23:16 Terran Standard Analogue
Secure Briefing Room Beta-Epsilon-One-Three, Sword of Ordon
Void Space, outside of System-Astra Grief
With a swift hum, the clean light of the tactical holograph flickered into being before stabilising. The strobe effect would have caused a temporary brightness among humans, but for the occupants of the strategium, there was no such risk – implanted tinted membranes slid into place - intended to protect from everything from grit to the glare of being caught in a solar storm were not troubled by the low intensity glow. A score of armoured giants, each one easily two heads above a typical human, sat on less than lavishly cushioned stools focusing intently on the words of the five who stood in the centre of the room.
Two of them matched their seated fellows in their general style of armour – although slight nuances marked them out as being different to them – the left one had his armour painted white along with a bulky contraption secured on his left arm, while the other wore a regal blue, that seemed to capture the glint of the hololith and reflect it at impossible angles. The other three however, dwarfed even the largest of the others. Each looked more like a walking tank. Nearly three metres in height, their bared heads looked vaguely ridiculous, akin to a full size man with the head of a child in its absurdity. Two were vaguely similar in appearance – one wore a fine pelisse of rich carnelian trimmed with charcoal over his right shoulder; the other warrior, bare.
The last of the quintet was if anything, even more imposing than his brethren in the larger suits of armour. He too wore a similar suit, but while theirs was clear of all but marks of rank and heraldry on a field of dark grey, it was pure black, and he wore his helm – a gruesome mask carved in the shape of a skull, its details picked out in ivory reinforcing that illusion. Only up close could the slight mottle of the design be seen, and only the enhanced eye sight of the warriors around would be able to see that each slight mottle, no larger than the eye of a needle was skull. If the present company was capable of feeling any fear, they would experience a nigh imperceptible shroud surrounded him that cause them to blanche.
Cloak broke the silence.
“This is Silent Reach.” At his words, the relevant area on the projection changed hue to a sea-green. “This is our fleet. Red Scorpions in Gold; allied Navy in White.” He paused while the display caught up – 6 small yellow orbs of various sizes appeared, demarking ships larger than escort class, followed by a dozen or more white orbs. “Secessionist fleet is idling in the asteroid belt, coded Mu-Theta-Four-Two”. The holograph showed the multitudinous rocks of Mu-Theta-Four-Two and the general suspected area rimmed in a pulsating crimson.
“Capabilities of opponents’ vessels and crew is unknown – there is no indication of Astartes activity in target fleet however. That is a good initial sign, but I do not want to rule out the possibility of them using their lesser vessels as bait.” At the mention of Astartes there was an uncomfortable change in the atmosphere. There was no hue and cry, no upset at the word, but the small actions taken by the addressed made it apparent that this briefing, no matter how mundane or clinical, was not the same as that which had been given a thousand times before.
The deep inhale; exhale to calm oneself. The slight whine of servo’s as a fist was clenched ever tighter. The creasing around the eye that masked a frown. The smell of chemicals as anger caused the flush of combat stimulants into a bloodstream. The taste of blood from a bitten cheek to keep from an outburst of anger.
No. No overt display of anger at the renegades as would be expected from the Space Wolves, or Ultramarines, their roars of anger or injustice would echo in that room. Instead, there was just a dull hatred.
The assembled did not relish the idea of attacking fellow Astartes.
Cloak looked over the addressed, gauging within a heartbeat each ones reaction before continuing.
“I don’t want to consider the loss of even one of our escorts to the enemy today – caution is the aim today, rather than annihilation of the foe at the risk of inability to continue in the prosecution of the Emperor’s duty.” Black-Armoured-Skull-Mask looked over and nodded appreciatively, but a murmur escaped from a couple of the seated Astartes.
“Your complaints are noted – I have considered them myself – yet I have but little more than seven hundred brothers, and there is no saying exactly how long this conflict is due to last, especially factoring in the foe. I agree with the tenets of the Chapter in that we must stand proud. We cannot skulk in the shadows waiting for the foe to fall into a trap like the Raven Guard. There is no honouring your colours, no honouring the Emperor of Mankind in that manner.” It was now No-Cloak’s turn to glance and acknowledge Cloak’s sentiment. “As of 02:10 Terran Standard – that being in one hundred and twelve minutes time, our fleet will begin the hunt for the enemy fleet. We are to form up in staggered echelon formation, travelling oblique to estimate target area, using the Imperial Navy as cover.” No-Cloak’s second glance this time lacked any sign of agreeing with this plan. Cloak caught his eye.
