Dimly illuminated against the neon glow of the display, Colonel Rebleq drummed his stubby fingers against the large bottle of sacra waiting for the inevitable outcome to conclude. All of the command staff were now slumped around the main battle map located in the centre of the room. Most watching with dull enthusiasm as the grey icons of the Astartes strike team clashed against the indigo of another Na'vi stronghold.
The display flickered once more as another fist full of cards landed on it, Killian apparently winning another hand in the small game now taking place between most of the armoury staff. The cards, like most of the items now littering the map, were dog eared relics amongst the soldiers and were handled with far more delicacy than they had been shown in previous years. They were the last of their kind after all, small remnants from Earth and reminders of what had been lost. They were also unique in the fact they were one of the few luxuries amongst the Corps which had yet to harm anyone.
A few of the line troops had come up with the smart idea of trying to use what they had on hand for activities, carving up fallen branches for sets of cards and fermenting fruit into new alcohol. Nether had ended well. Privet Andrews was now in the medical ward where doctors were trying to save the fingers he had lost when one of the 'cards' he had been holding had sliced through them, and the local 'back room supplier' master sergeant Franklin was now being treated with a heavy dose of anti-toxins.
Rebleq was just thankful that she had sampled her own wares before trying to distribute it amongst her battalion, they were having enough casualties as a result of disease and malnutrition as it was. That was the problem with Pandora, everything on the planet appeared to be determined to kill any foreign life forms. From the elements to the local fauna they had yet to truly encounter anything which did not kill or simply make life difficult for them.
A quiet bleep resounded from the map as the Na'vi symbol disappeared, the Astartes one quickly began moving again. There was a brief flurry of movement as everyone downed shots of whatever beverage they were currently consuming, and even a half hearted whoop came from somewhere behind the Rebleq. Propping up the sacra bottle against a nearby monitor he stretched and headed towards the observation window, mumbling something about calling him once the next skirmish started.
Slinging the oversized officer's jacket over his shoulders he strode towards the trio of re-enforced glass window panes which made up the left side of the building. Not that there was much to see anyway, just the muddy bogged down trenches of the human defensive lines and the ever retreating tree-line of the jungle, constantly being pushed back by the flame tanks the Imperials had deployed.
Ah the Imperials, Rebleq thought to himself, now they were a problem. Despite the apparent joint venture to take Pandora from the locals it was clear that they were the ones in power. They had the ships, they had the technology, they had the numbers, and they had the military experience for planetary invasions. And the booze Rebleq quickly reminded himself noting the bottle.
Reaching up he fumbled with his jacket for a few moments before removing the insignia singling him out as a field commander. It hadn't been too long ago he'd been a captain in the Colonial Guard, a military negotiator between Earth and the Lunar colonies, stuck cowering behind a door as something tried to claw its way in after him.
Besides the high command, Earth's various field marshals, supreme commanders and their like, he'd been one of a privileged few ranking above lieutenant who had survived the Earth's death throes. With so few officers left almost everyone above sergeant had been moved up in rank, using those with enough experience to fill the gaps left in their command structure and command Earth Corps' attacks upon the Na'vi. That had been the original plan at any rate, the Imperials had quickly pushed them back to a defensive role guarding the drop zones for more forces to come in from orbit.
Their two major enemies at the moment were not Pandora or the Na'vi; but inaction and boredom.
With the Imperials in both more or less direct control of the invasion and with their Space Marines leading the main charge against the aliens, the Earth Corps had been made largely redundant.
With little else to do besides relay updates to what was taking place to the supreme commanders in orbit and watch the current offensives against the Na'vi all pretence of discipline had been lost. Most of the staff present planetside had taken to betting on the outcomes of the Astartes engagements against the Na'vi; which had quickly devolved into a series of drinking games once it had been realised just how easily the Astartes were devastating what were supposedly enemy strongholds.
Things were little better in the trenches. Soldiers who had previously been thirsty for revenge having lost their fighting spirit upon being pushed to one side to allow the Imperial Guard and Astartes to fight. The bulk of the Earth Corps forces now consisted of conscripts and volunteers with little to no experience in fighting, driven to join by desire for revenge. To begin with they'd barely been held in line and only united by their joint hatred of the Na'vi. After being ordered to hold their position and guard the landing zone it had only been Rebleq's thinly veiled threat involving AMP squadrons which had prevented a full blown mutiny.
Almost everyone carrying a gun on the planet had come to fight the Na'vi, and thankfully the Na'vi had obliged.
