Fan Fic, Fiction, Sci-Fi, WH40K

Dark Skies, Green Jungle

It’s time for a mid-week visit to the Warhammer 40,000 universe with some Ork-themed fan-fic.

***

Monolithic storm fronts were common on the planet of Mariner’s Pity. The world was close to the system’s star, and the weather systems were in a state of permanent agitation from the ionising solar winds. Granite clouds hung low over the steaming jungles, lashing the swaying trees with driving rain. The air was close and humid, the vegetation was twisted and impenetrable in places, but, worse still, the jungles were teeming with Orks.

Og Throatchoppa was laying on a small ridge at the edge of the jungle, overlooking a ramshackle town that, until a few days ago, he had ruled with an iron fist. But now it was bustling with human soldiers. Once, more years ago than the Warboss could count, this world had belong to the pink-skins, and now it seemed they wanted it back. Hastily erected flood-lamps lit the buildings as the ‘Umies worked through the night to turn the Ork settlement into a forward operating base, stacking supplies and rebuilding defences.  The invaders had cleared the jungle away from the outskirts of the town, leaving open ground approximately equal to the effective range of an Ork shoota, forcing Og to perform his reconnoitre from a distance.

Dat was kunnin’ of ‘em, mused the Warboss as he thoughtfully chewed his cigar, shifting it from one side of his mouth to the other. The massive greenskin lay in the long grass, crude night vision lenses held in from of his beady eyes and his soaking uniform plastered to his skin by the endless deluge. In the distance, humans patrolled on the partially burnt walls of his town. Og thought the green hue of night vision made the Imperial invaders look like pale, lanky grots.

“Look at dem ‘Umies down der,” said Og to no-one in particular, “sat on our stuff like a squig on a turd.”

There were mutterings of assent from his entourage. A huge number of Orks crammed into the undergrowth with him; officers, advisors, meks, doks, kommandos, drinking buddies, hangers-on, grots, food sellers, squigs. It would perhaps have looked comical under other circumstances, if there weren’t there to plan a slaughter.

“What do yoo fink?” said Og, passing the night lenses to Wazzdakka. The Big Mek took the lenses and watched their former home for a few seconds.

“Yer, dey’s ‘Umies alright, boss,” replied the Orky engineer.

“I know dat,” grunted Og, cuffing Wazdakka round the ear and snatching back the night lenses, “I meant can we take dem?”

“I’d say so, boss,” muttered Wazdakka, rubbing his sore ear.

“We need our stuff back,” someone grumbled from elsewhere in the bush.

“Dat’s right, all me delikate fine adjustment toolz are still in me hut,” complained Mek Gunzog, patting the empty spot on his belt where his number 5 lump-hammer normally hung, “I can’t fix anything ‘til we get dem back.”

“Alright alright, quit yer whining,” muttered Og, “we attack at dawn. Den we’ll have our stuff back, and we’ll have all der stuff as well!”

The warboss crawled out from the grass, wet vegetation slapping against his face. The scouting mission now over, the rest of his entourage pulled themselves out of the undergrowth, tripping over each other and slipping in the mud as they followed their boss back down the hill. The remainder of the warband were crowded in the shadows beneath the jungle trees, a discontented wall of shifting muscle and angry eyes, waiting for the order to attack.

“Right yoo lot,” said Og, raising his voice to be heard over the storm, “as soon as it’s light, weez gonna attack da ‘Umies and get our hutz back!”

There were a few cheers from the crowd, but most of the Orks looked pretty fed-up with having to be outside in the storm. Og knew a brewing mutiny when he saw one and decided it was time for some inspiring words. Or, failing that, a couple of inspiring skull crackings.

“Now I’ve ‘eard some of yo gitz sayin’ dat we shouldn’t have run away when da ‘Umies attacked in da first place,” continued Og, “but it was unfair of dem to drop out of the sky like dat when we weren’t ready. It ain’t a proper battle if yer don’t know yer fightin’ one! So as it weren’t a proper battle it meanz we didn’t lose by runnin’ away, see?”

There were some enthusiastic murmurs and nods of assent, but not all the greenskins looked convinced.

“Now, are we gonna stand fer ‘Umies comin’ down ‘ere and takin’ our jobs?” demanded Og. He was meant by a sea of blank faces.

“What jobs, boss?” someone piped up from the back.

“Fightin’ and killin’ all da other Orks on dis planet! Dat’s our job!” roared Og.

Resounding cheers this time, and some random weapon fire that the Warboss hoped was drowned out by the noise of the storm.