“When distance is closed to within the hundred thou mark, we should have detected the enemy threats – at which point we break cover and engage full engines, void shields angled to the front, and prepare lances and torpedoes. That is where Commander Culln” – here Cloak looked at No-Cloak – “will await for the confirmed lock for the teleport. Immediately after transition, Captain Zhyr will support the teleport assault with boarding actions.”
For the first time in what felt like a long while, smiles were seen. Ever since news had come of the secession, and the information that it was perpetrated at the hands of three chapters of the Astartes there had been little to smile about. But even talk about combat gave the Astartes assembled in the strategium a rush that would put the strongest lho to shame. War is the Astartes role in the Imperium of Man. They are not crafters. They are not labourers. They do not have a day job. They were bio-engineered living weapons, carrying the greatest equipment that the Imperium can support them with.
“Briefing is concluded. Return to your men and prepare for the coming fight.” The sitting Astartes all stood up and filed out while the hololith powered down and lumen-orbs automatically restored the lighting to a more natural level. The five were soon left alone within the strategium.
Commander Culln looked across at Cloak and nodded. As the Captain of the First Company of the Red Scorpions Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, he was considered the best warrior and commander the Chapter had to offer sans it’s Master, and it was a given that he would be leading the other Tactical Dreadnought Armoured warriors into conflict through their signature teleport attack. Also known as Terminator Armour, arcane technology could shunt the wearer through the warp, capable of bypassing void, solid walls and energy fields at a speed faster than light. None were safe from those wearing Terminator. The armour was also much more than a suit of armour. Bundles of super dense artificial muscles that had the fast twitch fibres that would put birds of prey to shame gave the wearer speed which belied his size, and strength that could rip into the hull of a battle tank. Forged from nigh indestructible metal, and coated with ablative layers of protection, it was nigh impregnable, and yet a small sliver of metal, no larger than an eyelash hidden within a decorative stone cross on the armours left shoulder pad turned them into a god of battle. That tiny, almost negligible sliver is the most valuable resource within the Imperium for it was shaved from the Emperor’s armour that he had worn during the Siege of Terra nearly ten millennia prior. The armour that had failed him.
These rare suits of armour were often granted only to the veterans of the Astartes for there was no point in risking the loss of these valuable suits on the neophytes, those who were barely considered initiates, or full brothers within the Chapters. The Red Scorpions were no different. Like most Chapters within the Astartes, they followed the organisation of the Codex Astartes – the veterans of the Chapter were assembled into the First Company, and many of those were trained in the use of the Tactical Dreadnought armour. Unfortunately due to many conflicts over the last century, including several engagements on the renegade world of Vraks had caused losses. Carab Culln had served in that campaign - twice – once as a squad commander, and once as a senior sergeant – the glory and honour he won for the chapter securing his promotion to brevet-captaincy of the Sixth, but the horrors of the fighting still dogged his thoughts to this day. Losses had been heavy among the First – the materiel lost was not easily replaced, and several invaluable suits of Terminator Armour were deemed irreparable.
The chapter could only muster fifty seven suits – three of those belonged to those present. Commander Carab Culln, Captain of the First had one. Black-Armoured-Skull-Mask was the First Chaplain of the Red Scorpion – his dark countenance best suited to the close quarter combat that favoured his armour. Chaplain Seve had also served in the Vraks campaign. Wounded nigh unto death after banishing a daemon-engine, only the attentions of the chapters Apothecarion and his own faith kept him alive long enough to have the augmetic limbs fitted. When not wearing his armour, three of his limbs showed the gunmetal sheaths that protected the workings. Whereas Chaplain Nalr was considered the most senior of the Reclusiasm, the age of the venerable warrior, and his internment within the war-sarcophagus of a Dreadnought required vast periods of rest to protect the mind that was initially only human. While the onset of senility within the human body occurred at around sixty years old, the preservatives within the chemical cocktail that replaced an Astartes blood, although initially extended the lifespan of a brain would eventually turn the cognitive centres to madness. Nalr’s decree before his drug-induced slumber was that Seve take over his mantle until the time arose for him to be awakened once more.
