The Arc Cruiser, Primus Code stalked amidst the violet and crimson clouds of the Hera Nebula. The stars here were ghosts in the ether, illuminating the billowing vapors and scattering radiation in a haphazard spectrum, rendering the vessel all but invisible. The nearest of those stars glowed fat and red, gorged from eons of feasting upon the nebula's gasses. A small planet once known as Shatara was the hungry star's only surviving child and it was suffering from an Ork infestation.
Even closer to the world, a handful of small satellites, running on barely enough power to keep their entombed Astropaths alive, transmitted raw data to the Primus Code. From what their translator servitors could divine from the Orks’ brutish radio chatter, the Tech Priests had surmised that the world was completely lost along with its three manufactorum complexes.
Magos Dominus Ulivaras sighed as she poured over the seventeen datafeeds scrolling on the bridge's voluminous pict display banks. She didn't have to sigh, of course. Not anymore. Her lungs no longer burdened her nearly perfect form. In fact, precious little of her original body remained, though she retained just enough to maintain her individuality, and, unfortunately, a sliver of her humanity. A porcelain mask and chest plate covered her remaining flesh while tangled, writhing masses of mechadendrites snaked out of her torso and interfaced with the ship.
She was the ship. Whenever the Primus Code glided through a Hydrogen cloud, the ship's sensors transmitted the sensation to her human brain which translated as a faint, warm breeze. The memory of cool wind on wet skin, hair pricking up on gooseflesh. A splash. Someone laughing. The memory faded. There was not much left of her memories from before the Omnissiah's embrace. She was better for it.
She droned, "Fifty-seven thousand feeds analyzed. Eighty-four remaining. Prepare the vessel for departure and recall the Observation Drones."
Her Secundus repeated the order. Ulivaras observed in her status feed that the Tech Priest was seeing to the preparations. Confirmations of the orders began to stack into the ship's logs while further subordinate orders were queued, awaiting the completion of prerequisite tasks. The Magos paid little mind to these minutiae. It was the sensor data from the Observation Drones which concerned her.
If Magos Ulivaras were to admit she had a specialty, it was decryption. Other Magos had admitted a somewhat emotional jealousy at her ability to find patterns where others could not. She could find a meaning in scraps of code from a number of sources and re-assemble it faster than even a hundred servitors slaved in a computational chorus. She grudgingly admitted to herself that this knack had faded somewhat with each brain augmentation. Although the Omnissiah had blessed Ulivaras with many modifications over the centuries, it had been some time since she'd accepted further wetware.
"Belay last order," she blurted in binary. Her Secundus, as calmly as he had carried out the previous orders, began recalling them.
There had been a pattern in that last datafeed. Background noise. Music. It was playing in the background of one of the Ork transmissions. The Ork (presumably one of some importance) was very upset that Manfactorum Assembly Alpha was experiencing a glitch in the vox units throughout the complex. He was demanding, in a very loud tone, that a technician or "Bloody weedy grot oiler" be despatched to the Manufactorum to "Bloody well fix this racket".
The Magos set twenty-five compilation servitors to the task of finding other transmissions carrying the music in the background. She pushed the data to Tech Priest Collumxar to be stitched together into a single, unbroken piece. The music was soon filling the bridge's acrid air with its vibrations. Bass shuddered the deck plates and a crowing voice begged for love. Disgusting sentiment. However, she hadn't been wrong. The bass line was off by a different microsecond of time with each beat. Even when the song repeated itself, each beat of the bass line was adjusted by a nearly imperceptible amount.
She pushed the compilation servitors to work themselves into a fever. Thousands of transmissions within, from, and near Assembly Alpha were assembled into a thirty hour string of musical filth which Ulivaras was able to translate to a single paragraph of text.
"To the Ark Cruiser Primus Code. Urgent message from Manufactorum Assembly Alpha. Fabricator Loqum Hexaflare functional. Standard Template Constructs for patents SWJ0021-K through SWJ0021-S in our possession in addition to Shatara research records dating back 3200 standard years. Location: fifty meters beneath Assembly Alpha, smelting tunnels."
It was clear Hexaflare knew Ulivaras and the Primus Code had been enroute when the planet had fallen to the Orks. It also seemed as if Hexaflare had calculated that Ulivaras would investigate and surmise all possible permutations of recapturing the world and rescuing any survivors before returning to the Forge World for further instructions. He had also wagered quite heavily on Ulivaras's decoding abilities. It would seem, she surmised, his faith had been well-placed.
"Data on patents SWJ0021-K through SWJ0021-S," she ordered.
The servitors replied immediately (rarely a positive sign), "All patents are registered Millennium 29. All other information is access denied at your security level, Magos. Standard Template Constructs listed as classified and top priority."
The Tech Priest peeled her eyes from the pict bank and affixed them to the main viewport. The red star burned, nestled in the arms of the nebula. She growled, the sound was a sputter of static from her voxcaster. Ulivaras knew the world assembled tanks from various Forge Worlds, accepting chassis, weapons, and armor from many different worlds, then assembled them for the specific needs of the local systems. The STCs hidden away beneath even one of the world's three Manufactorum would likely be priceless.
