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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-12-13, 08:35 PM Thread Starter
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Default Rogue Trader: Protectorate

-[087.M42]-
-[SEGMENTUM ULTIMA]-
-[SYSTEM GARXIS]-
-[PLANET G-001/L, N:045.6, 12.09/S:091.2, 19.2]-
-[OPERATION: FACTORY RECALL]-
-[MISSION PARAMETERS:
-INFILTRATE IG/O-001B-
-MINIMIZE FRIENDLY CASUALTIES-
-DEEP COVER PROTOCOLES ENFORCED. ZERO EXAMPTIONS-
-OPERATION TERMINATE UPON DEEP COVER COMPROMISE-
-ZERO COLLATERALS-
-OPERATION TERMINATE UPON COLLATERAL DAMAGES-
-RECOVER PACKAGE-
-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:


“Fekking Flawless!”

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?”

“Same reason.”

“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.
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-13-13, 10:08 AM
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Looks like a good start! Good characterization, loved the internal monologue at the beginning- the life of the armed force: Hurry up and wait.
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-14-13, 05:19 AM Thread Starter
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-[087.M42]-
-[SEGMENTUM ULTIMA]-
-[SYSTEM GARXIS]-
-[PLANET G-001/L, N:027.3-12.09/W:01.3-21.1]-
-[OPERATION: FACTORY RECALL]-
-[MISSION PARAMETERS:
-EXFILTRATE PACKAGE-
-ZERO COLLATERALS-
-COVER COMPROMISED: USE OF LETHAL FORCE AUTHORIZED-
-ENGUAGE HOSTILES AT OWN DISCRETION AND CONVENIENCE-
-DISABLE PLANETARY DEFENCE GRIDS. MAXIMUM FORCE]-
-[OPERATION BEGINS AT 23:37, HighCom TIME.]-

The team had stopped for five hours in a ditch just outside scanner range from the city, a hive-like structure with overpasses, skyways and bridges protruding from all over, the code locked crates were opened, shown to contain heavier weapons, rations and medical equipment. Iron Lady took care of Aveline’s injuries with as much precision and care an Hospitaler sister would have shown.

The Sisters were then issued Mars-pattern lasguns and cameleoline-lined carapace armors while Raptor team got some rest.

For five hours, the men had done nothing but eat, replace damaged equipment and sleep. An hour in, Alenka asked Ogre what they were waiting for and the man replied, without moving from his seat, eyes drilling holes in the ceiling; “Rest is a weapon sharper than any bayonet.” Closing his eyes before adding, “The PDF and Guards are pushing their men to the limit, they think we’re heading straight for the starport, when we don’t show up, they’ll keep them on alert and send some more looking for us…”

“Less troop in the city…” Mused the Sister, nodding slowly as she pieced the strategy together, “And those still on guard will be weakened.”

Four hours later, another facet of this underhanded strategy became obvious to Aveline: Sunrise.

The sun rose to the west, casting pink and purple swirls in the night sky, and the city stood to the east. The men would relax instinctively at the darkness’ retreat, maybe doze off for some, most notably the ones keeping an eye on long range scanners, and the troops on the ground, their eyes now used to penumbra, would be blinded by the rising sun…

Raptor team had no interest in a stand up fight, they wanted to get in this city, disable its orbital defences and leave before anyone could react.

Husky was woken up by Raptor Six, the team’s leader, who whispered only two words in his subordinates’ ear before moving on to the next team member as the other began pre-flight check on their Valkyrie.

Ogre’s eyes flung open as Six touched his shoulder and he nodded once before jogging out of the troop bay and into the woods. Iron Lady stopped snoring and threw a few confused glances around before requesting some recaf, which Aveline recovered from one of the food crates.

Self-heating mugs, just tear off the lid and wait for the liquid to heat up. She took one for herself and offered them around. Husky actually dropped some fine-tuning on the left rocket pod to get himself some of the precious liquid. Only Pilgrim, Raptor Two, declined the offer.

A last team member was woken up and soon Raptor team crawled around the landing area, double checking everything one final time and making it clear to their guests they needed no help.

So the Sisters held a short meeting to try and figure out where they stood in this situation.

“They look like heretics… I don’t think we should trust them.” Instantly started Moa, of the Order Militant, clutching the Mars-pattern lasgun with confused agitation.

Aveline instantly disagreed, “You let Koben’s venom poison your judgment,” she pointed to Pilgrim, kneeling in the snow a dozen paces from the transport, reciting Imperial psalms with accuracy and conviction, “it is not your place to question them, neither is it mine.”

Alenka, always one to go on a tangent, took upon herself to ask the real question, “But, Husky, Ogre, Raptor, Three, Six… How do we know which is which?”

All three of her sisters stared for a second, then found themselves contaminated by the young one’s curiosity. “The loner is called Ogre and Raptor Three, the leader is Raptor Six, the hot tempered one is Iron Lady and…” Aveline hesitated, “Raptor Four?”

