Rogue Trader: Protectorate
-[PLANET G-001/L, N:045.6, 12.09/S:091.2, 19.2]-
-[OPERATION: FACTORY RECALL]-
-MINIMIZE FRIENDLY CASUALTIES-
-DEEP COVER PROTOCOLES ENFORCED. ZERO EXAMPTIONS-
-OPERATION TERMINATE UPON DEEP COVER COMPROMISE-
-OPERATION TERMINATE UPON COLLATERAL DAMAGES-
-EXTRACT PACKAGE. INTACT]-
-[OPERATION BEGINS AT 18:00, HighCom TIME.]-
Andor Veil was an Imperial Guardsman for most of his adult life, he knew nothing else and cared for nothing else, why would he? The Imperium provided to his every needs! All it asked in return was that he fight for the glory of the emperor.
Or stand straight and wait next to a door until something exciting came up.
In twelve months of service on this backwater, nothing exciting had ever come up.
They had been given orders not to let anyone in the base, but no one ever tried to enter, guards had been doubled a month prior, but nothing had ever happened, and now the soldiers were getting twitchy from pulling double shifts and many were downright sick.
Reinforcements should have arrived a week prior, but a bridge had been damaged and the refuel crafts were late, isolating the base from both ground and air support.
At first, everyone had thought an attack would come at any moment, but it never did and their fatigue only worsened.
Veil adjusted the strap of his lasgun and stretched, stiffening a yawn as his eyes kept scanning the tundra that spread beyond the base’s searchlights. In the darkness, the conifers were merely shadows against a blue font and the snow barely greyer than they were.
About two hundred meters had been cleared around the perimeter, creating a snowy plain that was restlessly warmed by electric floodlights, sitting atop a dozen guard towers, themselves erected within the safety of the Imperial base.
Someone knocked on the thick wooded door from inside, so Veil, his weapon hanging loosely at his side, spun on the spot and opened it, ready to put the sleepy kid on the other side in his place.
Nothing. The blue neon flickered, a man snored lightly in the dormitory’s darkness and another guard’s tired footsteps echoed far to the left.
He closed the door and inspected the frame, perplexed. Three finger sized lumps of snow clung to the top right corner. Snowballs? Falling icicles and ledges of snow often threw the guards at the edge of panic, but Veil remained calm, being used to it by now.
An armored arm wrapped around his neck, cutting off all air supply , and he gripped it with both hands, pulling at it with all his might. It almost succeeded, but the other seized his left hand and applied pressure near the thumb, which caused Veil’s muscles to loosen. He hit the floor ten seconds later, unconscious but breathing.
A distorted voice emanated from the attacker, “Husky, Ogre, sentry down, proceeding to stage two, over.”
The answer came almost instantly, though only her could hear, “Acknowledged, Ogre, Raptor one and six are in, two and four report green across, go get ‘em, Husky out.”
Ogre leaned against the doorframe, las-carbine dangling from thick straps and a dark long-muzzled pistol held solidly in his hand.
The door opened inward, he pushed it centimeter by centimetre and, once he knew for sure there was no one on the other side, stepped in with his handgun at the ready.
Mission parameters said to minimize casualties, but Ogre much preferred a botched Op than a real estate deal. Another sentry’s footsteps were growing closer from the left hallway and Ogre quickly leaned against the corner, just out of sight, and waited for his victim to be within reach…
The base’s only cell block, two levels underground and nested within a cluster of checkpoints armed with heavy weapons and automated defences, held only four prisoners, leaving almost a hundred cages empty.
Sister Aveline Dugalle, of the Sisters of Battlem occupied one of them. Aveline had been arrested almost a month prior by General Koben’s troops, an elite Imperial Guard regiment stationed on this planet for the same reason she had been sent; to investigate and prevent the possible conversion of this world into the Tau Empire’s Greater Good doctrine, but the General had somehow reached the conclusion that Aveline and her covent somehow had ties with an organization known as the ‘Protectorate’. She did not, but from the… Energetic questioning she had received, the Protectorate was a group of pirates now in control of a dozen planets, who traded with xenos, even fraying with them when it would suit their purpose, secretly worked toward independence from the Imperium and had gone as far as rejecting the Imperial Faith.
He spoke of them, as the Archenemy, unnatural creatures with skills and powers beyond human understanding.
