"We really can't thank you enough," said Major Kasky, raising a glass with one hand, "A chance to see our homeworlds again isn't often in the Guard. Say no more about getting us there in such style. Hope you don't mind that we ordered for you."
"Yes Inquisitor, the morale of the troops has greatly improved since we received the news on Coronus," Commissar Steiner added, "Considering what happened on the last deployment, it's bordering on a miracle."
Inquisitor Ferenz Talan smiled, taking his seat at the table. He had them now. His own work would progress much more smoothly with the regimental officers back on side. Major Tahm Kasky, second-in-command of the 16th Berdam Armoured Regiment of the Astra Militarum, and Commissar Steiner of the Commissariat's Far-Eastern division. Tolerable company, Talan thought, but not exactly who he had wanted to spend time with. The ship had limited means of entertainment, and this was far better than nothing.
"After the good work and sacrifices you made on Falasten, I felt indebted to you and the regiment," Talan said, raising his glass, "And I apologise for not holding this little social gathering sooner."
"I've been enjoying the lounge for weeks myself," the Major said, drinking deeply before waving his glass around, "Where have you been? You've been missed."
"I've been reading as much as I can about your home, actually," Talan said, "It's an interesting place."
"Well, you'll get to see much of it if you stick with us," the Commissar said sternly, "We'll be off the ship in a few days, back in tanks, and to proper drills and patrols."
"I would ask about what sort of things you read about, but this is a merry occasion!" the Major continued, "Can't wait to get home. Even our Eccleisarchy services are more interesting than what passes for R&R on most of the Fringe!"
"Your services involve revelry instead of hymns and drinks instead of incense," said Talan flatly, his eyes narrowed, "Your opinion is hardly surprising."
"We all worship the Emperor," Steiner intoned through his mug, "In our own way."
The ship deck shuddered slightly, and the drinks sloshed inside the glasses on the tables to the consternation of all the customers of the lounge. The tinkling of glass on glass sounded throughout the bar like a choir, filling the air. "Bloody warp currents," Kasky complained loudly over the noise, rescuing his drink before the next round of shake, "They're never right around home, was the exact same when we left."
Talan observed the figures around the tarot table once again, as the ship's unease continued. Major Kasky was unbuttoning his formal uniform while maintaining his balance remarkably well, Talan thought, though as the air assault commander, he was probably used to this sort of thing.
The Commissar was faring less well, looking like he was about to get sick. He had opted to keep his hat on, probably to insure the regimental NCOs at the far end of the room could see that he was present. That was a mistake, as the hat now protruded from the man's head at an undignified angle as if he was far more drunk than he actually was. By contrast, Kasky's round white kepi was on the table, moving with the vibration.
Finally, a pause in the shaking arrived, and an audible sigh of relief echoed around the chamber. Every person present understood the dangers of the warp well enough, evidently.
"So, I presume the Colonel will not be joining us?" said Talan, picking up the scattered deck of tarot cards to shuffle them.
Kasky grinned, revealing a facial lasburn scar. "No, she is meeting with the ship's captain," he said, "Unfortunately for you." The Inquisitor noticed the Major liked to use this face to put people off balance, but he was having none of it.
The Commissar raised an eyebrow. He had only joined the regiment on Coronus after the two campaigns they had fought under Inquisitorial authority as the regiment had taken heavy casualties, so he was unaware of many things. Talan wanted to cultivate the right image with the man, and Kasky knew it.
"Colonel Mieza has many duties to attend to, I'm sure," Talan replied quickly, not wanting to flaunt his authority to end the subject.
"She is observing the transition from the warp, but I'm sure Artemis will have time to chat before we land on Piraeus," said Kasky, leaning back, "We'll still have a day at least to drift into the system from the halo once we drop out of the warp. We'll be in realspace any time now."
