant there was no fixing it.

How long? he signed. There was an ork camp literally a stone’s throw from the hospital. Krash held-up a single finger then started clambering spider-like around the hulking installation. Yanov directed the rest of the team to cover the door and keep on eye on the windows. By the time they were in position, Krash walked by Yanov without a word.

“Gamma,” he thumbed the comm stud.

“_Gamma_,” the bead replied.

“Hospital’s negative,” Yanov stated.

“_Manufactorum’s in good shape, but it’s big. We don’t have any transport,_” Gamma squad’s foreman said.

“We’ll find something and come to you,” Yanov said.

“_We’re dug in, gamma out,_” Gamma confirmed. Yanov closed the channel, the rest of the team heard the exchange.

“How’s the route to the mill, Bash?” Yanov asked.

“_Better the road than the yard_,” Bash scanned the roving ork patrols in the area behind the hospital. There were none on the main road out front.

“Copy, get down here,” Yanov ordered, looking at the rest of the team. He settled on Krash.

Mill has trucks? he signed. Krash shrugged.

Probably the short skaggi responded, Quarry has bigger ones. They’d all seen the artillery position smack in the village center during the insertion, they’d have to pass a lot of orks on foot to reach the quarry.

Mill is closer, safer. Go, he signed, and they went, taking up positions either side of the main hospital doors. There were a few buildings across the street, and a small wooded area just behind those. It was a lot more cover than the open street had to offer. Once Bash had joined them, Krash volunteered to go fist by striding up to the doors.

Yanov nodded, everyone covered the two ends of the street.

“Wait!” Bash said with quiet urgency. Krash backed into the shadows. A mob of ork infantry charged passed the hospital on their way to the battle raging in the woods to the west, a feint action by the Jingkai Ghostwalkers to cover the skaggi operation. The orks disappeared around a corner, and after a moment, Yanov nodded. Krash bounded across the thoroughfare like a buck moshar. The team followed one by one, the others covering their crossings. As Dimitri huffed across, his gait unsteady due to his aching chest, a gang of the squat gretchin-class orks tumbled around the corner at the eastern end of the street.

No no no they spotted the skaggi three-quarters of the way across and screech-whooped.

“Fucking come-on!” he muttered over the bead, this wasn’t his day. The grots started sprinting pell-mell down the street towards the lone human soldier. Krash and Yanov were already across, and they moved behind the nearest building to ambush the grots as they charged. Dimitri finished his crossing with a stream of curses. He and Olga got into position and he checked his grenade launcher had a firestorm grenade chambered.

As the first cluster approached, they started shooting in their excitement. Then another herd of them appeared around the corner, this time escorted by a pair of huge orks with massive poles, hollering and bellowing at the child-sized, rabid hellions before them.

“Big ones,” Bash said quietly, adjusting the track of the seven-foot lascannon barrel still carefully hidden in the hospital entrance. They entire gang charged forward. With a hollow thump, Dimitri launched a grenade at the first cluster of grots. It hit the mark, lighting a hanfull aflame, but only appeared to spur the others on. As the herd advanced, the team fired into them from all sides. Bashs’s lascannon burned into the ork herders, who somehow managed to survive the first shots.

The grots charged their new targets, forcing Yanov and Krash to retreat. They swarmed the acting foreman, stabbing with crude shanks and blades, and they nipped at Krash’s heels as he led them on a chase across the rear lawns and around to the main street back towards the team’s line of fire.

They thinned the grot ranks to a mere fraction in less than a minute, but just as they were about finish them off, a band of larger orks charged around the corner, bellowing mightily.

“We can’t fight the whole village,” Krash said, sprinting from the remaining grots toward the woods.

“He’s right, get to the woods!” Yanov cried, following the tech with Olga and Bash, the few remaining grots close behind them. Dimitri scrambled behind a different building and into the woods with his sister.

Sonuvabitch, Dimitri and Marge pushed through the branches into the stand of trees just as they heard a grenade explosion and grots howling. A few meters further into the trees, and they saw a ball of fire erupt in the woods to their right. The orks were obnoxiously loud.

They’ll wake the neighbor’s baby if the keep that up Dimitri signed as Marge tripped over a branch. She misinterpreted his joke, decided he was making fun of her, and kicked his shin.

What the fuck? he signed, Marge just motioned forward with her carbine. They pushed through the undergrowth as quiet as they could manage.

“_Krash, location,_” Yanov’s voice came over the bead.

“_Waiting to cross the road_,” he responded lazily.


Some,” Krash said.

“_Zhurovs?_” Yanov asked.

“West end of the woods, coming your way,” Dimitri responded.

“_No! They’re between us!_” Yanov warned, just as Dimitri stepped-out from behind a tree in front of eight greenskins.

“Oh,” he said in disbelief. “Sis, you should go,” he raised the grenade launcher as the lead ork shook his head in a battle cry. Marge took-off at a dead sprint through the shrubbery, heading back towards the hospital away from the orks. Dimitri pulled the trigger.

The red-painted grenade spiraled through leaves and branches, arming a few meters out of the barrel. It glanced off one of the ork’s jagged axes, tumbling into the loam between two of the bellowing monstrosities. They followed the little flash of movement, and howled in rage as it exploded, washing four of them and the bushes in chymical flame.

“Damn, I forgot the glaze!” Dimitri shouted as he turned to follow his sister. She was halfway to the nearest building, and the orks all charged after Dimitri.