Aveline would have loved to know more of these heretics, but Koben was convinced she already knew everything about them, and his interrogator had just finished pulling out the last of her toenails. The Sister’s wails of agony and the mat sound of her skull against the brick wall as she tried to knock herself out echoed for half a minute in the silent dungeon.
Koben, in full dress uniform, shoulders padded and heels thickened to make him seem somewhat impressive, smiled at the spectacle.
“Now, I will start cutting off fingers,” he announced as the tall bearded Guardsman tasked with his dirty work fetched a pair of bolt cutters, “unless you tell me about the eighteen tons of fruits and vegetables your coven sent off world over the last year.”
Aveline knew her coven often traded with a trade consortium from the edge of Segmentum Obscuris, exchanging fresh produces for textiles, tools and medical equipment, but the details were unknown to her and she was on the brink of complete madness, too far gone to even think of a convincing lie.
“I don’t know! Why would I? Order Dialogous…”
“Do not toy with me, I have no patience for your semantics! You have worked with the Protectorate for years now, who are they? Where can I find them?! You will tell me or you will suffer as the heretic you are!” She did not have the strength to protest, only to pray for the Emperor’s assistance.
A gate slammed open and both butchers stepped out of Aveline’s cell to investigate the intrusion.
“Who is this?” Demanded the General, fury shining in his eyes. Another voice answered in the distance.
“Intruder, sir, attacked Sergeant Veil, almost got me as well.” There was pride it the man’s voice, but it barely masked a furor far greater than the one shining in Koben’s eyes.
“Bring him over.” The General did not hide his anger and soon , a short man, his armor switching color to match the cell, his arms tied at his back, was thrown in the cell by an average-looking Guardsman, Koben grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and shoved his masked face a few centimeters from Aveline’s.
“Who is this? Does he look like a Sister of Battle? Why do you think he is here?” The man’s outfit was nothing more than carapace armor wrapped in Cameleoline and she spotted a dozen breaks in uniform regulation, as though he’d put on the suit hastily.
The general tore off his cameleoline balaclava and Aveline found herself at a loss for words. The man beneath that mask had yet to say a word himself, but he could be justified in this for his lips were held together by thick industrial duct tape.
Only she could see it, just as she alone saw the average guardsman, a step behind everyone else, pressing his ear to speak. “Three for Six, proceed to stage three, out.”
The cold hatred in his eyes as everyone in the room turned to him could have given pause to a titan legion. Aveline barely caught a glimpse of dark brown orbs in a flat, emotionless visage when everything went dark. There was an electrical whining, followed by a wet impact sound.
“I want all forces in…” The General gasped for air, roaring and groaning in defiance before growing quiet. Lights returned just as the officer hit the floor.
Only two people remained standing after the four seconds-long blackout, one of them only held up by manacles and wobbly legs.
Without a word, Aveline’s savior stripped and retrieved his gear from the stunned sentry. Even when he cut the his binds, the Guardsman was too astonished to do anything but stutter. “W-who… What are you?”
The other secured his mask back in place, but also wore a headset over it, optics covered his right eye and a mic extended from the device over to his mouth. His lips moved and a words flowed out like a hash breeze, “He who never was and never will be…”
“Never was what?” The Guardsman tried to crawl away, out of the cell, and ‘He who never was’ did nothing to stop him.
“Here.” He answered, simply, as the sentry finally gathered the nerve to lift himself up and make a run for it.
Naked, terrified, incoherent, he would make a perfect distraction.
“Three for Six,” Spoke the stranger, once the other was out of earshot, “package is secured, awaiting confirmation…” He waited, listening to something Aveline could not hear, then spoke again, “Wilco.”
The Guardsman’s gloved fingers gripped Aveline’s chin and forced her head up before holding in in place roughly, the rough fabric scorching her skin. The man shone a bright blue light in both her eyes, then let go of her head to await the verdict.
“Negative, Six,” His voice betrayed no emotion when it came, but it was clear his judgment would suffer no second guessing, “Package is not mobile, Medevac is advised, over.” He waited, no longer holding a finger to his ear but instead searching the pacified General’s pocket.
Service ribbons, decorations, jewels and even Koben’s antique las-pistol were ignored altogether in favour of a single brown key.
“Solid copy, Six, ETA?” He returned to Aveline and undid her restraints before helping her sit down. “Solid copy, we’ll be Oscar Mike in four. Three out.” Clad only in her underwear, she gratefully took the General’s long coat, nodding her thanks to the lone soldier, who just moved on to the three additional cells holding Dugalle’s sisters.