"Good, she is essential to my mission to gather forces in your home system for the crusade against the xenos scum that beat us," said Talan, dealing a hand, "And when we're there, try to remember I'm with Segmentum Command, not the Inquisition. There's hardly any point in wearing this uniform if you go about calling me Inquisitor the whole time."
"Essential he says," Kasky said, rolling his eyes to the Commissar, whom to Talan's thanks remained silent, "As you wish, Inquisitor."
The lurch of the ship exiting the warp swept the room, and alarms sounded for a few minutes as was standard.
"At last, we've arrived," Steiner thought aloud, recovering from his space-sickness, "We're clear of danger."
"ALL HANDS, PREPARE TO REPEL BOARDERS."
The announcement droned through an intercom at near-deafening volume, stunning the occupants of the room.
"Well, that's unusual," Kasky said, as people moved from a somewhat relaxed state to one of near anarchy, as Guardsmen rushed to pick up their weapons and organise themselves, while civilians just flailed about in panic making the former's attempts almost impossible.
Talan turned to Commissar Steiner, as booming metallic sounds, obviously the impacts of boarding assault pods, started from the direction of the doorway. "I thought a man of your profession would have understood not to tempt fate," he said, before picking up the lasgun off the back of his chair. The Commissar didn't look happy about being wrong in the slightest.
Normally, Talan would carry something with more firepower, but as he was posing as a strategist not an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos, he had opted for a Guard uniform and weapon. So, a lascarbine of the type carried by tank crews, flak armour and a Colonel's four bars on his lapel. The only reason he had a flak-jacket at all was due to regulations in Berdamian regiments demanding officers be ready to fight at all times. He felt almost naked.
The civilians in the room were still mobbing around unsure of what to do, so Talan set the commissar to calming them while Kasky got his Guardsmen in order. As the Major strode off kepi-on-head and buttoning up his shirt again, Talan fumbled for his commbead to contact his acolytes.
A young deck hand broke through the doors into the lounge, his overalls covered in blood. Looking around the room, he spotted Major Kasky and ran to him, grabbing at the man's uniform, soiling it with red ichor.
The entire room was transfixed on the poor soul, which increased Talan's unease. Panic had been replaced with morale-destroying distraction.
"They're purple!" he declared, pulling at Kasky's sleaves, "They're purple!"
As the Berdamian troops pulled the man off their commanding officer, Talan's mind raced. Had the Tyranids attacked Berdam, and now their transport? The man moved to the middle of the room, and only now tried to remove his blood-slick uniform. All eyes followed.
"It's alright son, tell me what happened," said Steiner in as delicate a tone as he could muster, adjusting his hat and approaching the man, "Where are the enemy?"
The rating finally stopped trying to get attention, turned white and collapsed.
Immediately afterwards, a high shriek pierced the air, and the attentions of soldiers and civilians alike turned back to the doorway. An Administratum adept had been stabbed through the back and out the front of her belly by a crude, broad knife. It soon withdrew, and then sliced across her throat, ending the noise.
The corpse slumped to the ground, revealing the killer. A huge Ork, easily half again the height of the tallest soldier present and about as wide, stood growling in triumph. The monstrous xeno was covered in crude runes of purple.
"Oh frakking warp, that's much worse!" Talan thought aloud, and began shoving a powerpack into his weapon as fast as he could.
"What are you frakwits waiting for, FIRE!" Kasky ordered, flicking the selector on his lascarbine to automatic and hosing down the Ork as it moved to cover. More of the foul aliens seemed to shimmer into existence along the wall beside the dooras if they had been there the whole time, and grabbed the nearest humans. Talan targeted the biggest one with little success, and the thing actually had the sense to return fire with a crude bolter from the end of the bar. He flipped the table over, causing the glasses to smash on the floor and tarot cards to scatter everywhere as a bolt burst through the venerable wood and exploded. His heart pounded while he reloaded his weapon, as he awaited the follow-up shot.