“_Dammit, fall-back to the hospital,” Yanov ordered, “_Krash, location.” The smallest skaggi among them didn’t answer.

Dimitri saw Marge scramble through a window into the building ahead of him. He ran full speed, tossed his grenade launcher through the closest plate-glass, and leapt.

“Fuck!” his ribs screamed through him as he slammed against the wall, arms gripping the windowsill. Marge helped pull him inside. The surviving orks barreled, some of them on fire, out of the trees. The rest of the team, sans Krash, poured fire into them.

“_Prep for pick-up_,” Krash said coolly over the microbead, but Dimitri was too busy firing to figure out what in the Emperor’s name he was talking about.

As the last of the orks fell writhing to the ground, the team heard the unfamiliar screech of ground car tires and the bellowing of orks from the end of the street. They ran to the front of the building, and stood staring in confusion as a civilian transport tore down the road. One of the headlights was skipping along the pavement, and the front bumper bounced asynchronously with the rest of the vehicle. A pair of orks stood howling from the corner behind it, following on foot.

The car eased to a gentle stop next to the skaggis, and Krash looked at them through the window. “We should leave, now,” he said.

After loading into the car (Bash had to squeeze into the boot, lascannon covering their rear), Krash pulled them around the corner and eased them to a stop in a residential driveway.

Yanov pulled out their sketched copy of the aerial map as an ork mob, led by one of the huge nobs, charged north along the road they were next to. Thankfully, it didn’t notice the squad of commandos crammed into the parked sedan.

“The mills are that way,” Yanov pointed east.

“Lots of orks,” Krash said.

“Oh, sorry, you missed the briefing, this village is overrun with orks,” Dimitri said, with more than a hint of sarcasm, “lots of orks,” he swept his finger in a circle around the entire map from the passenger seat.

“Knock it off,” Yanov said, “fine. We don’t know the layout there, and that wasn’t exactly quiet just now.”

“The quarry, then?” Marge offered.

“There’s a lot of artillery between here and there,” Olga restated.

“Artillery is slow,” Krash stated, tapping the steering wheel.

“Fine, the quarry’s closer to gamma squad, and any thing big enough to carry a generator will be slow, too,” Yanov decided, he hit the stud, “Gamma.”

“_Gamma_,” came the response.

“We’re headed your way,” Yanov said.

“_We’ve secured the main warehouse, the generator’s inside a pair of double-doors. There’s no way we’re lifting this thing, what have you got?_"

“A practical family car,” Yanov said ,”we’re headed to the quarry to find a truck.”

A brief pause followed, then“_….Copy, gamma out._"

As Krash pulled out of the driveway, turning north, Bash called loudly from the boot, “Boomer!”

Dimitri looked in the rearview mirror and saw a cannon being wheeled around the corner by a pile of grots and an ork, “Really, a cannon?”

“Shoot it!” Yanov ordered, Krash stomped on the accelerator. The nearly subsonic buzz, following the resonating clap of the lascannon, reverberated through the car as the squad broke out rear windows and began firing. A shell from the ork cannon whistled past them and dug a crater into the pavement. Krash swerved to avoid the newborn pothole.

Dimitri’s grenade went wide, “Learn how to drive,” he snapped, rotating the chamber to his next krak grenade. The lascannon thunder-buzzed again, vaporizing the grot directing the cannon team. Dimitri hung out of his window, carefully lining-up his shot. The cannon fired, cloud of powder smoke billowing from the barrel as the shell ripped the air and exploded the roadway just behind the car. Dimitri fired back, the grenade spiraled, stabilizer fins correcting any wobble. It flew through the smoke, ricocheting down the cannon-barrel (to the sponge-grot’s surprise), and impacting with the shell cart.

The resulting explosion broke the glass out of every window for several blocks. Dimitri sat back in the passenger seat with whoop, “That’s the way! You saw that? You saw that?” he confirmed with his squad mates.

He was still cheering as they rounded the corner and rammed through a pack of orks charging the Ghostwalker lines, passing over a bridge spanning a steep ravine. His celebration turned to a yell as something heavy landed on the roof and a massive green fist smashed through his window.

“Ahhhh!” he yelled, along with at least one other person in the car. Krash began jolting the wheel back and forth. The nob wasn’t able to hold-on through the car’s thrashing, and he rolled off into a trio of his subordinates.

Their car skidded around another tight turn onto a gravel road leading to the quarry. The suspension creaked under their combined weight and the rough road. Surprised orks dove out of the way as Krash slammed through tents and firing positions at high speed. He thumped the car over a low rise and Dimitri noticed, somehow, that they were approaching the edge of huge pit.

“Kraaaash?” Dimitri asked.

“Get ready to bail,” Krash said, opening his door slightly, just in time to catch an ork’s oversized skull. There was a slight ridge just before the edge of the pit that would give them more altitude on the jump to deploy their gravchutes.

“Dear Emperor, activate grachutes!” Yanov ordered, realizing what Krash was doing.

“What?” Bash yelled from the boot. There was no time to answer. Instead of riding up the ridge as planned, the overloaded suspension buckled with the weight and dug the car into the dirt. Everyone was thrown roughly out the vehicle as it flipped forward over the lip of the pit. Yanov and Dimitri passed through the windscreen, severely twisting Dimitri’s leg. Bash was catapulted from the trunk. Unable to anticipate the collision, he smashed his helmet against the boot lid and lost his grip on the lascannon, which spiraled through the air behind him.