The youngest, Alenka, rushed to her eldest sister’s side and bombarded her with questions reguarding her health and morale. The other two went to salvage weapons from Koben and his pet, but were stopped by ‘Three’, who quietly ripped the things from their hands and expertly dismantled the trigger mechanisms.
All four Adepta Sororitas exchanged confused looks, but none objected. Only Aveline had been tortured, the others were perfectly able to hold their own, even though none was from a Militant order.
“Stay close to each other,” he announced next, his voice barely louder than a whisper, “don’t move unless I tell you…” Alenka went to ask a question, but the man cut her off with a harsh look, “And be quiet.”
This soldier certainly lacked manner, but they did as told nonetheless. Three guided them out of the cell block and into the base without a hitch, but at the first intersection when leaving the staircase, he raised his fist in a firm ‘STOP’ gesture, followed by short waves of his flat hand, as if trying to chase a fly away.
The Sisters recoiled back into the staircase while he remained by the corner, his back pressed to a white imperial Aquila painted on the wall.
Footsteps, a lot of them, could be heard rushing closer from around that corner. Three, perfectly calm and composed, fetched a cylinder from his belt and pulled the pin with slow deliberation. He counted down to three and tossed the around that same corner.
A flash of light preceded a deafening explosion and it took the four sisters a bit over ten seconds to realize Three was gone. Not a single shot was fired, but gasps and cries for help soon filled the air.
It lasted less than half a minute, then Three’s shifting silhouette appeared ahead and he waved them over.
Eight Guardsmen filled the corridor beyond that bend, all breathing, but far from combat ready…
A scorched spot on the slip-proof floor still smoked, a step ahead of the first unconscious soldier, the only sign there had been a struggle and not merely a very odd party.
Ten meters further, the hallway broke in two directions, Three went right without the slightest hesitation. Aveline glanced at markings on the wall as she was pulled along by her sisters and frowned at what she saw; the man was leading them outside instead of the garages or landing pads.
Another squad of Guardsmen rushed toward the prison, but the escaped prisoner and their odd rescuer managed to hide in a dark room from which light snoring was heard. The sleeper never noticed their intrusion and all five of them were outside in barely a minute.
The chain link fence directly opposite them had been gutted, footsteps in the snow pointing the exact spot to them, and a Guardsman laid slouched against the wall, just out of the way.
Three held the fence open while all four prisoners crawled out and followed right after. Alenka suggested they run for the woods, but an incandescent ring of electrical light swept over the grey field a second after before leaving and being replaced by another just as soon.
“Six? Three, in position, over.” If Three was worried, he hid it well. Alarms soon went off all over the facility, orders being shouted over the ensuing ruckus, but the soldier only dropped to a knee and lined the door with his sights. “Compromised, go dynamic.”
The door flew open and the carbine quivered in his grip. The only indication his weapon had not malfunction was a sizzling noise and melted chunks of duracreet being blown from the doorframe.
Not a single of Koben’s men was hit, but the two standing in the door were quick to take cover. Three fired only sporadically, keeping them pinned while Aveline’s bloodied feet slowly froze over.
“Taking fire.” Called Three as angry red beams whistled past him. He retaliated, but failed to scare off his attackers and was caught in the chest and thrown back in the snow, his chest smoking and glowing softly in the night.
The Guardsmen leapt out of cover, roaring in triumph, and had barely reached the fence that both had their faces blasted off. “Husky, Ogre,” The fallen warrior spoke, pushing himself up with his smoking lasgun, “man down…” Another group of Guards rushed out of the base, but Three had a clear shot at them from his seated position and they were soon forced to cover, one diving back in the facility and the other crawling his way around the corner and into the main courtyard.
The Valkyrie roared above the tree line, flying so low scratches and dents were visible on its belly, it faced the scene from over the plain for a whole second before spinning around, its open troop bay inviting them in. Spotlights converged on it a moment later and the shouting grew closer.
Ogre, his chest still smoking, stood at full height, drawing upon himself the furry of freshly arrived reinforcements. Bolts flew by him, crackled at his feet and dissipated in the night sky as he screamed over the Valkyrie’s engine, “Get to the transport!” And then focused his full attention to schooling these amateurs on proper marksmanship.
Two cylinders left his belt and soon there was a pitch black wall of smoke between he and his foes.
He jogged over to the transport and took Alenka’s hand, yelling before his boots were off the ground, “Package retrieved! Bug out, bug out!”
