I've been writing this today for the Competition, which I found out about earlier yeasterday. Seeing as I am now out of time for the UK, I feel I can now place this down, as it did not reach the grade for word count (2657).
The five minute warning chimed over the din of rushing air outside the Valkyrie Airborne Assault Carrier. The warning rune glowed dully in the corner of his helmet’s heads up display. The air was thin – although flying nap of the ground to avoid detection, the speed and poor atmosphere caused by almost a millennia of strip mining, and the heat trapped in by the poisonous, thick, purple coloured, high altitude clouds caused by that mining, encouraged every man and woman in the 158th Elysian Drop Troop regiment to wear their rebreathers.
Annoying little fuckers, they were. Covering the entire face, the ill fitting filters jolted when they ran at a pace any quicker than a fast jog, and you never could just get enough air out to fill your lungs. The regiments snipers had even taken to removing the rebreather when they knew they were about to take a shot. Well, there never was a reason to prolong waiting for a court marshal for missing your target. Might as well get the cancer before the bastard commissars put a mass reactive 0.75 calibre bolt into your shell-like.
“Gallows humour, Sergeant?”
Sergeant Barron looked up. Shit, he thought, said that out loud. Shame it was the goddamn Commissar who heard. “’Spose so, Commissar. Everyone needs a laugh. An unhappy man is a dead man, so they say.”
“A happy man who insults a commissar is also a dead man, so they say.”
“Fair enough. But what about the fanny here?” The gravelly voice of Joiner came from behind the commissar’s back.
“Watch it, lump. You never know when the fanny might decide to miss one day with her lil’ ol’ rifle.” Tyke, the ‘fanny at the back’ flashed back at Joiner. The girl herself was five foot nothing, and the ‘lump’ of Josiah Joiner, was so big it looked like he might be half Ogryn. Barron reckoned it must have been the father’s side. The father’s always provided the looks, the mother provided the brains, for Josiah’s wit was as sharp as his diamond edged mercury filled combat knife in its scabbard at his waist.
The regiment itself had recently returned to Elysia after the horrendous casualties of the 13th Black Crusade. Having acquitted itself well during the fighting, at a loss of eighty three percent of its manpower, and over half of the lifting capability during the initial drop onto the orbital defence systems on Kalrov XII, the survivors had been reformed to fit into the veteran squads which would form the vital core from which the regiment would now depend on. The only survivors of Barron’s own platoon squad from the fighting on Kalrov XII were Joiner and Tyke.
Barron had been the squads corporal, with the Vox-Caster – as one of the regiments dedicated Forward Air Controllers and Mortar Fire Support Controllers, he was tasked as being the man on the front line, the middle man between the Scanner team on the ground, and the Platoon’s Mortar batteries. It had been hell – danger close missions so near that razor sharp and red hot shrapnel that landed from the mortar’s high explosives were peppering the crater where the squad were sheltering. Throne, that shit was heavy.
Casting an evil look at the new commissar, Barron resolved to something dangerous of his own into the stuck up bastard’s skull. Racking the cocking handle on his autogun, an archaic homage to his hive ganger past, Barron checked inside to see if there was any jamming. None. Seeing the sixty second warning turn the red glow to a red pulse. His heart beat began to go faster as the stimm injectors implanted into his spinal cord ensured he would be able to cope with high “G” descent after a HALO assault. Not the typical hard and quick fast roping technique. No this called for something special.
HALO, or High Altitude Low Opening meant that the last moment after flying nap of the earth would take the squads up to nearly ten thousand feet. The squad would then egress from the Valkyrie, and would grav-chute down to the ground in a near controlled descent until the last two hundred feet or so, which is when the grav-chutes should be triggered manually. The normal safety for the jump was at five hundred feet, which is when the automatic trigger kicked in. For missions such as this one, the auto-trigger was taken out, leaving it down to experience and skill. Time it wrong, and its one hell of a job to clean up after. Either you get spotted by opening too soon, and get shot down, or you’re too late, and they’ll be scooping you off the floor like so much pot mess.