“I don’t know,” Spoke the last of them, a veteran of the Hospitaler order, “I can’t seem to recall them calling her anything other than Iron Lady…”

“Well, Pilgrim is Raptor Two and very pious, from the looks of it.” Moa conceded, apparently not quite convinced yet.

“Husky must be One…”Began Aveline, only to jump in fright as a white shape hopped aboard to fetch some recaf as well. The sixth member, a discreet and quiet woman, carried a long-las covered with cameleoline ribbons and wore some sort of poncho over the regular carapace armor, complete with heavy hood and irregular strips jutting out to blur her outlines.

“I’m One, call me Acey.” She pulled her hood off and removed the balaclava in one motion, revealing a short strip of hairs atop a bald skull, and took a sip of recaf before looking around, “Is Ogre gone yet?”

Aveline nodded and Acey’s face fell, like a disappointed child denied her treat.

Husky walked in, saw Acey, and walked away just as soon, but she chased after him without another word to the Sisters.

“Well,” spoke Alenka, eyebrows cocked in confusion, “they certainly are an odd bunch.”

A hundred meters from the city’s main gate, Ogre crawled laboriously up a snowy slope, using juvenile pine trees and bushes to drag himself further up, until he finally reached the top, where alternative way in, patrol patterns and exact numbers of hostile combatants were all that much more obvious now that Acey was on his Comm-bead, reporting the results of her preliminary scouting.

“Acey, Ogre, radio discipline, please? Over.”

The other kept quiet after that.

There were no walls between the city and tundra, just buildings squeezed so tight one could no enter any other way but from the road.

Roads which now crawled with trigger happy PDFs and angry Guardsmen.

After triple-checking his options, Ogre decided to try his luck scaling one of these residential blocks, even though none of them offered little ways in or over.

Crawling through the tundra proved easy enough, he’d gotten used to it by now, scaling the flat wall when covered with half melted snow, however would not be so easy, especially as he needed to do so without drawing the attention of hostile forces on the road, fifty meters on either side.

As all imperial structures on this world, this building had fallen in disrepair, finger-thick cracks dotting the mortar in places, other missing whole bricks. To an ordinary man, these were aesthetic details, ones to be ignored or complained about. To Ogre, they formed a path:

A jump got him within reach of the lowest crack, three meters up, from which he dangled by the tip of his fingers before slipping and landing quietly in the snow.

The gloves came off and Ogre ran along the wall for momentum this time, though his wet boots offered little traction, he got a solid grip this time and managed to pull his whole body in another, shorter jump that brought him within reach of a missing brick, half a meter above.

His fingers did not slip, but sharp edged cut Ogre’s skin, the blood quickly rendering his hands slippery.

His boots would not fit in the crack he’d just left, but it provided sufficient support for Three to let go of one hand and throw it up in a vertical crack the size of his wrist.

Once his flat hand was in, Ogre tightened it in a fist, locking that arm in place, and pulled the other just above the first.

It was uncomfortable, the cold making his pain even worse, not to mention the blistered and burnt skin of his chest screaming at every effort, but he pulled himself higher one step after the other, baring his teeth and blinking tears away before he’d made it a fourth of the way up.

“Ogre, Husky, what’s your…”

“Not now, Husky!” Groaned the soldier as he reached the end of that crack. Holding up with one hand, he swung his right leg up and squeezed the edge of a boot in a similar fissure and used that to throw himself sideways, to another missing brick…

“Wilco.” He made the jump, but soon found out whatever had kicked that particular brick loose had also damaged its neighbors as the things disintegrated under his finger, a small avalanche of pebbles washing his fingers away in their fall.

He fell almost two meters before reaching out for a small axe on the bottom of his pack. He swung it pick head first and it dug deep into the weak material, stopping his fall dead. From that precarious position, hanging by one hand to a weak plastic and steel tool, Ogre glanced down and repressed a curse. Twenty meters, enough to kill him twice over.

He fetched the combat knife from his chest and spun it in an ice pick grip.

Discretion be damned, he scaled that thing like a caffeinated gecko and reached the top unseen but exhausted.

“Ogre, Patriarch, talk to me, lad…”

He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes had passed since he’d taken his gloves off. “Six, Three, all clear, I can see the target from here, give me ten mikes. Over.”

“I copy, Three, do hurry, sun’s showin’ up… Patriarch out.”

His fingers numbed by the cold and pain, Ogre took a moment to put his gloves back, then got moving.

Ten minutes later, Husky was clear to take off, Raptor team minus one and their charge all strapped in and ready to do their part.

“Golem Actual, Raptor Actual,” Six spoke in his Comm-Bead from the seat closest to the ramp, “SitRep?”

The answer seemed to please him and he replied with a simple, “Understood.” Before killing the link.

Most commanders would give their men a rousing speech at this point, but Raptor seemed to know exactly why they fought and what was a stake, so he kept it simple, “Y’all know the mission parameters, I don’ want another Medusa; Iron Lady, easy on the buck shots, use the Skorge if you think it’ll help,” The woman seemed delighted as she exchanged her scattergun for an autogun, “Pilgrim, we’ll be facin’ armored opposition in there, be ready for ‘em…”

“I will.” The man’s tone was ceremonious, as though he’d been given a holy task from the Emperor himself.