“Right, come on den, da sun is nearly up, time to get to it while da ‘Umies are still gettin’ der fort ready! They’ll never see us comin’! WAAAAAGH!” bellowed Og.

“WAAAAGH!” the boyz echoed.

The Orks set off at a jog through the trees and up the ridge, towards the town. In the distance the storm clouds were beginning to clear and the horizon was lit with a pre-dawn pink.

“‘Ere, boss,” said Mek Gunzog, coming up alongside Og as they ran, “why are we attacking if da ‘Umies ain’t ready for us? I thought you said it weren’t a proper battle if yer enemy doesn’t know they’re fightin’?”

“Nah,” replied Og, “I meant it ain’t a proper battle if da Orks ain’t ready, as we’re da best fighters. If we’re not fightin’ then it ain’t a fight. Stands ta reason, don’t it?”

“Oh, ok boss,” nodded Gunzog, apparently seeing the Warboss’ wisdom.

Og Throatchoppa hoped to Gork and Mork that would be the last time he was questioned today; he was much more in the mood for bashin’ ‘Umies round the head than Orks.

Fiction, Sci-Fi, WH40K

The Petitioner’s District – Part II

Another quick visit to the Warhammer 40,000 universe and the Siege of Terra during the Horus Heresy. Part I of this short story can be found here.

***

Tick-tick-tick. Letholdus’ blood dripped rhythmically on the floor of the tank’s transport compartment, the metallic ping audible to his enhanced senses even above the distressed growl of the Land Raider’s engine. He was breathing heavily, wracked with pain and heat as his transhuman body fought to repair the hurt inflicted upon it. But he was still standing, for the moment at least.

They had met the Iron Warriors in the streets and alleys of the Petitioner’s District, blade to blade and muzzle to muzzle. The Imperial Fists had burned out the lead tanks as the Traitors pushed their way through the fortified perimeter, choking their armoured column in steel and flames.

Shield-Captain Hyperion had led the Custodians down the right flank. Letholdus had not seen them clearly, just the occasional flash of baroque gold amongst settling rad-dust. But he had heard the Olympian oaths and screams over the unsecured vox though. The four Custodians had clashed with a full tactical muster of the Iron Warriors. By the sounds of it, the Iron Warriors had the worst of that encounter.

Letholdus had met the Traitors eye-to-eye in the shadow of the Triumphal Arch of Unity. Letholdus spat out a mouthful of blood, the irony of the location leaving a bitter copper taste in his mouth. His Breacher squad had locked shields and advanced into the narrow alleyways, hosing down the enemy Astartes with burning promethium from their flame throwers. A few succumbed, but flamers were for clearing nests of crawling Xenos and mobs warp-mad humans, not Space Marines. Here and there Iron Warriors fell to the flames, the weak joints and seals of their suits succumbing to the heat, but there was no stopping the tide of Traitors. The Palace walls were in sight. They had the scent of blood in their nostrils and insanity in their eyes.

The lines of transhuman warriors clashed in the narrow alley. The sound was deafening. Overwhelming. Maddening. Letholdus felt the thunder of it in his chest even through his plate. Mono-edge combat blades hacked gouges in ceramite shields and bolters barked desperately into the face of the enemy. There was no room for blade-craft, no room for fancy footwork. Just blood, sweat, gunsmoke and raw, straining muscle. The Iron Warriors were expert stormers, but this sort of close action with shield and blade was meat and drink to the Imperial Fists. The line ground back and forth like a slipped gear, neither side gaining traction.

Then Letholdus spotted his opposite number in the press of bodies. An Iron Warriors Siege Breaker. A Centurion and a ruiner of worlds. The Traitor officer wore his helm, but Letholdus could still read the contemptuous sneer on his face from the way he held his head. The two officers surged through the melee towards each other, their subordinates knowing better than to come between them. The Iron Warrior carried a huge powered mace and was attended by a cyber-vulture familiar that squawked and snapped at the Imperial Fists around it.

As they came within a few paces of each other, rank and name idents of his opponent began to automatically scroll across the feed from Letholdus’ bionic eye. He blink-clicked them away in rapid succession. Tick-tick-tick. Irrelevant. All irrelevant. A Traitor was a Traitor.

The Siege Breaker struck first. He snarled a challenge and swung his mace in a huge arc. Letholdus had been expecting it, but there was no-where to go in the alley. Even if there had been, he knew that his pride would not allow him to take another backwards step now he was face-to-face with the enemy. A powered mace could pulp flesh in an instant. But Letholdus was not flesh. He was metal and stone and war.