They all activated their gravchutes, but Dimitri’s flared too late given his lower trajectory out of the car. He hit the pit floor going far too fast and smashed his injured leg against a boulder. The rest of the team landed more or less together, save Krash. The tundraman maneuvered his gravchute towards one of the massive ore-haulers across the pit.

A pitched battle between the orks and ghostwalkers was underway, with volumes of fire crossing the pit above the team, but they weren’t being directly targeted yet. Dimitri lay staring up at the light show, unable to move for a moment with the combined white-hot pain of his ribs and leg. He finally remembered to take a breath, and immediately regretted it.

“Are you alive?” Marge asked as she skidded to her knees in the dust.

“Not if the Emperor loves me,” he groaned.

“Whiner,” Marge said, grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet.

“Oh!” he grunted as he tried to put weight on his bag leg, Marge slung his arm over one shoulder and Yanov took the other, and they started to running for the hauler, well behind Krash.

Bash retrieved his battered lascannon, “Oh no,” he knelt to inspected the dented barrel and bent power coupling.

“Will it still fire?” asked Olga, running up with a pair of the heavy power packs.

“We’ll find out, come on,” He nodded to the hauler backing up toward them now.

Krash eased the massive vehicle to stop a few meters ahead of the squad and shifted to first while they climbed into the thick-walled bucket. They slumped against the walls, all nursing injuries from the crash.

“_Let’s go_,” Yanov ordered when they’d all secured into the back. Krash eased into motion, and began up-shifting as they ascended the wide ramp out of the pit. The orks immediately started firing at the rumbling mountain of steel and lights as they emerged. Artillery fire slammed into the side of the truck, which accepted the punishment without complaint.

They crested the edge of the pit, and Krash turned the wide wheel around to bring the truck careening through an ork encampment. The greenskins scattered before it or were ground beneath the house-sized wheels as delta squad bounced through the middle of the battlefield, suffering little more than chipped paint and a couple of blasted-out lights. They crossed the small stream without effort and powered up the far bank back into the village.

Krash pulled to a halt in front of the manufactorum, spotting the double-doors quickly. He backed the massive ore-hauler up to them, but there was no possible way the vehicle would fit inside. Gamma squad slowly emerged from their hiding places with a look of incredulity on their faces.

“What," their foreman asked slowly, "is that?”

“Our ride, what do you need?” Yanov asked as they opened the doors.

“It’s bolted to the floor, we don’t have any tools or cutters, and we don’t have any way to lift it, let alone get it way up there,” he gestured to the high floor of the dump bucket.

“We’ll take a look around, watch our backs. Krash, start cutting those bolts; delta, fan out and look for anything we can use to lift that bastard,” Yanov directed. They went to work.

The Refinery, Part IV

“Drive, Drive!” Tamarova shouted. Krash was already moving through gears on the Mule-pattern utility truck. It was difficult to tell, and she was paying more attention to the monstrosity bellowing in the rear view mirror anyway.

“You should duck,” Krash said calmly as he spun the wheel to the right, avoiding the dozen or so orks streaming into the refinery yard on their left. Some kind of energy blast slammed into the truck, just before a fusillade of boomer fire.

“Piece of shit beast,” Krash cursed the machine, “The omnissiah forgot you in his blessings, you bastard.” He swung the truck around violently, Tamarova was aiming her lascarbine out the window, but wasn’t pulling the trigger.

“Shoot it! Shoot it!” Krash hadn’t felt this in a long time. Adrenaline, that was common, it was good, it meant he was alive. This was something else, his shifting was not as smooth as it should be. He was looking in too many directions.

“I can’t,” Tamarova whispered.

“Shoot it!” Krash shouted again, finishing the u-turn, getting them back behind the generator and out of the line of fire.

“Where did it go?” Foreman Vladoff demanded over the microbead, “Rusty, where is it?”

In the southwest watchtower, Rostilav could barely hear her voice over the sound of shattering rockcrete. The ork boomers may not have been accurate, but their volume of fire made-up for it. “I can’t see anything!” he barked back, firing another grenade over the ledge and jamming another into the breach. He could hear, over the roar of gun fire, Father Volkov screaming holy righteousness from across the yard.

“Rusty, we’re picking you up,” Tamarova shouted over the bead.

“We’re getting out of here, rally alpha, rally alpha,” Vladoff ordered.

“Krash, I an not getting on that suicide sled,” Rostilav shouted, launching another grenade as the orks seemed to focus their fire on the truck.

“He’s right,” Tamarova fired her lascarbine from the truck window again, “this thing is about to die.” They were rounding the corner of the barracks structure, under the cover of a couple of Rusty’s smoke grenades.

“I like your thinking,” Krash said with a blue twinkle in his eye.

Rostilav peeked over the edge of the watchtower again, only to be greeted by another barrage of huge bullets. His luck ran out, and he watched his blood splatter across the floor. There were also a few orks wielding flamethrowers approaching dangerously close, but the boomer fire was waning. “I’m hit!”

“We’re pinning them down, how bad?” Vladoff’s voice came over his earpiece.

“I’ve had worse,” Rusty grunted. At least everything was still attached this time.

“We push the advantage! Fight on! Fight on!” Vladoff yelled.

“Yeees! For the Glorious Emperor of Man!,” Father Volkov bellowed, laying down more heavy bolter fire from the nest near the main gates. He watched the enemies of the emperor scatter in fear from this ancient, holy weapon of perfection, “Yanov! Keep firing! Keep firing, my children!” The truck, riddled with bullet holes and a smoldering rocket blast, came barreling back out of the smoke from behind the barracks.