"Secure from general quarters. Recall Observation Drones. Battlestations." The Arc Cruiser's blood flowed and brought it what it needed to make war upon the Orks. She felt the millions of souls within the vessel run about their tasks, from the lowliest servitor to the most important Skitarii commander. Before she finally gave the order to cycle up the engines for the short Warp jump, she transmitted a message. She requested assistance from both the Adeptus Mechanicus and the only other Imperial ship which was only hours away: the Carrion Crown under the command of Chapter Master Revueltas of the Blood Ravens.
The Primus code groaned and lurched itself towards the engorged, red star. They spent only a moment amidst the miasma of the Immaterium, but the chronometers reset themselves forward three days upon their arrival. The engines immediately began their hard burn towards Shatara. A handful of small Ork vessels attempted to intercept them, but the Orks were little more than a nuisance to the big Ark Cruiser which swatted them away with indifferent pulses of Lance fire.
The engines screamed beneath them, shaking the deck plates and likely throwing countless systems out of alignment. Haste was often a necessary evil, though the risks grew as the ship aged. Dozens of damage reports piled up in the periphery of her attention, but none of them were critical. It wasn’t long before Shatara could be made out from the other specks in the void, growing from a pink dot to a disc.
“Spin us around for Deceleration on my mark,” Ulivaras ordered, then sent a single blurt of code to her Secundus. The engines were quieted. Then, across the hull of the ship, thrusters fired, doing their work to spin the ship about on its axis. It did not take long for her to come about; the thrusters of the Primus Code were more powerful than the main engines of any Ork vessel they had encountered yet. When the ship had turned, the main engines fired up again. “Secundus, my goal is to move past the enemy fleet gathering to greet us above the north pole and finally arrest relative speed just beyond them so that our fore armour and strongest void shields are facing the swarm. Prepare the necessary maneuvers.”
“Confirmed,” he blurted.
Ulivaras committed eight of her mechadendrites to interface with eight different external cogitators, beginning the task of formulating a battle plan. Again, she cursed her need for external cogitators, but only for a moment. Her human mind was also working. She had it set to the task of unraveling the tangle of security code which was hiding the true nature of the STCs for which her soldiers were about to fight and die.
Shatara was wide enough in the Primus Code’s primary oculus to pick out continents and individual clouds when the Blood Ravens Battle Barge, Carrion Crown, translated from the Empyrian just outside the system.
"Praise the Omnissiah. Now we have a fight," she said in the Gothic tongue, her meat brain getting the best of her decorum.
The long-range vox crackled to life, "Battle Barge Carrion Crown to Arc Cruiser Primus Code. Respond." A deep voice. Human lungs and vocal chords rarely produced a voice quite like that. Astartes, of course. They rarely put humans in command of their Battle Barges.
"We read you, Carrion Crown," the Magos replied. Her voice over the vox was her own, recorded centuries ago, the unique waveforms stored for future use. She was always a bit startled to hear it. When she would speak through the implant on her face, it would crackle with static and had a hollow, tinny quality. For this reason, she rarely used the implant for electronic communications, favoring the artificial voice in the machine instead. There was no room for errors due to misunderstandings. "How soon can you rendezvous with us?"
"Full acceleration burn will bring us to you within the run-time of The Folly of the Flesh."
Referencing the ancient (and ridiculous) vid-play about a Servitor who falls in love with a Magos was a simple, but acceptable cypher. The Primus Code would join them within three hours. "The Orks are gathering beyond each pole, Space Marine." She avoided transmitting the Chapter Master's name or rank over the vox. It likely didn't matter with the Orks, but protocol was protocol. "They are beyond my line of sight, but it seems they intend to both make a run at us with a twin-pronged approach. It will be costly for them, but they will overwhelm us if they are able to gather enough vessels for the cause."
"We need a beach-head, Primus Code."
"We will draw them away from the dropsite and tie them up for as long as we are able. We will make them regret their actions against the Omnissiah this day, Space Marine."
The vox crackled. His silence belied his respect.
"Know this. Manufactorum complex Reclimatus Alpha is experiencing rather strange radiation bursts and gravimetric anomalies. This is to be expected when Orkoids desecrate holy places. In addition, the Void Shields are once again operational. You will not be able to safely insert troops in the Manufactorum proper."
"Understood, though I believe there is a scrapyard surrounding the complex."
"Affirmative. It is approximately five clicks in radius and encircles the facility. If you land in the verge of the territory, you should be able to penetrate their defenses on foot largely unmolested."
"We will devise a plan around that data. I should say no more, but thank you, Primus Code."
Sentiment. She appreciated the Astartes chapters who did not engage in that particular human behavior. She chose to ignore it. "The Orks will not destroy us outright, Astartes. They will want to board us. This should offer you some time, but I will need my Skitarii to put up a proper defense. However, expect some assistance from a handful of operatives already on the planet."
"Understood, Primus Code. Good Luck."
"Luck,” she replied, “ is a myth."
The denizens of the scrapyard surrounding Reclimatus Alpha never noticed the persistent, dry smell of oil, iron, and rust on the wind. The field of broken machines were piled high, one after the other over the centuries. It was hazardous to even walk amongst the ruined heaps because beneath your feet could lie countless other stacked wrecks waiting to shift under the slightest pressure and swallow you whole.
The piles of junk had grown significantly since the Orks had taken the planet. Reclimatus Alpha had always been a reclamation plant where Tech Priests and their servitors had worked with tireless enthusiasm to restore damaged holy machines to life. Now, the Manufactorum was called "The Shop" (just as Shatara was now called “Ghorok”) and the Orks had stepped up production.