The mace crashed into his reinforced shoulder guard with the noise like over-eager thunder. One of the sub-layers cracked, but Letholdus’ armour was wrought by the finest artificers that his Legion had to offer. He rode the blow, shrugged it off, and stepped through the arcing lightning wake of the mace and inside his opponent’s guard. His cyber-vulture screeched in alarm and the Siege Breaker tried to ride the momentum of his own back-swing to carry himself clear, but it was too late.

“TRAITOR!” roared Letholdus, blood and spittle flying into the melee along with his words. His energised Solarite gauntlet crackled with lightning as he pumped it into his opponent’s chest. The Iron Warrior was knocked directly backwards by the blow, his brothers around him losing their footing and stumbling. Letholdus lunged forward to finish the job, but the press of warriors closed in around the fallen enemy officer.

TRAITOR!” howled Letholdus again, furiously pulping the helm of an Iron Warrior trooper with his mighty fist. He reigned in his rage; to be denied his chance to finish the enemy warlord was a frustration, but he had a company to command. Besides, it would be a miracle if he survived the injury that Letholdus had inflicted. The resolve of the Iron Warriors was wavering. Now he just had to-

Tick-tick-tick. The sounds of three heavy canisters sailing overhead to strike the stone walls of the buildings one after the other in a perfect rhythm. Tick. Tick. Tick.

With a sucking PHUT the Iron Warriors’ Phospex canisters exploded in the twisting streets, the white alchemical fire licking around boarding shield and melting proud yellow armour. Screams were burnt from throats and hideous shadows were etched on the walls as the eerie living fire crept and fed and consumed.

Letholdus staggered back with the surviving Breachers, preparing to receive the inevitable charge of the Iron Warriors. To deploy hated Phospex in such close quarters boarded on a desperate madness that was so typical of this fratricidal war. But the expected charge did not come. As the crawling white fire finally guttered and died, a colossal Leviathan Dreadnought smashed its way into the alley to cover the retreat of its brethren. An incoherent snarl crackled from its vox amp, accompanied by the sounds of cycling autoloaders.

“Shields!” called Letholdus. The Breachers reacted in less than a heart-beat, just as the Leviathan began raking the surviving Imperial Fists with a ear-splitting fusillade of high calibre shells from its storm cannons. The rain of fire was beyond punishing, like the bezerk punches of an angry god. The Breachers tried to form a shield wall, to fall back in an orderly fashion, but ceramite buckled and boarding shields gave way one-by-one. A shell struck Letholdus in the greave, knocking him down onto one knee, then another took him in the shoulder, then the chest. As the Breachers died around him he was weighed down by the press of armoured bodies and pulled into momentary unconsciousness.

He came to less than a minute later, dragged clear of the massacre in the alley by the few survivors. The Imperial Fists had triumphed. The Iron Warriors had failed to take enough ground within their allotted mission parameters, so they had fallen back to regroup and replan. Tick-tick-tick. The timer was counting down again, sloughing away the seconds until their next advance. And Letholdus had too few men to hold the Petitioner’s District against a second wave. So here he was, in the Land Raider, listening to the tick-tick-tick of his life blood dripping onto the metal deck, and grimly watching the walls of the Imperial Palace loom large on the view screens as the fell back towards the Imperial Fist’s next defensive line…

 

Fiction, Sci-Fi, WH40K

The Petitioner’s District

I’ve taken a quick break from writing I should actually be working on to write another short piece of Warhammer 40,000 fiction, this time in the Horus Heresy setting during the Siege of Terra.

***

The dust from the bombardment had given the sky a permanent red cast, even here in the old Himalisia. The hellish glow had choked the normal cloudless azure of the sky. But that was just another irrelevant detail for Letholdus to file away as his world was swallowed by the siege. It ground on and on, consuming all of his existence. The Traitors were being made to pay for every single step they took towards the walls of the Imperial Palace. They paid in blood, and in iron and in transhuman lives. But it appeared the Treacher Legions had more than enough coin enough to spend on their advance.

Letholdus was numb to it all. Numb to the insanely spiralling casualty figures. Numb to the weeks of only fitful half-sleep. Numb to the faces of friends and foe alike, faces that even now faded to grey in his mind’s eye and were swept away in the ash. It had all become a rhythm; a ticking metronome that measured their backwards steps across the Kathmandu plateau.

