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post #1 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-08-08, 07:29 PM Thread Starter
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Default Turning Point - 40k Novel

In the nightmare future of the 41st millennium, mankind teeters upon the brink of extinction. The galaxy spanning Imperium of Man is beset on all sides by ravening aliens, and threatened from within by malevolent creatures and heretic rebels. Only the strength of the immortal Emperor of Terra stands between humanity and its annihilation. The Imperial Guard acts as a buffer between the darkness and the common folk of the Imperium. Ordinary and extraordinary men and women fight for the Emperor, for his domains, for their comrades and sometimes just for themselves.

Chapter 1 - Riding the Line

Had Joseph known that he would have to kill his best friend, he never would have stepped foot into that small musty recruitment office on Altariun Prime. The smug, balding man behind the desk never would have stood a chance of enticing him to join the 'glorious' Imperial Guard. However, here he was, on one of the Altariun 512th regiment's transport trucks, steadily making his way to a situation and place he never could have even dreamed his life would lead him.

Joseph could still recall why he had gone into that tiny, dank office and reluctantly had to admit that ego had played a large part. After all, it wasn't everyday that a Field General of the Planetary Defense Force made a personal recommendation to the Guard for immediate rank and special pay. Even during the founding of the Guard's 510th on his home planet years before, the best that he could have hoped for was an early release from boot camp. But as he stood there between the guard recruiter and the Altariun PDF general, Joseph remembered the warm, uplifting feeling of pride as his accomplishments in the defense of his home planet warranted that special meeting.

Sudden turbulence from the road jolted Joseph back to the present, and the deed ahead once again loomed back into thought. Instinctively, he checked his Guard issue las-gun, ensuring the power cell was at full capacity. Absently satisfied, he slammed the clip's casing back into the stock.

The Greenlowe region of Garius IV was made up mostly of hab-farms and small, poor villages. Agriculture being its chief export for the Imperium, Garius IV reminded Joseph heavily of home. Only the main Imperial city of Pasius showed any advanced form of economic and social development. Because of the poor technological level of the entire planet, the archenemy of mankind had used a blind spot in the planetary defense to strike an invasion into the heart of Garius IV. The Imperial Guard's Altariun 511th, 512th, and the Herokin 220th platoons had been diverted to resist the Chaos invasion. The main fighting had occurred several hundred miles north from where Joseph was now stationed, but guerrilla warfare still harried the local area as scattered remnants of the enemy's forces migrated further south.

Joseph sighed deeply, watching the clouds overhead slowly fade into the distance as the truck carried his squad further to the point of no return. Passing by on the right-hand side of the road was a large, worn farm. Having been long abandoned, the wooden portion of the buildings had begun their slow decay, but somehow defiantly held up the bulk of the structures. Like an image pulled straight out of his past, Joseph was inevitably drawn back to one fateful summer day.

Joseph had come to remember it as the single greatest defining summer of his life. His father had given him a special present for his 18th birthday. His father had given him his freedom and ultimately his destiny.
Growing up on the busy habitat farm had secured Joseph with a tough, muscular frame. Even between his eight other siblings and his father, there was always plenty of hard work to be done. Any hope for a life outside the family farm seemed distant to Joseph, further than any visible star in the clear summer night sky he spent hours gazing upon. But on that warm summer day, his father changed his life forever.

Sitting outside of the red, weather-worn barn, Darius Vintros called out for his son to join him for a moment. Darius motioned for Joseph to sit next to him. Brushing off the dirt from his torn and sweaty work clothes, Joseph took a seat on a bale of hay adjacent to his father.

“Joseph, I've been avoiding this moment for a long while,” his father slowly started.

Looking into his eyes, Joseph could tell that it was truly a grave subject his father was attempting to broach. His heart began beating far too hard in his chest, and suddenly he felt short of breath. Joseph waited silently as his father took a few moments to collect his thoughts.

“A father never wants to admit, Emperor knows especially to himself, that his child's place is no longer at home.”

Joseph couldn't help the puzzled look from appearing on his face, but before he could utter a sound, his father raised a hand to prevent from being interrupted.

“Joseph, I've seen for far too long how your heart is not in this work. I watch you every day as you do your chores, and even your interaction with your brothers and sisters. This, I'm afraid to admit, is no longer meant to be your home.”

Darius fought to control the tone of his voice, as a single tear began to form in his right eye. The stunned look from his son only worsened the pain that was beginning to grip his stomach. He felt genuinely sick, and doubted he would eat that night.

“Father, how can you say that?” Joseph said defensively. “I've worked as hard as anyone here has. I love you, and this is my home.”

“Joseph, as well as I know this land that I've worked my whole life, I know your heart. You're too much like your mother. Your destiny lies outside of these fields.” The tear that was swelling from his right eye suddenly fell down his flushed cheek, absorbing quickly into the hungry dry earth below.

Struggling, Joseph tried to swallow, feeling the knot in his throat tighten. Words could not find their way out of his mouth, and a terrible realization overcame him. His father was right. For many years now, he had felt that he didn't belong here with his brothers and sisters. He had convinced himself that a large part of his alienation had been due to being the youngest and having a different mother than all of the others. Although feeling partly shunned by his siblings, he had worked hard to try and fit in. The love for his father kept him content enough to do his work and not look beyond the confines of the family farm.

Now, his small and simple world came crashing down around him. From his father's admission, Joseph was for the first time peering into his own heart. He knew at that moment that he could no longer live at the farm, because it was simply not his place anymore. Joseph's love for his father fought hard against this realization. He felt guilty and ashamed that the life of a farmer was no longer good enough for him. Tears began to fall down both of his cheeks, and he turned away from his father, fearing that he would be hurt from the reflection of this truth.

“I've done my best to love every one of my children the same, but ever since you were born, there’s always been something special about you Joseph. Emperor knows that I’d give my life for any one of my children, but the only other time I've ever felt quite the same was with your mother.”

Hearing his mother mentioned for the second time in the same conversation caused Joseph to turn back to his father. He rarely mentioned Joseph's true mother, even when they were alone. It was as if throughout his upbringing, the mere mentioning of her was too much for his father to bear. Wiping away the tears that were blurring his sight, he carefully studied his father's expression. Darius Vintros was smiling at his son.

“I've done many things that I regret, but being with your mother will never be one of them… nor having you. Just like her, you have greatness in you. You have a shine about you that no one else can match. You have a destiny outside of this small planet, I know it for sure.” Darius put one hand on his son's shoulder, and looked him straight in the eyes. “Go out and grab that destiny. Don't be afraid, my love will always be right behind you, urging you on.”

Two days later, Joseph left home. His father had tried to give him a large sum of credits, but Joseph refused to take it. He knew well enough that it was almost all that his father had saved over the past twelve seasons. Caring for the welfare and future of his family, he resolved not to take his father's money. Instead, Joseph joined the Planetary Defense Force, and began his new life with nothing but the clothes on his back and the special custom las-pistol his father gave him.

“Hey Storm, wake the frig up and hand me an ammo crate!” yelled a deep voice from somewhere far behind him.

Joseph quickly broke from his reverie, and turned to face the voice.

“Keep your pants on, I'm on it ya’ big hairy bastard!” he replied, slightly annoyed to be snapped back to the present so abruptly. Several of the others in the back snickered.

Wind blew through Joseph’s short, dark brown hair. Although only six foot tall, Joseph’s well-defined muscular build gave him an air of confidence and strength that was constantly at odds with his young face. Even at twenty-two, still considered young for Imperial standards (especially the privileged with access to advanced medical technology), he still had the face of a young teenager. Since puberty, Joseph had been teased by others as having a baby face. Once, he grew a goatee in the hopes of seeming older, but never liked the look or feel of it.

Specialist Joseph Vintros reached into the storage compartment in the back of the truck, and carefully lifted out the ammo crate. Using both hands, he gave it to the trooper sitting next to him and it was quickly passed on to the large soldier in the front of the truck bed.

Large would be a huge understatement to describe Larson ‘Beef’ Briggs. The hefty six-foot seven soldier easily out-weighed, out-muscled, and out-boasted everyone else in the squad. It was only fitting that he carried the squad's hefty las-cannon. The Private First Class lugged the one-hundred pound piece of metal around like it was a small child's toy. With his close cropped blond hair, chiseled jaw, and deep-set blue eyes, Briggs seemed the very definition of a soldier.

“Hey Beef, I don't think you're gonna need that cannon. Colonel says the target area is most likely gonna be indoors. I don't want to be caught inside with you shooting that thing off. You could bring the whole damn building down, you friggin’ dumbass!” shouted the man sitting straight across from Joseph.

Amid the surrounding laughter, Joseph carefully studied Corporal Trent Johnson. At only five foot nine inches tall, he was easily dwarfed by the average six foot tall squad member. What he lacked in physical presence, he more than made up for in the manner for which he carried himself, and his ever inspiring nature. The Corporal always loved to joke around with the men, especially Briggs, but was also known as the unofficial psychiatrist or confidant of the squad. Whenever anyone had a problem, Trent would always lend an unbiased ear. It struck Joseph that Trent was destined to great things, whether it was to be a religious leader like the revered Chaplain, or maybe even a hard nosed and inspiring Commissar. Corporal Johnson seemed fated to climb the ranks and excel. Plus, next to Joseph he was the best shot with ranged weaponry.

Overhearing the drumming bass of a man’s voice from the front compartment, Joseph's mind quickly jumped to that of the Colonel. Colonel William Thompson Thatch the Third was sitting in the passenger's seat in the front of the truck, surveying the road ahead with a calm gaze. As leader of not only this kill team, he was in charge of the entire 512th's Southbridge regiment. Joseph understood the pressure and responsibility placed on the Colonel in this situation. The regiment's morale and reputation was on the line. This had made the Colonel edgy and dangerous. Joseph made a mental note to be on guard with his own words and actions.

“Hey Storm, man... You okay?” shouted a voice to his right.

Over the course of the last four months, Joseph had become known by the men of his regiment as ‘Storm’. On more than a handful of occasions, Joseph had single-handedly rushed the enemy line, miraculously avoiding injury or death. Joseph’s crack shot ability combined with his inherent fearlessness had made him somewhat of a small legend in such a short period of time. Saving many of the guardsmen’s lives and taking quite a few more of the enemies’, he had earned the respect of most of the men, while inevitably drawing the envy and ire of a few.

“Yeah, I'm okay Doc, just collecting my thoughts for the job,” Joseph replied solemnly.