The colonel was dragged from his drink addled recollections as one of the Hellhound tanks thinning the tree line disappeared in a fireball, catapulted high into the air as its volatile fuel tanks detonated. A stampede of Pandoran wildlife tore out from the undergrowth and charged towards the gunlines, blue-skinned humanoids just visible riding on their backs and sprinting between them.
"Speak of the devil…" Rebleq muttered as warning sirens began to wale across the trenches.
"Hold! Hold in the name of the Emperor!"
"Platoon 461, move to support-"
"-etting overrun over here, we need armoured-"
"-dropship beta-12 reroute course to second drop zone."
Comm. chatter filled the cockpit as the Na'vi once more swarmed the defensive line in their thousands. Concentrating their number in one specific area attempting to break their lines and enter the trenches which the humans had hastily dug out. This had been the fourth time since their arrival that the natives had attempted this, showing little to no change in their tactics. Having long since moved on to establish a second drop zone and scout out major locations for the Imperial forces to assault, the Astartes had left the defence of the drop zone to the regular human soldiers. The Imperial Guard Steel Legion and shattered remains of Earth's military corps.
Jerking the controls of his AMP to the right, Lieutenant Elliot Braxton opened fire once. The high calibre rounds shredding a pair of Na'vi warriors who had somehow reached the defensive lines, ending their lives before they could leap into the team of soldiers manning the mortar weapon bombarding the swarms of blue savages. The Imperial leading the team signaled his thanks before moving back to direct his attacks.
All across this section of the trench network bodies of the Na'vi, gunned down in similar charges had been piled high. Left to rot where they fell and a testament to their repeated failures. Braxton smirked in spite of himself, watching another flock of banshee riders be cut apart by the chattering Hydra anti-aircraft platforms.
Many years ago, towards the end of his naïve childhood, he would have been disgusted by such mass slaughter. He would have been protesting against the human's now fighting the Na'vi, demanding that the humans leave the planet and return home. That was before the coming of mountains.
Braxton had been one of the lucky ones, one of those who had survived the Earth's fall. He remembered the news reports when the mountains, mistaken as meteors, had appeared just outside of Earth's atmosphere and had fallen towards the planet. Many millions had screamed, panicked and fled as they hurtled towards their cities. Others had simply waited and prayed, hoping for some miracle to save them. The mountains had not crashed, not cataclysmically destroyed the human race in one fell instant.
Instead something worse than simple instantaneous Armageddon was unleashed upon the world. Screaming winged horrors fell from them, clawing apart people where they stood. Titanic beasts had stampeded through cities, destroying all in their path and rampaging through broken homes of families. A few, fortunate enough to be far enough away from the first attacks, had been able to escape the living onslaught of Pandora's life only to face a new nightmare.
Rather than simple transports the 'mountains' had begun converting the atmosphere, making it habitable for the Na'vi and their pet creatures but totally toxic to any native to the world. The few ships which the colonists on Earth's moon had sent to try and evacuate the populace had been torn apart by Pandora's winged life forms. Similarly the few airborne military counter strikes had failed. The Pandoran creatures frantically sacrificing themselves, willingly ramming into the rotor blades and air intakes of attack craft, to prevent any chance of humanity's survival.
It had only been through the human's adaptability, pragmatic nature and capacity for ingenuity that a small handful had survived. The government constructing vast bunkers and underground silos to house those lucky enough to have escaped the ever advancing tide of toxic atmosphere. It had been that same capacity to change and adapt which had allowed for their survival. Even as creatures battered down the airlocks to their few refuges they had found ways to repeatedly drive them back and deny them the annihilation of those inside.
In spite of their efforts, one by one the bunkers had slowly begun to fall to the unending attacks until only a handful remained. When miraculously the green armoured giants of the Imperium's Space Marines rescued them from the planet, less than five percent of Earth's eleven billion humans had survived.
Braxton was shaken from his thoughts as the chattering sound of machine code hissed from his cockpit's speakers signalling the all clear. Imperial tanks, Hellhounds as he recalled, began rolling over the trench lines. Returning to their previous job of thinning the thick flora for the larger human vehicles to begin advancing and root out the continued Na'vi resistance.
As the tanks advanced Braxton caught sight of a few warriors, survivors from the failed assault, disappeared back into the devastated tree line. No doubt planning to regroup and attempt the same tactic yet again.
It was almost comical how the race continued to again and again charge at the mass of guns, somehow hoping their superior numbers would prevail in spite of so many previous failures. Whilst he had known of the Na'vi were simplistic, unable to change or adapt, their inability to develop new tactical methods was nothing short of ridiculous.
Faced with such odds and unable to make a direct assault upon such a strong defence, any human fighting force would have long since resorted to guerrilla tactics or stealth. Instead they were idiotically throwing themselves at the human's guns, somehow hoping to attain victory through use of the same tactic.