“Acey, keep an eye on the rooftops, these wankers are PDF, you can bet they’ll have RPGs on station…”

She nodded in silence.

“Husky, try not to crash another bird, wilya?”

“How ‘bout we talk about that raise then?” The other answered through the thin wall separating his cockpit from the troop bay.

“I can still leave your sorry arse behind if you don’ like your job…”

“You’d miss me too much!”

They arrived within range of the city’s sensor array and it was as though someone had flipped a switch: Iron Lady and Pilgrim kneeled on the edges of the open ramp and hooked rappelling ropes to the ceiling, ready to throw the rolls off board.

Acey and Patriarch were on their feet as well, holding onto straps dangling from the ceiling.

Anti-Air batteries spun to track the vessel’s arrival, but never fired and resumed their steady rotation as though nothing had happened.

Aveline walked up to Patriarch and indicated the AA guns. “Your man did this?”

He nodded, “Ogre’s a bit hard to handle, but he’s the best at what he does.”

She nodded, buildings and bewildered citizens flying by in a blur. “And what does he do when he is not rescuing damsels in distress?”

Patriarch scoffed, “He makes bad people cry.”

The Valkyrie decelerated suddenly, autogun fire plinking off the armor as Pilgrim fired his Melta gun at someone in the distance. Iron Lady threw both ropes off board and flung herself in the incoming fire as though it were rain, sliding down the cable just in time to avoid an early retirement.

Acey followed a Melta burst later and, then Patriarch jumped out, followed by Aveline, her sisters and, finally, Pilgrim.

Snow swirled around their boots and PDF died on both sides of the street. Husky even allowed himself a rocket, which sent fifteen militiamen crawling for cover as Acey picked out their chain of command like a fussy teenager chooses a new shirt.

Raptor formed a circle around Aveline and her sisters, but remained right in the middle of the road, kneeling with their weapons raised. “Ogre, what do you see?”

The loner replied on squad-wide frequency, “I see live people…”

Four PDFs emerged from an alley, gunning as they charged forward. Two laser beams, barely shivers in the air, cut them all down before anyone could take care of it.

“I see dead people. All clear until checkpoint four, Sierra Tangos deploying, could be ambush, will advise as the situation evolves, over.”

A single hand gesture from their leader got Raptor moving forward, though ‘forward’ was not the most accurate term; they broke from the main street and into alleys any chance they got, taking the long way around and even using sky bridges when possible, ducking out of sight whenever enemy patrols got close.

This was a far cry from the straight up and in your face combat Aveline and her sisters were used to, even the enemy Guardsmen were confused by their foes’ unwillingness to fight, though they would always manage to force Raptor into skirmishes, the Protectorate’s men inevitably ended up wiping out the poor bastards.

All that time, Patriarch kept in contact with ‘Golem Actual’, keeping them posted on the team’s progress and adjusting the pace in accordance with the answer.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-15-13, 04:28 PM Thread Starter
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A/N: As you can see, I'll have a lot of politics in here. I'll try to keep it simple and understandable, no promises though -_-'

Patriarch dropped from a low roof onto an hovercar’s hood and rolled off before dropping to a knee, lasgun leveled with a lone PDF private’s head, on the other side of the alley.

“Terra!” He shouted to the immobile man.

“November!” Came the counter response. The rifle came down and Raptor team pounded that hovercar’s hood into a bowl-like dent, jumping down one at a time.

“Psycho.” Acey greeted with a short nod as the young PDF walked up to them.

“Ash…Acey.” The other caught himself with a cringe, “Where’s Ogre?” He scrutinized every member of the team, but decided he wasn’t amongst them.

Patriarch stepped in, “He says to say you look sharp in that uniform.”

Psycho scoffed and scanned the skyline, looking for potential sniper nests, finally picking one and smiling in Ogre’s direction. “Understood, anything else?”

Alenka gave Aveline an insistent nudge, “They’re speaking in code,” she whispered, so low only the two of them could hear, “why? Don’t they trust us yet?”

Aveline shrugged and inspected the only way into that alley, a red steel door. Locked, of course, by a keypad and magnetic seals in every corner.

Far too advanced for this backwater… Hey eyes darted from the door to ‘Psycho’ and understanding slowly began settling in, like remembering an old friend’s name after half an hour of trying to recall.

Infiltrating the planet’s PDF, gaining enough foreknowledge of the city’s defence grid to take it offline in half an hour with a single man… This all spoke of an operation running for far longer than just a month, in place long before she had been captured.

“This is not a rescue mission…” Aveline’s sudden flash of inspiration ended all conversation in the alley. “There is something else here you need, we are just decoy.”

Patriarch shook his head calmly, “I can’t talk about that, even if I did know the answer, it’s classified.”

“I understand, but there is one thing I must know,” Aveline walked up to him in a threatening manner, “did the Protectorate have anything to do in our capture? Did your men set us up?”