Nodding, the squad's medic busied himself with checking and re-organizing his field kit. Thomas Hendricks, appropriately known as ‘Doc’ to the squad, was a tall and lean dark-skinned man. The gentle natured man had saved the life of most of the men in the squad at one point during their tour. While Joseph had not yet needed his services, he had immediately liked the courageous and honorable man.

“Eh, don't worry Doc. Storm's just scared he won't be able to pull the trigger,” interjected the pale and lanky soldier sitting on the right-hand side of Doc.

Joseph's eyes met those of Private Dereje Novo. Joseph made no effort to hide the disdain he felt for the man, and only hoped that his hatred shown through his stare. Novo was a rude and selfish man. It was rumored that he came from a noble family in a far off hive city and was subjugated to the guard because of personal crimes against his family. More than a few times in the past, Dereje had tried to provoke Joseph into an altercation. This time, Joseph was on the edge and ready to bite.

“Back off Novo!” yelled the Corporal. “We've got no time for this crap, and you know it!”

“Hey, I just want to make sure my ass is covered when we're in the thick of it,” cooed Dereje. Beside him, several of the soldiers tried to pretend not to hear the exchange, but still stole quick glances at Joseph, awaiting his reply.

“Let's just pray that we don't have to pull any triggers this time around,” Joseph said evenly, knowing all too well the inevitable likelihood of bloodshed. Most of the soldiers grunted their agreement and returned their stares to the rolling countryside. “Besides, I seem to remember your trigger not working too well last battle… maybe it’s just hard to find targets hiding in the back.”

“You son of a bitch!” Novo screamed as he tried to stand up and rush over to where Storm was sitting. Several guardsmen held him back as Joseph sat quietly and smiled at the reaction he had evicted.

“Enough! Both of you! It’s time to put your game face on. Remember the mission at hand!” Johnson yelled over the commotion.

Novo sat back down and stewed, eschewing venom in Joseph’s direction. Joseph held his gaze, sighed briefly and then returned back to viewing the passing fields.

A general quiet hovered around the squad, leaving only the roar of the transport’s engine and the thumping of the shocks from the rough country road. All of them understood the gravity of their mission. Find and eliminate any traitors.

To the squad, nothing seemed graver than hunting down deserters of the Imperial Guard. Nine men from their own regiment had gone absent without official leave and were reported last seen moving in separate groups towards enemy controlled territory. Generally, only conscripted armies that the Guard hastily formed seemed to be plagued with desertion, as Commissars and the stringent discipline of the Guard discouraged such actions. However, the savage war raging though the sector had taken a hard toll on the Guard’s men. Most soldiers on Garius IV would reluctantly agree that they were losing the war.

The Colonel had hand-picked this strike squad, using last minute information for a desperate attempt to catch the runners before they could escape. Luckily, the enemy's main army was located about a hundred miles away on a different front, but guerrilla warfare had been reported in the area for the past few weeks.

Most of the squad had served for years with a few of the people they were now hunting. Only Joseph shared a stronger bond with one of the deserters. His best friend had turned his back on him, the Emperor, and the Imperial Guard.

Joseph and Gregor had both joined the PDF on Altariun Prime simultaneously. Friends from childhood, they shared a bond that only the young could truly form. With the strong ties of their youth, and their lives stretched out in front of them, the future seemed infinite in possibilities. They planned to conquer the universe, always being there to watch each other's back.

Due to his incredible performance while in the PDF, Joseph was able to ensure that Gregor was transferred into his squad. Together, they had already fought several battles across three planets. Twice, Gregor had saved his life on the battlefield. Joseph's reckless and impulsive nature was counterbalanced by Gregor's paranoia and carefulness.

With thoughts of the coming confrontation tightening his stomach painfully, Joseph vaguely recalled Gregor acting nervous and not quite himself right before weekend leave. He remembered making a mental note of this behavior, promising himself to ask Gregor about it when he returned. Fate’s cruel current deprived Joseph of his chance, perhaps (as he now feared) forever.

After slowing somewhat, the truck abruptly turned hard to the left, causing the men in the back to hold onto the safety rails to prevent from being tossed violently. The loud rattling of hard caliber munitions burst out from somewhere to the right of the truck. In the few scant seconds that it took for the transport to stop, Private Stenner, sitting only feet away from Joseph, was already bleeding from several spots on his chest. Stenner dropped his las-gun, and slowly moved his shaking hands in a futile effort to cover the bleeding holes in his abdomen.

The whip-cracking sound of las-fire joined the rattling chorus of the machine guns. Giant holes were being torn in the canopy covering the top of the truck bed, and immediately the soldiers in the back of the stationary transport made for cover, moving fast and low. Briggs grabbed the bleeding man with one hand and pulled him over the side of the truck and to the ground, in the relative safety of the left side of the transport. The Doc quickly opened his field kit and began trying to staunch the bleeding man's wounds.

“Why the hell did we stop?” shouted the Doc, while desperately trying to help the wounded soldier in front of him.

“Damn! The engine block's shot. The truck's as good as a stone now!” replied the driver, scurrying from the front of the vehicle to join the rest of the squad in cover.

“Corporal, report!” boomed the voice of the Colonel as he exited the front cab and joined the rest of the men behind the truck. Shots continued to pepper the air and ground around them.

Timing the rattling of the shots, Joseph quickly stood from a low crouch and spied the area on the other side of the truck. About a hundred feet or so was a large and fairly worn habitat building. It looked to have once served as a barracks for the local militia. Its exterior shone off-white in color, hinting the neglect it has suffered for quite some time. It stretched three stories into the sky, but it was at least two times as wide. Six windows on each floor looked out upon the side facing the stranded troopers, all of them broken and without shades. Several of the third-floor windowsills were being used as vantage points to fire down upon the stranded squad.

“I count two high caliber machine guns on the first floor. I think there are maybe two snipers on the third floor.” Corporal Johnson said as he darted quick looks from behind the truck, also surveying the nearby building. The last time he popped out to check, a las-bolt skimmed ominously close to his head, scoring a tiny burn on his right ear.

“Emperor damnit! Make that three snipers!” corrected the Corporal.

Joseph quickly reviewed the situation. The squad was pinned down behind the transport truck, with only what looked like it used to be a small communications shed to the nearby front of their truck. The long abandoned shed stood lopsided, its weather-worn walls resting at a slight tilt. He seriously doubted that the structure would take the kind of punishment that the machine guns would dish out if anyone tried to use it as cover for any length of time. He judged the distance from the shed to be about forty feet, making it closer to the entrance of the hab building than their current position. They were essentially trapped, with only minutes left until the inevitable destruction of their only cover.

Just feet away, the members of the squad watched as Thomas ‘Doc’ Hendricks lost his latest patient. The sounds of the gunfire seemed to fade into the distance, as the surviving members of the squad paid their last respects to Private Stenner's memory. Joseph had only known the man for three months, but Stenner was a good man and a fine soldier. He closed his eyes and silently vowed that Stenner's death would be avenged. He promised that he would breathe long enough to take the lives of those responsible. Now it was time for action.

“Sir, permission to improvise?“ Joseph asked.

Laughing, Corporal Johnson replied “Be my guest, Storm.”

“Beef, I need that las-cannon of yours. Aim for the machine gun positioned across the bottom floor. Try to hit something instead of firing and yelling like a friggin simpleton! Corporal, direct as much covering fire as possible so he doesn't get his over-sized ass shot off!” Joseph explained to the huddled men. “Oh, and I'm going to need a couple extra frag grenades.” As small laughter broke out among the troubled soldiers Joseph held out his hand, prompting a few of the troopers to pass him their fragmentation grenades.

“Hah, where’s my apology? Now who's glad I brought the las-cannon?” Briggs taunted back at Corporal Johnson.

“You’re apology… hrm… where did I put that?” Johnson joked, finishing with a crude gesture to his lower body.

“Beef, when you hear the big boom, start shooting,” Joseph interrupted. “Just make sure you get them ducking for at least a minute. The rest of you, try to aim for the upper floor windows. I don't want to get shot before I get a chance at these bastards!”

“Alright men, let's give Storm some cover fire. For the Emperor!” yelled Johnson, holding his las-gun above his head for emphasis.

The squad let out a loud grunt of acknowledgement. Once again, Specialist Joseph ‘Storm’ Vintros was going to rush the enemy in a daring and reckless fashion. Most of the squad had already begun to truly believe that he was invincible, as he had charged at least six enemy positions in the last few months without even a single scratch to show for it.

“Specialist!” yelled the Colonel. “The Emperor protects!”

“He has so far, let's see if he's still watching,” replied Joseph, smirking at the wry look left on the Colonel's face.

Grabbing a grenade in each hand, Joseph used his mouth to pull the pin on each one. Looking back one last time, he gave a wink to Briggs, and lobbed the two grenades over the truck towards the building. The first grenade landed about two feet in front of the building, while the other hit the wall and rested neatly against a debris pile lying close to one of the windows. A huge scorching blast erupted as the two grenades went off nearly at the same time. The first one left a scattered circular pattern of cracks and burns against the front wall. The second created a small crater where the debris once lay. Billowing smoke rushed out of the small hole, adding to the already large cloud of dust from the blast. The gunners on the first floor suddenly found their field of view temporarily obscured.

Behind Joseph, the loud report of Brigg's las-cannon came to life. Instantly, the rattling of the machine guns halted. With the brief respite, the rest of the squad began firing on the upper floors, scoring holes along the hab's wall and inside of the windowsills. The snipers above ducked as a few well placed shots entered the rooms where they were firing from.

Sprinting out from the cover of the truck, Storm headed towards the small shed. Once close, he hurled himself behind the limited cover of its walls. The machine gunners glimpsed Storm just as he jumped back into cover. Training their weapons on the tiny shack, they began ripping the little building apart. The sheer ferocity of the assault vibrated through Storm's body, momentarily stunning him. He had made it closer to the building in one piece, but soon his only cover would be torn to shreds.

Taking the last grenade from his belt, Storm pulled the pin and stood up. Leaning around the shed, he tossed the grenade at the single doorway to the building. The grenade landed just inside the entrance, disappearing into the dark confines of the room. Not waiting for the ensuing explosion, Storm began running towards the building. As the grenade began to detonate, Storm was able to throw his back against the wall to the right of the doorway. Smoke and plascrete exited beside him, and he could clearly hear sounds of alarm inside. They were human shouts of panic.

For the first time in a long while, Storm said a quick prayer to the Emperor. He prayed that there wasn't a particular person inside. He prayed that when he brought hell and judgment upon his enemies, he wouldn't find the face of a friend. He opened his eyes, un-strapped the las-gun from his shoulder, and switched the gun to full-auto.

