NATION

PASSWORD

Operation Sea Hawk [closed, FT]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Operation Sea Hawk [closed, FT]

Postby Allanea » Fri Aug 13, 2021 1:27 am

Operation Sea Hawk


"A Dark Age is not just a period in which people no longer know how to do things. The real key is that people no longer remember that certain things can be done at all." ~ Jerry Pournelle

"The work of the righteous is done by others." ~ Jewish proverb

Image


Everyone has secrets. Children learn this on the playground. Adolescents, barely out of childhood, have secret diaries and stashes. Elderly men have secrets. So, do, have states, those enormous animals. And even the Free Kingdom is no difference.

The Fleet Station is hidden in the shadow of an gas giant, and so is the orbital gate it serves. Within the Fleet Station, protective spellcraft is weaved through its floors and bulkheads. Sheets of scrying-proof metal, wards to head off the unwanted attentions of enemy and friend alike.

The orbital gate is kept inactive most of the time. It is as if the structure were being stored here in ordinary. There are hidden modifications within its frame – wards and seals, and, more importantly, explosives. The crew – and such a vast machine must have a crew – are selected with the most terrible care. But should they fail in their efforts, should the Gate be in danger of seizure – then the facility commander will put his hand on the switch without hesitation. Explosions will turn the control chips into vapor, radiant plasma glow will shear the enormous gate ring apart.

On the other side of the gate is, of course, another gate, similar to this one in design. There, too, secrets and wards, explosives and carefully selected crews. There, too, a station.

The stations should have names – Allaneans love naming things. They don't, however. Service records have classified locations in them. Logistics requisitions have numbers. The beings who serve there only talk about the place to one another, and they have their own secret phrases, their own ways to figure out who serves in this dreadful place, polishing Alice's looking glass.

Once upon a time, there was a plan – so defiant of sanity, so impossible, that even its progenitors called it OPLAN Modesty, by way of gallows humor. The proposal became, in time, a series of intelligence operations – Operation Modest Inquiry.

Now OPLAN Modesty was revised and reviewed. Weapons were prepared. Ideas were prepared as well, thoughts, concepts. At long last, a contact was made with the Ministry of Justice, and several men and women vanished from Liberty-City – some of them young and aspiring, others just old enough they would no longer have obligations that would prevent a transfer. They were, in any event, gone.

Elsewhere, on the other side of the portal, they took up positions.

Their position, at least, had a clear name.

Vice Admiralty Court, Calixis Sector.
Last edited by Allanea on Fri Aug 13, 2021 3:06 am, edited 2 times in total.
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Nagintyar
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 12
Founded: Oct 01, 2020
Father Knows Best State

Postby Nagintyar » Tue Aug 17, 2021 6:50 pm

For Captain Skareen, the scent of alcohol and drugs was a surreal, unpleasant experience. She hadn’t seen such a foul lack of discipline in all her time, lest the crews suffer the wrath of the brig or the whip. And yet here were the crews of the Kongou, almost all smoking on duty, conversing amongst one another with a rather lax attitude.

The entire vessel was typical of Dysisan civilian fare, designed to accommodate long journeys and free travel between compartments. Even the addition of internal defenses, reinforced bulkheads and plating, and the occasional spot of graffiti couldn’t hide the comfort and roominess of the vessel. The entire vessel was little more than an effort to turn the most efficient storage facility that could handle the rigors of faster than light travel into a deadly pirate vessel, capable of squaring off against cruisers should the need arise.

Sticking out like a sore thumb from the ship around her was the grey-scaled, athletic Skareen. For all her militant professionalism, she did not wear the standard Nagintyari uniform, instead wearing a white cloak over a simple black jacket and slacks, bearing no rank or insignia. It didn’t do much to hide her muscular, tanned physique or the scales running down her cheeks and the back of her neck, two orange eyes observing everything.

“This is your force, Captain? An undisciplined, unruly mob?”

“An unruly mob that has sunk more ships in the Glavarti sector than any Dysisan military vessel combined, Miss Skareen. We get paid well for a reason by anyone willing to hire our services.”

She was staring at a short creature, five feet and ten inches by her estimates. He wore the usual Dysisan light-suit, hugging his body tight and with a leather jacket placed on top of it, seemingly designed to be stylish above anything else. His cap, rather tellingly, belonged to an army officer of some unfortunate human supremacist polity that had made the mistake of angering both Dysisan and Covenant interests in the area, resulting in both a rather swift and violent retaliation and a surprising cooling in relations between Xytan’s new regime and the Dysisan Empire. Whatever symbol it had on it before was replaced with the familiar cybernetic skull and daggers of the Wokou pirate gangs. Last but not least, several knives and pistols were neatly held in holsters, more for show than any sort of use at this point in his ‘career’.

His hair was a pale white and his eyes the typical Dysisan red. His skin showed a tanned complexion, typical of those born planetside in the Empire’s many colonies, His face held a confident smirk, his body surprisingly lean for a veteran commander of any unit, let alone a pirate gang.

“And yet you come to me for help with your problem, Svald. If it weren’t for our last debt-”

“Yeah yeah, you would have told me to fuck off. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want in on this gig though.”

Svald was annoyingly correct in his assertion. Skareen may have been authorized by the Nagintyari to be a privateer, but this also meant she needed to get her hands dirty by working with these… unique creatures, more often than not.

“Last I recall, you pestered me first to let your ship piggy back off of mine to the meeting point, Svald.”

“Of course I did, your drive works better than mine.”

“And the rest of your fleet?”

“Can’t take ‘em for this op. That’s why I wanted someone with a faster drive. And they don’t get faster than those old Belisarian drives here.”

“Whatever, let’s just meet the contact when our crews are done slaving your vessel to mine.”

“Aye aye, Miss Skareen.”

The Pirate’s life was as nauseating at its worst as it was thrilling at it’s best..

***

Skareen’s own vessel was built for war through and through, cramped, tight corridors and built from the ground up to be a sturdy cudgel to smash against a foe. There were none of the massive storage rooms housing hundreds of guns and living quarters and vehicles that Svald’s own crew were fond of carting around in their converted cargo ship. Every last inch of the Trespasser was used to create an effective heavy cruiser with which to patrol the stars, carrying enough guns and armor to enforce the old Empire’s will across the stars.

Even with the Kongou slowing them down, their pace was quick enough to arrive on point right on Skareen’s oft planned schedule.

“Right, I know how much you hate pissing around, meet me on the shuttle bay.” Svald spoke over the comms, relaxed as ever when there was nothing to shoot it seemed.

* * *


As the shuttle approached its destination, it would be guided towards a landing bay. As the hatch opened, the pirates would find the air aboard the station to be cold and dry. Their hosts greeted them with an uncharacteristically taciturn demeanor - though those who knew Allaneans might find it in bearing with the famous rudeness of this civilization.

Four men - or perhaps women, or droids, it was impossible to tell - awaited them in the hangar, their faces concealed with reflective helmets, armor and long cloaks that seemed to be of no determinate color confusing the matter of their bodily shape. As one of the figures spoke, it was in an inhuman voice, clearly modulated through some means to prevent its identification.

“Greetings and welcome aboard. Please follow us along the marked green line. This is a secure facility, and it would be unfortunate if there were to be any misunderstandings.”

The four soldiers split up - two walking in front of the pirates, and two behind. As they moved on from the hangar, the visitors could see that the station was surprisingly well-lit, its corridors clean and broad, and the floors covered in a somewhat rubbery substance. Marked on the floor were several long lines running the length of the corridors - some blue, others red, yellow - and one green.

“Please do go on,” - said the same figure which had spoken originally. “We are taking you to speak with Colonel Strelkina about the details of your Letter of Marque.”

Of the two, Skareen seemed much calmer. She was almost relieved when she came face to face with another society of professionals, perhaps pleasantly surprised after hearing so many stories of the crass nature of Allanea.

Svald by contrast scanned every face and every motion with his eyes, almost wary of such a secretive and cold environment. He was almost certainly used to these sorts of places before, but perhaps it brought out more unpleasant memories than anything out of him.

At last they were brought to their destination - a grey, metal door that slid open with a hiss. The cloaked, armored men did not follow them beyond the door. Within, a large office awaited, with a desk of dark-red wood and several large, luxuriously padded chairs. Seated behind the desk was a woman in a dress uniform - mossy-green, with several medals. A portrait of the Queen of Allan and another - of the Minister of War graced the wall behind her, and below these were several shelves’ worth of books - hardcopy books, as though from a completely different era. To the woman’s left - the visitors’ right, that is - was an Allanean flag.

The officer looked at the pirates with eyes that seemed as cold as the air in the room and spoke:

“Greetings. I am Colonel Natalia Strelkina. And as I understand it, you have been invited to participate in our program. You would be... unorthodox repossession professionals?” - it was not clear from her tone if she was making a joke, or if she was even capable of humor.

“Privateers.”

“Pirates.”

Svald’s smirk contrasted with Skareen’s own stern visage, finally relaxing once he had a face to look upon.

“So, between all the secret society stuff and the remote location, I’m guessing you’re looking for a deniable asset? The sort of killers who won’t squeal with a knife against the throat? Been a while since I was offered that sort of job.”

Skareen looked visibly annoyed at the other captain, asserting herself in turn.

“Both of our crews are well versed in deniable operations and harassment of enemy logistic and combat vessels. Whatever threats you wish to eliminate or weaken will never even know we’ve met even if captured or interrogated. Not that that has been a concern before on either of our ends.”

Svald chuckled slightly, once again to Skareen’s annoyance. She wasn’t lying at least, the last time someone interrogated a member of the Trespasser, not a single soul managed to take that info anywhere other than the grave...

“I feel that you underestimate our ruthlessness,” - said Strelkina - “You’ve doubtless seen the enormous gate ring hovering just near the station as you approached. You couldn’t possibly have missed it. Now, this gate is not part of the normal gate network the Free Kingdom uses. Rather it uses...” - she waved one hand vaguely “Some advanced fractal manipulation to send ships to a different galaxy altogether. A galaxy primarily controlled by several varieties of awful dirtbags, and most of it controlled by a single, enormous, multi-quadrillion-subject society of incredible flamboyant sadomasochistic asswipes.” - she uttered these words with the same calm as anything else. “Now, because there’s no meaningful way for us to fight this sheer mass of humanity, we have decided to start issuing Letters of Marque. This is mainly a formality to help you with your prize claims when you return. I doubt that the people you will be confronting will recognize any paper the Free Kingdom issues. When you return here, however, we will handle things ike ship registration for any prizes, and of course pay you handsomely for any artefacts and documents that are of interest to Free Kingdom intelligence. Does this help you better understand the... context of your employment?”

For a moment, one could see Svald’s eyes light up as if he had just heard he was going to fistfight a Wrathmaw. Skareen’s reaction was more subdued but still quite taken aback, though quickly reverting to its more professional default.

“Mmm, an empire of that scale would be… difficult to crack, provided they are of roughly equal parity to us technologically. I am, however, confident in our abilities to harass, capture, and destroy any number of valuable assets belonging to this Empire you speak of. I will however ask for-”

“We need every file you have on these guys if you want us to make a good showing on the other side of your portal. Warships, equipment, fleet compositions, important industrial hubs. Knowledge is the best tool for killing, I’m sure you’d agree, and we’re going to need a lot of it with the sheer disparity of scale we’re working here.”

Svald spoke confidently, but it didn’t stop Skareen from worrying about his forwardness on the matter. For that matter, she wasn’t entirely sure if going up against an entity that no other Empire had ever meaningfully achieved in scale with two ships was a good idea.

“Well,” - said Strelkina, “We’re obviously not going to share all our intelligence with you. But our people have prepared a data packet for potential privateers, if you will.” - she reached into a desk drawer. Out came two large envelopes, made out of a smooth, white material and stamped with the Ministry of War emblem. “In each of these there is a ship recognition guide, several datachips with technical and political information about the key societies you will encounter on the other side, and the key military factions.” - she pushed the envelopes across the table. “Now, as to your main question, these individuals you’re going to be facing do labor under important disadvantages - namely their faster-than-light travel is slow and unreliable - and their comms are only slightly faster. Messages take months and sometimes years to travel, if they arrive at all. Sometimes fleets vanish entirely. Sometimes they emerge before they departed. Their digital systems rely on slavery.” - she fell silent, waiting for this information to fully sink in.

“Digital slave systems? What, they chain someone to a ship’s neural interface against their will? No one would be so stupid-”

Strelkina pushed a slender tablet across the desk. On its screen was an image of a human figure, hunched in a strange, fetal-like pose on a flat, wheeled pedestal. Its mouth was distended unnaturally, as if it was trying to swallow a large ball, and a tongue about as long as a baseline human’s arm hung out, dragging along the floor. A closer look made it clear why this creature was poised so strangely - its limbs had been sutured in place, binding it to its wheeled postament. “Does this answer your question, Captain?”

Svald’s reaction quickly turned to disgust, almost totally taken aback by the horrid thing he witnessed, a hardened life nonetheless keeping him from reacting more strongly. “S’Jet’s tits, the creatures who made those lord over an entire galaxy? What foul gods must rule there...”

“I thank you for being so forthcoming with our enemy. We will depart for our assignment as soon as needed.”

Any misgivings Skareen had about the threat ahead of them faded when she saw exactly what they were going up against. Not even the enslavers of the Nagintyari were so foul as to reduce them to barely living tools aboard a vessel, any such creature must be dealt with on their territory, lest they come marching onto someone else’s.

“So here is how we envision this working out.” - Strelkina spoke. “Your people will go through the gate - on the other side there is a service station similar to the one you see here. You will engage in the usual operations you normally engage in - that’s to say, armed robbery. Any ships, weapons, drugs, and other items of this sort will be yours to keep. At the station there will be a Vice-Admiralty Court that’ll hear any prize cases and provide you with legal registration for any vessels you manage to get hold of. We will also aid in refitting any vessels to a sane system of propulsion and the like. On the other hand, there are certain items for which the Free Kingdom Navy will pay you a handsome sum if you manage to get hold of them” - Strelkina began counting on her fingers for emphasis “One, any documentation, particularly if it has intelligence or historical value. Partly we are interested in military information, but partly we are interested in learning how their idiot society has become the way it is. So we will be interested not only in the obviously valuable things, but also in ship’s records, archive documents, whatever you manage to get your hands on. Two, any kind of artefacts, not only thaumaturgical ones but also historic ones and religious relics - the older the better. “

“However there are some obvious caveats. It would be ideal if you did not accidentally bring down too much attention to your area of operations - we are roughly in the position of woodworms gnawing on a mighty ship. We do not want the shipmaster to notice us quite yet. It would also be vastly preferred if you did not under any circumstances let these people have your FTL drives. Further of course, if you bring these people back to the gate with you, it’ll be blown up. I hope you understand.”

Another pause. “Oh and another thing. Do not, repeat, not let them consume the flesh of your dead.”

“Well, I can’t blame them for trying, it’d probably be the nicest thing they’ve eaten in their entire lives going off of what you’ve shown us.”

“The issue is not so much that we are disgusted by cannibalism. The enemy maintains two castes of biologically and thaumaturgically augmented warrior with the capacity for omophagic absorption of knowledge. In other words, they can harvest psychic imprints by eating their victims or drinking their blood.”

“... Two? Alright then.”

“We’ll take extra steps to ensure that any captured member of either the Kongou or the Trespasser suffer total brain loss before any potential… interrogation, in that case.”

“You do not appear to understand. “ - Strelkina replied “The ideal protocol is magnesium cremation or plasma grenades. “

“Yeah, yeah, no death like… overdeath, before capture.”

“And as to your question, our intelligence has identified at least five different types of enemy transhuman soldiers. When I say ‘two’ I am specifically just saying ‘two types that eat people to learn their secrets’. There’s also at least four different types of cybernetically-controlled slave-berserkers, several assassin types, and all manner of other unpleasantness.”

“Well, that’s a lot of genetically augmented supersoldiers to kill, maybe they might even have something valuable on their bodies too. I can’t imagine every single fucker we shoot at in a galaxy this… wasteful with bodies will be exceptionally super, however.”

“Happily that’s not the case. The average Imperial - and it is, I note, called an Imperium - naval rating is your average baseline human, give or take malnutrition. The principal thing to remember, though, is that these people would have keeled over and died ten, twelve millenia ago, had they not figured out a way to inculcate in many of their victims a sense of fierce loyalty to the whole set-up. This often lets them paper over their many, many failures by the epic - epic, in the sense of ‘the stuff of ancient song’ - exertions of these unfortunates. In other words, the average Imperial subject is well capable of absolutely tenacious resistance in the name of his masters, or acts of heroic self-sacrifice, or terrifying hard labor. So while defectors do exist - we have a few of them on this station, even - it’s best to remember that while the society we confront here is both evil and dysfunctional, many of the people you’ll see will be as brave and tenacious as anyone you heard of on this side of the gate.” - Strelkina looked momentarily at the two privateers and added “Some of the crew here call the gate Looking Glass. On the other side awaits you a realm every bit as mad as the one Alice discovered.” She smiled pleasantly. “Is there anything else we can do for you before you get out on your journey?”

“No, we’re good here.”

“Very well, gentlemen. Good hunting.”

User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

written jointly with the player of the Eridani Imperium

Postby Allanea » Mon Aug 23, 2021 8:05 pm

Station S-2405-A

There are many ways to describe the emptiness of the interstellar space. Some speak of a riot of colors, the glow of stars, some even describe the radio waves that are sent out by celestial bodies as a ‘music of spheres’. But for those who served at the Looking Glass stations, it was that old phrase about the silence of the void that was most apt. The floors, covered in a grey and rubbery surface, seemed to absorb footsteps, and even dropping a heavy tool elicited only a dull thud, not a clank that would echo throughout the corridors. On a level of metaphor, too, there was silence - the stations’ location was hidden, and the goings on classified - though of course to some extent that secrecy could not be long maintained through the same means.

It’s hard to keep things super-secret if you have pirates getting involved.

Oh, of course they would legally be called ‘privateers’. The papers had already been made out, on both elegant parchment and in digital record at once.

Still, Admiral Samson Leskov had his concerns. He knew, of course, that there would be measures taken - rumors and counter-rumors, spread out along the Galactic Holonet to obscure the truth through exaggerations, alterations, and so on. Eventually, he knew, the station would be uncovered, and changes would be made to maintain its security. But the question was - how long would this be? Would it be enough time for anything to be actually achieved?

He put these thoughts from his mind and waited for the pirates to arrive. The left wall of his office was an enormous screen, presenting a view of the bleak darkness outside, specifically the coordinates where the pirate ships were meant to appear.

A large group of them was scheduled to emerge into real space any.. minute... now.


* * *



And right on the dot, there was a sudden burst of short-lived radiation as the KAV Fensalir blueshifted into realspace, followed by multiple other vessels of Eridani design. Small maintenance drones scurried and flitted across the surface of the ships, making a few final checks as the Fensalir broadcasted its identification and purpose for being there upon request.

“KAV Fensalir, you are being monitored by traffic control. Ship docking facilities are available at Pier Delta, shuttle bay 15 is also available for your use. Cafeteria facilities are at decks 18B and 32A. Welcome to Naval Station S-2405-A, Fensalir. Follow the rules and we can make this stay pleasant and profitable for everyone involved.”

“Understood - we’ll be sure not to take anything we shouldn’t.” There was a hint of humor in the Kadrian’s voice as they confirmed the details. “A shuttle is being prepared - stand by for the roster and tracking signature.”

In the landing bay, a small group of soldiers awaited - or perhaps they were sailors. It was unlikely, however, that they were gardeners - dressed as they were in armor and cloaks that obscured their body shapes, and armed with plasma rifles. One of them spoke, their helmet not only concealing their face but also altering their voice, making it sound artificially deep.

“Greetings, friends. Follow me along the green line marked on the floor here.”

The escort split, some of the armored figures following behind the Kadrians, and others walking in front. As they walked through the station, they would notice a range of details. THe air was dry and chill, the floor coated in a grey substance that muffled footsteps. Bright colorful lines marked the floor - clearly a way to guide visitors and crew to different compartments.