“Now!” Krash shouted over the bead, ork fire fell like a swarm of mutant bees on the vehicle, which slowed, ignited, then exploded. Then it exploded again, much more violently. The shockwave threw the greenskins to the ground.

“Krasheninnikov! Your sacrifice shall be remembered!” Father Volkov yelled as he continued to fire.

“Volkov, get back to your tower, you’re exposed,” Vladoff ordered over the bead ,“Keep the heavy.” There was a second’s pause before she continued ," and Krash didn’t sacrifice anything but a broken-down truck."

“It died nobly,” Krash said over the bead. The orks recovered quickly from the blast, almost energized by it. One of the largest among them, the flamer nob, bellowed with battle-lust as he charged toward the priest.

“You think fire will frighten me? Ha Ha Haaa!” Volkov laughed as he sprinted toward the tower, lugging the heavy bolter along with him.

Tamarova knocked a cabinet aside as she rolled through the barracks window, followed by Krash. “Where’s Kaminev?” she asked. Krash took off through the room’s door.

“Running the other direction,” He said. Oksana glanced out the window, and saw the medic’s assistant sprinting toward the southwest tower through the smokescreen. “Your bomb went off early,” she touched her hand to the shrapnel wounds in her side, trotting after him.

With the heavy bolter silent, there was little keeping the orks pinned down aside from las fire, and it wasn’t working well. The nob was still charging after Father Volkov, and Vladoff was continuing to fire on the orks in an attempt to salvage this operation. The boomers were close enough to have clear shot at her position, and they opened up their heavies.

The rounds chopped chunks of her cover away, walking along the wall until they found her arm. Still rattled by he beast which had torn apart Ty’win and Stenson, she choked upon seeing the blood on her uniform. “Yuri get it off!” she shouted, but her voxman was likewise paralyzed by fear.

“Keep firing! Keep firing! I’m hit!” she screamed, almost hysterical on the bead. Vladoff tore at her sleeve, trying to get the blood stain away from her, as if it would close the source, “Yuri!” She shouted at her stunned squadmate, “Yuri get out of here…Jump!” He didn’t move, staring wide-eyed and frozen at her arm.

Krash rolled carefully into kneel out of the barracks roof hatch, sweeping his carbine in a circle. There weren’t any orks on the roof with them. Kaminev was in the watchtower fiddling with a medikit while Rostilav lobbed another grenade out of view. Yanov was two towers north, laying on the trigger of the autocannon he could barely control.

He passed his sights over the smoke trails of his handiwork around to the gate. He couldn’t see the foreman, but he could plainly see the automatic fire tearing apart her cover. Finally, he saw the priest swinging his flamer nozzle around. A massive greenskin was about to reach the top of the ladder. He waved to Oksana and took careful aim. Their carbine’s snapped in unison, the blasts striking the back of the monster’s head to little apparent effect.

“Fight like Skaggis! Fire! Fi-,” Vladoff’s shout twisted into a squeal and was drowned-out by another explosion. Krash’s head jerked reflexively as he looked to the foreman’s tower. Twin rocket trails hung in the air leading up to it, smoke and fire pouring from what remained. A chill rolled up his spine as time seemed to catch in his throat.

Yanov’s voice broke the silence, “Foooremaaan!”

“You bastards!” Rusty cursed quietly. A grenade blast followed shortly thereafter, then a louder transmission, “You Bastaaaaards!”

Debris was raining down on the barracks roof a dozen meters away, and then the ork on Volkov’s watchtower ignited. Time started to speed-up. Volkov’s voice came clearly through the air, “Faalll Baack!” The flaming ork leapt through the tower window after Volkov, out of the refinery, leaving it empty. Krash looked at Oksana, sweat and blood glistening on her steely face. He held up his demo-pack, and they both looked to south wall. She nodded, and they sprinted straight off the roof.

“Dammit,” Rusty twisted the grenade in the chamber, then slammed it in. He reached the weapon around the corner of the tower wall and pulled the trigger.

“We’ve got to go!” Kaminev yelled, just as a second sun rose to the east, a fiery, burning sunlight. It took a few seconds of watching flames engulf Kaminev before Rostilav realized his own legs were on fire.

“NO!” he yelled defiantly, “NO! You don’t get to kill me!” he bellowed through the smoke. Brushing at the flames, trying to get the promethium off his clothes. He wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t panicking. He was enraged. “NOOOOOOOO!!!” he shouted long and loud. He felt something shake the floor, but he didn’t care. He rolled, somehow struggled to his feet, and leapt out of the inferno that had been his shelter a few moments before. He screamed in rage as he fell, rolling when he hit the ground. The flames were dampened by the wet grass, but as he tore across the open field, they grew again.

“Nnggnngggg!” he tried to scream, but his lungs were burning as he ran toward the trees. His equipment began falling off piece by piece as the straps burned away. He had third degree burns across fifty percent of his body, but still raw adrenaline and stubbornness drove his limbs. He couldn’t see, his eyes scorched shut fifty meters from the tree line, but he knew which way to go, “NNNGGGGGGHHH!”