The last of the immense triad, Cloak, was the Master of the Chapter. Verant Ortys, lord of over a thousand of the finest soldiers in the galaxy. Over two thirds of the entire Chapter’s fighting strength was mustered – only thirty full battle brothers had been left alongside the neophytes on their fortress monastery above Zaebus Minoris, while other companies were scattered around the galaxy in small strike forces. Even the campaign against the Vraksian rebels had not received so much support from the Chapter despite visiting that conflict twice. Ortys had taken command on the return – indeed, the Sword of Ordon, the flagship of the Chapter’s fleet had delivered the Red Scorpion’s brothers into the crucible over seventy years before. His leadership of the Chapter had not been exceptional, yet neither had there been occasion to doubt his efficacy. His appointment had been contentious as he was thought by some to lack the flair or pizazz that the Master of a Chapter of the finest warriors in the Imperium required.
To those who wanted to see him fail, he certainly lived up to their lack of expectations. He had not managed to bring the Red Scorpions name to the forefront of major victories of the like of previous incumbents, or that of other Chapters even. However, looking at his tenure in a different light showed his strength – his command staff had not lost a single member in nearly thirty years, and the chapter was at nearly full strength after the Vraks campaign (not counting the lost war-materiel), the veterans of that conflict spread liberally around every company taking part so that their experience would help the new initiates. His commanders were all experienced in war, ranging in all scenarios from personal combat to company level manoeuvres – as well as some who even had familiarity with commanding none-Astartes troops. The latter was deemed hugely important to Verant Ortys; while some Astartes, even those within his chapter, looked down on the deemed inferiority of none-Astartes, that inferiority stemmed only from the superiority of the Astartes own ability. The Imperial Guardsman, the humble man, was a capable warrior. Fit, and many had experience that was greater than some of the junior brothers in a chapter. Unfortunately, many of their senior commanders had positions bought for them as a right of prestige, to earn for their retirement back in palatial residences on hive worlds, or their idyllic retreats on the agri-worlds. It was in these occasions when the Red Scorpion commanders would invoke their ancient rights of command, given to the Astartes since before the Great Crusade.
And most importantly for the Chapter, Alliances were cemented. Their actions during the Vraks campaign had made them powerful allies within the Ordo Malleus, as well as the Ordo Hereticus following their role as mediators between the bellicose Hector Rex and the Witch Hunters organization as a whole, following the recapture of the fortress-armoury world.
“Times are wrong, Carab.” The seconds had passed slowly since dismissing the briefing. The chronometer built into the biometric inputs of his armour provided a countdown to 02:10 Terran Standard – one hundred and eleven minutes time.
“Wrong, High Commander? You have a talent for understatement. Not since the first war for Armageddon has there been so many chapters of the Astartes engaged in conflict with one another.”
The Astartes with the royal blue armour chose this moment to speak up. “Carab, you forget though, that not since the Favoured betrayed his Father has there been such a mustering. Representatives of six chapters are present, intending to bring to heel the misguided warders – a further three full chapters. When was there a like conflict? In nearly ten thousand years, brother Astartes has not turned upon brother in such numbers, or with so much at stake. At Armageddon, those brothers were already fallen. They were already traitors, already excommunicate.”
“Point taken, Magister.” The bulk of the terminator armour worn by Culln dwarfed the power armour, and it was made even more obvious when all the Magister could see was the bluffs of the immense suit, its occupant not deigning to look at the smaller warrior. As a member of the Librarium, the combined knowledge of an entire chapter’s experiences collated into a vast archive and committed to eidetic memory allowed the psyker the most informed opinions during a council of war, and as head of the chamber, the Chief Librarian had an unparalleled capability. As a psyker, though, he was not afforded the same trust that was bestowed other commanders within the Red Scorpions, and it was only through more than two hundred years of faultless service that he had been able to speak out of turn.
The other, lesser librarians, the Codiciers and Lexicaniums under his tutelage and patronage were still considered with frosty distaste, with some commanders preferring to use them simply as weapons in battle or as oracles, rather than the trusted advisors that other Astartes chapters treated their Librarians as. The Captain of the First Company was among the most prejudicial of those commanders, and had taken to the change of attitude towards the Chief Librarian without the least bit of guile in covering his antipathy. He had never been the most supportive of the psykers that were schooled by the Chapter’s Librarium, seeing it as a necessary evil – if only to not pollute the purity of the Red Scorpions geneseed - but after Vraks, he had become a changed marine. His mind had thrown up walls that through sheer will had resisted even the Grey Knights own interrogators following the fighting, and having not personally served in that hellish fight, the Chief Librarian could only guess. Whatever had happened there meant that the Chief Librarian had not been addressed by name by Culln since, preferring to keep it to official titles. Magister, Chief Librarian, Epistolary. Sevrin Loth inwardly smiled when he pictured the sour face when such titles were spoken rather than Witch. He had especially enjoyed baiting the Captain by using his first name, for their disaffection had grown both ways over the years, the commander, for all his ability as a warrior and tactician having been learned at the sharp end was simply a bullish adherent to an outdated credo with an orthodoxy that had little relevance in the current age.
