Brothers of the Sword
Episode 3: Scouting
A/N: Here we are again, and all new content this time! Yep, I just wrote this. Enjoy it.
The world was suddenly quiet. Up until a moment ago, the world which Brother Cyril had occupied had been dark, warm, cramped, and loud. Now it was still dark, warm and cramped, but no longer loud. The only sounds that reached his ears were the buzzing of electronics and a faint howl of wind, as if it was many miles distant. This was a good thing for Cyril, because it meant that his drop pod had been slowed by the atmosphere to the point that was no longer at risk of burning up. The faint wind sound was caused by air rushing by the outside of the pod, and would have been louder if he'd been outside, but he wasn't.
The scout enjoyed the few moments of relative silence while they lasted, taking the opportunity to recite a new prayer that Sergeant Kali had taught him during one of her individualized training sessions. He knew that the silence would not last long, as soon rockets would fire on the outside of the pod to slow it enough before landing that it (and it's occupant) would not be destroyed upon impact. This was not his first drop, but it was his first in a one-man pod without his brother scouts and a sergeant. He did not feel fear exactly but it was not so long ago that he had first braved the perils of a Space Marine trial by fire and he felt uncertain, perhaps not entirely confident of his abilities.
It was true that he had proved himself in that very trial, and then several times in combat since, or he would not have been picked for such a mission by an experienced marine like Master Gladius. And he was confident in his abilities as a marksman, having 24 confirmed rifle kills to his name, in addition to being the current 10th company rifle champion. But he had not yet been given his own set of power armor, he was not yet a full Dark Angel, and here he was, hurtling towards some new, unknown world at very high velocity, alone with only his own thoughts to keep him company.
Brother Cyril had a healthy thirst to prove himself, however. And that, combined with a fire he had found ignited in himself ever since that day not-so-many years ago when a young man named Eric had first seen the towering form of a fully-armored Space Marine, had helped him to keep his emotions in check. Since then, he had changed his name and accomplished more than he had ever thought possible. This drop was just one more notch on the bolter on the way to becoming that which he so much desired, a full Dark Angel Space Marine.
He heard the roar of the rockets and felt the force of gravity suddenly triple and checked his gear. He said a last quick prayer as he braced himself. Then came a sudden, bone-crushing crash. Despite having prepared himself, the scout was slightly dazed by the sheer force of the blow, and a beeping brought him back to full awareness. He looked down and saw the drop pod's display informing him that it had scanned its surroundings. It dutifully reported that the atmosphere was breathable, the temperature was survivable, that his location on the planet's surface put him in the middle of its night cycle, and that there were neither sentient beings nor recognizable automated defenses within 100 meters.
Duly informed, the scout popped the release on his restraints and checked his gear again. Everything was still secured in place. He unlocked his rifle from a nearby rack and checked it for damage from the impact. He checked its workings, cycling it through unloading, dry-firing, safety checks (for even a Space Marine had no desire to shoot himself with a sniper rifle) and reloading. Finding it in working order and the scope intact and focusing, he slung it on his back and then took his sidearm from its pouch. He performed the same checks with it, and put his free hand on the door release. His bolt pistol was less powerful than the rifle but served much better at close range.
He pulled the release and with a snap-hiss! of atmosphere exchanging the exit ramp in front of him swung down. He threw himself out the door and down the ramp, rolling as he hit the ground. He snapped up with pistol in hand, arm extended, and surveyed his surroundings. It was nighttime. Two moons shone half-full in a starry sky, illuminating the landscape. He was in a clearing in a light forest. Grassy undergrowth bent beneath his boots. A light breeze blew by, cooling his exposed skin, and an animal of some sort cried out in the distance. He stood still and searched his senses for possible opponents. There was no one that could be heard, seen, or smelt, so he holstered his pistol. He walked back up the ramp to his drop pod and retrieved a roll of camouflage netting from a compartment inside, along with a camouflage kit. Cyril briefly shined a light on his surroundings to observe their dominant colors, and then selected the appropriate paints from the kit.