“For the Emperor!” he screamed as he entered the dark building. As usual, when falling into the haze of battle, time seemed to slow down for Storm. When he was young, it was a very subtle but strange feeling. As the years progressed, he began to rely more and more on his ability to almost predict where strikes and blows would land. Never giving it much credence or thought, he had honed his body and mind to utilize this fortuitous sense.

Movement to his immediate right caught his attention. Pressing the trigger, he raked the gun across the area, satisfied to see two silhouettes fall to the ground in a heap. Another figure emerged from a room to the left of his position but was quickly dispatched by a blistering round of las-bolts that seemingly autonomously spat out of Storm's las-gun. Smoke began to fill the room, partly from his own weapon, but most of it wafted from the heated machine guns by the windows to his right. The first two enemies to fall were the operators of the heavy caliber weapons; the latter was likely the ammo loader. Storm was able to sneak a peek outside to see his squad making their way to the backdoor. Several members of the squad lagged behind to keep fire directed at the snipers above.

As he walked across to the bodies lying on the floor, a quick wave of relief hit him as he failed to recognize the felled men. Now that his eyes had slowly become accustomed to the gloom, Storm was able to get a better view of the dimly-lit room. The main part of the first floor opened up to a large area, with plascrete flooring covered in dust and scattered debris. Besides the one office behind him and to the left, the layout was widely open, with only six large columns lined in pairs supporting the bulk of the building. Rows of rusted and decrepit bunk bed frames lined up against the wall to his left, hinting at the manpower that once occupied this area. At the other end of the building, he watched as the rest of his squad piled inside, covering each other's movement and signing the all-clear to Storm.

To reach the upper levels, there were two sets of stairs, located on each side of the building. Storm motioned to the squad entering the other side and started his way up the stairs behind him. Normally during urban assaults, they were to enter buildings and floors in fire teams, not usually allowing a soldier to assault a section by himself unless absolutely necessary. Two soldiers had already been killed when they had followed Storm into his now infamous assaults. It seemed that Storm's unique abilities and luck allowed him to survive, allowing him now to work alone when he desired. The Colonel wasn't about to challenge Storm about that on this mission, given its personal nature.

Nodding in acknowledgement, the Corporal signaled his troops on the opposite side of the building to divide into four fire teams, two for each set of stairs. Storm turned around, and slowly ascended the stairs on his left to the second floor. Once at the top of the stairs, he quickly leaned his head from the wall to view the main area of the second floor. Much like the first floor, the second was hallowed out except for the six structural pillars spread across the otherwise open space. Slight movement from beside the pillar closest to him caused Storm to move his head back behind the cover of the wall. Less than a second later, a las-bolt swished by the space where his head had just occupied, followed by the cracking report of the shot echoing throughout the floor.

Knowing that the squad would be appearing from the stairwell on the opposite side of the room, Storm resisted the urge to fire back. Instead, he reached for the vox communication bead on his collar.

“Tango five... I've got incoming fire from the column closest to me, on your 11,” he whispered on the communication frequency the squad used. Two taps on the line immediately afterwards served as an acknowledgement. Satisfied, Storm lowered himself back to the floor, half of his body lying at a downward angle on the stairs, and waited.

Two las-shots echoed from somewhere far off in the room. Three more shots seemed to answer back almost instantly, originating closer to Storm's position. Realizing that the enemy was now engaged with his squad on the other side, Storm leaned his head around the bottom corner of the wall. The unknown man that had fired at Storm had moved one pillar away, continuously firing at the opposite side of the large room.

Sudden movement to his right caused Storm to peek further out from behind cover. Another enemy was rushing his position at a panicked run. Closing fast on Storm’s location, the sprinting man had not yet spotted him. With practiced ease, Storm swiftly brought his las-gun to bear and fired twice at the moving figure, scoring two direct hits to the chest. Hearing the shots, the man at the pillar turned around just in time to see his comrade falling in a heap. Storm wasted no time, quickly shooting twice more, one shot hitting the figure in the abdomen, the other opening a small yet devastating hole in the middle of his forehead. The body stood erect for a few moments more, the gun falling out of its hands as it finally slid down against the pillar to the cold floor.

Storm lay still for a few moments more, hearing the movement of his squad mates coming towards him. Two taps on the vox told him of the all clear. Storm scanned his immediate surroundings as he slowly climbed to his feet. Novo, Briggs, and the Corporal joined Storm on his side of the room.

“Storm,” nodded the Corporal. “The one at the pillar was Jacobson. Other's a John Doe.”

Storm nodded in acknowledgement, relieved that he didn't just execute his best friend in the fury of the firefight. Jacobson hadn’t been with the regiment long, and he never really took a liking to the man. Besides, it almost seemed he was certain during the fire-fight that the two men were not his friend, but he quickly shrugged the idea off as luck, knowing that in the darkness and fury of battle it was hard to tell who was who most of the time.

“Novo, follow me on the right-hand set of stairs, Briggs, cover Storm on the left. The top floor is nothing but offices and rooms, so be on your watch,” warned the Corporal, nodding at Storm and then turning around to move up the stairway. Novo darted a quick smirk at Storm, then followed the Corporal.

“Listen up... We’ve got a multitude of rooms on the top floor. We've gotta do a room by room search, leave no corner unturned and watch each other's backs. The Emperor protects,” the Colonel commanded over the squad's vox.

Storm motioned Briggs to follow him as he quietly ascended the stairs to the third floor. Reaching the last stair, Storm surveyed the layout of the top floor. Six windows on the outside wall allowed just enough light in the hallway so they could see across to the other side where his squad members were now arriving from the opposite stairwell. The hallway spanned all the way down the length of the building, and Storm quickly counted six doorways, with a hallway leading to the front side of the building splitting the rooms in the middle.

Moving just outside the first doorway, Briggs moved into cover position on the other side of Storm. In one swift motion, Storm kicked the door in and rushed into the dark room. The light streaming in from behind them was just enough to make out only a few sparse pieces of furniture, but no movement. Using the search lamp attached to the bottom of his las-gun, Storm swept across the room in a final check. Satisfied, he shook his head at Briggs, and they made their way back out to the hallway.

On the other side of the hall, Storm watched as the other fire team raided the room furthest away. One down, two to go thought Storm, now beginning to believe that he may be spared the duty of confronting Gregor.

The second room was also empty. Broken equipment sparsely covered the area in the back of the room, hinting at the years of neglect. Storm nodded to Briggs, and they moved to search the last room on their side. Sounds of muffled gunfire resounded from the other side of the building.

Briggs quietly made his way into position to enter the next room. Storm started to move around to take cover position. Without warning, the door smashed outwards towards them, as laser fire blasted into Briggs' side. The big man let out a guttural howl as he was thrown against the wall behind him.

“Man down, man down!” Storm exclaimed over the vox. “Tango five, we are taking fire and a man is down!”

From down the hall, Storm suddenly heard several more firefights erupting, with loud bangs shaking the floor. Someone had used frag grenades. Each man was truly on his own now.

Storm put his back to the right of the open entrance, preparing to assault. As soon as the barrage of fire from inside the room stopped, Storm grabbed Briggs by his arm and pulled him out of the fire zone, leaving a small streak of blood. With a bit of relief, Storm noticed that the big man’s wounds seemed to be mostly cauterized.

Rounding the corner, Storm turned into the doorway and dropped to one knee in the blink of an eye. Aiming from the shoulder, he trained his las-gun at the nearest silhouette and depressed the trigger. The dark figure tried in vain to dodge the bolt as it screamed across the room at near light speed. Scoring a direct hit to the chest, the figure sprawled backwards, crashing loudly into the debris behind him.

In an instant, Storm's las-gun was forced from his grip by a white hot force, sending it several feet away from his position. He recovered quickly and tumbled left into a head first roll to a nearby piece of furniture large enough to provide him cover. Realizing that his gun was too far away to retrieve, Storm decided not to try for the weapon. He quickly noticed the scorched mark near the top of the barrel. Once again, luck and quick reflexes had saved his life.

Giving a quick look up to send the divine his thanks, Storm pulled out his las-pistol from the holster around his waist. The pearl inlaid handgrip was cold on his bare hand, and once again he was reminded of his father. He could feel the etching of his family crest against his palm, and knew that his father had ended up spending a good amount of his savings for this final present, despite Joseph's adamant objections.

The antique pistol, aside from the new handgrip his father had custom fitted, easily showed its age. However, its previous owner was diligent in its operation and care. It fired unfailingly, and was deadly accurate. The pistol was also quite stronger than its larger counterpart; it shot hotter at the cost of burning its power cell drastically faster. Where a normal pistol could fire up to twenty shots with an average power cell, Storm's handgun would dispense five man-stopping, armor piercing las-bolts.

Hearing movement from in front of him and to the left, Storm popped up from behind the desk he was using as cover and fired immediately at the man standing ten feet in front of him. Caught in the act of reloading his weapon, the man took the las-bolt to his shoulder, spinning him hard and fast to the ground. The gun he was carrying rolled noisily into the corner nearby. Carefully avoiding trash and debris on the ground directly in front of him, Storm moved in for the kill shot.

Lying on the ground, covering the smoking wound on his left shoulder, the man looked Storm straight in the eyes. A nearby light source shadowed half of his face.

“Hello Joseph,” Gregor spoke, no surprise evident in his voice.

COMING SOON: Chapter 2 - Crossing the Line
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post #2 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-08-08, 10:16 PM
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That was fantastic!

How long do you plan on making the rest of this story?
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post #3 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-09-08, 04:46 PM Thread Starter
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Right now I'm in the editing phase for chapter 7, so I have six chapters in a pretty much complete state. I haven't even reached the middle point on my planned plot line, so quite a bit more of the story needs to be written! I'll post chapter 2 later on today or tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

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post #4 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-12-08, 07:00 PM Thread Starter
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Default Chapter 2 - Crossing the Line

Chapter 2 - Crossing the Line


“Gregor,” Joseph whispered, mostly to himself. Suddenly light-headed, Joseph felt like he was watching himself in a dream. He looked down at his own hand in horror, realizing that he was still pointing his smoking las-pistol at Gregor's head. Involuntarily, his hand slowly lowered itself and he looked back to his friend spread on the floor before him.

“So you're here to kill me?” Gregor kept his eyes transfixed onto Joseph's. “Get it over with then!” his reply full of venom.

Joseph felt his anger rising from within.

“What are... what are you doing here Gregor?” Joseph started, clearing his throat mid-way. “I thought you were smarter than this...”

