“Power loss of decks 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 15, 17, starboard broadsides offline, heat exchangers offline, long range auspex offline, long rang vox offline, shields offline...God Emperor we’re screwed!” Aleksi shouted as soon as the Chaos fleet had jumped insystem.
But even before he had, Fulden had known something was wrong. A dull, throbbing headache had started at the back of his head, and was working its way towards his eye sockets. He brought a trembling hand up to his nose, and wiped away a small trickle of blood across the back of his glove.
“Power at 36% and falling,” Aleksi continued. “Power at 32%.”
“Will you shut up, man!” Fulden roared, throwing his hands forward. “By the Throne, if the power’s shutting down, stop wasting time telling me and sort it out!”
His First Officer looked at him as if he’d been backhanded across the face, and turned back to his console.
“Enemy destroyers approaching!” an Auspex Officer shouted, “three, converging! One hundred and thirteen kilometres, approach speed! We've got nothing in range!”
“Forward guns to bear, all power to our remaining weapons!” Fulden shouted, more blood trickling from his nose. He wiped it away irritably once more, and it flecked on the dull grey grilling of the floor. A buzzing, like that of insect wings, sounded distantly in his ears, and he shook his head.
“Forward guns online, fifty fore-to-port broadsides online, power at 12% and falling,” Aleksi said helplessly. Adrenaline churned through Fulden’s stomach. “Power core’s almost dry,” the First Officer continued, “Warp interference.”
“Again?” Fulden hissed.
“Yes sir,” Aleksi rounded on him, “or perhaps you’d like me to shut up?”
“What?” The Captain replied, unsure if he’d heard, scanning the amphitheatre. “Get a grip man, we’re in the middle of an engagement here! Don’t be so-”
“So what sir?” Aleksi said, with pure venom in his voice. “Don’t be so, what?”
The Captain looked at him incredulously. There was something seriously wrong if his First Officer was getting upset over Fulden telling him to shut up. Something seriously wrong indeed.
“Aleksi, what in the name of the Emperor is the matter with you?” he asked, more perturbed than concerned. The damnable buzzing in his ears would not relent, and his nose was still weeping blood – which nobody had deemed fit to acknowledge.
“Fifty-two kilometres and approaching!” the Auspex Officer shouted again.
“Uh, forward guns offline, port batteries offline. Power at 3%,” a Gunnery Officer shouted in a surprised voice, when Aleksi did not.
But Fulden wasn’t listening. Only the bridge had power now, and the majority of that was rapidly fading lighting. But the Captain could still see Aleksi’s murderous expression. His hand crept towards his snub-nosed autopistol, and just then his First Officer began running.
“Throne!” was all Fulden managed before Aleksi’s hands found his throat. The autopistol banged loudly in his hand as he shot from his waist, but the rounds seemed to have no effect on the First Officer as they exploded out the back of his navy blue uniform, blood and pellets of flesh slapping onto the cold grilling of the floor.
“Get this bloody madman off me!” he gurgled, his face turning red. More blood ran from his nose, and his ears as well – but its insignificant volume was nothing on Aleksi’s, who’s very face was a red mask. His teeth leered out from behind the dribbling visor of crimson, and his eyes were the deepest, malevolent black.
“Blood for the Blood God!” he roared in an inhuman two-tone, and Fulden felt his bladder threaten to empty itself. He desperately thumbed on the ‘full auto’ switch on the pistol, and emptied almost the entire magazine into Aleksi’s torso. Broken ribs and glistening gristle buckled outwards until the man was little more than a spine from the base of his ribcage to the base of his throat – yet his hands still tightened around Fulden’s windpipe.
It was his Senior Vox Officer, a man by the name of Dannicks, who saved him.
Somehow unaffected by the spell that had transfixed the remainder of the bridge crew, he ripped a length of coolant piping from the wall, ignoring the acid burns it gave him, and slammed the end of the pole through Aleksi’s head. The brass rod erupted through the First Officer’s blackened eyeball, and the man collapsed, almost pulling Fulden down with him.
The Captain choked and coughed harshly as he righted himself, the buzzing almost intolerable in his ears. He spat blood onto the floor, and brought a hand up to his ears, probing the haemorrhaging aural canals.
