|Submitted By: Date: November 18, 2006, 08:25:49 AM Views: 899
No Warning, No Mercy
A tiny shadow appeared inside the roiling grey mass of cloud above the storm-wrecked surface of Medusa V, briefly flitting out into a clear patch of sky before diving into another.
The local thundery had blown up out of nowhere and was making life difficult for the pilot strapped into the cockpit of the lone Valkyrie troop carrier as he attempted to keep the bucking machine upright and ride out the worst of the turbulence. He grumbled to himself about the previously clear skies they had enjoyed on the ride out from the Medusa Spaceport and how a massive storm cell appeared out of nowhere. He heard what sounded like retching from his gunner's position and decided that he wasn't the only one feeling badly about the conditions. He concentrated on the controls, straining to keep the flashing waypoint rune on his helmet visor display centered. Without warning, four more runes suddenly appeared on his screen. A quartet of Lightning fighters flashed out of the murk and took up positions around the ailing troop carrier. A static-garbled message filled his earphones and he attempted to make out what the other Navy pilots were trying to tell him. He keyed his mask microphone.
"This is Espandor Too-Niner requesting permission to formate and land on Landing Platform Alpha-Charlie. Over?" The only response he had for several seconds was more static before a sudden and almost deafening response blasted back into his earphones.
"Espandor Too-Niner, Alpha Charlie's Traffic Control clears you onto the main pad. The inertial guidance devices are currently on the blink again, so you are to follow us in. Land on the main deck. Out."
That was fine enough for him, the pilot decided. It would be good to have some solid material of any sort under his gear after such a bad flight. As if to read his mind, the Lightning pilot came back on the line.
"Sorry about the storm, mate. The Plats always cause massive atmospheric disturbances when they make planetfall. I remember once that a Plat came down on an unstable moon and caused a static electrical burst so massive it crippled the ship and nearly killed everyone on board."
"Sure makes me feel better," The pilot grumbled. "Lead on, over." The escort signed off and turned gently to port.
In the bucking rear of the Valkyrie, the newly promoted Brigadier Anna Fiest shifted uncomfortably. The dress uniform was bad enough, but the tight restraints were even worse. She looked around at the Navy gunners, who looked greener than Orks from her jump seat. She went back to staring at the main pict screen at the front of the compartment, seeing only flashes of static and the shadowy forms of the fighter escort. Then, she saw the platform.
Bellying like an ancient Terran watercraft in stormy seas, the vessel was truly gigantic. Over a kilometer long, three-quarters of a kilometer wide and standing as tall as a Leviathan Command Vehicle from keel to flight deck, it looked like a space-capable troopship in itself. She knew from her briefing notes, however, that this was one of five such vessels used by the Catachan 32nd Irregulars to support individual companies and all their Navy & airborne support for years on end in the field. On this particular vessel, the commanders of every regiment in the newly formed 16th Division of the 40th Corps awaited her arrival and briefing. Each regiment was also represented by a company of the most skilled veteran troops each had to offer. An honor guard of the best of the best- fitting for such an elite Division, she thought. These men and women would all be wondering why they were here. Some of the regiments attached to the Inquisition had a good idea why, but they weren't about to tell anyone. Next to her, Lieutenant Deventius looked over her commanding officer's notes and examined her prayer book one last time. She had that fire in her eyes that appeared only when she fought the enemy or stood at attention in front of an Imperial Chapel. She was inspired and would not forget this moment in a hurry. She turned to her Commander.
"The Emperor is with us today, Colonel. His chosen warriors await your arrival as befits anyone of your rank and position."
"He should be, Lieutenant. The only word those damn staff-jobs at the Strategic Council could give me was to inform the troops of their glorious duty, and left me as much space as possible to make my own interpretation of their orders."
"So we know nothing?"
"Nothing outside of making sure that we get as many civilians off this rock as we can, but there'll always be something more. We've always known that."
"Civvies, pah! That's job for the PDF runts, not Guard," Sergeant Gerune spat. She shifted uncomfortably in her restraints, more angry than normal. Deventius sighed. Gerune was not one for niceties, as good a strategist as she was. Be it in the briefing room or in action with her boltgun, Gerune was some six feet of scarred, grizzled veteran. Fiest glared at her disapprovingly.