Once again, Patriarch shook his head, looking as though he would repeat the same thing, but his tune was slightly different this time, “If that was our boys’ doin’, I wasn’t made aware of it.”

Much went unsaid in that sentence, but only one part really mattered to Aveline and her sisters; it was not unlikely. Patriarch seemed honest when he claimed not to know about it, but he clearly would not put it past his employers to manipulate friend and foes alike if it achieved results.

Before they could develop further, however, Psycho snapped his fingers as if to draw a drunk friend’s attention, all eyes turning to him as a result, “We don’t have time for this, Golem is green across, orbital defences are going offline in ten mikes, clock’s ticking.”

Patriarch nodded and punched his ID code in the keypad. The door hissed as mag seals released and it vanished in the floor to reveal an industrial lift, normally used for warehouses and probably a part of the original building, though now it hand only one way in and that door was far too small for the size of that elevator.

“Where are we going?” Alenka looked worried, but Acey gave her a pat in the back and walked in without a word.

Patriarch soon followed and smiled before answering: “Home.”

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-[087.M42]-
-[SEGMENTUM PACIFICUS]-
-[SYSTEM KAREAL]-
-[PLANET DIADORA]-
-[AUTUMN CITY]-
-[OPERATION: -]-

Hadrick grimaced at the dark circles under his eyes, emphasizing the crevice-like wrinkles spreading across his temples like canyon networks. At a hundred and twelve years old, Hadrick “Thunder” Ellaine considered himself lucky to still have color in his hairs, though they were steadily getting greyer… Hell, he was lucky to have hairs at all!

Maggy Ellaine, his wife, was merely a decade younger, but she looked barely forty and that, even by Protectorate standards, was impressive.

An ambassador and economist for the protectorate, Ellaine was well aware of her husband’s work, and he knew she was, for all intents and purpose, his direct superior.

She entered the bathroom, sweaty and out of breath, freshly back from her morning jog, and gave him the once over.

After having lived a century, Hadrick considered it normal to be getting soft around the edges, but his dear wife kept telling him, time and again, he still looked as shard as the day they’d met.

That had been fifty years back, during a trade negotiation with Dark Eldars gone wrong, Hadrick and his team were sent in to quell a slave rebellion and extract representative Ellaine…

“Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” she scolded him, stripping with the nonchalance that came with half a century of marriage, “you’re still the best, not a single of those pups could do what you’ve done in your days.”

She didn’t know half of what he’d done in his days. One time, he let on that a Space Marine scout sergeant had proved no match for him, later in his career. She, at first, had dismissed it as bravado, but as she heard more about the man she had married, that unbelievable feat had become quite plausible.

There was darkness in Hadrick only she seemed able to tame, without her, he would still be on the ground breaking skulls and shouting orders.

He brought her closer for a long, passionate kiss and a gentle hug, which ended when she squirmed away. Hadrick wanted to just hold her close and never let go, let the world take care of itself.

“C’mon, off with you, Thunder,” she chirped, hopping gracefully in the shower, “your perfectly-mentally-healthy minions need some yelling at or they won’t remember which end of the stick makes bright lights...”

Odd that a career military man such as Thunder would pick an activist pacifist as his wife, odder still that she would pick him as well. Love does strange things to a person, but it cannot change their convictions, “Gosh, woman, coming from someone who throws frying pans at Orkz for a living, that’s rather cold.”

Maggy Ellaine, the only human to ever successfully negotiate an alliance with an Ork Warboss and actually keep it together after the fight. That had made his wife’s career, that Warboss’ as well, even earned him the nickname ‘Deadpan’ amongst the Protectorate, not that he was very invested in the community’s life.

Mostly, Deadpan did what he was hired to do; kill stuff on whichever planet the Protectorate cargo ships dropped his WAAAGH! on.

Hadrick slipped on his dress uniform with a smile as his wife stuck her tongue out in a mocking grimace.

The thing was simple, unhindered by garnish and trinkets… The uniform, that is.

Before Ellaine had gotten this job, the General Head Of Special Tactics would wear very elaborate, very flamboyant dress uniforms, as to increase the feeling of authority they gave off. Hadrick hated such practice, respect had to be earned, he’d been the first GHOST to refuse sponsorship from any of the Protectorate’s benefactors, rising through the ranks by simply being the most skilled operator around, to the point where even the council’s veto would have been a minor hindrance.

There were three main forces amongst the Protectorate:
The Council, representatives of every world of the dominion and their main trade partners, made up of almost a hundred members all of which tried to use the consortium’s resources to further their own goals, but only ended up becoming more dependants of it as a result. The Council also commanded a joint ‘Planetary Defence Force’, tasked with protecting planets and ships who were official members of the Protectorate.

The GHOST, commander in chief of the elite thousand men and women tasked with preserving the Protectorate’s integrity, safety and commercial dominance, always operating from the shadows and reporting only to the third and last political entity…

The “Captain”, effectively one of the Warrant to Trade’s many heirs, elected by the others both to oversee the fleet and keep the GHOST in check. Though completely independent from the council, the Captain’s every words and decisions had to be carefully measured, as the slightest misstep could cause a valuable member to leave the Protectorate or trades with an important partner to become overly complicated.