“Are you alright sir?” Dannicks asked, leaning forward slightly then suddenly recoiling in horror as he looked into his Captain’s eyes.
They were in fact, the last thing the SVO saw, before the back of his skull was blown wide open by the last of the rounds in Fulden’s pistol.
* * *
“We’ve lost contact with the Glory, sir,” his Auspex Officer shouted.
Grant closed his eyes briefly. Fulden may have been an arse, but he was a damn fine Captain.
“I want the Chaos son of a bitch who destroyed it,” he growled, quite forgetting they had a power core lockdown and were slowly being outmanoeuvred by two smaller cruisers. “And I want them n-”
“Oh no sir, sorry sir, he’s not dead. We’ve just lost contact with him. Long range vox is down sir. Our own power loss certainly isn’t helping.”
Grant gave the man a look that would strip paint off a frigate’s hull, and erased all sentiment about Fulden from his mind. If that damnable man didn’t have the decency to get himself foolishly killed in battle, then Grant sure by the Throne wouldn’t spend any more time thinking about him.
“Alright, Mulbern! Full power to engines, hold it there and wait for my signal. If these Archenemy bastards want to play dirty, we’ll give ‘em dirty.”
“Yes sir, I would sir it’s just the pow-”
“Just stick as much of our bloody remaining power into the engines, and hold it there!”
“Aye aye, sir, very good sir,” Mulbern said – but slightly too sullenly. The Fleet Admiral’s rage hit him like a Baneblade on a Sunday.
“Listen to me, and listen in good,” he snarled, in such way that only a lengthy monologue could ensue. “I am the Fleet Admiral. I worked long and hard to get where I am today. I am a better tactician than all of you – even the bloody tacticians. I know my own ship. I know what it can and can’t do. Now if I tell someone- anyone – to take our remaining power, however little there might be left, and hold it in the engines, that man will obey my orders, or by the God Emperor Himself, I’ll rip out his larynx through his arsehole and strangle him with it! Is this clear?”
It certainly was clear. In fact, it was the clearest thing anyone had ever heard.
“Yes sir,” Mulbern said, perhaps not as taken aback as he should have been.
“Yes SIR!” Grant ecchoed, finally leaning back into his steel throne and letting the blood drain from his face. “Damnable crewmen,” he muttered.
“Enemy cruisers one hundred and forty-nine kilometres and closing, approach speed,” shouted Auspex nervously.
It was at this point in time Equerry Grechte risked a glance back to the Fleet Admiral, saw he was no mood to be asked questions, and instead decided to leave the bridge without permission.
He got three steps.
“Where…are…you…going?” Grant asked him, slowly, yet with so much anger he threatened to implode the ship.
The horrified aide de camp faltered. “I was j-just, uh, going to organise a, erm –”
“Enemy cruisers at thirty kilometres, slowing to attack speed. Ranging..."
“Organise a what?” Grant thundered.
Grechte was horribly aware that everyone on the bridge was watching him. Sooner or later, someone was going to notice the patch of bloody urine seeping into his breeches. And there was nothing in the Imperium of Man that would make him ask to go to the toilet. Not in the heat of battle.
“A team of, uh, men to-”
“Twenty kilometres, attack speed,” Auspex shouted, as hopelessly and dejectedly as any sane human would have thought possible.
“God-Emperor, man, be gone,” Grant said with a flick of his gauntlet. “I have two Chaos cruisers to prosecute.
“Power at 13% and stable,” Mulbern shouted. Grechte quickly and quietly exited the bridge. “Uhm, power rising…at 28% - 36% - 40%!”
“What?” Grant asked.
“Ten kilometres, attack speed!” Auspex shouted with a little more enthusiasm.
“Power rising sir, and fast!”
“What about the power core?” the Fleet Admiral said, surprised, “I thought you said there was something in it?”
“There still is!”
“SIR!” Engines shouted, as the Chaos cruisers overlapped them.
“Throne!” Grant bellowed, as the first Archenemy broadsides hit the void.
"Hard down! Hard down now!”
* * *
Fulden gasped and struggled as his throat tried to open as fully as was considered normal by the apothecaries. He was still on the bridge – he guessed, judging by the various hummings of consoles and electronics stacks – but that was about all he could guess.
For now he was hopelessly blind.