"Gerune, you know as well as I do about the importance of our mission. Marshall Harazahn has decreed that we will stand, and stand we shall. Our duty is to the Imperium first and foremost, and that extends to every non-combatant wearing an Aquila on this planet." Gerune looked away and busied herself with her weapon.
Fiest looked back to Deventius. "I have heard that this Colonel Kruger of the Catachan 32nd is a good man in a fight. If we are attacked during this meeting, he'd better be. All the Division's commanders are on this tub. We'd be a pretty target if this storm broke and there were hostiles about."
"Indeed, Colonel." Deventius looked at the pict-screen and out the side windows as the Valkyrie banked and turned in on finals to the huge troop lander. The deck grew wider in the screen, its welcoming pattern of landing lights becoming more spread out as the Valkyrie descended and braked. Squat, quad-barreled Hydra turrets on the platform's superstructure tracked the incoming aircraft and turned away, while smaller twin-barreled Assault Cannon and lascannon barbettes were situated around the edges of the flight deck and on points all over the vessel. The machine steered for a small pair of waving lights, which grew into the shape of a Landing Officer waving a pair of luminescent batons in the driving rain.
With engines screeching at maximum power in VTOL mode, the troop carrier flared and dropped to the deck smoothly. The gear crunched and creaked as it took the craft's weight and the engines spooled down as if relieved. Out the side window, Fiest saw shadowy figures sprint across the deck to her machine and form two lines along the back ramp. She swiftly finished unstrapping herself and stood up, joining Deventius and Gerune as the back ramp lowered with a whine.
The turbolift ride into the bowels of the Landing Platform seemed interminably long. Fiest fought the urge to fidget as she watched the marker runes above the lift door mark their progress downwards. She contented herself with examining the ceremonial knife that the representative of Colonel Kruger had given her on the hangar deck. It was easily the most ornate weapon she had yet seen, a blade fit for the Emperor Himself. It looked fragile, but as the Catachan soldier had told her with an evil grin, "this baby'd slice clean through bulkheads as thick as the ones on this ship and still not need resharpening." A comforting thought, if one was to have the misfortune of facing something so hard to kill. Fiest's mind began to wander back to the chaotic actions upon Espandor, encounters with the Tyranids that grew in horror with the time they spent festering in the darkest corners of her memory. How many more could have been spared had she possessed a weapon like this? Or men like these under her command?
Deventius saw the look in her commander's eyes. "Colonel, Espandor was as close to hell as one can get in this universe. We all carry its scars with us each day, and we do ourselves no favours to remember them when we are about to face trials even more demanding and horrific than those. These men and women require strong leadership, and the God-Emperor has chosen you for such an honour. Remember Espandor, but not with regret or remorse. Remember it with pride, for we survived and will continue to serve until we are called to His side. Be strong, the ceremony is about to begin."
"Hangar Deck 2," the automated voice in the lift droned as it whooshed to a halt. The doors ground open, giving the three Espandor Guardswomen a panoramic view of the soldiers massed in the echoing hangar bay. Catchans on either side of the lift door snapped their shotguns to attention as Fiest and her two companions strode out of the lift and down the stairs to the hangar deck's floor. A burly Catachan NCO with a Wreathed Aquila patch on his left shoulder and a bionic eye stood stiffly at the foot of the stairs and barked as Fiest's feet touched the deck.
"16th DIVISION, COMMANDER ON DECK! PRESEEENNT......ARM S!!!" Over a thousand lasguns swung to the drill 'salute' position, and the sound of booted feet stamping to attention clamored around the bay as Fiest marched toward the viewing platform at the other end of the hangar. The four brigades were arrayed before her as she marched down the left-hand edge of the bay, two to either side.