“When you didn't show up, I figured you were just too scared, or maybe even brainwashed. But now, I see that you just want glory from your precious Guard; even if it means both of our deaths." Gregor stopped, turned his head to the side and spit blood. "I only ever wanted to see the galaxy. I didn't want to die a pawn in someone else's sick game,” Gregor spouted defiantly.

“Didn't show up? What the hell are you talking about? You're the one who deserted the Guard. You wanted to be free, so you joined the very power we've fought and bled to defend against?” Joseph reasoned, still feeling the dream-like edge surrounding this whole encounter.

“What? It's not like that... Damnit Joseph! You should know me better than that.” A defensive yet hurt tone surrounded his statement.

“Sorry?” Joseph pondered, shaking his head slightly. “I know you better than what? You leave without saying a word, and now you're here shooting at the very men you used to risk your life trying to protect?” Joseph felt a righteous anger fuel his words.

Moving slowly, Gregor used the wall behind him to leverage himself up painfully to his feet.

“We didn’t know for sure if the regiment would find us so quickly. We’re not aligned with the enemy. We’ve already had two firefights this morning with them just to get here. Besides, I told you everything in the letter. You did read the letter, didn't you?” Gregor asked, while moving his hand away from his shoulder wound, checking for blood. Trace amounts of it was trickling from his mostly burnt wound.

“What letter? I never got a letter.”

“The one I left in your gear. When we all took weekend leave, I got back earlier than you did. I wrote down everything in the letter. Damnit, I risked everything to get us this chance!” Gregor looked down, suddenly lost in deep thought.

“Why? What did it say?”

“Joseph, someone’s after you. You’ve been marked for the Black Ships,” Gregor stated, ignoring the original question.

“What are you talking about?”

The Black Ships were the bane of every imperial citizen’s existence. Known simply for the large black space ships that were used, those unlucky enough to be marked as heretics and possible psychics were handed over without question, only to have the majority of them exterminated.

“The Black Ships, Joseph. Someone has pegged you dangerous.”

“The Black Ships?” Joseph pondered. Recall sharpened in his mind, and one thought came forward. One horrible and devastating thought… the Inquisition.

Seeing the knowing look in Joseph's eyes, Gregor spoke up again. “I was filling out my leave request just a few hours after you already left for yours. I was outside of the office, just a few meters away from the communications room, waiting for Thatch to return. That’s when I overheard the communicae. Someone has given your name over to the Inquisition, the Ordos Hereticus. They think you may have carried with you a taint from the enemy.” Gregor's voice began to rise in volume as near panic set in his words.

The Inquisition was by far the single most feared institution in the Imperium of Man. Without rival in authority and power, they relentlessly hunt all that threaten man, from without and within. Their unquestioned jurisdiction allowed them to operate without mercy, not leaving a single possibility of threat to chance.

“That makes no sense. Why didn’t they detain me when I got back from leave yesterday?” Joseph replied weakly, slowly absorbing the whole situation.

“From what I could hear, they instructed that you were to be watched carefully. But they were adamant about keeping you un-informed. They wanted to bide their time until a transport was available in-system.” As Gregor relayed the story to Joseph, his breathing slowly became erratic as his body began to go into shock.

Joseph could only look his friend into his eyes to know that he was telling the unadulterated truth.

“Look, while in the city for leave, I found a rogue trader captain in town that needs two gun-hands. We can use this to start a new life, maybe get away from this war and make a fortune... all of this was in the letter. I was sure you'd check your gear. You always were so damn adamant about that. Where did that letter go? Damnit Storm…”

“Don't call me that, I hate it when you call me that...” Joseph interrupted.

“Stor.... Joseph, listen... there’s still a chance we can get out of this. The person on the communication said that it would take up to three days before the ship could arrive. If I can slip out and hide for a bit, when you get back you can meet me in New Gherin. There's a bar called the Angry Anchor in the port area. A captain Vin Holson is our contact. We can start a new life and make a fortune for ourselves. Storm... sorry, Joseph... this is what we always wanted, what we always talked bout.” Gregor's words were filled with haste, as outside of the hall the fire teams further in the building were finishing their search.

“I don't know, Gregor... this is crazy.” Joseph no longer even believed his own words. “I don’t even know how we’ll get you out of here…” Joseph was instantly cut short, as a cracking shot rang out from the doorway behind him.

In what seemed like the longest second of Joseph's life, he watched in horror as Gregor's face was twisted violently to the side and exploded into a mist of blood and bone. His best friend's body slumped harshly against the wall and slid down, leaving a red trail of blood and gore.

Joseph turned around and saw Private Dereje Novo standing in the doorway, holding his smoking las-gun in front of him.

“Wha... wha... what did you do?” Joseph demanded, his voice straining to be more than the whisper it was.

“I killed a traitor, Storm,” Novo replied flatly. He walked across the room to where Joseph was standing, and stared over the dead body of Gregor. He still had his gun raised, keeping it trained on Joseph.

“Were you actually going to stand there and talk to the traitor all day? No, I bet you were going to help him,” Novo spat.

Joseph didn't reply immediately, shock still stalling his mind and slowing his words. “He... he was wounded, I had him under control.” Joseph slowly started to regain his composure.

“Don't give me that. I found the letter Joseph.” Novo began to smile.

“You went through my gear, you stole from me?” Joseph said accusingly. Joseph felt his grip tightening around the las-pistol at his side.

“Spare me the drama! I saw him put it there, and I saw him looking through the Colonel's office. I know what he was trying to do. I always knew you were dangerous… tainted!” Novo exclaimed, relishing the accusation against Joseph and ending his speech with a devious smile.

Outside the hallway, Joseph could hear footsteps making their way towards the room. Novo's words faded away in his mind, and fury started to overtake him.

“You should have shot me while you had the chance,” Joseph whispered, almost too quiet to hear.

“What are…” started Novo.

The brilliant flash of the blast from the las-pistol interrupted Novo, and the utter look of surprise on his face struck Joseph as comical. His rifle went off, exploding into the wall behind Joseph. Due to the extreme close range of the pistol’s shot, the las-bolt burnt its way cleanly through Novo’s chest and ended its blazing path into the wall behind. Novo fell backwards without a cry, crashing into the broken flooring behind him.

Walking up to the dying man, Joseph spoke as Novo's body began its death spasms, his arms flailing and thrashing about. Joseph stared into the man’s eyes, watching as the spark of life slowly extinguished. “You never should have taken that letter.”

Joseph blinked slowly, and stared down incredulously at his once again smoking las-pistol. The fury that had clouded his mind, his entire being it had seemed, dissipated and left him in a state of disbelief. Cries of alarm echoed from outside the hallway, and the clatter of footsteps rose in volume.

Re-holstering his las-pistol, Joseph wiped the sweat off of his brow. Stopping his hands in front of his face, he could see how bad they were shaking. He quickly dried his hands with his shirt, and moved towards the door. He stopped after a few steps, and took a final look back at his best friend's corpse.

“I'm sorry Gregor. I’ll never forget what you did for me!” he apologized.

Remembering Novo's last words, Joseph looked towards the doorway and saw no movement or shadows yet. He hurried across the room to where Novo was lying. Searching the corpse’s jacket pockets, Joseph sighed in relief as a folded note was found in the top right breast pocket, just inches away from the smoldering crater left from the las-shot. He quickly secured the light paper in his own breast pocket, and once again made for the doorway.

Outside of the hab building, the remaining squad members were sitting quietly, waiting for the called-in transport truck already on its way. As Doc was busy patching up two of the soldiers, the Colonel made his way over to where Joseph was sitting alone.

“Colonel,” Joseph nodded. “How is he?”

“Doc said Briggs is gonna make it. You know how stubborn the man is,” the Colonel joked. “It looks like Harrison will be fine too, although he may need a new arm from the elbow down. Poor bastard took the bad end of a frag grenade.” A few moments of silence went by as the sky above rumbled the warning of a weather change. “I'm sorry, Joseph. I know he was your best friend. I know it wasn't easy,” the Colonel said quietly.

Joseph looked at the Colonel and nodded, trying to ignore the iron grip his stomach felt clinched in. He purposely kept his hands in his front pockets, hiding the fact that they were shaking from the earlier confrontation. A slow drizzle started to fall from the sky.

About a half hour ago, Corporal Johnson had made his way to the room just as Joseph was about to exit into the hallway. Without words, Johnson had assessed that in the firefight Novo had been shot and died instantly. Gregor and the other unidentified man had been killed in the result of the confrontation. Joseph had said nothing, but just nodded weakly to affirm the Corporal's findings.

Every time Joseph started to think about the ramifications what he had done to Novo, his mind replayed Gregor's fatal shot. Joseph found no remorse for killing one of his own, but knew that he had now crossed a line.

“War does crazy things to a man,” Joseph explained. “In the end, all we have is our loyalties.” Joseph found himself surprised at his own words. He felt empty and emotionless at this critical time of his life.

“The Emperor protects,” the Colonel added, nodding in agreement. “Well, I just wanted to let you know that I'm recommending you for a commendation when we get back. Storm, you're not only our best, but you are truly everything the Guard embodies.” The Colonel didn't wait for a reply, but merely placed his hand on Joseph's shoulder, nodded, and walked away.

A small chuckle began to form in the back of Joseph's throat. He had crossed a line, and was about to receive yet another award. The chuckle quickly turned into a strange laugh. Joseph turned his head upwards towards the sky, where rain fell progressively harder onto his face. The Colonel's words still ringing in his head, Joseph suddenly felt sick. The laughter quickly died away, and he climbed unsteadily to his feet. Unsure of who he was or what he was doing anymore, Joseph walked out of sight and vomited.

Joseph exited the debriefing room, rubbing his eyes and fighting down a yawn. The debriefing itself had gone by without confrontation, but Joseph still felt the unease of knowing the truth. Although he detected that the Colonel and the Corporal were holding something back, he still knew that they did not recognize the truth of the final events inside of the hab building just few scant hours before.

All leave had been cancelled for the men on base, prompting all sorts of angry yet controlled outbursts. Fatigue kept Joseph from wondering too much about what may be going down behind the scenes. The blank stare and pained gait of the men passing by him in the hall evoked in Joseph a strong likeness to that of zombies from countless horror stories told by family and friends in his youth. Everything in Joseph’s world seemed to be crashing down around him.

The sudden and loud report of a transport returning to the garage outside served to remind him of the war that was still being waged not far from their position. Joseph’s regiment had done more than their fair share of fighting in the past month, the men’s morale plummeting even further into dangerous levels.