Ortys had not missed the dull, truculent intonation within the blunt reply of his First Captain, and changed the subject. With nearly two hours until commencement of battle, it would not do to inflame the ill-feeling between two of his most senior staff.
“Seve, how is morale?”
The skull headed mask of the Chaplain turned from Loth and Culln to look at the Master. “Good, High Commander. All but a handful have not attended some form of non-routine sermon,” he glanced at Culln here, his command section made up of the First Company’s First Squad was notorious for their faith being expressed in violence rather than prayer. “And none have come forward with anything aside from minor complaints. They don’t like the idea of fighting the Warders, but they see the Secessionists as an insult to the Emperor and to the warrior code; even if their hand was forced by those Karthargo bastards.”
“Excellent, Seve. Thank you. And aye, the Karthan delegates are arrogant all right. Apparently Satrap Koenig is now of an ever increased interest to Frain’s explicators after it seems the Quaestor for the Administratum at Sagan began to tell some stories when the Inquisition sequestered him.”
An expression of distaste crossed the faces of Culln and the as yet, unspoken white armoured Astartes. Their last encounter with the Inquisition had been over fifty years prior. Both had served together on an investigation on a moon within the Anphelion system, on which the Inquisition had through either negligence or tacit consent allowed a senior Magos within the Departmento Biologis to enact radical, and possibly heretical studies on the xenos form of magnitude not seen since that of the radical Ralei. When the Inquisition sent a minor representative, Solomon Lok, and requested the aid of the Red Scorpions, Culln had recognised that the ineptitude of Inquisitor Lok and the lack of information about the planet were down to the Inquisition’s own internal meddling and byzantine politics, in which Astartes, and many veteran elite Guardsmen gave their lives for a simple investigation. Their opinion of the shadowy Inquisition as a whole was not much higher than the decaying leaf mulch which had caked their armour when they left the system, with only rare exceptions having earned their respect from before the shambles of the Beta Anphelion IV investigation. Both the white armoured Astartes and Culln had been vocal opponents to answering the call of the Ordo Hereticus and their representative Legate, Jarndyce Frain, who exemplified the worst traits and almost every type-set imaginable about the witch-hunters.
“Why is it that we are still at the behest of Frain? He is a commander purely by virtue of his Mandate, and although I cannot break the higher clearance codes without alerting his own handlers, the encryption on his less well protected assets show he is a singly uninteresting commander, his success attributed to letting the commanders he brings under his mandate work as they will within the theatre he dictates. And yet despite that, we seem to be following what he thinks are orders as if they were orders. Are we not Astartes? Are we subject to his mandate?”
“No, Rael, we’re not subject to the Mandate.” Everyone in the room was looking at the white armoured Rael. His armour colour and the furniture on his left arm marking him out as an Apothecary – his inclusion in the council marking him out as the Master of the Apothecarion – for a chapter that placed as high a value on the purity of the geneseed as the Red Scorpions, the rank of Master of the Apothecarion was considered the second in command of the Chapter. Rael was the most recent promotion to the command staff, although with the promotion occurring thirty seven Terran years prior there was very little he did not know, yet he was still seen as the new face, with the more experienced Masters of the Chapter acting like they were his Mentors. Although his bluntness and direct attitude was welcome in Astartes circles, to suggest that the Master of the Chapter had made a mistake was tantamount to insubordination, and to all but Culln, they were in equal parts shocked and troubled. Not even the second in command to the Chapter can get away with such an insinuation.
Ortys took some time to answer. He knew that in essence, Rael was correct; learning of the apparent secession from the Imperium by so widely regarded Chapters as the Warders had stunned him. Although having not personally met with any of the Warders, following the Red Scorpions foray into the Ordon Rift had engendered an interest in Huron and Sartaq’s own efforts in the Maelstrom. That apparent inaction had left Frain free to begin the marshalling of assets, and with the rank of Magister Militum, the ancient rank that dated to the days following the Horus Heresy, used in place of Warmaster and its connotations, bestowed to the Red Scorpions High Commander, Frain had used the Astartes as if he would a regular military asset that fell under his mandate.