Tick-tick-tick. The thermal contraction of Mark VI power armour in the cold Tibetan nights. Tick-tick-tick. The chrono counting down to the next bombardment. Tick-tick-tick. A faulty actuator twitching in his powered gauntlet. Tick-tick-tick. The butcher’s tally steadily rising as their defensive perimeter tightened across the Petitioner’s District.

His Command Land Raider crushed a low wall to powder beneath its relentless tracks, and Letholdus steadied himself on the cupola. The cyclopean walls of the Inner Palace loomed on the horizon, a rockcrete smear in the haze, dwarfing the district they currently traveled through. As the Imperial Fists fell back and the walls became clearer, so too did their…their what? Defeat? No, never that. Their situation. Their limits, logistics and supply lines. That’s all he saw now, in crystal clarity. Letholdus watched the walls grind inexorably closer and listened to the tick-tick-tick of Land Raider’s systems beneath him.

The vox snapped. Letholdus touched his earpiece.

“Reinforcements, Praetor,” a voice crackled, the words of his vox operator distorted by magnetic backwash.

The information was unnecessary, he had already seen them. As the Imperial Fists consolidated further towards the Palace walls, a golden arrow flew out to meet them. Letholdus watched the baroque grav-carrier skim towards them, feeling the tick-tick-tick of muscle spasm around the edge of his bionic eye. In better times would he have considered their arrival an honour or an insult? It was neither now, he was simply numb.

Letholdus called a halt. They had reached their latest fall-back line. The Iron Warriors weren’t far behind. Ranging artillery was already stamping flat the slums to the east. Soon these streets would run red with genhanced blood. The Imperial Fists began to dig in. Tattered but proud banners were raised. Letholdus issued orders. The grav-carrier slowed, disembarked four gilded lions, and then sped away, back towards the Palace.

Tick-tick-tick. Four pairs of gold armoured boots rhythmically crunched through the dust and broken glass towards Letholdus.

“Praetor Letholdus,” said their leader, removing his helmet, “I am Shield-Captain Hyperion of the Legio Custodes.”

***

Part II of this short story can be found here.

Fiction, Sci-Fi, WH40K

The Enforcer and the Neophyte

More Warhammer 40,000 fiction on the theme of Genestealer Cults, following on from The Church of the Astral Ascension short story.

***

A pall of smog from the refineries hung over the ore merchant’s district, guarding the secrets of the alleyways and barter houses as jealously as any territorial Guilder. The streets were full of life, the people of Grovsenor II going about their daily business in the half-light and petrochem fumes. The sunlight barely reached the ground. Eventually it gave up and took its business elsewhere.

Garon casually scanned the throng from his vantage point. The entrance to his patron’s house was raised a few steps above the dust and dirt of the thoroughfare, the height symbolic as well as practical. The Zavr dynasty were an ancient and well respected merchant family of ore traders. Any cargo coming into the hives from the Kolt Mountains to the north, or from far Asa Prospect, or even the orbital Parable Station, chances were it passed through the Zavr-run ports.

All manner of people walked up and down the cobbled street, slipping wraith-like from the gloom and fading away again into the distance like unquiet spirits. Traders, negocitories, indentured ogryn, tax servitors – they all came and went. None approached the steps where Garon stood. You needed a gene-verified invite wafer to take that course.

Garon took pride in his work. He was an Enforcer. A Guild Enforcer, yes, not Arbites. Arbites wouldn’t deign to get their hands dirty with civil work, but Garon knew it was important never-the-less. The Pax Zavr kept the Emperor’s peace in the ore merchant’s district. He’d dealt with fraudsters, thieves, tax avoiders and even the odd Guild Assassin in his time. Each time he’d walked away mostly unscathed. Or still standing, at any rate.

Something changed in the flow of people. You didn’t spend as much time as Garon had in this district without a subtle appreciation of the way people travelled the streets. Citizens were moving aside. It wasn’t fear or panic, they were simply making way. Distant shapes twisted in the fog. Sound echoed weirdly from the brick buildings. Was that chanting? Singing? Praying? Garon activated his infra-visor. There was a partial heat-wash a little way down the street, a livid bruise in the air. A large mass of bodies? Or a lost ore conveyer? Garon’s hand rested on the holster of his autopistol. It was probably nothing, but he stayed alert.

Like an oceanic mass conveyor emerging from the evening mist, a throng of people, banners and motion emerged from the smog. Garon relaxed. It was just some kind a religious parade. Asteroid miners, down from orbit for a trip to the big city, by the looks of their pressure suits. A bulk hauler took off from the distant starport as if to confirm this, a grey blur ponderously fighting to pull itself back into orbit. The Enforcer watched it for a moment, then returned his attention to the pantomime unfolding before him. He’d seen it’s like before; every so often a religious frenzy would work itself up amongst the lower orders. Productivity would increase, church membership would swell and a few mutants would be whipped through the streets. Useful really.