He then closed the ramp to the drop-pod from the outside and flung the netting over it. He weighted the edges down with rocks and sticks gathered from nearby, making sure to conceal evidence of the pod's landing. Then he took his paints and began spraying them over the netting in a pattern intended to mimic the landscape. It wouldn't fool anyone who happened upon the pod on foot, but Brother Cyril was really more concerned about an air search. If a ground team knew enough to want to look for the landing zone, then he had bigger problems to deal with.
Finishing with the pod, the scout then turned the camouflage paints upon his own clothing. Space Marines did not typically use camouflage, as they were too big to effectively conceal themselves, and their armor was tough enough to deflect all but the strongest blows. They also took great pride in their heraldry and used their sometimes garish, flashy color schemes to intimidate and declare their utter lack of fear to their enemies. The Dark Angels were no exception; although the basic dark green they painted everything was somewhat subdued, their winged-sword emblem was a bright white and the more experienced a marine was, the more scrolls, seals, icons, and keepsakes he festooned his armor with. The most experienced, elite members of the chapter, the 1st Company or Deathwing, painted their armor a pale, bone colored tan and wore blood-red broken winged swords on their shoulders.
Scouts, however, were another story. For one, they wore much less armor—just enough to cover the vital organs, the hands, and the lower legs. This was to cut down on size and noise and increase maneuverability while still offering decent protection. They were thus small enough and vulnerable enough to make seeking cover and concealment a worthwhile activity. In addition, a scout's main mission was just that: scouting. The gathering of intelligence was just as important to the final victory as the fighting itself, and it fell to the scouts to ensure that their battle-brothers were not caught off-guard. Camouflage was important for observing the enemy in secret, and so every scout was taught the intricacies of concealing himself in all types of terrain. These techniques had existed for millennia, but they had changed little and were still just as effective as they had been when they were first created.
In this case, although he had landed in a wooded zone, he knew that he would have to move into a more urban area to complete his objectives. So on the one side of his cloak he sprayed a typical woodland pattern, with colors close to those around him, and when that was done, he sprayed a darker, grayer scheme, one calculated to blend in with the typical concrete and metal construction of an Imperial-inspired urban zone. He also sprayed his armor, clothing, and equipment in a similar manner, taking care not to get any paint in the working parts of his equipment. In this way he could quickly change his appearance, and combined with elements from around him, disappear into the background. As for his Dark Angels heraldry—well, he had too much pride to completely obscure it but as the mission really was that important he took care to re-paint it in a less-conspicuous gray color. His enemies would still know who it was who had brought their doom—they just wouldn't know it until it was much too late.
This having been completed, he took a quick look at the maps of the area he was given before dropping, oriented himself with them, and set off towards the nearest city. His objective was to observe the locals without revealing his presence, and report back his findings to Master Gladius in orbit aboard the Punitor. The Imperium of Man was so large that it took many months to traverse it by space and frequently less-important or less-central worlds fell out of contact for years, decades, even centuries at a time. And in a galaxy inhabited by the forces of Chaos and all manner of xenos, it was not uncommon for a world here and there to be infiltrated by Tyrannid gene stealers or possessed by Chaotic daemons or subverted by the Tau Empire or befall any number of other cruel fates in the interim between visits. So Brother Cyril was here to make sure that Master Gladius and his team, on an ostensibly peaceable mission, did not walk into any potentially deadly situation unawares. He walked on, through the darkness.