An upturned corner hinted at a smile, and there was an inexplicable relaxation to the atmosphere, as if the secure briefing room had held its breath until verdict had been made on Chief Apothecary Rael’s insubordination.
“And you’re right. As Magister Militum, the Primus Inter Pares,” continued Ortys, looking each of his subordinate officers in the eye as he used the High Gothic origin of his title “I dictate the order of battle. My oath to you now I give freely. Frain has no more sway over me. I am not the petty lickspittle sycophant to the Inquisition that he assumes, and my brothers are not his weapons to be wielded, for we are the Emperor’s strong right arm, and we do His will.” Seve nodded, the chaplain satisfied his High Commander still maintained the strength of character to lead the Red Scorpions.
“Brothers, we have a little under two hours until zero hour, I suggest that we make final preparations. Emperor be with you.”
“For no-one else is.” Culln finished off the age old refrain as they left the chamber, his smile internal.
* * *
01:59 Terran Standard Analogue
Bridge, Auel’s Bane
Void Space, outside of System-Astra Grief
“Reports from the Engineering Decks in, Commander. Nothing expressly untoward, minor issues only that are residual from Warp Transit and the inability to effect a full diagnostic and report.”
“Very good, Dayn. Send it.” Culln was sitting in the command couch on board the Battle Barge Auel’s Bane after transferring via shuttle in preparation for the conflict. Having been already involved in several minor engagements in which mostly superficial damage had been caused, Culln was eager for a large scale battle. With nearly a score of large vessels, including the Chapters two Battle Barges and four of its Rapid Strike Cruisers, alongside the larger deployment from Battlefleet Solar, up against what the intelligence operatives deep within the Secessionist military called the largest concentration of ships to date, he was likely to get his wish.
Dayn was a veteran who had been promoted to the First following his actions on Vraks, and impressed by his skill, Culln himself had trained him in the use of Tactical Dreadnought Armour. Since then, he had fought alongside the Commander of the First on every occasion, being one of the few brothers who had gone down with Culln on Beta Anphelion IV and survived after their Thunderhawk had been caught in a Tyrannic drift-minefield. Dayn was not an exceptional leader of men, and so Culln had offered Dayn the chance to serve in Culln’s command section, and had been recently granted the title of Champion, serving his Commander as an equerry, particularly when sensitivity was paramount to bluntness.
Seeing that the transfer of the Engineerium reports had completed, Culln uploaded it into his Tactical Dreadnought Armour’s heads up display, the inside of his left lens scrolling through the report as his eidetic memory committed all of the information to his short term memory without the need to read or understand the information, and yet allow it to be instantly recalled should there be relevant information. The Commander had done the same with seven other reports since he had arrived on board twenty seven minutes prior, detailing everything from efficiency of the waste disposal furnaces to the precise number of small ammunition rounds which had been considered out of shelf life and the response taken. Five thousand, three hundred and sixty lines of saying “Outdated; action taken; Used in target practice; no misfire; accuracy within tolerance” was extremely boring to read. Such mundanea, however was part of the daily life of an Astartes commander, and should even just one of those results return an abnormality, the work involved to determine that ammunition and other equipment from the same source was not similarly imperfect was immense.
Having seen nothing untoward that would severely hamper Auel’s Bane in the coming battle, the report was blink clicked away into his armour’s in built data coils.
“How are we for attack craft, Varja?”
“All in action, weapon systems fully operational on all.”
Varja was the First Company’s void combat specialist. Having served under Commander Zhyr since his induction into the Red Scorpions, Brother Varja had what could only be described as a natural talent for void warfare, and his promotion to the First was a valuable asset for Commander Culln to take advantage of, poaching him for his command section before Varja had even made the walk across the supply umbilical from the Arx Fidelis. He was not too proud to designate all his fleet-borne operations to Varja, lending his voice simply when other Commanders took issue with orders coming from one outside the upper command echelon.
Auel’s Bane was the oldest of the Chapter’s Ships, and it showed. Rumours abided that it dated from a design that was in vogue during the Great Crusade, and vast banks of assault craft hangars with multiple doors allowing a rapid egress for multiple craft. The torpedo tubes below the fo’c’sle were used more often to deliver Astartes deep into the hull of an enemy vessel, through the use of melta-cutter and adamantium tipped drills mounted on the nose cone of the torpedo, rather than the various warheads typical to other void-vessels. However, for the sake of redundancy, Auel’s Bane maintained a reduced stockpile of conventional munitions. Home to over fifteen thousand chapter serfs, and a thousand military personnel whose role was to supplement the Astartes in counter boarding actions, backed up with a defence grid of what would be called planetside as “anti-air” that would make a city weep, and more heavy firepower than a Legion Titanicus could muster, it was not a stretch to call it a capable vessel. Capable of maintaining an Astartes contingent the size of four full companies, commanded by an Astartes who dedicates his life to void combat, and helmed by a navigator of the finest pedigree of the Navis Nobilite, it was more than the equal of ships which on paper outgunned and outclassed it.