This lot were really getting into it though. The precession marched through the street, handing out literature and propaganda to bemused or disinterested onlookers. At the centre of the throng, a zealot wielding a massive icon rallied the faithful around him. And behind him, a group of men followed in very convincing xenos costumes. They held Garon’s attention. They were fantastic! The parade drew to a halt outside the Zavr Guildhouse.

“Hark all ye the words of Jarick Ovid,” said the bald priest at the head of the procession, “I am Kodyn Oospore, his appointed Neophyte and messenger of the creed of the Church of the Astral Ascension!”

It annoyed Garon that they’d stopped directly in front of him, but technically they weren’t breaking any law. He scanned up and down the street, checking no-one was using the crowd as cover to sneak up on him. Everything seemed fine. Some people had stopped to watch. The poor and desperate mostly. The wealthy and the mind-wiped servitors were sauntering past, not sparing the faithful a second glance. Garon went back to listening to the priest.

“The time is almost upon us! Even now the rightful Emperor of all Mankind prepares for his Astral Ascension,” said Kodyn, “and when he walks abroad amongst the stars he will cow all the horrors and the unbelievers. See! Even the icon of his embryonic apotheosis commands respect.”

The icon bearer raised his precious charge high – a massive metal pole with an oddly monstrous symbolic embryo at its crown – and the men in the xenos costumes cowered before it. Well, sort of. It looked more like a bow of respect to Garon. Their outfits really were good, much better than the large paper wyrms full of dancers that you sometimes saw. Garon had seen a handful of his aliens in his time; an Eldar wanderer attached to a trade delegation. A Jokero that had joined a merchant’s retinue for reasons no-one could fathom. A mounted and stuffed Ork warboss in a museum. That one had been a tiny thing, laughable really, with a long pointy nose, big ears and sickly green skin.

But these costumes he was looking at now….he had no idea what they were supposed to be, with their bulbous purple heads and blue carapaces.

The Neophyte priest was still talking about the fate that awaited those that didn’t submit to the will of the Astral Emperor. He seemed like a man of calculating intelligence. In contrast, the icon bearer had the passion of a true believer, a real fire in his eyes. Garon idly wondered where that figure of speech came from, and if the zealot’s passion would actually manifest as raised ocular temperature.

He flicked his infra-visor down. He frowned. He flicked it back up again and looked at the men in the xenos costumes. One of them had fixed him with its burning red gaze. He lowered the visor again. They weren’t reading as men in costumes, they were reading as…

Garon fumbled for his autopistol with shaking fingers. It was too late. The Genestealer’s talon punched through his carapace armour. Punched clean through the armour that had kept him safe for over a decade. Punched through as though it was nothing more than a simple robe.

People screamed. Footfalls pounded on the cobbles. Guns were produced from concealed holsters under priestly robes. Everything was suddenly very cold. Garon hit the rockrete steps as medical alerts sounded distantly in his armoured earpiece. In one last act of loyalty to House Zavr and the people of the city, Garon found the strength to activate the silent alarm built into his gauntlet. Then he slipped into darkness.

 

Fiction, Sci-Fi, WH40K

The Church of the Astral Ascension

It’s been a while since I’ve written any Warhammer 40,000 fiction, but the return of the Genestealer Cults to the setting is far too good an opportunity to allow to pass by.

***

Knock-knock-knock

Kohren looked at the hab-unit door in mild confusion. No-one ever visited the ‘roid miners hab-units this deep in the station interior. They were all tiny, just three small rooms – wash chamber, bed pod and tiny living space – not suitable for hosting guests. The miners didn’t mingle here, that’s what the rec room and social hall were for. Kohren didn’t move. Could it be his shift overseer? Was he late for his rotation? He didn’t think so.

Knock-knock-knock

Kohren glanced over at the bed pod. Tamira rolled over. She’d just started the night-shift rotation and would hate to be woken. Kohren knew it would be bad for his health if he let their unexpected visitor knock for a third time. He jumped up and pressed the door release.

“Good day Kohren,” said a familiar face. The young asteroid miner blinked in surprise.

