Saturday, April 16, 2011

Radical: Heretics

This is Radical part III.  For more check the table of contents here..

My power armor had not been completely repaired by the time we were on our way, and I spent most of the trip shifting uncomfortably in the suit.  The dents from the heavy bolter rounds that had hit me couldn’t be removed without a more extensive repair facility, so the warped ceramite dug into my ribs with every bump our transport hit.  To go along with this, the knee joints that had been cut through were fixed in a rush job, leaving the articulating musculature inside the armor’s legs twitchy and unreliable.  I walked with a limp, sometimes having to drag my left leg along behind me.  Still, it was better to have malfunctioning armor than none at all, and though I would have gone into battle nude if I’d had to, the Adepta Sororitas are as much a symbol as a fighting force, and the power armor I wore served more purpose than simply bullet stopper and strength enhancer.

The Imperial Guard began shelling the enemy’s flank while we were on route, mostly to keep their heads down as we approached.  From there Dominion squads would serve as spotters for the guard’s guns, lining up more accurate shots on the Mechanicus Facility’s defenses.  Celestians were to get to the manufacotrium themselves and set the melta charges that would bring down the servitor production facility while the rest of the Commandery set up a defensive perimeter inside the facility to cover the Celestians.  From there it was a simple evacuation plan of loading back up into the transports and heading home.  Some of the Harbingers’ thunderhawks were to provide air cover and emergency extraction if necessary.  This mission was expected to have very high casualties, but we were Sisters of Battle.  If anyone was prepared for martyrdom, it was us.

“Listen up,” Halquin said, shouting over the roar of the rhino’s engine as it trundled along the landscape of the hell planet in a tight wedge formation.  We were far on the right flank, while the Immolators which were carrying the Dominions made up the point of out spearhead.  “We will be facing heavy resistance.  The Guard might have scattered the defenders, or forced them into cover, but they probably haven’t reduced their numbers much.  When you’re fighting the servitors aim for their weapons.  The warp cursed machines only have vitals in the vaguest sense of the word, so shoot at the most dangerous parts that you can see, that means guns and power fists.  We want suppressing fire on them until we can hit them with a melta weapon.”
Marise nodded her head and hefted her meltagun, clearly enjoying having the opportunity to use the antitank weapon.  Near her Jessicia checked the ammunition feed on her multimelta.  The twin barreled microwave gun was much bigger than the heavy flamer than Jessica usually carried, and she didn’t look completely confident in its use, but it was going to be our primary weapon against the servitors, having twice the range of the standard melta, which was only useful at near suicide ranges.  The extreme heat produced by melta weapons dissipated quickly at range, but the multimelta Jessica had would be able to turn the servitors into smoking piles of scrap at almost as long a range as our bolters could fire.

Halquin continued.  “If things start going bad, we hold the line as long as possible, then we fall back to the manufactorum itself and hold there.  We don’t leave until the place goes up in smoke.  If the Celestians can’t complete their job, then we have to go finish the job for them.  Is everyone ready?”  We shouted our acknowledgement, and Halquin smiled.  “Then let us pray.”

The Battle Prayer of the Cleansing Fire commandery still fills my soul with a righteous fervor to this day.  Though I am now a Palatine in command of my own Mission, and we have our own prayer, I sometimes find myself whispering the old verses in tense times.  Our voices range out in unison, perfectly pitched through years of practice at the convents.  “Would that I had been a flame, burning brightly in His name, to serve my purpose and then die, to have no will but His.  Would that I had been a gale to scour the land of sins.  Would that I had been a gun, dealing death without a thought.  Woe that I am born of will, surrounded by temptation.  Blessed are those with minds like iron.  Blessed are we who have no doubts.  Blessed by Him on Golden Throne.  Blessed to be his fire.”

As we finished I raised my head, brimming with the confidence brought on by prayer, and I shouted, “Ave Imperator!”  My sisters joined my call, and for one brief instant our voices drowned out the rumbling engine of the rhino, and our purity blew away the stink of the exhaust and oil and sweat and promethium around us.  That was our brightest moment, and it was the last moment we were all alive.  A lascannon punched through the crew compartment and vaporized fully half of our eight before we were even aware we were being fired upon.  Jessica and her multimelta disappeared in a blinding azure flash of light, as did Patience and Lily.  Beth was only winged, and lay one the floor of the vehicle, writhing and screaming, the entire left side of her body burned away in an instant.  Halquin, Emperor bless her, put a bolt shell into what was left of her head before she could suffer more.  “Everyone out!”