Although many of the servitors had survived the assault, most of them were now slaves to the Orks along with many other humans. Even a few Tech Priests were at the mercy of The Shop's new lord, the Big Mek named Rustbolt. It was rumored that he had done something to their brains, slaved their augmentations to his own and opened their minds to his. Now, the remaining Tech Priests were totally subservient to the Mek and his retinue.
Hume-Nob Jodan and Commissar Nela Holt had a commanding view of the busy warren beneath them. They stood in a sodden, sooty room on the outer skin of The Shop. The room had once been an executive office, the workplace of some long-forgotten noble. The huge pane window had long since shattered, so they stood amidst the glittering fragments of civilization and watched the new invasion. The sounds of retro-rockets were carried to them on the rusty wind, punctuated by the retort of landing craft slamming into the ground just outside the scrapyard’s perimeter.
“Damn,” Neela growled, “Space Marines.”
“Indeed,” Jodan agreed.
Jodan and Nela, along with their tight gang of survivors had not only observed the industrious rise of the Orks in the Manufactorum district since the greenskins had taken the world, they had taken part in it. There was no stopping the creatures. They had certainly not attempted to fight against the rule of the Orks. It was madness to try. Instead, they had turned to the only means of survival left to them: coexistence.
Before the Greenskins, Jodan had been a crew boss among the scrapyard’s Scavengers. They would spend their days toiling in the parched wasteland of once-mighty war machines and other devices whose purpose had been long forgotten. The Reclimatus Magos would pay good bounty for some parts. Although many of the Scavengers had no idea what most of the parts were used for, the Magos had been competitive with each other, thus ensuring the choice materials fetched a dear price in water, food, equipment, or even Thrones.
After the invasion, resources became scarce and the human survivors of Ghorok had been in danger of becoming little more than playthings to the cruel Orks, particularly in the hab-zones outside the Manufactorum district. Everyone had heard of Orks in the past. The Imperium had painted the creatures as savages, more of a force of nature than a proper culture or society. It didn’t take long for Jodan and many of the other Scavengers to understand the failings of this false conceit. The Scavengers reacted to the Orks’ brutality with brutality of their own. Jodan built a reputation as quickly as he could, gathering dozens of Scavengers into his gang, or “mob” as the new culture began to call it. He wasn’t discerning about those he drew into his mob. He simply needed enough numbers to put up a show of force against the roving packs of greenskins. This was the only key to survival in the new order.
“We can’t fight Space Marines,” she said. It was stated as a fact, not out of fear.
Jodan felt a twinge of injustice, “We fought the Greenskins. We should fight for what we’ve built here.”
“Don’t be a damned fool, Jodan. We will die. There will be questions. We will resist the questioning, but not all of our mob will. They will talk, and we will die for our Heresy.”
Heresy. That was still a mighty word to his ears, even after all that had happened. Jodan’s hands began to shake. Nerve damage from decades of exposure to throne-knows-what in the scrapyard meant he had to concentrate on keeping them from shaking, but under stress, he tended to lose control. He was afraid. He knew it. Worst of all, though, he was sure Nela knew it as well.
True security had been tenuous for some time, at least until he met Nela during a chance encounter on the outskirts of the scrapyard. Within a couple of weeks since the Imperium abandoned Shatara, Jodan had already earned the title “Hume-Nob” from several of the Ork and Gretchin gangs in the region. There had always been danger, though, not only from the Orks but from the undisciplined wretches he had gathered to himself. In addition, in order to maintain the veil of strength, he was forced to make truly reckless decisions. Soon, his well-armed group of thugs openly raced about the rust-stacks in their soot-belching jalopys, brandishing their confidence like an unsheathed sword. Those who dared attack them were gunned down, Ork, Grot, and Human alike.
During one of these parades of over-confidence, they pulled up on the Commissar and her growling phalanx of Chimera transports. Jodan had slammed on the brakes of his own lightly-armoured buggy, ferrous dust billowing forth in a cloud. Kursk, manning the Heavy Stubber (Big Shoota to the Orks) in the cupola above him cursed and nearly pitched out of his crow’s nest. The five Chimera were all in various states of repair, but all seemed to be painted rather recently with bright blues and greens. White dags, checks, and Ork glyphs were scrawled across their hulls. Some of the pintles were manned by men and women in blue uniforms, some of them even smoking cigars.
Through the cloud of dust, he watched as the lead vehicle popped the hatch of the its Heavy Bolter turret and an officer hauled herself onto the hull. She was sporting a smart, blue uniform trimmed in gold and white. A deadly Plasma Pistol and power sword were holstered to her generous hips. She wasn’t exactly clean (no one was), but she held a commanding presence, even without saying a word. To this day, Kursk held that it had to be the hat. Although the Commissar’s hat was rather impressive, Jodan knew it was much more than that.
“Hume-Nob Jodan?” She had barked.
Everyone had looked around as if they had no idea who this Jodan person was. Fat Betty had said, “I am Alpharius!” prompting a wave of laughter from the mob. A cold, deadly stare from the officer brought immediate silence and reversed every smile.
“Reveal yourself, Commander Jodan.”
Jodan had stood up in the cockpit, gripping the roll-cage in as casual a stance as he could manage, “Commander? Please. I’m no yellow-hearted lasgun-slinger!”