Then he was beyond pain. He crashed into branches. He was distantly aware that he’d stopped moving, but all that consumed his mind was anger. That this is how he died? That Krash had managed to get out, but he was burning to death? No. No, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. He wouldn’t give the orks the satisfaction, or the powder-heads or the countless other idiots that would still be alive after this fight. No! He didn’t live through the whole Cytheran campaign to die in some cozy forest. He was vaguely aware of another presence, but his nerves had all been burnt away now. He floated weightlessly in darkness, unfeeling, and somehow cold. Perhaps that is death. No trumpets, no light, no homecoming; just the void of space.

Do you smell that? Tamarova signed to Krash. It smelled like burnt meat. They kept walking quietly through the trees. They heard movement and stopped.

“Yanov?” she whispered.

“Tamarova?” the trees replied. Krash and Tamarova pushed through a bush and saw the charred body laying in the undergrowth.

“Rusty,” Krash immediately recognized the unrecognizable body.

“He’s still alive, I think,” Yanov jumped down from the branches above them.

“Too dumb to die,” Krash stated, immediately laying his poncho out next to Rostilav. They carefully rolled the medic onto the make-shift litter, wiping the ooze from their gloves on their pants without complaint.

“What do we do now?” Yanov asked, looking at Tamarova, who looked at Krash, who stared back at both of them for moment before shrugging.

“Back-up is coming on the road.”

They were waiting in the trees a few dozen yards off the dirt road when their microbeads buzzed to life.

“Delta squad, do you copy? Gamma to Delta squad do you copy?” a male voice crackled. The trio stared at one another for a moment.

“Delta squad, respond.” Oksana reached to key her mic.

“Delta here, gamma,” she stated.

“Zrena, it’s good to hear you Tamarova,” the microbead range was near maximum, and transmission quality reflected it, “where are you?”

“By the road, few miles from the base, where are you?” Yanov asked.

“The bog, same place you dropped. What happened? Why isn’t Vladoff talking?”

“The foreman’s dead. So is most of the squad. We lost the target,” Yanov answered. There was a long pause.

“Who’s left?”

“Tamarova, Krash, Rusty, and me. Rusty’s bad, you have medevac?”

“Negative, base lost contact, sent us in to investigate. Mounted is coming on the road, shouldn’t be long.” There was another long pause, “We’re going to recon the target, I’m sending a few guns your way.”

“Copy, be careful, there’s still about a dozen left with a lot of firepower and two technicals,” Yanov cautioned.

“Is Krash secure?” the vox stated.

“Yes, the traitor’s not going anywhere,” Yanov said, turning to stare at Krash.

Krash’s eyes widened, pulse quickening as he realized his hands and feet were manacled. He looked to his jump-mate.

“Oksana?” he pleaded, confused. She just stared at him, disappointed. Krash looked back to Yanov, who shook his head and looked at Rusty’s body.

Rusty’s eyes opened, stark white agains his blackened skin, staring straight at Krash, accusing and silent. Krash jerked back and touched something cold. He spun his head around and saw Foreman Vladoff leaning against a tree, missing both arms and one leg, half her face a gaping whole. Krash screamed.

He tried to rise but tripped on his hobbles and fell. He was laying next to Ty’Win’s mutilated corpse, the psyker’s emotionless eyes staring through him. His mouth moved without making any noise, traitor.

Krash rolled away and rose to kneeling position. Volkov was standing over him, bullet holes and cuts oozing blood. The priest was holding a tome and pointing an accusatory finger in his face, “I pronounce the Traitor cursed! May the warp torture his immortal soul!”

Kaminev stood behind Volkov, signing curses with his charred, skeletal hands. Stenson’s voice twisted Krash around again. The overseer’s severed head was perched on a log, speaking into his autolog, “let the record show that Tundraman Tamarova, having failed to fulfill her duty to keep Tundraman Krasheninnikov from committing heresy against the Emperor, shall be punished to the maximum extent of Imperial Code.”

“You brought this upon us, Krash,” Oksana said, she was tied to post before a firing squad now, the marks of dozens of lashings on her bare skin, “I trusted you, Krash. We were supposed to have each others backs. Don’t you remember?”

“I didn’t mean to…” Krash begged.

“Didn’t mean to?” Commissar Aldonis, towering fifteen feet tall above him, bellowed, “It doesn’t matter what you meant to do! You’ve had your chances, Krasheninnikov…” Krash’s gaze drifted to a line of almost thirty skaggis, all aiming lascarbines at him. Each face that of a dead man or woman.

FIRE!” Aldonis bellowed.

AHHHHH!” Krash’s scream pierced the darkness of the Heimroc’s barracks in the supply depot, “NOOOOOOOOO!” He opened his eyes, slapping at the pair of hands shaking his shoulders. Finally a hard slap brought him out of the nightmare.

“Krash! It’s safe, you’re safe! You’re safe!” Tamarova was repeating in calm, quiet voice, “You’re safe, Krash. You’re safe.” Krash was shaking, too much to cry, so he just coughed instead, rocking in his rack, “Sshhhhhh,” Oksana soothed. She knelt there, next Krash’s cot, holding him as he shivered and rocked. Saying nothing, for there was nothing to say, but it was enough. After an hour or so, he drifted back to sleep, clinging to her like a terrified child.

The Refinery, Part III

Transcript: Post-Contact Debriefing

Commissar Dexin Interview of Acolyte Artho Yanov, Novaskaggi VII Drop Infantry

AY: Sorry, Sir…I…

“Drink, Artho.” Pouring liquid “You can verify the events of Overseer Stenson’s autolog?”