He quickened his step and made for his private bunk. Once he was sure he was alone, he sat on his bed and pulled out the folded note from his breast pocket. Opening the letter, he read the neat hand-written words, so typical of Gregor:

Joseph, I have left the Guard, and I'm making my way to New Gherin, the main port city of this planet. I am to meet with a Captain Vin Holson to discuss terms for us to join his crew. I know you have a thousand questions, but please read the next line carefully. Someone has reported you to the Inquisition. The Black Ships are to arrive in two days from the day I wrote this.

Joseph noticed the date in the top right-hand corner of the flimsy paper. If what he was reading was true, and Joseph automatically felt inclined to believe every word, tomorrow should mark the arrival of the Inquisitor.

Although he had heard these words from Gregor himself, they still had a shocking quality to them. Joseph read on:

I’m not sure of why you have been singled out, but I over-heard the communiqué myself. They think you have been tainted, or are otherwise a danger to us all. Joseph, when you and I joined the guard, we had dreams of glory and battle. However, these past eight months have opened my eyes to what this universe really has to offer. We have already outlived the life expectancy for the average soldier of the Imperium, and I feel my luck may already run out. We joined together to strike out and achieve our destiny in the stars. We are a long, long way from home. A home that I’m afraid neither of us will ever see again if we stay our course. I have struck an agreement with this Captain to take both of us on as gun hands. It seems your fame has preceded you, as he has heard your name in passing. This is our one chance for a reprieve. When your father told you to seek out your destiny, he didn't mean for you to die a horrible, meaningless death. I also know of your purity and compassion. Just as I have never doubted you, I won’t start now. I have left ahead of you, feigning to join deserters from our regiment so that I can get to New Gherin using an alternate route, where hopefully I will not be looked for. I hope to see you soon my brother. Comrades forever, Gregor.

The note in front of Joseph began to blur. He used his free hand to absently wipe away the tears that were forming. A battle began to take place in his mind, as the realization of the futility in his current course and the fear of an unknown life took hold. The life his father had tried to push him towards on that hot summer days seemed suddenly lost forever. He closed his eyes as the battle inside him raged further, until he no longer sensed the world around him. With the thousands of thoughts racing through his mind slowly floating away like driftwood down a river stream, Joseph fell asleep.

“Hey, give it back!” he yelled, as the two much taller boys stood over him laughing. “It’s mine!”

“If the baby can get it, the baby can have it!” the older one mocked, holding the wooden toy higher in the air.

It was already the second time this week that they had taken one of his few toys. Joseph had only a few scant possessions, one of the drawbacks of being a child in a large and financially challenged family.

“Hey look, I think he’s going to cry!” taunted the other one, as he grabbed the wooden sword and began to toss it back and forth with the older brother.

“Tell you what, if you can take it from us, we’ll never touch your baby toys again,” explained the eldest brother.

He lowered the toy just within reach of Joseph. Seeing the opportunity (and at the tender age of 9 not understanding the trap laid for him), Joseph grabbed for it. Waiting until the last moment, the older boy spun around and kicked the legs out from under Joseph. Sprawling hard to the ground, he hit with a loud thud that took the breath from his lungs. Stunned and embarrassed, Joseph’s eyes began to tear up.

Seeing the tears rolling down their younger brother’s cheeks, the two older boys began to laugh even louder.

A sudden calm seized over Joseph, and his demeanor changed. Seeing the change in the young boy, the eldest once again held the toy just within reach.

“Uh oh, looks like he means business now!” he taunted, dangling the edge of the wooden sword near Joseph’s face.

Without a word, Joseph kicked his eldest brother on the side of his right knee. The force from the blow buckled the older boy’s knee, causing him to fall on his hands and knees in front of Joseph. Grabbing the wooden toy from the stunned boy’s hand as he fell, Joseph quickly spun into a round-house kick that caught his brother’s chin. The practiced maneuver landed flush, sending the older brother into a roll several feet back.

Joseph’s young keen eyes caught the other brother’s movement to his left. He quickly turned to meet the new threat head on. A rather large fist was inbound for his head. However, Joseph had no problem at all picking up the threat. He easily dodged the slow moving arm, and was able to move inside his brother’s guard. A knee to the stomach brought his brother’s head down just enough for Joseph to throw a devastating uppercut, landing squarely on the boy’s chin. Like a drunk trying to stand on his feet, his brother took a few staggered steps and collapsed to the ground, no longer laughing.

Suddenly realizing what he had done, Joseph looked at his hands and stood amazed. For too long he had taken their abuse without as much as a push back. This time, something inside him seemed to take over. Fear began forming inside of his mind, as he felt as if he was no longer the same, and that his life would forever change.

Hurried footsteps echoed outside of the barn, and Joseph knew his father had heard the commotion coming from the boys fight. Scared of his father’s wrath, Joseph contemplated running. He started for the door on the other side, pulling at the handle to open it. Seemingly stuck, he darted for the side panel that he knew would slide just enough for him to escape into the fields outside.

Just as he was about to make it into freedom, a hand grabbed him from behind.


Joseph awoke violently, finding himself suddenly short of breath. Sweat trickled down his brow and he quickly wiped it away. Not sure of where he was for the moment, he scanned the dark surroundings. With a wave of relief, he saw that the note was still held tightly in his right hand. He folded it up, and put it away inside of his pocket.

Checking his chronometer, he saw that it was roughly eight hours after he had left the debriefing. The barracks were quiet, with the occasional snore breaking the silence in small increments. There was only about forty minutes until the place came alive again. He remembered that they had another set of patrols in a few more hours, and the briefing on their new assignment. Joseph had scant few minutes to make a decision. Somehow he must elude the guards and escape into the city.

Joseph pulled up his gear bag, and grabbed the belt holster from the nearby cabinet. Un-holstering the las-pistol from its compartment, he stared at the family crest engraved into the handles. Flashbacks from the day before broke into his conscious thoughts.

He remembered the fatal shot that had shattered the face of his friend, the long agonizing moment of watching his body fall and rest into a pool of blood. The numbness that had overtaken him at that moment was now replaced by grief; the loss of a friend that he would no longer share the future with.

Joseph’s mind then replayed the devastating blast that he himself had created, scoring the large hole in Novo’s chest. He tried to feel grief for committing a murder. Remembering the disdain he had already felt for the man and the fact that he taken away over twenty years of friendship, hatred welled up in Joseph’s heart.

Joseph had crossed the line and found himself upon a turning point, and he had done so willingly. The deeper he searched inside of himself, the more he knew that what he did was right. He would have gladly done it again.

Joseph had his answer. He was no longer an Imperial Guardsman. Now, his whole life was much more complicated. He wasn’t simply a soldier. He wasn’t simply a murderer. He wasn’t simply the son of a poor hab farmer looking for his place in the universe. He was now the master of his own destiny. But he was also the object of the Imperial Inquisition’s interest.

Re-holstering his weapon, Joseph strapped his belt around his waist. Gathering very few of his belongings (which mostly consisted of a couple change of clothes, a picture of his father, and some loose credits), Joseph tossed them quickly into a draw-string bag. His chronometer showed only twenty minutes time for him to make good his escape. If he was quiet and lucky, he could take one of the small jeep transports in the shop and make way for New Gherin while the few men guarding the barracks were on patrol.

For the first time in a long while, Joseph felt fear. Fear of not only the unknown, but the gripping terror that great change brought. This also stirred an excitement into him. Passing through the main hallway where a guard was reading a data-slate, he slipped unnoticed into one of the large open hangars. Finding a suitable transport, Joseph grabbed the labeled decoder key off of the wall.

Pushing the smaller entrance door to the side of the hanger open, he left just enough room for the jeep to have clearance. Checking quickly, he only had ten minutes left to leave without notice. He figured it would take an hour or two for people to notice his absence.

Throwing the jeep into neutral, he pushed it as quietly as possible, fearing that the engine starting would stir trouble. His natural strength helped it move with ease, as he finally cleared the doorway into the cold dark morning. Carefully closing the entrance behind him, Joseph pushed the jeep a minute or two more. Satisfied that the engine noise would be minimal at this range, he inserted the decoder key, and the jeep hummed to life.

Looking back one last time, Joseph quietly said goodbye to the friends and bonds he had made. Far off in the distance, a couple of troopers were repairing some of the targeting drones in the field, but their attention was not in Joseph’s direction. Turning back to the road ahead, he depressed the throttle and started towards New Gherin. He started towards his new life.

Coming Soon: Chapter 3 - The Captain
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post #5 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-12-08, 07:36 PM
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Fucking fantastic xD!

If it continues to be of this standard then you should try showing this stuff to BL and get it published
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post #6 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-16-08, 03:34 AM Thread Starter
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Default Chapter 3 - The Captain

Chapter 3 - The Captain

The nine-hour drive to the port city of New Gherin was pretty much un-eventful. The monotonous jolting from the poorly maintained road was only broken a couple of times. Twice, an Imperial speeder had hovered by above the roadway, and each time Joseph had breathed a sigh of relief when the regimental standard on the side was not that of his own.

It was now well into the afternoon, where the sun shone its brightest and hottest. The wind from the open-topped jeep had kept him relatively cool during the morning ride, but now it was no longer adequate to stop Joseph from perspiring.

Stopping briefly to speak with a disheveled man who looked like a local, Joseph was able to find out exactly where the port district of the city was located. Once confident with the given directions, he returned to the road and found himself near his destination within ten minutes. No longer wishing to chance being discovered by the authorities, he stopped about a mile away from the cluster of bars and dilapidated buildings by the docks. Parking behind two large transport containers, he grabbed his gear and started for the docks.

The city around him was bustling with life. Scores of pedestrians and road traffic polluted the city with a roaring ambience. Joseph wouldn’t have a hard time at all blending in with the large crowd moving through the streets. Plenty of off-duty guardsmen, some still in their fatigues, strode about the street, moving from bar to bar. Vendors and street performers held captive the people caught strolling by their places on the sidewalk. Joseph had a passing memory of the circus he’d visited a couple of times during childhood on his home planet. Smiling briefly at the fond memory, Joseph hoisted his draw-string bag behind his back and continued his short walk towards the docks.

The docks were a conglomeration of both traditional sea transport locations and star-dock pads. The busiest section of the planet, the docks served as both the local and off-planet traveling hot-spot. As such, multitudes of bars and clubs lined the streets opposite of the port. Because of its huge economic earnings, the Guard was desperately fighting off the Chaos horde to protect New Gherin. It was vital for not only the planet, but the very system.

Once on the main strip of the docks, Joseph quickly found what he was looking for. Sitting between a burned out building and the Sinking Clam, stood the desolate and beaten-down Angry Anchor. The red neon lights were near the end of their life, as half of the letters blinked on and off rapidly. Despite its appearance, however, people were streaming in and out of the place. Most of the bars in the area usually doubled as a hospice on the upper floors, providing rooms barely able to accommodate more than a single bed and a small nightstand.