The entire right side of the rhino was reduced to molten slag by the powerful laser blast, and we had to wedge open the side door and fumble out of the rhino as best we could.  The driver was dead, slumped over the steering column, smoke leaking from the seals in her armor, the flesh inside cooked alive.  Halquin pulled Marise out of the wreckage, and the other surviving sister, Barbara, helped me out of the hatch and away from the rhino before it exploded in a ball of flaming promethium and munitions.  Halquin was still shouting orders as we pulled ourselves into the cover of a nearby rock formation.  “Marise, get your eyes up and get ready to return fire.  Barbara, get eyes on command.  Regina, figure out where we are.”

Marise raised her head over the rocks, resting her meltagun easily in a crevice between two of the stones.  “I don’t see anything.  I think we were hit at extreme range.”

“Command’s over there,” Barbara said, pointing towards the rest of the column.  It had moved on ahead without us, but a second lascannon shot tore the turret off of the lead Immolator and the tank erupted into fire.  “Holy Emperor, where did that come from?!”

“Marise, eyes!” Halquin ordered.

“I can’t see them, ma’am.  I’m telling you, wherever they’re firing that from, it’s way too far out for visual comfirmation.”

I peered over the rocks myself, trying to figure out how far we were from the facility.  Ahead of us, the column was breaking up, turning left and right in a defensive pattern designed to screen the tanks further back from incoming fire.  More lascannon shots lit up the sky, and with each one one of our tanks exploded or went careening out of control.  “They’re damn good shots, whoever they are,” Marise added.  Far out, near the horizon, I could see the towering facility we were supposed to b assaulting.  The Imperial Guard basilisks should have forced their defenses into cover, but I saw now that the lascannon shots were coming from there, a facility still several kilometers distant.

“Regina, call back.  Tell command that we need that artillery fire suppressing the facility and we also need pickup from a thunderhawk at earliest convenience.”  By now Halquin had spotted the fire coming from the facility as well.  “It’s got to be some kind of servitor system targeting those guns.  That’s the only way.”

“Not a chance, ma’am,” Marise said, pulling back into the cover of the outcropping.  “There’s no way a servitor could be shooting those guns.”

“Explain,” Halquin said.

“Well, I grew up on a forge world, ma’am.  I’ve got experience with servitors.  They’re not exactly bright, you see.  They can do simple stuff, even shoot guns, but there’s a reason you don’t see sniper servitors.  They can’t process that kind of input.  They can’t pick out priority targets and the like.  They don’t have the feel for it, you know?”

Halquin sucked her lower lip into her mouth, a sign that she was agitated.  I’d learned it well during my first days with the squad, and had tried to avoid it ever since.  “Well, it must be those rogue mechanicus shooting them then.  They’ve probably got the machine spirits so twisted that they’re doing most of the work for them.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, and immediately wished I hadn’t.  Suddenly all eyes were on me.  I swallowed hard, unable to explain myself.  “I don’t know, I mean.  I’ve got a hunch.”  It pointed at the wreckage strewn around.  “See?  They aren’t targeting the most important units.  We were on the far flank, in a damaged rhino.  I think we were picked out because…”

“Because we were the weakest,” Halquin finished for me, then nodded gravely.  “I don’t like where this is going.”  Then we heard our return fire, and we all looked over the rocks at our column.  Over a third of our tanks were gone now, smoking piles of ruin or sometimes just craters in the landscape, but one tank had pulled to the head of the pack, and my heart raced.  A lascannon blast scored across its shining golden front armor, but hadn’t even slowed it down.  The Inquisitorial Land Raider pushed ahead, drawing all of the incoming fire and weathering it like an armored beast in a hailstorm.  Its own lascannons shot back, and their beams raked across the mechanicus facilty, causing bright plumes of flame to appear across its surface.
The incoming lascannons slowed down in their fire, and Marise slapped her gauntleted hand against the rock, grinning, “Ha!  Suck on that you heretics!”

Halquin slapped me on the shoulder, “Come on sisters, let’s go.  We’re going to be late to the party, but we can still make it.  Double time!”