“You are now, you damned fool. My name is Commissar Nela Holt. I’ve been looking for you. I should have realized I only needed to find the loudest and most conspicuous group of scrap fleas in the region. I’ve come to discuss a partnership.”
“Commissar?” he said. He immediately had his doubts. For one thing, the uniform and hat she wore were impressive indeed, though they had an odd fit. Surely an officer as illustrious as a Commissar would have their uniform tailored to their precise fit. Also, Jodan had met fanatics in his time and Commissars were supposed to be the heralds of the Imperial Truth, unshakable. Why would a Commissar want to partner with his mob of dusty thugs?
“Yes. And I’m a bloody traitor now, too, so what a pair we’ll make. We need to talk.”
As an allied front, the pair had not only survived, but thrived. The Gretchin mobs and Ork gangs grew to respect them. They had heavy equipment and some among them boasted a deep understanding of Human technology that the Orks and Gretchin lacked. Now, they actually traded with the Orks, both for goods and services. The Orks of The Shop had come to rely on the human survivors of Ghorok almost as much as they did Gretchin. Meanwhile, in the eyes of the Humans, the Orks had simply become proxies for the Magos of Reclimatus Alpha. In reality, once they had established their strength, little had changed for them.
“What does Heresy matter anyways if you were dead?” Nela had said to their followers on many occasions, “What are they going to do, come here and wade through a million Orks just to kill us?” It was this sentiment which rattled around in their brains as the drop pods rained from the sky.
“So what are we going to do?” Jodan wiped his brow, “What can we do?”
"We are truly ruined if we don’t act quickly."
“Undeniable, but what?”
“You figure that out, Commander.”
She was testing him. Sometimes Jodan actually thought she might really have been a Commissar before the Orks came. Still, something about her nature sometimes felt forced, as if she were playing a part. But weren’t they all?
“I suppose we ought to fulfil our obligations to Rustbolt, just in case. We send a third of our mob to fight with them against the Space Marines. The rest of us head North, punch through any attackers with overwhelming numbers, and hide until all of this blows over.”
She allowed herself a few seconds to ponder his words. He could tell she was searching the plan for faults, her eyes darting back and forth, up,then down. “Agreed. It is simple enough to be flexible and covers our interests with the Orks in case the Space Marines are unsuccessful.”
“Thank you, Commissar.”
“There is no time to lose, though. We must go before they get very close to The Shop. We don’t want them converging on our escape route instead of the manufactorum.”
Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Fedrico Caphone growled. His white-and-gold metal edifice refused to push forward fast enough for his tastes. It was an ungainly, constant reminder of his long captivity among the Orks of Ghorok. The frustration of being wetwired into the lumbering Dreadnought body could not dull his zeal, however.
After many long months, he had returned to Ghorok to exact his revenge upon the greenskins. This was the only vector which remained for him. His physical state made it problematic to return to Terra and part of him had resigned to the possibility that his mental state was also not quite stable enough to withstand the stress daily Imperial politics. It did not matter, though. Terra and the rigors of Inquisitorial posturing held as much interest to him now as the base human activities in which he no longer took part. Therefore, he had remained with the Blood Ravens in the Pakeshi Sector.
The desire in his heart for bloody revenge was masked by the reasonable mission goals of rooting out and destroying the Ork threat. Throughout the years, even before his captivity, Caphone had lost track of many contacts and friends within the Inquisition. Until his own recent experiences, he had assumed they were all dead, victims of the Xenos filth which they had hunted. Of course, at least some of them had likely been killed in the line of duty. However, he wondered how many Inquisitors abroad had broken contact with the Inquisition and the High Lords simply to do their jobs? How many had cast away the shackles of politics in order to actually accomplish works worth dying for without being forced to discuss them in a committee?
The Inquisitor, along with Astartes, light vehicles, and Dreadnoughts emerged from the scrapyard on all sides of Reclimatus Alpha. The Ironclad Dreadnoughts and Devastator teams blasted holes in the outer skin of Assembly Alpha with nearly no resistance from the Orks. Some rapid-fire weapons ricocheted off their armor and dug furrows in the chemical-sodden earth, but there were no true defenses without. The resistance from the Orks was just enough to force the attackers into the relative cover of the Manufactorum itself.
The Ork strategy was not lost on Caphone. They were walking into something of an ambush where the Orks could engage them at point-blank range. He was certain the Orks didn’t perceive it as a cunning strategy designed to minimize their own losses; the brutes simply felt it wasn’t sporting to be cut down out in the open without engaging the enemy personally.
Caphone had been involved in the rushed planning of this assault, so he knew the Ork strategy wasn’t the only thing driving them into the jaws of the enemy. The Battle Barge and Ark Cruiser miles above them were fighting a desperate battle against the Ork fleet, waiting for the Void Shields protecting the Manufactorum to be shut down so that the rest of their forces could be committed.
The Inquisitor allowed the Space Marines on foot to use the holes blasted in the side of the outer skin to gain access. He simply charged ahead and smashed through the superstructure between buttresses, swinging a wide arc with his adamantium saw blade. A shower of sparks and debris exploded ahead of his emergence. He willed his Tornado Bolter into life, belching forth a deadly cloud of mass-reactive shells from his left torso. Machinery and cargo containers were rendered to scrap before his advance and the Orks behind them were similarly reduced to chunks of quivering flesh.