Most of the men and women they met were clearly Allaneans - though some were not - here a hunched figure in dark-violet hooded, several mechanical limbs protruding from its back, a pale, tired-looking man followed, surprisingly, by a small dog - a rather unusual figure at a classified military station - at least two goat-headed humanoids. These, however, were exceptions. Most were clearly Navy personnel - either security personnel in body armor, or crew in dark-blue uniforms. All gave the privateers and their escort a wide berth, and spoke in hushed tones or fell silent altogether when the strangers passed by.

At last they would arrive at their destination. A pair of grey metal doors would slide open, and their escort would step politely back, as they entered Admiral Leskov’s office.

It was quite like many admirals’ and generals’ offices in many cultures - a large oaken desk, a portrait of the Minister of War and one of the Royal Family, an Allanean flag, a screen and a keyboard, several bookshelves filled with books and mementoes from the Admiral’s long service - model ships, plaques, and the like.

“Good day,” - said the Admiral, and got up to shake the Eridani’s’ hands.

Erion Greycloak, Captain of the Fensalir and the scion of a cadet branch of the Great Clan Greycloak, smiled and shook the Admiral’s hand. “Sæll, Admiral. I hope the day has found you well.” He then introduced Leskov to the other members of his crew that had accompanied him - Adûnaphêl, a Black Númenorean woman from the recently integrated Kingdom of Ellanore, and the Chimer Marvor Relvani of Resdayn.

“So let’s start with something pleasant, I think that’s the right way,” - said the Admiral, putting four faceted glasses on the desk, as well as a bottle of light-brown fluid. “We are all sailors here, and I’ve never seen a sailor turn down liquor” - he filled each of the glasses halfway with the mysterious fluid. “What we have here is a sample, if you will, of some of the bounty that awaits you on the other side of that gate. One of the better brands of Imperial amasec, I am told.”

And all eyes turned to Erion, who lifted his glass and swirled it a little, sniffing at it before taking a drink. “Hmmm. A little on the overheated side, but not bad at all. Definitely not something one would serve at a royal banquet, but it’d serve a Jarl just fine.”

And with that, the rest took their drinks. The Admiral threw his head back, gulping his drink in a single, fluid motion of hand, face, and jaw, and began to speak.

“So, here are the mission parameters, if you will: on the other side of that portal is a galaxy dominated by a enormous, yet completely dysfunctional civilization - really, stretching the word civilization to its absolute limit. We’ve seen some aspects of it, or perhaps versions of it, thrown into our own galaxy by the vagaries of fractal space-time - so you’ve probably heard of an Imperium of Mankind before. If not - imagine the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. Imagine theocratic militarist suppression, sanity-eroding bureaucracy, and about fifteen varieties of horrifying slavery - ranging from simply forcing people to do hard labor in inhuman conditions with whips and cattle-prods, and down to converting them into only partly-sapient cyborg machines entrusted with menial tasks like opening doors or carrying loads. Sadly, however, there are far, far too many of these people for us to deal with all at once.”


Erion nodded, “Ruled from Holy Terra by the so-called God-Emperor of Mankind? Aye, we know the type. The Eridani Fleets have ran into more than a few… let us call them claimants to the title in our area of the galaxy - Only one or two have survived their first century. I assume that what we have here is the original Imperium? Or one of them?”

“Well, I don’t know what we can call ‘original’... but it’s certainly full-sized. Which kind of preempts us from just bursting into the scene and breaking the whole damn show up like a bunch of riot cops at a drunken brawl.”

“But, we can cut off the fighters from their drink.” Erion said, catching on. “Or in this case, make what remains of their logistics more of a mess. Which is where we’re coming in?”

“What needs to be considered is an issue of scale. Obviously if we were to go in right now and start tearing things up, a naval force would react, and perhaps discover the gate. Now we would of course have to destroy it. At best this would disrupt our operations. At worst, Gods know, they might capture a faster-than-light drive that doesn’t suck. Let’s not, and say we did. No, my friends, we are not riot cops here - and I say ‘we’, lest you think I am somehow deriding your capabilities. No, we are... shipworms.” - the Admiral paused, “Despite its name, the shipworm is not a type of worm at all. It is a sort of marine mollusc, a relative of the clam. During the age of sailing ships, shipworms infested the wood from which ships were then made, slowly, gradually eating away - and if they went undetected, catastrophe one day occurred.”

“Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to simply go through that gate and to rob, loot, subvert, and explode. The Imperium - enormous as it is - will probably not even notice your efforts for a while unless you do something inhnumanly stupid. Naturally, I cannot expect you to do meaningful damage to a civilization of quadrilllions of people and thousands of ships - but on the other hand I expect you to come back here with captured ships, valuables, and defectors. We will help you in converting the ships to some sensible faster-than-light technology, and pay good money for Imperial artefacts, religious relics, records of any kind - or in fact the dead bodies of Imperial officials or Space Marines if they come with reasonable proof that they are in fact the bodies of Imperial officials and not some random dude you field-executed. There are of course reasonable restrictions on your activities - don’t do anything painfully stupid or evil, don’t engage in slavery, don’t bring a tail with you to the station, for the dear love of the Gods don’t let them grab hold of your technologies. I also recommend against letting them seize the bodies of your dead.”

“I’m fairly sure that even an Alcubierre drive would be better than whatever the hel they use to access the Warp.” Erion scoffed. “But I completely understand.”

“I am of course merely reminding you that some of their transhumans practice omophagy - an effective form of psionic divination through the consumption of enemy bodies and blood.”

The Allanean reached into a desk drawer, and placed four identical sealed packages on the desk, each made of a smooth, white material. “Here are your data packets - hardcopy, digital, a summary of our intelligence coverage about the sector. Obviously this is somewhat redacted for the safety of our undercover assets at the sector capital but there’s plenty of useful things - demographic data, strategic information about the sector fleets and their movements, economic data to help you choose your potential targets, and so on.”

“Oooh, shiny.” Erion picked up one of the packages. “Remind me, though - The Imperium of Mankind has what I believe are called Shrine Worlds, yes? Whole planets dedicated to the worship of the Emperor?”

“That is correct. Whole planets entirely built up for the worship of the Emperor and his various ‘saints’. Praise be to Him on Terra”, the Admiral said in mock piety.

Erion grinned. “Then perhaps it’d be appropriate to attack one of those to start with. A Lindisfarne to herald a new Viking Age, if you will forgive the comparison to Old Earth history.”

“Well,” - the Admiral said thoughtfully, refilling the glasses with Amasec, “Skal!”[/align]
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

written jointly with the player of Nagintyar

Postby Allanea » Wed Dec 01, 2021 7:40 pm

Baraspine System

In a general sense, to be unimportant means to be safe.

In the memory of the Baraspine system, this has been true. The world had been too far from the system’s most hazardous edges to be exposed to attacks by xenos or pirate raiders, and only rarely did ships coming in, or venturing out, of the system to the sector capital come under pirate attacks. A Naval cruiser or frigate would be present at the capital to respond to any emergencies - right now, it was a cruiser, the Vigil of Agrioc, but in general the most dangerous things to any Baraspine native were the planet’s famous splinter-winds, able to strip a lightly armored man to the bone within minutes.

If one had gotten off planet, on a journey to Scintilla, one would have generally believed themselves to be safe.

Thus was did the captain of the Japhia believe himself safe. As he sat on his command throne on the ship’s bridge, Captain Mauer Jaegellt whispered a prayer of thanks that everything seemed to be going right. In a day or two, he would break out of warp near his destination, unload his cargo, deposit some of his cash with the Third Industrial Bank... soon enough he would be able to buy a larger ship. It had taken years of privations to get to this point, and Captain Jaegellt was now so close to his goal he could almost see it.

Whether by misfortune or by its very quiet nature, two vessels would arrive at the edge of the system, alien in origin to any local classification systems or technical readouts. Initially docked with one atop the other, the larger of the two would soon detach itself, soon to go on the hunt for targets.

Svald, for his part, was too brazen to really enjoy the notion of attacking such an isolated locale, though he nonetheless understood Skareen’s ideas to strike here first. It was out of the way, within a nebula, and was almost certainly going to have supplies going in and out given its connection to the apparent capital planet of the sector.

“The local defenders should be aware of our presence soon enough if their scanners are anything up to snuff. Shutting engines till something comes our way.” Svald communicated over to Skareen, simply talking as he sat down on his throne on the bridge.

“Understood, I’m sending a scout to probe the planetary defenses in the meantime.” Skareen’s voice rang through Svald’s ear, the Dysisan merely nodding at nothing in turn.

“Hey, let’s get some scouts to start exploring the rest of the system’s defenses while we’re at it, anyone else the Allaneans bagged for this op might appreciate it.” Svald spoke to a bridge crew, nodding as she began to speak into her own earpiece.

And now, Svald had to sit through the least fun part of piracy; the waiting game.
***

It could not be said that the system was entirely undefended - there was an orbital monitor station in place, and system defense vessels did in fact patrol the approaches from the Mandeville points to the main planet - but these were not warp-capable vessels, and although their firepower was ferocious by most standards, it would take them weeks to transit the system. In orbit of Baraspire itself, the Vigil of Agrioc was docked with the monitor station, its enormous hull silhouetted against the blue globe below.

The Japhia, on the other hand, was fully on the move. In the lower decks, overseers and crewmen labored apace, making the last preparations before their long journey was to begin.

“Enginarium ready.”

“Geller generator ready.”

“Life sustainer systems, one hundred per cent.”

Then, across the ship’s vox, from the enclosed plasteel egg of the Navigator’s chambers, Livia Phaetus’ voice, languid and arrogant as always: “What are we waiting for, Captain?”

Throne, but he hated her voice. Everyone knew that had she actually been good, or at least from some mighty House, she wouldn’t be on this ship. But no, she had to talk like she was the Emperor’s own gift to voidsmen!

***

“Our first catch of the day, hmm, where’s that interpreter?”

“Right here sir.”

A white haired woman, rather young and fresh off of the sensory deprivation cells of Salasan was waiting on the bridge. Red eyes and an inherent aura of what the superstitious might call magic, marked her as a De’Jaim, youthful and early into her career but more than capable for tasks such as establishing a unique but nonetheless functional way to break the language barrier.

“Alright, we’re going to try and hail them, see if we can get this over with without bloodshed, start those engines up and bring us close to the vessel approaching the edge. Make sure we have a few wings of fighters deployed.”

“We’ll provide cover and boarding crews if it comes to that. Don’t forget about the deal, Svald.”

“Yes, yes, we’re splitting everything even, let’s focus on simply catching it first, Skareen.”
And with that, the engines of both the Kongou and the Trespasser roared to life in the abyss of space, preparing to intercept their target. Trespasser’s speed was on display here, making her way past Kongou, not for any lack of trying on the latter’s part. Both were still faster than most commercial cargo vessels back home, all they needed to be to score a fish, as some pirates were wont to say.

***

“What in the Emperor’s name is that?” - Captain Jaeggert asked his sensorium officer as the strange craft approached. It was not clear to him what it was - it was nothing like any xeno craft he had known, and also unlike most Imperial ships - and it was frighteningly nimble.

“Captain Jaeggert, its moving fast.”

“I can see that it is moving fast, brickhead! If it keeps this up it’s going to smash itself into our stern! Vox officer, hail-”

“They are hailing us, Captain Jaeggert!”

From the other side of the comms, Svald could be heard speaking, the De’Jaim at his side. As far as the Imperials were concerned, he spoke in an alien tongue, so thoroughly detached from the Low Gothic they spoke, but he would pause soon after.

The De’Jaim, her eyes closed, concentrated. Breaking the rift between languages was easier when they had some link between them, some sort of shared origin from eons ago that could link them much like those she had practiced in her training. This was significantly more difficult than she had imagined, perhaps enough to…

“This is the Interpreter of Captains Svald and Skareen speaking.” She broke through as she opened her eyes, speaking in their tongue now, at least to their ears. To all around, she was now speaking their tongue, a simple but ever useful rift in everyone’s reality.

“You have something we need. There is no need for bloodshed, surrender your vessel and you and your crew will be allowed to live. Decline, and we will be forced to take your ship by force. Do not waste the lives of your men or yourself, Captain.”

With the scanners and their signatures, Svald himself could see the Trespasser slow itself down just as Kongou was also approaching weapon’s range. Already, several fighters were preparing to leave Kongou’s few hangars.

This is not happening. - Captain Jaeggert thought, as another ship appeared on the Japhia’s sensorium screens. It was no Imperial craft, of this he was certain - but it was about the same length as the Japhia, and incredibly faster. It was accelerating towards his vessel at a lethal rate. This is not happening. This is something that happens in nightmares and pirate tales. He felt the coldness of fear spread through his body, from the pit of his stomach upward. He suppressed it. Enough already. Be a man, Jaeggert. “Turn us about. Place our dorsal battery towards the smaller pirate ship. Send out alert broadcasts on the emergency vox. Vox them on the main.”

So, even as the Japhia sent out its alert signal across one frequency, its captain spoke to his soon-to-be captors.

“You cannot be serious. We are in an Imperial system. Even if you capture this ship you will be pursued.” - he did not fully believe his own words.

“Your ship will be ours either way. Speak only when you wish to surrender.” Svald spoke, and the De’Jaim translated, finally shutting the comms.

Captain Jaeggert turned to the officers on his bridge. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are under attack by Xeno pirates. If they take the ship, they'll torture us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing – and if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order. Wreard, get everyone ready to fight. Close all bulkheads. May the Emperor be with us this day.”

Throughout the Japhia, alarms blared. Armsmen flicked the safeties off their shotguns. Watch masters handed out weapons to the crew.

Japhia was not an Imperial Navy ship, nor was she a wealthy ship. Not all crewmen would be given ranged weapons to fight with. Cutlasses and boarding pikes were passed out, and where these were not enough, men and women armed themselves with heavy tools.

Heavy bulkhead doors slammed shut, in a bid to perhaps slow down the boarders a few minutes as they progressed through the ship. Only a few, select corridors were left open, for armsmen to move about the ship as they desired. The doors closed rapidly and efficiently - only one of the men lost his arm as the Japhia prepared for battle.

All of those who were aware of the attack were making themselves prepared - those who could fight, or who imagined they could fight, grabbed weapons, others locked themselves into their rooms.

The Japhia herself spun about in space, trying to get its front or its top aimed at the enemy warships, its lance batteries seeking for targets.

The moment the Japhia began to move, Trespasser was preparing to fire. Armed with dozens of heavy plasma batteries across it’s sleek hull, each glowed with a bright orange hum of energy. At this close range, they could fire and hit anything on the enemy ship with ease, needless to say.

Skareen, standing back on her vessel’s more spartan bridge, could only grimace as she heard Svald’s speech. If the readouts given were correct, she’d now have to take a ship of thousands of crew with a combat unit of three hundred, plus a thousand or so of Svald’s own warriors.

“Hit them, crack their shields and break their guns and engines.”

With that said, a flurry of plasma fire and missiles opened up on the Japhia, showing the Trespasser’s firepower to the uninitiated. She was built with the old Belisarian ideal of having enough firepower to outgun ships twice her size, and the Nagintyari made the best use of her class as a result.

“Captain!” - First Mate Wreeard called out - “Captain, the fething shield-”

And the void shields failed. Plasma bolts raked across the side of the [i]Japhia
, explosions shaking the ship. Smoke, air, and gouts of flame burst from several injuries, the Japhia floundering like an injured void-whale. Entire crew sections vented to the void instantly, those few not instantly slain by the explosions perishing in the hard vacuum.

“What in the warp is happening? Enginarium, damage report!” - Jaeggert shouted.

“”We’ve lost power feed to drive beta, fires on decks fifteen and twenty-three, luxury passenger compartment lost - “

“Feth the luxury passengers and their compartment!” - Jaeggert’s scarred face grew crimson with rage. “What about my Emperor-damned crew ? What about the Emperor-damned ship? If we die here it will not matter that we lost Lady Mordingos and her thrice-damned prize-winning canids!”

“Captain, we have lost a crew barracks compartment entirely. I’m in vox contact with armsmen on deck fourteen, they’re going to try and cut through and see if they can get damage control teams in place on deck fifteen. We can still fight, Sir.”

“Helmsman, can you turn us about already? I want to get lances on those filthy xenos scum!”

“Sir, I’m trying, Sir. Mother-fething bastards are - we have them, Sir!”

The lance batteries on the Japhia lit up, firing a single, furious salvo. Bright-red energy beams flashed through the emptiness of space. What they lacked in speed and rate of fire, the Imperial weapons certainly made up for in power - like a pit fighter swinging a sledgehammer.

Indeed, the battery would smash into the shields of the Trespasser, at such a close range there was nothing they could do but dissipate before the salvo, the hull soon taking the hit for a second more.

For the crew it was an unpleasant experience to be hit, the very force knocking many off their feet. Nonetheless, all rose back to their station as soon as possible.

"Ugh, damage report!"

"Shields down, hull took the brunt of it, several inches of armor plating slagged, redundant bulkheads penetrated. Injuries reported across all stations Captain."

"Malditos, slag those damn guns before they fire off another shot."

Seconds later, the Trespasser responded with a shorter salvo, consisting of its secondary armaments, meant not to destroy the ship but to leave it unable to fire back.

Explosions ripped across the top of the Japhia as the Tresspasser’s guns fired back. For the gunners, it was as if they were a dozen mice in a shaking tin can as they were thrown off their feet by the incredible forces. Targeting servitors burned, spreading the sickly smell of smoldering flesh and burning metal. One of the guns in the battery was sheared off by impacts, another jammed in place.

On the bridge, the helmsman struggled against the controls, trying to bring the prow of the Japhia on target. With the engines damaged, this was a near-insurmountable task, and as Captain Jaeggert watched the struggle unfold, he unsheathed his chainsword. A sense of calm inevitability began to settle on him as he spoke.

“We are about to be boarded. There’s nothing to it. Prepare yourselves accordingly. Seal the bridge doors. May the Emperor be with us.” Because it looks like nobody else will was left unspoken.

The Kongou and the Trespasser would approach now, their target defenseless. It wouldn't take long for them to prepare their assault.

***

50 rounds of 5x30mm SAP ammo were loaded in her gun, the lightest PDW she could bring to the fight, a throwaway object compared to her true skills.

They were, of course, the unlucky first assault force, providing support to the Combat Automata and the Nagintyari shock troops that would make the attack mere seconds before themselves, if things went to plan.

“Alright, pirates, once we’re in that ship, prepare for fire from just about any conceivable angle. If it’s holding a gun and pointing it at you or your mates, blast it till it ain’t aiming no more. These fuckers might be armed with anything from 10 gauge shotguns to thiry ‘mil rounds traveling faster than the average carbine round, so don’t take any chances and hit them before they hit back, got it!”

“Got it!” their officer’s squad all responded. Dysisan Pirates were loath to admit it, but discipline and ranking officers were nonetheless a necessity to maintain some order, even if they were in no way professional by any military standards.

Naran was nonetheless ready to go, already inside the boarding pod alongside the rest of the squad. There were ten of them, all sitting and strapped down tightly to the cylindrical vessel, In front of them stood a quad barreled heavy weapon, pointed right at the ‘entrance’ of the pod. This would be the second line of defense against the crew once the shielding between the door and themselves went out.

All of them were armored and armed to the teeth, their boarding pod ready to begin the assault. The agony of waiting would be met by the intense force of their pod being launched, almost akin to being strapped to a missile.

They would be one of dozens of pods sent out, all aimed as close as possible to where schematics claimed the bridge was, deep within the centre of the ship. The Trespasser would provide its own, larger pods to the assault as well, all launched at blistering speeds with tunneling bore lasers to allow them to punch right into the decks of the ship, gods willing.

All Naran could do now was hope they didn’t end up crushed by any small mathematical mistakes or immediately massacred by the defenders.

Obviously, the Japhia opened fire. Targeting servitors slewed lascannon onto the pods - but it was too little, far too late. Doubtless some would be shot down - most, however, impacted. Soon, however, the laser cutters on the boarding pods kicked in, and the Nagintyari would soon be able to breathe in the atmosphere of Japhia.