It took us several hours to reach the facility, and the entire time our voxes were jammed by some sort of heretic interference being broadcast from the facility.  Despite all of the other wreckage we passed, we found no other survivors of our commandery and assumed that they must have gone on ahead of us.  The facility itself was a gargantuan structure almost the size of a hive, but instead of being filled with people, it was filled with heretic technology.  The hundred meter tall iron front gates of the facility had been blasted off of their hinges, and dozens of combat servitors were strewn about, mixed with the corpses of more of our sisters.  We saw none of the red robed mechanicus whose heresy had brought this fate upon Ulric, but we assumed they were holed up in the most secure parts of the facility.

“We need to get to the manufactorum and join up with our forces there.  Barbara, which way?”  Barbara, a mousy woman with a thick jaw and stringy brown hair pointed farther into the twisting maze of destroyed machines and wrecked servitors, and we pushed on.

Further ahead, we could hear the sounds of battle, and we constantly found evidence of heavy fighting.  Here there was a sister cut down by bolter fire, here one shorn in half by a chainfist, but we were seeing less and less of the servitors with every step until soon it was only the bodies of the sisters which lay before us.
“How many do you think we’ve seen,” Marise asked, avoiding looking at the mangled remains of what had once been a Celestian.

“I’ve counted over fifty,” Barbara said, keeping her bolter trained ahead of her, the sharp edged sarissa at the end of it quivering as her hands shook.  Like me, this was her first war.  “That’s most of the commandery down if you count all those people we didn’t find from the destroyed tanks on the way here.”

“Most, but not all,” Halquin agreed.  She’d donned her little wire rimmed spectacles during our march here, saying that all of the smoke was straining her eyes.  I think that her need to see finally overcame her vanity.

“Look!”  Marise called out, and sprinted forward, over a pile of rubble and the ruins of another Immolator.  We followed, Halquin cursing at her to stop, but what we found froze us where we stood.  We were at the great doors of the manufactorum, emblazoned with the machine skull of the Cult Mechanicus, now horribly defaced and scarred with totems to the ruinous powers.  At the foot of the stairs up to those huge brass doors, the Inquisitor’s Land Raider was dead.  The assault ramp at the front of the great vehicle was open, belching out smoke over the corpses of a half dozen men.  A great gaping hole, like that from a meltabomb, had replaced most of the vehicle’s side armor, and one of the lascannons had exploded, destroying the Land Raider’s machine spirit.  It looked like the Inquisitor and his team had managed to get the front ramp open, but were slaughtered as they tried to leave.  “Emperor preserve us, who could have done this?” Marise said.
“The Inquisitor’s not here,” Halquin said, examining the bodies.  “That means he’s inside the manufactorum with the rest of the commandery completing the mission.  We don’t have any time to waste, he’s going to need our help.”

“Our help?  Shit.  He’s going to need the Emperor’s help if he wants to succeed at this mission,” Marise said, shaking her head.

Halquin seemed about to respond, but there was a sudden clatter of stones to our right, and she held up a hand, bringing her bolter to bear.  The four of us closed in, backs together to cover all angles, all of us crouched except for Marise, so that she could gain a clear line of shot with her meltagun at all angles.  Barabara took point, moving forward to investigate the pile of rubble that had been the source of the noise.  She never had a chance.  The chain axe  came out of nowhere, sailing through the air and slamming into her chest so hard it knocked her, broken, to the ground.  She screamed, clawing at the handle, trying to wrench it free as the admantine teeth tore through her armor and ripped her apart, chunk by chunk.

“Blood for the blood god!”  And they were upon us.

There are many horror tales about Khorne Berserkers, but none of them can do justice to the real thing.  Over nine feet tall, in their blood red armor, hefting their chain axes and bolt pistols, screaming with voices all too close to human, but not, the traitor marines can invoke a primal terror in a person that is almost impossible to rival.  Bolt shells bounced off of their armor like so many stones off of a tank.  They moved with preternatural, lightning speed, bouncing over the wreckage in powerful leaps.  Their bolt pistols barked like hounds at the leash, and they tore us to our knees so their masters could come in for the kill.  Halquin emptied the clip of her bolter into one, to no effect, then only just managed to bring her weapon up in time to deflect a blow from a chainaxe that split her bolter in two and sent her sprawling away onto the pile of corpses in front of the Land Raider.  Marise was more successful, frying another berserker where he stood with her meltagun.  She turned, collapsing as one of the bolt pistols took off her left leg at the knee, and her second shot went wide, cutting a deadly swatch through the ruins around her.  She managed one more scream of “Ave Imperator!” before the second berserker’s axe took her head from her shoulders.