Crude rockets streaked towards him and the rest of the attackers, most of them impacting in the wall behind them and creating even more holes. A rainstorm of dust and rust showered over them, tinting their armour and obscuring their advance. Many of the Blood Ravens took advantage of this and regrouped into defensive positions while their Brothers trickled in from the labyrinth of junk outside.
Caphone did not see the point. He waded into the mass of green aliens, unleashing his heavy flamer in a gout of promethium death. He tore into the rocket-armed Orks first, reducing most of them to ash, then brutalizing the rest with his saw blade and his mighty bulk. Caphone waded through the Ork defenses the unstoppable butchery staining his white carapace first a bright pink, then a dark red.
When the guns were finally silenced and there was not a single greenskin remaining to exterminate, Caphone stood alone near the inner walls. If he were still flesh and blood, he would have been heaving breaths with exhaustion. Instead, his battle crypt stood, hissing and sputtering as excess heat bled off its skin, cooking off the Ork blood in a cloud of smoke and steam.
Most of the Space Marines and the Skitarii gave him wide berth as they advanced into the meandering corridors within the Reclimatus facility.
The Blood Ravens seemed capable enough and, more importantly, hadn't dared hinder his mission. When their Battle Barge had intercepted the distress transmission from the Ark Cruiser Primus Code, Caphone hadn't needed to pressure their Chapter Master to respond. The mission goals were more than enough to push him to action. Any intelligence the surviving Magos trapped somewhere within the bowels of the Reclimatus would be invaluable to their efforts against the greenskins in the region. Also, any STCs they could recover were likely priceless in the extreme. Caphone felt a small pang of guilt as he cared very little for these matters. He just wanted to watch Orks die, to silence their guttural laughter with fire and claw.
"Inquisitor," a voice rumbled, transmitted into his mind from his walking tomb's vox receiver.
He did not respond.
The voice was persistent. "If you push your carapace too hard, it will overheat. If it overheats, you could render it inoperable during the battles to come."
"Dreadnought," he replied to the voice, "I grow weary of your mothering of me."
"I'll thank you to refer to me as Brother Kolos, or simply Kolos if you please," the Dreadnought responded. Although his words should have conveyed annoyance, his voice belied something akin to amusement. The Space Marine was also new to his own mechanical tomb. He had fallen during the defense of this world only a few months ago.
"I wish they had assigned an older Dreadnought to this task, Kolos. One who is far less chatty," he snapped.
Unperturbed, Kolos replied, "Inquisitor, please. I still have feelings to hurt."
Caphone scowled as much as his remaining facial muscles allowed him while the Dreadnought laughed quietly in his mind.
"I am sorry, Inquisitor Caphone. I chose to speak with you because I wanted to discuss strategy. I know you are new to Dreadnought combat. Well, I am as well, but at least I've fought alongside them in the past."
He did not respond, but Kolos went on anyways.
"I am not equipped with any kind of real ability in hand to hand combat. I can fill an entire corridor with a constant stream of bolt rounds, but you will have to take the brunt of any Ork assault. I suppose I'll be able to crush a few of them underfoot, but your impressive claw arm will be far more effective against them. I shall do my best to soften them up for you before we engage. Your Tornado Bolter will also be invaluable in eliminating any anti-armour units the Orks may have before we launch an assault."
Caphone was quiet for a while, but replied, "Yes. That's acceptable."
"Having said that, it is important to wait until given the order to engage. It will be our job to tie up great numbers of the enemy so that our Battle Brothers may steal away and complete their mission. We shall have to engage them and fight," A hint of concern was at the edge of the Dreadnought's words, "I'm afraid that it is unlikely that we will find our way back to the surface
"Certainly," he growled, "I trust you are not insinuating that I am unable to choose death when the mission requires it?"
"No, Fedriko, quite the opposite. I have sensed your bloodlust. Don't deny it. I have no doubt that your goal today is, indeed, to finally die. I respect that decision," his voice changed slightly, sincerity creeping in, "Truly. I respect it. However, I need to make certain that you will not forego the needs of the mission to fulfill that bloodlust. We need to work together and make certain our Brothers can meet their mission goals."
"Don't be foolish," he replied, "I am not suicidal, Space Marine. I do not wish to fall in battle only to allow the Xenos threat to continue." This insistence sounded forced even to himself. Kolos had good instincts. Caphone could feel the part of him which wanted to end the torture of his limited existence. He could feel that need gnawing at the fettered edges of his sanity. "I will keep the beast at bay, Space Marine, for as long as I am able. My desire to destroy yet more of the enemy shall keep me focused.”
"I can ask for nothing more."
A quiet washed over them. The Darkness was punctuated by scattered lights in hidden recesses throughout the Reclimat’s corridor walls. Flickering pict displays and malfunctioning sodium arc lights revealed little of the path ahead. Sensors and small pumps filtered his surroundings to what remained of his auditory and olfactory nerves. The sounds of the two converging enemy forces were a dim echo in the darkness. The acrid stink of ozone and death permeated the stale air.
Somewhere within these halls awaited the Fabricator Loqum of Shatara and the cherished STCs for which, on both sides, so much had been sacrificed. Fedriko tried to focus on this, their mission. It was a noble mission, one that any faithful servant of the Emperor should feel blessed to be a part of. Still, an analytical focus was difficult to maintain. Resentment creeped in. How dare these base creatures spit in the face of the Imperium? How dare they withhold the sacred property of the Adeptus Mechanicus? How dare they disrupt the lives and the machinations of the Imperium’s agents?