Not that they would enjoy that very much. The air aboard the craft was stale and dry, a terrible stench of sweat, oil, rust, and even less savory fluids hitting the unprepared lungs. It was warm, too - not suffocatingly so, but it was clear why the crews sweated so much as they worked - and now, as they attacked.

Armsmen with shotguns, menials with tools and pikes, foremen and officers with cutlasses and laspistols, all threw themselves at the Nagintyari. Some shouted shrilly in Low Gothic, others swore as they threw themselves forward, supplementing their evident lack of training with desperation. Only the armsmen had some degree of skill with their arms - the others, the great horde of men and women in dirty work clothes, merely swung their tools with anger and determination.

Dysisan boarding pods were always meant to clear out any potential threat posed by the defenders through a wide variety of defensive measures, and they wouldn’t disappoint here. The first layer of ‘defense’ was a crude ring of flechette munitions fired into the rooms they crashed into, meant to maim and injure any immediate attackers in the vicinity. Once the pod door opened, the quad barreled weapon’s platform within would automatically open fire on any signatures present on the other side of the door. Naran could only thank that their helmet dampened the brutally loud report of four guns firing in a rapid motion for her, shell casings dropping all over the floor of the pod, the very vibration of four 11mm guns firing at more than a thousand rounds per minute leaving an endless vibration in her teeth.

It was a fast battle to try and untie themselves from their seats, a war more against the sudden momentum of hitting a wall than anything else. Naran was one of the last, the rest of her squad already having their weapons pointed in the direction of the now open door.

They had entered a scene resembling an abattoir. Dozens of men and women had been either instantly torn to shreds by the flechette explosions, or cut up by the automatic weapons fire. Blood and viscerae were splattered on the walls, floors, ceiling, and smoldering fragments of clothing were spread out through the vast room. It was barely possible to understand where one crewman ended and another began.

And, over this horrific morass, several dozen crewmen charged once again, seeking to close with the pirates. They were a sorry sight - most of them shorter in stature than the privateers, their skin pale and dirty. Behind them, using them as cover, a squad of armsmen advanced. These wore dark-green flak vests over their sailor uniforms, and had longarms, with the man who seemed as their commander wielding a cutlass.

By this point, Naran was unseated and ready to head out, the chaos of battle leaving her rather jolted however.

“Toss the stunners, toss them!” Was heard through however, a command by their CO that got her hand right on her grenade belt, grabbing a stun like instructed.

With the sheer amount of computational power in her head, half of her brain eaten away and replaced by a machine that outpaced any fleshy counterpart, the calculations needed to toss her grenade as effectively as possible were done in a flash, several of them soon being aimed outside the pod’s doors now. Either way, Naran held onto her carbine, her form loose, as if she needed to extend her hand at any moment, waiting for the stun grenades to take effect.

The grenades bounced through the vast hallway, and then detonated with ferocious thunderclaps and flashes of eye-searing light, putting the first wave of attackers into disarray as they flinched and raised their arms instinctively to their ears, some slipping and falling in the slick gore that by now coated the floor. The armsmen, born by their sheer momentum, ran through the wave of unarmed crewmen, but even they were now clearly disoriented.

And yet the quad-barreled gun was not disoriented. It was firing and firing, the sound of its bursts like a sound of paper being torn, except louder by far. Half of the armsmen simply ceased to exist as anything resembling human bodies, a bloody mist settling over their comrades as they were blown apart. Behind them, several of the work crew fell also. Some - the smarter, or perhaps the most cowardly - dived onto the ground, shielding their heads, whimpering in terror or whispering prayers as they realized that the steel blizzard was far beyond their power to confront.

The surviving armsmen fired several shots at the opening of the landing pod, buckshot and lasbolts pinging helplessly against the armor, and then perished also.

All this took less time than it takes a dead man to fall to the ground.

“Knock ‘em!” Was all the Dysisan CO had to say to spring his squad into action, every member of the team moving past the quad barreled gun, though making sure not to travel in fronto f it either.

Even once it silenced, Naran soon heard the crack of the rest of her squad’s firearms, each of them aiming with an unnatural reflex and accuracy, herself keeping her gun pointed for anyone the rest of the squad missed.

Her eyes and arms moved faster than any unaugmented soul could, almost inhuman as they scanned the horizon. All of them kept moving, securing any angle they could potentially be shot from.

Naran heard lots of radio traffic, gunfire erupting from distant hallways, screaming. It was difficult to tune all of this out from her mind, but she kept herself composed, her discipline solid, her heart rate below that of the rest of her squad. All she could do was wait for the next batch of attackers as they pressed on to meet at the rally point for their particular assault squad.

It became clear as they moved on that the Japhia had either been built by men suffering from acute gigantomania, or perhaps just designed with the idea of moving enormous parts of some kind within the ships. The main access hallways were all enormously wide, reminiscent of groundside transportation tunnels more than hallways on an interstellar craft. Secondary tunnels no doubt existed - something was skittering, scrambling, scratching behind the walls as the privateers moved on - but the chief access routes were broad.

Yet it would be when they emerged to the main hallways, running the length of the ship, that they would be truly exposed to the size and scope of Imperial engineering. It was enormous - at least two dozen yards wide, and tall to the point that even the tallest Nagintyari would not be able to reach the ceiling with their arms.

The crew, meanwhile, mounted a ferocious defense - but only of the areas they thought of as important. Approaches to the enginarium, the command decks, the Navigator’s chambers and the crew quarters themselves were being barricaded off, and the main bulkheads welded shut from within. (The crew quarters - chiefly because the crew lived there, and had no interest in being abducted). Outside that narrow perimeter, defenses were chiefly in the form of barricades manned by small groups of armsmen.

“Fuck’s sake, we’re going to be stuck clearing this thing out for months, even with the automata doing most of the work. Damn thing is built like a Dokkalfar temple.” Naran heard her commander already bemoan the situation, the rest of the squad silent but clearly sharing the same annoyed thought.

“Omerta(placeholder) Squad, you’re running behind schedule, have you encountered heavy resistance along the path to the command decks?”

That would be one of the Nagintyari squads, the gruff, no-nonsense voice on the other side a sharp contrast to their own crass nature.”

“No, not after the initial attack, we’re making our way to you, just keeping a brisk pace to avoid tripping any traps or ambushes.”

“Understood. Inform us of any further delays.”

As they kept making their way forward, the sounds of violence slowly faded, replaced with the humming and whining of machinery, an uncomfortable silence, only broken by the crack of gunfire intermittently. Dysisan combat automata began to roam the corridors, set up checkpoints, pile up the dead for examination and drag the wounded for medical aid, pointing them to the path of least resistance to the other squad on their feed.

Not all that they found could be explained, however, by the ordinary violence of shipboard combat, brutal though it was. Some of the enemy fallen lay stripped of their clothing and equipment, sometimes with a limb - or several - missing, as if hacked off in haste. Elsewhere, broad trails of blood and vitae could be found, as if a body had been dragged, in great haste, into some side corridor.

Naran could hear screaming in her mind, perhaps the thoughts of the local crew seeping into her mind. Panic, unrest, fear, hatred, it was more nauseating than the smell or the sight of gore, for a mask could not hide the foulness of the mind. She tried to sense what had become of the stripped and hacked up bodies, but with their push towards the rally point, there wasn’t much time to really get a good grip on what exactly had happened to them.

By the time they finally made it to their destination, they saw the Nagintyari in earnest, breathing a sigh of relief.

Three of them were armed in the typical power armor used by Nagintyari warriors, dull grey suits of plate armor built around an exoskeleton that made the already powerful individuals within even stronger, capable of withstanding all but the most brutally heavy of small arms platforms. Two of them carried guns, one a heavy machinegun repurposed as an infantry weapon, and the other a typical 8 gauge shotgun used by the Nagintyari for both tossing grenades and naval combat. The last fought with only two large, sharp claws on their gauntlets, sharpened to the point where it could easily tear through the thickest of ship armor with enough skill.

The last of the Nagintyari was a unique specimen. Beyond her distinct mask, her armor was thick plates of metal seemingly covered much of her beyond the chest, exposed to the elements beyond a crudely fashioned breastplate that left her abs exposed. She brought with her an energy based axe and a personal shield, a crude, double barreled shotgun holstered on her hips. Atoners like these were common enough sights onboard Nagintyari pirate vessels, at least in Naran’s limited experience.

“Finally. A few minutes later and we would have begun our assault without you.” The first Nagintyari nodded at them, her face totally concealed underneath her armor. “Your squad shall stand here and set up emplacements, we only need your De’Jaim.”

Naran’s eyes blinked. It was bad enough that they wanted to attack without the rest of Omerta Squad’s aid, but now they wanted her to try and keep pace with them?

“Why the sudden change? You clearly wanted us to back you up back there.” Her CO questioned them, clearly annoyed, if not relieved deep down, that the Nagintyari weren’t going to send all of them to the meat grinder.

“Something or someone has been stripping and hacking up corpses along the path, I’m sure you’ve noticed. Between them and the possibility of a breakout and counteroffensive should any of the other squads fail in their objectives, I want your squad to cover this area. Understood?”

“Yeah, just don’t rough up Naran too much.”

“She’ll be fine.”

A broad hallway - broad enough for a groundcar to drive through - led to the command deck. Niches holding the likenesses of Imperial saints lined both sides, and observation skulls mounted to swivels in the ceiling swept right and left to cover the access to the heavy blast door that barred the access, with weapon barrels poking out of their gaping mouths as wicked tongues. Emergency lumen strips illuminated the approach in dim red.

Rather than waste any time trying to break it open with any more complicated methods, the Nagintyari team would simply prepare the most direct form of breach.

Naran saw one of the Nagintyari lazily blast apart both skulls from the edge of the hallway, that same 11mm round that kept them safe upon breaching the ship itself tearing through both with ease. Any return fire that came would be blocked by a bright glowing shield around the suit of armor, the energy shielding afforded to the suits of armor acting as a suitable first line of defense against damage.

The actual breach would be performed with an explosive device, and stretching over a small surface of the blast door. Naran nonetheless kept the furthest distance from the device, having had way too many calls with putty explosives before.

"Breaching in three, prepare for anything." Was all the Nagintyari CO needed to say for every member in the squad to ready for a potential fight. The explosion that ensued soon afterwards rang through everyone's body, even with all the force directed at the door itself. It burned hot enough to turn even the strongest metals into a hot jet in a fraction of a second, a volatile combination only rarely used for breaching the heaviest of bulkheads and blast doors by conventional militaries, but a common enough tool in pirate hands.

On the other side of the door, the bridge crew screamed and ducked as a wave of hot air, smoke, and shrapnel washed over them. Some were slain instantly, others knocked off their feet and deafened momentarily - or permanently, blood streaming from burst eardrums.

Captain Mauer Jaegelit rose from his command throne. To his left and right, a pair of elderly combat servitors moved across the bridge, tracks clanking - once men, then proud warmachines, now disturbing conjunctions of desiccated bodies with elderly treads and pistons, they were decades past their prime. The Captain thumbed the activation switch of his chainsword, and the motor whined alive. “Frak this, Jaegellits don’t surrender!” - he roared, as the servitors at his sides fired bursts of heavy stubber fire at anything that moved down the corridor.

Naran could feel the fear inside the room, alongside a more unpleasant, hateful but fearing mindset, the sort that only becomes so powerful in grotesque tortures meant to break the mind. It was nauseating, far more so than the actual slaughter ahead.

Two of the Nagintyari opened fire without a word spared, aiming precise shots through smoke and fire at the targets that fired back. They were hoping, though not entirely optimistic, for some survivors for the time being, limiting their carnage to the unfortunate souls that were transformed into the machines ahead, for now limiting their attacks otherwise.

The staggering figures were no match for the onslaught of alien fire. To Captain Jaegelit’s right, a gun-servitor staggered, still firing, then froze in an unseemly posture, its bolter strafing the ceiling with rounds and dying. A few more meters forward - and the machine on the left spun, a rusty tread broken, its bolter swinging as it moved. Perhaps it was already dying, perhaps its death-throes simply had its brain simply send a last firing-pulse to its weapon, or perhaps whatever humanity left in it had loathed its masters always - but the bolter fired for half a second longer than it should have, the machine’s spinning bringing its firing arc across the Captain’s torso, stitching him with several explosions that tore enormous holes into his body.

And then, just then, there was silence.

“Stop it, fools!” - a man called out to the surviving crew. “Can you not see that it is over?” - he shouted to the invaders - “Well what do you want, xenos? We give up. You’ve won. “ - he threw his weapon down the hallway in a gesture that strangely mixed both surrender and frustration, the ornate laspistol bouncing across the steel and coming to rest.

"Speak to them. Now." Was all she heard from the CO, Naran now using her powers as intended once again.

“What we need now is your cooperation.” Once again, her powers let them understand her, her tone somewhat louder than usual from all the gunfire around her.

“The sooner your crew surrenders and quits fighting, the less blood that will need to be shed today. We will provide medical assistance and aid to your wounded where needed, but I need you to signal a surrender to your crew.”

“What? That wasn’t part of the-” The atoner spoke, only to be cut off by the CO.

“Roll with it, must be Svald’s orders.”

“That soft little shit, he’d probably try and recruit a damn Gridla into his gang.”

Naran wouldn’t dare say that it was actually something she’d come up with on the spot.

For a few moments the man looked down the hallway. He seemed old - though doubtless he was even older. At last, a semblance of understanding dawned on him, and he returned to the vox panel.

Everyone. Everyone, this is Second Mate Elias Syatt” - he spoke. “Captain Jaegelitt and First Mate Gronbald are dead. The bridge has fallen. However, I implore you to surrender. They need us to fly the ship.”

“You’re sure these zealots will surrender when given the order?”

“It’s that or fighting us. I’m sure they’ll comply.”

The Atoner and the CO talked among themselves again, Naran sighing slightly in relief.

“Thank you for understanding. Too much death has been dealt in this hour.”

“Not everyone you meet in the void is as reasonable as to be simply a pirate.” - said Syatt. “How are those poor souls or anyone else to know you want the ship and the loot - and not, say, to torture us to death, eat our flesh, and wear our skins - and if we’re lucky, in that order?” - he smiled mirthlessly as he repeated the dead captain’s joke.

Naran wanted to think he was joking, but they wouldn’t have fought like that if they were joking, would they? Only the most paranoid or the most misfortuned of captains would try and fight to the death against a bog standard band of pirates, but they were ready to march straight into melee with her squad, and perhaps against the Nagintyari too, not the deeds of the sane or those who believe they’ll make it out of such a situation alive.

“Command, this is Jahan-Actual, bridge is secure, bridge crew has surrendered, multiple dead and wounded on their end. Recommend that SKELTER slow her assault down to allow defenders ample time to surrender, over.”

The CO relayed her information, her squad looking more disappointed than anything by the news.

“Excellent work, De’Jaim, I’m sure you’ll be rewarded well for your actions here.”

“Anything to make sure we all get out of here in one piece, ma’am.”

“Tell me about it, whole ship smells like piss and rot even through this damn helmet.” The Atoner spoke one last time.

“Still smells better than you in the recreation pods, Sura.” The other heavily Nagintyari in the squad spoke, content to keep to herself until the danger subsided for the moment.

Naran looked at the rest of the bridge crew, before turning back to the captain. “I can provide medical aid to anyone who needs it here, if you trust me. Otherwise it might take a while for more medical automata to arrive on the scene.”

“Had you wanted me dead, you would have already shot me, no?” - replied Syatt. “With your permission, I will attend to damage control. It’s been quite a fight and it’s probably best if I speak to the enginarium.”

“Do as you must, the Kongou will probably attempt to dock itself next to your vessel soon enough as well, our own engineers will help with any repairs onboard. It would be best if your… Navigator?” she understood only that they were some form of creature that helped them use their FTL drives, “surrenders peacefully as well. The Captain has many questions for them.”


* * *


For Zuhispette Grondrid-Cedd, the whole matter of pirates was substantially beyond her concerns. House Cedd had been in disgrace for longer than anyone in her family had been alive, and her own family were but a minor presence within the House. Its domains were sustained - those that were still there, were sustained - by the grisly custom of selling off the junior offspring of House Cedd to serve whoever paid the most Thrones. It was said that not all of those sales were to the most savory parties.

On the other hand, Zuhispette Grondrid-Cedd herself had known... not a good life, per se, but a life better than most of the crew of the Japhia. Her quarters were an enormous, enclosed sphere within the ship, its sheer size enabling her a degree of luxury, and within those quarters she was attended to by bodyguards, servants, and servitors. She had no illusions about her status - she doubted she could abandon the Japhia had she so desired. She had long ceased desiring such a thing.

“Misstresss Grondrid-Cedd. Mistress...” - one of the servants groveled, a misshapen wreck of a man “The pirates, they have taken the ship. They wish to speak to you.”

There was a strange relation between her and her servants. Part attendants, part guards - did they know where one began and the other ended?

“Tell them I will come.”

She was almost regal as the doors slid open - a long dark-blue dress, a silk cloth tied around her third eye. But her skin was pallid and her cheeks sunken, and a slight odor spread about her, as does about clothing that has laid in its crate for too long. It was the appearance of one who had not seen skies or sun for many years.

“I am Zuhispette Grondrid-Cedd. You need me to fly the ship, I presume” - she spoke with arrogance which was only a cover for her terror.

On the other end of the doors was a Nagintyari, lacking the armor of her other brethren. Red scales at the edge of her face and clashed with a light skin tone. Her physique was both buxom and athletic, towering over most humans at eight feet as well. Orange eyes scanned the navigator, her face stern and only thinly veiling a contempt for the state of the vessel.

Besides her were two more of the typical armored hulks, the sheer amount of protection afforded to their torsos almost making them look hunchbacked.

In truth, Intelligence Officer Sathora would have never willingly chosen to join any privateer group if the promise of safeguarding Nagintyar from a new potential threat to its sovereignty didn’t present itself. She had only matured in the last stages of the bloody war against the Belisarians, but even that was enough to forge her into a staunch believer in Warmistress Osora’s ideals and writings on the Rights of the Living. If her poker face was any weaker, she would have been more direct in her hatred of the very way of life of everyone onboard this vessel, but for now, she had to talk to them.

“No, I’m here to ask questions for now. My name is Sathora, and I’m the one tasked with talking to high value targets within the Trespasser. Cooperation would be greatly appreciated.”

She spoke in Low Gothic, the end result of a rapidly rolled out patch in translation software between Galactic Common and the local language by the Kongou’s own SKELTER after cobbling together enough audio files from both initial diplomacy and combat footage from both vessels’ combat cams. For Sathora, it was as if she had spoken Low Gothic all her life, her mind taking little time to adjust to the information.

The Navigator blanched momentarily, clearly being shot out of hand was still on the menu for her. “Yes, madam. Naturally. Let us proceed in a civilized manner. Should I have the servants make you tea?”

"No. Dismiss them, if you can. You'll be safe with me."

Sathora was never one to appreciate unwanted eyes when she was working, least of all those who had no real loyalty to the Nagintyari cause.

"You understand the routes in this sector very well, I'm told? One of a select class of people who can safely operate the Imperium's faster than light drives?"

“Leave us, Abelard” - said the Navigator, of course she knew that the servants would not fully leave - rather, they would skulk somewhere, just out of sight. She nodded to Sathora, hoping that the stranger could read her facial expression. “Safely is not the right word, I must say,” - she continued, leading the interrogator into her quarters. It was rare for anyone to enter the Navigator’s quarters, much less unbidden, and the place showed the signs of decay and disorder, partly the signs of old age - the ship had been built generations before either Grondrid-Cedd or Captain Jaegelit were even born - and partly the marks of Zuhispette’s own actions, garments strewn to the floor, and a dry dust in the air. For Grondrid-Cedd it seemed unnoticeable, for this was the manner in which she had always lived. “Safely is the wrong word. But... surely you already know this?” - horror froze on the Navigator’s face as she realized the full import of Sathora’s words. “You are not a regular pirate.” - she said.

“Well, no, nothing on this ship is ‘safe’ by any reasonable standards, but it is especially unsafe to travel-”


Sathora wasn’t blind to the dark corners of the room, annoyed at the obvious trickery of the gangly servants.