The attempt on his life by his Chaos-possessed First Officer had been shocking, yes, and a million questions circulated his brain. But even more troubling was that he had killed, he now suspected, the man who had saved him, thinking he was another Khorne heretic.
“Status report!” he shouted through a bleeding mouth. No answer. His cracked lips split open, and he spat out a chip of tooth enamel. “Someone!”
A lone, dull alarm wailed into life – an alarm Fulden knew better than any other, and an alarm he dreaded more than anything.
He was being mapped – probably by the three destroyers his Auspex Officer had told him about.
“Emperor save us…”
He guessed he was in the same position he had been in upon his attack, and taking his bearings from there, ran to the helm, his boot heels echoing loudly off the metal grilling. He felt the polished wooden wheel in his blood-slicked fingers, though where the helmsman was, he had no idea. He then thrust a hand out to his right and gripped the pitch lever, jamming it forward. His stomach coursed with adrenaline as the Glory swung downwards, nose first, towards the planet below.
The alarm abruptly stopped, and he could hear the dull crump of muffled explosions above the ship – where he had been less than ten second before.
With both hands, he gripped the pitch lever once more and heaved back as hard as he could, trying with all his might to haul the cruiser out of its nosedive, gasping with the effort. The cacophony of alarms that had warned him of his plunging also abruptly ceased.
It was only then he suddenly realised that the power was back on. And the damn buzzing in his ears had stopped.
“What the…?” he breathed to the frighteningly empty amphitheatre. God Emperor, but he wished he could see. Not only were all systems inexplicably back online, he also had no idea where he was in relation to the rest of the fleet. Throne knew how far he’d gone down – a hundred kilometres for all he could guess.
And then a thought struck him; if he could find the vox, he could take his positioning off another ship.
Tearing across the floor once again, his hands outstretched, he found the First Officer’s dais by falling headlong into it, almost shattering his skull on the metal railing, and headed left to the communications centre. He snatched up the headset and scrabbled over the dials to find the ‘autotune’ function. He toggled it upwards, feeling a crackle of static in his bloody ears – that was another thing. His facial orifices had ceased their bleeding.
“Wings of Varagar, go ahead Glory,” a nasal voice, made metallic by the nature of the long range vox, sounded in his ear.
“Mayday, mayday!” he shouted in a hoarse voice, pulling the mouth piece away as he coughed. “I am flying blind, I repeat, I am flying blind, request ship status and positioning!”
“One second sir,” the Vox Officer replied.
Fulden let his head collapse into his arms in relief. The vox crackled back into life twenty seconds later.
“Divine Glory, you are 32 degrees coreward, plus twenty degrees vertical pitch on a bearing 224-716-2803, speed eleven hundred knots,”
Fulden did a quick calculation. He was heading upwards, away to the galactic west of the battle, very, very quickly.
He threw the headset down, running back over to the helm. He grabbed the pitch lever, and eased it down twenty degrees. Incoming torpedo warnings wailed into life as soon as he did so.
“Brace for impact!” he shouted on impulse, wheeling the helm round. Without Engines to cut the power, he would be travelling in a huge thousand kilometre arc. He began to weep as the hopelessness of his situation dawned on him.
It didn’t help that the buzzing in his ears had started again.
* * *
The battle above Omicron Septimus was moving, and it was moving fast. Already two ships down, to the enemy’s four, the 701st Imperial battlegroup desperately sought to unite in attack formation – cruisers to form the gun line, escorts in support; but they were scattered to the wind. Fleet Magister Pustria may have been an abomination of Chaos filth, but he certainly knew what he was doing. As soon as the initial insystem salvo of torpedoes, he had arranged his fleet into a speartip, splitting the manoeuvring Imperials into two groups – one of four, one of six, and chasing them up with almost admirable attack formations of his own.
Their one weakness was the Chaos escorts’ reluctance to leave the False Emperor’s side – understandably. The ship was more than a match for any Imperial vessel, and the very sight of it could strip a cruiser of morale faster than an axe of flesh.
But it meant that instead of following standard exchange lines between cruisers, the Archenemy were leaving the bigger ships to go it alone – meaning the Imperial formations, where they could make them, could pick them off one by one.
Of course, the more sensible cruisers doubled up and pincered; but with typical Khorne bloodlust, the remainder did not.
And the 701st were making sure they paid for it.