Essentially, Hadrick held the least political power of all three branches, but held most of the Protectorate’s military in his hand, being authorised to order both a new Council and a new Captain to be elected should he feel either of these did a poor job. Most importantly, however, he had full operational freedom, meaning he had to justify his actions only when the others directly asked him about them.

Essentially, so long as he kept it low profile and things ran smoothly, nobody cared what Hadrick did with his troops.

There was no headquarters for him to drive to, no central intelligence hub; he’d gotten rid of that, in a sense.

Each operation was assigned its own support team, one ship and a flock of analysts and enginseers, the ground team would feed data to their support ship, who would filter and ‘translate’ that data in a format the ground team could easily comprehend and operate on, then it would be the team leader’s call how to best proceed.

No red tapes, no clearance requests and minimal astropathic communication. Mistakes were made, small ones as well as big, but this proved a small price to pay for a neat increase in reaction speed, flexibility and overall performances on the grander scale.

Not every cell knew the greater picture, most being content to get their part done and go home.

Driving for five minutes on a deserted road, Hadrick drove his civilian issue Tauros off-road and on a deserted beach, where he unstrapped the car’s soft roof to breathe deep of the sea salts saturating the morning’s cold air.

Every morning, he drove to the beach, following the shoreline for kilometers as the sun rose above the ocean, its purple and blue beams reflecting off the tumultuous water in a kaleidoscope-like effect. He kept driving, not thinking about anything else, until there were two suns; one in the sky, the other a distorted reflection. This marked the beginning of his work.

The cogitator built into his Tauros’ dashboard beeped before displaying reports from over fifty cells, spread across three sectors, all part of a single project…

Operation Factory Recall, for instance, intertwined with Operation Straight Arrow and Operation Red Dune.

Basically, one cell would infiltrate an Imperial planet’s military, implant backdoors in the defence grid and prepare an escape route, the other would escalate tensions between two groups, tasked with investigating a fictional threat of Xeno indoctrination, and once things escalated, would use the ensuing commotion to pay the Planetary Governor a visit during which he was to be… Replaced… By a very loyal ambassador of the Protectorate, a skilled actor surgically altered to speak and look like the previous Governor.

The last cell was to retrieve the Sisters of Battle, provide a distraction for their colleagues and shed a more favorable light on the Protectorate before returning the Sisters to their coven.

This small pocket of activity, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, tied to a similar operation on Idaksi, a small forge world known to copy Accatran-pattern weapons quite efficiently, if nothing else.

Another operation, this time led in Tau space, had four cells organize and lead Dark Eldar pirates in an assault on Tau merchant vessels. The Protectorate let their Eldar allies take the crew while they reverse engineered the derelict ships to improve their own fleets.

It went on like that for fifty pages, most reporting success, a few admitting failure.

He closed the cogitator with a sigh. Fifteen casualties, sprained ankles, broken legs and a luckless kid got shot in the face. A small price to pay, all things considered, but he never liked seeing his boys come back on a stretcher, much less in a body bag.

He started his car and drove it up the nearest road.

This stroll on the beach was only a fraction of his job, the biggest part of it would come next…

Traffic was light and he made it to the planetary place much faster than he would have wanted.

Politics… He walked up the marble stairs to a PDF checkpoint and threw a dirty look to the kid on station.

The Protectorate’s PDF often boasted they were on par with Imperial Guardsmen, on par with Thunder’s men, even. Utter lunacy, the GHOST’s forces were selected from the Protectorate’s genetically enhanced population and educated to the level of doctors and enginseers before receiving the most brutal and advanced training outside the Adeptes Astarte. Nobody compared, not unless they had some added parts.

The kid asked him his name and rank, making him either dumb or new, both of which Thunder did not like. He gave him his name and rank nonetheless and the boy retreated to a nearby terminal.

He types something in and it came back negative. “I’m sorry, sir, it seems you do not have an appointment scheduled with the council…”

“I don’t have one because I don’t need it, meathead, call up your superior and stop wasting my time…”

The kid took an offended look, “Sir,” he hissed, “I would ask that you remain polite.”

That boy actually was serious! “Kid, just talking to you is being polite, now you can either call your superior officer or I can make you call for your mother, which is it?”

When a century’s worth of combat experience threatens to hurt you, the smart move is to do as you’re told and, green as he may be, that kid did the smart thing.

Blood drained from his face when he received his answer. Hadrick walked in without any trouble.

The Council was already in session when the GHOST stepped in, all heads in the circular room turning to him as an unnatural silence took over echoes of an heated speech.

This was unusual, people walked in and out of this room all the time and no one usually took notice.

“What’s going on?”

Imran Kolevitsh, the current Captain, answered his question from where he stood, in the center of the room:

“The Imperium has declared Exterminatus on a major Tau population center. Fourteen billion deaths.” From the lack of reaction in the council, they knew already. Hadrick walked to Imran’s side and looked around the room. Human auxiliaries sent to represent Tau worlds looked outraged, seated across the room from their Imperium opposites, who grinned smugly to themselves.