And what was most important, in the eyes of its Commander, and his void warfare specialists, was that it was fast. Fast enough to escape the firing solutions of conventional ordnance, and fast enough to reduce the time that the Battle Barge would be out of range with its own weaponry. That weaponry being the deadliest payload in the Imperium – Astartes. Eight Thunderhawks, twelve Assault Rams, six Stormravens provided the strike capability – or in pure manpower terms, the entire Astartes contingent on board could be “in the air” at any one time. That didn’t include the ships complement of boarding torpedoes, each capable of transporting two full squads within the core of an enemy vessel, a place normally considered unreachable by assault craft, which simply pierced the outer membrane of the ship’s hull, before depositing its payload of Astartes and flying off.
In practice, such was never the case. The impracticalities and risks involved made it an unsound tactic in all but the most pressing of circumstances. Due to the skills of its helmsmen and gunnery teams, such a time had never occurred to Culln’s knowledge.
Culln flicked through his helmets vox channel pre-set filters, so that he would be able to speak securely to the squad leaders who would be leading any boarding assaults. Not full to capacity, the Battle Barge nonetheless contained a cadre of warriors from the First Company chosen by Culln to stay behind, and potentially lead a Teleport Attack on any enemy vessels which had formed a strongpoint against boarding craft, assault minded elements from the second and fifth companies, as well as the entirety of the sixth company, under Commander Thain, a veteran of the Anphelion Investigation Force and staunch supporter of Culln’s dogmatic approach his Chapters tenets. Two hundred and forty soldiers were under his command in this battle – Culln preferred the term soldiers, it defined a fighting force that acted in unison with skill and capability as a whole, rather than warriors, which suggested one who could simply fight – and Culln’s soldiers had earned his respect many times over.
“Brothers, we have nine minutes, I repeat, nine minutes, until zero hour. Begin embarkation on allocated strike craft and attend to your allocated STAG.” STAG stood for “Soldiers Time At Guard”, the acronym universal in its application, ranging from the role as Quartermaster on a ships embarkation decks, to sentry deep in hostile country. In this instance, referring to their positions that would allow them to quickly reach likely breach-points in the event of a boarding assault, as well as being in the path through which boarders would have to take to reach the most vulnerable parts of the ship. “In four minutes, we are dimming lights. Emperor be with you.”
“For no-one else is. Good Hunting, Carab.” Culln smiled as the gravel-snap voice of Thain came clear over the vox, while the affirmative chimes of all the sergeants sounded as they finished checking their squad members lacked any concerns that they needed to bother the Commander with. Picturing the images in the hangar’s, Techmarines and their attendant servitors would be putting the finishing blessings to the machine spirits of the strike-craft, while Chaplains gave their benedictions to the Astartes due to deploy in them, the risks of being snatched away in the blink of an eye by munitions the size of battle titans all too real for some.
The other major vessels in the Red Scorpions fleets were the Sword of Ordon, a more conventional, more modern vessel, built to specification after the Chapter’s foray into the Rift that bore the same name, and the Arx Fidelis, a strike cruiser, through which Commander Zhyr, as the Admiral of the Red Scorpion’s fleet, prosecuted his role to near perfection. Smaller than a battle barge, less well armoured, and with a smaller armament, it was an odd choice for an Astartes Fleet Commander, yet the cruiser was extremely fast and manoeuvrable, the spacial equivalent of being able to turn on a credit-piece. Zhyr thought that the benefits of the faster cruiser outweighed the more ponderous vessels, even considering Auel’s Bane comparative speed to the Sword of Ordon. Zhyr had elected to come along, despite the rest of the fourth company being in transit to the Grendl Stars in the Eastern Fringe, under the command of his second in command, Dras, a veteran of the first campaign on Vraks, and considered a more than capable officer eclipsed only by Zhyr’s own skill.
Three other large vessels with a less well established pedigree made up the rest of the strength of the Red Scorpion’s Fleet; Vargyr Santisima, Irrepressible, and Astral Dominus, alongside the nine escort vessels, all each arranged into three squadrons of three; Hellion, Edessa, and Galian squadrons, each vessel named inelegantly Primaris, Secundus, and Tertius.
