Part 4: Raining Blood
I watch, with so small sence of trepidation, as my commander enters the base.
Like all Bolo's, I am naturally protective of humans on both a collective and individual level, but is also true that we more often than not grow fond of our closest partner. We accept that our duty takes us into the very heart of battle, where death is ever present and survival is not always guaranteed, and it takes a special kind of person to be willing to share that risk with us. Luka may not have been given much choice in the matter, but there have been times when he could have allowed me to enter the fray alone while he remained safely behind the lines, yet he has never once taken that option. Of that I am most grateful and proud. But to be so close, yet unable to fulfill my primary function of safeguarding human life, is unsettling to say the least. It is often said that a Bolo knows no fear, but this is not entirely true: we do not fear battle, or even the risk of our own destruction, but we are aware that there is always the chance we may fail our creators. Against this we take comfort in the knowledge that, while a Bolo may be disabled or destroyed, we have never been defeated or conquered.
Still, the Concordiat base offers its own, unique, dangers: aside from the normal active and passive defenses, there is the risk of encountering areas weakened structurally over the millennia since it was built, and there is no way for me to protect him from a cave in or other natural disaster. My main mission at this time is to ensure that the team working on opening the main entrance is safe from any dormant defensive systems that we may have triggered. With this in mind I deploy a pair of specialist drones equipped with high definition ground-penetrating radar to survey the surrounding area and map out any potential threats and dangers.
With Ywain and Gaheris on point, the scout team made their way through the doorway and into the dark tunnel beyond. While the area outside had been lit by powerful lanterns, the passageway was as dark as the bottom of a mine shaft, the thin shaft of illumination offered by the open doorway only seeming to add extra depth and texture to the shadows beyond. They quickly activated the light amplification systems built into their helmets, but even then, there was little to work with as they slowly made their way forward. Despite their jovial banter outside, the Marines were completely focused on the mission, communicating by hand signals as they checked every shadow for possible danger. Hoban and Duprée kept towards the middle of the squad, one either side of Apothecary Ignatius. While a highly trained combat medic, he was also a veteran of many battles, having taken many more lives then he had saved in the service of the Emperor. He was also a wall of armour and muscle ready stand between the two Legion officers and any potential dangers they might encounter.
Gaheris stopped dead in his tracks, one arm raised with a clenched fist to indicate that the others should remain where they were. They quickly followed his instructions, the Marines fanning out to form a protective cordon around the centre of the group. Malachi edged forward, his Bolter Pistol held out at the ready while his free hand moved to the hilt of his chainsword, ready to draw and activate the weapon at the first hint of trouble.
"Up ahead, just before the next intersection: the colouration in the ceiling is different." Gaheris whispered, indicating an almost invisible area ahead, high up above their heads, never taking his aim away from the target, "Could be a maintenance hatch, could be a concealed weapon; impossible to tell at this distance."
Malachi nodded before making his way back to the others.
"We may have encountered our first obstacle." He spoke in hushed tones, "Any ideas?"
"We're still in the main tunnel, so if there are any defensive, they'll be powerful enough to challenge Concordiat era battle armour at the very least." Hoban pulled out a dataslate he'd taken from Archie, and pulled up a couple of files, "Most likely a heavy plasma cannon; short ranged, but very deadly. The only problem is, we have no way of know if it even works, let alone if it has power."
"An interesting quandary." inside his helmet, Ishmael frowned, "The only way to know for sure is to go for a little walk." He looked at his captain, "With your permission, sir."
"Permission granted." Malachi nodded.
"You always have lacked any sense of self-preservation." Ignatius put a hand on his friends back, "May the Emperor stand between you and harm, in all the empty places where you must walk."
"Truer words were never spoken." Ishmael pulled his plasma rifle tight against his shoulder, and started to walk forward.
Space ripped open like an angry wound made of bees as the Violent Fate exited the warp far closer to the planet than was normally considered safe, even by the forces of Chaos. The ship bucked and shuddered like a wild animal as it dived towards the surface, trailing flame and shattered void shields in its wake like a demonic meteorite. It plunged, bow first, into what passed from an atmosphere, its armour turning from the red-brown of dried blood to scorched black as her helmsman struggled to maintain an even keel. To an outside observer it would have looked like parts of the ship were breaking off and falling away, tracing their own fiery trails across the sky, and in effect they were. Only rather then being the result of atmospheric friction, each indicated the path of a Dreadclaw drop-pod, four in total, each carrying a full squad of twelve traitorous Chaos Marines.