AY: Thank you, sir. Yes, they are accurate.

“There, good for the constitution, yes?”

AY: Yes, sir…coughing… Very good for the constitution.

“Why don’t we stop the recordings, just tell me what happened after you dealt with the remaining few orks left inside the refinery.”

AY: Yes…they went quickly, once we set-up cross-fire. One them said something about a big mech…Father Volkov knew the most about xenos, we thought it meant tanks were coming. After they were dead, we stacked them with the other xenos and burnt them with the proper curses from Father Volkov. It was after that Foreman Vladoff collected the cognomen tags from the KIA’s.

“…And there were none missing? All of the base personnel were accounted for?”

AY: Yes. Father Volkov performed a good death speech, and Foreman wrapped all the tags in a bandage before putting them in her pack. This I remember clearly. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur…"

“Nobody can remember everything…”

AY: Krash does.

“We will have plenty of time to discuss what Krash is and is not capable remembering soon enough…for now let’s focus on what you remember.”

AY: Yes…I know Krash, Oksana, and Rusty shut-down the refinery…they all had a lot of experience with the equipment from Home, I think. It didn’t take long.

“Do you know what kinds of repairs they made?”

AY: Repairs? I don’t remember them saying anything about repairs…they were shutting it all down. The greenskins did a lot of dangerous things. Then Foreman had us build-up the perimeter, with the mines and the bombs; I helped build the barricades.

“What did you use for these barricades, and tell me what was done with the Imperial vehicles found in the complex.”

AY: Yes, sir. The greenskins had sacked the whole barracks, everything was broken and filthy. We dragged what we could lift outside and piled it into defensive lines behind the gates. We took as much equipment from the KIAs’ as we could find a use for, every battle station had extra lasguns and charge packs. We used the extra armor, along with the flat pieces of garbage, to make defensive platforms on the roof. One of the utility trucks we found torn apart by the Greenskins, we dragged that one close to the gates and mounted the heavy bolter on the deck. The working utility truck we added walls to, and Krash was able to build an autocannon mount on the deck.

“With one of the watchtower cannon correct?”

AY: Yes, sir, the one removed when we first cleared the refinery.

“…And the xeno-tainted vehicles? What was done with these?”

AY: Yes, we took the wheels from them after pulling them in place, blocking the gate with their length. Krash rigged the fuel tanks to explode with trigger wires that led to the heavy bolter emplacement.

“Anything else?”

AY: hmmmm…No, Sir. That sounds like everything. Then we slept in shifts at our positions on the perimeter, waiting for reinforcements to come or the orks to counter-attack. It didn’t take long.

“Can you remember where everyone was when the ork counter-attack began?”

AY: Yes, Foreman and Gregori were in the watch tower north of the gate, Father Volkov was in the one on the other side, just south of the gate. I was on the west wall. Rusty was on the barracks roof with the grenade launcher, Krash and Tamarova were in the working utility truck, and the rest were in the heavy-bolter emplacement.

“The rest being Psyker Ty’win, Overseer Stenson, and Tundraman Kaminev?”

AY: Yes, sir.

“What was the first sign of the enemy?”

AY: Yes, a squad of grots came up from the road, from the east. They were too small to trigger the AT mines, but there weren’t any of the regular orks behind them. Vladoff ordered us all to hold-fire, I think she wanted us to take them out quiet-like, so the others wouldn’t know we were there.

“Did that work?”

AY: I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. They got to the gate and then they started shooting at each other, I don’t really know why, but I think Ty’Win had something to do with it…anyway, Krash helped jump the xenos that got through. About the same time they were engaging, Yuri got the call from FSD Command that the reinforcements we’d been promised were enroute. Rusty had to go back to the voxroom and let them know about the AT mines.

“Why not Yuri? He was the mission’s voxcaster technician correct?”

AY: Yes, sir. He tried to raise them on the portable vox, but they didn’t respond. We’d had to use the long-range vox station in the barracks earlier to communicate with command…so, Rusty did that again.

“There is no record of Tundraman Norin ever having received technical training on voxcaster systems. How successful was he in this?”

AY: Yes, Krash had to give him instructions on the squad band, but he’s a smart skaggi, he figured it out quickly.

“Very good, Artho. Go on.”

AY: Yes, that was the beginning of the end. A dozen boomers emerged from the west flank. Even Vladoff knew it.

“The squad had been out-flanked, duped.”

AY: Yes, sir…we underestimated them. The ones we’d fought up to then were like animals…just charging straight on.

“Yes, an error in judgement. What happened next?”

AY: Foreman kept calm, giving orders, keeping us going, but I she knew we were in trouble. Rusty started to aid me, I think he made it to the southwest corner gun before the rockets started coming in.

“What did the rest of the squad do?”

AY: Krash and Oksana broke-off fighting the grots, they got the gun-truck going and picked-up Ty’Win, Kaminev, and Stenson. That left Father Volkov with Foreman and Yuri to finish-off the grots at the gate. They were still firing at them when the boomers broke through.

“Where did they breach the perimeter?”

AY: Almost in the middle of the west wall. Rusty had been pinned down, but I remember hearing his autocannon firing all the way up to the breach.

“You are not here to incriminate your comrades, Artho; no one is questioning their courage or yours. The Emperor demands of us to accurately record contact with the Great Enemy and its allies. Now, at what point did the daemon appear?”

