Klaxons continued to wail, and red lights flashed out their strobing warnings. The vessel shook and a console exploded, showering the corridor with white-blue sparks, and belching a fresh wave of smoke into the already choked passageway. A crewman bustled past the smouldering wreckage that had once been a control console, coughing scorched lungs out from his soot-blackened lips. The crewman ignored the flaring dataport. And the two corpses adjacent to it. There were other priorities. The ship shook again, the forceful tremor that ran throughout the length of the ship a testament to the strength of the armour… that salvo had a force most conveniently measures in gigatons.
The siren's tone changed, the pitch dropping half an octave. The crewman noted the fact, -the life support in this section was back online- but did not respond, while he hurriedly welded to resecure a crucial section of the hull plating. If it collapsed, the whole deck would be isolated.
The view from outside the ship was markedly different. Two ships drifted through space alongside each other, exchanging broadsides. The crewman was aboard the smaller of the two ships. It was gunmetal grey, and had its bridge amidships, set above the barrel of a large spinal mounted nova cannon. It was long and low, and, when coupled with its oversize engines, the ship positively screamed "raider". And, indeed, it was. The Free Enterprise had preyed on Imperial shipping lanes throughout the region for years, and its crew were experienced, and ruthless.
They'd just had the bad luck to drop out of warp right in front of an Imperial Battlebarge. The Captain of which was more than happy that they had done just that. The Sword of Lycurgas had been chasing the Free Enterprise for six months. It's attacks on trade in the sector had been frustrating enough that the Imperial Navy had requested assistance from the Adeptus Astartes. The Deathbringers chapter, confident of a quick success, had tasked the Sword of Lycurgas to bring the pirate vessel to heel. But it had proven surprisingly elusive.
No more. As had been planned, the first titanic volley of fire had struck the raider with its shields down, in a number of locations, but primarily on the aft port quarter. Half of its engines were offline. Its slow attempt to run was being matched by the normally ponderous Battlebarge. And the Free Enterprise was taking a hiding. It's normally impressive firepower was designed to cripple or overawe trading vessels. Not Battlebarges. The Sword of Lycurgas's shields had barely fluctuated since the engagement began, and it's starboard batteries continued to pummel the smaller ship relentlessly.
Brother-Captain Edward Haruman watched the exchange from the bridge with satisfaction. Occasionally the weapons batteries of the Free Enterprise would give telltale muzzle-flashes, heralding waves of high-energy projectiles, laser cannon blasts or particle beams, capable of destroying hab units with each hit. But while the Sword would sometimes shudder slightly, there was never any damage. For which Haruman was glad. Although he had spent nearly three hundred years fighting the enemies of the Emperor across the galaxy, he had only been given command of the 2nd Company nine months ago, upon the death of its previous commander, Brother-Captain Emmanuel Richards. He'd been a good man, and loyal servant of the Emperor.
But Haruman was not happy that on his first tasking, aboard one of the chapter's heaviest combat vessels, it had taken him six months to accomplish a task that would, in normal circumstances, have been tasked to the Imperial Navy. But with the recent campaigns along the edge of the Eye of Terror, to the galactic north, the Navy was stretched thin. And, by fortuitous coincidence, the Imperial fleet units that had requested Adeptus Astartes assistance had asked just as the Sword was transiting back to Lycurgas from its battles along the Cadian gate.
The Navy was more than delighted that a Battlebarge had been allocated to the problem. As far as they'd been concerned, that was the end of their problem. But it had taken the Sword six long, frustrating months to track the Free Enterprise down, and the Navy had started to get impatient. As had Haruman. But, at long last, they had the accursed vessel in their sights, literally and figuratively, and, by the Emperor, they were going to let them have it.
Haruman looked to his right, at Bondsman-Captain David Ramsey. The man was the actual commander of the Sword of Lycurgas, a peculiarity of command shared by most marine chapters. The Space Marines themselves are a combatant force, and their officers and men fight on foot, or mounted in vehicles. Their spacegoing craft are crewed and commanded by personnel "bonded" to the chapter. Servants, by another name. Thus, technically, the lowest scout marine was senior to the highest officer of the fleet. Of course, in practice, the Space Marine heirachy recognised the command talents and special knowledge and experience possessed of the senior officers, and tended to allow them freedom of action within their considerable authority and expertise.
The ship's commander was directing his vessel's destruction of the other with his usual aplomb. Though younger than Haruman, Ramsey had been commander of warships for nearly twenty five years, and had previously, and famously, captained the Strike Cruiser Leonidas during the Beta Mithrax campaign. Ramsey thus had infinitely more experience in the intricacies of ship-to-ship combat.
"Starboard lances, shift focus from main drive to port lances." A chorus of acknowledgments came back over the ship's internal communications net. The actual destruction of the raider was child's play. It was more akin to fighting an over-size target drone than a true combatant. There were very few vessels that could exchange broadsides with a battlebarge, and a raider, even an up-gunned one like the Free Enterprise wasn't one of them. Within minutes, the raider's port weapons had stopped firing.
"Port lances inoperative, sir. Port batteries also inoperative." Bondsman-Lieutenant Commander Lucretius reported. As weapons control officer, it was his task to ensure that the targets assigned to him by the Captain were hit, and as efficiently as possible.
"Manoeuvring thrusters." Ramsey responded.
Seconds later two of the Sword's four starboard lances fired, plasma reaching out and slamming into the stricken vessel. Ten more seconds went past, and then a third lance fired.
"Thrusters down, sir". The destruction of the port thrusters severely hampered the raider's agility. For all intents and purposes, the battle was over. Sure enough, within minutes the raid began to list to port, its starboard stabilisation thrusters overcompensating.