Braxton couldn't help but consider that if their roles were reversed, if the Na'vi had been facing the same onslaught of creatures and devastation of the very air they breathed how long they would have lasted. Would they have survived at all?
There was a brief rapping sound on the side of the APU and he looked down to see a Steel Legion officer standing close by. Earth's military had deferred to the Imperials, conceding that they had greater experience in the invasion of alien worlds, and allowed them full command of the invasion. And yet it was disconcerting to be commanded by an 'ally' they knew next to nothing about. They were clearly more advanced than Earth's humans and they were in the Imperials debt for rescuing their forces from their dying world, but little else had been revealed to them.
"Lieutenant Braxton," he officer spoke, his voice tinny and distorted through the vox speaker "you're hereby ordered to regroup with the rest of your unit. You will be assisting Lord Hekate's assault force in pushing back the Xenos and establishing a forwards command post for our forces."
Before he could question the orders, the officer left at marching pace delivering similar orders to other Earth-born humans positioned nearby. There was no need to send messengers to deliver orders, the communications equipment used by both groups had been easily compatible to the same wavelengths. However, Braxton felt he knew the answer.
Yarrick, one of the two Imperials leading command of the fleet, had long since left with the vast majority of the battlefleet which had arrived at Earth. His continued hunt for the 'Ork WAAAAAGH!' had been given a greater priority than delivering retribution against a handful of backwards Xenos savages.
Rather than abandoning the attack entirely he had allowed a number of regiments to remain on the planet to purge it, along with a single Luna class cruiser and a handful of escorts to act as support. This unfortunately left the Tech Priests of the Mechanicus largely in command, both the orbiting flotilla and armoured divisions being loyal to them instead of the Imperial Commanders.
Braxton had heard the word 'heresy' mentioned many times in regard to their technology, specifically the AMP units rescued for earth. Having not been created from a Standard Template Construct, apparently a form of blueprint used by the Mechanicus as far as he could tell, they regarded many of the vehicles and equipment to be insults towards their Machine-God.
While they had made no direct attempts to destroy the equipment, the Mechanicus had repeatedly refused repair and rearm any technology besides their own. With only a handful of Imperial Guard commanders remaining to counter their authority it was clear that such interference would only become worse over time. Even now they were refusing to connect with the Earth's communications systems, instead relying upon the Guardsmen or messengers to deliver battle plans.
Thankfully they, like the Astartes who had remained with force, had been outraged by Na'vi beliefs of both technology and humanity being 'evil' beyond redemption. In one of the few human defeats, a Mechanicus Chimera APC had been found gutted and upturned by a Titanothere apparently under the control of the Na'vi. What had been done to the Skitarii, the Tech Guard, inside had been nothing short of unholy.
Descriptions had come back of the corpses of the men inside, many torn limb from limb then placed back together in a disgusting totem displaying their victory. One survivor had been left, somehow alive, tied to a nearby tree by his own innards after being disembowelled. He had spoken of how the Na'vi had taken parts of their bodies such as hands, teeth and ears to establish their kills.
This did not concern the Mechanicus leaders until they had heard the fate of the Praetorian leading the unit, how the Na'vi had ripped the bionics from his still living body and adorned their clothes with the machinery as trophies.
This 'defilement' had driven the Magos in command of the cruiser in orbit into a fit of screaming fury. He had repeatedly delayed any advance further into the jungle until he had assembled a force large enough to make an example of any Na'vi.
Suddenly the ground shook, a sudden jarring quake which knocked many men to their knees and had Braxton fighting to keep the AMP upright. A few moments later it was followed again by a second quake, greater than the first, nearer than the first. Many of the Guardsmen were looking up in awe; making the 'aquila salute' he had seen previously aboard their ships.
From behind him something immense was now blotting out the sun, casting a great shadow over the trench lines. Turning his machine Braxton turned to face a wall of green metal not too far from where the gigantic drop ships had previously been resting. Slowly he turned his gaze skywards and felt his heart stop as he came to comprehend what he was seeing: the assault force he was supposed to be 'assisting'.
There were twenty of them. All colossi of metal and glass, living embodiments of war and destruction towering over the jungle itself. Their hunched forms ended in skull faced steel imitations of human heads, or snarling hound-like canopies lurking out from beneath their armoured carapaces.
Gigantic horns bellowed in unison, as if challenging Pandora to face them now and a new voice dotted with machine code chattered through Braxton's comm. system:
"This is Princeps Ervin Hekate of Imperius Dictatio to assault group Atalus, All Titans prepare to march!"