“Why?” That made no sense, how could they have not heard of this?

“No particular reason, the Tau Councillors accuse Imperial Councillors to have orchestrated it as retribution for their recent outsourcing of metal importation to Demiurgs…”

A single glance at them confirmed this to be a reasonable assumption. He turned back to the Tau councillors, “I will have my men investigate this incident, those responsible will be brought to justice.” He vowed, everyone in the room knowing full well he would hold that promise. It did not have the soothing effect he had expected.

Kalia Var’Gol, born and raised in the Tau Empire, stood from her seat, apparently speaking for the whole of her colleagues.

“We do not doubt your honesty, GHOST Ellaine, but you must recognize, as we do, that the Protectorate is at a point where it must rid itself of the Imperium’s influence…”

Al-Goran Tellborn, a Colonel in the Harakoni Warhawks and speaking for most of the Imperium contributors, stood and cleared his throat, “Miss Var’Gol and I have been friends for decades now, her children call me Uncle Al whenever I visit,” the two exchanged a pained but genuine smile, “believe me when I say this is not easy for me to say…”

Indeed, it took him a moment to gain the composure and find the words to continue, “The Protectorate has grown too large, too important, for it to sit on the side lines any more, this council has too many allegiances, too much hidden agendas, it is time to choose a side; become a part of the Imperium and act like it or break away once and for all.”

The chamber was filled with objections, opinions and insults, everyone trying to have their personal vote heard over that of their colleagues.

Imran’s attempts to bring order failed, Hadrick’s didn’t “Shut up! Shut up or I’ll shock the next one to talk!” A Demiurg fell off his chair, shaken by seizures as the electro dart sparked in his chest.

Silence fell on the room once again and Hadrick’s voice broke it a second later, booming like thunder, “It is the Captain’s decision, those who don’t like it can leave the council, it’s best for everyone, but that is our law, if you cannot respect it, you had no place in this room to begin with. Session is over!”

He pressed his ear, and spoke as the council dragged their feet out of the room. “Impressive timing, Fisher.”

“Timing? You have my boys sit on that roof twenty-four seven!” The voice in his Comm-bead spoke, adding, as an afterthought, “Hey, you realize whatever happens, there’s at least a dozen of our benefactors we won’t be able to defend?”

“So?”

“Well, I sure hope you planned for that, boss, because whichever side we ditch is going to be pretty riled at us, and we’ll have lost a massive chunk of our support…”

“I know, Fisher.”

“Just saying.”
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 04-16-13, 07:26 PM Thread Starter
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-[087.M42]-
-[SEGMENTUM ULTIMA]-
-[DEEP SPACE]-
-[PROTECTORATE VESSEL APTITUDE WILDESIDE]-
-[OPERATION:-]-


Deep cover or not, from inside Autumn City to the deepest reaches of the galaxy, one thing the Protectorate never messed with was personal mail. Viral scans were performed and nothing else, you could read them at your next break and reply in full confidence that nobody would dare read the letter’s content.

The moment they were on board, teams Raptor, Golem and Viper rushed to shuttle bay two, where the latest resupply had been ferried and whole sacks of parchment with it. The two hundred crew members had already gone through, leaving only the grunts’ messages from home.

Everyone had at least one letter, everyone but Ogre, which seemed to shock the loner, an oddity that cause Alenka to follow him into the shuttle and watch as he somewhat awkwardly tried to ask if the man had, maybe, forgotten a bag or letters could have fallen out.

The pilot, a wrinkled man with trimmed hairs and a tribal tattoo on his face, shook his head with a sympathetic smile. “Lots going on lately, maybe they didn’t get through.”

He shook his head and spun on the spot. If he was surprised to see the young Adepta eavesdropping, it did not show and willingly answered her questions.

“Awaiting news of your family?”

“I’ve been doing this for twelve years, for the last six my daughter has been sending me a letter and drawing every week, so I know what’s happening…”

She tried to imagine the cold and brutal warrior as a father; maybe without all the plating and sharp objects…

“You miss her?”

There, now he looked the part; eyes lost in the distance, emotion seeping in his voice as they walked out of the shuttle bay… “Every time I leave combat, all I can think about is my daughter.” The man confessed, calling the elevator to the bridge with a sigh.

Alenka, like all Adepta Sororitas had never had any real family. She toyed with the idea of having a father like Ogre and found herself liking it, but quickly dismissed the thought; the emperor was her father now and she owed him everything.

“And now you’re worried something happened?”

They stepped in the elevator and Ogre smiled weakly, “Girl, if you’re asking that, you obviously don’t know what it means to be a father; from the moment I laid my eyes on her to the day I die, I’ll be worried sick for that little devil.”

The door hissed shut, sealing the two together. “You regret becoming a father?”