The pods plummeted to the surface, while the Violent Fate struggled to avoid following them. Still ridding on the crest of the energy wave generated by its unorthodox transition from the Warp, it arched across the ice-covered surface, leaving a wide trail of melted ice in its wake, which quickly refroze into a otherworldly, twisted mass. It passed between a pair of mountains, missing their ragged peeks by scant meters, before finding itself over the same plain that its Imperial foes had landed on. Snapping immediately into Battle Reflex Mode, Archie managed to fire all three of his primary weapons as the ship passed over the distant horizon. Even with his mind racing far faster than any human could ever comprehend, he was still effectively shooting from the hip, and both of his Hellbore bolts missed. But the recently installed Defense Laser struck the cruiser a glancing blow amidships, leaving a deep rent in her lower armour and opening several compartments to near vacuum.
The Violent Fate passed into cover before a second shot could be fired, leaving the stunned Imperial forces on the ground to recover from being so close to the weapons when they fired. The ship itself started to regain height, her almost ballistic course taking her directly towards the Glory Of The Past and her consorts. The cruiser's bow-mounted Lance batteries opened fire, catching two of the orbiting heavy transports completely off-guard. The first simply exploded from a direct hit to its main reactor, while the other took the blast on its forward starboard quarter, slicing through its relatively thin armour as if it wasn't there, before exiting out its port side amidships. Her back broken, the helpless cargo-ship started to drift out of control, her surviving crew making for the lifeboats. Of all the Imperial ships, only the Blood Ravens' Strike Cruiser Retribution was able to respond in kind before the Violent Fate was out of range, scoring hits with its bombardment cannons but doing little additional damage. Seeing their hated enemy apparently fleeing battle before it was fully joined, the Retribution was quick to give chase, supported by the Great Vengeance and Furious Anger, while the Glory remained on-station to watch over the remaining transports and the planet below. A solitary Thunderhawk Transporter carrying a Land Raider dropped away from the Retribution and headed towards the planet below.
Hoban found himself holding his breath as Ishmael ventured forth, slowly advancing on the suspected turret, knowing full well that the weapon it housed would, if fully operational, be more than enough to incinerate the Marine where he stood. But if the Librarian felt any fear, he kept it well hidden as he continued to advance at a slow but steady pace, passing Gaheris and continuing on into unknown territory. Several of the others had their weapons trained on the target, but there was little they could hope to do at such a range.
Ishmael stopped just before the intersection and looked up, the electronics built into his helmet cutting through the gloom and giving him a clear view of the deactivated turret. It remained inert, seemingly unaware of his presence, even when he waved the end of his plasma rifle from side to side in a semi-threatening way. Deeming it safe, he raised an arm and gestured the rest of the group to join him at the crossroads.
"We have no way of knowing where any of these passageways lead." Malachi glanced down the dark tunnels that branched off to either side, "We have no way of knowing how big this complex is, so our best bet is to continue strait on until we find something. The Tech-Priests can fill it with Servo-skulls later on to map it fully; I just want to make sure it's safe."
"We should look for a security checkpoint or other manned position." Hoban suggested, doing his best to sound confident, "Somewhere with a data-port that I can access with my suits on-board systems. If we can convince this place's machine-spirit that we are the rightful heirs of the Concordiat, then it might make the job that much easier."
"I'd settle for some transport, so we don't have to keep walking." Ishmael chuckled, the tense atmosphere of just a few moments before dissipating quickly.
"We'll see what the Emperor deems fit to provide." Malachi gestured further down the main passage way, "Let's get moving."
Less than a hundred kilometres from the doorway that led into the base, the Skulltakers' assault squads moved towards a small protrusion on an otherwise flat expanse of rock. Blasting it open with explosives, they unearthed a heat sink atop a cooling tower. Moving with skill and precision many would think impossible for servants of Khorne, they quickly cleared away the wreckage and secured repelling lines to make their way down into the base.
Their commander, guided by a vision, led them on through the darkness.
To Be Continued...