“Frankin…what brings you here?” replied Kohren. Frankin was a fellow asteroid miners. He used to be on the same rotation as Kohren, but had been transferred out months ago. He hadn’t seen him on Parable Station since, and assumed Frankin had been posted to one of the other mining orbitals. Themis perhaps, or Memento? They’d been suffering an unusually high fatality rate on Memento Station recently…

“I’m here to deliver some good news,” beamed Frankin. This got Kohren interested. Were he and Tamira about to be transferred too? He’d love to get out of the lower decks! Still, Frankin was talking rather loudly and it wasn’t worth waking his new wife yet, not until he knew what the news was. Kohren stepped out into the corridor, allowing the hab-unit door to hiss shut behind him.

“It’s good to see you Frankin,” smiled Kohren, “so what’s this good news, and why are you delivering it? Did you get promoted to overseer?”

“No Kohren,” replied his old associate, “I got promoted to a higher plane of spiritual awareness!”

“I…sorry…what?” stammered Kohren. The corridor joining the hab-units in this area was narrow, and there wasn’t quite enough headroom due to the pipes and conduits snaking their way along the ceiling, partially obscuring the lights. The two men had to stoop ever so slightly, bringing their faces closer together than they might have otherwise been. Kohren was suddenly aware of another light source besides the under-maintained flickering of the lumen-strips; the light of zeal in Frankin’s eyes.

Kohren glanced aside uncomfortably and was instantly aware that they were not alone. All along this curving section of Parable Station’s lower deeps, miners were knocking on doors, rousing confused and unsuspecting inhabitants.

“I’m here to deliver the good news of the Church of the Astral Ascension,” exclaimed Frankin with all the certainty of a true believer, “did you know that the Emperor is about to depart his Golden Throne and ascend to the stars? Did you know that he’ll sweep across the galaxy, gathering the true believers to his bosom? Did you know that he’s coming here?”

“He is?” asked Kohren with an awkward laugh, “Then I guess we’d better tidy up the place a bit, perhaps try and look like we’re meeting quotas?”

Frankin either ignored him or simply didn’t hear him.

“Jarik Ovid is his prophet, he’ll show us all how to ascend to the Emperor’s side,” said Frankin, thrusting a mem-wafer into Kohren’s palm, “all his teachings are on this. It’ll all be clear, you’ll see! And that’s not all; members of the Church – as the chosen people of the Emperor – get all the best shifts! And we’re allowed to move hab-unit to live near other members of the Church. I have a hab-unit on the outer hull now, with views of Grovesnor II.”

“A room with a view? Fancy…” mused Kohren. That did sound appealing. “We’re Orthodox Ecclesiastical though…”

“It’s never too late for redemption,” replied Frankin with a broad smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “never too late for ascension!”

There was an awkward pause. Kohren looked down at the mem-wafer in his palm. Frankin was clearly waiting for a response.

“Well, thank you, Frankin,” said Kohren slowly, “I’ll certainly give it some thought.”

“Read the data files, watch the vids,” said Frankin eagerly, “come to the next meeting. It’ll all become clear. So clear.”

Kohren was back in his hab-unit now, and the door was sliding shut.

“Thank you, I will certainly think about it,” said Kohren as the closing door bought the conversation to an unavoidable end. He stood for a moment in silence, wondering if Frankin might knock again. Then he caught a muffled knocking from further down the corridor. His old colleague had clearly moved on to the next unit.

Kohren considered the mem-wafter. He wasn’t sure. He’d always been perfectly content with the orthodox religion of the Imperium. Parable Station’s sanctioned Confessor had warned against the Church of the Astral Acension. The old preacher couldn’t outright condemn the Church as technically they were a fellow Imperial cult and had done nothing wrong, but Kohren could tell the man had no love for Jarik Ovid. He’d called his words “dangerously hypnotic”.

Still, an exterior window. And you just knew that a hab-unit on the outer hull came with much more floor space. He and Tamira were thinking of starting a family soon, but neither of them wanted to do that here, in the deeps. Kohren caught a whiff of something in the air that he hadn’t smelled in a long time – hope. He fed the mem-wafer into the wall-mounted cogitator and sat down to read…

Fiction, Sci-Fi, Short Story, WH40K

On Red Sands

This is a short piece I wrote for a WH40K Horus Heresy era themed writing challenge. The writing prompt was “Birdsong drifted through the bars of the prison cell”.

##TIMESTAMP: 22:05 Sidereal Standard [Live]

Birdsong drifted through the bars of his prison cell, or so it seemed. But Albor Tholus knew it was a lie. The code embedded in the audio file was subtle – elegant even – and it was designed to pick the data-locks on his machine memory engrams, making him susceptible to the data probes of the Mechanicum interrogators.