Rage percolated, surfaced briefly, and Caphone pushed it down. He began to growl. It must have manifested itself through his hull-mounted vox-caster because a few of the Blood Ravens ahead of him glanced back. He didn’t care.
“Steady, Brother,” Kolos transmitted.
“I’m trying,” he spat, “And I am not your brother.”
“No. I mean you need to focus. Enemy contact ahead.”
A pang of joy washed over the rage. Yes! More Orks to butcher!
A Space Marine Captain held a hand up, fingers splayed. The Astartes taking point stopped and the squad leaders consulted their Auspex devices. The captain turned. He was resplendent in his frilled helmet and ancient MK IV Heresy-Era power armour. He held a massive power maul over his shoulder. Arcs of energy danced along its surface, intermittently bathing him in blue light.
The Captain said, “Inquisitor Caphone and Brother Kolos, we are few. We need you to take point on the crossroads ahead and hold back the Orks for as long as you can. We need to break through here in order to make it to the lifts to the lower levels. We won’t have enough numbers to perform our mission if we wade in with the Orks here.”
Kolos straightened his posture, his hyrdaulics hissing, “You can count on me, Captain De Leon.”
Caphone regarded the Captain for a moment, “Captain,” he growled, “Try and stop me.”
Several of the Assault Marines chuckled. De Leon said, “Very well. All squads, follow me.”
The attack force came to an open space which seemed to be a crossroads of sorts with corridors splitting off into five different directions. As the Space Marines and a smattering of Mechanicus forces filed into one of the nearby corridors, the Dreadnoughts took a position between them and the other corridors. Sounds of approaching Orks echoed ever-closer.
Even over his own thin nerves, Caphone could sense that Kolos was suppressing his own impatience. The Dreadnought shifted his legs and performed tests on his voluminous ammo feeds. Meanwhile, Caphone was a statue. The rage boiled and fought against his willpower. He would not allow his emotions to control him. He would do his duty.
The Orks burst from one of the far corridors in a cacophony of savagery. A wave of teeth, claws, shootas, banners, dim red eyes, and laughter rolled into the chamber and before them rolled a roaring battle cry. Caphone felt his hip shift and his right leg swing a step forward, slamming to the floor plate.
He managed to arrest his other leg with a scream. Caphone’s mind shook his burning heart with the inarguable logic that the Tornado Bolter mounted to his torso could kill far more Orks than the saw blade alone. The huge rack of bolters mounted to his crypt’s torso roared to life. A steady stream of explosive shells scythed a brutal hole in the Ork assault. He screamed as he killed, delighting in it, quenching his bloodlust, tempering it in a bath of blood and pain.
Likewise, Kolos’s four Heavy Bolters cast off buckets of spent shells and ripped Ork bodies to pieces. Piles of the dead quickly formed in the kill-zone between the hallway entrance and their defensive position. The corpses didn’t slow the Orks down, of course. In some cases, the Orks were able to use the bodies as cover. A few Orks began to trickle past, but the Space Marines made quick work of them even as they filed through.
Most of the Assault Squads and Mechanicus troops had moved on and Caphone’s ammunition was running low when a massive shape lurched into view from the opposite corridor. A bright-red Ork Dreadnought blurted mechanical Ork laughter as it charged their position. Well-oiled joints pushed the giant pile of grimacing icons and snapping claws towards the Dreadnoughts. Lacking weapons capable of doing any more than pockmarking the armour of the lumbering beast, Caphone and Kolos simply awaited contact with the smoking heap of iron rage.
That assault never came. The Ork Dreadnought arrested its movement several meters from Caphone and Kolos. It roared in rage and tried to move, but could not. Now that it was a bit closer, Caphone noticed that the Dreadnought was crawling with Gretchin and several cables stretched from its rear armour into the Ork mob behind it.
The Orks surged forward. Kolos tried to gun them down with his Heavy Bolters, but the cover provided by the red monstrosity allowed their foes to wash over him. He swung his torso and stomped his pistoned legs in the hopes of shaking a few Orks off. Meanwhile, Caphone, unleashed his Heavy Flamer on the charging mob and reduced most of them to ash before they could make contact.
“Brother Kolos!” He voxed, “Let me help you!”
“No! Keep them back, Inquisitor. We only need a few more moments.”
Caphone fought with his boiling hate one more time. Rather than wade in with Kolos, he swiveled his torso and poured what remained of his Tornado Bolter ammunition into the Orks continuing to file into the room. A large group was making its way down a different corridor and the Ork behemoth was covering their escape. The Inquisitor caught glimpses of a large Ork with wires socketed into his heavy,clanking armour. As the strange greenskin moved past, the Ork Dreadnough positioned itself in such a way as to make the armoured Mek nearly impossible to shoot.
With a dry click, his Tornado bolter was silenced, ammunition spent. The Orks launched a final assault on him, washing over him even as he immolated a huge chunk of their number. Both of the Dreadnoughts stumbled and were pulled down by the weight of the greenskins piling over them. A large Ork bearing a snapping, hydraulic claw managed to gain purchase on the faceplate of Kolos’s crypt and broke into it, cutting like he was opening a can of soy rations. Amneotic fluid gushed out of the pressurized compartment. The Dreadnought fought on, however, thrashing and killing with his massive bulk crushing dozens of Orks.