It was nearly noon, local time, and Brother Cyril sighed ever so quietly. The day had been tense but uneventful; he had reached the edge of the city, infiltrated, and was now hidden in the upper floors of an abandoned building. He'd been observing the locals all day, and so far as he could tell, they were typical Imperial citizens. He could see the city's Imperial temple from here and the crowds were just letting out from the morning's services. Schoolmasters herded their pupils to the church school, whilst parents walked off to work. Off in a different direction, Cyril could see the administratum building with its typical Imperial Guard recruiting posters and motivational tracts. Through his rifle's scope he could even make out bureaucrats going through paperwork in their offices. Stores were open, Adeptus Arbites police officers patrolled occasionally (but not too occasionally). In short, nothing out of the ordinary. Brother Cyril figured it was about time set up his ground-to-space transmitter to make his initial report. He pulled the device from a pouch on his belt and began setting up the tripod—and then froze. His heightened senses registered a noise from below: footsteps.
Someone was coming up the stairs, that much he was sure of. As rapidly as he could, he compacted the device together again and shoved it back onto his belt. He threw himself up against the wall which contained his room's only entrance and listened. There were two sets of footsteps. One set sounded heavier than the other, and both sounded rushed. One chasing the other? He could hear shouting, too, though he couldn't yet make out the words. He estimated they'd make it to the room outside of his closed door in a few moments. Silently, he re-positioned himself so that he could peer through a hole that had been worn in the concrete, and at the same time he loosened his combat knife in its sheath.
As he watched, the door to the stairwell in the room he was watching burst open, and a small figure—a boy, maybe ten or twelve years old, rushed through. The boy looked around wildly for a means of escape, and rushed to the door to the room Cyril had been occupying. As Brother Cyril had jammed it shut after moving in, it failed to open, and the boy gave a cry of frustration as he shook the handle without effect.
The scout heard the other set of footsteps growing near and looked at the stairwell. A larger boy, this one maybe in his mid teens, came to the entrance and stopped. He was wearing what looked like makeshift armor of some sort and had red bandannas wrapped around his upper arm and his forehead. Brother Cyril knew this to be the mark of an urban gang. The teen spotted the younger boy and grinned wolfishly.
"You ain't getting' away now, you little runt! You've had this coming ever since that prank you pulled!"
The boy said nothing but looked terrified and backed slowly into a corner of the room. The ganger advanced towards him, crossing Cyril's field of vision through the hole in the wall. The scout's mind was running on overdrive. He knew where this must end, and he disliked seeing the strong bully the weak, for something as petty as asserting gang superiority. And was it not his duty to protect innocent citizens of the Imperium? But on the other hand, revealing himself to either of the boys could jeopardize his mission, if something really was wrong with this world. The ganger paused in front of the door to Cyril's room, and pulled a small knife from a pocket, and played with it, throwing it from hand to hand, obviously enjoying intimidating the other boy. Brother Cyril suddenly had an idea, and grinned ever so slightly.
Silently, he crept away from his position by the wall, and positioned himself a few meters from the door. Cyril prepared himself mentally, and with a sudden burst of speed, launched himself at the door. He slammed into it with his armored shoulder pad and with a tremendous CRASH the hinges were ripped from the wall and the door sent flying across the room, into the teenage gang member. He crumpled under it. Cyril was in the room and had his knife out before the younger boy even knew what was happening. It turned out the knife was unnecessary, as the teenager was clearly unconscious, half covered by the door and bleeding slightly from the forehead. Brother Cyril turned to face the young boy.
There could hardly have been a more striking dichotomy between the two figures that stood facing each other in the abandoned room. The boy looked thin and underfed, and his clothes were filthy and tattered. There were a few bruises on his arms and legs, and he was covered in dust. Brother Cyril, on the other hand, was a Space Marine scout in full combat gear. His face was painted dark green and brown camouflage paint, he wore armor over his chest, abdomen, crotch, shins, and forearms, and weapons and ammo were slung from various parts of his body. A recipient of all the implantation and therapy that all Space Marines receive, Cyril's arms and legs were thick with muscle and he was almost double the boy's height. His weight, even without the armor and equipment, was probably something like three times that of the boy. The knife the scout held in his hand would have served well as a broadsword for the young boy, who stared with wide and fearful eyes at Brother Cyril.