Standing directly in front of the Angry Anchor, Joseph double-checked Gregor’s letter. It seemed without a doubt that the run down building in front of him was where his future awaited. The Captain would be found here. Neatly folding the letter and placing it back into his pocket, he started for the door. The pulsing beat from the loud music inside had already started to replace the noise of the city behind him as he stood in line to enter the busy bar. After a brief stare and subsequent nod of the head from the door man, Joseph found himself inside.

The Angry Anchor was surprisingly bigger in the interior than its outside appearance would hint at. A large open area directly in front of him served as a dance floor, filled with drunken patrons moving and thrashing to the pumping beats that the vox speakers blasted. Encircling the entire outside portion of the dance floor was the bar area where multitudes of people were sitting on the stools drinking and mingling with each other. There were easily thousands of people in the place.

The crowd itself seemed a mix of just about every type of person Joseph had seen in a city. Several spots were taken by gang members… off-worlders were making deals in the smoky corner by the windows facing the water… and local dock workers were found sitting at several tables by the women dancing on poles. Off duty guardsmen were found all over, drinking, gambling, and trying to pick up the local pleasure girls. As far as anyone knew, Joseph was just another guardsmen looking to kick back and relax.

“What’ll it be?” asked a large heavily tattooed bartender as Joseph approached a stool.

“Just give me a shot of Dragonfire,” Joseph answered back.

Grabbing two bottles from beneath the tabletop, the bartender poured a measure of each into a shot glass and handed it to Joseph. Nodding to the bartender, he grabbed the glass and swallowed the thick spicy drink. The familiar burning sensation from his favorite drink warmed his belly. He ordered a locally brewed beer and threw a few imperial coins on the counter.

“I’m looking for someone,” Joseph notified the bartender. The burly tattooed man didn’t respond, but merely raised his eyebrows in question. “He’s an off-worlder, a rogue-trader.”

“We get a lot of those around here, in case you can’t see for yourself,” the man replied, starting to walk away.

Joseph grabbed the man’s arm and looked him straight in the eye. “His name’s Vin Holson.” The man shook the hand off of his large arm, his lips pursing together as he turned again to face Joseph.

“So you’re the merc he’s been waiting for?” he half-asked, slowly nodding his head.

“I am. Tell the captain I’ll be waiting over at that table by the window there,” Joseph responded, leaving his seat and relocating to the table nearby.

The pulsating beat echoing through the establishment changed slightly, as a new song vibrated the entire area. Some of the crowd on the dance floor moved harder, showing their appreciation to a familiar tune. Joseph slowly nursed his beer as the minutes went by.

A man on the other side of the room seemed to take a sudden interest in Joseph. He caught the man’s stare a couple of times, and began to stiffen up. Slowly, Joseph readied his hold-out pistol in the back of his belt.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here? This is a killing machine? Looks more like a lost farm boy if you ask me.” A large man, looking to be in his early forties sat down the seat opposite of Joseph, his lips forming a cocky smile. His long silvery hair was tied back into a ponytail behind him. His dark brown eyes were deep-set into their sockets, automatically giving the man a shady demeanor. He wore a long black cerise jacket, through which Joseph could easily tell the man carried a holster and gun inside of. Another man, heavily augmented on his face, sat beside him.

“Who…” Joseph started.

“The name’s Captain Yrius Vin Holson, my boy,” he interrupted. “And this is my number one, Adrium Strom.” The man next to him nodded slightly, his metal implants shining as the light above the table glimmered off of them. “You must be…”

“Joseph Vintros… and I am not your boy,” he stated with disgust.

“Well, Joseph, it seems that you and I have some business to discuss. Where is the gentleman whom arranged this meeting? Did he find a better offer, my boy?” The captain replied jovially as if oblivious to Joseph’s clear and rising frustration.

“It’s Joseph, and no, he didn’t find a better offer. He’s dead,” Joseph said with a dry and serious demeanor.

“Oh,” the Captain simply stated. Leaning back in his chair he signaled a waitress nearby.

Seemingly unaffected, the Captain continued “So you’re looking for a way off-planet? I can accommodate, but for a price.”

“I heard, you need a gun-hand. I’m good with a gun. So I’ll help you for a week or two and then we part.” Joseph ordered another local brew and turned his attention back to the Captain.

A hearty laugh erupted from Vin Holson. The metallic man sitting on the side exchanged a nervous smile between the two men.

“A week or two? Now you’ve got to be pulling my chain, my boy. We’re talking at least six months, if I’m feeling charitable, and if you’re good enough with that gun.” The Captain pointed to the holster around Joseph’s waist.

“For the last friggin time, I’m not your ‘boy’. And it’s a month at the most. I don’t think you understand…”

“Now listen to me boy,” the Captain started, the jovial tone falling quickly out of his voice, “It’s you who does not seem to understand.”

Joseph promptly glanced outside of the nearest window as a local arbites patrol cruised by. Quickly placing his hand to cover his face, he turned his body mostly towards the inside of the bar. The Captain, noticing his body language and motion, raised an eyebrow and smiled.

“Exactly my point, my boy.” Vin Holson spoke, emphasizing the last part. “You reek of trouble, and not just the local kind. You haven’t been released from the Guard, have you?”

Joseph, once again checking out the window to see the patrol now gone, faced the Captain.

“You knew the situation when you talked to my friend. I don’t believe you to be that naïve.”

“I might have, but the point is still there. You’re lucky I’m even considering taking you on, my boy. Six months, maybe less if you prove yourself extra valuable.”

Struggling to hold back his anger, Joseph downed the rest of his beer and stood up. The chair behind him swung back violently and loudly crashed to the floor.

“I think I’ve made a mistake, this meeting is over.”

The crowd nearby focused their attention on the scene Joseph was making.

“It was a pleasure doing business, please refer your friends.” Captain Vin Holson replied in a pleasant manner. Snickers from the crowd around them erupted as Joseph left the table and headed for the front exit. “I’ll be here if you change your mind.” The Captain exchanged a knowing look with his number one.

Pushing through the crowd of people, Joseph made his way towards the door.

Once outside of the dingy bar, Joseph took a brief second to breathe in slowly the cool sea air. He slowly calmed himself from the earlier confrontation with the extremely arrogant Captain. He had made a mistake to try and trust a rogue trader captain, but Joseph still knew there was no going back now. He looked around at one of the close by sea transports. If he could get passage to the main city of Pasius, he could arrange off-planet travel there under an assumed identity.

After speaking with three of the docks local sea transport captains, Joseph found one that didn’t require logged travel and took imperial coins without question. He paid for a one-way trip to Pasius and was told the boat would leave in about an hour.

Finding a quiet spot underneath the docks (and appropriately out of sight), Joseph sat down on the hard damp rock. He set his gear bag down and used it as a pillow. Adjusting his chronometer to wake him in fifty minutes, he lay down and tried to catch a quick nap.

In a sudden violent jolt, Joseph awoke underneath the wooden planks of the docks. His back protesting from the harsh bed of rock, he slowly regained his sense of awareness and checked his chronometer. He had five minutes before his alarm was set to wake him. Stretching to a big yawn, he dusted off his pants and stood up. Gathering his gear bag and shouldering it, he started his short walk to the ship that should be shortly ready to embark.

Twenty feet from his destination, Joseph stopped dead in his tracks. The Captain of the ship with whom he’d arranged transport with was speaking to Corporal Trent Johnson. Flanking the Corporal on each side was a guardsman, but with their backs to Joseph he didn’t recognize the men. Thoughts raced through his mind as he ducked behind a stack of crates nearby.

The men talked for about a minute or two, then Joseph noticed the ship Captain pointing to his ship and watched as the Corporal nodded. Beckoning the two soldiers beside him, they walked towards the ship and boarded. Absently wiping the sweat that started trickling down his brow, Joseph thanked his luck that he had awoken early and had a chance to witness this startling scene. Five minutes later, and he would have been ambushed.

“There’s no such thing as luck, my son.” Darius Vintros’s voice echoed from his past. “Fate will reveal to you the way, and sometimes it sweeps you along without warning, and without choice.”

How did they find him? He had been careful to watch for any signs of being followed, and he had spoken to no one. With a buzzing sense of dread churning in his stomach, Joseph realized that the jeep must have had a tracking device on it. In his haste to leave he had forgotten that very simple fact. Now he had to watch every step.

After carefully sneaking his way back to the main strip of bars, Joseph reluctantly had to admit to himself that going back into the Angry Anchor was his best choice. The large crowd would allow him to blend into the background until he could find another shipmaster to get off-planet quickly.

The door bouncer merely nodded to Joseph and let out a short grunt, letting him pass inside without question. Time was now a factor that worried Joseph. He needed to find a shipmaster fast.

Music still blaring, and the dancers on the floor still grinding to a similar beat, Joseph milled his way through the crowd back over to the bar near the rear. A different and larger bartender listened for his order.

“I’ll have a beer.” Joseph flipped a coin onto the bar. “Where can a man find passage off-planet?” He took out four more golden coins and handed them directly to the large man.

The man said nothing as he took the pieces of imperial currency and placed them in his pocket. He reached underneath the bar and slammed a cold bottle of beer in front of Joseph. Eyeing him briefly, he finally spoke.

“You’d be wanting to deal with some Rogue Traders, aye?”

Joseph showed his assent with a nod of his head.

“Dangerous sort, they are. Not for the easy folk,” the bartender spoke in his thick local accent.

“Don’t fret, I’m not easy. I’m looking for some work, and travel off-planet.”

“And just how soon you be lookin’ to go?” the large man folded his arms and leaned on the bar top.

“The sooner, the better. I’ve had enough of this planet,” Joseph lied, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

The burly bartender let loose a haughty, wet laugh. It sounded to Joseph more like the cough of a dying man. “Borge will set you up. You just wait at table in corner there.” He pointed to Joseph’s right hand side where a table sat with two unoccupied chairs. Nodding briefly, Joseph grabbed his beer and walked to the corner, sitting in the chair against the wall. Taking a small nervous sip of his beer, Joseph viewed the entire scene in front of him and waited.

Five of the longest minutes in his life went by as Joseph sat impatiently staring at the main floor area of the crowded bar. Joseph knew that pretty soon a search party would enter the bar. It was only a matter of mere minutes.

Scanning carefully around him, Joseph made a mental note of all the exits nearby. Most of them were obstructed and a couple even blocked by various patrons standing around. The few options left for a quick egress left Joseph feeling on edge.