"What are they doing?" the Commissar shouted over the din of battle, and Talan looked through the hole in the table. The Orks were retreating, some even taking civilians or soldiers hostage as they did so.
"Target the hostages then the Orks carrying them," Talan said, an order that Steiner and Kasky repeated, though it earned him some ugly looks. Several of the civilians in the arms of the Orks were struck, but most seemed to be alive as the aliens tossed them aside. Talan frowned, the soldiers had obviously not wished to target their own, but it had been a futile hesitation ; the Orks slit the throats of the surviving hostages as they clambered out of the room. The firefight died down to nothing.
"Stand to! Get the civilians and injured to the back!" Kasky ordered, grabbing a confessor and pushing him in the appropriate direction, as the troops moved to cover the door and shore up barriers.
The Commissar took a place beside the Inquisitor, retrieving his chainsword from the floor in the open as he did so.
"Something is wrong," Steiner said, "Orks retreating? They'll be back."
Kasky glanced at the Inquisitor, a signal that he agreed.
Talan looked between the two briefly, then strode towards the door snapping a long bayonet onto his weapon as he did so. He hurried as he stepped over a few Orkish corpses. They smelt like a hive city cloaca mixed with the wet ferrous scent of blood, which would have caused Talan to choke in the past. He was well used orks by this stage however, and marched on in full concentration.
"What in the name of the Throne is he doing?" Steiner asked.
"Buying some time," replied Kasky.
Glutteral and alien chuckling got more and more audible as Talan approached his goal, and he soon discovered why; a brace of crude grenades attached to sticks soon banged off the half-open door, bouncing to his feet.
Trained instinct immediately took over Talan's body, and he jumped to the side. The grenades exploded as he rolled into cover behind another thick wooden table. The wood was far from adequate protection, and scrapnel burst through the furniture, ripping bloody rends in his right side from shoulder to ankle. Howling with pain, he scrambled up and towards the Guardsmen. Thankfully, they hadn't been idle.
The Orks burst yet again into the room with a roar, abandoning stealth. Kasky had set up a killzone, and the aliens fell right into it. The boyz were being cut to shreds by the volleys of lasfire, though that didn't seem to stop some of them. Talan added his own shots against the green wave as it made it half-way across the room. The first barriers were breached as Orks kicked them down. Talan was almost decapitated by a choppa swing, dodging it by simply dropping backwards onto his rear and firing. The next alien simply smashed his dead counterpart aside, but Talan scrambled away in time.
The weight of fire was beginning to tell, and the second barricade held. Most of the Orks were on the ground, though not all were dead. Many required a quick burst of shots to prevent them from clawing their way forwards or continuing to fire what they considered to be firearms. Kasky ordered a charge, and it was the turn of the Emperor's adopted sons and daughters to roar in triumph. They rushed forward, bayonets flicking and barrels strobing. What few Orks were left standing died quickly.
Talan emptied his lascarbine into the nearest breathing xeno, released the depleted magazine, and slumped into a chair. He regretted it, as a spike of pain rushed through him. He looked down to see a large piece of metal, from what he could only assume was the casing of one of the grenades, jutting from the flesh on his hip. He ripped it out immediately. With a shout of agony, he grabbed an unbroken bottle of amasec from the ground and poured it over the wound before wrapping it.
When he finally looked up, the Commissar and Major were busy attending to their men, while a medicae looked to the civilian wounded as best as she could. A group of the NCOs had moved to the doorway, and started peering out into the corridor, apparently on guard but clearly displeased about it. The sounds of fighting from other places in the ship could be heard only very vaguely. Guard on the door, low likelihood of interruption. Good, thought Talan, time to investigate.
The Inquisitor got up with a groan and strolled over to the nearest pile of purple-painted foul-smelling green xenos, taking a swig from the amasec as he did so, earning some disbelieving looks from the civilians. A quick glare and they soon turned to mind their own business. Ignorance is bliss, Talan thought to himself as he approached one of the original attacker's corpse.