"What is your name?" rumbled the scout, wearing a relatively benign expression, for a Dark Angel. He wondered how the camouflage paint might distort his facial movements. He'd never thought about it before. The boy continued to look stunned and terrified. For his plan to work, Cyril needed the boy to calm down.
"I will not harm you," he said, and he sheathed his knife. He knelt down to bring his face closer to the boy's level. "My name is Cyril. What is yours?"
The boy looked hesitant but then responded, "b- Benedict. But my friends call me Benny."
Cyril smiled what he hoped was a benevolent smile. "Very well, Benny. Do you know what I am?"
The boy stared at him for a moment, examining his armor and equipment. Cyril saw Benny's eyes fix on the subdued winged sword on his chest. "You're a Space Marine, aren't you? But in the pictures the other kids showed me they wore more...y'know, armor and stuff."
"Armor? Yes, most of my battle brothers wear full powered armor. I am but a scout," Cyril noted the confused look on Benny's face and continued, "that is, a young Space Marine. I am actually not all that much older than you are, in a relative sense."
This was true. Marines were typically recruited in their teen years. If they passed (which is to say, survived) their trial by fire, they were subjected to a process of implantation and therapy which gave them a set of auxiliary organs and the superhuman physique which set them apart from normal humans. After this period, usually lasting two to three terran years, they joined the 10th company of the chapter as a scout, where they stayed until all of their implanted organs had fully matured and they proved themselves in combat. At that point a new set of armor was constructed for them and they were inducted into one of the reserve companies. The length of one's stay as a scout varied, but was usually not longer than fifteen to twenty years. Brother Cyril was about twenty-six terran years old, having been inducted at the age of fourteen and been a scout since seventeen. As the average lifespan of a Space Marine was in the hundreds of years, the approximated fifteen year age difference between Brother Cyril and Benny was indeed not much.
"Well, then, Benny," continued Cyril, placing a fatherly hand on the boy's shoulder, "if you know what I am then you must know what that means?" Benny looked slightly nervous.
"It means…it means that I have to do what you tell me and stuff, and do it even if it's something that I don't like or it'd hurt me or something, right?"
"That is correct. But do not worry, what I need you to do is nothing like that. All I need you to do is to tell me information."
"Tell you stuff? Like what kind of stuff? I know a lot of stuff…"
"Anything. Everything. Anything about this world. Anything you hear from your friends, or other children, or any adults you hear. I have never visited this planet before, and my brothers and I want to know as much about it as we can. Can you do this for me?"
"Well…" Brother Cyril watched Benny's mind work, his face screwed up in concentration. It looked as if he was coming to a positive conclusion—and then suddenly reverted to fear.
"But what about Cow?" he said, pointing at the teen on the floor, still unconscious and bleeding slightly, "I mean Bull, that's what he calls himself, I think because of the leather jacket he always wears, but everyone else calls him Cow behind his back because they hate him…but what about him?" he said, panic returning to his face. "He's gonna kill me when he wakes up, and you too, and he's not gonna let the little kids eat again, just to show how strong he is and and and…"
Brother Cyril had been thinking about just that problem and the solution had come to him several moments earlier. He held up both his gloved hands in a calming gesture.
"Do not worry, Benny, I doubt that he is capable of harming me, and I will not let him touch you. But I have just the idea." He got up from his knees so he could walk and moved over to the unconscious form. Cyril leaned over him, lifted the mangled door out of the way, and taking care not to wake the hoodlum, removed the teen's gang bandanas, his belt, and his switchblade knife. He then took the belt, which was too long for a teen of his size, and snapped it neatly in half. Benny gawked in amazement at the feat of strength. Cyril rolled Cow over face-down and firmly tied the hood's hands behind his back and his feet together. He then walked back over to Benny, the bandanas and knife in hand.