Caphone cut into the Orks, screaming with rage, glee, and fear, nearly shorting out his vox-caster which crackled with static. Amidst the melee, a single Ork bearing his own spinning, adamantium saw climbed over a pile of his dead allies beyond Caphone’s peripheral vision. It squealed a cry of victory and jammed its saw into Caphone’s carapace, spitting a spray of hot sparks. The Inquisitor spun and roared, enraged. The Ork was able to keep itself from being flung way by grabbing hold of the armoured promethium hose running down the back of the Inquisitor’s right arm. The Ork pulled himself and hugged the spindly appendage with both legs and arms. He engaged the saw again and pushed hard against Caphone’s arm. The Ork’s screeching saw blade severed the hose. A gout of promethium spat into the spray of sparks.
“Yes,” he roared, “Die!”
Caphone’s prison of steel and misery exploded, immolating the Orks with flaming shrapnel, followed immediately by the explosion of the other Dreadnought’s sarcophagus. The force of the double blast shook the room to pieces. Unrecognizable fragments of plating and machinery poured from above, crushing any surviving orks.
Amidst the inky smoke and crackling flames, silence fell. The Orks and the Space Marines marched their separate ways while Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Fedriko Caphone and Brother Kolos of the Blood Ravens held the line with their burning hulks.
Chapter Master Revueltas sipped a glass of Amasec in his cavernous personal quarters. The drink’s deleterious properties had no affect on him, but he enjoyed the beverage none the less. The Astartes-scaled tactical station reported three after-action feeds and a text-based litany of battle. He ingested all of these simultaneously, the information provided concurrently and chronologically by his data scribes.
He watched as the Mechanicus troops and his Astartes broke into the lower levels of Reclimatus Alpha and uploaded one STC datapack after another. They gunned down Orks in droves. They encountered defiled Servitors and Tech Priests fighting along-side the enemy. The servitors were decorated with yellow paint and covered in Ork glyphs. The Tech Priests brandished crude weapons and squealed with mad, broken tech-cant. Their behavior was reminiscent of Dark Mechanicus but different in other ways. The Servitors acted as if much of their programming had been erased. What remained of their human minds were allowed to run rampant in battle. The vicious cruelty hidden in the most primordial sectors of the human mind were exposed to the eternal agony of cheap servitor augmentation. They fought for the Orks and they did so almost as Orks. They reveled in unleashing bolts of death into their attackers, then equally reveled in hacking at their foes in brutal combat. But they still died. It was a great deal of work to bring them down, but die they did.
Brothers fell, too. Too many. An entire Assault squad were slaughtered to a man, their bodies rendered completely irrevocable. Other losses were even more costly.
Revueltas watched as his old friend, Captain De Leon engaged the Ork Mek Warlord in personal combat. The Mek was huge, though not as large as most Warbosses Revueltas had seen. It was bristling with mechadendrites and trailing a vast train of cables and wires. As the Ork moved through the halls, the mechadendrites would interface with whatever mechanical devices were nearby, as if he fancied himself something of an Ork Tech Magos. It was revolting.
De Leon swung his power maul in reckless, yet devastating arcs. Against any other foe, his form would have been laughable. However, as a veteran of many campaigns against the green-skinned beasts, De Leon knew Orks very well. His brutal barrage of blows sent the Ork reeling. Though its Power Klaw snapped at him, De Leon didn’t give the Ork any real opening to score a solid blow. The power maul not only broke bones and crushed internal organs, but it also smashed and shorted out the Ork’s bionics. The abomination died with its brains leaking through the floor grating.
While the Captain dealt with the Warlord, their position was being overrun by a huge surge of Orks. Although his Astartes were holding the Orks off at a door which served as a natural choke point, the Orks were able to push their way in on the brute force of their combined bulk alone. De Leon and his men were over-run, pulled down by the tide. Before they could be hacked to pieces, however, a Castellan Robot and its minder stalked into the room and butchered the Orks, liquefying them with tech-arcane weapons and pulping them with the robot’s indomitable fists.
Revueltas heard his own voice in one of the pict recordings ordering a Tactical Squad to fall back and recover the Captain and his bodyguard. The status of these casualties scrolled through the datafeed as part of the prepared report. He sighed and swallowed another draught of the Amasec. Now, De Leon and seventeen other Astartes were lying in stasis under the ministrations of three Chapter Apothecaries and their subordinates. Even five hours later, their fate was uncertain. De Leon would need a new leg and arm at the very least.
The report was nearing its conclusion. Just as their forces were clashing with the swarm of Servitors outside the Fabricator Loqum’s cell, the Reclimatus Alpha itself turned against them with a sudden brutality. Emplaced weapons came to life and began blasting Astartes and Mechanicus alike. Automated machinery worked against them, trap-doors springing open and furnaces belching sticky, promethium flames down corridors. Madness babbled over the vox-casters throughout the facility.
Alongside these events, the report of the Magos in command of the allied Mechanicus forces during the battle echoed Revueltas’s assumptions. Fabricator Loqum Hexaflare was lost, infected by the perplexing and insidious Ork code. He had turned against them and the entire facility with him.