The Valkyrie remained in place, however, and Three kneeled at the edge of the ramp, hovering a meter over the snow.
“Why aren’t they leaving!?” One of the Sisters asked, hiding behind a code locked crate as laser bolts perforated the veil of smoke.
Ogre fired a few controlled bursts and reached out to someone coming in from the right side. Four soldiers, dressed just like him, appeared from the night, two of them accepting his help while another two just jumped in. “We’re done here, Husky, dust off!” The last one to climb in yelled. The ramp was closed and everyone hurried to strap themselves in.
Ogre pulled his mask off and carefully removed the headpiece from his skull.
“What the fekk was that, Husky?” He called, not to some invisible being in his Comm-bead, but directly at the cockpit. A voice answered from wall speakers a few seconds later.
“Ask Iron Lady! Could only afford one pass and she wouldn’t have made it!”
A slightly smaller member of the team removed her own balaclava and headset, short brown hairs flowing freely into her face. She blew them away before answering, “They had a secondary power supply, we had to split off and take both down at the same time.”
“Stuff it, lads,” the last and biggest team member spoke, revealing a bald and scarred head, “we got the job done and dinna lose a single man, I call that fekkin’ flawless!” They whooped a short creed in perfect chorus:
And the leader resumed speaking, “Now, who’s up for the tutorial?”
All eyes converged to the same person and Ogre groaned, nodded and got out of his seat to stumble toward an empty one by Aveline’s side.
“Okay, I know we were never properly introduced, but I need you people to listen…” He took a quick look at her injuries and winced, turning to his superior, “Can’t we at least patch her up first?”
The big man shook his head and Ogre sighed, “Fine, you girls got your ears wide open?” They nodded without a word. The rumbling of the Valkyrie’s engine was barely an annoyance by now and even Ogre’s soft tone came crystal clear in the tight confines of the troop bay, “We answer to a group called the Protectorate, a commercial and military partnership between eighteen star systems…”
Koben’s words came back to Aveline’s mind, but she let him continue, if only for getting her out of that cursed place.
Alenka did not see it that way. “You’re traitors, you turned away from the Emperor!” She cried, looking around for a gun, but found none. Ogre only smirked, no trace of humor to be found in those cold brown eyes. “No, let me assure you, we are faithful subjects of the Imperium who pay taxes and will rise to arms at a single words from Terra.” He gave her a moment to calm down then proceeded:
“You see, a few thousand years ago, an old Rogue Trader family line disappeared and their warrant to trade was distributed evenly between close relatives, eight of them, to be precise… These beneficiaries were not all very important, but some had ties and they mounted a successful business with help from a dozen Imperial worlds.”
Aveline’s fingers and feet throbbed with blinding pain, she would have liked Ogre to cut his story short, but it sounded rehearsed, like a prayer, most likely a text he could not deviate from.
“The warrant allowed any number of vessels to be used and a security force to be established, with some restriction, a major point was that it authorized trade to be performed with Xenos, pirates and rebels alike…” Once again, he kept silent for a moment, letting it all sink in, and resumed only when Aveline nodded.
“So the new Protectorate established a very profitable trade network, and I mean very; we do business with Mars, Elysia, your coven and just about any sentient race out there…” He scoffed at something, most likely an old joke, then resumed, his face serious once more, “After the Tyrannid invasion, however found the Imperium reluctant to step in and defend their interests.
That’s when they used their right to put a security force together.” He jerked a thumb to his chest, “That’s us. Any questions?”
Alenka, of course, jumped on the opportunity; “So, you are helping us because our coven is a trade partner?”
He nodded and she came back with another question, “Why tell us all this?”
“You mentioned restrictions to your security force, what are they?”
If the questions annoyed him, Ogre hid it perfectly, “We may only purchase our equipment from Imperial Guard stocks, may not acquire anything heavier than an APC and our air forces cannot field air superiority crafts…”
The leader spoke from his seat, “An’ we can’t have over a thousand active member at a time.”
“So,” Aveline thought about it for a moment, “you’re mercenaries?”
That seemed to wound the one called ‘Iron Lady’, but she kept her tone flat as she spoke, “We are professional soldiers ready to fight around the clock any day of the week, all year long if it helps defend our home and keeps our children fed, what does that make us?”
Aveline kept quiet, but Alenka, smiling, offered “Fekkin’ flawless?”
That actually made them laugh.