“Packmaster, make sure there are no listeners, please.” she commanded, the armored hulk nodding before heading over to ‘suggest’ that the servants keep their distance further.

“Without a Navigator such as yourself, correct? My notes here tell me that all sorts of terrible fates befall those who travel without the careful watch of your kind, is that correct?”
“You are not a regular pirate.” - the Navigator continued “Your ship does not use the same method of travel as ours, or you would have known this. You are correct that warp travel on board these ships is unsafe, indeed practically impossible without the aid of a Navigator. Some psykers of great power can replace us in our task, but I would not recommend such a replacement.” - it a great credit to Zuhispette that she did not look more pale than she looked normally. In truth she was terrified, expecting these strange pirates to subject her to some inhuman torture at any moment. “The vision of my brethren,” - she motioned to the cloth that obscured her third eye, “allow us us to view the currents of the Immaterium, and to allow our charges to reach their destinations. Most of the time.”

“What I am will be discussed later. Right now, I’m more interested in you and your society. If it will make things easier, I can escort you to my ship and offer you a meal or a drink of a less… dubious quality than anything that could be procured here. I promise that no harm will come to you as long as you cooperate and help me to the best of your abilities.”

Sathora’s tone remained stern but also honest, careful not to show too much sympathy, but not looking to threaten someone who was willing to talk so soon. It was quite apparent to her, at least, that the conditions of these vessels alone were abhorrent even compared to her own experiences in the Belisarian regime. Even a relatively fortunate individual such as the Navigator was effectively living in a crude gilded cage, tended to by savants aimed to keep their eyes on her at all times no matter what.

“Excuse me, madam, I-” - Zuhispette paused. “Are you suggesting that we can leave the Japhia or we can -” she processed the information for a few moments. “I would very much like to see your ship, yes. I have not left the Navigator’s quarters for three shipboard years. “ - with this, she made a first step towards her captor, raising the edge of her long dress slightly as she went.

Packmaster was kept from reacting with a raising of Sathora's hand, her palm open and her fingers extended.

"Relax." She said, seemingly speaking to both Packmaster and Zuhispette. "Follow me, but you'll need to have your eyes covered once you board our vessel. Just a safety precaution, don't think I'm dragging you to the chopping block." She said reassuringly, or at least some attempt to be reassuring.

Zuhispette followed, she was uncertain whether to trust the alien but her life experience informed her she had no choice in any event. Dutifully, she followed her captor, and upon preparing to board the xeno vessel, shifted the blindfold that covered her third eye to also cover the eyes with which she looked upon the mortal realm. Though of course she could have used her third eye to kill one or perhaps two of her captors, or perhaps drawn a weapon to fight, she had no illusions about the outcome of such a struggle.

Sathora was nonetheless flanked by Packmaster and her squad all the way back to any sort of hangar the ship might have had.

The hangar was in a reasonable state, or at least Jaegelit, when he was alive, considered it in a good state. It had been meticulously cleaned, and the decks and equipment showed no rust, even where the paint had been rubbed raw to the bare metal by the endless passes of servitor-forklifts or scorched away by the landing fires of shuttlecraft. The takeoff gate had been opened, and an integrity field instead kept the air in, and the merciless void out.

“Getting rid of all these abominations is going to be a pain. This isn’t exactly a therapy ship either, it’ll be a miracle if we can keep half of them from blowing their brains out even if we fix them back into shape.”

Packmaster was talking about the Servitors, now guarded by a mixture of Nagintyari and Dysisan soldiery.

“Not for us to decide, Packmaster, we have our priorities.” Sathora washed her hands of the issue entirely for the time being.

“Yes Ma’am.”

A daggerhead vessel was waiting for them in the hangar, clashing with the ornate but efficient Trespasser with a black and red paintjob, more typical of modern Nagintyari warships and a deliberate homage to the Banner of the Liberated.

Upon stepping inside, it became quite immediately apparent that the Nagintyari vessels were kept quite fragrant compared to the monstrous freighter. The air was sterile and odorless, though this in and of itself was a colossal improvement over the dreary stankness of the Imperial ship. The interior was kept a dull grey, lacking the ostentatiousness of the ship it resided in, though large enough to comfortably house perhaps a dozen in its centre ‘room’ clearly a cargo hold of some sort, housing little more than a few extra seats for the moment however.

“Throne”, - whispered Zuhispette, and inhaled once more, this time with deliberate effort, to breathe deep of the air aboard the xeno vessel. “It smells so clean in here. I have read this is how mountains smell like.” - to a Navigator who had spent so long in her globe-shaped quarters, the difference from the Japhia’s atmosphere was immense.

“Eh, they smell nicer than this. At least when the wind is rushing around you, anyways.” Packmaster spoke, their voice garbled slightly by the helmet, but still intelligible enough.

One of the few amenities that the room offered beyond seating was now in use by Sathora, a machine serving some carbonated, red substance into a translucent cup. A guilty pleasure for the otherwise straight laced Nagintyari, she poured herself another cup, offering it to the Navigator.

“Don’t drink it too fast, it’ll make you jitter from all the sugar and caffeine.” Sathora suggested.

The Navigator tasted the drink, at first cautiously. “It’s cold, like wine.” - she pointed out. “Is this your people’s choice of... caffeine drink? Like tea and recaff?”

"Yeah, we aren't big on tea or… coffee, I'm guessing, ourselves. Comes with our history." Sathora condensed a lengthy political and ideological discussion within Nagintyar to a sentence for now.

They weren't at their destination yet, far from it, but Sathora felt it was time to really get the interrogation going.

"How long have you been on that ship, anyways? Five minutes alone makes me want to gag from the smell,can't imagine how you handled breathing that in for any length of time."

“I’m...” Zuhispette’s lips moved for several seconds, as if she was trying to perform a complex calculation, and then the Navigator gave up. “I believe it is around twenty-five, maybe thirty years shipboard time. Time is strange in the warp. Certainly for all of my adult life I have lived on the Japhia.”

"Mm, you've traveled across this sector often then that whole time then? I'm guessing you became familiar with the erm, routes? paths? Often taken by ships? At least ours tend to use such things, if only because of their relative safety."

Sathora's questions seemed innocent enough at a glance, at least that was her intention.

“And you wish to know of them so you could capture more vessels like the Japhia? I fully understand what kind of outfit I am signing up with, madam pirate. Yes, of course I am familiar with the main warp routes. My family have steered ships through these tides for centuries.”

“Hrm, we’d like to know as much as we can get our hands on, at the moment. Cooperate and you’ll be rewarded, if nothing else, by living on a ship that doesn’t smell like pure death.” Sathora switched from treachery to more overt efforts to win over the Navigator. Her every word and movement would be evaluated for potential lies and misinformation by SKELTER’s advanced Judgement algorithm, for precaution’s sake, but the overt cooperation seemed like a good first step.

“I could, of course, chart out a map for you.” - said Zuhispette, contemplating the matter only briefly. The idea of being kidnapped by a gang of pirates was not new to her mind, and while the House had never admitted it, several of the Grondrid-Cedd’s had survived by the very fact that pirates had a use for them. “We could start with a simple pigskin one.”
“If you prefer to write on it, sure, we’ll find some. But you’re mistaken on one end, we don’t just intend to capture ships like the Japhia, not for much longer. If Miss Fortune permits, we will be taking on much bigger prey soon.”

Nonetheless, the capture of the Japhia and her crew was almost wholly complete. Once fully secured, the Kongou would dock itself ‘atop’ the damaged vessel, intent on dragging her prize back to the Looking Glass.
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Nagintyar
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 12
Founded: Oct 01, 2020
Father Knows Best State

Postby Nagintyar » Tue Dec 21, 2021 5:30 pm

“Like I said, I never suggested it to anyone.”

“You didn’t need to, your softness has influenced your crew.”

Svald and Skareen talked through the comms, Svald sitting down on his throne, his counterpart standing. Downtime was the most tedious aspect of piracy to Svald, but a justified one given the average Dysisan’s preference for relaxing outside a battlefield. The Japhia would take time to be refitted, much of the materials and gear to do so already existing either in physical form or simply manufactured by the Kongou’s internal manufacturing facilities, large enough to build entirely new security mechanisms, weaponry, and electronic aids that were all severely lacking on what was ostensibly a freighter. Of course, the melding of Dysisan and Imperial designs and ideas would be an arduous and painful one, the refitting of the Japhia a test run for future designs as much as it was an effort to upgun the fleet. Last but not least, the inherently dangerous FTL drive of the Japhia would have to be scrapped and replaced, its replacement thankfully much less space intensive and consistently less prone to unleashing spatial terrors.

“We’ll need as many hands as possible for our plans.”


Your plans, my plan is to keep killing and keep these foul creatures away from our home. A few malnourished locals doesn’t factor into that one bit, and only makes me more wary, Svald. These people could always tell others where our bases lie, where our homes lie, if they learn enough.”

“Bullshit, we both know these people have no way of making it past the looking glass. You just like setting bastards on fire, no need to lie.”

“Then we should go hunting before the retrofits are finished, Svald. There are plenty of other ships to capture with just our current forces.” Skareen’s tone was cold, impersonal, a sharp contrast to Svald’s enthusiasm. “These people are brave but nothing we can’t handle, least of all with your alluring underlings.”

“It’s only been a few days, we can afford to take a break and let them forget about the theft of an entire ship in the meantime.” Svald spoke with a sheepish tone, nonetheless turning his attention to another subject.

“We don’t even have the schematics fully figured out on our current catch yet, Skareen, engineers are already saying the inner layout is talking about entire sectors and hull compartments that don’t exist or appear to be sealed off, and that’s complicating the refit process as you might expect. I don’t want to find out an entire army or bug infestation is hiding somewhere we can’t see it.”

“You don’t plan on talking bugs into joining your crew too, do you?”

“I might, at this rate.”

***
Dysisan engineers were unusually reckless, dangerous fools, serving as ship repairmen, technicians, and demolitions experts whenever the situation needed. Most of them were focused largely on stripping out plenty of unnecessary material or converting cargo holds, crude chapels, and otherwise empty space into weapon batteries, boarding stations, additional manufacturing facilities.

Osof was instead tasked with exploring the sealed off areas of the Japhia, a task he didn't particularly want but had to be done. He wouldn't be alone, accompanied by other combat squads after rumors of some form of creature lurking within formed.

Nonetheless, he found their presence a mixed bag.

"You heard the rumors? SKELTER's cooking up something to gather info, saw her looking for DNA samples from the new guys."

"What di you mean something? She's gonna do that same plan that let her buddies win the war against her old masters, buncha lookalikes of them sent to go spy, gather info, and start killing people who need to die."

"The hell are we doing any of that for, we're just here to steal shit aren't we?"

"Nah, Svald's planning something big. He can't be paying us this much unless he's planning on something real big-"

By the time part of the sealed door finally fell to his PlasSaw, Osof felt relief that he had finally silenced the three around him for just a moment.

"Command, this is Beige. Finally entering Sealed Zone 9, bodycams are recording everything for your pleasure… nor that there's much to see."

Indeed, it was shocking just how utterly black the area within looked, impossible to swe through without a flashlight or night vision optics.

"Proceed and link up with Purple along the designated point, detail any potential risks along the way. Lighting across that zone will remain out, you'll have to light the way yourself. Watch Yourself Beige, out." Command spoke back, Osof putting in his goggles, a gun in one hand and his tool in the other, prepared to venture into the void.

User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Wed Dec 22, 2021 1:58 am

The ship was vast. The ship was also old, very old, older in fact than its captain, older than the navigator, Zuhispette Grondrid-Cedd, millennia old. It had undergone refits and repairs, it had been sold and traded, seized and resold, boarded by pirates, struck by asteroids. Sometimes areas of the ship were sealed off to avoid the spread of a fire, or to protect from a catastrophic vent. Sometimes blueprints were lost or forgotten or copied wrong. Changes, errors, and omissions compounded each other over the centuries.

Sometimes the errors were grand ones – an entire floor being sealed off, a crew shift of eight hundred people being lost and forgotten. Sometimes they were small ones. Mauger's grandfather, Vaskaboff Lekky, fell during a fire evacuation and broke his leg, and his compartment sealed off behind him. Ten days later, when the repair crews opened the hatch, they did not find Vaskaboff, and they did not care very much what happened. They sighed and moved on. But in truth, Vaskaboff had lived, he was picked up – and for some reason not killed immediately by men and women who had known only privation and fear and insanity.

They were the Children of the Hold. It was as good a name as any for their tribe. Their ancestors had been abandoned in sealed compartments, lost in ventilation shafts, or perhaps stowed away on board, fleeing some distant homeworld or another. They lived. They collected water from coolant pipes, they hunted rats, they stole. Sometimes they killed crewmen, and then they hungered slightly less.

Cancer, starvation, accidents, infighting took some, others perished in brief, ferocious fights with the crew. Sometimes they were replenished by men like Vaskaboff, or perhaps some small group of deserters or – once again – forgotten victims of some Throne-damned accident. Sometimes – far less often than one would think – they were replenished the natural way. The children were often born disfigured, mutated. Sometimes they did not live long, and were buried, swaddled in rags, in the void.

Some of those who lived next to Mauger were at best only vaguely human in appearance – men with the wrong number of joints on their arms or fingers, with a strange, hunched posture, or even eyes where eyes should not be. Mauger – whose grandfather was a standard human, as far as anyone could tell – was almost healthy in appearance, except for his sallow skin, his unnaturally-long fingers, and his narrow, cat-like pupils that had inherited from his grandmother.

Not that he had ever met his grandmother. She fell to her death, thirty yards deep in a vent shaft, ten years before he had been born. But he knew he had his grandmother's eyes, people told him this.

And yet he was still human-like.

They knew there had been a fight, and that their ship's masters had lost.

They heard rumors of the strange pirates that had taken the ship over.

The Children of the Hold decided to gamble.

They would gamble with the young ones, the ones who could be lost.

A small stubber carbine held, pistol-like, in one long-fingered hand – careful not to actually aim it at the newcomers – Mauger stepped out from behind a tangle of pipes, dressed in a torn robe that was once techpriest-red, shielding his eyes from the flashlights.

"Greetings," – he said, his Low Gothic accented, the sentences curt. "I am with the Children of the Hold. Do not go farther. Let us sit down and break rat."
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Nagintyar
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 12
Founded: Oct 01, 2020
Father Knows Best State

Postby Nagintyar » Mon Dec 27, 2021 1:53 am

The Dysisans kept their weapons lowered, their eyes wary but their bodies relaxed. Osof was the first to holster his, an effort to gain trust it seemed.

Command, I need a diplomat, someone better than me at this, bring a genemancer too.” Osof spoke through his comms, seemingly silent underneath his helmet to the outside world however.

Our few Genemancers are all busy with the Servitors, Osof, I’ll bring someone more qualified for further negotiations, try not to start a war down there in the meantime.” Command spoke through his ears again, earning a curt nod from the Engineer.

“Greetings, I know this isn’t the best way to meet, but we have captured this vessel recently and have commandeered it. Would you like something to drink while I bring in someone to discuss how we can help you and your people, if you have any more people living down here?”

Osof tried to feign a calm attitude to the best of his abilities, but between the darkness and the fact that the one in front of him was clearly defective in some way from birth, something unthought of by his people through their understanding of Genemancy, he felt dangerously unnerved. To nonetheless complement the offer, Osof grabbed a small flask from his pouch, loaded with some diluted, cheap alcohol, a typical bravery bolster among pirates in more unpleasant situations.

User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

[meanwhile, elsewhere, with other people]

Postby Allanea » Mon Dec 27, 2021 7:52 pm

Station S-2405-A

It is often said that all men are created equal, and in some senses this is indeed true. But in some senses it is far from reality. The various privateers that were now passing through Station S-2405-A would be treated with politeness and hospitality, but some would be scheduled to meet with intelligence officers, and some with the Admiral himself. All would be barred - politely, yet firmly - from accessing certain secure areas on the station. All this was reasonable, and none saw it as an insult to the privateers that such rules existed.

Nor was it seen as unreasonable that different rules applied to the Menelmacari fleet. These were not privateers, these were the warriors of an allied nation. For these, there would not be a need for an armed escort to convoy them through the station - they would be able to visit nearly all of it. For the regular crew, a banquet was prepared on the ship, and for the senior officers, the convoy would be replaced with an escort of honor - still armed and uniformed, but in parade dress rather than combat armor.

Flags of Allanea, Menelmacar, and Greater Prussia - the vast alliance the two countries’ leaders administered together - would be prepared in each docking bay, and throughout the ship. Gift baskets were prepared to hand out to the sailors, with food, wine, and hobbit leaf in each.

In his office, Admiral Samson Leskov awaited his guests. Food and wine were put up, and alongside him, two guests were present. One was Magos Tarmacius - though no longer a member of the Martian priesthood, he preferred to be addressed in this manner. His robes were now purple instead of the Martian red, but the hunched posture, the mechadendrites emerging from under the robes, and the four round lenses glowing green where eyes should be, identified him clearly. Another was perhaps unusual, for she was a mix of two qualities that the Menelmacari would think of as opposed. On one hand, she was an Orcess - tall, her vast stature and her near-human features showing her to be a descendant of the Uruk-Hai of old. On the other hand, her deportment, her movements, had an elegance in them of one who was entirely assured in their competence with body and mind. Her moss-green dress uniform was neatly pressed, and Colonel Yagda Gra-Gonhug looked upon the world with the pride of someone who had earned their place in it.

The ship that had docked at Station S-2405-A was as unassuming - at least by Menelmacari standards - as the name of the station itself, a mere Vilyúlairë dropship, though of course this was but the whisper that gave the hint of a coming storm. The door of Leskov’s office opened shortly after the dropship’s arrival, and three women entered; one in the robes of a wealthy civilian, one in the color-shifting armor of the Mornahossë, and one in a command uniform of the Menelmacari fleet. More Menelmacari would come in due time, of course, but this was but the vanguard. They gave the usual greetings and such to the motley group of their hosts before introducing themselves and taking seats; the apparent civilian was one Naerdiel nos Fithurin of MISSION, the Menelmacari intelligence service. Her companions were Ciryatári Elwen nos Círdan, whose vessel MIS Din-sûl was currently being refit to the new standards, a process that would take some time and render the ship almost unrecognizable save her name, and Idhrindiel nos Fithurin, a special operator of some repute. No doubt they had their own roles to play in the coming efforts.
“Welcome to Looking Glass, honored ladies,” - spoke Leskov. “To make introductions brief, I am Admiral Samson Leskov, and I am the commanding officer of this gate facility. Colonel Gra-Gonhug is Lady nos Fithurin’s counterpart here, that’s to say she’s the planning officer from OAS, and Magos Tarmacius is a technology specialist, a defector who is now working to consult us on key aspects of the technologies used by the probable strategic adversary. He used to have substantial levels of access to classified materials with the Imperials, so he can tell us a lot about their communications network.”

“Excellent,” Naerdiel answered at that introduction, looking the Magos over with considerable interest, “I do hope he can tell us about more than that, of course; we will need quite a bit of actionable intelligence, both in terms of specific risks and targets of interest. As I understand this is a rather open-ended operation in which my compatriots and I act more or less autonomously, with your support, in an effort to disrupt and subvert Imperial operations in the sector beyond the gate, yes?”

“The large idea,” - Leskov explained - “That while we don’t, at the present, have the ability to actually openly challenge Imperial society, we are working against it in a range of ways, including a privateer effort which serves to both gradually undermine Imperial operations locally, and, perhaps more importantly, to serve as a cover and an assistance for - oh frak it, the point is that the privateers go about and loot and kill slavers and sometimes bring back something of value to us, and we can use this as a distraction for more serious operations, operations for which you are probably better equipped, but we will assist in to the best of our ability.”

The elves nodded, seeming to approve of this notion, though Idhrindiel piped up. “If I may - I am curious what has led the good Magos here to defect. As I understand it - I do make a habit of reading the briefing materials, as a rule - the Adeptus Mechanicus is deeply religious both in mindset and in fervor. I’m curious what has led you,” she looked to Tarmacius, “to act in service to extradimensional invaders, of a sort, against Imperial interests.”

