ORD HIVE WAS burning. Osery Hive was overrun.
For six days battles had raged through the streets, subways, levels and habs. Entire suburbs were shrouded in smoke and violence. In Gord, the magnificent Sicuro Di Fulvio
shopping District, famous for its boutiques and exotic eateries, the thousand-year old Metro station and the cathedral to the Blessed Saint Flekie (may he never falter)
, were now in the hands of the mob.
The District seven Arbites Precinct house was a smouldering ruin and the Starport on Siarut Heights was close to being overrun. All but two of Gords needle spires, which dominated the landscape for miles around, were shrouded in smoke.
The authorities called it a catastrophe. The local citizenry called it: Block war!
Months of simmering tensions between the gangs, cartels and the all-round no good; increased Arbite activity and an uncharacteristically long and hot summertide, had caused an eruption of violence not seen for many years.
It was, therefore, the perfect time for Morthen Stroms and his crew to slip into the Hive unnoticed.
MORTHEN STROMS. Outcast. Fugitive. Heretic.
For his sins, he was also the leader of a group of very hard and capable individuals who travelled by his side looking for sanctuary and peace. They did not bide by Imperial Laws, nor did they recognise The Imperial Truth.
To follow such a man as Stroms came at a price and they were now classed as Columnarius
.. criminals and outlaws like him.
They would receive no quarter from any agent of the Imperium.
But they were not on Rophus to meet any representatives of the Imperium, they were there to carry out business.
* * *
PAINTED IN THE colours and insignia of the 22nd Rophus PDF Auxiliary Squadron, the Valkyrie Sky Talon slipped down through the thick grey upper atmospheric smog, and into a meandering pattern between the towers and hab blocks.
Stroms could quite rightly give himself a pat on the back for this latest endeavour. It had taken some hard negotiations with the cartels, and some devious manipulation of local officials to set this meeting up. All of that on top of avoiding Imperial Navy pickets, Orbital batteries and annoying fighter patrols.
They were nearly there now and he hoped it was all worth it.
“We have company,” he said almost casually, “hard to port, drop two hundred, and get us into…”, he swept an area of the city ahead and pointed to a communication array crackling with lightning and atmospheric charges, “... there please.”
The pilot, an ex-merc narc’s runner, raised an eyebrow from behind her dark sunglasses. She immediately turned in the direction he had indicated, easing the ship into a tight curve.
Juliana Zadian trusted her bosses instincts and he was never wrong.
The Auspex had not picked anything up, but that did not mean that something or someone was out there. Despite Garxan Mansmay’s excellent skills, and natural abilities, even he, the ex-Martian Adept who had worked alongside the best minds in the Imperium, was not a miracle maker. The Valkyrie was over a hundred years old, and before the team requisitioned it, it had seen heavy-duty combat for many decades.
Some of the electrical systems were verging on antique and hardly reliable.
“Juliana, my dear friend,” Mansmay would often say in his monotone, metallic voice, “you cannot seal a black hole with a plaster.”
“He’s a plucky one this…” said Stroms, clearly losing patience.
+ Callsign designation Niner-nine-four-Alpha. You are entering a hostile environment. Martial Law has been imposed. This airspace is now out of bounds. Change course to two-one-six-five and await further instructions +
Stroms sensed the interceptor before he saw it settle in off their starboard wing. It was a Mark Seven Mohapi-class Lightning, more accustomed to ship to ship battles than escorting heavy lifters.
Stroms had to give the fighter pilot some credit, he was on them so quick that they never saw him coming. He raised an eyebrow to a robed Adept behind him, who merely shrugged his shoulders in reply.
Juliana grinned and then cocked her head.
“Do your thing Boss, we haven't got much time.”
Stroms could see the Lightning pilot staring back through a tinted visor. He was pointing left with a gauntleted finger.
Stroms nodded at a red-robed Adept sitting next to Juliana.
“Try and do your bit first Eadfrid. Let’s try and do this the natural way, before I try anything else.”
The Adept straightened up and a second later a long, thin tendril appeared from his sleeve and plugged into the cockpit controls in front of him.
“Two-one-five. We are a Medicae vessel delivering urgent supplies to the…” he paused, “ Red-One sector. We carry the personal authority of Colonel Aare Peetre himself.” He shrugged then added, with a touch of desperation, “There are men dying down there.”
The Lightning pilot was quiet for what seemed like an eternity before replying.
+ You will comply with my directions and await further instructions +
The temperature in the cockpit of the Valkyrie suddenly dropped and hoarfrost began forming on the instrumentation.
Juliana turned to the Adept.
“I dunno why he doesn’t do it straight away, it would save a lot of trouble.”
The Lightning suddenly veered left and a second later its afterburners exploded into life, rocketing it up and out of sight in the clouds above them.
“I love it when you do that,” Juliana teased, “What did you say this time?”
“Juliana. I use my gifts sparingly and not for your amusement.” He turned back to the cockpit instruments.
“Never mind that,” Juliana pressed, “what did you do?”. She turned and squeezed his knee.
For the briefest of moments Stroms felt a frustrated urge, an urge to let go, long hidden and controlled. As usual he fought his desires and his thoughts towards the dark-haired pilot with her dark-lined eyes and full open red lips. He put any notions he might have towards her way back into the depths of his mind.
“It was boring really. The pilot was so starchy, so… straight laced. I told him his wife was having a baby…”
“That is boring…”
“Twins… which might not be his!”
“My Lord,” Eadfrid interrupted. “We are here.”
* * *