"Brother Captain, the enemy has been subdued. We stand ready." Ramsey reported, a slight twinkle in his eye the only outwards sign of the pride he no doubt felt.
Haruman weighed his options. He was glad that they'd finally reached this point. Satisfied that the last six months of endeavour had not been wasted. And he dearly wanted to draw his powersword and carve a bloody swathe through what was left of the Free Enterprise for wasting the Sword's time. And, more to the point, for tying up an entire company of Space Marines, troops that were sorely needed elsewhere.
But, by the same token, any casualties that may be sustained would take away those self-same forces from potential future engagements. Haruman chuckled to himself, watching as the raider began a slow circle to port, out of sync thrusters sending the crippled vessel spinning about its axis. He had a responsibility to ensure the fighting strength of his company was preserved.
"Send their souls to the Emp…"
He was interrupted by an urgent sounding call from one of the bridge officers.
"Bondsman-Captain, their rate of turn has increased, and their main sub-warp engines are accelerating".
The Free Enterprise had stopped its slow drift through space, had fired its starboard thrusters with dangerous force, and swung its bow straight towards the Sword. With no way of halting or correcting its turn, the smaller ship continued to spin, sliding towards the larger vessel.
Captain Ramsey reacted quickly, his voice cutting through the stunned looks of the bridge crew.
"Engines, full reverse, helm, hard-a-port, down 15 degrees. All starboard batteries, target the bridge, and fire at will."
The bridge suddenly came alive again at the first real threat to the Sword manifested itself. It was a suicide run. The raider, even if it hit perfectly, would be destroyed in the impact, ramming prow or not. The pirates knew full well what mercy they could expect at the hands of Imperial law. The attempt to ram the battlebarge was a last act of defiance that desperate men threw in the face of their attackers. But it was one that could cost the larger ship dearly.
The starboard weapons fired in synchronisation, and slammed into the raider's bridge, either vapourising it or shearing it clean off the hull, it was hard to tell which. But it had happened so quickly that the raider's momentum was barely slowed.Ramsey's response was, again, fast.
"Commander Lucretius, stop that vessel."
"Aye, sir" Lucretius was a mustang, an officer that had been commissioned from the ranks, and a good one, with a sound technical mind. But stopping the wildly spinning raider from colliding with the Sword was going to be a challenge. His mind raced through the scenario. Ship spinning along its x-axis, bow to port, at high speed. Port manoeuvring thrusters and bridge out. It couldn't slow itself if it wanted to. Lucretius had to stop the spin, then push the smaller ship away. Hitting the wrong part of the ship could actually end up causing the Sword more damage.
"Starboard batteries two through five, target starboard aft quarter, fire for effect, on my mark."
The console in front of him squawked with acknowledgments a couple of seconds later. Lucretius waited for the right moment, hand poised over the intercom switch. He had to allow half a second for his crew to hear him, and depress their firing buttons, and time had appeared to slow down immensely. The raider, that had once looked so small from a distance, so small and helpless and vulnerable beneath the righteous iron heel of Imperial might, now loomed large, forbidding, and dangerous. And, if Lucretius made a mistake, it would slam into his ship, killing scores of men at the least. He watched the wreckage turn, and, to his horror, watched as the starboard side batteries of the raider began to fire. Their crew, still defiant, chose to fire their guns at the Imperial warship. The blasts shook the battlebarge once more, but the shields held comfortably, the ancient generators having endured stresses far greater in their seven millenia of service to the Emperor.
The raider was square now, parallel to them, its stern pointing in the same direction as the Sword's bow. Then, as the stern kept moving towards them, Lucretius looked down at the targeting display on his console. He wanted to hit the raider when it was at forty five degrees towards the battlebarge. But it was getting very close. Ten thousand kilometres. Eight thousand. Six thousand. Four.
The Sword fire the entirety of its starboard weapons complement simultaneously, and the weapons fire impacted on target, the focused fire cutting through armour, hull and integrity fields like an axe through flesh. The Free Enterprise did not stop, but slowed to a crawl, venting plasma from the hull breach in the engine room. Lucretius released a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. The Sword would be able to avoid the raider. He'd stopped it. Someone patted him on the back. He put his head down and chuckled. So close, but they'd made it…
"Sir, detecting powerful energy spike from their warp core."
Everyone paled. That last salvo must have cut through to the warp core. Detonating warp engines were one of the dreads of starship captains and crews shared regardless of where they served. Warp engines were the drives that pushed Imperial (and many non-Imperial) ships into the immaterium. THAT was what allowed for faster than light travel. But warp core breaches were hideously destructive, and uncontrolled explosions generated warp-real space overlaps that destroyed just about anything they contacted. That which wasn't destroyed was pulled into the warp, to be spat out god-knows-where, and god-knows-when. Laws of physics flatly didn't apply to the warp.
"Engines full ahead. Get us out of here."The battlebarge's giant engines flared again and the colour changed slightly, as they slid from full reverse to full forward. But despite the phenomenal power output, the eight kilometre long warship had huge inertia, and its acceleration was very slow.
Minutes passed. The Sword kept accelerating, reaching 10 the speed of light. 15. But it wasn't enough. The stricken ship vanished, as the blackness of the warp expanded outwards from its ruptured heart.
The Raider Free Enterprise had plagued the Imperium for fifteen years. Countless traders and commerce ships had fallen under its guns. And, at the last, the raider, as far as the Imperium was concerned, claimed its greatest scalp, even as death took it. The battlebarge Sword of Lycurgas.