She passed the orderly ranks of the Fourth Brigade as she began her inspection, seeing first the dark-uniformed Phoenix Guard of Nymoria. Experienced airmobile troopers, the best their homeworld could provide. Every last one was a veteran of the long Pharos xeno-war against the Tau. Next came the 651st Twilight Infantry, hailing from the Eastern Fringe of the Imperium. More Tau veterans, these men had seen extensive service fighting off the xenos' ambitions in the sector, and had also seen extensive service against the Ruinous Powers. They would serve usefully here, despite the fact that a logistical error had somehow spread them across two battlezones. After them came the somewhat more ragtag members of the Cadian 512th First Initial Strike Force. Fiest's briefing notes had stated that this Drop Regiment had a grizzled, eclectic appearance and a strong lunatic streak in its ranks, but maintained a standard of devotion and discipline equal to that of any other regiment raised on Cadia. The next regiment she passed was the Division's host unit, the Catachan 32nd Irregulars. They presented immaculately, Inquisition badges and medals shining. These were 'The Inedibles,' the veteran A Company, light infantrymen famed for their skills in hunting Tyranids and anything else their Inquisition masters required. She saw strong respect in the eyes of each 4th Brigade Guardsman she passed, the espirit de corps of a unit that viewed itself as the elitest of the elite in the entire Division.
The Third Brigade was the next to receive Fiest's inspection. The first unit she passed were the men of the 2nd Midgarten Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment, lightly equipped airborne scout infantrymen with an excellent combat record in their highly unique role. Their skills would be essential in the coming weeks and months of the struggle on Medusa V. The company representing the Kasir 6th Light Infantry all wore a distinctive golden Ork-tooth badge, mementos of their sterling service on Armageddon. The veteran 6th regiment had been the first member of the 16th Division to arrive on Medusa, as the Kasir system was almost 'on top' of it. Adept ambushers and grizzled survivors of their wintry homeworld, the Kasir 6th would serve their Emperor and Officers to the death. Even as she finished inspecting the Kasiri troops, Fiest's eye was drawn to the brightly polished Inquisition rosettes above the shoulder patches on the darkly uniformed soldiery of the Keldian 12th Honour Guard.
God-Emperor, she thought. Not another Inquisition regiment. That's two now, so either it's a measure of how esteemed my command is, or a convenient insurance policy if something goes wrong. I just hope it's not the latter. The Keldian troops held a smart parade-ground formation, speaking volumes of the discipline that had kept them alive through the horrific battles against the Traitor Legions of the 13th Black Crusade and before then, being stranded without support on a system constantly invaded by the ambitious Tau xenos. The last regiment was the 86th 'Sky Dogs.' Annoyingly, Fiest's briefing notes had been very sketchy on their origins, but they definitely had the appearance of a band of disparate individuals who had been forged into a formidable martial brotherhood through the crucible of war. Third Brigade was the survivors' unit, almost entirely made up of tough, no-nonsense men who had seen the all horrors the universe could throw at them and still fought on.
Fiest crossed to the middle of the bay, so that she could inspect First and Second Brigades. She marched smartly down to the end of the bay before completing an about-face and returned toward the lectern, Lt. Deventius and Sgt. Gerune still at her side. The first regiment of the Second Brigade she saw was the 283rd Deterius Sordes Verum Scout Division, another 'anonymous' regiment. These light infantrymen were well presented and smartly turned out. No doubt they would prove useful in the war effort. She then inspected the Cadian 27th Light Infantry. The unit was only freshly raised according to her notes, but had a strong core of veteran soldiers to boost its strength. These Cadians were stalwart veterans, all the more formidable for the fact that the regiment entirely eschewed the use of armored vehicles and did all their fighting on foot. By complete contrast, the 7th Vendoland Airborne relied on air support to be their means of getting around the battlefield. Another well-disciplined and famed regiment, the Vendoland troopers were always proud to serve.
However, the next regiment, the Catachan 13th 'Bloodstripes' exuded an air of reluctance. She knew that they were here at the Inquisition's behest. but she had heard that there was a general uncertainty among their ranks about how effective they would be in cityfighting. The fact that they had been plucked from their jungle home in the midst of re-organization, and that the previous CO had been executed by Inquisitor Dorian for voicing his doubts about the 13th's new mission had not done much to help them either. At least they had some kindred spirits in the Division with them.