I fell backwards, firing my bolter into the head of the nearest of the traitor marines, and was rewarded as the powerful shells punched through one of his eye slits and popped his head in his helmet.  Blood leaked from the seals as the monster collapsed, but four more were coming.  I fired again, missing wide, and scrambled away, only barely managing to dodge a chainaxe that carved a rift through the ground I had just been laying on.  Back on my feet, I lashed out, catching one of the berserker’s in the chin with a solid right hook, but another raised his knee into my chest with so much force that I was catapulted across the manufactorum square and landed on my shoulders, skidding into the ruins of the Immolator.

As the monsters approached, howling glories to their false god, one of them suddenly stumbled, his head jerking to the side.  He took a few more steps, as through confused, then fell, a gaping hole in his helmet.  Angelica Cross scares me to this day.  The Seraphim came screaming from the heavens, soaring on blazing wings of fire, emptying a pair of bolt pistols into the oncoming berserkers with such preceision that even their armor was no help.  Here one fell, a bolt shell punching through his knee joint, another staggering as a shot pierced the weak spot in his armpit.  Angelica was, and still is, an terrifyingly intimidating woman.  Over two meters tall, with stark white hair and a vicious dueling scar across her left eye, she is never more frightening than when she is gifted with a jump pack.  She charged the berserkers, bolt pistols still firing, and as they swung at her she pivoted, firing off her jump pack in mid twist, blowing one of the berserkers to the ground as she catapulted above them all, reloading her pistols.  They began firing at her then, but she was a blue of speed and acrobatics.  The Emperor himself was with her that day, protecting her from harm and guiding her shots to drop the traitors one by one.

I gathered my wits and reloaded my bolter, adding fire to the elegant flying dance of death that the Seraphim was performing, and across the square I could see Halquin gathering herself to do the same.  The Sister Superior had grabbed Barbara’s bolter and charged the berserkers from behind, leaping onto the broad back of one of the traitor marines and burying the sarissa into his neck.  He reached up to grab her, but she twisted and jerked, severing the heretic’s head from his body.  My additional fire did no harm, but distracted the last remaining berserker, who turned to shoot at me, only to have the Seraphim slam into his chest at the full speed her jump pack would allow.  They both went to the ground, and Angelica wrestled her way to the top, then pressed the barrels of both of her bolt pistols to the heretic’s face and emptied the clips.

Angelica rose, covered in the gore of her last kill, and spit upon the traitor’s corpse.  Then she turned to Halquin, sneering.  “Kora, you’re late.  You missed the rendezvous by over an hour.”

“And I think you’re supposed to be with a squad,” Halquin said, checking to make sure none of the berserkers were going to get back up.  “Or did you forget again?”

“Squad’s dead,” the Seraphim replied.  “Pretty much everybody’s dead.  The Inquisitor went inside with Rose and her squad of Celestians, but that was a while ago and I haven’t heard from them since.”

“So, what were you doing?”

“Hunting.”  The grin that appeared on Angelica’s face when she said that reminded me of the howls of the berserkers, and I couldn’t help but shiver.  “Lots of heretics around here.  Looks like half a crusade.”

“What are the traitor legions doing here?”

“Dying,” Angelica replied, and spun her bolt pistols like some frontier gunslinger.  “I’ve got to go assist with that.  Try not to die, Kora.”

“You as well, Angelica.”  The Seraphim nodded, then was gone in a blast of light from her jump pack, and I limped back to Halquin, suddenly very uncertain as to our next move.  She didn’t give me much chance for that, though, instead simply turning and heading for the doors to the manufactorum.  “Come on, Regina.  We’ve got to meet up with the Inquisitor and complete this mission.  If things are as bad as they appear, then he’s going to need every standing body he can to succeed.”

So ends the third passage of the Personal Record of Palatine Regina Winterfield concerning the fate of Inquisitor Isimbard Kane.

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