Trying to be as subtle as possible, he reached inside of the bag underneath the table. Grabbing the smaller and much less powerful hold-out pistol he had inside, Joseph quickly tucked the metal object underneath his shirt and trapped it in the lining of his belt. If there was to be trouble, a shot or two might buy him just enough time to leave.

The sudden jolt of a beer mug crashing down on the table top caused Joseph to jump back a bit in his chair. Taking a seat almost at once, the man whose beer had almost caused Joseph to pull out his sidearm, smiled and stuck out his hand.

“Captain John Fraskin, at your service,” the disheveled man spoke.

Looking around in confusion, Joseph reluctantly took the dirty hand proffered across the table. Absently wiping away the excess moisture and grime from his hand, Joseph surveyed the so called ‘Captain’. His somewhat plain yet ragged clothing gave no hint or clue as to whether the man was an off-worlder or native. Now that the breeze from the air coolers inside of the bar was blowing his way, Joseph was able to nose the man sitting several feet from him.

Not waiting for Joseph’s reply, the man continued. “I hear you’re looking for a crew to join. I hear you’re in a hurry, too.”

“Time stops for no one, stranger,” Joseph replied, still wary and unsure if this man truly had a ship and crew to represent.

A hearty and almost comical laughter erupted from the man. “Aye, the old bastard despises us all. You need a ship, and I need another gun hand. And it just so happens we leave tonight.”

Movement from the front of the room caught Joseph’s eye. Three men dressed in brown-green fatigues had just entered the main entry-way. Two of them broke off and started addressing the bartenders nearby.

“Tonight may not be good enough. I need to leave now… or at least get out of eye-sight,” Joseph told the man, leaning lower to the table and looking at him directly in the eye.

“That hot, huh?”

“Scorching,” Joseph replied flatly.

“Ok, if you can get to port 24 on the star side of the docks, you’ll see my ship. She’s the Armigosa. We’ll discuss terms there.” The Captain spoke in a much quieter tone, all humor leaving his voice.

One of the bartenders in the far right hand corner pointed in Joseph’s general direction. The men in fatigues nodded and started towards the back of the bar.

“Port 24, star side. Don’t be long,” Joseph affirmed.

“Go. I’ll be there in under an hour.” The dirty Captain rose and started to walk away from the table. Stopping in his tracks, he reversed, grabbed his almost forgotten beer, and winked at Joseph before walking away.

Grabbing his bag, Joseph downed what was left the bitter local beer he had been nursing and started towards the back exit. He had almost made it to the door when a tall and burly man stepped into his path.

“Stand somewhere else, friend,” Joseph said in a not too friendly tone.

“I’m not your friend, little man,” the giant replied.

Always ready for trouble, Joseph readied himself for a fight. He shifted his bodyweight ever so slightly and expected the brawl to start at any moment.

“It looks as if you’ve found your way off-planet, my boy,” came a voice from behind Joseph. Nearly jumping out of his skin, he turned slightly to see Captain Yrius Vin Holson standing a few feet to his right side.

“What is this?” asked Joseph.

With a slight wave of his hand, the Captain signaled to the large man blocking Joseph’s way. The big man grunted and left.

“Don’t worry about Kuro. He’s just anxious to fight since things have been relatively quiet,” Vin Holson replied as he stood opposite of Joseph.

“What do you want? I’m in a bit of a hurry, and I thought we understood each other,” Joseph said impatiently.

Looking around Joseph’s shoulders and seeing the military men in the fatigues searching the crowd, the Captain merely smiled and nodded.

“Yes, I can see that. Your friends seem to be quite intent on finding you, my boy. I guess that’s why you’re so hasty to find transport. So hasty that you’d take up with that twit, Friskin.”

“It’s Fraskin. And yes, I am in a hurry. But at least he’s not annoying and arrogant,” Joseph stated.

“No, but when one fails to find the time to bathe properly, twit is quite appropriate. And if you think he’s in bad shape, wait until you see the crap of a ship he calls home,” Vin Holson replied, whistling at the end to add emphasis.

“Look, I don’t have time for this. Pardon me if I don’t say goodbye,” Joseph said and tried to urgently push his way past the captain.

With surprising strength, the captain grabbed Joseph by his upper arm and held him in place.

“I only warn you because this ‘captain’, this ‘twit’, is the type of man who’d sell his own mother if the price was right. You go to that ship, and you might as well walk to the gallows yourself. That’s what they do to a Guard deserter, don’t they?”

Caught by surprise and suddenly overwhelmed with fear, Joseph pulled his hold-out pistol and pointed it at the captain.

“Back off, I’m taking my leave,” Joseph said in an uneven whisper.

Calmly taking a step aside and raising his hands slightly in the air, the Captain let Joseph past him.

“Just take a good look before you board that ship. Be a shame for you to give up so easily. It’s not what Gregor would want,” the Captain called after him.

Ridden with fear, confusion, and a strong dose of adrenalin, Joseph barged out of the exit door and ran off to the relative safety of the crowds bustling by the docks. He turned back only once to see the Captain standing near the exit door inside. Captain Yrius Vin Holson waved briefly and shut the door.

Hearing voices down the narrow corridor of the docking tunnel, Joseph quickly slid behind a stack of nearby crates. He had made good time getting to the port, never slowing from a brisk walk. So far, he had seen no signs of the Guard or the local authorities. Now that he was almost there, it was time to take every precaution necessary.

After a brief conversation, two mechanics who had been talking at the far end of the tunnel split up and walked away in different directions. Now clear of people, Joseph made his way to the end of the tunnel and walked into the vast open space that served as port 24’s spaceship dock. Several large and unimpressive merchant class ships and a couple small rogue trader vessels sat dormant on the landing pads in front of him. On the furthest landing pad to his right stood a small and weathered ship. Without even looking at the vessel’s name, he could tell it was definitely Fraskin’s ship.

Most of the workers and mechanics were too busy to even notice Joseph as he walked towards the small vessel at the back of the port. Joseph eyed them carefully to make sure he wasn’t being watched or followed. He was only twenty feet away from freedom.

Suddenly, Joseph stopped dead in his tracks. The five guns trained on him may have given him pause, but it was the stern face of Corporal Trent Johnson that froze him.

COMING SOON: Chapter 4 - Escape
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post #9 of 30 (permalink) Old 04-25-08, 02:01 AM Thread Starter
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Default Chapter 4 - Escape

Chapter 4 – Escape

“Joseph, it’s okay. Just drop the bag on your shoulder and stay calm. We’re here to help you,” Johnson spoke.

Joseph recognized two of the men with him as privates from another squad. The other two, guessing mainly from their uniforms, were local police. Joseph let his bag fall over his shoulder and onto the ground behind him. He lowered his hands to his side and kept his gaze on the Corporal.

After nothing was said for a few moments, Johnson broke the silence. “Look, its okay. The Colonel figures the stress from the last operation, coupled with your friend’s death is enough to push anyone to the limit. We’re here to escort you back safely, with no charges or problems.” Johnson stressed the last part by raising his weapon, turning the safety back on, and holstering the pistol back into his belt.

“And your friends… are they here for my benefit?” Joseph queried, pointing to the nervous guardsmen with the shaking gun pointed at him.

Johnson put his hand on top of the nervous man’s trembling gun, and slowly pushed it down.

“It’s okay gentlemen, we’re here to talk.” Johnson motioned and the men behind him lowered their weapons. “Joseph, listen… I’m not here to judge you or figure out why you left. Let’s just head back to base and talk about your concerns. Emperor knows you’ve been through a lot in the past few days.”

Joseph’s mind began racing. He wasn’t sure how much Johnson knew, or what his real intentions were. He had always liked the man, and was pretty sure even in this moment that he couldn’t kill him, but Joseph knew better than to think everything would be okay if he went back with them. He had to get out of the hangar, but even moving a foot or two while he was out in the open was suicide. He tried to relax his body a little bit, and perhaps show them that he was at least thinking of giving himself up.

“That’s it,” Johnson said encouragingly, “you won’t face any disciplinary action, but we just want you to talk to someone back at HQ, you know, to see what it is you are dealing with inside.”

Joseph hesitated and then took a step forward. “You mean someone from the Ordos Hereticus?” he braved the question.

One of Johnson’s entourage, the nervous man who the Corporal had to steady before, raised his gun again in a threatening pose. The others followed suit, leaving only Johnson and Joseph disarmed.

“Wha…What?” Johnson stammered. “I don’t know what has you so paranoid, but please be reasonable Joseph!”

The guilty tone of Johnson’s voice gave away his growing desperation. Joseph once again braced himself for the inevitable confrontation. Seeing the change in his posture, Johnson once again put his hand on his pistol, but restrained from drawing it up.

“We can leave here peacefully, and everyone wins,” Johnson began, “no one has accused you of anything Joseph, so you’re not in trouble if you just come to your senses and stop this now!” Johnson was somehow able to muster a calm and re-assuring tone to underlie his words.

“So the Ordos has no interest in me? How long have we fought together Trent? How many times have I saved your life?”

Rubbing his brow in frustration, Johnson waited a few moments before replying. “Four times, but I’m not counting the counterattack on Jhentar Prime. That one was luck. Damnit, Joseph. Look, I really don’t know what the Ordos wants, but given that you’re not in custody or dead, it can’t be all that bad. From what I’ve heard, I think it’s just your extraordinary combat performance that has brought attention to you.” The men behind him shuffled uneasily.

“I appreciate your honesty, Trent, I do. But with the war that’s going on, and the incredible amount of work that the Inquisition must have in this sector, I don’t think I can take this lightly. They don’t send a black ship and an inquisitor for an interview. I just won’t take a chance on rumors.”

Johnson’s face began to flush red with anger. “I’ve been ordered to bring you back, with or without your cooperation.” He turned his head to the side and motioned two of the men behind him.

“Joseph Vintros, by the powers granted to me by the Imperial Guard of mankind, I am placing you under arrest.” Johnson raised his voice in a commanding tone. He quickly lowered it to a whisper, “Don’t make this harder than it has to be Joseph.”

Joseph stood still as the two men neared. Grabbing wrist restraints, the guardsman on his right holstered his weapon and began to go for Joseph’s arm. Before the man could even look down to clamp his wrist, Joseph swung around behind him and put his arm around the guardsman’s neck. Pulling the hold-out pistol from his belt, he pointed it at the man’s head and slowly started backing away.

“I’m sorry, Trent. I’m leaving now,” Joseph said plainly, watching as the men in front of him aimed their weapons high. “Now put your weapons down, and no one dies!”