AY: Coughing Yes…it was just after the breach. Krash had placed the gun-truck behind the generators for cover, and everyone on board was firing at the orks coming through the gap. I could see about twelve, with two of the burly nobs. I remember Ty’Win howling, terribly screeching…

“Take it slowly, Artho. Here, drink.”

AY: Thank you, Sir…I don’t know how much help I can be…the rest is hazy…

“You must try, Artho! Be specific.”

AY: Yes, sir. It came out of the pond, the…the daemon. It must have been over ten feet tall…as big as an Akyragh…I remember it looked at me…even from over 100 yards, it looked into my soul, sir. It saw to the depths of me and it looked away. I couldn’t move. Krash had somehow gotten back in the cab, the daemon dashed toward the back of the truck….By the Emperor the way it moved!

“Artho, breathe…”

AY: …sobs… so much blood…so much blood! He tried to get away, the truck wasn’t fast enough…I saw Ty’Win’s face!

“Artho!” slap “Focus!”

AY: …sobbing… I saw his eyes when the daemon… Sobs… so much blood!

“Acolyte Artho Yanov. Compose yourself!”

AY: …sobs/moaning…

“Doctor! Sedate him.”

Door opening “Yes, Commissar. There now, son, relax. Relax, you are safe.”

AY: NO! …breaking glass_… NO! NOOO! …_furniture movingAHHHHH!

DOCTOR: Relax! Oof! Commissar!


“Artho!” breaking glass, several punching impacts

AY: Nnngghh…heavy breathing

DOCTOR: Shhhh…shhhhh..there you go


DOCTOR: Commissar, with all-due respect…what he’s been through…

“He will go through ten times as much, if he is lucky! These skaggis are supposed be hardened warriors, and he a Ministorum Acolyte. So much for the ministorum’s heedless fervor.”

DOCTOR: They’re good guardsmen, Commissar. I was present for the others’ debriefings…barely a twitch. You would have thought they were reciting the Primer.

“That is what concerns me, Doctor.”

DOCTOR: That they were calm?

“That they were reciting…”


The Refinery, Part II

Autolog.293 – Schola Psykana Overseer Stenson

>>With the Orks advancing on us from inside the refinery complex, Delta squad dug into our position in the trees. The greenskins emerged in a disorganized rabble, sprinting toward the trees in ones and twos until Ty’Win unleashed the heavy bolter…



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>The greenskins pressed-on at first, only a handful turning back, but as soon as the largest among them turned to hide, the rest followed suit. They dove into the polluted stream between us and the compound’s shattered gates, or hid behind the burnt-out trucks left from their own assault the day before.

Ever since the Incident, Ty’Win’s reticence to channel the power of the warp has torn at his soul. I’ve seen his jaw strain in agony whenever a moment arises he may be called upon to summon forth the Emperor’s Blessing. When those shells barked forth, so simple in their brutatlity, so predictable, I saw a calmness in his expression.

Calmness is certainly the furthest thing on my mind, or the others, I can assure you. For those who’ve never faced a charging band of orks on a rainy night, the feeling in your gut indescribable. The barrel of a Leman Russ battle cannon is not that fearsome. Then again, I suppose staring into the horrors of the Warp, no matter how brief, can be matched by no mortal terror…except possibly those transpiring in the depths of the Black Ships.


>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>Cease fire! We need to kill them, they’re out of las range wait until the front runner reaches the brushline.

>VOICEPRINT(TY’WIN)>"As you command,"



>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>Conserve your ammo

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>You said kill them. This is how you kill things.

>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)> Listen to the Foreman, brothers! The sooner they approach, the sooner they be cleansed by His light!

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>With the cessation of bolter fire, the orks have rallied quite quickly. Within a moment they’re charging forth anew with not a trace of forethought or cohesion. The pair that had been stunned by Rusty’s grenade are already within a hundred meters, but the foreman stays our triggers. The enemy closes, ninety meters…eighty….nearly to the brushline.


>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>Wait for the big one.

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> The foreman’s voice is calm and steady, not nearly as inspiring as the sight of Yuri behind her, his knuckles white around his weapon. The largest of the orks, surely thrice as tall as any man present, barrells toward us, far out pacing his smaller brethren. Those at the head of the pack are still far closer than he as they close within range of our guns.

>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)> Take aim. steady on…steady…
>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> The lead ork reaches the brushline, slashing at the vegetation with a crude blade



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>The enemy charges into our guns, some scattering only to turn back towards us once our fire had moved to another. The rest continue headlong, even those hit three times. Rusty hit one of them squarely in the head, the beast’s face disappeared as the crude pelt he wore ignited.


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>In the cooly-lit rain, the blazing ork is a beacon as it continues to run, like a nillet with its head cut-off. Father Volkov’s shots are blessed by Emperor, he fellS one after another. Still they come, the big one drawing closer..


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>until a blast from one of Rusty’s grenades throws him to the ground.

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>That’s right you bastard!

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>I tell you nary a single shot falls a-foul of its target, but these greenskins cannot feel them at all, even as their flesh cracks and bones cook.

By the Emperor! The ork leader rises from the bushes into which he’s tumbled,



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>He staggers forward, setting-off one of Krash’s grenade traps, the only effect of which was another great roar.


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> All I see were the blood-flecked segments of imperial guard armor strapped to his huge chest, and the huge pole adorned with teeth and jagged metal.

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>We’ve got to fall back


>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)>Nay brothers! Let Faith be your anchor, no foe shall move us so!