The four glowing lenses turned towards the elven special operator, and the Magos spoke. His voice sounded grinding, as if it were not speaking, but rather being played back over an aged device of some kind.

“You misapprehend what it is we worship. The founding directive is the Quest for Knowledge. This is understood in different ways by different adepts. This has led many to walk in dark paths. The orthodox view is that the Quest for Knowledge is to reassemble the knowledge of old, to recover archaeotech and restore it to the service of the Omnissiah. However, there are also those who have turned on to attempt and quest for knowledge in other ways, to develop technology that is unauthorized or heretical, or as myself, to turn to the service of powers that shall allow us to pursue, unrestrained, our desire to improve and invent greater things. There are also those, thrice cursed their name, that have fallen to the Ruinous Powers themselves, for promises of knowledge beyond their dreams. The Allaneans here have promised me that I would be able to study in their libraries, and they have been true to their promise indeed.”

Naerdiel smiled. “Our libraries are greater still. Serve us well in our efforts and I have no doubt I can acquire access for you. In the meantime - though I shall not disclose immediately what our plans are, for the sake of compartmentalization, but I can state that our first priority is to secure ourselves a mobile base of operations. Mangos, would you be able to provide us what records you have available on any Imperial warships known to be lost, but not confirmed destroyed, along with their last known locations and any known details of the circumstances?”

“I know of several locations where they can be found.” - the Magos said, nodding, his face was incapable of betraying any excitement, “although my records of any names are incomplete. I can exload my records to a connection you would deem to be appropriately secure. I have made myself somewhat compatible with some of the common storage systems that are used here. As an option I can exload a text file to a portable drive if that is preferable?”

A mechadendrite rose in mid-air. On the tip of it was a rectangular metal port, similar to those used at a storage drive.

“Please forgive our excitable friend here, cousins.” - Yagda Gra-Gonhug spoke. “He has not yet learned that your people are not as happy about the idea of personal augmentation as Allaneans are. Also of course I must add that we have a small group of people on the ground on Scintilla posing as a local gang although they’re not achieving very much of substantial value yet. We could try and retask them to acquire fleet records for you.”

Ciryatári Elwen smiled. “Thank you, Yagda,” she answered. To the Magos: “Yes, a portable drive would be ideal, thank you.” And back to Yagda: “Once our own operatives are in place, how might we contact this cell on Scintilla?”

“The safest way would be simply by means of a databurst on a frequency that I will of course share. Our people have a safe site in one of the abandoned hive habs from which they monitor planetary comms. We have attached parasite devices to some of the system defense satellites and are able to monitor some of the short-range traffic. This is however as much as we were able to do, and none of the actual long-range objectives have been met by my predecessor. You have my apologies,” - the Orcess nodded slightly, as if it had been her fault. “The Tricorne, Eru shatter it, is literally on the same planet as these people and we have accomplished nothing. Truly, you have my apologies.”

“Leave the Tricorne to me,” Naerdiel grinned, though she did not seem willing to elaborate. “In addition we will need to set up construction facilities in the system beyond the gate, and we have shortlisted a number of individuals who may be suitable as our own rogue traders, though that will come afterwards. I trust that the gate system is suitably defended or obfuscated, or ideally, both?”

“The principal defense method is the system’s obscurity and the inability of the Imperials to reliably observe its location due to an intervening nebula.” - Leskov explained - “We have a battleship present on the other side but if somehow the entire sector fleet converges on us we’re going to blow the gate up rather than let them have it.”

“It would be ideal, therefore, if you avoided bringing Fleet Calixis down on us.” - Yagda grinned, and her smile was horrifying.

“We will endeavor to do just that,” Naerdiel mused. “Er, to avoid doing just that, I mean.”

“One of their battleships, or one of yours?” Elwen inquired.

“One of ours,” - said Leskov. - “Cloaked and hidden in a rock field. Eventually we do hope to get our hands of some of their fighting ships but as the man said, today is not that day.”

Naerdiel grinned again. “Once the Magos and your people have provided us some leads, we’ll get right on that. I trust that you have no issue with the aforementioned construction facilities? Once we have a ship, it will no doubt need a refit, for starters.”

“We are of course willing to aid with refits, but let’s be absolutely honest here: we trust you. If you want to build a construction facility on either side of Looking Glass, that’s absolutely up to you.” - said Leskov “There are also a number of commercial and semi-commercial contractors that you can hire at the station, and of course we are going to provide you with a Thundercuckoo if you are interested in one.”

“Which is a Thunderhawk but with more or less decent production quality and onboard facilities not designed for a battle-eunuch.” - said Yagda.

Naerdiel nodded. “That sounds ideal, I will definitely be taking you up on that, thank you.”

Elwen nodded as well. “Also, Admiral, if there’s anything the MIDF can do to aid in the defense of this facility, or more specifically its counterpart, please do let me know. The Prefect of War is in full support of this mission and I am assured that Taniquetil will provide whatever aid they can.”

“Thank you. I will work with Taniquetil in the coming days.”

Yagda spoke up “Also, cousins, we have a costuming department here which has all manner of items to make sure you look the part if you do want to make appearance among the savages. They have clothing in the newest slaver-asshat fashion, they have local weapons and I think even some kind of vehicles, some of them are originals and some of them replicas that we have had made. I would imagine you don’t want to stroll up to the Tricorne in your finest dress uniforms, or at least not quite yet.”

“I had some ideas,” Naerdiel mused. “But we will gladly look through what you have. Keeping in mind of course that we will need to fit in while not being too thoroughly undignified, of course…”

“Unfortunately for you, you are far too healthy and good-looking to pass off as anything other than an upper-class slaver pizdobol unless you wore something like a pound of makeup to make yourself look sick and poor. I can pass off as an underhive mutant but I don’t think you can.” - the Orcess replied. “Going to have to work with what you have.”

“I suppose later I will have to tell you a little bit about what we have in mind, but ‘upper class’ will no doubt suffice,” Naerdiel mused, it only now occurring to her that Yagda thought she was going for a hive-ganger look.

“The main idea for a lot of Imperial fashion is that people pretend that the past... twelve, thirteen? Something like this, twelve millenia of their history never happened. The exact flavors of robey-flowy things vary from planet to planet and some also add on one of these starched collars that look like someone put your head through a set of plates out of spite.” - explained the Orcess. - “But, fear not, we have a costume professional. Admiral Leskov, I believe that this concludes the initial briefing?”

The Admiral stared. “I... suppose that does at that, Colonel.”
Last edited by Allanea on Mon Dec 27, 2021 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Wed Dec 29, 2021 12:40 am

Special Task Group 'Kellog', Vice Admiralty Court - Appalachia-class Scout Cruiser 'Alps'
3041st Cycle



Rear Admiral Thomas Kellog yawned he set down his breakfast -- a loaf, two fried eggs, and a cup of coffee -- and sat down, hunched over his desk, as he listened to the recording of the briefing for the umpteenth time.

So, here are the mission parameters, if you will: on the other side of that portal is a galaxy dominated by a enormous, yet completely dysfunctional civilization - really, stretching the word civilization to its absolute limit. We’ve seen some aspects of it, or perhaps versions of it, thrown into our own galaxy by the vagaries of fractal space-time - so you’ve probably heard of an Imperium of Mankind before. If not - imagine the cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable. Imagine theocratic militarist suppression, sanity-eroding bureaucracy, and about fifteen varieties of horrifying slavery - ranging from simply forcing people to do hard labor in inhuman conditions with whips and cattle-prods, and down to converting them into only partly-sapient cyborg machines entrusted with menial tasks like opening doors or carrying loads. Sadly, however, there are far, far too many of these people for us to deal with all at once.
[...]
Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to simply go through that gate and to rob, loot, subvert, and explode.


A standard commerce-raiding job, against what the Battlegroup would term a 'Leviathan'? A large, aggressive, inefficent, brutal, warmongering empire, with a 'problem culture' to boot? It was the dream contract for any self-respecting officer of the Battlegroup. And the intelligence the Allaneans had provided was excellent. More than excellent. Regional capitals, possible trade routes, areas where naval bases likely were.

All that remained for him was to simply wander around and start scanning. That was all he could safely do, really; perhaps he could risk detaching a frigate to go off and raid or reconiteer, but scout cruisers were, not too long ago, utterly irreplacable, and were still a highly valuable ship whose loss the Battlegroup could generally not afford.
Still; intelligence suggested he had little to fear. The St. Claires assigned as his escort, and even the scout cruiser herself, outgunned, outranged, and outmanuvered the OpFor's warships by several factors. Really, this self-proclaimed 'Imperium of Man' seemed like a carbon copy of the Hegemons Battlegroup Anna had swept out like soiled straw out during it's golden age.

"Oi." The voice of a young woman jerked him from his thoughts.

"...oh, hey, Alps." Kellogs straightened himself, and cleared his throat, before smiling at the brown-haired woman in a grey blouse before him. "What's the issue?"

'Alps' was, in a sense, the ship; or the embodiment of the collective will of the crew. Either way she was what the enlisted-men would call a 'shipgirl'. The scout cruiser's frown and furrowed brow, however, seemed all too human. "I've scanned through the data packets, and there's something somewhat worrying. This Warp-business -- do we have countermeasures?"

This caught Kellog slightly off guard. "Erm - Headquarters mentioned that countermeasures would be automatic-"

"Then where are they?"
Kellog sighed. "Fuck if I know. If I had to guess...it's sheer belief among the enlistedmen. Same way the Imps do it, evidently."
Alps shook her head. "I'm not sure. Call it nerves but I suspect something'll go wrong and this warp-business will have to do with it.."
"Well, nothing we can do about it. It'll be in and out, for our part. Scan a few patches of space, outrun any locals that try to give chase --"
"Yeah, yeah. I hear you. Maybe hammer the occasional scout and drag them back here for cash. But I dunno. I feel like something'll go wrong..."
"I've covered all my bases and I'm sure you have too. If something happens we'll be able to deal with it." Kellog began to tear into his breakfast, taking a stab at an egg and washing it down with scalding-hot, bitter coffee. "You'll do fine. We'll be fine, alright?"
Alps nodded, although she still seemed unsure. "Alright then... I'll be heading down to station and making sure everyone's actually on board." A smile broke across her face. "You want anything from the gift shop?"
Kellog returned the smile. "Grab me a snowglobe, one of the ones with the little space marine squads in them, if you will."
"Got a kid at the colony-ships?"
"Pft. Nah, not yet..."
"Alright then, chief! One snowglobe and we'll be off, aye?"
"Aye."




Soon after, the small fleet pulled out of port and began it's journey through Calixis. As soon as it was far enough away, the fleet switched from fusion rockets to the faster-than-light drives that made long-distance travel bearable. Special Task Group 'Kellog', as their barebones flotilla was known, was no raiding detachment or free squadron sent to wreak havoc on Imperial shipping. Instead, it would be paving the way for them; one patch of space scanned.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Imperial Calixis
Secretary
 
Posts: 28
Founded: Aug 14, 2021
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Imperial Calixis » Wed Dec 29, 2021 9:35 am

We are at War with forces too terrible to comprehend. We cannot afford mercy for any of its victims too weak to take the correct course. Mercy destroys us; it weakens us and saps our resolve. Put aside all such thoughts. They are not worthy of Inquisitors in the service of Our Emperor. Praise His name for in our resolve we only reflect his purpose of will. ~ The Verses of Inquisitor Enoch


Abandoned Hope

The world was dead. Not in the sense that it did not harbor life, and not in the sense that it had been blasted clean of human presence. Life existed still – plants grew, birds sang, the oceans were still their resplendent green and blue. And yet it was dead – its vast cities empty of the crowds that once filled their streets, the sound of commerce and labor no longer reverberating from hab to hab, the temples no longer resonating with prayers to Him on Terra.

Centuries ago, the world had died in a different sense. Millions of residents had been forced from their homes, herded into mass conveyors, and taken away. Those who resisted – and there were few such – had been made an example of, and in some places one could find, still, a skull or a femur. Those who complied had been promised rewards, although it was no longer possible, by now, to discover if these promises had ever been followed up on. The result, however, remained: the planet had been emptied of its residents.

Others arrived – and remained, their armor unblemished, their purity unquestioned, their training rigorous. A fortress-convent had been erected for them, and within it, mighty chapels. Expanses of land were used as training grounds for tankers and artillerywomen. For centuries now, they had guarded the planet, and its secret.

Nor did their vigil extend solely to the surface. In orbit, a light cruiser, the Clarity of Intent, loomed. High orbit was sown richly with weapons stations and mines, observation satellites monitoring the surface for infiltrators which may have teleported in, and active auspexes watched low orbit. Fighter patrols coursed back and forth through the stratosphere, doubling as training flights for their pilots.

Automated voxcasts from deep space beacons repeated, again and again:

++ This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined… ++

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Wed Dec 29, 2021 9:58 am

Imperial Calixis wrote: We are at War with forces too terrible to comprehend. We cannot afford mercy for any of its victims too weak to take the correct course. Mercy destroys us; it weakens us and saps our resolve. Put aside all such thoughts. They are not worthy of Inquisitors in the service of Our Emperor. Praise His name for in our resolve we only reflect his purpose of will. ~ The Verses of Inquisitor Enoch


Abandoned Hope

The world was dead. Not in the sense that it did not harbor life, and not in the sense that it had been blasted clean of human presence. Life existed still – plants grew, birds sang, the oceans were still their resplendent green and blue. And yet it was dead – its vast cities empty of the crowds that once filled their streets, the sound of commerce and labor no longer reverberating from hab to hab, the temples no longer resonating with prayers to Him on Terra.

Centuries ago, the world had died in a different sense. Millions of residents had been forced from their homes, herded into mass conveyors, and taken away. Those who resisted – and there were few such – had been made an example of, and in some places one could find, still, a skull or a femur. Those who complied had been promised rewards, although it was no longer possible, by now, to discover if these promises had ever been followed up on. The result, however, remained: the planet had been emptied of its residents.

Others arrived – and remained, their armor unblemished, their purity unquestioned, their training rigorous. A fortress-convent had been erected for them, and within it, mighty chapels. Expanses of land were used as training grounds for tankers and artillerywomen. For centuries now, they had guarded the planet, and its secret.

Nor did their vigil extend solely to the surface. In orbit, a light cruiser, the Clarity of Intent, loomed. High orbit was sown richly with weapons stations and mines, observation satellites monitoring the surface for infiltrators which may have teleported in, and active auspexes watched low orbit. Fighter patrols coursed back and forth through the stratosphere, doubling as training flights for their pilots.

Automated voxcasts from deep space beacons repeated, again and again:

++ This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined… ++


Special Task Group 'Kellog', Vicinity of Abandoned Hope, Josian Reach - St. Claire-class Frigate 'Hotspur'
3041st Cycle



As soon as the small Task Group slowed and began to approach the edge of the planet that was at the rough center of the 'Josian Reach', the most god-awful sound they could have heard assaulted their communications channels.
++ This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined by order of the Emperor's Most Holy Inquisition. Do not attempt to approach. This system is quarantined… ++

A signals officer yanked off his headphones. "...By Monarch and the Twins, this was a bad idea." he groused. "We're going to wormhole out here?"
--
The signals-officer was not quite wrong; this was but one of several possible wormholes. Still, stumbling across what appeared to be a world under the care of the Imperium's shadowy internal security organization was not a good start. Even the most cursory scan revealed the presence of what was, potentially, a large garrison; perhaps even a ship or two.

If the Battlegroup had intended to raid the planet, this would not be a good sign. Fortunately, however, they did not intend to raid the planet, but merely to scan the local volume of space.

The scout cruiser began to do just that, it's powerful but mostly short-ranged sensors taking down the measurements needed to form a wormhole, which would one day, perhaps, lay the groundwork for the arrival of a larger detachment. Perhaps even one that would slam this little outpost to dust.

But for now, they kept their distance.
--
In the far, far distance, an observation sattelite associated with the garrison would detect a small, faint series of blips, perhaps two day's travel away for the light cruiser. It could be nothing; a patch of debris, or a somewhat lost merchantman spat up by the warp in an unfortunate place.
Either way, the blip would remain for perhaps a day, and then it would fade out.
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Wed Dec 29, 2021 10:00 am, edited 3 times in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Imperial Calixis
Secretary
 
Posts: 28
Founded: Aug 14, 2021
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Imperial Calixis » Wed Dec 29, 2021 10:41 am

How can a man be happy if he cannot serve his lord with his whole heart? ~ Litany of the Adeptus

Sophano system

It is said that for want of a nail, a kingdom may be lost. In an Imperium of trillions, there is a constant need for nails – literal and metaphorical ones. Therefore, the Imperial administrative machine hungers constantly. It hungers for metal, it hungers for promethium, it hungers for sweat and blood. Untold billions labor unheard, almost unrewarded, to raise from the bowels of thousands of worlds iron, and dysprosium, and adamantium. Their lungs are scarred with mine-dust, their hands with the cuts and bruises of their work, their backs with the whip. This, Sophano Prime, is a mining world. It is not thoroughly mined out yet, and its atmosphere and oceans still able to harbor life. Still, several enormous mines have already graced its surface, and millions of tons of ore are loaded onto freighters and shipped out.

Deeper scans would reveal literally dozens of ships– a frigate squadron spread on patrols throughout the system, but mostly bulk freighters big and small, some warp capable, some not, some loading, some waiting their turn in orbit, some entering, some leaving.

One of those freighters was the Sureforged. Humble by most standards, a mere two kilometers long, it was even now making its way out of the system, loaded with ore.

User avatar
Imperial Calixis
Secretary
 
Posts: 28
Founded: Aug 14, 2021
Psychotic Dictatorship

[written with the player of Nagintyar]

Postby Imperial Calixis » Fri Dec 31, 2021 1:48 am

Mauger sat down, folding his legs under him. This was a calculated gesture - there was no way for him to leap up from this posture. Reholstering his weapon, he instead pulled out a bottle, filled with a milky substance, and a long package of oily parchment. He unrolled the parchment on the floor before him, revealing two long pieces of dried, brown meat, which looked as if a creature had been first cooked, and then cured until it was almost dry. He opened the bottle, spreading a disgusting smell through the air - clearly liquor, yes, but how it was made was anyone’s guess.

“You want me to tell you how many we are so you could help us?” - he asked. “Is this a top deck way of saying ‘so we know how many men with flamers to bring? Do you take me for a fool?”

Osof, for his part, had instead pulled out a small tin cup, pouring some of his own alcohol into it and sitting down near the figure ahead.

“Flamethrowers on a spaceship? Now I know this galaxy’s fucked.” Osof sighed, offering the figure next to him the cup. “I’m not exactly a diplomat, just one of the more disposable ones on the list. Wasn’t expecting to actually find any living people down here frankly.” He grabbed his bag, kept rather light, looking for something within.

Mauger held out one of the meat pieces to Osof. “Eat. Spit out bone if any. Drink. Eat more.” - he explained simply. “A fool I may be, but you are the greater fool if you expected truly to find nobody here.”

"I expected to find something, not someone. Usually if we have to seal an entire compartment, we just lock it, space it, and clean up the mess afterwards, not weld it shut and forget about it on the maps too. Not that we need maps to walk around our own ships." Osof spoke honestly, his tone nonetheless soft. "Whoever locked you in here was stupid and neglectful, is what I'm trying to say."

Osof finally pulled out a small, sealed bag, using his pure strength to tear it open. It was a technology as ancient as the very first spacefarers, but there was no need to fix it further beyond the changing palates of future generations since its inception.

"Got a bad draw this time, plus the heating process'll take a minute, but here." He offered the man in front of him a pack of cookies, sealed tightly in foil, durable enough to withstand the rigors of combat, but not quite tasteless and rugged enough to be mistaken for tack. "A little something while the rest of the bag cooks."

In truth, he was hoping he could distract the man away from the rat meat, something that likely wouldn't kill him but wouldn't be pleasant either without shutting off his senses.

Mauger nodded slowly. He was not certain what the cookies were, but he was reasonably certain they were not poison - after all, the men in front of him were armed, had they wanted to kill him, they would have simply shot him by now and be done with it. He tasted one, cautiously. He could not describe its taste very well - it was very sweet, however, with a texture that felt like it had some kind of fat added to it he could not identify. Then, instinct took over, and he began to consume the cookies with atrocious speed, only sometimes taking a pause to gulp down some of his foul smelling liquor.