Through the pict feeds, Revueltas heard his own voice again, “We have the STCs and the Fabricator Loqum is lost. Fall back to your extraction points. Strike team Prime, prepare for teleport extraction.”
The pict feeds faded one after the other as Space Marines and Mechanicus were pulled back up to the ships. Only the recorder drone hovering outside the facility remained. Thunderhawks forced their way through clouds of Ork fighters, secured their payloads, and launched back up through the swarms. A moment later, all the screens were dark.
He leaned back in the huge throne, closing his eyes. Was it worth it? So much equipment could not be recovered and too many brothers had returned in critical condition or had not returned at all. The Battle Barge wasn’t much the worse for wear. She was damaged, but she’d been hurt far worse before. The Ark Cruiser Primus Code, however, was badly crippled. There were glowing rents in her hull and few of her turrets remained operational. Magos Dominus Ulivaras had offered to stay behind and hold the Ork fleet while the Battle Barge escaped with the recovered STCs, but Revueltas had refused.
His real chief regret was that the Ork fleet had been so numerous that attempting an Exterminatus on the world would have been a waste of time. That hadn’t stopped him from launching a Cyclonic Torpedo, though. As the Battle Barge and what remained of the Ark Cruiser steamed away from the planet, he launched one of the ponderous torpedoes in their wake. Just as the pursuing Ork fleet were about to pounce on it, Revueltas ordered its detonation. For a moment, the main oculus on the bridge was nothing but white light. Then, the bright green cloud of plasma dominated their view, setting hundreds of Ork vessels aflame. This bought them time for their escape, even the crippled Arc Cruiser.
A chime broke his reverie.
A voice replied from the small voxcaster embedded in the tactical station, “Transmission from the Primus Code, Chapter Master. It is the Magos Dominus, sir. Secured Point to Point channel.”
It was odd that the Magos had used a secured channel outside of combat, but he said, “Patch it through.”
The pict screen soon came to life, the Magos’s strange, porcelain mask dominating the feed, “Chapter Master,” her voice was different than when he last spoke with her. It was tinny and mechanical.
“Magos. I trust you were not injured during the battle.”
“I am not injured. My Skittarii performed their duty with exemplary and exacting skill. The Primus Code will be in ship shape for Warp translation before the Orks catch up with us.”
Revueltas nodded, “Of course, Ulivaras. This is good news.” The Magos didn’t reply. She seemed at a loss for words. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I have… defeated the encryption in the STCs.”
“Oh, have you?” Revueltas wasn’t surprised at the technical feat, of course. Not after reading her file. What surprised him was the clear breach of protocol. Or, at least, the admittance of it.
“Yes. Four hours ago. I have been debating whether to tell you.”
He blinked. “For four hours?” He didn’t realize Tech Priests pondered anything for more than a few moments let alone hours.
He had a feeling he was not going to be happy about the information Ulivaras had for him, “Go on. Tell me.”
She bowed her porcelain head, then looked up and spoke with actual human pain in her voice, “The Mk 07 Recaff Roaster. The Mk 2B confectionary heating element. The Mk A117 Amasec Filter. The Mk 03 Small Vehicle Steel Belted Tyre. The Mk 112 Retractable Writing stylus.” She fell silent.
Revueltas felt his teeth grating. His powerful Astartes hand crushed the Amasec glass into powder. Blood and wine dripped from his clenched fist. “No.”
“I thought you should know, Chapter Master Revueltas, though part of my calculations on that decision assumed you’d rather not know that none of the STCs we recovered were anything of import.”
“All of the STCs hail from before the Crusade. It’s only a matter of shifting data around and having the STCs marked highly classified. This might be accomplished by an individual with knowledge of Administratum customs. A bribe or even blackmail of some kind could accomplish this. Over the years, information regarding highly classified STCs begins to naturally disappear. These were marked classified at the beginning of Fabricator Loqum Hexaflare’s administration of the Manufacturing within the Shatara system three hundred sixty-five years ago. No records remain of what those STCs contain, at least none accessible at our clearance level. It seems that Hexaflare planned on using the secret STCs as leverage to gain assistance if it was ever needed. It seems to have worked in this case.”
Revueltas leaned forward, “And you considered not telling me this?”
She pulled back a bit, “Of course I did.”
“Many different facts would lead to that decision, Chapter Master,” her tone belied her incredulity, “This information might give you and your Chapter pause before assisting the Adeptus Mechanicus again. You might expose this treachery to top Administratum staff or even the High Lords themselves, thus damaging the standing of the Fabricator General and the Mechanicus as a whole. You might even take a queue from some of your less reasonable Adeptus Astartes brothers by coming about and rendering the Primus Code to a burning cinder in space.”
“Then why did you chose to tell me?”
“Respect, Chapter Master. And sentiment. Base human sentiment which I must say, I am considering having purged.”
“Why? So you can be like Hexaflare?”
She didn’t respond for several heartbeats, “Your logic is sound, Chapter Master. We shall see. Now, I must return to ministrating our repairs. I would like the opportunity to, someday, repay this debt to you and your Brothers.”
“We do our duty for the Imperium, not ourselves. However, I would not turn down an opportunity for my Astartes to fight alongside your Skittarii again one day.”
“Then we shall monitor communications for signs of that opportunity. Farewell, Revueltas.”
“Until the next battle, Ulivaras.”