The first thing he noted was the armour. It was most definitely not a material of Orkish construction, nor did it look to be looted from an Imperial armoury. It was black, far thinner than a flak armour yet just as effective if not more so, and didn't look to be a plasteel polymer weave like carapace armour. It was also extremely light. Only the Tau or Eldar could have made such a thing, yet it had no recognisable markings. Talan frowned, wondering how in the warp an Ork got it into its head to loot lightweight armour for stealth purposes.
The purple paint was daubed in Orkish runes on the armour and flesh of the thing. Talan knew that some Ork klans used such tactics, but it was something else entirely to be standing before a pile of them. The Eastern Fringe just wasn't where such groups were usually found.
"What are these things?" asked Kasky quietly, startling Talan as he approached from the side, "I have never heard of Orks acting like this."
"I have heard of it, but never witnessed it myself," replied the Inquisitor, "But then, Orks rarely require the attentions of my Ordo directly." He motioned towards the group of dead ones by the door.
"Look at this, the kommandos who got into the room unnoticed are painted purple and are wearing that armour, but the group over there that came in after the grenades seem to be ordinary specimens of their species, with no guile about them and no real armour."
"So?" Kasky asked, as he kicked the nearest corpse with a wrinkled nose. The smell was getting to him.
"If the system is under attack, which we must assume, it's not going to be free passes and leave for all when we make planetfall," Talan said, "Hard fighting is ahead, harder than usual, even against Orks."
"That'll do a world of good for the troops," Steiner cut in, walking over. Talan rubbed his temples, not sure if the man was being sarcastic and still in pain himself.
"Perhaps, but I can't very well requisition troops from a system under an Ork assault, can I?" he said, rubbing his side as it continued to throb, "Luckily, these Orks seem to be worthy of study, and I can do certain things and call in favours to speed the campaign along. Hopefully."
"You're really set on avenging our boys and girls..." Kasky remarked, placing a hand on Talan's shoulder as he did so, "For what happened on Falasten?"
"I don't like to lose," Talan said, plastering his number one evil grin on his face, "In the mean time, we best get the wounded to the medicae bay and the rest to the cargo bay."
"Why the cargo bay? Why not to the bridge to link up with the Colonel?" asked Steiner, reloading his laspistol as he did so.
Talan held up his lascarbine in front of his chest in response. "The ship provides plenty of cover, and this isn't nearly lethal enough to confidently stop an Ork at less than ten yards before it tears my head off. We need hellguns, autoshotguns, plasma weapons and/or meltas. There are numbers of those in the secondary cargo bay, and my acolytes will have already mobilised there."
Talan's commbead buzzed, indicating an active vox line.
"Finally," he muttered, as he tried to finesse the frequency.
"Kasky, do you read me?" Colonel Mieza asked. Talan breathed a quiet sigh of relief. She was safe. Without vox contact, he had feared she had been caught in the corridors.
"I'm with the Commissar and Talan, we can barely hear you," the Major replied, as the Commissar input his own codes to enter the channel, "What's the situation?"
"Apart from the Orks? We seem to be late," she said, "We're nearly a year later than we should be, something to do with the warp."
"How bad is it?" asked Steiner.
"The Orks only arrived themselves a few days ago, so the defence is still being organised," Mieza replied, the vox distortions muddling her voice, "They set up in the halo and have been attacking anything that drops out of the warp, so the ship is swarming with the xenos."
"Alright, we're heading to the cargo bay to get heavier weapons, can you hold?" asked Talan.
"...We can," she said, "Mieza out."
Talan chewed his lip for a moment, then strode towards the exit. He stopped at the door guards, turned to the officers behind him.
"We need to kill the Orks before we get near port, or they'll kill us all and use the ship to land," he said to them, "To the medicae bay first."
Flicking on his luminator, Talan walked into the red-lit corridor, and behind him, the troops and civilians followed.