Battlefleet Solar supported the Red Scorpions own fleet. As a Legate-Inquisitor, Frain had a huge amount of influence, his cause backed not purely by his Mandate, but by the will of the High Lords themselves. To those high enough up in the Imperium’s convoluted and often conflicting hierarchy to know the difference between an Inquisitor, and an Inquisitorial Legate, it meant a lot. Thirty seven ships of the line from the Battlefleet which helped protect the Emperor’s own System was a grand indicator of how highly even the Naval Fleet Command considered the Legate-Inquisitors own request; and these ships were no retired warhorses put out to pasture with an untested crew – the predations of Tyrannic splinter fleets and Eldar corsair raids had kept the ships busy. Hopefully not so busy that their absence would be missed, but it highlighted to Frain and the Magister Militum the need to prosecute the war as swiftly as possible.
Of the Battlefleet, just over a third of the vessels were present for the attack on Mu-Theta-Four-Two; the rest having been allocated rear echelon duties, such as convoy protection, or guard duty around loyalist worlds. Among the fleet as well would have been the Star Jackal, a lone strike cruiser of the Marines Errant, but on Frain’s authority had removed them from the Order of Battle on account of their involvement prior to the escalation – only Dayn had stopped Culln from drawing his blade in anger towards the Inquisitor, one of the fabled “Tears of the Scorpion”, which would almost certainly have resulted in the Red Scorpion’s own enforced removal. Culln had known the Captain of the vessel, Narvaez of the Fourth, and had served alongside him twenty years prior against Greenskin “Freebootaz”, and had heard the tales of his skilful piloting of the Star Jackal while repelling boarders from the Astral Claws. To lose such a ship and captain was folly, and Culln suspected it was purely Frain flexing his political muscles that allowed him to dictate the allocation of Astartes assets. Although Narvaez was not bound by the laws of the Mandate like all Astartes, and hence Frain’s eagerness to extol his will over him, he was now the sole senior officer of the Chapter after the Mantis Warriors had decimated them on Bellerophon’s Fall, and their Chapter Master, Corwin Admatha’s shattered body had rejected the implants that would allow him to continue to serve as a Dreadnought, and had since been taken to the Emperor’s Grace. Lacking the experience of inter-organizational politics of a more experienced captain, and without the fighting strength of a full chapter to back up his cause, the Star Jackal had retreated to the edge of Karthan space until sentence could be passed.
Although Culln had seen the spoken reason according Frain, that the Chapter had need to rebuild its strength, his antipathy to the Holy Ordo’s, particularly one as shadowy as the Witch Hunters manifested in a disbelief of everything they said. Culln distrusted only one sect of the Imperium more than the Inquisition, and the figurehead of it stood on a bridge similar to his own on the Sword of Ordon. Loth. The Librarium. Psykers. Witches.
The chime of the alarm struck for 02:05 – three hundred seconds until commencement of the operation. The command had been synchronised with every other automated operation within the vessel and almost immediately, the flare of power that came from the huge engines that took up fully a third of the vessel could be felt on the command bridge as the lights dimmed to the maroon of battle stations; the increased tremble indicative of the huge energy provided by the immense dump of plasma fuel into the reactor. The general “call to hands” had gone out – all none-essentia had to return to quarters – from the stowaway whores for the work crews that the Astartes were not supposed to know about, to the utility serfs and servitors. Even the kitchens closed, although as the fighting men needed to eat, especially the hundreds strong chain gangs which manned the vast banks of ship-to-ship cannon which studded the hull of the immense vessel, the loosely called “chefs” set up soup kitchens. There they would pass down nutrient rich broths, made from broken down ration tubes which kept the Astartes in a semblance of peak form in the field. Apparently, they tasted terrible, although the Astartes made no complaint – they were simply tasteless. A constant wonderment among the marines was the wonder as to why “’Slaught” and other inhibited substances were used to mask the taste when pepper would do. Regardless, Culln looked down on the gun crews – often chain ganged from penal colonies, assigned to live a short brutal life in the void before being killed either by your own weapon or obliterated into component elements by warheads capable of annihilating city blocks. As opposed to a short brutal life before being killed at the hands of a thrusting new officer attempting a death or glory and receiving only the former. Regardless, they were all criminals, and if by their death they served to further the cause of the Emperor’s Chosen, then all the better.