Barron was a veteran of four such missions, and the other two had done one. Their baptism of fire had seen them fight against the strength of the rogue Astartes. Apparently, the Space Marines had been on the hunt opposing an Inquisitor who had been seeking the marines, when another group of combatants had joined in. These had worn all black – the rumour, according to Tyke was that these were the so called “Chaos Marines”, Astartes who had fallen from the Emperors grace during the schism known as the Horus Heresy over ten millennia ago, but that obviously couldn’t happen – no one could have lasted that long – having died either through age, or warfare.
Thirty seconds, the chime came in. The amber rune began to flash, the chime now a piercing warble, getting rid of all vestiges of tiredness. The eyes of the young trooper standing to Barron’s left were wide and his skin grey. Through fear or “Highpe”, the combat drug enhancing the soldiers perception and reducing his pain receptors, he couldn’t tell. Probably both, until he saw Josiah check the altimeter on his arm. This complex piece of kit analyzed the poisons in the air, along with the altitude, so that in low gravity descents, they’d be able to know when it was safe to take off the rebreathers for the greater vision.
The corner of his eyes creasing in a grin, Joiner touched a couple of fingers to his throat, activating the throat microphone, to sub vocalise something across. “Someone’s pissed themselves.” Looking at the slightly darker patch on the young troopers left leg, there was little need to wonder. Barron touched his own throat microphone – a useful piece of kit which had been surgically implanted into his own carotid artery. Running off his own blood supply, the device would only work while there was a pulse, stopping an enemy from listening in to the secure communications thanks to a captured soldier. Without the unique electrical energy and DNA of the user, there would be no point in attempting to reverse engineer the encryption – he vocalised back.
“F. N. Fucking G”
“Too right.” came the reply.
Ten seconds. The warble soon became piercing shriek, and everyone stood up. The doors of the Valkyrie were slid open by the two young loadmasters – technicians who had yet to pass through grav-chute training. It was these who would be behind the door mounted heavy bolter sponsons when in combat, and the purple tinted fume clouds scudded past and filled up the interior with a noxious pall. Five seconds. Four. Three. Two. One.
Barron’s last vision of the Valkyrie was that the commissar had drawn his laspistol ready should someone shirk their duty and refuse to jump. Shaking his head with disgust, the recently promoted sergeant jumped. The effects of the lower than normal gravity seemed to make the expectant pull happen later than normal, although in truth it was the forward momentum, and the vortices created by the Valkyrie’s passage. Twisting his body like an Elysian Hawk Eel to face the assault carrier, he saw the small compact frame of Tyke exit, followed by Josiah. On the other side of the aircraft, two other forms tumbled out – much less organized, and you could already see them start to flap. Satisfied that the two most important members of the squad were out, he rotated his body in an artful roll, and took one last view of the savage vista. The current fighting in the snow capped foothills to seize the airbase near to the rebels headquarters was as different from the pre-deployment brief detailing that the planet was primarily open steppe dotted by the natural resource mines that made this planet worth fighting for. It had come as a shock to find out that he had to hand in his desert fatigues for “white” duty rig, with thermal heat patches which were triggered, by movement, his mottled shemagh tied solidly around his neck.
For the first time since mounting up over forty minutes before, he saw comrades and newcomers alike pouring out of their own transports as well. Over three hundred men and women of the Elysian 158th and 76th Harakoni Warhawks would begin the descent, and would form the first wave – they’d be hitting the ground around ninety seconds prior to the Imperial Navy’s bombing run on the landing strip, which would then be followed a further thirty seconds later by the rest of the two regiments fighting strength, deploying via the more conventional thirty foot fast rope.
Seven seconds had passed since he had jumped, and already twelve hundred foot had fallen away. He sensed, rather than saw that a couple other troopers had joined with him. With the mind on the mission, now, rather than over matters which he had no control over, Barron focused on his form. During his youth, after his father and three brothers had joined the Guard, and his mother had died of the cancer, he had been given the opportunity to join the Schola Progenium, where he could become one of the famed Storm Troopers. However, it would have taken him away from doing much of the sky diving which he had loved so much. His form had been close to perfect, he had been told, and although he had fucked up at nearly every other moment in his training, failing his weapons drill exams, and getting lost on the navigation exercises, he had been too good a diver to lose. Twelve years later and here he was. He still remembered the words of the Recruitment NCO who had been put in charge of his squad before they went on deployment. “Barron Barron, in the sky, living proof that shit can fly.” The corporal hadn’t survived the first drop – Barron remembered the disappointment of finding him with half his torso blown away by a missile strike. The disappointment of not having the satisfaction of slicing his guts open.