He looked offended, “Never! This is a messed up universe, I’ve done some dark things, my daughter’s the… I guess she’s the most beautiful way a man like me could contribute to make things better, the one redeeming thing in my life…”

Alenka smiled and so did he, but a thought settled on her mind like a dark cloud, “What would you do if something happened to her?” He spoke of the little girl as the one thing in his life worth living, a noble sentiment, but Ogre seemed quite literal about it, as if his daughter was the only good thing in the galaxy.

He thought about it for a while, the elevator humming softly as it rose to the bridge.

“You ever made something so perfect, so beautiful you just know it was either dumb luck or divine intervention? A drawing or anything, something you know no matter how hard you try, you’d never get it right again?”

She remembered a poem, short and powerful, she’d written a few weeks after joining the schola. It had been taken from her and her attempts at re-writing it had never been successful. The feeling of loss nudged her this very instant, almost a decade later.

“Yes.”

“I could get a thousand children, find a thousand substitutes, none would be my little girl, my ‘masterpiece’, the work of my life, would be lost forever.”

Alenka nodded slowly. She had no family, but, somehow, his words made perfect sense, “So… You would… End it? Shoot yourself?”

Ogre toyed with the idea for a bit and when he looked at her, it was with eyes so dark and cold, the Eye of Terror would look away first. “If something happened to my little girl, I would do the same any father would; Anger, grief, denial, bargain, acceptance…” It seemed oddly reasonable, a far cry from the passionate… “Then I would find those responsible, the ones who pulled the trigger, and hurt them… Bad. Hurt them until I know who sent them, then I would find them too and ask them why… And once I have my answer, I would kill them too.”

It was not bravado, she had seen what he could do when exercising restraint, seen him tear through squads of Guardsmen like an Ork through Progenia students. This little girl was the safety pin on a nuclear device.

“I doubt this is what she would want…”

He laughed as the door opened on an encumbered deck. They stepped out and he replied, quietly, “Of course not, that’s the point… It’s not the severity of the punishment that deters, it’s the certainty…” He kept quiet as they passed a cluster of Astropaths, Navigators and naval officers, continuing only after they reached the airlock across the room, where he spoke over the hiss of equalizing pressure. “Have to make it clear; shoot us, burn us, kill us, it’s just business, we won’t hold it against you, but NEVER touch our families.”

The bulkhead opened, revealing an amphitheater large enough to house a baneblade. Raptor and Golem were already there, along with Aveline and her sisters. Team Viper had yet to come back from the medical facility, where one of their number recovered from a bad fall.

“What planet are you from, anyhow?”

Ogre sat down next to Alenka, in a far corner of the room, and replied, with little hesitation:

“A Tau colony, on the edge of Protectorate space, called Corrius.”

-[087.M42]-
-[SEGMENTUM PACIFICUS]-
-[SYSTEM KAREAL]-
-[PLANET DIADORA]-
-[AUTUMN CITY]-
-[OPERATION: -]-

“Back so soon?” A look at the clock told Hadrick he had been gone for only an hour. Maggy was about to leave for work when he walked through the door of their villa.

“Something happened…”He started, but she smiled gently.

“Corrius? Fourteen billion dead?”

That knocked his brain off, requiring a complete reset and double check before he could articulate a response.

“You know?” Breathed the second most powerful individual in the Protectorate.

Maggy nodded to his recliner chair. “Sit down, we need to talk.”

The old soldier’s reflexes kicked in and he mentally scanned the whole room for threats.

His wife noticed instantly and with some degree of amusement, “You’re probing.” She pointed out, her smile widening.

“Old habits…” He apologized before sitting down. The chair smelled of cologne and cigar smoke, for the first time in ten years, he realized this chair had seen him take every important decisions related to his job.

Maggy talked, more than she had in that whole decade. She told him about the Council’s effort to wrestle power for themselves, going as far as causing diplomatic incidents with both the Tau Empire and the Imperium. She told him about that day the Captain came to her looking for help, and repeated the same thing she’d told the man, years ago: “The Luna Wolves discovered many advanced civilisations, wiped out a few, but if we follow their tracks, maybe we could gain enough strength to protect even the smallest of our members.”

But that would require them to go directly against the Imperium’s politic on Xenos, branding them heretics, along with any found to have ties with them. Joining the Tau Empire would seem a sound alternative, at first, but a closer analysis of their beliefs and politics revealed them to be incapable of managing an organisation as decentralised and vast as the Protectorate.

Independence was the only option, but to withstand the Imperium’s fury, they would have to make a campaign against the Protectorate a costly investment, not worth the effort.

For months now, Maggy had worked with Deadpan to mount a massive WAAAGH!, which they would unleash the moment Imran publicly announced the Protectorate’s independence, but this alone would not suffice, which is why they had worked from the shadows to stir the Tau into an all-out war against the Imperium, not to mention cooperating with Dark Eldar pirates and some of the more progressive Space Marines chapter to prepare a coordinated strike against humanity’s strongholds…

“Enough.” Thunder’s voice was calm, collected, but his mind was in turmoil. He walked out of the villa, into his car and drove straight for the beach.

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Adrian ‘Fisher’ Keld had been a Vindicare Assassin until the day he was given to the Protectorate in exchange for a favor they did the Officio Assasinorum. He never regretted it until today.