Battle brothers and naval armsmen were in position, the latter either at guard posts alongside Demi-squads of Astartes, or patrolling, on the look-out for slacking workers or for people who shouldn’t be in particular sections. In both cases, justice was a double tap of a heavy duty naval pistol – whether using ammunition or its weighted pistol grip down to the armsman’s own particular preference. The armsmen were highly skilled – roughly equal to storm troopers trained at the Schola Progenium, and often with more battlefield experience. Although they lacked the professionalism and the menace of a squad of Storm Troopers in full “blacks”, a group of grotesquely muscled boson’s carrying such service pistols, large bore shotguns, captured trophy weapons and oversized tools given a crudely machined edge were undeniably effective in the confined spaces and bottlenecks inherent to star-ships.
The chime for three minutes until zero hour hit. The various C2 – Command and Control – viewing portholes and blisters closed shut with a fluid motion, to be replaced by a hologram which showed the same star-field seen by the naked eye. The hologram, although cyan tinted and thus slightly discolouring the resultant image, and having a slight graininess to it, the hologram afforded a commander greater control and tactical eyes over the battle zone. Echoing the tactical hololith from the Sword of Ordon, the fleet dispositions were shown in a heads up display – the heraldry of that same vessel could be seen glowing brightly on the hololith, starboard abeam of Auel’s Bane, while the Arx Fidelis’, Vargyr Santisima’s, Irrepressible’s, and Astral Dominus’ own heraldry icons were slightly duller, indicating that they were out of line of sight behind the bulk of the Sword of Ordon. Edessa Primaris through to Tertius formed a small skirmish screen twenty thousand kilometres distant to the front of the Battlefleet Solar and the Red Scorpion, while Galian and Hellion squadrons were scattered among the larger capital ships. The Astartes made up the port flank of the fleet, where they could adequately counter any flanking ships, or use their speed to support the centre of the line.
The only large ship of Battlefleet Solar visible to Culln was the Lady Syballine, a mature vessel, noted for the accuracy of its lance strikes. Blink clicking its data-file already committed to his armours data coils; Culln recalled that it was a Light Cruiser, under the command of Janypha Sallerstein, a Captain in rank and role. Her files’ picture was a little out of date, but it showed a young female cadet, at this time lacking the subtle signs of rejuvenat treatments and battle scars that many line officers liked to show, almost boasting their experience. Although of Cypra Mundian heritage, she had been seconded to the Battlefleet Solar in an advisory role due to experience in fighting the Eldar – calling up schematics which showed her AAR’s - after action reports and debriefs, along with analysis from the machine spirit within her previous vessel, the Tungsten, a Lunar class, she proved to be an honest captain, if slightly dogmatic in her approach to combat. The schematics would have smacked of plagiarism if the AAR’s were instead battle plans drawn up during the exams set by the Scholam Navis on Cypra Mundi; they were almost blow by blow repeats of the renowned Leoten Semper’s treatise against the xenos, himself having gained that knowledge at the sharp end during the Battle of Gethsemane during the Gothic Sector War.
Sixty seconds. Dayn had secured his helmet, and was checking the weapon systems of his equipment – the screaming whine of his six barrelled assault cannon as it spooled up. Capable of firing over a hundred rounds of armour piercing solid slugs in a single second of firing once at top speed, its only limitation was the amount of ammunition it could carry – the two hoppers each able to take a link of only three hundred rounds – a little over seven seconds of continuous firing. His left fist was sheathed inside an immense power glove with a chain blade attachment – the power gloves molecular distortion level agitating nearby solid surfaces surface to an almost viscous liquid like state, meaning the chain fist could penetrate armour with ease. The other members of Culln’s Honour Guard had done the same, standing back from him. A mix of power hammers and shields, power gloves tipped by multiple talon like blades, immense fists, multiple barrelled Boltguns, and long bladed swords, equipped as each veteran preferred.
Thirty Seconds. Close defence turrets around the ship were going through final checks, spinning around through a full three hundred and sixty degrees, to ensure that in the five minutes since their last check, the machine spirits hadn’t returned to a truculent nature, and limited the movement of the cupola. Doors were being raised, as the guns were run out after being kept safe in transit, aided by hawsers as wide as an Ogryn, while blocks the size of a battle tank aided in the movement of the immense ship-to-ship macro cannons.
Lance batteries hummed with actinic build up, the almost malevolent spirits within the transformers eager to unleash their fire power capable of levelling cities. Seven… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One…
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