Fiest finally turned to inspect the First Brigade, her brigade to lead through hell and back again. First in line were the Cadian 101st Airborne. Colonel Ezra was renowned for his hard-line attitude to orders, even at the expense of his men, but his style of leading from the front went some way to counteract that. His personal prowess was something of legend, having supposedly slain five Berserkers of Khorne in single combat. The regiment itself was highly disciplined, as any Drop Troop unit should be. She finished inspecting the proud Cadians and moved on to the 207th Kazarkanian Assault Infantry. These men were all recent veterans of a massive and hard-fought campaign against the Greenskin menace on the hiveworld Hargon, and before that had performed sterling service in the fight to repulse the Despoiler from the Cadian system. Troops of this caliber were hard to find, she mused as she began to inspect the 14th Sido's World Regiment. These light infantrymen were consummate ambushers and seemed to have a real artillery fetish. She'd never seen so many big guns in an infantry formation before, but had learned that such tactics spoke volumes of their patience and attention to detail. Their skills in strategy and diplomatic nature would make her job of running the Division so much easier, and many of the regiment's higher-ranked officers were pulling double duty as part of her Command Staff. Finally, her regiment was up for inspection. The Espandor 12th 'Screaming Eagles,' the last surviving link to a long-dead world and champing at the bit to avenge it. They would fight to the last, and outdo just about everyone else in the Division to achieve victory. There were unconfirmed reports of Tyranid sightings on Medusa V, and Fiest knew that while her soldiers held their discipline and waited for confirmation, they secretly rejoiced at the chance to smash the Great Devourer's swarms here and gain a measure of vengeance for the outrages they had inflicted on Espandor.
Fiest mounted the viewing platform/lectern, seeing behind her all the assembled commanders of the 16th Division. She turned to view the assembled troops below her, a feeling of deep excitement and tension in her chest as below her, the Catachan NCO bellowed the command <i>"EYES FRONT!"</i> and the companies turned smartly on their heels to face the lectern. Colonel Fiest leaned toward the microphone as a short, brief burst of feedback screeched through the hangar's tannoy system. Then she took a deep breath and began to speak.
"I'm sorry that I don't have too much to say, so I'll keep it brief. Most of you have no idea of what we're up against here on Medusa, some of you do know but cannot say for any number of reasons. That is not of any interest to me at this time. However, what I can tell you is that the 40th Corps is here on Medusa V to protect the lifeblood of the Imperium, its people. You are all standing before me here because you have been selected by the best minds the Segmentum has to offer, or volunteered to stand by the Emperor in this hour of need. We are the light and the Drop Infantry, the forces that search out the enemy and hold him in place so that our First Line and Mechanized brethren can deal the telling blows. If the enemy thrusts against us, we are the knives that cut off the fingers and severs the wrist before the sledgehammer of the Corps pulverizes the arm. We are the 16th Division, the best that our Imperium can offer! Every one of you has proved yourselves in battle, and before we are lifted off this Emperor-forsaken rock you will do it time and again! This Division has adopted the motto 'No Warning, No Mercy,' and every foe we face will be forcibly reminded of it every time they move against us. Medusa will not fall before the populace is free and our enemies' nefarious plots lie in the red-soaked dust with them!"
The assembled Guardsmen roared their affirmation, a wordless shout that communicated their zeal and devotion. Medusa would never fall with men like these. The music for Imperial Hymnal XXIV flooded across the hangar bay and it seemed that every voice on the ship was lifted in chorus for the hymn 'Imperator, We Abjure Thee.'
Half an hour later, Brigadier Fiest stood on the Landing Platform's Command Deck at the top of its mighty Island and oversaw the departure of the last contingent of her Division. As the Dropships and their escorts banked away, she motioned to Deventius.
"Lieutenant, have all the Division's commanders assembled in the Strategium, and make sure that Gerune is there too. It's time for the real briefing and deployment plans."
Deventius saluted smartly and turned away. There was still a faint trace of rain in the air, a distant after-effect of the Platform's traumatic entry into the atmosphere. The ship bucked benignly beneath her feet. In that instant, the die was cast. Espandor would be atoned for here. Not one backward step.
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