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)I feel a tingling in my flesh I have not felt in a very long time. I look to Ty’Win, his eyes were wide…and shining blue light. I know it was not just rain dampening his face. I smell smoke and kingberries, musty leather. The veins of Ty’Win’s face ripple, lighting sparking between his teeth, and his arms jerk-up with unnatural speed, under their own control.


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> Reality bulged as the warp tunnels through it, I heard the deafening scream of daemon in my ears, for only a moment, and then the great ork exploded into flame. The tree next to him errupted too, and the beast stumbled forward, bellowing.



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)Real is real, warp is warp, be clear, think clear, hold to the real! Hold to the real! There…he’s come back, his flesh ceases to twitch and roil.

>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>What the hell was that!


>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>Do it again! Bring it down!


>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)Beloved Emperor, let your light shine through us and destroy the Enemy! Destroy the Xeno!


>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)>The Emperor Protects!

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> The xeno’s howling ceased but it did not fall. I nearly passed-out as the headless alien continued thrashing. It turned, as if confused, and charged a few meters out of the woods before falling to the ground.

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>There’s still plenty more comming!



>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)>Plenty to spare no xeno!
>VOICEPRINT(TY’WIN)>Five canisters remaining.
>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>Four power-packs, 6 frag, 2 stun.

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> The ranks of orks are thinning. Most of the remaining xeno’s are fleeing back to the protection of the compound walls. With only a few enemy remaining in the field, Ty’Win stands and advances. As we’re moving, I see a shadow of movement across the clear-cut field. There’s another, it’s Krash and Tamarova, sprinting headlong through the rain toward the wall.


The last ork falls, after having both of his legs burnt and the flesh of his head melted to the bone, it took the explosive amputation of his arm before he finally ceased advancing and fell.

>INC/VOXPRINT> Cover now!



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>Miraculously, none of us had been injured. To this hour I do not know how. We fell back through the trees, well out-of-sight of the guard towers, and began advancing west, around the compound. Shredded leaves and wood pulp cling to our skin and clothes, soaked through. Were it not for the rain, I doubt I could play-off my shaking as shivers.

The faces of my squadmates, though, barely quiver, aside from Yuri’s. The two of us share our disbelief in reassuring looks. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one shaken by what I’d just survived, but it seems even Yuri recovered within a couple of minutes. In this moment I feel as Ty’win must always feel, desperately alone. Though instead of a blessed curse, I am alone with my own mortality. I glance at my charge and companion, perhaps searching for comfort in some sign of disturbance; but his eyes are placid once more, devoid of any sign of what roils behind them.


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>We form a defensive circle without a further word.

>INC\VOXPRINT (KRASHENINNIKOV)> Badguy’s in the north four towers. One good truck, dze south towers are empty, no one in dze barracks. Generator in dze middle, I can get to it…cut dze lights…

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>There is a momentary grin on the Foreman’s face, as if a memory had flickered through her mind.



>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> Krash’s response is so light,I wonder, as I often have, whether Tundraman Krasheninnikov is ever truly aware of gravity in any context.

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILAV)>That idiot better naught get caught. I’ll gut him with joy.

>VOICEPRINT(Artho)>You’re not capable of joy. Not that there’s ever a reason for it. We’re all going to die in agony.



>VOICEPRINT(VOLKOV)>We will die with joy in our hearts having served the God-Emperor well!

>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)We’re not going to die at all! We’ve killed half of them already, they’re leaderless, and we’ve still got the initiative. They’re fucked, so keep your victory dance dry.

>INC\VOXPRINT (TAMAROVA)> We’re starting over the south wall

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> From experience I can tell you Krash is almost over the wall already.


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> We’ve continued through the forest, and it’s been several minutes before I realized the rhythm of the autocannons had stopped. The night is eerily peaceful as we hike through the gentle rain.

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> We’ve come around the south end of the field, Krash just let us know they are in position, the south end is clear. We creep to the edge of the woods, looking out across two hundred and fifty meters of open ground.

>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>Get ready..Lights out….Go Go Go!


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>We sprinted in through the darkness. After the first fifty meters, my legs started burning. By the time we hit the wall, I all but collapsed, but Rusty was already climbing the rope left by Krash and Tamarova. After several failed attempts, slipping on the wet stone, Foreman Vladoff grabbed the rope from him.

>VOICEPRINT(VLADOFF)>We’ve got to get in there.

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)> Foreman Vladoff, Yuri, Artho, and Father Volkov are over the wall…Rostilav struggles above us on the rope.

>VOICEPRINT(ROSTILOV)> Gah! Stop recording you idiot!

>INC\VOXPRINT (KRASHENINNIKOV)> Two grots, southbound on the east side

>VOICEPRINT(STENSON)>Rusty’s made it over, Ty’Win and I struggle on the rope, the rain has soaked it through and my boots can find no purchase on the wall.




>INC\VOXPRINT (VOLKOV)> Squiggly-beast!

>INC\VOXPRINT (VLADOFF)> Quiet_…_Rusty, get ready to take the grots.

>INC\VOXPRINT (ROSTILAV)> You want me to use a knife?


>VOICEPRINT(STENSON) Finally, Ty’Win made it to the top of the wall, and held a hand out for me. I grabbed it, and we tumbled over the top. Fortunately, I was able to get my feet under me before the ground hit me. We both rolled across the lawn, unhurt. I can hear the dull roar of the gas flares across the compound, dim shadows flicker across the walls as we hurry to join the rest of the squad…



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