He countered as best he could. Code-phrase dogrel poured from his ruined lips and mnemonic firewalls blazed, but slivers of data slipped through. The song was starting to play with his perceptions. Memories from earlier that day were popping to the surface of his thoughts like corks in water. If he could just concen-

##TIMESTAMP: 07:34 Sidereal Standard [Engram]

“This vista possesses a 93% visual match with Sacred Mars,” observed Albor Tholus as he surveyed the red sands of Twenty Nine Six, “I can see why our ancestors chose this sphere over this system’s alternative habitable worlds.”

His colleagues signalled their assent.

Orbital scans from the 29th Expedition had revealed the faded signatures of a Mechanicum presence, so the fleet’s Martian contingent had been assigned to make first planetfall. But even as they descended in their shuttles and bulk landers they could see that disappointment awaited.

It was not unheard of amongst the Expeditions to encounter a failed Mechanicum colony. The Priesthood of Mars had dispatched numerous Explorator Fleets into the turbulent warp during Old Night. Many had thrived and founded new Forge Worlds, but many more had been lost.

Behind Albor his superiors were supervising construction of a temporary base while a pair of Warhound Titans stood sentinel, giant heads warily scanning the horizon. In front of him lay a broken mirror image. The gutted rib cage of the first Mechanicum building on this planet, two Warhounds smashed into the dust on either side. This was where he was to lead his recon team.

##TIMESTAMP: 20:01 Sidereal Standard [Engram]

“Why did you kill them, Albor?” demanded the interrogator. Sparks flew, damage sensors saturated and Albor Tholus screamed.

##TIMESTAMP: 09:15 Sidereal Standard [Engram]

“That such a thing can be so fills me with sorrow,” said Albor.

“Enquiry: Sorrow?” his colleague asked.

“Clarification: Dismay.”

The scouting party stood before the original expedition’s Altar of Knowledge. It was dark and lifeless. Time worn and dead.

“Come, let us see what can be salvaged.”

##TIMESTAMP: 21:19 Sidereal Standard [Engram]

“What was in the vault, Albor?” hissed the interrogator. Albor tried to close down his pain nodes but harsh overrides kept them jammed open.

##TIMESTAMP: 10:55 Sidereal Standard [Engram]

“Considerable effort has been made to keep us out. Reconsideration would be prudent.”

The words of the Tech Priest echoed away into darkness.

“Effort was expended to ward off the xenos and the unworthy, of which we are neither,” replied Albor, “we proceed.”

The entrance to the vault had been well concealed beneath the Altar of Knowledge. The locks and electromagnetic dampers were of Mechanicum origin, but the door and the vault that lay beneath were plainly not. The hand of Man was evident in their construction, but the artifice belonged to a time before Old Night. These silent halls were a long buried relic from the Dark Age of Technology. Lubricant dripped from Albor’s mouth as his flesh-spare face twisted in a parody of a smile. Wonders awaited deep down in the dark, of that he was sure.

A staircase of cyclopean scale led them into the depths, easily wide enough to accommodate a marching army. Down and down they travelled. One kilometre. Two. Five. Whatever secrets lay beneath them were buried deep in the bedrock of the planet.

Finally the stairs ended on a solid platform above a vast chamber of darkness. A data terminal stood sentinel in the gloom, the silver pillar and single data socket regarding them like a judgmental eye. Albor strode forwards, unflinchingly meeting its gaze, micro-mechadendrites uncoiling from his wrist.

“Hold, brother…” said a voice behind him, ladened with apprehension. Albor ignored it. The mechadendrites connected to the socket with a clunk of finality.

Data was sent, but so much more was received.

Lights slowly winked to life in the chamber beyond, illuminating the darkness. Not lights. Eyes. Thousands and thousands of glowing blue eyes.

Time seemed to slow for Albor Tholus. One of his colleagues was screaming about blasphemy, another was charging his volkite lancer. Albus calmly put a hot-shot las round through each of their heads.

##TIMESTAMP: 22:12 Sidereal Standard [Live]

The birdsong stopped abruptly as the walls of Albor’s cell buckled. The Men of Iron from the vault were here to rescue him, pure machine intelligences created by Man’s hubris in the Dark Age of Technology. Cold blue eyes scanned the cell. Albor’s interrogators turned to defend themselves but were smashed aside by brutal blows.

Metal arms lifted Albor Tholus from the excruciation slate, the command and control algorithm uploaded to his memory engrams from the data terminal in the vault far too precious to lose. Moving in unison, the Men of Iron carried him from the building.