“I can’t allow that, Joseph. Let him go and I promise you’ll be treated fairly.”

Seeing the impasse on Johnson’s face, Joseph knew he had scarce little time. The jumpy guardsmen behind him were already searching for a shot. He started backing up, making his way towards a stack of supply crates that were behind him and to the right. Spying only with his peripheral vision, Joseph stopped when they were a small distance away and directly to his right. The Corporal and his men carefully followed, still keeping a good amount of space between them.

“We’ll have every exit from here blocked in a matter of minutes. There’s no hope of escape.”

Joseph ignored his words. Nothing seemed impossible anymore; no matter how many times he was told what he had done in the past seemed unfeasible. Risking a quick glance behind him, Joseph unintentionally gave away his plan of action to the armed men in front of him. A guardsman behind the Corporal opened fire. A las-bolt slammed into the chest of the man that Joseph was holding. In one smooth motion, Joseph let go of the wounded man and threw himself blindly to the right to try and find the only cover nearby. Joseph heard the shots all around him, half expecting to feel the searing pain of a las-shot somewhere on his back. Instead, he heard the sounds of crates and debris scattering on the ground near where he was standing only moments before. Somehow, the crates had blocked several shots and allowed Joseph enough time to get clear. Joseph heard the Corporal over increasing gun-fire.

“Cease fire!” Johnson yelled.

The guardsmen, already on edge and anxious facing off against a regimental hero continued to fire recklessly. They began to move forward to get Joseph back into their field of view. Johnson tried grabbing one of the men in a last ditch attempt to salvage the situation.

Instantly jumping to his feet, Joseph surveyed his escape options. Several large spaceships were docked only twenty or so feet away, giving him cover if he dashed for them now. Before he could make a move, a guardsman came around the large stack of crates and began firing. Reacting in a flash, Joseph raised his pistol and shot the man directly in the heart. Spinning wildly, the soldier landed in a heap next to the body Joseph had used as a human shield, both contributing to the spreading crimson pool of blood on the floor.

Before another could pop around the corner and likely kill him, Joseph fired twice blindly in their direction and dashed madly for the closest ship. Its bulky hull and large landing gear would provide excellent cover for him. Several shots followed his path, but none came close enough as he threw himself under the worn grey ship, rolling hard to the other side. Ten tons of metal now separated the soldiers and Johnson from Joseph.

“Storm! Storm! We can still fix this. They fired without my orders! Give yourself up now, or there will be nothing I can do to help you!” Johnson yelled from the other side of the ship, anxiety laden in his voice.

“No chance, Trent! I’ve already killed one of your men, there’s no turning back now!” he replied, cold and calculating.

“With your service record and my testimony that you were acting in self defense, we can get through this!”

“Even if we worked it out, I would still be handed over to the Ordos afterwards! Sorry Trent, this is how it has to be!” Joseph yelled back, spying a glance around the landing gear of the ship covering him.

Las-bolts screamed near his location as several more guardsmen joined the fight from Johnson’s direction. They began to spread out across the area in a move to flank Joseph. Recognizing the tactic, Joseph broke cover and fired at the nearest men.

“Son of a ... ! Damnit Storm, I was trying to help you! Now there’s little I can do!” Johnson screamed in frustration as he watched Joseph shoot another of his security detail.

As Joseph dove into the cover of another ship, he hurriedly changed the clip of his small pistol. He had hit the guardsman nearest to Johnson as he had dashed away from their flanking maneuver. Although he had struck the man high in the chest, Joseph doubted that he had killed him, due to the fact that his hold-out pistol was really only for close range engagements and had little stopping power. In response, a monstrous hail of las-fire peppered the area around him. The metal of the ship’s landing gear began to melt as several shots struck its iron footing. Joseph could hear several more footsteps joined the Corporal’s position as backup joined against him.

Swiftly eyeing the number of assailants, Joseph counted four men besides Johnson. Quickly drawing from behind cover, Joseph shot a man to his right in the shoulder. Dropping his weapon instantly, the man grabbed his bleeding wound and collapsed to the ground. Three left.

As their fire became increasingly concentrated, Joseph knew it would be difficult if not impossible to prevent from killing them. He had been able to pick his shots up until now, but if he was to live, he would have to fire in haste. Hating the idea that more lives would have to end before he could be free, Joseph concentrated his will on the singular task of escaping alive.

Snapping two quick blind shots, he assessed the cover around him. Even though he knew the metal landing gear would not melt entirely, he also was smart enough to realize that they would eventually surround him with their numbers and catch him in a cross-fire.

Daring another attempt to even the odds, Joseph aimed and shot another man who was trying to run behind the body of a nearby ship. Caught in the upper back, the man collapsed immediately and fell face first on the ground. A screaming flash of light caught Joseph near his right eye, absorbing into the metal of the landing gear just inches from his face. A spark singed his right eyebrow and Joseph cursed aloud as he ducked back behind the gear.

“Nice shot, Trent,” Joseph yelled, “but your sight’s off a bit. Try a little more to the left!”

Joseph waited as his taunt remained unanswered. In the background, he could hear Johnson barking orders to the two remaining guardsmen.

Pressing his small advantage, Joseph burst from cover and fired as he ran at the two guardsmen who were trying to position themselves closer to Joseph. Taking the first shot from the hip, it hit the guardsman on his right in the throat, causing the man to gasp loudly as blood spurted several feet in front of him. The second shot was much more merciful as Joseph was able to aim it from shoulder height and hit the second man square between the eyes. The two men fell to the ground where they stood, with small gasps still emanating from the poor bastard Joseph shot in the neck.

As Joseph had just finished the second shot, Corporal Trent Johnson saw his opportunity and fired at the man running towards him. Diving at the last second, the bolt of light barely missed Joseph’s head as he finished the lunge into a roll. Coming up a foot away from Johnson, Joseph grabbed the rifle in one swift move and threw it to the side, well away from the two men.

“It’s over. I’m leaving. You’ll do your duty and report what happened here,” Joseph said, holding his pistol up to the Corporal’s head. “I’m sorry, Trent, but this is how it has to be.”

“This isn’t over. They’ll follow you. They’ll hunt you down and make an example out of you.” Trent’s words sounded oddly sympathetic to Joseph.

“That’s a chance I’m going to have to take,” explained Joseph, slightly lowering his pistol. Keeping an eye trained on Johnson, he walked about ten feet away to where his bag had been thrown down earlier. Hoisting it over his shoulder, he made ready to leave the hangar.

From the corner of his eye, Joseph noticed movement far off behind Corporal Johnson. A second later, shouting began as the men saw Joseph next to the Corporal. Glimpsing the opportunity, Trent rushed Joseph and was able to get a hand on the pistol. Struggling briskly, the two men wrestled until the pistol was free and fell to the ground. Before Johnson could reach down to grab it, Joseph kicked him in the midsection, sending the man sprawling backwards and hard to the floor.

Las fire began streaking in their direction. As Joseph reached down to grab his pistol, a lucky shot struck his hold out weapon and sent pieces of it sprawling in different directions. Only feet away, Joseph saw the rifle Johnson had been firing lying on the ground. Darting quickly to the weapon, Joseph rolled onto the floor and neatly scooped it into his hands as he came up onto one knee. Firing several warning shots at the charging men, he was able to falter their advance and send them searching for hard cover.

With the brief respite, Joseph grabbed his gear and took off running once again towards the east exit of the facilities. Dodging his way through crates and various ship parts, he saw the exit doors free and clear of any obstacles. Sprinting towards them, he was tackled sideways as a blur struck him from his left side. Rolling on the cold floor with pain shooting through his right side, he saw Johnson beside him on the ground with an utter look of determination on his face.

“I can’t let you leave!” he spat, blood from his nose streaming down his face from the violent collision.

“I’m sorry Trent, but this isn’t up to you.” Joseph grabbed the rifle lying beside him, pointed it at Johnson as he slowly climbed to his feet. White flashes of pain originating from his side almost blinded his vision as he rose.

“You’re just going to have to shoot me Joseph!”

Johnson sprung from the floor and tried to once again tackle Joseph. Having full view of his assailant, Joseph was able to dodge Johnson’s charge and move to the side. Not missing entirely, Johnson was able to grab a hold of Joseph’s arm and tried to prevent his momentum from carrying him to the floor. Bracing himself, Joseph was able to stay on his feet as the Corporal fell to his knees beside Joseph, still clinging onto his arm.

Before either of the two men could act, a bolt of light from behind Johnson struck him in the back of the head. Joseph felt the flash of heat go past his arm as the man kneeling in front of him went limp and collapsed to the ground. The horrid smell of burnt human flesh rose into Joseph’s nose as droplets of boiling blood began to cool on his sleeve. Caught in total surprise, Joseph ignored three other las-bolts that just barely missed hitting him as well.

The trooper in the background raised his rifle again to fire, but this time he wasn’t un-opposed. Joseph raised his arm and pulled the trigger three times. The first two shots hit the man in each of his shoulders, causing his body to flail back and forth as his rifle was flung into the air. The final shot disappeared high in his forehead, driving him backwards and hard onto the ground.

Another guardsman ran into view and looked down briefly at the dead soldier. Glancing upwards, he saw the frightful mask of hatred on Joseph’s face and instinctively dove towards a pile of metal crates. His body in mid-air, Joseph was able to track and fire several shots into his side. The guardsman continued on his path to the ground, sliding lifelessly across the floor and leaving a trail of blood from his wounds.

Multiple cries of alarm rose in the air, snapping Joseph from his dream like state. Realizing that many more men were coming his way, he grabbed his bag on the ground and turned towards the exit, busting through the doors. Remembering the shot that had hit Johnson, he almost faltered at the top of the steps leading to the ground outside. The hissing sound of las-bolts and the ping of hard rounds ricocheted against the doorway, dissuading him from going back to check on his former Corporal and friend.

“I’m sorry, Trent. It wasn’t supposed to end like this…” he said in a whisper, regret in his voice.

Rushing down the stairs, he ran into the nearby street which was already bustling with activity. Sirens and alarms drew closer through the late day air, but Joseph saw no sign of units on this side of the star port.

Signaling a Taxi, he jumped into the first one that stopped. Signaling for the driver to leave, Joseph threw his bag onto the seat beside him. The vehicle turned onto the main intersection and began its path away from the star port. Looking through the back window of the cab, he watched from a good distance away as multiple security forces and guard vehicles surrounded the hangar of port 24.

Breathing a long sigh of relief, Joseph sat back down and sank into the dirty cushioning of the somewhat dilapidated cab. From here, things were really going to get interesting.

Coming Soon - Chapter 5 - Manhunt
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