“Sealed in? We are not sealed in.” - he said “Foolish topdeckers, they think they seal us in, but that is a lie. We are the Children of the Hold. We know the ship better than topdeckers do. They close this deck shut but there are passages, yes? Pipes, tubes, ladders. We come up. Top deckers are cautious, but not cautious enough.” - he made a motion across his throat with the edge of his palm. “We are not sealed in. Sometimes someone is left behind, or they fall, or a compartment is welded off and they don’t know the way out. Sometimes they join us. Sometimes we eat them. Like this rat. ” - he seemed unashamed of this admission.

Suddenly, the decision to avoid the rat seemed more justified to Osof.

"Yeah that checks out. The crew of this ship are sloppy, but I suppose it's hard to expect much from them, given the conditions." Osof shrugged as his food finished cooking, steam now escaping the bag.

From it, he grabbed a pouch, seemingly warm to the touch, tearing it open, designed so it could stand on a roughly flat bottom once opened.

"This is… well, they call it pork and liver pie, minus the pie. It's mostly pork and liver stuffing I guess."

Mauger’s eyes gleamed as the mutant leaned forward. “Pork.” - he said. For a few seconds he stared at the food in disbelief, and then repeated. “Pork. And it smells like it is fresh.” - he reached for the food with shaking, many-jointed fingers.

Osof, for his part, tossed in a spork into the food, otherwise handing it over to the mutant without much fuss. "Fresh is… well, it was packaged sometime this year… i think. These things are meant to last a while, anyways. Prolly all vat grown and slathered in preservatives too."

Osof's mind wandered for a second before he turned his attention back to the important.

"Eh, what's your name anyways? You can call me Osof, part of Svald's Sphere. I'd like to get some food and aid out to the rest of your family soon, can't imagine conditions are good down here."

Mauger laughed. “You are very short on crew. My name is Mauger, Mauger Lekky. We are the Children of the Hold. ”

“Yes but no. We could use more hands, preferably trained ones, but we’re mostly looking to get this ship fixed up and armed for some more raiding jobs. Anyone who doesn’t want to come along’ll get dropped off at the Looking Glass, it’ll be better than staying here.”

Mauger looked on. “This sounds nice. So the choices are - be part of your crew or get ‘dropped off at Looking Glass’?” - the tone of his voice changed slightly at the last sentence. “Well there are worse things in the world than being a pirate, if the food is good.”

“I mean, I don’t like space stations much either, but it seems like a nice enough place, if you can mind the locals anyways. No manners, any of them.” Osof said obliviously, drinking from his own liquor now. “Food… well, short pork beats long pork, I suppose. Don’t expect amazing alcohol either.”

Mauger laughed. “I don’t think you want to know how this stuff,” - he shook his bottle slightly, the milky-white fluid within sloshing around - “is made, topdecker. Hardly the finest of Scintillan wineries, this.”

“I don’t, no. Well, I guess that’s about as far as I can take this diplomacy thing without an actual trained professional, we can discuss details later when an officer or whatever arrives, otherwise, let’s help get the Hold in good condition again, yeah?”

“I will tell the elders, yes.” - Mauger said as he reclaimed his pistol and slowly got up. Carefully, never turning his back on the strangers, he stepped back behind a corner and vanished into the depths of the Japhia.”

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sat Jan 01, 2022 1:11 am

Special Task Group 'Kellog', Sophano System, Golgenna Reach - St. Claire-class Frigate 'Havoc'
3041st Cycle



A Saint-Claire class frigate was, by most reasonable metrics, fairly large, measuring roughly 700 meters by 50 meters. Of course, it was currently within the Imperium, where reason had been shot and thrown in a ditch long ago. The Saint-Claire was dwarfed even by the freighters passing in and out of the system, to say nothing of the Imperium's sick and twisted idea of a 'frigate'.

Still, it stood to reason that it could bludgeon it's far-larger Imperial counterpart to death from range. A large package of anti-ship missiles lay within it's VLS cells, awaiting but the word to spring out and either lay dormant until a suitable target was detected, or wormhole out towards the target, exiting only for the final approach.

Inded, it would do exactly this...as soon as the scout cruiser finished it's scans. This meant hours of waiting as the local volume of space was scanned and logged, over and over, to ensure that they had gotten it all right.

The hours ticked by. The small flotilla waited patiently, under complete radio silence.
And then, as if someone had flipped a switch, targeting sensors came online, and swiftly began to track most of the shipping within the volume. As the closest target of opportunity, most of the frigates locked on to the Sureforged and opened fire from some distance, unleashing a half a dozen missiles. A dozen more would be cold-launched, reprogrammed as mines to lurk at the edge of the system until they found another target.

WIth their work done, the Battlegroup began to leave, giving the frigate-patrol a brief, infinitesmally small window of time to engage before they were far enough to simply wormhole home safely.
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Sun Jan 02, 2022 2:50 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sat Jan 01, 2022 12:13 pm

The missiles streaked towards the Sureforged, their drives tiny dots of light against the blackness of the void. If they were not moving, they would be just six more pinpricks of light against the cold emptiness, but they moved, and they were coming towards the Sureforged

The ship's Captain stared in disbelief as the tiny objects closed in – faster than a torpedo, faster than a fighter, like mega-bolter shells consuming the distance. A mechanical servitor voice, somewhere in the bridge, counted off the distance and bearing: Alert, alert, hostiles detecting, closing at bearing Alpha, fourteen, Mu, alert, alert.

The Captain moved as if in a haze. Around him, his subordinates were already screaming commands, but it was all just too slow, too slow, the missiles moved like in a pictvid played back too fast.

Automatic cannon across the Sureforged's body came alive, targeting servitors turning the quad-gun turrets around to bear on the enemy, but it was all just not enough.

"Vandire's jaw!" – the weapons officer roared "It just dodged our gunfire! How is that-"

A detonation flashed against the ship's void shields, and they blazed alive and shut down, overloaded for mere seconds by an explosion.

And in that bare second the missiles, seemingly tiny and insignificant, smashed against the ship's hull. One, striking at an oblique angle, did not penetrate. There was a flash of a detonation, and the ship shook, armor coming up off its side in a cloud of metal steam and fragments – but it was the other missiles that did the damage.

Battlegroup Anna's technology was incomparable to anything the crew of the Sureforged had ever seen. It was a horror from a sailor's tall tale.

Penetrators made of ultra-dense metals buried themselves into the ship's armor like bullets into a grox hide, and then the follow-up warheads detonated, sending cones of concentrated plasma into the ship.

The Sureforged seemed to shriek in agony as a beached void-whale. Toxic steam from vaporized armaplas tore into the ship, and then, an instant second, rushed out again as the void drank the ship's atmosphere. Weapons crews perished instantly, their bodies torn from their station like rag dolls. In the torpedo stations, secondary detonations shook the ship as torpedo drives exploded. Then, seconds later, tertiary detonations, fire alarm claxons, the screams of the dying turned the ship into a vision of nightmares.

Men and women, maimed or burned, crawled on the deck begging their comrades for aid that could not be given. Fires burned throughout the ship. Damage control teams and firefighting servitors fought the flame in desperation.

All this, in seconds. The Sureforged lived still, but she was maimed and unarmed. Of its crew, near five thousand men and women were dead or dying. The Captain stared at his men in blank incomprehension. Over half his life savings had been in this ship, and had now been set alight.

"Your orders, captain Ulfmar?"

"My orders? My orders? Get everyone you can fighting those fires. Vox the fleet for aid. And then pray. What else is there?"
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sun Jan 02, 2022 3:21 pm

Observation Group 'Kellog', Sophano System, Golgenna Reach - St. Claire-class Frigate 'Havoc'
3041st Cycle


As the rest of the Observation Group slunk away, a lone frigate began to close with the Sureforged over the course of a day. She came to a halt well outside of the range of it's defensive armament, but still in range of communications, and began to transmit a message over to the wounded freighter.

This is the frigate Havoc. Please bring your weapons offline and allow us to board. You will be compensated for any loss thus far of life or limb and your ship will be purchased at a the current market rate. Any and all wounded will recieve immediate medical attention and all crew will be treated humanely in accordance with the interstellar conventions on prisoners of war.

However, if you attempt to resist or stall until reinforcements arrive, we will be forced to employ all measures to ensure your destruction.

If you do not trust us, we are willing to talk in-person to hash out a formal agreement.

Bright burns and safe travels;

- Commodore Rodriguez Oppenheimer - Commanding Officer, St. Claire-class frigate 'Havoc'
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Sun Jan 02, 2022 3:45 pm, edited 4 times in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Imperial Calixis
Secretary
 
Posts: 28
Founded: Aug 14, 2021
Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Imperial Calixis » Sun Jan 02, 2022 3:42 pm

Aboard the Sureforged

Captain Ulfmar turned to his First Mate.

"Did you understand that, Caleb?"

First Mate Caleb Rath contemplated his reply. "I understood the important part. That's to say – they are pirate, and this was a veiled threat to pound us into a hulk if we do not surrender, and a promise to be nice to us if we are accommodating. "

"What's that about the money they said?"

"Oh come on you can not – "

"I don't believe them no. However, we are going to stall as much as we can."

"Are you mad. The frigates will be here in five, six days. They can pound us to wreckage in minutes."

"I don't imagine I can stall for days, you imbecile! Warp take you, Rath! Tell the men to get to the savior pods while I talk to this Oppenheimer."

"I… that, yes. The savior pods."

Commodore Oppenheimer, I am Captain Rennek Ulfmar. This ship is currently on fire in several segments and my crew are working to contain the fire your guns inflicted. I must inform you that the ship had cost my family a substantial amount of Thrones. I request that you send us assistance in fighting the fire, and two crates, each holding… he named an outrageous sum, one to myself, and one to my First Mate to give the men. Proceed to send the crates over first because I don't have any brain injuries.

Of course, to expect a pirate to actually pay the full cost of the ship they just set on fire with missiles was at best a sad joke, but Ulfmar had no expectation of payment. He expectred, however, to maintain the conversation as long as possible.

"Vox officer, I want you to patch me directly into the ship's vox network. In this way I can maintain this mad conversation with that pirate while we run to my pinnace."

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:06 pm

Observation Group 'Kellog', Sophano System, Golgenna Reach - St. Claire-class Frigate 'Havoc'
3041st Cycle



Oppenheimer sighed as he read the dispatch. "Right, they said yes?"
His comms officer nodded. "Aye. Either they're hoping to stall us or they're desperate; either way..."
"We'll hold up our end of the bargain even if they run." He turned to his own First Mate. "Get a damage control team down to them and the Monopoly money they asked for."
--

The response was swift, and brief.
Acknowledged. Sending shuttle over with a damage control team and payment.
- Commodore Rodriguez Oppenheimer - Commanding Officer, St. Claire-class frigate 'Havoc'


A moment later, a small shuttle accelerated out of the frigate's small hangar and began to race towards the Sureforged. At 17.5 meters in length, it was less than half the length of a Shark Assault Boat, and carried within a 20-man damage control/medical team and the two crates of Thrones requested -- counterfeit, of course, but good enough to pass more or less as the real thing.

As it approached the Sureforged, Captain Ulfmar and his bridge crew would hear a new voice coming through on their voxes. "Sureforged, this is Seagull 1. Please direct us to an appropriate landing area."
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:15 pm

"Are they mad?" – Ulfmar asked – "There is no way they can fit enough men on board that thing to take the ship.

Rath looked at his Captain "Let me get a few dozen armsmen in voidsuits. We will greet them in a sequestered vehicle bay."

He had no idea, of course, that these precautions were necessary. But they took them nonetheless, and so when the pirates landed, they were greeted by about three dozen men in grey, armored voidsuits, lasguns at low ready.
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:26 pm

Allanea wrote:"Are they mad?" – Ulfmar asked – "There is no way they can fit enough men on board that thing to take the ship.

Rath looked at his Captain "Let me get a few dozen armsmen in voidsuits. We will greet them in a sequestered vehicle bay."

He had no idea, of course, that these precautions were necessary. But they took them nonetheless, and so when the pirates landed, they were greeted by about three dozen men in grey, armored voidsuits, lasguns at low ready.


The aircraft-like shuttle entered the bay, and with a hiss, the rear cargo ramp opened. What came out...most decidedly did not look like pirates. In fact, they looked exactly like a damage control and medical team. All were in matching, olive-green CBRN suits, with black rebreathers akin to those issued by certain regiments of the Imperial Guard. WIth nothing but sidearms and a few personal defense weapons slung over their backs, they seemed utterly unprepared for anything resembling a boarding operation.

One man stepped forward, and after fiddling with his radio for a second, began to speak.
"Right," he began, in an utterly exhausted, fed-up tone of voice. "I don't have time for this bullshit. Which sections of the ship are aflame and how many wounded do you have? And where the fuck's your captain? I have two crates of -- what the hell do you people call it, Throne Gelts? -- to give to him."
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:34 pm

"I am the First Mate." - one of the figures uttered, clearly shocked by the development. "I will collect the money. Open the warp-blasted box so I know it is money and not an explosive."

At this point, claxons rang, far away, and a mechanical voice said: Savior pod bank Delta-Six is away. Do not attempt savior pod bank Delta-Six. Banks Sigma-Nine, Delta-Five, Alpha-Three are filling for departure.
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:42 pm

"Well, golly, sure!" The man replied, before turning to his subordinates. "You heard 'im. Show him the goods."
The two crates were pried open and then wheeled forward. The First Mate would note that both, indeed, held a vast amount of Throne Gelts, bundled into several packets.

If the Battlegroup's men cared about the crew evacuating, they did not show it.
Last edited by Polish Prussian Commonwealth on Sun Jan 02, 2022 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
Allanea
Postmaster of the Fleet
 
Posts: 25144
Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sun Jan 02, 2022 5:16 pm

"What in the Emperor's green - " - the man stared in absolute confusion as he raised one of the packets and then threw it back into its crate. "Very well then. The deal is done. The fires," - he paused - "Well mostly it's near the dorsal and front weapons batteries but also there's some fires deep within due to tertiary explosions. You have the boat, gentlemen. Let me just say you are the most generous pirates I ever did hear of."
#HyperEarthBestEarth

Sometimes, there really is money on the sidewalk.

User avatar
Polish Prussian Commonwealth
Senator
 
Posts: 4644
Founded: Oct 30, 2018
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Polish Prussian Commonwealth » Sun Jan 02, 2022 5:33 pm

The man scoffed. "Pirates, eh? Well, I suppose you could call us that." He paused. "Now that the boat's ours -- either get off or we'll be taking you on a trip back home. I'm sure that you've got a nice little escape pod awaiting you and rescue inbound. Oh, and I highly suggest you all make arrangements for retirement. As soon as practicable. Perhaps even the minute you're set down back at port."

--

And that was that.
The sailors were seen off with the utmost courtesy, while more damage control teams were sent in. The fires were brought under control, any abandoned wounded or dead were taken in and either rushed to the sickbay or held pending burial, and the ship was...not quite fixed, but brought to a state where it could be safely hauled back to the jump-point, whereupon the Havoc would reprogram the loitering missiles to wait a few weeks, to allow the former crew of the Sureforged to be rescued by the arriving patrols.

A wormhole slowly spun open over 30 minutes, the Havoc passed through, and then the wormhole snapped shut, as if it were never there.
"Furthermore, I submit that Carthage NSG must be destroyed."
-Marcus Porcius Cato

A traumatized, but recovering, MT-PMT constitutional monarchy consisting of a personal union of Prussia and Poland. A land of rampant gun ownership, governmental schizophrenia, militias with enough heavy weapons to turn an armored division into a badly-shaken battalion of light infantry, and terrified USAF personnel counting down the days until they rotate back home.


User avatar
The Eridani Imperium
Envoy
 
Posts: 288
Founded: Jun 15, 2017
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby The Eridani Imperium » Sun Jan 02, 2022 6:52 pm

Love the Emperor
for He is the salvation of mankind
Obey His words
for He will lead you into the light of the future
Heed His wisdom
for He will protect you from evil
Whisper His prayers with devotion,
for they will save your soul
Honour His servants,
for they speak in His voice
Tremble before His majesty,
for we all walk in His immortal shadow


Voluptua

Faith is the foundation of the Imperium.

For some, it is a fully held belief in the sacrifice of Him on Terra, who had raised humanity from the ashes, who suffers an unimaginable pain every second of our existence so that humanity may, for one moment more, be delivered. Once upon a time it was unclear to men what it was that humanity was being delivered from, but all knew it was something terrible, from beyond the ages of nightmare. Now, with the Galaxy sundered in twain as though by a festering wound, the prayers redoubled in intensity, for all now knew what it was that the Emperor was holding at bay.

No sacrifice a man could make would be ever great enough, no labor too hard, to compare to the suffering He on Terra undertook willingly. Were this even not true, still the creation of the Imperium alone was a feat for which humanity’s debt was immeasurable. Therefore, temples toiled, bells rang, a myriad voices were raised in prayer of thanks.

Yet there were some who knew a deeper truth:

Faith is a weapon.

It is not only that the Emperor is owed thanks, and that the Saints are owed adulation. It is true also that the faith of the righteous can work miracles. The prayers of the billions of souls are not only meaningless prattle - they maintain and protect.

And, moreover, faith is money.

There is nothing wrong, thought Cardinal Clovis Vortars, with money. Untold thrones flowed onto Voluptua with the flow of pilgrims. True, some of it funded the lavish chambers in which Cardinal Clovis Vortars and others like him resided - a reasonable expense to maintain the Emperor’s valuable and loyal servants - but most of it funded the needful things.

Statues of the saints, temples to the Emperor’s glory, but also water treatment plants and macrocannon batteries, food supplies and medicae orderlies - all that is needed to the planet’s defense both spiritual and physical. It had made the planet important enough to be protected by an entire squadron of Navy frigates.

No, thought Clovis Vortars as he walked out on the balcony and looked at the city below, and the dawskies to the East, where the city skyline seemed to become brownish-pink. There was no shame in looking to the spiritual to fortify the physical. Such was, in fact, an integral part of his holy duties.

Praise be!


———


“Ah, speak of the andar! there’s one of those Shrine worlds now. Get the files up, Relvani. Let’s see what we’re dealing with before we move in.”

The raiding fleet had taken up an orbit on the periphery of the system that was offset from the planetary system a bit, and was using an old debris field as its cover. All the other ships were waiting for orders from KAV Fensalir as Erion and his commanders came up with a plan.

Scans of the system would reveal the presence of three Tempest-class strike Frigates, oen of them docked to an orbital station, one in transit towards the system edge, and the third returning, just approaching Voluptua itself. There were also a bevy of slower-than-light ships of various classes, some of them system monitors, others transports and surveyor vessels. Pilgrim transports there were galore, moving in-system. At the planet itself, weapons stations of various classes orbited - two macrocannon batteries and half a dozen torpedo launch satellites.

“Mmm. Not a terrible set up for the Imperials - whoever organized this actually has their head on right.” Erion considered. “Power up the shields and Magnetic Accelerator Cannons and head for the planet’s orbital structures. We need to disable them so we have a clear shot to ground for our gunships - our people are going to have enough problems with the Frigates. Also, do your best not to get hit - I doubt their reaction times are faster than ours, but I don’t want to test our shields and armor against their projectiles until we absolutely have to.”

Their orders received and acknowledged, the fleet moved in.

It would be a good few minutes before the fleet was detected at all in the flurry of movement that was the Voluptua system. A few more - before the information was relayed to Station Master Trevor Molutias. The man, a scarred Navy veteran, was seated on his command throne in the orbital command center - less a fort, more a traffic control system for the hundreds of ships filing in and out of orbit.

“Master Molutias, unidentified vessels bearing four, four, delta, omicron, closing fast.” - the adept informed. Molutias looked at the adept, then the system screens where the unknown vessels were blinking - not yet a friendly green or hostile red, so far neutral white.

“Vox them. Request identification.”

And so the signal was sent. Unknown vessels, this is Voluptua Traffic Control, identify yourself.