Outside battle was raging, giant dust clouds were being churned up as the full range of horrors at the disposal of the Men of Iron were being brought to bear. Giant shapes moved through the red haze and metal tendrals whipped out to ensnare the Warhounds. In a shriek of metal the were cast down on red sands.

Suddenly drop pods thundered into the ground like a god’s hammer upon the forge. Sand fused to glass in the heat and then shattered under Astartes boots. Disciplined bolter fire crashed into the ranks of the Men of Iron as they marched from the vault. The Expedition’s contingent of Space Marines had arrived.

“No!” cried Albor “Do not harm the Men of Iron! They are a gift to Humanity and the Great Crusade!”

Albor Tholus realised he had no choice. These Astartes must be destroyed.

Fiction, Sci-Fi, Short Story, WH40K

Dying Light

This is a piece set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe that I wrote as a potential Black Library submission.

***

The Prime Orbital was dying. Oxygen fires licked the wounded hull as the planetary sphere of Demosthanes loomed closer.  Ships surrounded the Orbital, black and blue hulls all but invisible against the void – until they unleashed their broadsides. Ships were dying. Warriors were dying. The Prime Orbital was not alone.

Oort groped his way through the smoke and bodies. That last detour, around the void-sealed compartments… He had no clue where the saviour rafts were. He had to keep going – laying down to die wasn’t in his nature. He knew they were up-spin – somewhere – but he couldn’t be sure he was still heading in that direction.

Members of his PDF garrison lay scattered across the cold deck; they hadn’t been fast enough in donning their masks and rebreathers. Now they were dead. The hull shook violently under impact. Detritus rained down onto the deck and the corpses convulsed in a parody of life.

The assault had come without warning, the guardsmen had barely enough time to scramble to their stations before the attackers had burned their way in. He had caught only the briefest glimpse of their assailants as a bulkhead had slammed shut. Lithe, black armoured and striding through the flames, they’d filled Oort with a terror that he’d never known before. The order to fall back had been given.
The bulkhead had begun to glow with melta-heat. He hadn’t needed to be told twice.

Gathering his wits, Oort peered through the breath-fog on his mask at the stenciled signs on the wall. The rafts were only a few junctions away. The wave of relief nearly buckled his knees and a prayer of thanks to the Emperor spilled from his lips.
I’m not there yet, he reminded himself. Oort set off as fast as he could, picking his way across corpses in a half run.

He slowed as he reached an intersection. Weapons barked close by, but the echoes and the muffling of his mask made it impossible to place precisely. It was loud though; the thunderous roar of solid shot.  Perhaps a bolter. Oort had never heard one fired outside the gunnery ranges.
Somewhere, someone screamed.

Oort chanced a glance down the corridor. Blood and soot smeared the wall at the far end. The warning klaxon blared and the lamps flared red in their gargoyle-housings, forcing his vision to continuously readjust. The fires threw jagged shadows. It looked deserted, but it was impossible to be certain. Oort looked out of the viewport. Demosthanes was a lot closer. He thought he could make out the transcontinental highways beneath the clouds. That was probably a bad sign. Another impact shook the superstructure.

It was now or never then. Guardsman Oort launched into a sprint. Just a few more corridors and he’d be at the saviour rafts. Just one more junction. Just a couple more steps.

Something tall and black detached itself from the shadow and flame. Oort stumbled to a halt, terror rooting him to the spot as he stared into piercing eyes and the barrel of a bolter.
“Repent, sinner!”  barked the Sister of Battle. Oort could only watch in transfixed horror as she racked the slide on the bolter and aimed it point blank into his face.  “Your judgement is at hand!”

Suddenly he was flying through the air.
Oort connected with the wall and there was a gargle of pain.  He wasn’t sure if it had come for him.
Dazed, he could only partially focus on what was in front of him. Something mountainous and blue  –
a wall of ceramite and wrath  –  had thrown him clear. Oort’s vision swam as he focused on heraldry of multicoloured lightning and the inscription Vermillion.  Blood hissed and spat from a powered blade and the bisected remains of the Sister hit the decking with a wet thwap.

“The only sin here is that brought with you,” growled the Space Marine, spitting on to the floor. Two burning eyes turned to regard Oort. The guardsman shrank back from the Emperor’s Angel.

“To the saviour rafts,” roared the Astartes warrior as bolt shells began to crash from further up the corridor.
“Go!”

Oort didn’t need to be told twice.