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