“I know how you feel, Al,” He told the Warhawk’s Colonel, sitting opposite him in a stinky tavern, “but we must have faith, not just in the Emperor, but in Ellaine as well, did you see how mad he was? You know the man won’t let it get to that!”

The ambassador pried his forehead off the marble table and looked the sniper in the eyes. “Fisher, think about it; leaving the Imperium means no more restriction on recruiting, no more circumventing Imperial laws, no more restriction on who he can or cannot hire and what gear his men get. You think the GHOST will just spit on all that?”

Fisher sipped on his light beer and bit his lower lip in thought, “I think… I don’t know what to think… Maybe it’s for the best then…”

The other man’s gaze became murderous, “For the best? Do you even live in the same galaxy?! The Eldars will manipulate you into catching a bullet for them if they get the chance, the Tau would sooner neuter our whole race than risk seeing humans become a vital part of their little empire…”

He thought about it a bit and came back with more:

“Or look at the Orkz, the Dark Eldars and the Necrons! These fine gentlemen would skin you and let rats finish you off not out of spite or necessity, but because it’s a cultural thing! I know the Imperium isn’t perfect, but it will never get any better if every progressive faction just breaks away at the first chance! We have a shot at becoming big enough to make a difference, to sway the whole Imperium into becoming something better, but they want to squander it and take the easy path!”

People across the bar were looking at him now. He’d started yelling.

“Sorry.”

He sat down and laughed when Fisher quietly cheered.
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Captain Kolevitsh shook his bald head in silence, looking around the empty room… Well, empty save for a stunned Demiurg. Hadrick, his mentor and oldest friend, had not sided with him, instantly, as Maggy said he would, instead figuratively blowing a fuse and having a Councilor, one of the most influential beings in the sector, literally do so.

The GHOST could order his re-election or execution on a whim, which would compromise everything the Protectorate had worked so hard to accomplish. Thunder was old and set in his ways, he could not understand that the world had to change, not even with his central position within the consortium.

The Imperium was not dying, it was dead, a few vultures and maggots tugged at the carcass, making it look almost alive and those too blinded by hope and glory past were claiming it would soon be reborn, but anyone with half a brain and good grasp of politico-economic interactions knew this beast to be dead and rotten.

The Protectorate was not a government, not in itself; the council voted laws and standards to be applied on permanent members and the PDF enforced those laws, but this, in itself, made it only a legislative and executive power, administration was left to each nation and, beyond the eighteen permanent ones, a hundred Council members had no real purpose in that process. They were minor parts, barely influential enough to negotiate changes in tax rates or request GHOST intervention to protect their interests.

As time went, the Tau Empire and Eldar Craftworlds grew to outweight Imperial representatives, both by their support of the Protectorate and the sheer amount of trade they provided.

This was a simple choice; Abandon the Imperium and face military retaliation, abandon the Tau and see their economy crumble. Without economy, the GHOST can’t arm his men, without the GHOST’s forces, the Protectorate loses its fangs and would be picked apart by former allies within a year.

Hadrick would never see things that way, how could he? He was a military man, a man of honor and duty. Not the most deeply religious, being a washout from the Ultramarines and quite aware of the Imperium’s history, but still loyal to Terra and all it stood for.

GHOSTs were not elected nor chosen in any way, though the Council and Captain could veto a soldier’s promotion, they had no direct authority over the thousand warriors and who ended up leading them. Candidates for the job were selected through a rigorous set of tests meant to judge skills, intelligence and dedication;

First, any of the thousand soldiers could apply for the job, regardless of experience or rank, and all would be submitted to an exam evaluating their general education. Second, simulated battlefield situations were set up and all candidates were given a large amount of objectives to complete in a short time. Third, the Council members voted for their own favourite.

Only those who’d succeeded two of these three tests were submitted to the last step, a tie-breaker of sort, in which they were give old fashioned revolvers and a single stub round each, to load in the rotating chamber. Whoever had not opted out or blown their brains out by the end of that test got the job.

Barely three people had ever really shot themselves in all of the Protectorate’s history, one of them had done so after winning, to emphasize his point. Most of the time, the remaining candidates spent an hour talking it over and elected a new GHOST amongst themselves.

All of this flew through Imran’s mind as he tried to think of something that would disable Thunder. An assassination attempt would end as just that, an attempt, no matter how skilled the killer or how many he sent, GHOST had lived a hundred years and commanded a force so powerful two of the mightiest militaries of the galaxy preferred to wait for it to weaken before crossing them.

Politically, an attack on Hadrick would weaken the whole Protectorate military, if it yielded any result at all… He would never be bought, using his family as leverage would be a death sentence…

The system was intended that way, to keep them from working against one another… He would have to take a decision fast and secure the new Council’s support, only then would he be able to bypass Hadrick…

No, even then, Thunder retained the right to remove the Captain, whoever replace Imran might be stuck in the past as well, making matters worse. He could do nothing without Hadrick’s support.

Maggy would be the key to getting it.
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