“Message received, Captain. Should we respond?”

It was a few hours later, and Erion was looking at the screen where the Vox message had been transcribed with an expression one could best describe as “mildly amused”. The corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. “Yes, but don’t identify yourselves. Call up one of the copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and send them the first part of the entry for year 793.”

And so the message was sent.

It took hours more for the message to be returned - hours in which the suspect vessels moved closer, closer to the system’s living heart.

When the adept next rushed into the command room, his face was pale, his hands shaking. “Station Master! Sir! It’s an attack!”

“An attack? What do you mean by this, boy?”

“They responded, Sir. Their response is... “Here were dreadful forewarnings... dreadful forewarning come over the land of Voluptua, and woefully terrified.... terrified the people: these were amazing sheets of lightning and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky.” It’s a threat, Sir.”

The Station-Master’s eyes widened. But he was not the adept. He has spent five decades in the ranks of the Navy. He fought traitors, xenos, and pirates of every kind.

“Send astropathic messages to the Lord Aphad and Lord Samtar. All men, battle stations. We’re under attack.”

Ominously, slowly, the two patrol frigates active within the system moved to intercept courses, their engines burning bright as they converged towards the planet. Aboard the third frigate - the Lord Damar, still rearming at the control and service station - crew rushed to their stations, the techpriests reciting their canticles to cycle the ship’s reactors to life before it would be too late. On Station Master Molutias’ screen, the sigils for the unknown ships flashed red now.

“Relax, lad” - he said to the adept. “Those pirates, warp damn them, are fools. Their ships are smaller than even the frigates. The Tempests are going to wreck them and go home before the day is out, I say.”

To what extent he believed this was anyone’s guess. The vessels were smaller indeed - but they were also approaching far faster than he had expected.


———


On the Lord Aphad, Captain Ancius shouted into his vox panel: “I do not care what the drive rate is! I do not care that the enginseer says! Faster! Faster! We need to intercept those ships before they slide past us and into orbit! I will have your descendants sweeping decks for three generations!”

Meanwhile, Erion was watching the tactical map aboard the Fensalir. “Ah, Tempest-classes. Relatively easy pickings. Nav, adjust course so their calculated route takes them right over us. Then let our weapons crew and the computer do the work. Target the engines, if you would?”

As the Imperials approached the fleet, the Kadrian ships spread out vertically, readying their weapons for what was to come.

“Captain! They are xeno ships! THey look like nothing human! And they’re maneuvering like nothing human!” - the sensorium officer shouted out. From his sweating scalp, several cables ran to the dashboard.

“I can see that, freck you and them too! That one! The one that looks like an axehead with wings! ” - Captain Ancius roared.

He meant, of course, the Fensalir. It was smaller than his own ship, but it was stockily built and menacing, and every readout detected spikes of energy that implied a firepower that could exceed the Lord Aphad’s - and the way it moved only confirmed that.

The Lord Aphad was closing in on the xeno ships, and the Lord Samtar was minutes behind it - but it did not matter, because, somehow, it was closing in on the location where by every rule of logics the xenos should have been, and they had already maneuvered away, changing course in a manner in which no human craft could. The Lord Aphad was turning, of course, to match the threat, but it could turn only gradually, its vast engines straining against the change.

“Target that thing! Torpedoes, full spread! Follow the torpedoes up with boarding craft! Fire when ready!”

Less than a second later, the Lord Aphad’s torpedo tubes belched fire and smoke, and a dozen torpedoes sailed forth. They turned almost elegantly when compared to the frigate’s bulk, and burned towards the enemy warship. Behind them - dozens upon dozens of smallcraft, boarding pods and shuttlecraft of every description.

The logic was sound, good old Imperial Navy logic - weaken the ship with a torpedo salvo, board it, join the xenos in combat with sword and gun. This was what they had been trained for.

As the Lord Aphad tried to keep up with the fleet’s maneuvers, the Kadrians opened fire. Point defense weapons quickly dealt with the torpedoes and smallcraft in turn, as the Magnetic Accelerator Cannons launched their payloads at the frigates, massive slugs of dense ferrous metal moving at eye-watering speeds.

On one ship in particular, though, the danger was not a metal slug, but something worse. Its gun was clearly not of the same design as the Magnetic Accelerator Cannon, and it was taking aim at the Lord Samtar. The Gungnir-class Magentohydrodynamic Gun’s power was revealed to the Imperials as a beam of blinding blue plasma raced through the empty expanse of space between the ships.

“Sir, they’re intercepting our torpedoes!”

“Yes, of course they are intercepting out torpedoes, that’s what-”

The Lord Aphad shuddered as the first of the slugs hit its prow, making the entire ship shake, gouging out a long, glowing furrow in the immense frontal armor. Captain Ancius blinked momentarily at the thought of the blow that would make the ship shake so, but faster than his eyelids could shut and reopen, there was another blow, and a mighty explosion somewhere within the ship.

“Captain, detonations on board, turret deck beta not respo-”

“I can’t raise the Enginarium, Captain-”

The ship was struck several times in rapid succession, like the body of a catacomb ganger being torn with stubber fire. Each of the shots alone would have been fatal, entire decks becoming engulfed in flames or venting instantly to the void - but even this was irrelevant. As the void shields failed, one of the shots found purchase on the reactors, the roaring heart of the Lord Aphad. Its roaring, fiery heart.

Captain Ancius did not even have the time to register what was happening before his ship, and all twenty-seven thousand souls on board, became a single flash of white light, and vanished. There was no sound to mark its passing.

The boarding crews were still speeding forward towards the enemy ship. Some of them perhaps prayed to the Emperor in their final moments to keep them safe, or at least to grant them a swift death in battle. Interception lasers sliced up boarding craft, evaporated boarding torpedoes, cut down shuttles. The God-Emperor of Mankind answered his followers’ prayers.

Lord Samtar was still speeding forward to assist its sister-ship when it was struck - not with the high-speed slugs of the magnetic accelerator guns, but with a bright, blue beam that stabbed through its front armor plate like a hot needle through butter. It was not running precisely along its axis - such a feat would have been near-impossible - but that did not matter. In less than a second it killed several hundred crew, turned tons of metal into expanding, toxic, gas, and stabbed directly into the ship’s reactors. Everyone on the Lord Samtar died before they even knew they were in combat.

Of the more than sixty thousand men and women who had entered battle against the pirates, less than two thousand were now still alive, and their numbers were dwindling fast.

As the battle slowed down, Erion watched the remnants of the two frigates and the Lord Aphad’s payload tumble through space. “…A shame, some would say. Those vessels carried hundreds of years of history with them, and it all disappeared within an all-too-brief moment.” He then turned to the console besides him, and pressed a button. “Salvage Teams Fehu and Uruz, scan the wreckage and feel free to pick up anything you might find interesting. Communications, if that third Frigate approaches us, send it a warning… and an offer to join us.”

The salvage teams’ findings may have been meager in terms of piracy - no riches here, no artefacts or gold - but for an anthropologist or historian they would have been fascinating. A pict of a sailor’s family, a religious icon of Saint Sanguinius or Saint Drusus, a young officer’s personal journal tucked into a pants pocket, an ornate laspistol or a copy of the Spheres of Longing or The Canticles of Saint Eremius, these were the things that men preparing to do vicious battle against xeno invaders more advanced that themselves had on board their shuttles as they departed from their ships. Some of those items even survived to be collected.

Across the system, a state that could only be described as approaching panic set in. The bright light of two ship deaths was seen - a few hours later, of course - by every other vessel in the Voluptua system, and vox broadcasts were full of all manner of interpretations - the Lord Aphad and Lord Samtar were destroyed, the Lord Aphad perished but the Lord Samtar had not, the frigates were actually not destroyed but repelled the xeno invaders.

The Lord Damar unhooked itself from its tethers eventually, rearmed at least partially, though it made no attempt to get at the invaders. The system's defense monitors and patrol ships began converging on the system capital, where they hoped to make a stand under the guns of the orbital stations.

The KAV Fensalir and its attending vessels continued their approach to Voluptua, adjusting their orientation to make use of their spinals for the next phase of the battle. As Erion had ordered when this had all begun, their priority target was the stations, but anything else that would get in the way would become a target as well.


———


Captain Varna of the Lord Damar was now the ranking Naval officer in the system, and as such he was in command. He keyed the vox in front of him and spoke.

“Men and women of the Imperial Navy! The xenos are moving in to this planet. They seem to have destroyed the Lord Aphad and Lord Samtar through the use of some alien perfidy. Nevertheless, we outnumber them, we have more guns, we have bigger guns, and we have the God Emperor, and with His Grace we shall prevail! Each ship’s master has his target set out for him! Let each man here do his duty and the Emperor and his Saints shall surely see us victorious today!”

The strategy was a simple one - Varna believed still that the enemy ships were smaller, and therefore each of them, individually, could be destroyed with a single Imperial ship’s weapons. Therefore they had to spread out their fire before the enemy could fire on them, and take out as many enemies as quickly as possible. These were basic combat mathematics. Between that and the Emperor’s grace, could the Lord Aphad and the system ships fail to defend His sacred temples?

Of course, Varna had another audience, as the Fensalir had tuned in to listen to the Imperial comms. One of Erion’s officers couldn’t help but grin. “Captain, you have to admit that they have spirit, even if their ignorance blinds him.”

Erion nodded. “Yes, Ansgar - but do not let that distract you from your duty. All ships, open fire!”

And so there was fire. This low in orbit, the bursts of several voidship deaths could be seen on the surface with the naked eye. The Lord Damar broke in twain and detonated, system patrol cutters burned as they fell through the atmosphere. The system defense monitor Salvation’s Helm exploded in smoke and flame. Worst of all, the Salvation’s Shield burned and deorbited, striking into one of the planet’s oceans before its reactors finally gave up and breached containment, turning untold thousands of tons of water into steam instantly, forming storm clouds that would soon spread over Voluptua’s entire Northern hemisphere.

On board the traffic control station, Station Master Trevor Molutias looked at the adept he spoke to hours ago in reassuring tones, and smiled, his lips pressed into a thin line. “I believe I have deceived you, lad. Get to the savior pods.”

“But Master Molutias...”

“Go now. Link up with the PDF or with Frateris, I don’t know. I’ll get a broadcast out.”

This is Station Master Trevor Molutias, all Imperial forces in-system. I have ordered a full evacuation of System Traffic Control Station Devotion’s Flower. The system capital is now under attack by an overwhelming force of xenos raiders of unknown origin. In the Emperor’s name, assist us. May His Grace shield us all..

With that, the Fensalir moved in the direction of the station and toward one of the hangars. Shuttlecraft launched from the cruiser’s bays and headed into the station’s hangars, carrying heavily armed Kadrian raiders ready to disembark and seize the station.

In the meantime, as salvage teams combed the orbiting wreckage and battle groups stood guard against more incoming forces, part of the Kadrian fleet entered a lower orbit and began to deploy more shuttles and gunships. The true raid was about to begin.

Trevor Molutias and a handful of crewmen and tech adepts had kept the station alive until now. They had kept the lights on and the hangar locks cycling so that the crew could make for the savior pods and shuttles. Now they were - in their minds at least - alone, excepting of course the station’s servitors. Molutias took off his Station Master’s cap and placed it on the control dais..

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been an honor to serve with you. Now I propose we dash for that warp-damned savior pod before the filthy xenos vaporize us along with this station.”

One of the remaining officers pressed a button, and the bridge doors slid open one final time.

And there, in full gear, stood five Kadrian troopers. They looked at the Imperials while they looked back, and a couple moments passed.

“Praise the Emperor!” - someone shouted out. Cheers burst out from the crew behind Molutias as he stared at men he could only have assumed were his saviors. True, their armor was an unfamiliar type, but there were many Militarum regiments and many things he did not know - and these were (he thought) human beings, not xeno predators.

“What is going on?” - he asked - “Is there... a rescue?” Well not literally a rescue but maybe a Navy task force was pursuing the xenos from another system? Some kind of secret Navy stuff - he thought but did not add. “I’m going to assume that since you’re on board the station you’re not expecting it to explode any instant. Or are you here simply to die heroes’ deaths along with me? If that’s the case I’m going to have to disappoint.”

Well, this was awkward. The leader, Sigmar the Unbroken, touched his railgun pistol for a moment, before thinking better of it. “The station is not going to explode, ser. You have my word on that. However…” He considered his next words carefully. “This is not really a rescue. At least in the normal sense of the word.”

“Very well,” - Molutias spoke, and then walked back to the control dais and retrieved his cap. “Gentlemen, I’m Station Master Trevor Molutias, which is about the equivalent of a captain on a voidship. Except as you can see this isn’t a voidship. This is the orbital station Devotion’s Flower. What service does His Divine Majesty require of us today?”

Oh dear. “Station Master Molutias, I am known as Sigmar Ironhand, or Sigmar the Unbroken, depending on who you ask. I am a Marine Lieutenant aboard my ship.” Sigmar inclined his head in respect. “But while the pleasantries are appreciated, I’m actually with the people you should be shooting, at least in theory.”

Several of the officers behind Molutias gasped in horror. They were at an impasse of sorts - honor doubtless called they fight the boarders, but none of them had their weapons ready, and the posture and weapons of the pirates seemed to suggest that any who would try violence would be cut down before they even got their weapons out of their holsters.

“So you men are pirates?” - Molutias asked, somewhat dully. “I thought you were aliens.”

Sigmar nodded. “Close enough. Now, if you wanted to die honorably, we could certainly arrange something… You could also join us.” The Kadrian grinned. “Our ships are a bit less dreary than this station of yours.”

“That would not be difficult,” - one of the station crew quipped. Station Master Molutias glared.

“I will have you know that it is an orderly establishment!” - he snapped, and several of the crewmen burst out laughing. This, of course, had a devastating effect - how can you have a firefight while doubled over laughing? And how can you consign yourself to a heroic death while feeling absolutely ridiculous?

Station Master Trevor Molutias turned to the pirates. “Fine. Very well. We surrender. You win.”

Sigmar couldn’t help but laugh along. After they had stopped laughing, the Lieutenant gave them a genuine smile. “My men and I will escort you back to our ship. I’m sure the crew will be happy to welcome you, Station Master. You haven’t given us a reason to put you in the brig, so we’ll give you and your crew berths, if they wish.”

Several of the men and women behind Molutias stepped forward. A woman, headshaven and augmented, connector cables flowing from the back of her head like a braid of hair, spoke first. “I am Warrant Officer Martina Querrosson, but you can call me Molly, which is what everyone calls me and I assume it’s a better name for a pirate anyway. I’m a comms officer on this station. And you were hinting about a place on your crew.”

Sigmar looked her over, taking note of the augments. “Of course. If you wanted to work with our equipment, though, you’d probably want to speak with our engineers and medical people. Most of our equipment doesn’t normally allow for direct interface. There are also other positions you can have.”

“You were wanting to make use of the station?” - she shrugged - “It seems to me that you need someone who knows how to use the cogitators. Not to mention someone compatible with the cogitators.” - she walked towards her work station, confident that she would not be shot down as she made the explanation “These plugs connect here, here, and here. We have a class alpha vox system for long-range intrasystem vox, and lower-grade vox systems for talking to the ground and to the orbiting shuttles. We had an astropath but he’s probably on the surface right now. Tech adepts have gone out in the evacuation too, but it’s not like you - we - are going to be maintaining this tub in the long term.”

“This is not a fething tub, woman.” - Molutias cut in.

“Ah!” Sigmar nodded in understanding. “Yes, somebody who can understand and work with the cogitators would be essential to our efforts - I think the Captain would be pleased to have you, then.”

He then looked over at Molutias, amused. “Don’t worry too much, ser Molutias. I’ve seen worse tubs in my time.”

“The station is in a reasonable shape, praise be. We have had a refit only last year, which has replaced the docking gear for Docking Arm Alpha and Beta,” - if Molutias knew he was committing treason, he seemed to hide it very well.

As he spoke, Querensson ignored the voice of her superior officer, and instead resumed her station and plugged herself in - literally, that is, placing the plugs in their proper sockets. After a while, she spoke “Well they certainly know you’re coming. You should be interested in knowing they’re scrambling PDF fighters even now - do you want me to put their comms on audible?”

Sigmar raised his eyebrow at the mention of fighters, mildly surprised that the Imperials were that desperate. Nevertheless, he spoke. “I’d be more surprised if they weren’t concerned - we made quite the entrance. Put them on audible - I want to hear how much trouble they’re having with our guys in orbit.”

Crackling, static-riddled voices now replaced the silence in the command room. There was an eeriness to it, like listening to the last breaths of a dying man.

“Delta-One, this is Alpha Squadron actual, I am headed towards the contact point, over.”

“I hear you, Alpha Actual, you are ten minutes to contact. May the Emperor be with you, over.”

In the clouds over Voluptua, the planet’s defense force was headed for its final, glorious struggle. It was not large - about thirty aerospace fighters, elderly machines that had seen centuries of combat in the Emperor’s wars, here in the main to intercept smugglers and enforce the word of Station Master Molutias when it came to approach routes and orbit queue violations. And behind these - another wave.

These were newer aircraft in make, but more primitive in their construction. Their props buzzed in the anticipation of combat, and their weapons were primed and ready - but they moved slowly towards their foe, lagging behind their jet-driven comrades, and their sensors and weapons were useful perhaps for a duel at knife-fight distance. Regardless, they persisted.

This welcoming committee soon met the gunship escorts that were tasked with accompanying the main body of the planetary invasion force to the surface. The Kadrians still held the technological advantage here, but the Imperials may have found it easier to breathe, especially given that the starships in orbit were busying themselves with taking out the anti-orbital and anti-air batteries on the ground.

“Alpha Squadron, I am Alpha Actual, am in range, fire at will!”

The fighters released their long-ranged weapons - the only ones they had. They were heavy in aspect, guided missiles locking onto the heat of the enemy engines - two were launched by each Imperial fighter, and then the Thunderbolt pilots keyed their afterburners. For all the primitive nature of the Imperium’s weaponry, the missiles were still autonomous enough to proceed towards their targets without the pilots needing to guide them, or even think of them, once they departed.

Regardless of whether their weapons hit or missed, there was time now only for one thing. Only for battle. In the lead fighter, Lieutenant Torben Reinbach - Alpha Actual - thumbed the firing stud, and his craft juddered with the recoil of four automatic cannon. All his life - years of training, years of service - had led up to this one, final, handful of seconds.

He would die here, he knew. The realization was calm, purifying, somehow. He could do only what the martyr-saints in the temple frescoes had done. He knew now that, come what may, he had lived the good life. The good death was coming now also. His voice was clear and pure in the vox, and, as his craft climbed above the smog, so was the sky around him.

“For Voluptua and the Emperor!”

The Kadrians had not expected the Imperial craft to be carrying fairly powerful missiles, so the volley took down two of the raider gunships before the rest turned their wrath onto the formation. It was moments before the air around Alpha Actual was filled with a hail of gunfire and two missile warnings appeared on his screen. The enemy had noticed him, and was fully prepared to give him and the rest of his squadron the good death they wanted.

Torben banked and yawed, the G-forces mashing him into his chair. Allegedly, the chair and the suit he wore were meant to protect him from such inherent dangers of piloting, but, in his experience, they never did. Somewhere - below, on his eight o’clock - several of his squadron’s Thunderhawks either blossomed into fire and smoke, or plummeted towards the ground, the air around their wings singing a final song of lament as they vanished into the smog layer.

But if the enemy imagined that the survivors were fleeing, they were wrong.

“Alpha Squadron, form on me! We take their lead ship!” - they formed for one last, glorious attack run, guns glattering, lascannon hissing and coming dry as their batteries exhausted themselves in second, condensate boiling off the barrel, all steering towards the lead enemy gunship.

This was not battle. It was one last attempt to gain precious seconds of time for the prop fighters. Torben imagined he could hear their motors on the horizon, although that of course was fiction - it would be impossible to hear anything in the armored pilot’s cocoon but the continuous, defiant roar of his own turbojets.

There was blood on his cockpit glass. Wait, where did that come from?

He looked down on his chest, and saw it - a shrapnel wound, blood soaking through his suit.