Forty seconds to go. A couple of other troopers had joined his group – feeling himself draw away from the group. Angling his feet simultaneously outwards, they acted like airbrakes without changing his form, slowing him down. A couple of bulky bodies shot passed him – they had obviously been in formation with him, but weren’t ready for his sudden manoeuvre. Rather than wear the padded thermal jump suits, they wore a pressurised full body carapace armour suit. These sacrificed agility for additional protection, and their darker grey armour with the irregular white and blue splotches marked them out as members of the Harakoni Warhawks. They soon corrected themselves, though, and regained formation.
Four thousand feet, twenty seconds to go. The static caused by the “Grendel’s” Nova cannon orbital strike several days ago was not an attempt to penetrate the mountain fastnesses, but rather to pave the way for the assault. The imploding warhead had drawn the electrons to the surface of the dihalide cobalt rocks - for which the mountains, the Magenta Range got their name from – and due to some strange geophysical departure, it had, for want of a better term, fucked up the highly sensitive radar on the ground. It was this that had allowed them such safety.
However, with less than two thousand feet to go, with figures on the ground visible only by their movement, the distance and their camouflage combining to make them invisible when still, it was obvious that they had been spotted. Still outranging accurate auto-rifle and las-fire by nearly a thousand foot, and even then, speed making him a hard target to hit, all the statistics didn’t make the prospect of facing a couple of thousand of them without the capability to do anything about it any easier.
Fifteen hundred feet. Nine seconds to grav-chute deployment. Eight. Tracer whipped through the air. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw one of the troopers from Harakon who had been in tandem with him earlier disintegrate as a lucky round hit him – probably one of the Hydra Platforms dotted around. The impact alone would have killed him – the 23mm High Explosive Dual Penetration Anti Aircraft round normally reserved for the targeting of light vehicles and aircraft just passed straight through him. Some cold detached part of his mind told him that the closing speed of the two would have been around three times the speed of sound. He also noted that the remains continued to fall at the same speed as before. It’s always eerie to see dead people in free fall keep pace.
Three seconds. Two seconds. And trigger. The grav-chute flared into life, its back wash warming his back like a second sun. With the descent speed arrested, he would now be a sitting target for any experienced anti aircraft gunner. Used to countering targets flying at supersonic speeds in low level manoeuvres, one man floating down at eight metres a second would hardly be a challenge. Strung up on Highpe, the world seemed to slow. Loosening the strap of his jump harness, Barron pulled his Kantrael pattern auto-carbine into his shoulder, the comforting feeling of the well worn bull pup hard in his shoulder. With twenty feet to go until his feet were going to hit the deck, the deceleration of the grav-chute was beginning to pull him upwards – placing down covering fire was simply a matter of switching the selector to automatic.
Catching sight of a heretic lifting his lasrifle to fire at the unprotected drop troopers, Barron opened up with a stream of high velocity rounds and a flood of curses as his shoulder bruised from the brutal kick. After half a second on the trigger, he relaxed, but he was still travelling at a speed which stopped him from spotting his target. Seeing the ground closer now, the sergeant bent his legs for the impact.
When it came, he rolled with it, and shed the hefty kit with a deft shrug of the shoulders, at the same time as attaching the blued combat knife to the muzzle, and switching quickly to repetition fire, rather than automatic. Christ the incoming fire was heavy. Barron could see bodies of the dead drop troopers plummet out of the sky, from when the arcing fire pouring from the emplacements tore into their formations like an Elysian sky vortex.
Looking at his time piece, he realised he had only eighty three seconds to take out the defence systems. Nearby, he saw several other troopers – mixed in with the white of the 158th, and the grey of the 76th, he could see the black armour and peaked cap of a commissar. Hoping to the Emperor that it wasn’t the commissar who he had jumped with, he gave a great incoherent yell, before vaulting over the sandbagged wall.
The short ten metre sprint to the reinforced wall of the bunker seemed to take an age – every step of the way he could almost sense the barrel of a sniper’s rifle tracking his movement. As he neared the firing port, he pulled a fragmentation grenade from his combat webbing with his left hand, in one smooth movement launched it straight forward, so that it would not get caught in the grenade trough.
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