"You see, Benny, one of the traditions that we Space Marines have is that when we have defeated a particularly difficult or infamous foe, we sometimes take something associated with that enemy with us when we leave the field of battle. Sometimes it is a weapon, sometimes a piece of armor or heraldry, sometimes, as with beasts, even a piece of the enemy's skin or bones." Benny looked somewhat squeamish but keenly interested nonetheless, so Brother Cyril continued.
"It is always something which recognizably belonged to the defeated enemy. We then take these things and display them on our armor or vehicles when we thereafter go into battle. It serves the purpose of reminding ourselves and our allies of our accomplishments and as a mark of one's honor and glory, but most importantly, it serves to show our enemies what we've done. To show them that we've faced death itself and survived. To show them that we have no fear. And most of all, to make them fear us. Do you understand?"
Benny nodded again. Cyril went on, "I myself am but a young scout, but I still understand the value of this. Do you see these etchings on my rifle?" He un-slung it and held it up to the boy, with the closed bolt upwards. Benny nodded. There were twenty-four miniscule skulls arranged in four neat rows of six etched into the metal case of the rifle, below the bolt. "Each of these represents an enemy of man whom I dispatched with this rifle. It is but a small display, but significant nonetheless. Someone I might be fighting might catch sight of those and be afraid. Someone who I might otherwise have had to fight might see these markings and say to himself, 'perhaps it is not such a good idea to pick a fight with this man.'"
Brother Cyril then held up the cloth and weapon in his hands to Benny. Comprehension dawned on the youth's face.
"So you want me to take those, and wear them, and tell everybody that I did this to Co-I mean Bull? But I can't do that! You're the one who knocked him out!"
Cyril smiled at this outburst of honesty. "I do not think it very honorable for a Space Marine scout to take the credit for incapacitating a teenage thug, however things might actually have happened. And I do not think it would be very impressive to your peers that I did this. But if everyone were to think that you took down the most hated bully around…" Cyril let the implications hang in the air for a moment. "Besides, if you do not take the credit, then how will you explain it to your friends? You would have to mention me, and then who would care about the downfall of this Cow or Bull? They would have a real live Space Marine to look at. And I cannot have that, as my mission is to observe in secret."
The scout looked at Benny, who seemed pensive and lost in thought. The young Marine could tell that he was weighing the options, and seemed to arrive at a conclusion.
"But how will anyone believe that I beat him up? I'm just a little kid, and he's so much stronger."
"How could they argue with you, Benny, with the evidence right in front of them? You can even bring them up to the room to show them where you lured him and then sprung your cunning trap, knocking him unconscious with an old and loose but still heavy door." The scout then grinned a conspiratorial, almost predatory grin. "And the marks on the floor from where you dragged him all the way down all those flights of stairs to show everybody. I promise you no one else know that I was here."
Cyril knelt again to come closer to the boy and tied the bandanas to the handle of the knife, and held it out for the boy to take.
"Think of these as lessons. The first lesson is that you should do all that you can to make sure that your enemy fears you, not the other way around. From that lesson, the second is that sometimes the greatest victory comes from the battle not fought, from the foe defeated without a fight. The third, then, is that the best lies are mostly true. This story is so close to what actually happened that even your Cow here will be unable to deny it. Having done what you, according to the evidence, must have done, your respect from your peers and fear among your potential foes will allow you to win that greatest victory." Brother Cyril gave Benny a look of trust and confidence, but he was grinning inwardly as he saw the flicker of hope, determination, and even triumph kindle in the boy's eyes. Sergeant Kali could not have said it better.
"Those can be the lessons for today. I can teach you more, if you wish, but you must do as I ask and reveal my presence to no one. Do that, and you will learn more, and perhaps even one day meet my teacher. Can I trust you in this?"
Benny took the offered knife in his hand, and shoved it between his pants and the ratty rope which held them up. He seemed to grow physically with a sense of pride and new purpose.
"Yes Sir, you can."
"Not 'Sir', young Benedict," replied the scout, using the boy's formal name. "Brother."