Torben smiled and looked back at the scope. No matter, now. There would not be time to bleed to death. He tore off his oxygen mask and breathed in the air - cold, clean, pure, nothing like murk below.

The autocannon clattered and went dry. A second later, one of the turbojets seized and exploded with ear-shattering noise.

By that time Torben Reinbach could not hear it.

The wreckage of the Thunderhawk flew forward by sheer inertia, like a dart, and then arced downwards, into the clouds.

As the gunships peeled off to deal with the last of the Thunderhawks, the wreckage of Torben’s plane fell to earth. A fragment of its plating, however, did a service to Him on Terra by glancing off the roof of one of the descending transports and knocking out a couple of its sensors, forcing the pilot to fly partially blind. Perhaps Torben would have approved.

After the last Thunderhawk had gone down in smoke and flames, the raider gunships went to deal with the prop planes.

There were pitiful craft indeed - armed with nothing but a forward facing autocannon, the pilots equipped with not even the most primitive auspect, they were forced to fight the invader the way their ancestors had fought - with their eyes, their fingers on their weapons, the prayers on their lips and the fire in their hearts.

There was perhaps a moment of hesitation as the gunship pilots wondered at the nature of the universe they had come to that their foes were reduced to this. But in the next, there was fire as the Kadrians wiped out the second wave of aircraft in one fell swoop.

There was nothing that could keep the Kadrians’ weapons from tearing the fighter squadrons from the skies. In truth, they had never been meant for this manner of confrontation, and not a single one of the pilots was even capable of distinguishing the targets clearly before the craft were destroyed. A few were still partly intact as they plummeted to the ground, and a handful of parachutes could be seen opening - but Squadrons Beta and Gamma had ceased to exist.

Nothing of consequence stood now between the raiders and the surface of Voluptua. To be sure, there were still some Frateris Militia forces on the surface, and perhaps in some places some autocannon capable of firing on the craft - but to contest the skies was now beyond the Imperials’ power.

And so the Eridani forces descended on Voluptua. Transport after transport full of raiders and their equipment touched down, and command centers and base camps were rapidly constructed as the Kadrians took full advantage of their orbital and aerial supremacy. The Imperial civilians surrounding the Kadrian-held locations were not harassed, though - this was not an occupation, as far as Erion and his crew was concerned.


———


Voluptua Prime

For the newcomer, Voluptua Prime’s spires were beyond imposing - vast towers, rising far into the brownish-grey skies, hab spires housing millions of the faithful - and among them, the main prize, the macrocathedral of Saint Drusus the Triumphant. Other temples spread throughout the immense city, and to some extent it could be argued the entirety of the planet was the temple - but it was the Macrocathedral that was the heart of Voluptua Prime. It would be here that billions of pilgrims directed the steps of their pilgrimage, it would be here that the bones of untold warriors and saints were interred, this was where relics beyond value would be found. From the West, the Drusian Road weaved through the hills as it approached the edges of Voluptua Prime. In peacetimes, a constant stream of pilgrims pushed through the hundreds of kilometers from Saint’s Landing to Voluptua, some carried on palanquines, most on foot. Many perished from exposure, exhaustion, hunger of thirst. Chapels and temples had been put out along the Road for them to rest and pray as they advanced, but still the bones of many thousands lay at the road’s sides. Now, however, these pilgrims were nowhere to be seen - the news of the xeno invasion had spread rapidly up and down the Drusian Road, and the faithful were taking shelter wherever they could, lest the invader harvest them for whatever nefarious purpose.

Between the endless wilds and the hive city were the city slums. Nobody knew how many people lived here, or what even kept them alive, huddlinng in boxes of corrugated sheet metal or abandoned Munitorum containers, sometimes even in burrows in the ground. Was it the Emperor’s favor, the kindness of strangers, or perhaps crime and savagery that kept starvation at bay? Most probably, a mixture of both.

As the wind shifted to blow towards the pirates, their nostrils would be assaulted by the smell of promethium fuel, frankincense, and that terrible odor that is only exuded by a vast and teeming mass of humanity.

“Eurgh. Don't these outlanders bathe?” One of the Kadrians complained.

“Don’t be silly, Sven - most of them do. That’s the city sewers you’re smelling.” Another spoke.

“So glad I didn't get assigned to search the orbitals - one icrotic slime is enough for me, much less that hive Salvage Team Sowilo found.”

From the hive spires, the remote echo of bells came - the heavy bells of the macrocathedral, the smaller bells of a hundred minor temples, ringing and ringing, as church serfs and servitors toiled their station. Even here, away from the city’s streets, the din pressed on the ears - it had no true order to it, merely the desperation of the bellringers given voice. Millions throughout the hive caught their breath as they heard the alarm.

“I was wondering when they’d start up with that.”


A spiritu dominatus,
Domine, libra nos,
From the lighting and the tempest,
Our Emperor, deliver us.


At the PDF barracks, vehicle bay gates rose slowly, Men and women, weapons in hand, rushed towards their war machines. Engines woke from their slumber, and, with painful groans, the battle-engines emerged, like beasts emerging from their burrows.

The Lex Imperialis prohibits the Ecclesiarchy from retaining its own men at arms. But on a planet such as this, where all power flowed, eventually to Cardinal Vortars, the distinctions between the Planetary Defense Force and the church’s armed faithful blurred.

Now, as the bells tolled the alarm, the line was hair-thin. Thousands of men rushed to their positions, and the words of the Fede Imperialis, sung by dozens of choirs and untold thousands of throats, floated through the air.


From plague, temptation and war,
Our Emperor, deliver us,
From the scourge of the Kraken,
Our Emperor, deliver us.


The Frateris Militia proper was at once both a pitiful and a heroic force. Pitiful - men and women with rusty autoguns and elderly lasguns, with barely the training to point their gun the right way, malnourished, in torn clothes, huddling together in open-topped mining trucks as they were driven towards intersections throughout the city. Heroic - for they were headed, knowingly, towards a force that they were in no way equipped to deal with, and yet they intended to stand their ground.

It was admittedly a solid plan, but the Imperials had neglected one theater - the air. Instead of fighting through the intersections, the squadrons of gunships carrying Kadrian Marines could simply fly over them. The majority were headed toward the macrocathedral, but a few peeled off to deal with smaller temples.

For this, there was no remedy. Some of the militiamen, acting on vaguely-remembered training or perhaps on sheer zeal, fired their weapons at the passing craft, but in truth they were just as likely to shoot down a lightning bolt.

The macrocathedral was defended to an extent - automatic cannon and Manticore launchers stood at its foot, but the hive city’s structures prevented them from opening fire until the last possible moment. The very wealth that Cardinal Clovis Vortars and his predecessors spent generations building up was now acting against them.

Cardinal Vortars was ill-placed, and ill-equipped, to appreciate the irony. Surrounded by trusted bodyguards, he was now making a slow, dignified retreat. “To the vaults!” - he commanded “To the vaults! Evacuate the Tapestry!”

A lot of the sacred relics were already stored in the Artefact Vaults. The Tapestry was not. It could not be - an enormous, hand-stitched length of silken cloth, dozens of meters long, it depicted the Acts of Saint Drusus in allegorical detail. Even now, several serfs and attendants were rolling it up as best they could - the tapestry was centuries old, and as priceless as any sacred relic. It could not be allowed to fall to the pirates.

As the Cardinal organized his retreat, the Eridani were already moving to cut if off. Gunships were landing on the pads, and marines were securing the entrances. One team in particular had entered the cathedral by way of one of the many access hatches and was now moving deeper.


———


All around, there was panic, and heroism. Some fled, trampling over each other in a mad fright. Others resisted as best they could, snapping off shots with autoguns and lasguns as the Eridani advanced, implacable, in their armor. Yet others threw themselves wildly at the enemy, shouting prayers and oaths alike, wielding sabers, maces, or - for some - the traditional weapon of the militant priest, the feared two-handed chainswords.

All of this was only buying time. It was time for the Tapestry to be moved down to the Artefact Vaults, so that the blast doors could be rolled shut behind it. It was time for the Cardinal to be moved to safety. And it was time for Convict FL-655-T to awaken.

He remembered little. He had only the vaguest memory of the crimes he had committed - though the names of the crimes, ‘Blasphemy’, ‘Treason’, ‘Conspiracy’, and ‘Abuse of Ecclesiastic Authority’ had been engraved on his mind with eternal letters. Letters of fire and pain.

The pain, that was with him always. As he awoke now, as the fog of sedatives withdrew from his mind, he felt the pain as he had in the first day they subjected him to his punishment. It blazed through his hands like fire. It boiled in his veins. Pain - but also joy.

Because his punishment was not only punishment. His punishment was also opportunity.

For in the name of the Emperor, he was given new flesh, and sinew of steel, and the nerves of a hunting beast, so he may kill in the Emperor’s name, and be redeemed through sacred violence.

He awakened from his slumber. He stood, in torn robes, his body metal mechadendrites and pallid skin, his lips pulled back, half rictus grin, half grimace of torment. Around him, claxons blared. The sounds around him - sounds of panic and bravery - confirmed what the information inloads had already told him. Pirates had invaded. Pirates were desecrating the macrocathedral.

It was time for Arcoflagellant FL-655-T to do his duty.

To kill in the name of the Emperor.

Kill in the name of the Emperor.

KILL. KILL. KILL.

With loping bounds that seemed improbable in his twisted, desiccated body, Arcoflagellant FL-655-T moved out towards his target.

And the Emperor smiled upon FL-655-T as he did his duty, killing most of the first team he encountered. Kadrian armor was strong, but the flesh it covered was still flesh. To him, his enemies were slow. He perceived their movements as though in a smoky haze of pain and anger, and he struck with holy fury, flailing mechadendrites striking through armor and bone. The last of his victims he grabbed and headbutted. For an observer, it would seem as though a madman was bashing his naked face against an armor faceplate - but the arcoflagellant’s skull was reinforced with plasteel plates and blessed by the priests of the God-Emperor of Mankind, and a few seconds later he let go of a breathless corpse, its faceplate blooded and cracked. The surviving raiders fell back and called for reinforcements and heavier ordinance, occupying the monstrosity by unloading all their ammo into it.

CLEANSE. PURGE. KILL. DESTROY. KILL IN THE NAME OF THE EMPEROR. - FL-655-T bellowed in fury and agony.

Footsteps sounded as another team arrived, carrying a machine gun and two micro-missile launchers. Another raider fell to the Arcoflagellant as the team set up, taking aim. The battle seemed to still for a moment before they opened fire on FL-655-T.

Some men live their entire lives wondering if they have a purpose. FL-655-T did not have such a problem. FL-655-T’s life was filled with purpose and meaning. He was reborn in pain and blood, dedicated to the service of the Immortal Emperor. He was unworthy of such, being a betrayer and a criminal, and yet the Emperor had granted him life anew, life as a man-machine, sacred and blessed, and anointed in His blessed oils.

Despite all the incoming fire, the Arcoflagellant’s strides brought him forward to one of the pirates, whose life was quickly ended by FL-655-T’s blood-covered mechadendrites. Another fell soon after, a victim of the gun mounted in the arcoflagellant’s wrist.

Even in his last moments, FL-655-T was still walking. He was putting weight on a fractured ankle, but the pain was a mere background noise in the symphony of pain which he already lived, the punishment-implants and the deliberately ill-fitted augments flooding his mind with pain every conscious second.

He lashed forward with a mechadendrite - and in that very second, the next round of gunfire and micromissiles hit his body. He was sent backwards, his limbs grabbing at the air for support, and fell. He scrambled, like an overturned insect, trying to find purchase and right himself, but fell again.

All that that he could see now was the dark, vaulted ceiling. And the Light. He was no longer in pain, and he was going to the Light. It was His Light, and FL-655-T was going to sit at His side.

“Praise be...” - he whispered, and fell silent.

One of the survivors came forward and kicked the Arcoflagellant’s foot. “It’s clear - he’s dead!”

The others came out of cover, looking at the remains of FL-655-T, and murmuring among themselves. One of the braver ones knelt down and reached out to grab the amulets and tag that hung around the Arcoflagellant’s neck, inspecting them before moving on to the purity seals burned into the flesh. “What the hel did they do to him?”

Another was looking at one of the bloodied metal tendrils attached to its back, lifting the cybernetic limb and flexing it out of curiosity. “Looks like they enhanced him, and pumped him full of drugs.” The Kadrian pointed out one of the shattered vials on the ground. “Their version of a Berserker. I bet he was a criminal, given the tags.”

“...Tyrion…”


———


”Your Holiness.” - the priest whispered. “Your Holiness.”

The Cardinal looked at his subordinate. “What is it now, Xentorius?”

“The arcoflagellant is dead, Your Holiness. The pirates are now advancing through the building at a pace. The militia are not holding them.”

“So soon.” - the Cardinal uttered. “I hoped he would last for a while. Xentorius, tell them to get the Tapestry into the hoverlift.”

“But Your Holiness, the hoverlift cannot fit both the Tapestry and...”

“Which is why it must go first. I am replaceable, Xentorius, a sinner among billions of sinners. The Tapestry is a treasure.”

“But -”

“That is my prerogative to decide, Xentorius. If you claim to be obedient to me, if you are a loyal servant, then you will follow my orders. Get down into the Vaults. If I do not follow on the next hoverlift cycle, seal the vault from the inside and await rescue.”

The priest bowed, the lamplight gleaming on his tonsured head. “Yes, Your Holiness. By your will shall it so be done.

“Go now in His light.”

The Cardinal was not a brave man. However, he understood what it would have meant to abandon the Tapestry. In this moment, he realized, there was a moment of decision - was he now a mere corrupt ecclesiarch, glorying in riches while untold millions suffered, or did he deserve his rank at all? By refusing to abandon the Tapestry, by sending in for safety, he sealed the answer to this question - in his own mind, at least, if nowhere else - in his own favor.

Around him, the last of his bodyguards and adjutants gathered. A militant-priest revved up his Eviscerator.

The Cardinal raised his gilded power-maul in one hand, a bolt pistol in the other.

“Gather round me, brothers and sisters! With hymn and sword, we shall prevail! Stand fast!” - he called out with his last reserve of strength.

All this was theatrics. Either the hoverlift would be back up before the pirates arrived, or they would all perish. Time was running out.

Below them, the hoverlift was traveling through hundreds of levels. Down, down, down…

The sound of footsteps came closer and closer, as the raiders approached. At long last, the doors slid open, and Kadrian troopers stormed the room, aiming their weapons at the Cardinal and his entourage.

There was a moment of shock as the Cardinal and his retinue stared at the invaders. Up until this point, they imagined themselves to be under attack by xeno raiders - the superior technology, the speed at which the enemy cut through their defenses, all implied such a threat. This... this, however, was worse.

“Lower your weapons, brothers and sisters!” - the Cardinal called out - “This is a mistake! Surely this is a mistake!” - he folded his hands on his chest, his gleaming weapons as the wings of an eagle. His face was one of genuine contrition and forgiving kindness. “Brothers, I understand that you are pirates. I will not ask what despair has brought you to this moment, to loot a sacred macrocathedral in this way. But surely there is gold you can take, there is treasure. Do you have no faith within your heart, no fear of His Divine Judgement, that you will desecrate the holy reliquaries for crass profit? To do such a thing is to be damned beyond redemption, to be wholly foul in His Sight. I cannot expect you to fear an old man with a gun and a mace. But I ask you - do you not fear Him in whose name I stand here?”

A couple of the troopers cautiously lowered their weapons at the Cardinal’s words, looking back at one soldier in particular.

Torvar Magnussen stepped forward, studying the Cardinal’s face for a moment.

“Greetings, my son.” - the Cardinal spoke, affecting a tone of what he imagined was fatherly kindness. “These are sadly not the circumstances in which I would prefer to be giving a sermon on His Divine Justice.”

Torvar gave the Cardinal a wry smile at that. “No, I don’t suppose these are the ideal circumstances for any kind of sermon. Forgive me if I am wrong, ser - I am only distantly familiar with He you speak of - but are these not the ideal conditions according to him? A world bathed in fire, blood, and slaughter?”

“Cease your blasphemy, pirate scum!” - one of the bodyguards roared, the motor of his Eviscerator coming alive instantly.

“How very unfortunate.” - said the Cardinal - ”I have attempted to appeal to your faith, but since you have no such redeeming qualities, let me appeal to your black heart then. If you desecrate this temple, if you move beyond mere looting to blasphemy, desecration, and heresy, then it will not be me you face, not an old man with a handful of faithful at his side - no, you will face then the full fury of the Emperor’s Justice! Do you imagine you can just rob a macrocathedral as if it was a jeweler’s store in the commercia? Are you in fact this insane?!”

“With all due respect, Cardinal.” Torvar inclined his head. “Have you looked outside?”

“Then so be it, pirate.” - there was no way out, mused the Cardinal. However, there was one place he was going from here which would be preferable to even his own luxurious chambers.

He fired a long burst from his boltgun at the nearest Kadrian. “Forward, my children! Let them taste of our fury!”

The trooper in question was struck, although not fatally. It was only a moment before the rest of the troopers opened fire, a couple drawing energy axes to combat the Eviscerators that came their way.

The Cardinal felt no pain - rather, a sensation of being struck in the chest, again and again, with invisible fists, as the bullets pushed him back. His deflector shield came alive for a brief moment, flashing as the bullets impacted, but some made it through - one would have been enough, two overkill, but he was hit five times in less than a second.

It became clear that there were different types of men and women among those who chose to share Cardinal Vortars’ last moments with him. Some were fanatics, signing hymnals in defiance as they launched themselves at their foes and perished. Others, however... not all were created equal in the Emperor’s realm. They moved with the elegance of dancers, and they struck with swords and guns like poisonous snakes. Armored bodygloves under their clothing deflected gunshots, and the faith in their hearts deflected the fear of certain death.

Two of the troopers’ numbers were cut down, but eventually, Torvar and his men brought down the rest of the entourage. Torvar himself let out a short breath, looking to the lift doors.

Down below, the blast door protecting the Artefact Vaults was rolled shut. It was enormous - awe-inspiringly tall, and almost as thick as starship plate. Powerful hexagrammatic wards infused its metal, and the Adeptus Ministorum emblem shone on it in burnished silver.

But the Kadrians were not demons, so the wards did nothing. The thickness of the blast door also did not help its inhabitants when one of the troopers patched into the lock’s cogitator mechanism. A second later, the vast door swung open smoothly.

The priests, choir singers, and clerks huddling in the Vaults were not capable of defending the artefacts within. Some were too frail in body, others in spirit - those who could have fought were already fighting elsewhere. The men who could have given the command code for the Vaults’ combat servitors to awaken in sacred rage were no longer among the living.

Thus, the pirates saw before them the entrances to vast, deep vaults, their walls lined with gleaming golden reliquaries, sacred weapons, elaborate pieces of art, paintings and tapestries, entire mummified bodies of saints bygone, vials of blood and tears, and, once again, weapons of every type, rotary cannon meant to be wielded by Astartes in full armor, enormous battleaxes, swords, maces and so forth.

The Tapestry of the Acts of St. Drusus lay, half-unrolled, on the floor, there dropped by the unfortunate ecclesiarchals as they attempted to flee deep into the Vaults.

A few of the troopers came forward at that. Some went to the weapons and armor, claiming them to add to their personal arsenals. A couple of others went to the Tapestry and picked up the unraveled ends, rolling it back up and giving the artifact the respect the supposed faithful did not.

Torvar tapped his wrist, opening a comm line to the surface. “Vaults have been breached - send in the cargo shuttles. We’ll start emptying the place once we confirm the perimeter is clear, over.”
NSWB Discord | Factbook | We Go Different, And In Thunder
DEFCON: ORANGE - FLEETS MOBILIZED, REINFORCEMENTS OUTBOUND
"If Menelmacar is the successful corporate executive parents with a nice house, your people are the black sheep daughter that parties with the wrong crowd and has a batshit crazy boyfriend." - The Eternal Ascendancy of Menelmacar

Next

Advertisement

Remove ads

Return to International Incidents

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Acornesia, Gonswanza, Guadalupador, Southeast Marajarbia, Xubuntu, Zarnicovia nova

Advertisement

Remove ads